Hatorade Sells

Hatorade Sells

As of late, the internet has made a huge a stink over the independent game Hatred, and for all the wrong reasons, at that. There’s seemingly little premise, other than the fact you play as a disgruntled man-hulk with anger issues, and he’s decided to ‘vent’ his frustrations by annihilating everyone who crosses his path, innocent civilians and officers alike. Predictably, both the media and public have brought their collective hand-to-mouth, gasping at the sheer audacity of Destructive Creations for coming up with such an idea in the first place.

The first natural question that comes to mind is, why DID the devs decide to embark on this project? I’m not flabbergasted, mind you. I’m just inquisitive by nature and want to know what the developers end-game was. Well, Polygon have already interviewed Destructive Creations in regards to this – who, on their very website, stated the game was a response to the trend of political correctness in video games – and upon reading it, I couldn’t help but let a bag full of chuckles out:

DESTRUCTIVE CREATIONS: “The answer is simple really. We wanted to create something contrary to prevailing standards of forcing games to be more polite or nice than they really are or even should be.

“Yes, putting things simply, we are developing a game about killing people. But what’s more important is the fact that we are honest in our approach. Our game doesn’t pretend to be anything else than what it is and we don’t add to it any fake philosophy.

“In fact, when you think deeper about it…”

Here we go…

DESTRUCTIVE CREATIONS: “…there are many other games out there, where you can do exactly the same things that the antagonist will do in our project. The only difference is that in Hatred gameplay will focus on those things. I also do believe that we’re pretty straight forward about this on our official website. Plus hey, you’ve got to remember that Postal was first and still is the king of the genre ;)”

Then, Polygon lobbed one of the dumbest questions I’ve ever seen in an interview:

POLYGON: “There has been a lot of negative reaction to your trailer, with people saying that it is unpleasant and gratuitous. Does this surprise you?”

No, Polygon. A new development team brands themselves ‘Destructive Creations’, creates a game about a man on a genocidal crusade, and had absolutely NO idea they’d generate this level of controversy…

DESTRUCTIVE CREATIONS: “Not at all in fact as this is exactly what we’ve expected from the very beginning.”

NO! You don’t say!

POLYGON: “Some people say it has a very “shock tastic” ‘90s vibe, and that it is derivative of Postal. What is your reaction to this?”

DESTRUCTIVE CREATIONS: “I’d say they have a lot of reasons to claim that. Especially that, as you can see, so called ‘shock tactic’ does its job very well and in fact we should thank all those haters out there for that. ;)”

You have to hand it to the sensationalist media, because when it comes to inserting foot-in-mouth, they are the undisputed kings. Gamers have been playing the likes of Doom, Night Trap, Postal, Carmageddon, Grand Theft Auto, God of War, Splatterhouse, Manhunt, and Mortal Kombat for eons, yet the stigma of violence in this particular industry remains.

Every time the media finds a new punching bag to blame the world’s problems on, I’m compelled to grab a lawn chair and a bag of popcorn. I mean, the irony on display is sort of unreal, isn’t it? The media – that is, the entities which decide how to best spin a story to their advantage – points their finger at violent video games, citing THEM as the tool that brainwashes the young and impressionable. They hate any form of entertainment which features skewed depictions of murder, rape and war, yet tune into the news on any given night, and what are you likely to see? Skewed depictions of murder, rape and war.

Pot calling the kettle black, much?

Furthermore, when media outlets seek the moral high ground to abolish tasteless entertainment, they prove to be their own worst enemy. Journalists climb atop their podiums to say, “This product is deplorable, so nobody pay attention to it!” Yet, doesn’t putting these ‘awful’ pieces of entertainment in the spotlight amount to free promotion? Aren’t they pretty much guaranteeing that games like Hatred will succeed? It’s counterproductive, to say the least. Then again, the media knows this… and they couldn’t care less. Their goal isn’t to save us from violent imagery and interaction, but to draw us in with click-baity headlines and attention grabbing quotes. The more exasperated they appear, the more attention they draw. Basically, they depend on the very things they rally against to get attention. This is partly why one must ALWAYS question everything they read or see in the media. If they REALLY believed in what they were reporting, they’d be far less sensationalistic, don’t you think? Instead, we get headlines like this (once again, from Polygon): ‘The Worst Trailer of the Year Revels In Slaughtering Innocents’.

As a side note, Polygon gave Grand Theft Auto 5 a score of 9.5, and God of War: Ascension received a 7… I guess violence is okay as long as you belong to one of the special AAA clubs.

Destructive

You would think I’d be infuriated, but I’m really not. As I said, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the media’s reaction to Hatred. Why? Because we’re being asked to believe that one side is a martyr while the other is outraged, and that’s clearly not the case. This is the first game the studio has made, and they know the only thing better than promotion is getting FREE promotion, so they endeavored to make a title that would make headlines. Of course, the media LOVES controversy, so they put on a show where they storm out of a gate with steam blowing out their ears… and then they cozy up to the source of the story and play ball. If you read the Polygon interview in its entirety, there’s a stark contrast between it, and the original ‘worst trailer of the year because bad stuff happens’ story. Things were quite friendly on both sides, and surprise, surprise, Polygon did everything to ensure controversy remained at the top of the bill, even if it meant deceiving their readers:

DESTRUCTIVE CREATIONS: “By the way, I consider ‘No Russian’ one of the best moments in the whole Call of Duty series!”

POLYGON: “Editor’s Note: This is a notorious scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in which the player is asked to kill innocent people in an airport, in pursuit of enemies.”

Anyone who’s never played that game wouldn’t know any better, but that’s not entirely true. You’re forced to participate in a terroristic mission, yes, but you can avoid firing a single bullet until you reach your enemies. I think the studio brought this up for additional shock value, and Polygon, in typical media fashion, ‘clarified’ the reference with a sensationalist slant. Kind of seems like they’re scratching each other’s backs, here. Even if they’re not, these statements are meant to be inflammatory, and in a very self-serving way, at that.

But oh, if that was only the end of it…

Some days ago, Valve decided to pull Hatred off of Steam Greenlight, a program which allows (Valve’s) Steam users to decide which games get added to the service. Of course, the internet caught wind of this and spread the word rapidly. So much so, that it was only a day or two before Gabe Newell issued a complete reversal, issuing an apology to the Destructive Creations team in the process:

“Hi, Jaroslaw,

Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers. Good luck with your game.

Gabe.”

In this case, I can actually believe Gabe Newell didn’t know about this. Valve is a decentralized organization, meaning there’s plenty of people who have the authority to make these kinds of decisions. While departments seemingly report to Newell on a regular basis, it’s not as if ideas are put on hold until they make their way to his office. As a matter of fact, people are welcome to switch projects at will. I guess this ensures employees will remain happy since they have a bit of freedom to do whatever they want (within reason), but when it comes to stuff like this, it’s also proven to be a major PR risk. It’s nice that Gabe reversed the decision and all, but Valve isn’t coming out of this smelling like roses. When they pulled Hatred from Steam Greenlight, they insulted their community. Again, the program is about allowing users to decide what’s what… and Valve denied them that. Now that Gabe issued this e-mail to Destructive Creations, it could make Valve look highly disorganized in the public eye.

But again, I can’t help but laugh. If the media didn’t already guarantee that Hatred would become a success, Valve sure as hell did. As a result of their actions, the potential day 1 install base for this game has grown. Not only will curious gamers buy this game to see how offensive it is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if free speech enthusiasts picked this up to support the developer’s right to artistic expression. Hell, even the most fire-eyed critics could buy it, just to give a complete rundown on the objectionable.

Personally, I don’t care if Hatred flies or flops. I don’t feel it’s the boogeyman, but I’m far from confident that it would be worth the money. The most intriguing aspect of this title is the blame circus that’s transpired over its existence. Otherwise, it looks like the bajillion other twin-stick shooter I’ve already played. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for a studio to come along and say, “If the media is so hell bent on witch hunting for murder simulators, let’s give ‘em one. Because of their sensationalism, games often hide dastardly deeds with some sort of gimmick, and we’re tired of it.”

And you know what? That’s fine. Who cares?

If you don’t support what Destructive Creations is doing, then don’t support them. If you think the game looks like fun, then throw some money at it. Outside of that, there’s not much of a conversation to be had, is there? It’s 2014, and I think at this stage of the game, most reasonable people would agree that violence isn’t the byproduct of film, music or video games, but a weak mind. With that in mind, controversy is only utilized to further business interests all around, so instead of allowing them to influence your feelings, I’d recommend doing your own research and formulating your own opinion, as I’m sure many of you already do. The only person who can determine if a game is right or wrong, is you.

@bytesizeimp

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Not Quite A ‘Victory’ For Kotaku

Assassins-Creed-Victory

I’ve covered pretty much everything about Assassin’s Creed: Unity, including the parity controversy that happened in the pre-launch window. To be honest, I was relieved to be done with Unity coverage, but because Ubisoft can’t stop insulting our intelligence, I have to keep writing about it. So, what did they do now?

The other day, Kotaku reported a pretty substantial leak for the next Assassin’s Creed installment in 2015: The game is titled, or at least code-named ‘Victory’, and will be set in the Victorian era of London (19th century). The game is likely to launch in October or November of next year (not confirmed, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out), so needless to say, it’s EXTREMELY early to have confirmation of where the Animus will take us next… which is why this leak is particularly puzzling.

At this juncture, at least with this particular franchise, we’d have to wait months before hearing any buzz, let alone such concrete information. Yet, what was provided in this so-called ‘leak’? A seven-minute ‘target gameplay footage’ video, which even takes the time to inform viewers the footage was produced entirely in Anvil (the game’s engine). And what do you know? The video shows off locations, trains, a new item (the grappling hook), and ends by panning the camera out and showing off the game logo.

What did Ubisoft have to say about it?

“It is always unfortunate when internal assets, not intended for public consumption, are leaked.”

Hold the God-danged phone. This wasn’t meant for public consumption? This has promo video written all over it. How stupid do they think we are?

“And, while we certainly welcome anticipation for all of our upcoming titles, we’re disappointed for our fans, and our development team, that this conceptual asset is now public.”

This isn’t a conceptual asset. The video went out of its way to let us know the footage wasn’t pre-rendered.

“The team in our Quebec studio has been hard at work on the particular game in question for the past few years, and we’re excited to officially unveil what the studio has been working on at a later date. In the meantime, our number one priority is enhancing the experience of Assassin’s Creed Unity for players.”

Oh puh-leaze. Decipher the PR babble, and their ‘response’ to this leak is basically, “It’s a shame that this had to be spoiled for fans so soon, but hype isn’t exactly a bad thing. It’s an exciting game and we can’t wait to unveil this title, along with its new innovations, at a later date. In the meantime, we’re going to fix Unity and we hope you continue to enjoy our most current release.”

It’s no secret that fans of the franchise are feeling burned by the glitch-heavy Unity. It’s also no secret that plenty of people on the net are saying, “Ubisoft just don’t care anymore, and everyone should skip buying whatever they release in 2015 until it’s confirmed to be working as it should.”

Wow. It’s one HELL of a coincidence that the very moment fans express disinterest in next year’s title, a video which could potentially regain consumer confidence leaks, and to a popular gaming media outlet, at that.

This wasn’t a leak. This was damage control. Ubisoft are likely feeling squeezed because of Unity. For example, Ubisoft recently announced they’d give the first Unity DLC pack away for free, while canceling the season pass altogether. Those who already spent their hard earned money on the season pass would receive a free Ubisoft game for their troubles. A good friend of mine theorized that the studio wasn’t making nearly enough money off the season pass to justify making additional content, so they decided to cut their losses instead. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Furthermore, Ubisoft were probably concerned that orders for their next installment – Victory – would probably suffer as a result of Unity’s blunders. So, what could Ubisoft do to keep the pissed-off masses at bay? By starting the hype train early, of course.

Hey, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think it gets more transparent than this. I’m not buying this whole, ‘oh wow, this leaked and we’re sorry, but we hope you enjoy the game when it comes out anyway’ shtick. It’s a technique for distraction… and it seems to be working.

I urge my readers to keep Unity in mind next year. Do not pre-order Victory. Don’t pick it up blind on day one. Wait for user reports to come in so you can make an informed decision.

But, that’s not all. Kotaku – writer Jason Schreier, specifically – need to be taken to task for this. They lapped this video up and didn’t even bother to question the coincidental timing of its release. A commenter asked, “Jason, there’s no way this is a ‘leak’ right? Video explaining the engine plus a logo? This has to be a coordinated PR stunt. Do you think this is an actual leak, or not?”

By the way, can we give that person a cookie for questioning the obvious? Apparently, that’s above Mr. Schreier’s intellect, and he needed a reader to point this out. I mean, you’d think Mr. Schreier would have put two and two together, but what was his response?

“I know it’s an actual leak.” “The video was leaked to us. Nobody else outside of Ubisoft has seen it. We decided that there was news value to reporting on the new game, so we posted screenshots from it. Ubisoft isn’t pleased.”

Great job, Captain Dipshit.

Think about it: Why would ANYONE at Ubisoft send this video – with promo tactics employed and all – to a website like Kotaku? Ubisoft may not be a bright company overall, but they certainly would have expected a game media website to report on the ‘leaked video’. But Mr. Schreier continues to justify what he ‘knows’. That’s right, he doesn’t say, “Maybe I WAS duped, I’m not sure, but I honestly believe…” No. Just, “I know it’s an actual leak.” How does he ‘know’, exactly? “…I heard it was supposed to be revealed next spring, like most AC games.”

Well, gee. Now I’m convinced.

And you know what else is odd? He didn’t even post the video. He discussed it at length and posted plenty of screenshots… but the video is nowhere to be seen. Why? “We decided that posting Ubisoft’s internal target gameplay video wasn’t necessary to hit those beats, and that this story stands without that footage.”

This is just speculation, of course, but maybe the game runs like crap (it’s a year off, so that’s to be expected), and Ubisoft left strict instructions not to share the video? I can see such an agreement transpiring behind the scenes, how ‘bout you? The only question left, then, is why Mr. Schreier would stoop so low as to lie to his readers. That answer is obvious: Money can make people do a lot of things. Regardless, no matter the scenario, Mr. Schreier comes out of this looking bad. If he didn’t coordinate something with Ubisoft, he looks like a moron. If he DID collaborate with Ubisoft for what could possibly be a ‘controlled leak’, then he’s full of shit.

Again. That’s all speculation, but the fact that Mr. Schreier just took the video, believed whatever he was told and ran with it, is all I need to see. Kotaku had their name dragged through the mud this year for questionable… ‘business practices’. They’ve been doing whatever necessary to evolve and evoke good will with gamers, but my take is that they only ‘changed’ as much as they had to. Because of this story, they still smell like shit, so I’m going to stay far, far away from that smell so I don’t have to step in it. So I’ll ask MY readers one more thing: Question EVERYTHING you read. Please.