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It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, So Here Are Some Thoughts on Hellblade

One of the most inspired games of the generation also tackles the subject of mental illness like no other pop culture object has before.

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In my life I’ve ended up in the nuthouse twice. The most recent I was being treated at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. It was mostly uneventful, and the details aren’t worth getting into, at least not here, because this is about a video game and not specifically about me and my inane issues. But the thing that stuck with me the most during the course of that uneventful day was overhearing a conversation while I was watching ESPN on one of the televisions. A man with five o’clock shadow (I’ll never forget his voice, or his scruffy face) was talking to a doctor about why he was brought in. He was incredibly clear, concise, eloquent, calm, collected, and articulate. The problem for him was in just trying to explain — plainly and rationally explain — what was going on in his head, in a way that made sense to other people. He kept having to deal with everyone around him assuming he was schizophrenic, he told the doctors, and it affected his life in ways that he thought were worse than the voices. He couldn’t find or retain decent work, he couldn’t live a normal enough life, and everyone kept assuming he was psychotic. He wasn’t.

The man suffered from Paracusis (you can Google it, since I won’t do it justice explaining it here), and for him he kept hearing faint chatter far away, but in only his left ear. He could never make out the conversations, as the voices simply weren’t audible enough. He didn’t know who was speaking, or where the discussion was being pointed, and he obviously knew it wasn’t real and that he would have to just go on ignoring it, these whispers and murmurs. But the doctors wanted to suss out more about his case before going down the rabbit hole of medication, and family history, and whatever else they needed to know (I wasn’t intentionally trying to eavesdrop the entire time.)

His husband showed up soon after, and explained the history of his condition and how they couldn’t afford certain medications because he couldn’t work, and on and on it went, back and forth with the rugged-chinned man and the staff and the voices to his far left, until I was allowed to leave later that night. I never learned his name. I will never see him again, nor speak to him or get to ask him how he’s doing. He was very nice to me, and thanked me for turning the TV to something he could watch, sports. He said it helped him focus and drown out all the talking and commotion and disruption. The open area we were in was silent, but I simply nodded and we just went back to watching ESPN that afternoon.

That story doesn’t really have an ending, or a point to it, and it’s been years since I’ve thought about any of it. Despite whatever nonsense was going on in my life back then, that small respite was a wholly unique situation I had to be in to be able to see a different perspective, from another person I would have never otherwise meet. On paper these things sound scary and crazy, and in some ways they are, but you totally miss the humanity behind things like psychosis and paracusis and all the other disorders we suffer from. And the moment I started playing Hellblade , that entire day from the emergency room to check out immediately rushed back to me, and hit me like a wave. The weight of an ocean of memories flooded from my television and swept me out to sea, and I was beached in a new world. It was foreign and gorgeous and frightening and new, and yet I knew it so well. There’s a familiarity that unsettled and intrigued me when the game begins and Senua rows her boat down a lazy river, and the only other time I’ve felt so understood and vulnerable while playing a game was Gone Home away back in 2013. So it’s been five years of playing video games, and not once has anything come close to being personal and touching in such a way as to compel me to write about it.

And now, apropos of nothing, I present to you a completely apt, fractured day by day breakdown of my thoughts on the game. The first few are me playing and writing notes, and then the last few are just processing everything while watching the 30 part documentary series on the making of the game, which I highly recommend if you’re still reading this far in and really want to know more about game development because it’s fascinating.

Day #1

I’m fashionably late to the party on this game (what else is new); Hellblade finally came out for the Xbox One though, and that allowed me to get completely sucked into its madness, months after it received most of its awards and dissection and acclaim and analysis. I haven’t been as obsessed with a game in quite some time, and it’s hard for me to remove the background on how it was made from the game itself, when evaluating and talking about Ninja Theory’s masterwork.

Call it what you will, bias, research, clouding judgement, I don’t care, but this game is making me reconsider so much about game design and life and creating narratives about yourself that after going through their YouTube series of ‘Making Of’ docs, I became infatuated with Hellblade in a way I’ve rarely felt for a piece of pop culture. First it was Steve Gaynor and The Fullbright Company, and now it’s Ninja Theory and everyone who worked to make such a risky vision into a success. Ironically enough, both Hellblade and Gone Home are games that got under my skin in the best way, by never actively trying to scare you. Traditional horror games use all sorts of spooky tactics against you, but the ones that stick with me long after I played them just instill the possibility of fear, and instead just makes it seem like death is around every corner. But the most devastating effect outside of the Gothic / Celtic art style and design, and the frightening (and gorgeous) heavy metal Scandinavian atmosphere, is finally getting characters scarred by mental illness.

One of the things smart people (most especially writers) love to do is long-form personal essays and think pieces about mental illness, because it seems to afflict every one of us. Why intellectuals are cursed with degenerative brain diseases that slowly decay brilliant minds into oblivion is a question for the ages, and one that I can’t answer. My dad jokes that we use our heads so much they run hot, and burn out onto the side of the road, and if I’m going to use that analogy then I guess there really isn’t a great system in place for roadside assistance. Hellblade comes the closest I’ve ever seen a game become an emotional support tool, masked as an action horror game, and as hyperbolic as that comes off I truly mean it.

No other interactive title (a commercially available and widely marketed video game, mind you) has attempted something on this scale, in this way before, and I find that astounding. Just the fact that they went for it, even if the game didn’t come out so well, is something I respect, and unless you use medical research technology or virtual reality to get over other illnesses, this is one hell of a journey into psychosis…and hell. You also go to hell in this game. That’s fucking cool…as hell.


Day #2

Immediately this game presents you with a few harsh truths you’ll have to learn to live with, playing as Senua rowing your little boat down a stream. You hear voices talking to Senua, talking about Senua, and also talking to you, the player. It’s the most compelling mixture of core mechanics and storytelling I’ve seen in quite some time. Incorporating her illness into your gameplay so starkly slowly sinks you into the same illness. You can’t remove the voices from the game, and you can’t cleanse it from your character, no matter how hard either of you try to run away from it or ignore it. They weave nasty rumors and insults into the story, and comment on events like a Greek chorus, but also aid you in combat and make you question traps in the environment. It’s a double-edged sword, and holy shit is that analogy a good alternate title for this video game, now that I think about it.

The unreliable narrators, these angels and devils that sit upon your TV’s speakers, constantly spew this shit at you, but in hushed tones, which is more unnerving and annoying and ultimately effective in getting under Senua’s (and your) skin. They question Senua’s backstory, her motives, her past, and at the same time question the person holding the controller and what the hell they think they’re doing playing this game, trying to control and influence her. It’s bizarre, a constant breaking down of Senua and the fourth wall to try and drag you down as well. It oftentimes doesn’t feel like you’re truly playing as Senua, and I can’t remember a game relying on that level of removal from the player before. There’s a sense you aren’t wanted, tampering or meddling with her affairs, finding out more about her or aiding her journey, and all that makes me want to do is get closer and feel more connected. But there’s always something in the way, either by deception of the narrative or through the obstacles placed in front of you as the player. It’s wild, but speaks to how fucking with you constantly puts you in the right state of mind to go along with Senua.

And once you go deeper into the chaos, and become more familiar with the world around you, you get hit with this creeping notion that something is watching you. Literally, not figuratively. And before you know it you see faces in fucking everything and it’s so messed up — hell, at first glance, I had to get up and walk away on my initial playthrough. Senua’s mother Galena is hidden in a waterfall, and then some rocks, and later all sorts of places, as the single most creepy collectible you can imagine. The brain automatically looks for people in non-human objects, as I later found out while looking up research for this. It’s called Pareidolia, and it’s coupled with FMV of actors calling out from beyond the grave to Senua. The best way I can describe seeing people talk to you in mountains and clouds is like when you get harassed by mosquitoes, and one lands on you and it’s irritating, so you get paranoid about being bitten the whole day. It’s like that, but irritating for your soul and not necessarily your skin; you just want to smack it away. but it buzzes around every corner of the map regardless.

And speaking of Full Motion Video, I simply cannot fathom how anyone made this game a reality, because it’s the most photo-realistic video game my eyes and ears have been privy to in close to thirty years (Jesus I’m getting old, I can say that now…three decades, Christ). Senua skips over the uncanny valley, just jumps over and clears it, and it’s drop-dead gorgeous. Since she’s the only character model in the game worth rendering or looking at without a dead animal carcass as a mask, she gets the most natural animation and lifelike facial features and skin and hair. Watching the behind the scenes documentary series on the making of this game, you can gain great insight into how such groundbreaking tech Ninja Theory created without a publisher behind them. It’s DIY creation on a microscopic scale; it’s incredible how many times they bring up ordering items off of Amazon or Ikea in order to form the world of the game.

But Ninja Theory didn’t just stop at Senua and actress Melina Juergens’ star-making mo-cap performance: they fill every inch of space and time they have into voices and faces and water (and faces talking to you inside of water, for that matter), and it’s a perfect case of getting more by using less. They had to sacrifice so much that their previous projects relied on, and wisely chipped away at things they knew they couldn’t and shouldn’t work on to craft Hellblade into what it is. There’s not much AI going on, not many characters on screen, no collectibles, no other fluff, it’s just what needs to be there and all that fat cutting pays off, because it’s wonderfully paced and extremely thought out from all facets of design. They blend fantasy into horror, and fiction into reality, and lies into truth, objectivity into subjectivity, and by the end you get a twisted horrifying masterwork that blends gameplay into story and environment into character.

Day #3

From the moment this game starts to the very end gameplay twist (I won’t ruin it but it’s fitting in how sad it is when you realize what you have to do), Hellblade presents what I consider to be the most unsettling and haunting experience I’ve ever gone through. There isn’t a single jump scare throughout, and all it relies on is a singular unbroken camera shot, forced perspective, and a disturbing atmosphere that hangs over every tree and house and person to have walked through the world. It goes from a forest of illusion to a depressing shipwrecked pier all the way to the dungeons of hell and everywhere between, but it all feels like a prison of Senua’s mind that you’re locked in with her for hours. It can straight up make you distraught like it did with me, which really pushed me and Senua to finish our quests despite how rough it gets at times. And I’m fully aware this is so personal and individual to each person who plays it, and most gamers won’t be phased by a single thing. I think Hellblade works if you have thick enough skin, and can be pretty cool if you look at it from the right angle.

But there was a moment involving a fire that breaks out, and you instinctively run away through the flames to safety that the game has you repeat in one section. And to start the environmental puzzles, you have to knowingly and willingly start the hallucinations (or flashbacks, I guess) and one in particular was the most galling thing I’ve ever heard in a game or movie. The screams of people being burned alive was so piercing at one point I thought I was in an interactive snuff film, it was completely jarring and set me off. I thought “holy shit, people recorded and programmed that to happen?”, as if the developers at Ninja Theory had legitimately set a family on fire in the studio to get the realistic sound effect just right for the game. It really fucked me up — I was stunned at how much it fucked me up, and I even ended up turning down the audio for that entire level.

It made me feel complicit in her suffering, in my own, and that made an emotional investment in a fictional character all the more significant. Because it really wasn’t Senua who I was rooting for: it was who she represents. Everyone who has ever lived with their brain working against them, everyone I’ve ever known or met, and myself; Senua is all of us. And that can definitely come off as cheesy, or hokey, or eye roll inducing, but I would rather a game swing for the fences and end up being any of those things than the alternative: boring, lazy, trite, or downright offensive. Gaming has covered most of those poor qualities already to a tee, and there aren’t as many examples of out of the box design like Hellblade to hold up and cherish, from both an artistic standpoint but also a development one. How a studio of less than 20 people, on a strict budget, can pull off something that outclasses contemporaries all across the board is a fever dream.

Ironically enough, most of the heavy lifting doesn’t come from the writing, which is odd when I look back on the entire experience. There’s a lot of deep dives into the lore of Norse mythology in the form of hidden runes you zoom in on to get the equivalent of an audio log. All of the performances are incredible, but not every conversation strikes a chord, especially when you endure repetitive lines about “darkness” over and over. But the strengths outweigh whatever I can nitpick, or the few moments near the end that felt long in the tooth. And I’ve seen some derision around about this entire game not working for them, and I get it. Anyone can mock something that comes off as poignant to one as ridiculous to another, and I can’t really argue with how one should feel about art or how they interpret it. I just sat and played and reacted, and then started writing when I was finished with it the next day, instead of firing off tweets. I made sure to not read a single word so I wouldn’t get my reaction spoiled, and then I ran into a tweet storm and got soured, and thus I feel like an idiot. Oh well.

No amount of opposing viewpoints, however valid, and no amount of BAFTA awards and GOTY discussion podcasts has swayed me about that first impression, and that’s all that matters to me. I might feel differently about it down the road, that’s usually the case with most things, not everything can stick forever. And having God of War come out right after certainly doesn’t do the combat any favors, let alone the various other things it does better because it had more development time and money behind it. But I don’t want to compare third-person action games that use Helheim as a setting and feature melee combat about abused warriors. I really just wanted to try my very best to praise something that uniquely handles and challenges an issue that hits home for me, and for that, Hellblade firmly rests as an all-time memorable gaming experience, and as something I’ll bug my friends about for years until they play it because I couldn’t stop shouting “holy shit man, you gotta buy this thing cold and blind! Trust me!” until my jaw falls off. Maybe that’s why so many writers write what they write: they just don’t have any other way to convince friends to believe them about stuff they should try.


Day #4

On reflection, there’s a ton to talk about as it pertains to Hellblade and its gameplay. And I’m not even talking about the whole permadeath mechanic, which I believe is actually a fake-out to induce paranoia about dying with a ticking clock and a cloud of the unknown surrounding your actions (get it?). The darkness spreads up your arm, your disease gets worse the worse you do in the game, her curse is a metaphor, all that stuff (do you get it yet). But there are lots of little clever things the game does that only smacks you once you step away from it (and devote a whole week to writing about it, I guess.) Demons coming out of nowhere and with no warning in my life definitely made me think of how effective it was in the game, and the longer I think about it the more I appreciate its depiction of mental illness. The constant lying and harassing and exaggerated thoughts, they’re unrelenting and so painfully accurate. Every line that swirls around you are dripping with self-loathing and a pervasive sense of dread, it pervades and permeates and corrodes and smothers everything in its path until you’re miserable. There is a scarcity of hope, and by the end it doesn’t matter, and the entire time you’re fighting and being chased by legitimately scary shit. Hela is a big, naked baby doll looking thing and I wanted no part of that motherfucker and its cracked, bald face with its dead eyes. Yeesh: shivers when I think about that monster.

And I keep coming back to the central mechanic of the voices; I think I’ve written about them in every single entry every day this week so far, but I can’t stress enough how realistic it is, even if it’s not one to one with my experiences or yours. Just the paranoid double checking, people laughing at your mistakes, commenting on you, debating in your head, an angel and devil on your shoulders that whisper into your ears. They call out in combat to avoid attacks you don’t see because they don’t want Senua to die because then they do. And in puzzles they only want you to suffer because they don’t care about your well being. They never do. It screws with you and helps you and you cannot ignore the voices, and it’s the perfect foil, not the villains or antagonists or enemies, because it really is the biggest obstacle to Senua and people like her. It’s one of the strongest ways to connect to a playable protagonist, through that use of 3D audio, and another way to show and not tell about the overall story and world. It just builds all of it in an organic way, because you might not be getting the facts, but you definitely understand the truths by the end.

Day #5

As I finish up rehashing over and over my admiration of this game, there are some loose threads I had written down that don’t fit into a paragraph or larger point very well. I’ll rattle them off because there’s so much that impressed me I had to dump my brain onto the sheet. Like how breathtaking the ending level in Hell was, and how it’s my favorite depiction of Hell maybe ever. It’s just the most heavy metal shit going on, and somehow I’m reeling from the story, and drudging through the lakes of blood to avenge Senua’s lost love. The history of mental illness that surrounds Senua’s family was touching to me, despite how harrowing the details are if you read about all the details you miss during the game. There’s stuff you miss for sure — it’s worth looking up if you’re even mildly invested.

I am in love with the forest of illusions, and the visual puzzles that use color and light and perspective to get through. And later there’s a trial near a big tree with a sword in it that uses perception, and robs you of sight, that is scarier than almost all other games. The blind trial makes you use sound, and barely anything else, and it’s the most anxiety-inducing section of that entire game. Holy fucking shit did it get me good.

And I’ll end on a weird note: this game could be played in another language, or without any dialogue at all, and it would be almost as effective. Just some vague mumbling surrounding your every action and thought, the constant visual trickery and deception, and it instills a constant state of uneasiness that infects all the gameplay. It gets under your skin and burrows deeper into your psyche. This is to games what Koyaanisqatsi is to film; strikingly pure in its form and content, and without anything that overly makes it too gimmicky. There is no HUD, no obvious loading screens or hard cuts, no text overlays or other nonsense, its all diagetic and in the world and explainable to some degree, which is a wonder to behold in the same way the new God of War is a wonder to behold. But I don’t recall such a terrific example of using audio as a primary replacement for parts of a traditional HUD: that is truly outrageous and ingenious.

I don’t have an end to any of this, in the same way I never got an ending to the story at the top about the man who heard voices. I guess that’s fitting, since the ending of Hellblade can be just as head-scratching and alienating and deflating. But I’m going to give it a pass, since it perfectly balanced on a high-wire act for eight hours and only stumbles in the last two minute cut-scene. It’s a small nitpick in an otherwise memorable experience filled with the raw potential that only games can give through interactivity and creativity. I feel so pretentious typing that, but I don’t care at this point.

I wrote 4,000 words already. I have nothing else to say.


Also published on Medium.

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A Shot for Shot Breakdown of How Fucking Insane the Super Mario Odyssey Ending Is

I spent way too much time working on this ridiculous premise for an article, but it had to be done. It simply had. To be. Done.

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First things first, let’s all watch this clip in the otherwise masterful Super Mario Odyssey and then I can break down why it is one of the most batshit insane things Nintendo has ever done. This cutscene was so impossibly stupid and crazy, that I had to talk about it and wonder out loud why more people are not talking about it.

This game is a master work, and it still somehow hampered by the laziest and most misogynist writing for children’s entertainment I’ve ever seen. Absorb this nonsense and then let’s dive in:

Okay, process that shitstorm, and just sit with it. Okay, now we can break it down part by part, added with commentary to make sense of the senseless trash that ends this wonderfully fun game. It’s mind boggling, but I spent an afternoon learning how to create many GIFs out of a YouTube video. The process has gotten easier over the years, but still, it was a lot of work for a gag.

So first off, you become Bowser in an earlier boss fight. You go to the moon, go through lava levels and stuff (which are not on the actual moon, but I’ll give that a pass). All without an oxygen helmet (less of a pass but okay, I’m still with this for now). The fight ends with you throwing the hat aka Cappy onto Bowser to become him, and fight your way out of danger with Peach to save her life. Again. But here is where things really get out of hand.

Bowser tries to marry Peach this whole game, and you and Peach are ready to be married right here and right now? What? Why haven’t you done that already you idiot, you saved her life a million times because Miyamoto can’t get his raging boner over cartoons from the ’30s. I’m surprised he didn’t steal blackface for these games but they really should have put an end to this troupe after Sunshine was about him getting arrested for graffiti. She was the star of her own game, and used her womanly emotions to fight off enemies! Jesus fucking Christ.

If you liked it you should have put a ring on it, but somehow here we are. Okay, so Mario shrugs after escaping the collapsing lava mountain or whatever. At this point things should just wrap up, a nice kiss, and a real wedding for this poor blonde woman. But no, that would be too easy.

Then their hat ghosts go to knock boots in a celestial dreamscape, sans their corporeal forms. As a symbol for Mario and Peach fucking? What the hell is this shit?

Mario, angry looking for some reason, after saving this helpless fool who I know for a fact isn’t, turns to her…

…the hats are waiting with baited breath making googly eyes…

…as he pimps walks up to her, doesn’t hear the gigantic and colossal dinosaur get up and run over to him????

He is a minimum of like 800 pounds, don’t tell me sound works in space and then use that as an excuse to mask his blindside shoulder hit Nintendo, that is garbage logic and you know it. So Bowser knocks his ass out, after being totally defeated and exhausted, and just finds the strength to wake back up. Yeah okay. Also we know that gravity is not normal, from like the gameplay and the jumping on the surface of the moon, but now it’s back to normal gravity? What gives? Did no one edit this before it went out to the public? Is there no editors or proofers or reviewers for stupidity in all of Japan? I know there are, hire them Nintendo, for the love of god.

Ok so Bowser, a gigantic monster who does nothing but kidnap royalty and race go-karts with strangers and enemies (the ones he made by being evil)  PROPOSES with piranha plant flowers, just magically ready to go, like WHAT you already tried the plan of stealing her for marriage and now you try asking her politely? AFTER? You KIDNAPPED HER what the fuck is this shit, those are living flowers who EAT PEOPLE she isn’t going to choose you right then and there.

So Mario freaks out as if she is going to say yes, like what dude? Why are you panicking? Why are you not finishing the job and murdering this sick creep? He runs over to her and shows her a different flower, the rocket one, in an attempt to win her heart in this sad pathetic competition? What? Uhhhhhhhhhhhh excuse me, you stole his idea and gave her weak ass flowers, not that you needed to, because to remind you my dude you SAVED HER LIFE and chose to NOT MURDER Bowser, he is right there!!!! So they feverishly and fruitlessly compete for her love and affection, scaring the ever living shit out of her, and she isn’t making a decision right after all of that shit, that is traumatic. How she ended up with these two after all of these years is beyond me, she deserves better or is just so damaged she can’t quit either. But that’s another column about her well being. Does she do anything as Princess? Who is the Queen? What are her responsibilities?

Is she confused, did she think Bowser saved her because Mario controlled his body? Why is Mario having to do this, and why can’t she decide, this makes no sense at all, it’s so obvious. Their motivations are all wrong, and logic has clearly stopped being an issue decades ago in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Okay so she gets pissed and storms off, lady you could have died. But maybe it’s just too much all at once and too ridiculous, okay, so just thank Mario he is right there, and leave to talk about it. She says something to the ghosts, what does she say to the ghosts, I don’t know, moving on, she’s walking to the ship wait what. You’re just leaving? Them behind? Excuse me? What the fuck is that, you’re just going to bounce like that? That’s not your ship lady, who said you could go on the Mario ship, with his logo, after he RESCUED YOU.

So Mario consoles Bowser LIKE THEY ARE FRIENDS or some shit, are you shitting me? This isn’t Mario Kart Double Dash, you can’t just team up all of a sudden, the entire length of the game you fought each other IN TUXEDOS AND TAILCOATS.

She fucking leaves them behind! On the moon! What an ungrateful bitch! You stole the ship to leave them to die! She waves goodbye, like this isn’t her abandoning them, a betrayal of the highest order.  And Mario has to leap and get to the ship, HIS OWN SHIP, in order to get off the moon with her. And so he ends the game by throwing his hat at the screen into a logo. That is the end of the game. Bounces off of Bowser’s head, who caught up to them by running? Isn’t he slower than Mario in every conceivable way?

WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK WAS THAT

HOLY SHIT

WHAT IN THE FUCK

what was that nintendo

that is how you end that game? really

give us the ending from super mario world, that was a real ending

im not even going to give you the decency of proper punctuation or grammar or capitalization, fuck you nintendo writers and copy editors and storytellers and narrative designers

luigi won a mansion in a fake contest through the mail

bowser jr thought peach was his mother

birdo is a poor soul trapped in a corporeal body and deserves the true form free from the social construct of a gender spectrum

the supreme court is stolen and illegitimate

im losing my mind

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E3 2018 Report Card: Grades for All the Giant Companies Who Held Corporately Mandated Press Conferences

If you wanna call some of these “press conferences”… *cough*SQUARE ENIX*cough

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E3 is over, and I’ve never felt more distraught about NOT being able to play those games right fucking now. I’m so upset that we have to wait literally a lifetime, or several months, to start playing these games. Nothing is coming out until September, and most of the games on display this week are 2019 or later. What the hell gaming industry? You used to release demos and betas and downloads on the same day after an announcement, and the future should have been “play our shit in your home right now!” and instead I just have to imagine what Cyberpunk 2077 looks like. What is this, 2002, what kind of bullshit is that? Anyways, I graded the shows, just like I have for a decade (fuck I’m old,) so compare my report card to the one you wrote for your own blog — because if there’s one thing gamers love beyond writing their own commentaries is harassing others about theirs! Fuck having opinions, let’s get to some grades!


Electronic Arts: D-

Fucking useless. Next!

Alright I’ll say more. I love Vince Zampella and his coy trolling of the audience and the corporation who signs his checks while actually giving us the one genuine surprise of the show. I love Andrea Rene, I met her at a Comic-Con once and she is the nicest person ever, and she needs to host more things forever. But Anthem is the only thing worth talking about, I’m cautiously optimistic about that game and really shocked it’s coming out in the death month that is February 2019. I just don’t see how that game comes out and is perfect right out of the box without controversy, right? They should have showed way more of it without the Casey Hudson interview. Interview Juju Smith-Schuster about Anthem, that would be more worth our time. And give us a little tease of any PopCap game, PvZ Garden Warfare 3, something, anything. This show was fucking stupid otherwise, and they need to stop doing this trash because it has never sold a single extra copy of Madden, FIFA, or Battlefield. Spare me.


Microsoft: A (and winner of best showing at E3!)

How the fuck did they manage to pull this shit off? Congrats Phil Spencer! You did it. By process of elimination you had the actual best proper press conference of the entire week, and it was paced well, had no bullshit or downtime, featured genuinely interesting games throughout the entire presentation, had lots of surprises and a good range of recent and faraway releases. Their Games Pass is a legit beast now, they’re actually investing in their future, they seemed honest about the next generation and their game-plan going forward, and we got motherfucking Cuphead DLC. That’s all I need baby: fucking Cuphead, I drink that shit up all day. Not literally, because that would be murder; they are cup people and I’m sure drinking their blood is lethal.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is also the heroin I need, just inject it into my blood stream. This is the good stuff you need to start generating hype and building a narrative to springboard off of once you get going next year into the final hoorah for the Xbox One, and into the next console generation.

Now it’s one thing to judge a presser on the breadth of announcements and quality and quantity of their trailers, and it’s another to hold it against all the major publishers for featuring third party games to draw ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. Microsoft does not get to champion around Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as an exclusive, and Sony doesn’t get to do the same for the Resident Evil 2 remake. The magical year Sony had with Kingdom Hearts 3 and Shenmue 3 and Final Fantasy VII Remake, those are all coming to Xbox and PC so you have to take it all with grains of salt. But the actual physical act of watching the Xbox show did not make my eyes bleed, and it made me smile and cheer, so they win E3 by sticking to a great formula and making Gears 5 and Halo: Infinite and Forza Horizon 4 and Crackdown 3 look interesting, while pulling baller ass moves like purchasing Ninja Theory with cash money, straight up. Good on you Phil Spencer — now get to work on the Xbox Scarlet, since you brought it up.


Bethesda: B

A B for Bethesda, ha. The first 75% of this show was expected. That’s fine. That’s okay to get updates on the Elder Scrolls MMO and card game, and Quake, and yadda yadda. It’s totally expected and that gets a flat B-, so right off the bat Pete Hines and co. aren’t aiming for the moon. I respect all jokes made at this thing because they landed brilliantly, so that made me think about bringing the grade up to a B+. Then they trotted out Andrew W.K. for no reason to do a song to kill time, to mask Rage 2. Which looks kind of cool! But that dropped the grade again. Wolfenstein sequel with co-op is terrific, Doom Eternal is fantastic, Fallout 76 is intriguing, and Todd Howard is my dream husband if I needed to marry somebody. He crushed it, and I wish I could just personally pay him to come out and do the rest of the E3 briefings from now on, for all other companies besides Bethesda. They didn’t feel like beating around the bush with all the Kotaku leaks and Jason Schreier (fellow Jets fan) ruining their plans with solid reporting. Don’t blackball him for catching your trademarks Zenimax, that’s just petty. So I respect the honesty and upfront trailers for Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6! That’s bringing your A game to E3. And for that, you get a B. Don’t bring musical acts to a press conference about video games, that’s fucking poison, are you that naive, if it’s not broke don’t fix it. Simple!

Give me Elder Scrolls: Blades on my phone now please thank you.


Square Enix: F

Image result for god of war ron swanson gif


Ubisoft: D+

This was sent immediately after we all couldn’t see the Beyond Good & Evil 2 pre-alpha gameplay because the camera pulled out and we missed it. Everything else that happened was either leaked or rumored or just had to be there like clockwork. Just Dance ✔ Trials ✔ Rainbow Six: Siege ✔ Skull and Bones ✔ For Honor ✔ Nintendo crossover and some DLC for Rabbids ✔Beyond Good & Evil not finished yet ✔ The Division 2 ✔new Assasin’s Creed ✔wow look I just filled out the checklist for being a Ubisoft executive, do I get some shares of stock now? There was no new IP to close the show, no Rayman, and no Prince of Persia.

AND NO SPLINTER CELL REBOOT. FUCK OFF UBISOFT, DON’T DO A SHOW IF YOU HAVE NO REAL REASON TO, OR NO SAM FISCHER.


Sony: C+

What in the fuck was that? Honestly, Sony, what were you thinking, honestly? Like, you really don’t have to try, but don’t make it look like you’re not trying at all. Remember the orchestra and God of War and Crash Bandicoot shadow thing and having a cohesive show that made sense? One designed for both the live audience AND the millions viewing at home? Somehow you managed to piss BOTH groups off with a head-scratching structure, start and stop opening and closing segments, pointless interviews with lackeys, awkward pauses, delays, horrible production quality, and piss poor video and audio. The issues that occurred while watching this live stream were literally and figuratively terrible, and the equivalent of a train wreck.

That being said, the games were stellar, the number of things to focus on were low, and you spent the time to dive into long gameplay demos. That was smart, but no release dates anywhere wasn’t, and neither was burying flops-to-be Days Gone and Dreams. You know that we know these are going to sell like duds, so why pretend they don’t exist? Really this all doesn’t matter because Red Dead Redemption 2 is going to outsell all other games combined, and Fallout 76 will clean up the rest of holiday sales. You won this generation and have more PS4s to sell somehow because everyone is buying them. Like, is it mandated that all citizens in all countries purchase one per day? Like a message was sent to all the villages and towns that if they don’t buy a PlayStation 4 the first born son of all families will die?

There is no denying though the sheer strength of Sony’s line-up. Death Stranding is a troll delivery game, Marvel’s Spider-Man looks unbelievable, The Last of Us Part II is an automatic write-in candidate for a 100 on Metacritic, and Nioh 2 was a trillion times more hype than whatever Ghost of Tsushima is.


Nintendo: Incomplete

When does their Direct actually start, because they showed Smash Bros. but like where is all the other stuff, for real? Did I miss the day, or get the time wrong, or

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The 18 Games I’m Looking Forward To Seeing The Most at E3 2018

With the biggest week in gaming set to kick off tomorrow, here are the 18 games I’m looking forward to (hopefully) seeing at the show.

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Look, we got a lot of ground to cover here, so I’m not going to waste time here. You know what E3 is, right? You’re reading this article, so I’m assuming the answer is “yes.” Cool, cool. Since you know what the event is, I’m assuming I don’t have to explain to you how fun it is to see a bunch of new video games get shown off to the public, all in the attempt to wow as many gamers as possibly, build up them “HYPE!” points, etc. It’s an event I love to bear witness to each and every year, and even if it’s not as big a deal as it was, say, 10 years ago, the days of press conferences still occupy a soft spot in my heart. So I go into this year’s event excited — more excited than I thought, even. While my list was initially only going to be 10 games like last year, this year looked so promising, I quickly expanded it to 18 (which, coincidentally, seemed to cover about everything for me.)

But in expanding the list, I also expanded the parameters. While usually I try to make a majority of my list things that are CONFIRMED to make an appearance at the show, this year I went a little gung-ho with it, and included things that were merely rumored. Rest assured, though: I didn’t go completely crazy, and kept things in the realm of “speculated but unconfirmed” (sorry folks, no Half-Life 3 predictions here.) In any case, not all of these games are 100% going to appear during the event and, if I was a betting man, I would say there’s a good chance a few of them won’t. But, hey: it’s 2018. Let me dream a little, okay?

Here are the 18 games I’m looking foward to seeing the most at E3 2018, starting with…


18. Halo 6 or Halo: Genesis or Halo 6: Genisys or Whatever The Hell It Will Be

Ugh. It’s been nearly three years since the release of Halo 5: Guardians, and I’m still not really over it. The game is the Halo equivalent of The Phantom Menace, and I simply can’t believe how badly 343 Industries fucked up with it after releasing the surprisingly great Halo 4. Just thinking back on that awful campaign makes me mad, and no amount of competent multiplayer (Warzone is fun, sure) can make my memories of the game any better. That being said, a small part of me hopes 343 learned from the mistakes of Halo 5, and has something of a comeback with the next (and presumably final) installment of the Reclaimer Trilogy. At the very least, the reveal trailers for these games are always fun to witness, and though there’s no guaranteed Halo will even make Microsoft’s conference to begin with…c’mon. It’s been a long time for Microsoft to keep this brand dormant. If we don’t hear what is next for the universe on Sunday, by this point, it’s time to get worried. Well, more worried, at least.


17. The New Splinter Cell

Hey, cool, a new Splinter Cell game is pretty much guaranteed to be revealed on Monday. As a casual fan of that franchise: neat! Let’s hope Ubisoft won’t be able to turn it into yet another open world, multiplayer heavy “experience.” Lord knows the world of AAA gaming has enough of those already…


16. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo Switch

It’s a new Smash Bros game – what, do you need a full paragraph of explanation or something? Its status on the list is guaranteed from the word “Smash,” c’mon now.


15. Rocksteady’s New Game

…Whatever it may be! All signs are pointing to a Superman thing, which would be a weird sort of challenge for the Arkham Asylum dev to tackle. Superman doesn’t naturally make a good video game character but, hey, so didn’t Batman, I guess. And they did an amazing job of bringing him to the medium. I mean, mostly. Arkham Knight was…disappointing? Mediocre? A whimper of a conclusion to one of the Caped Crusader’s finest stories? All of the above, sure. But if Rocksteady ends up popping up during a press conference this year (which is like 80% possible at this point), it will at least be nice to get a general idea of what they are doing.


14. Square Enix’s Avengers Game

Speaking of superhero properties: remember this? Marvel is working on a big AAA game with Square Enix, to be developed by Deus Ex developer Eidos Montreal and Tomb Raider dev Crystal Dynamics. It was something of a big fucking deal when it was first announced back at the start of 2017. At the time, Square said more details would be revealed about this Avengers projects come 2018 and, well, look at that: it’s the time known as “come 2018.” With Square’s press conference Monday morning, I would very much expect a closer look at this game. I doubt it will be anything too detailed (probably just a couple minute long CGI-rendered thing), but with The Avengers the biggest thing out there at the moment, I doubt Square will drop the chance to tease their potentially huge project.


13. Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Blind Forest was one of the most beautiful game experiences I’ve had this generation, and last year’s reveal of its sequel was equally as charming. I doubt we’ll get much more than another trailer during Microsoft’s presser on Sunday (if even that), but I just want to see more from this game, in any capacity possible.


12. Beyond Good and Evil 2

Beyond Good and Evil 2 delivered in a big way last year, returning from its many years of silence with an entertaining, beautiful, instantly memorable reveal trailer. Of course, said trailer was only capable of presenting the atmosphere and FEELING of the game…what the game actually is, really, remains a mystery. Might we actually get a taste of actual gameplay for Beyond Good and Evil 2, confirmed for an appearance during Ubisoft’s press conference Monday afternoon? Let’s hope so. After nearly two decades of waiting, we’re going to need more than an (admittedly delightful) CGI trailer to stoke the flames of hype.


11. Ghost of Tsushima

I mean, it’s a huge AAA Sony production about motherfucking samurais. Please, sir, can I have some more? Because everything about this should end up being awesome. I hope this one manages to wow me in a God of War/Horizon type way when it gets its first big spotlight during Sony’s press conference. I mean, did you see that reveal trailer?! I’m already so in, you guys.


10. Fallout 76

Who knows what Fallout 76 actually is (well, everyone who reads Kotaku, I guess), but it’s a new Fallout experience of some sort, and there’s no way in hell I wouldn’t be looking forward to another one of those. Heck, it might even be enough to get me excited about a genre that, frankly, I’ve never given a damn about! Never doubt the power of the brand, folks.


9. Cyberpunk 2077

Everything about Cyberpunk 2077 looks right up my freaking alley, and lord knows the world could use more futuristic sci-fi set RPG’s semi-based on a tabletop board game, and developed by a bunch of independent-but-acclaimed Polish developers. What, it’s a perfectly cromulent niche! In any case, the brief teaser trailer first released by CD Projekt Red was INCREDIBLE, and I’m eager to see what the game actually is five years removed (yes, seriously, it’s been that long…can’t rush perfection, eh?) Well not 100% confirmed for the show, chances are high it will make an appearance in some capacity. If it’s even a tenth as amazing as that trailer looks, me feels like we’re going to be in for a treat.


8. Metroid Prime 4

I have no idea if Metroid Prime 4 will actually be shown off during Nintendo’s livestream this year, but I’m certainly hoping so. It’s been two years since the game was first announced with its literal nothing reveal trailer, and with only Smash on the horizon as Nintendo’s next big AAA game, another big franchise game has to be detailed, right? I doubt the game will be coming out until late 2019 at the earliest, but even a cinematic teaser trailer would go far here. Actual gameplay (even if it was as brief as Breath of the Wild’s first reveal) would be the cherry on top.


7. Kingdom Hearts 3

I didn’t have Kingdom Hearts 3 on my list last year, mostly because I didn’t think it would make the show. It did, but in a rather limited capacity, only showing off a “trailer” comprised of a random sequence from the game, and other random snippets. You might notice that has been a trend for Kingdom Hearts 3 so far, though, as most of the trailers Square Enix have released are just quick snippets of random action, completely subtitled in Japanese and with little rhyme or reason to their existence as a piece of promotion (Square just seemed to pull whatever piece of game footage looked decent, interstitched with some non-sensical cutscenes taken from random points in the game, and called it a day.)

Well, I say no more to that. If Kingdom Hearts 3 really is in the lead up to its actual release (BELIEVE IT WHEN I SEE IT, FOLKS), than Square Enix better actually deliver details on the game, including what the fuck the actual story is, a trailer featuring ENGLISH dubbing, and details on all the new worlds, new gameplay features, etc. And give us the first release date, that way we can get the act of it being delayed into 2019 out of the way.


6. Battlefield V

I’ve said this in the past, but I feel it must be reiterated: for my money, Battlefield 1 is the best multiplayer shooter of the decade. Sure, it might not have created a whole new genre like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or be as massively popular as something like Overwatch, but Battlefield 1 was one of the most polished, atmospheric multiplayer shooters I’ve ever had the chance to play. And that’s coming from someone who, for years, placed himself in the Call of Duty camp, rather than the Battlefield one. But what can I say? Battlefield 1 is amazing, and really I’d be absolutely fine if DICE just kept everything the same about it, but with a WWII skin on top, for Battlefield V. Of course that’s likely not happening, which makes me extremely curious to see what the studio plans to do with the follow-up. Even putting aside the dual Star Wars: Battlefront debacles, I have faith in them to treat their star IP right. We shall see when the game gets its full, detailed unveiling during EA’s Play Conference tomorrow.


5. The Last of Us: Part II

As someone who was firmly against the idea of “franchising” The Last of Us (which perfectly works as a standalone story, thanks)…yeah, I do kinda want to see more from The Last of Us: Part II. I simply can’t doubt the abilities of Naughty Dog, and the brief looks at the game that they have given us so far looks, well, pretty damn intense. Whether or not the game can match the emotional and narrative power of the first is still VERY much up in the air, but I would like to at least see more of what Naughty Dog is aiming for here. Thankfully, we’ll probably be getting that in spades, as it is confirmed to be a big part of Sony’s E3 conference.


4. Marvel’s Spider-Man

I wrote at length last E3 about how amazing Insomniac’s new Spider-Man game looked and, for my money, it was game of the show in 2017. With launch only a few months away, I wouldn’t expect anything quite as amazing or revealing this time around, but just getting another look at a big set-piece from the game would be enough to get my hype engine going.


3. Death Stranding

I hope Death Stranding isn’t an actual video game. I hope it’s just a string of bizarre CGI trailers, each of which feature a notable presence from the world of TV and film (woah, Norman Reedus! Woah, Mads Mikkelsen! Woah…Guillermo del Toro? Okay, sure – woah Guillermo del Toro!) I hope it’s just an elaborate string of artistic short films, each more insane than the last, and showing off the Hideo Kojima we all know and love: mainly, an insane but brilliant motherfucker. Truly, I would be happy just watching these non-sensical CGI trailers year after year. But, alas, Death Stranding is (allegedly) a video game, and a video game towards the end of its promotional life cycle too. Which means that – finally – we’re probably going to get a look at actual gameplay from this strange little beast. Which is all well and good: Kojima is good at crafting that too, sure. But will extended gameplay, no matter how cool and unique, manage to top Norman Reedus with a baby up inside him? I don’t think so, folks. I expect we’ll learn a lot about what Death Stranding actually is come Monday night, but let’s hope that it will also present us with more disturbing visuals, cryptic symbolism, and atmospheric overload. I for one can’t get enough of it.


2. Anthem

Anthem was my favorite new game announced at E3 last year, as I absolutely loved the presentation that Bioware and EA put together for the game. It gave me the kind of reveal high that only a big E3 presentation can…and, frankly, can only do once. It’s a lot harder to wow gamers the second time around, and I’m not really sure if Anthem will be able to do it. Bioware has A LOT (arguably everything) riding on this game being a hit, and I hope that means they are doing everything in their power to make it one of their best ever gaming experiences. As someone who has Mass Effect 2 as his second favorite video game of all time, I truly want Bioware to deliver something incredible. And the promise of Anthem is overpowering. Then again, so was the promise of Destiny. I certainly want to see more from this game but, please, please be awesome. I can’t handle another Mass Effect: Andromeda from this company.


1. Starfield

Okay, yes: I’m putting all my speculative chips on the table here. There’s a HIGH chance that this game won’t even be at this year’s show…and yet, I still can’t help but be incredibly excited everytime I think about its mere existence, and be rather optimistic that now is FINALLY the time we get it confirmed.

After all, while not as long as the wait for games like Borderlands 3 (which, btw, won’t be making the show, sorry) or Kingdom Hearts 3, I feel like I’ve been looking out for the reveal of Bethesda’s new IP for a LONG time now. Making it worse is the fact that we don’t even know what that IP is, not really. The consistent leaks and rumors over the years have pegged it as some kind of big Fallout/Elder Scrolls RPG in a space setting (so, yes, dope), but with absolutely nothing to back it up, who the hell even knows? It may not even be called Starfield anymore, for Christ’s sake. But we do know the game exists, and that Bethesda’s main development group is in the process of creating it. Could 2018 FINALLY be the year they blow the door off their worst kept secret? I’m hoping that, by putting it on this list, that will be the case. Willful ignorance, don’t let me down now!


We’ll see if my anticipation for any of these titles were at all deserved when most of them (hopefully) get shown off at E3 2018, kicking off tomorrow with EA’s press conference at 2 PM Est. Stay tuned for more thoughts from us then!


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