You know a man is important when he enters a room and casts a spell on the crowd before him. This is exactly what happened when Kazunori Yamauchi, the Japanese game designer and producer behind the new Gran Turismo Sport, took center stage for his media presentation at the first ever PlayStation Experience 2017 Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Of average height, with a quietly confident yet commanding voice, the legend mesmerized the eager journalists and videogame enthusiasts in attendance, lulling them into an observant trance. Part-prophet, but more godlike in the eyes of those familiar with his work, his calm and collected nature permeated the hall, sending a quiet ease over the venue. When Yamauchi spoke, everyone listened, making sure not to interrupt his translator unless necessary. He has, after all, weaned a whole generation of videogamers on his genius, allowing them to live out their racecar fantasies from the comfort of their couches.
Apart from revealing how GT Sport, the latest in the ultra-popular franchise, is pushing the visual limits in terms of true high dynamic range (HDR), he expounded on the rapid evolution and accessibility of technology—a fact that’s forcing industries to be more creative when coming up with compelling storytelling techniques. Sport, which utilizes the qualities of natural light, is able to render landscapes and horizons that allow players behind the wheel (or yes, the controller) to feel the morning sunlight on their skin, revel in the blueness the afternoon sky provides, and, of course, be a speed demon if only for one campaign. In short, it borrows from the elements and combines those facets with outstanding gameplay to come up with a driving simulation that’s close to the real deal.
It’s all artful stuff, an immersive experience that lets an individual transcend the limits of reality—qualities that the PlayStation Experience event embodies in itself.
Held at KL Live at Live Centre last August 5, the event also welcomed legions of local gamers to test other upcoming titles such as Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, Detroit: Become Human, Final Fantasy XV: Monster of the Deep, and many others. The public was also treated to numerous producer presentations, where the brains behind specific brands churned out extensive homilies to hype up the fans. With the hall darkened and each corner sectioned for a different game, the place was reminiscent of an interactive art exhibit, only its patrons were plugged in. And the art on display? Well, it took on a life of its own.
Take Detroit for example, arguably one of the most awaited intellectual properties (IP) for 2018. The neo-noir thriller is set in a distant Philip-K.-Dick-inspired future, where androids and humans coexist. In the sequence available for testing, you step into the boots of a robot negotiator, and it’s your job to case a joint, gather empirical evidence, and save the potential victim from a violent deviant. Like most great science fiction, it’s cinematic and poignant and speculative.
Like Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (widely known as Blade Runner) before it, it becomes bigger than itself by asking and addressing pressing philosophical questions. When artificial intelligence takes on human emotions, will we still perceive them as mere machines? Or, how far will we go to save a human life if we aren’t human ourselves in the first place?
'The difference of videogames from traditional art is that they answer these questions by transporting players through an immersive medium'
The difference of videogames from traditional art is that they answer these questions by transporting players through an immersive medium. And hopefully, after detaching yourself from the controller, you return to a world where you start treating that talking parking ticket machine with a little more respect.
Fun and games
PSX 2017 Southeast Asia wasn’t all serious insights and bleak plotlines, there were a few game series that doled out the fun in large amounts. Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, the latest installment in a 20-year long fighting franchise, is a brawler’s best friend. According to promotions producer Tomoaki Ayano and assistant producer Kansuke Sakurai, this time around, they’ve introduced new characters from both universes by collaborating with Marvel to map which superheroes and villains balance the roster. From the Marvel side, Captain Marvel and Thanos are exciting additions; while on the Capcom front, Chris Redfield—with his elite training and penchant for firearms—is a noteworthy contender for the all-out slug-fest.
Another surprising feature of Infinite is its multilingual compatibility, which makes room for 15 new languages. There’s also an auto-combo option that gives noob button-mashers a chance to swiftly execute special moves. Moving forward, Ayano and Sakurai confirmed that inclusivity is the Capcom philosophy, and these add-ons are proof of this direction.
Square Enix’s Wan Hazmer, on the other hand, showed off his Final Fantasy XV spin-off, Final Fantasy XV: Monster of the Deep. The PlayStation VR title combines well-researched fishing methods with FF XV’s fantastical sceneries to spawn a semi-relaxing (and hopefully not too nauseating) virtual reality seafaring adventure, where Noctis aids you in the pursuit of demonic marine life.
One can’t help but see how it alludes to Herman Melville’s epic Moby Dick, a coincidence Hazmer admitted was totally organic on Enix’s part. Nevertheless, the idea that it unconsciously borrows from one of literature’s most notorious books (and beasts), is a barometer for how far videogames have come in terms of their narratives. Although computer graphics, action, and gameplay are pertinent, there’s nothing like an engaging story to propel a player forward.
Of monsters and men
Early on in the day, when Monster Hunter World producer Ryozo Tsujimoto concluded his media presentation, he asked whether there were hardcore fans in the audience. A lot of the media present raised their hands, and the translator ended the session by stating that Tsujimoto expected deeper questions amid the barrage of technical queries.
His game, the latest in the Monster Hunter series, expands the horizons and character capabilities in the action RPG. In this day and age, humans are so accustomed to feeding on their comforts without having to lift a finger. When stripped of the exploring and slaying, at its core, Monster Hunter is a reminder that once upon a time, humans actually had to work and fight for their keep. Maybe this is what Tsujimoto was waiting for—an insight on the human condition that dared to tread territories outside of the game’s obvious construct.
'Whether it was joy, disappointment, or that nostalgic sensation of being a kid once again, the goal was simple and precise: to make the fans, the videogamers who put in the sweat to queue even during the wee hours of the morning, feel something when they left the building'
Beyond the merch on sale and the PS4 units lined up to be exploited by raring fingers, PSX 2017 Southeast Asia was all about invoking an emotion. Whether it was joy, disappointment, or that nostalgic sensation of being a kid once again, the goal was simple and precise: to make the fans, the videogamers who put in the sweat to queue even during the wee hours of the morning, feel something when they left the building. Because, in the end, this is the ultimate function of any art or religion—contemporary or otherwise.