Ladies at E3 2015

I just had a whirlwind adventure attending E3 for work. It was a great experience, and I got to see plenty of cool stuff on the show floor. And ride a speeder bike on Hoth. Nbd.

One thing I was really impressed by was the female presence I saw there. Not just in the attendees, where I personally saw about a 40/60 split (and remember, E3 is an industry event, so these are all people who are working in games) but also in the presentations.

The obvious AAA standouts were of course Rise of the Tomb Raider, a sequel to Square Enix’s outstanding reboot of Lara Croft’s iconic adventures, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, a prequel to EA’s previous dystopian hit starring Asian female protagonist Faith, and Horizon Zero Dawn, a new IP by Guerrilla Games. These three games by leading studios have marketing focused on their unique female protagonists, the sole stars of their franchises and recognizable action gameplay.

However, the star power of these ladies were also backed up in female presence in almost all the major games I saw on the show floor.

Giant displays featuring lady characters, such as these lifesize statues from Battlecry were all over the show.

And we also saw the women featured in titles that had previously (and relatively understandably) been male-centric for generations, such as FIFA 16, which introduced female players, and Call of Duty Black Ops III which offers a female LEAD PROTAGONIST option. The team from Treyarch was so supportive of player choice for their upcoming guaranteed blockbuster, that they created a fully fleshed out female track, including cinematics and audio to ensure the player had a full experience.

In an interview with Playstation Lifestyle, the developers at Treyarch explained their process for generating a female protagonist option:

Jason Blundell: “…each player would see whoever they are.”
Mark Lamia: “By the way, with your specific customizations. That’s all in engine. That’s not pre-rendered. it’s gonna be you, your investment, you pulling that off.”
Blundell: “You can be male, and you can be female. And by the way, that means you’ve got a full female track for the whole thing as well. So male track, female track. Customize that character, change the outfit, weapons, paint job- err, Paintshop, you know, all that good stuff. Equipment that your putting on there. That is all represented in those third-person cameras and you are the hero of that moment.
Chandler Wood: “So it features both a male lead and a female lead for the narrative?”
Blundell: “We had to capture the whole thing, yeah, twice.” Laughs.
Lamia: “Actually, yeah, it’s true. It’s not just a female head on a male body. It’s like a different rig and a different set of animations that they did for the entire game. And then also from a narrative perspective, they’ve also addressed it, but that is different.”
Blundell: “This was an interesting one. So we knew that we were going to do fully unique male, fully unique female, for all scenes, right? And all the customization that goes with both, so thank God we’re on Blu-ray, right? When it came to the script, we said we wanted to do a singular script. A gender neutral script. The anecdote that we talk about is that on Aliens, the script was written assuming that Sigourney Weaver’s character was a man, and then she got cast, and they left the script alone. And so her- the tonality that she brought to it, all those kind of stuff were played up [sic], but the script itself is the same.
“And that’s what we’ve done. So the character always feels purposeful about what’s going on and it’s not like pandering or changing- you know, the guy’s not being more butch or macho, or the female’s not going the other way, right? It’s about what’s kind of going on, the relationships. Because the emotions, the dynamics between characters is kind of gender neutral, and that’s how we approached it.”

EDIT: Apparently I previously missed ReCore, an Xbox One exclusive developed by Keiji Inafune (creator of Metroid Prime, Mega Man, Dead Rising.) So far little is known about this title, other than it’s going to be an action adventure game and features a young heroine named Jewel and her robot companion in a post-apocalyptic-looking wasteland. So far the art direction and character design are very promising! The cinematic trailer was a very compelling introduction to world.

Mark Pacini, Development Director at Armature had this to say about the heroine in an interview with Venturebeat:

Jewel just fit the story we were trying to tell. There wasn’t anything more intentional than that. She fit in the world that we were trying to create and the story we wanted to tell, that struggle for humanity. It made sense for us very early in development to have a woman as the protagonist.

Not just for shooting and stabbing their way through enemies, I also saw women featured prominently in some big upcoming strategy titles.

In Civilization Beyond Earth: Rising Tide, not only was a female figure front and center of the expansion’s key art, but the new faction introduced has a female woman of color as the leader.

It was overall a very inspiring booth and presentation.

In XCOM 2, the private gameplay demo the four-person team had two unique female characters of color as well. During the playthrough, a male character was the first to die, and a heroic lady followed quickly. The second female character was critically injured, and was hauled out of battle at the end of the sequence in a cinematic by her last standing male teammate. Because she was dressed and behaved like a soldier, her being “rescued” was not at at all appearing like her being damseled, but rather just being treated like another injured soldier on the battlefield. I was very refreshing to see a female character rescued by a male character and not have to “turn off my feminism” to enjoy the moment.

A couple disappointments were pretty expected, though I found them to be fairly few and far between.

Over at the Nintendo booth, Princess Peach was of course present in all her pink, ruffled princess glory, but there wasn’t much else by way of female presence. I got a hands-on with Mario Maker and Starfox, both which looked amazing but didn’t offer anything by way of female representation (though it’s probably too early to tell if you can play as a female character in Mario Maker, so far Link and Mario were the only hero models you could chose from.) Yoshi’s Woolly World continues a long standing tradition of quirky games with unique gameplay elements that allows you to utilize amiibos to play as a Yoshi version of female characters (though arguably, they are just different outfits for the Yoshi character, meaning you still of course play as a male.)

Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, Nintendo’s most prominent female action star is lacking from the newly announced Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Samus Aran is nowhere to be seen in this odd Metroid 3DS spinoff, which appears to be a multiplayer shooter and sport mini-game with no discernible female player character. This game has caused quite a bit of online fan rage, mostly directed at the gameplay elements than at the lack of seeing the franchise’s star. Hopefully, Nintendo will have some big Metroid news for fans of Samus’s incredible space adventures soon.

Learning NOTHING from last year’s E3, Ubisoft didn’t feature a single female character at their booth display. Even though they offered enraged feminists (like me) a mea culpa by making Evie Frye, twin sister to Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s protagonist Jacob Frye, a playable portion of the upcoming game, there was little to be seen of Evie at E3. With a booth dominated by this flagship title, Ubisoft apparently didn’t think to include her in the booth artwork, playable demo, or other displays.

Ubisoft’s new IP announcements of For Honor and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, featured absolutely no female characters whatsoever. In a world where a real life male only organisation like FIFA can feature female athletes and the bro-tastic shooter of the ages Call of Duty can feature a female lead protagonist option, it seems strange that these team-based multiplayer games offer nothing by way of female representation. This seems especially tone deaf to come from Ubisoft, who suffered the brunt of the lack-of-women-in-gaming criticism after last year’s disastrous “Women are hard to animate” E3 PR gaff.

Even though Tom Clancy’s The Division and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (busy guy, that Tom) allow for female avatars in the mutliplayer modes, there was little to be seen of them on the present materials. Perhaps the only female presence at the E3 booth could be seen in the dancers at the Just Dance stage, where professional dancers boogied down to the latest iteration of the popular dance game.

This let the door WIDE OPEN for Bethesda to walk in with their own female assassin (how sneaky of them!) Emily Kaldwin in the newly announced Dishonored 2. Emily’s portrait and costume were on display front and center at the booth, and the reveal trailer featured her as the protagonist. We discovered later that Dishonored’s previous protagonist will be playable as well in the game, meaning Emily is not the sole protagonist, but damn if she doesn’t look amazing.

Another minor disappointment for me personally was in the lack of Furiosa from the upcoming Mad Max video game. This game is not intended to be a tie in to Fury Road (anymore) but it seems odd that after the wildly popular one-armed road queen inspired a rabid fan following, that they wouldn’t attempt to capture any of that particular brand of girl power in the game. Luckily, I was there to help them out.

Overall, this has been a really inspiring E3. Developers are finally comfortable leaving the old PS3 and Xbox 360 behind and are already stunning us with the beautiful graphics for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. I was able to see some new, unexpected games, play some VR games and demo Unraveled, EA’s new game from boutique studio Coldwood. This game does not feature a female protagonist, but part of what player character Yarny represents is the love between an elderly woman and the family that she has lost touch with. As you maneuver through the game you unlock memory sequences of her and her family and so it offers the player character some female driven perspective as well as unique non-violent gameplay options.

I also found myself lost down the smaller indie studio aisles, and came across these amazing ladies representing their game Harmony of dawn featuring incredibly beautiful WOC protagonists in a gameplay world that relies on unique music-based action abilities. This game is available on Steam Greenlight (go vote for it!)

As with graphical powerhouses showcasing the best of the new console hardware like Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox One and Horizon Zero Dawn on PlayStation 4, unique projects embraced by major publisher’s like EA’s Unravel, and independent games with incredible character design like Harmony of Dawn, it’s inspiring to see how far games have come in just the two years since the last E3 I attended. I hope this is a sign of things to come and that eventually we’ll see some strong female representation out of Ubisoft and Nintendo as they eventually grow out of their old, stodgy ways where women are either princesses to be rescued or background characters to be played in DLC.

Me and Jenn Croft sure are ready for it!

Originally published at

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