This post is coming fairly late after the fact. I was too busy playing actually playing UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves to be more timely about writing this.
On 5th October, I was one of several hundred people in four cities that attended the UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves Cinema Events. These events, held at cinemas in San Francisco, the Seattle area, Los Angeles, and Chicago, invited a select group of people to view developer playthroughs of (at the time) never-before-seen levels in UNCHARTED 2, watch behind-the-scenes videos of the development process, and participate in a tournament to win the grand prize of the ultra limited UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves Fortune Hunter’s Edition.
How did one procure free passes to this event? I got passes by following @SonyPlayStation on Twitter. It was by good luck that I happened to glance at my Twitter feed at the time when Sony put the call out. They directed people to a reservation link, through which one could reserve passes on a first come, first serve basis, and print them for the event. Within short order, all of the passes for each of the cities were claimed. I actually didn’t realise how big a deal this was until after I read the comments on the Sony PlayStation blog and grasped that UNCHARTED is really, really popular. If you read my previous post, you know that I didn’t follow UNCHARTED much until recently.
The event was really cool. The walkthroughs and behind-the-scenes videos were especially interesting. It was neat to see what went on behind the development process. One of the interesting aspects is how every cut scene in the game was actually motion-captured by the actors on a set. This added a realist touch to the character’s movements in the game. Because the actors were directly interacting with each other, you could really see that chemistry come through in the game’s cut scenes. Another thing that was interesting is that the cut scenes were rendered using game play models, which is a fairly impressive thing. I really liked hearing the developers talk about the cinematic feel they wanted to capture for the game, and what they did to accomplish this.
Another fact that stood out is that the Writer and Director of both UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune and UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves is a woman, Amy Hennig. Why is this at all significant? Well, because both games treated the female characters with respect. I feel the generally good portrayal of female characters in the UNCHARTED games is not something that would have come immediately or easily had the creative direction of the project not been driven by and/or heavily influenced a woman, considering how male-dominated the videogame development industry is, and considering how most people continue to cling to outdated views of gender. If you think that’s not accurate, then you’ll have to explain to me why triple-A games are constantly fucking this up. See Halo 3: Orbital Drop Shock Troopers for a recent prime example of how female characters are yet again disrespected by development teams who obviously have very traditional, very archaic views of gender roles. If you compare Elena Fisher, who appears both in UNCHARTED and UNCHARTED 2, and Chloe Frazier, who appears in UNCHARTED 2, with other female characters in games, I feel there’s a huge difference in their portrayal. While there are some problematic issues (no game lacks these), I would say that, in general, these two women are good examples of how to do female characters in videogames right. I really can’t gush enough about how happy and pleased I am with the Naughty Dog development team for the way they portrayed these two characters as strong, competent, witty, smart, insightful, and fantastic women. I’ll talk about them in another post, when I review UNCHARTED 2.
It was incredible to see the levels played on a cinema screen. Apparently they were using these new, high-end Sony digital projectors, which supposedly made digital images look even better than if other projectors were used. I can’t speak to a comparison, but I was very impressed at the image quality on the big screen. It was really amazing. UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. The developers were able to play through several different levels and they chose levels which gave the audience a good feel of the diversity of game play settings. There weren’t too many spoilers, either, which was good.
In between developer videos and big screen demos of UNCHARTED 2 levels, they ran a couple of rounds of tournament play. I decided not to participate in the tournament because I’m pretty terrible at these kinds of games. The tournament was okay to watch, but these things are generally more fun to play. Two of the stations had the ability for their screens to be shown on the massive movie screen, and the emcee made a point of saying he wanted the most charismatic or most skilled gamers to play at those stations.
At one point, the emcee had one of the few women participating in the tournament play at one of these particular stations. He asked the crowed to give this woman encouragement because according to him, she seemed a little shy. I didn’t see this. I just thought she may have been slightly uncomfortable about him singling her out. I thought his behaviour was a little problematic because the emcee never asked the audience to give encouragement to the many, many dudes who previously played at that station. Furthermore, the crowd did give encouragement to this woman, but they they also did something that they never did with any of the dudes who’d used that station: they yelled out instructions, tips, and hints at her when she played poorly. Keep in mind that this was a brand new game, and no one in the tournament was expected to be an expert. So why yell out instructions to a woman, but not the men? The men weren’t giving instructions in a mean or mocking way, but this is why sexism is just so insidious. Seemingly small incidents, where people are well-meaning and think they’re doing a good thing really just reinforce sexist treatment of women. This ridiculous behaviour by the men in the audience pissed me off. Now, it’s entirely possible that this woman welcomed the instructions. I don’t know. But the problem was that every single man who proceeded to give her instructions whilst she was on stage, playing, didn’t ask her whether she wanted help, they just assumed she did.
Regardless of the sexism, whether you’re a man or a woman, many people don’t appreciate backseat gamers, especially if you don’t even know the people yelling out instructions at you. Seriously. When was the last time you went to an arcade or tournament and welcomed an audience telling you what to do? Wouldn’t you be annoyed at that?
I mentioned this incident on Twitter, and commented that it was sexist. Another person who was at the event tweeted back at me saying that the woman was doing well after listening to the advice the men were yelling out at her during the tournament. Talk about missing the point, dismissing sexism, and just being all around clueless! Now, a few people might not think that this incident was a big deal or that I’m being overly sensitive. These comments are Classic Derailing Tactics, and those who feel that way should really need to go read this and this.
During the event, I was keeping an eye on Twitter. @SonyPlayStation was tweeting from the San Francisco event. Evidently, the San Francisco event started on time. From their Twitter updates, they were a bit ahead of us in terms of their activities. I saw on their Twitter updates that every single attendee in the San Francisco cinema was given a swag bag that included copies of UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves. This made me quite excited, because there was a possibility that they’d do the same for the Seattle area event! About half an hour later, they announced at our event that we’d be getting the game for free! Yay! Not only did we get the game, but we got a nice bundle of swag that included a cloth bag, an Uncharted 2 shirt (XL, so unfortunately I can’t even wear it), and an UNCHARTED 2 poster. Here’s the swag, with my VIP pass:
It was really cool of Sony and Naughty Dog to give out free copies of the game to everyone at the event. And we got the game more than one week before its actual release date! We immediately made plans to play and complete the game before the release date. We were able to finish UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves four days before it was released in North America. We didn’t even rush to finish it, either. The UNCHARTED 2 poster now hangs in a place of prominence above the television. Since finishing the game, a week ago, I’ve been playing a lot of online multiplayer. It’s fun, but boy am I terrible at it. I’m really glad that we were able to go to the cinema event. It was cool, and we got free stuffs!