PAX East 2015: Gigantic

A screenshot from Gigantic showing a black woman with a huge fur collar aiming down a crossbow scope.I have no idea why people aren’t raving about this game.

Let me back up a second. Going into PAX East this year, my partner had Gigantic–an upcoming free-to-play MOBA-ish 5v5 online competitive game made by Motiga–pegged as the game he was most interested in checking out at the show. He showed me some trailers, and I was intrigued, but skeptical. It looked beautiful and the characters were striking. But an online competitive game? Not really my thing.

Sunday morning of PAX, he finally convinced me to give it a shot on the show floor. We waited in line for maybe 40 minutes, and then were placed in a match with another couple and a Community Coach, against four other PAX attendees and their own coach. I picked the cute little wizard goblin to play as, and the match began.

We lost pretty badly, but it was so incredibly fun that I didn’t even care. The game is fast, playing almost like a third-person shooter with an emphasis on movement, although each character has a very different role and play style. The twist with this game is that each team has a huge creature called a Guardian on its team. Each team starts out trying to control points on the map and kill other players. Doing this increases your Guardian’s power. When the power meter is full, the Guardian goes on a rampage, stomping across the map to the other team’s Guardian. Your team needs to escort your Guardian to the other end of the map, where it attacks the other team’s Guardian, causing it to be stunned. Then, you are free to wail on the other team’s Guardian. The goal of the game is to knock out the other team’s Guardian.

The combination of the beautiful art, fun and interesting characters, and strategic team-based play added up to something immediately appealing. Even though I’m not a competitive person, and I prefer co-op to competitive games, I found that the teamwork skills I had honed in games like Final Fantasy XI, Guild Wars 2, and even Uncharted horde mode helped me out a lot. Additionally, MOBAs are notoriously inaccessible, and while Gigantic has some complexities–you level up in the middle of a match and choose both passive upgrades and skill upgrades, like other MOBAs–it’s also pretty easy to just jump in. I was able to wail away on enemies and even get a few kills just using my main attack (mapped to the left mouse button), and once I started to get used to using Q, E, and F for the other skills, I found myself being able to pop into a battle, cause some chaos, and escape fairly skillfully. I was able to play two more matches that day, and at each one I played better and better, despite choosing different characters each time.

But the thing that has me really raving about the game to anyone who will listen is the female characters. Out of the 16 heroes revealed so far, 7 are women or girls (and two are genderless: a robot and an agender swashbuckler named Tyto). Not just that, the variety found in the female characters is just fantastic. The character at the top of this post is Imani, a sniper with a truly amazing fashion sense. The goblin wizard I played in the first match is named Mozo, and she’s a girl!

A screenshot of Gigantic showing Mozo, a goblin wizard with pointy hat and green robes.Other companies or artists would insist on giving her long hair or a bow or pink robes so that you know for certain she’s a girl, but Mozo shows that that’s just not necessary. You can have a female character that isn’t necessarily feminized.

There’s also a badass grandma witch named Griselma–when do you ever see female characters over the age of 30 in games?

A screenshot from Gigantic showing Griselma, a tiny old lady, leaping into the air, surrounded by strange creatures.On the other end of the spectrum is Aisling, a little girl with a big ol’ sword who can summon the ghost of her dad.

A screenshot from Gigantic of Aisling, a 10-yr-old girl with white hair, an oversized coat, and a huge sword. A large ghost soldier floats behind her.

There’s also Xenobia, a creepy tentacle witch who can drain health; Tripp, a deadly lightning assassin; and Vadasi, a four-armed goddess of judgement who smites her enemies and heals allies. The fact that there are such a variety of female characters that are created to be appealing to everyone and not just straight men makes the game so welcoming to me. It’s obvious the developers want players to want to be these women and girls and female-creatures, not just ogle them.

All the characters in the game have such clear designs and instant personality. And it’s not just set dressing; the designs combine so well with the characters skills that it makes the game that much more fun to play. When I played Mozo I really felt like I was a zany wizard bopping around the field zapping people; when I played Voden, I felt like a lord of the forest, dashing from battle to battle poisoning enemies and protecting our Guardian. It’s all of these components together that make the game instantly special to me and one that I’m looking forward to following its development.

For more about character design in Gigantic, check out:
Mike Williams’s interview with artist Joe Pikop (USGamer.net)
Motiga’s PAX South panel on Hero design (YouTube)

All screenshots are from Gigantic’s official website.

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Contempt for Your Audience

I like games. Games are good. People should play them. But every once in a while they should put those games back on the shelf and see what else the world has to offer.

This is the closing line from this Paste post about PAX East 2011.

I’m rather angry at the condescension on display here, and it’s an attitude I’ve seen before. It seems to me that some (read: not all, or even most) people in the industry–whether they make games or write about them–just don’t understand what the big deal is about conventions for non-industry fans.

Does the author of this piece really not understand that fans who go to game conventions actually don’t live, eat, and breathe video games? And that this is, in fact, why they go to conventions? The scolding about not being obsessed with games is completely ridiculous. His job is games. Mine? Is not. I spend about eight hours a day doing a job that has nothing to do with video games. When I come home, sometimes I play video games. Sometimes I do other things, like sew or read or write stories or watch TV or go out to dinner or go to concerts or hang out with friends and family. PAX East is the three days out of an entire year that I do nothing but play games, talk about games, drink, and sleep. The fact that people who go to PAX have lives outside of games is also the very reason they can seem so intense: this is their only chance out of the entire year to be immersed in the game industry, to meet other gamers, play tons of games, and maybe even meet some of the people who make the games they love, so yeah, people go overboard with the geekiness. If you are immersed in the game industry 365 days a year–if you make or write about games–I guess it’s hard to see what the big deal is, since there are so many more industry and press events than there are fan conventions (reminder: there are TWO video game fan conventions, PAX and PAX East, on opposite sides of the country from one another).

But that’s not my only problem with this piece. At first, I understood the comment about it not being enough to love games, you have to love the idea of loving games. I had moments at PAX East, both years that I went, where I looked around and thought, damn, I am in NERDLAND. But then I laughed it off and continued to enjoy myself; it certainly didn’t send me spiraling into self-loathing. If just being around a ton of nerds makes you feel disgusted with yourself for even being in the same room as them, that’s your own problem.

The thing about how it’s cool to be a nerd now is a total lie, and it always has been. It’s cool to like Star Wars and video games, and be socially awkward in a cute and endearing sort of way. It’s cool to be a nerd like Zachary Levi’s character on Chuck. It’s not cool to be the sort of nerd who isn’t Hollywood-attractive, who is actually socially awkward in an awkward and uncomfortable way, the sort of nerd who can’t make small talk and takes things too literally and obsesses over things no one but other nerds care about (in case it’s not clear, I am describing myself here). So it makes me pretty angry when someone who perhaps self-identifies as a nerd but is a cool nerd comes into a space with non-cool nerds and tells those nerds to stop being so nerdy, already.

Telling people they should be more reserved and dignified in their interests is puritan and ridiculous. It’s not your job to police other peoples’ enthusiasm. Commenter Peter Stocking put it best: “A convention isn’t about liking everything in the place. It is about having a place for the things you like.” When it comes to conventions, take what you want, leave the rest, and don’t judge other people.

Edit: I enjoyed this response at Gamers With Jobs by Rob Zacny, particularly the last couple paragraphs. I’ve been both judge and judged (I used to the think the days of considering cosplayers losers was behind us, but apparently not…), and neither roles are particularly pleasant. Less judgment of others in general can only make things better.

PAX East: Girls in Gaming Panel

Crossposted at The Border House.

Last weekend, March 25-27, was the first annual PAX East convention. The Penny Arcade Expo has been running for several years in Seattle, but this is the first time it has come to the East Coast, and the first time I was able to attend. I’m going to write a few posts about the various panels I went to and the overall experience, and the first thing I would like to address is the “Girls in Gaming” panel that took place on Friday night.

The panel consisted of: Brittany Vincent (Editor-in-Chief, Spawn Kill), Julie Furman (Founder, SFX360), Alexis Hebert (Community Relations Manager, Terminal Reality), Padma Fuller (Product Marketing Manager, Sanrio Digital), and Kate Paiz (Senior Producer, Turbine), with Jeff Kalles of Penny Arcade moderating. The format was entirely Q&A, with no discussion and only short introductions before opening up the floor to questions. So it did not begin very well, though this was entirely the fault of the organizers.

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