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Xbox Games for the Single Players in August

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Microsoft’s Xbox has come to mean many things over the years: high-octane shooters and relaxing puzzle games, excellent independent titles and plenty of PC ports to play on the living room TV. Even on the eve of its new 4K system launch, Microsoft’s standard Xbox One (‘S’ model included) has plenty of games on the way; here are a few to keep an eye on for August.

TACOMA

Preview by Richard Flint

From the developers behind the atmospheric Gone Home comes Tacoma, a new sci-fi adventure set in the near future of 2088.

Originally announced at the 2014 Game Awards, Tacoma was set to be released in mid–to–late 2016 before being delayed by developer Fullbright following feedback from testers of the project’s first build.

Gamers will explore the vibrant, yet desolate, space station named Tacoma, piecing together the rich history and mystery behind it. Interacting with key data recordings will reveal augmented reality projections of the crew members displayed as colourful outlines representing their previous jobs on-board the station.

The protagonist, Amy Ferrier, remains unchanged from the original build, but is now accompanied by a holographic companion codenamed ODIN who acts as a guide, offering helpful tips and instructions throughout the story. Many of Tacoma’s mechanics revolve around use of an AR tool with which Amy interacts with her surroundings. Sign language is the main interface, discarding the traditional glowing keyboard often found in sci-fi games.

While the first build focused on a small group of characters—tracking them throughout the station to unlock interactions—the new version includes a larger number of diverse crew members (including one pet cat). Players are able to pause, rewind, and fast forward through conversations between NPCs to decode multiple aspects of any particular scene. In one example Amy stumbles across a party being held for one of the characters. In the scene, several individuals  engage in separate interactions across an open area. Using the pause and rewind features, Amy is able to locate and listen to each exchange without missing any details.

Also new to this build is a unique interactive menu—or AR Desktop—that allows players to track progress and their location while on the station. All the information gathered on the various crew members is stored here to refer back to.

The station is split into two distinct types of environment: zero- and normal-gravity zones. Exploring the outer layers will give the full zero-gravity experience as objects float by, ready to be inspected. In the original build, Amy had a pair of magnetic boots that allowed her to move between services at the push of a button. However this mechanic has been removed to focus on creating a more ‘realistic’ experience grounded in what might be possible in 70 years.

Tacoma is sure to be one of the year’s most immersive and atmospheric experiences offering a unique take on traditional space exploration while paying homage to sci-fi legends such as Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Gamers will be able to explore the mysterious world of Tacoma when it comes to Xbox One and PC on August 2.

HELLO NEIGHBOR

Developer tinyBuild’s Hello Neighbor (‘Neighbour’ for those outside the USA) is, structurally, another take on the modern stealth-and-survival-horror genre popularised by Amnesia, Outlast, and Resident Evil VII. However, Hello Neighbor stands out thanks to a novel setting and tone that also significantly impacts its mechanics. Instead of exploring a dingy castle or a damned hospital, players guide a curious youngster inside their new neighbour’s house in the suburbs, as they try to find the “horrible secret” in the neighbour’s basement.

Puzzle solving and stealth functions similarly to the aforementioned first-person horror games, but unlike most, no simple ‘game over’ is present. If the player is caught, the neighbour throws them outside, without resetting the game. In a sort of reverse of the rogue-lite formula, Hello Neighbor remembers what the player did in their first attempt and creates new challenges dynamically.

The game’s AI will place new traps and block off entrances to the house that were used in previous attempts to outwit the player in an escalating game of cat-and-mouse. This means that no two games will be exactly alike, while still allowing for an increasing difficulty as players get closer to their goal. The game has been in various levels of early access since last year, hopefully meaning that tinyBuild has had plenty of time to fine-tune these ambitious ideas.

Gamers will be able to decide for themselves soon whether the extra work on dynamic AI has paid off, but either way Hello Neighbor has enough fresh ideas to warrant interest from horror fans. For more on Hello Neighbor, check out this early preview, although the game has advanced considerably since 2016.

Hello Neighbor comes to Xbox One, as well as macOS and Windows PCs, on August 29.

LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM

Preview by Richard Flint

With Life is Strange: Before the Storm, developer Deck Nine is ready to take fans back to Arcadia Bay to explore the past of Chloe, a previous supporting character in a story that will delight and surprise returning players or those new to the series.

In this prequel to Life is Strange, players will take control of Chloe, a 16-year-old full of angst, who is making tough decisions and solving puzzles in a punk-inspired story.

Followers of the series will quickly notice the change in the protagonist’s voice actress. Previously voiced by Ashly Burch (HAWPOfficial, Borderlands 2), Chloe will now be brought to life by Rhianna DeVries who expressed her connection to the character in a recent developer video. While Burch left the series due to a recent voice actor union strike, she remains involved in the project’s development as a writer.

Players are reintroduced to Rachel Amber, a girl missing throughout Life is Strange. She is a key figure in Chloe’s life, though the individual’s interactions with her will determine the outcome of their relationship.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is set three years prior to the events of the previous game with the story told over three episodes. In the original, however, the story was split into a five-episode structure. The game is said to last between 6 and 9 hours, making it much shorter than the previous, which averages 15 to 20 depending on the player. Unlike the last title, Chloe does not have the ability to rewind time as Max did creating lasting consequences without the reassurance of a reset button. With one of the previous core mechanics absent, Chloe will rely on her investigation skills and mischief-making to solve puzzles and progress through each episode.

Based on the footage shown off at E3, Life is Strange: Before the Storm retains the look and feel of the previous game with some minor animation improvements. However, this familiarity could be altered prior to the project’s release later in the month.

The first episode of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm prequel hits Xbox One, as well as PlayStation 4 and PC, on August 31.

NOTABLE MENTIONS

This year, August 15 is a minor bonanza with smaller games of all sorts arriving, including Agents of Mayhem, from the makers of Saint’s Row, the retro-styled platformer Sonic Mania, cyberpunk horror in Observer, and the first episode of The Pillars of the Earth: historical literature in the form of a point-and-click adventure.

Later in the month, on August 25, this year’s Madden NFL is an attempt by EA to appeal more to single player fans by including The Longshot, a Telltale-esque choose-your-own-adventure mode. Finally on August 31, the surprisingly great Resident Evil: Revelations gets a higher-resolution port to Xbox One, for fans of the slower-paced entries in the series. As always, Xbox One owners are also well served to check the other lists for multi-platform games mentioned for PC. PlayStation, or Nintendo.


 

Special thanks to Richard, who helped bring Tacoma and Life is Strange here for your reading pleasure, and do not forget to comment below with any other games you are looking forward to this month. Until next time, happy gaming!

Mitchell is a writer from Currawang, Australia, where his metaphorical sword-pen cleaves fiction from reality daily. When he's not writing, he plays video games and watches movies. While thinking about writing.

E3 2019

Gender and Race Representation at E3 2019

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E3 2019 Diversity (Deathloop, Wolfenstein Youngblood, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order)

Despite making up around half of the gaming population, women remain underrepresented in video games. More Hispanic and Black people refer to themselves as “gamers” than white people, yet minorities remain a rarity in modern titles. E3, which recently came to a close for another year, is gaming’s largest annual event, demonstrating the interests of the industry. Therefore, the statistics from E3 are a fairly accurate representation of the industry as a whole. OnlySP has broken down five of the main conferences from E3 2019 to see how each publisher represents women and people of colour in the games showcased, as well as their presenters.

Some of the shows from the event—the PC Gaming Show, Kinda Funny Games Showcase, EA Play, and the Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference—have been excluded. Previously released games receiving updates or trailers at the event, such as Fallout 76 or Final Fantasy XIV Online, were also excluded from the statistics.

Each conference is broken down into seven categories for gender:

  • Male: where the game features only a male protagonist (Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order)
  • Female: where the game features only a female protagonist (Wolfenstein: Youngblood)
  • Player Choice: where the game allows a fully customisable character (The Outer Worlds)
  • Both: where the game allows the player to control both a male and female character, but not customise their preference (Marvel’s Avengers)
  • Ambiguous: where the protagonist’s gender is unclear (Ori and the Will of the Wisps)
  • None: where the game does not feature a gendered character, including racing games (Microsoft Flight Simulator)
  • Unknown: where the game’s protagonist is yet to be revealed (Elden Ring)

The last five categories are repeated for race within games; protagonists whose race is evident are identified as such.

Microsoft

E3 Chart - Microsoft 2

Microsoft kicked off the main press conferences this year with far more games than the conferences to follow. Out of a total of 29 applicable games, almost a third featured only male protagonists. Thankfully, female representation is not totally out of the question—with 24% of Microsoft’s games allowing full character customisation and 10% featuring both male and female protagonists—but only three games with a sole female protagonist is a disappointing statistic.

Unfortunately, representation among the presenters at Microsoft’s conference does not inspire much hope either, with two of nine being women (one of whom appeared alongside a man). This is sadly representative of the company as a whole, with women making up only 26.6 percent of Microsoft’s employees.

In terms of race representation within its games, Microsoft is not achieving great results. While nine of the games showcased featured Caucasian protagonists, only one had an African-American lead. Thankfully, at least, Microsoft is still allowing the player to decide the race of their character in 21% of its games. Microsoft’s presenters were also mostly white—mostly American, with two Brits, one Canadian, and an Australian—with only one African-American presenter.

While Microsoft’s representation at E3 is better than most of the conferences that followed, it still has a long way to go.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Microsoft

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Microsoft’s conference.

Bethesda

E3 Chart - Bethesda 2

Bethesda’s conference was short on new titles this year, with only six upcoming games showcased, but it had the strongest showing in terms of character representation. Only one of the six titles—Doom Eternal—featured a single male protagonist, and, that aside, the game is shaping up to be something special.

Both of the upcoming Wolfenstein games—Youngblood and Cyberpilot—feature female protagonists, and while two female-centric games is not a hugely impressive statistic, as an overall indicator it is quite impressive when compared to Bethesda’s other games. Two of the six games—Commander Keen and Deathloop—allow the player to select between a pre-determined male or female character; and in the case of Deathloop, both characters are African-American, so Bethesda’s representation expands beyond gender. However, only one title with a confirmed non-white character is not a very impressive statistic.

The same praise cannot be applied to the presenters of Bethesda’s conference, either; only two of the 17 presenters were female—one of whom has become a bit of an icon following the show. Of the 17 presenters, more than half were American, with only two Japanese presenters, two French, one Swedish, and one Puerto Rican–American. Considering Bethesda’s support of women and minorities in the past, seeing such little representation among its staff is a disappointing statistic.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Bethesda

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Bethesda’s conference.

Ubisoft

E3 Chart - Ubisoft 2

In regard to giving the player choice, Ubisoft easily beats the competition, with three of its eight new titles featuring full character customisation and two allowing the player to select between a male and female character. Diversity of representation, however, ends there; Ubisoft did not showcase a single female-led video game during its E3 showcase this year. Of the three games allowing character customisation, two—Rainbow Six Quarantine and Roller Champions—are multiplayer games; and of the two allowing both male and female, one is Watch Dogs Legion, which lets players choose between dozens of characters in their operation. Whether or not such a concept will lead to positive representation is yet to be seen. While no games from Ubisoft star an African-American in the leading role, hopefully the developer can achieve positive diversity by taking notes from its 2017 title Watch Dogs 2.

For its presenters, Ubisoft is better than its competition, with females making up four of the conference’s 14 on-stage personalities, but that statistic is still disappointing. If 29% is the best that the industry can do, it still has a long way to go in the years to come.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Ubisoft

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Ubisoft’s conference.

Square Enix

E3 Chart - Square Enix 2

Square Enix may have had the most disappointing press conference this year in regard to gender representation. Of its 14 games, not a single had only a female protagonist, while over half centred around males. To the publisher’s credit, several of these games feature, in some segments, playable female characters, but to have so many male-centric games without a single sole female protagonist is incredibly disappointing.

Thankfully, five games shown at Square Enix’s conference allow the player to select between a male or female. However, even in some of these games, representation is not entirely clear—only one of the five main playable characters in Marvel’s Avengers, for example, is female, as is only one of the three in Outriders.

Unfortunately, the disappointment of diversity is only exemplified with the conference’s presenters. Only one of the show’s nine presenters was female, with her appearance taking place at the very end of the show alongside a male presenter. Square Enix has a long way to go with its female representation.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Square Enix

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Square Enix’s conference.

Nintendo

E3 Chart - Nintendo 2

Historically, Nintendo is not known for strong female characters—Princess Peach is the figurehead for the damsel-in-distress trope—but it has made strides in this area with strong characters such as Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately, none of these characters have been allowed to represent their own video game, constantly being shadowed by the male protagonist.

While six of the 17 new Nintendo games shown during its Direct this year featured male protagonists, not a single game featured a female protagonist. With three games allowing full customisation and six giving the choice between male and female, not all hope is lost with Nintendo, but diverse representation is better than customised representation. Being forced to take on different perspectives—as females must do when playing 35% of Nintendo’s games—is more beneficial to the player than choosing to play as an undefined character.

Nintendo only had three presenters during its presentation—deputy general manager Yoshiaki Koizumi, president of Nintendo of America Doug Bowser, and general manager Shinya Takahashi—but seeing some more representation of its female staff (as it does rather well during its Nintendo Treehouse live stream later in the show) would be encouraging.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Nintendo

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Nintendo’s conference.


Overall

As a whole, E3 2019 was rather disappointing. While a third of the games showcased at the five conferences above featured only male protagonists, only 7% featured female protagonists. While developers are improving in regard to player choice—allowing either full customisation or the selection of a male or female character—diverse representation is a necessity moving forward, and the industry needs to look at improving.

Presenters Demographic

Demographics of presenters at the five conferences during E3 2019.

In terms of race representation, the statistics are even more abysmal. While an Americanised show is expected due to the location of E3, some diversity would be appreciated; with over half of the presenters being American, the companies are failing to demonstrate their diverse talent. The same can be said about the games; as seen below, 27% of protagonists in games are Caucasian, while 3% (only two games) feature African-Americans as lead characters. As aforementioned, developers are seeing improvement in allowing players to customise or select their characters, but specified diversity is a change that the industry requires.

E3 Chart - Games Demographics

Demographics of protagonists in the games showcased at the five conferences during E3 2019.

The industry has a long way to go.

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