The Un-Elder Globes: Skyrim

I have yet to shiver in the rivers that run through the wintry landscape of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. I have not stared down a dragon in the hopes of stilling his soul. I have, however, imagined that all the dragons sound like Sean Connery. I’ve also watched a multitude of trailers and now, game play, and what has caught my attention the most since post release?

Before I go any further and reveal my mannerism, let me put in place a preemptive apology to my girlfriend. Amanda, I am sorry, they mean nothing to me. Even when I do purchase the game and I am immersed within their world and perhaps living with them, even sleeping with them, they are not a real threat. Okay, now that is out of the way…

So what have I noticed constantly in the Skyrim videos post launch? Boobs. Large, perfectly shaped, breasts. Yeah there are dragons and dual wielding of spells and weapons, but boy did they do a job on the pixelated perkies. It seems if a women in the world of Skyrim has a low cut blouse then they must also have a before-its-time push up bra or, at least, a c-sized silicone implant… or both.

As soon as I started to regularly notice the boobzilla inhabitants of Skyrim (and trust me it didn’t take long) I instantly started to make up in world excuses for their existence:

“In the frigid northern lands, that is Skyrim, evolution has adapted to provide women with insulating chest pillows.”

“Among the possible spell paths is, the less traveled, Cosmetic Spell Caster. He/She earns his living by enhancing the beauty of the women of the north, who suffer from the harsh winters, by offering his skills for coin.”

“A side quest quest of Skyrim is to find the source (possibly a dragon), for King Weiner, that provides its women with large attractive breast so he may use it for his own shortcomings in his land of New Yorkia.”

All that was fun, but the real reason that eye cleaving cleavage is so prevalent in Skyrim is because, sex sales. I was sold on this game way before the Breastimous Magnanimous spell was ever cast on me. The game is huge and it leaves plenty to the imagination (No. Not, “I wonder what she looks like under that leather armor.”) or more importantly, exploration. It is a world you will struggle to see in its entirety, even if that is your sole purpose of playing it. The game is its own world, that you will enjoy getting lost in.

I understand the need to immerse players of a game within their surroundings by providing them with ample amounts of visual fruit (see cantaloupes, watermelons etc.) when that said surrounding is a brothel or the lair of an enchantress; I understand this and expect it. On the dual wielding hand, not every women in a hotel, tavern or farmhouse has a set of ‘dragon eyes’ the size of Duke Nukem’s ego.

What makes this more frustrating as a gamer who wants gaming to be taken more seriously; as an industry of intelligence, made up of players of intelligence (See the publication Kill Screen’s mission http://killscreendaily.com/pages/who-we-are.) is The Elder Scrolls series has been embraced by women and men alike. I couldn’t get Amanda off my old PC after I introduced her to The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Both her and I have been anticipating the release of Skyrim and are now waiting for the right moment to purchase it. How many women gamers have been turned off by the YourTube boob views of Skyrim, passed on the purchase, and went back to playing Farmville?

Then there’s how video game news is covered. The industry must distance itself from the large breasted women trying to convince us they are actually informed about video games. What female viewer who is questioning taking up the hobby would decide that she wants to partake in an industry that covers news in such  way? Please stop insulting me by presenting your silicone talking head as an expert in the field of video game journalism. Yes, there are exceptions, where the woman is informed but they normally don’t rise to the top because of the following:

Yes, video gaming is dominated by us penis pushers and so are the themes of video games but think how much of a bigger audience a game would have it is just toned down the titties? I am in no way saying cut out the sexy that makes up 85% of females portrayed in video games but perhaps cut that down to 65-60%. In the process of cutting back on the racks, input some female characters that are more than just visually pleasing. Put some in there that are mud crab ugly. Put some in there that are attractive and intelligent. Put some in there that are as common looking as Jane Eyre and when the storyline matches, do put some in there with spell enhanced “attributes”. To their credit, Bethesda does this to some extent in Skyrim.

In a gaming economy that relies on having a large base of potential gamers wouldn’t it behoove a developer to not ostracise a potential segment? Lets take away the capitalist argument above. Shouldn’t creating games that could have mass appeal to multiple genders be done because it is the right thing to do? Because those who are playing the games are not just boner controlled morons, but evolved men and women who appreciate a fun fantasy game that doesn’t make them out to be walking hardons?

One of the most dreaded words in PC gaming…

One of the most dreaded words in PC gaming…PORT. Port, a reference to a game whose target platform and design basis were meant for the console and then ‘transported’ over to the PC. A game whose graphical, processing and control scheme were designed for the limited abilities of the console and then package into a version for play on the computer. Port, a game that does not fully take advantage of the graphical, processing and advance control abilities of even the average computer gaming rig.

The underlying and most hurtful reason this term is so frightening to a computer gamer is because some of the greatest franchises of computer gaming past have eventually become a CPU port rather than CPU focused. Franchises that were developed on the computer, played, moded and improved by the computer gaming community changed focus and dumb themselves down for the consoles.

A topical franchise that has gone through this transition is Bethesda’s (originally a CPU focused developer) The Elder Scrolls series. Prior to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion this game series started and grew out of the computer gaming community. From its first iteration The Elder Scrolls: Arena, in 1994, up to The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon and its expansions, The Elder Scrolls series was about freedom of choice and exploration. It was also about listening to the gaming community and incorporating mods into new games in the series, a virtual evolution. The focus on the computer gaming community changed with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, when Bethesda focused on tapping into the console money pot and putting those who got it there (PC gamers) on the armored horses backside.

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If you were a PC gamer you could be on Bethesda's backside...with armor, for a cost.

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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion had to dumb down its graphics and AI, lower the onscreen animations and later, gouge its players for extras that should have been included in its original release (see above). Needless to say it left a bitter taste in the CPU players’ mouths, like they had just eaten a mud crab they found by the lake – bland, brown and lifeless.

The newest game to this franchise is scheduled to release on a marketer’s day of delight, 11/11/11. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was looking pretty and hopes were high that Bethesda was looking to come back to its roots of the PC. The developer was even talking about improvements made that were moded into Oblivion (i.e. improved archery, improved NPC AI). Then there was E3, then there was Skyrim’s lead producer Craig Lafferty, then there was this interview…

http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/06/08/e3-2011-the-elder-scrolls-v-skyrim-interview-consoles-are-our-lead-skew/

Rich McCormick’s comments below the video on www.pcgamer.com makes some solid points that still gives me hope for a good game but perhaps doesn’t quite squash my port concerns.

“Skyrim’s still looking really good, and will take as long to finish as the PC RPG classics of yore. And, as Lafferty says in the interview, Bethesda are ‘still really big on the ‘go where you want’, play how you want from the very beginning’.”

Hopefully Bethesda hears our ‘Dragon Shouts’ and pays heed to its CPU roots while still tapping into the console’s dragon hoard.

The Roles of Rivers: Waterways in game play

Passing over the historic Brazos River this past Memorial Day weekend I flashed back to Fallout: New Vegas [FNV] and the time spent exploring the Colorado River and its shorelines. I heard the distinct sound my character would make as he started to drown and gulp for air, trying to sneakily reach a distant shore. I saw John Marston, of Red Dead Redemption, herding cattle (no, not nerds) against the river’s current in hopes to rope out a future for his polygon family. I visualized screenshots of Bethesda’s upcoming Elder Scrolls Skyrim and the beautiful rivers rendered with its new engine. I then swerved back into my lane and finished crossing the bridge.

Were I almost met my watery death, the Brazos River.

What this brief brush with wet death brought to mind, other than “Watch the road!”, was the huge roles rivers play in games. At times rivers act as a game’s protagonist or as a roadblock to exploration. Some developers use them to create a natural looking “invisible wall” that your character can’t pass – I’m looking at you Left 4 Dead. As in FNV, a river can play an integral part to the storyline and an actual enabler to exploration.

In real time strategy [RTS] games rivers can be (as is the case in real life) an asset that can garner you resources or positional advantages – a fine example of this can be seen in the entire series of Civilization games. In a war focused RTS a river can help protect your main base’s flanks, a tactic I used to my advantage constantly in Relic’s Company of Heroes.

The bridges of Company of Heroes Lyon map made protecting my flanks a bit easier.

As was the case this year with the Missouri and Mississippi, real rivers around us can create stories of their own with each flood. They can bring new twist and turns to the world’s geography and to a game’s narrative. Rivers were the basis of cities in early America and provided life, and death, to those around them. The same can be said of rivers in video games but without the actual pain of loss or the excitement of life…unless you’re me, were at times the difference can become like the water, murky.