What a crazy year! For the world, for the game industry, for games culture, in my own personal life and for RetroNeo Games.
I really can’t pick a topic for this month so I’m free-styling a bit.
There’s no shortage of topics to choose from.
It’s been the year of the Loot Crate, but that’s been done to death. Even my blog of lost month dealt with it indirectly.
Relatedly, EA has been seeing nothing but negative headlines all year even apart from the Loot Crate issues, due to Mass Effect Andromeda, closing Visceral Games (and shutting down the single-player Star Wars project), and more, but I don’t really see the fun in rehashing that out.
Reportedly, the new Assassin’s Creed was great and sold twice what its predecessor did (proving the benefit in breaking the yearly release cycle), but I haven’t played it so I can’t really talk about it.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the top games of the year, but I haven’t a PS4 so I can’t speak about that either (borrowing one is top of my to-do list though).
The Nintendo Switch is doing far better than anyone expected, and Zelda and Mario are another two game of the year contenders, but I’ve no Switch so I haven’t played them either.
One thing I can say is that I was wrong in my predictions of this time last year that the big shooters would be 50% off again this Christmas. The sale prices this season on Battlefront “2” (it’s 4, really) and Call of Duty are decidedly more conservative, with only Wolfenstein 2 being discounted all the way down to 50%.
Today’s news that a man was killed in Kansas during a swatting “prank” is very newsworthy but I don’t exactly want to end the year on that note. Though I will link to the PC Gamer article. An arrest was made, at least. Conventional wisdom is to keep your business channel quiet on anything political or controversial, but I don’t fully subscribe to that idea. If something is plainly wrong and needs opposing, then staying silent helps the offenders, not the victims. I hope the perpetrator goes to prison for a very long time. I personally can’t believe that the ‘set an example’ harsh sentencing of another swatting case last year didn’t stop swatting in its tracks. In that case, police non-fatally shot the swatting victim. The perpetrator, a teenager, was charged with domestic terrorism and given a heavy sentence (if I recall correctly. I can’t find the older articles today as the current tragedy is dominating the search results). He cried for his mother as he left the court room. Anyway, now a man is dead, and we have toxic gaming culture and manchild streamers to thank.
That segues into a personal note. I like coding, and I like creating, so making games is a great fit for me, but looking at the problems of the world this year, and then looking at the types of people I’m creating disposable content for (whiney sexists & racists and swatting scumbags) really turned my stomach all of a sudden. I’ve struggled with feelings of anger, frustration, and depression on and off for years. While I’m coming through it, I used to use playing games as escapism, and making games as my way of fitting into the world productively. Lately, though, I’ve felt an urge to help the world more directly. To stop contributing to distractions and start taking positive action – whether that be for charity, fighting toxic gamer culture, or something else. I’ve wrestled with the idea of leaving this industry (that I’ve fought very hard to become a part of – more on this next month) and beginning a coaching practice to get unhappy young men out of their gaming escapism and give them meaning and purpose. Then, as fate would have it, a couple of amazing opportunities came my way from the games industry and so I’ve stayed – though I still feel the call to do more. As I said, more on this next month.
I want to update the world on what all of that previous bullet point has meant for Sons of Sol, but, next month.
I’ve also barely played any games in the last 5 months (reasons next month, again) and when I do I’ve only managed to enjoy the ones that I know I can beat in an evening, like What Remains of Edith Finch or Tacoma. Just why this is, I’ve a few ideas on, but that’s a blog I’ll write another time. I was seriously looking forward to Wolfenstein 2 as I loved the original remake, but after a few hours playing it over Christmas, I was just stressed by playing it, which defeats the purpose. Great game though, and I’m all for its themes and marketing. Would like to hear if other non-parent gamers (because the reasons for parents not having time are obvious) experience the same thing.
My main goal for Christmas (and my reward for the year) was to play through XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, along with several other games, but with it more than half over I feel I’ve barely started.
I asked a friend who’s staying over what I should blog about, and she said to write about “how to find more time to play games”. Together we joked that the first thing in the article would be “stop writing blogs”!
So, I’m actually just going to go with that and stop this one here!
Happy New Year to all of you fine readers, especially the regulars. Thank you. Your support is greatly appreciated, especially the notes or the comments when we meet in person. They keep me going.
I’ve a lot more life changes coming up shortly and some Sons of Sol questions to be resolved in the next month, so I’ll fill in all the blanks next time. It’ll be a sort of a follow-up to the quite-popular first blog I wrote after starting full-time development on Sons of Sol.
It’s February 28th, 2017. Last day of the month, second day of GDC (the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco), and our Greenlight campaign for Sons of Sol (please vote here) is 15 days old, but was born prematurely. The original due date was approximately February 26th.
So this month’s blog is a bit more personal than usual as a major industry change affects RetroNeo Games directly.
What is Greenlight?
If you already know, consider skipping this section, but to sum it up quickly; Valve are the company behind Steam, an online digital storefront responsible for 90+% of all PC games sales. If you want to have a business that develops PC games, you need to be on Steam, basically.
Up until 2012, it was very hard to get on the store because each game was vetted on its way through to the platform. This takes time and so the bigger titles from bigger studios/publishers were prioritised. That’s probably an oversimplification, but it’ll do..
In August 2012, Steam Greenlight launched. It’s a process where first-time developers pay $100 to place a game on a community voting subsection of Steam, called Greenlight. They can’t sell their game from here, but instead throw up early videos, screenshots and a description of what the game will be, and the community vote on whether or not they would buy the game if it became available on the actual store.
To this day, nobody really knows what it takes to get through. A few thousand votes and waiting a few weeks is a virtual guarantee, but a few hundred can get a completely fake scam game up as well, or see real games languish in limbo.
Even Valve said that it was an imperfect system, and was basically a stop-gap, but it’s taken them nearly 5 years to move past it. The theory of crowd-sourcing some quality control and democratising access to the platform was solid enough, but in practice it allowed all sorts of scams and asset flips (where you buy a functioning game prototype or several assets, intended for learning or fast prototyping, then try to sell that as an original game on Steam with a minimum of effort to get from A to B) to flood the store and give Greenlight a bad name.
To be sure, Greenlight is also how the real indie successes got through to Steam as well (“over 100 Greenlight titles that have made at least $1 Million each” – do the math on that!), whereas before they may never have had a platform to be noticed, but the rubbish gets through as well. Greenlight has done a lot of good, but it’s broken, with all sorts of workarounds (trading game keys for votes, for example) gumming up the gears of a well-intentioned system.
There are community groups and YouTube channels like Jim Sterling dedicated to highlighting the scams.
Red Light for Greenlight
On Friday February 10th, Valve announced that it would be shutting down Steam Greenlight forever “this Spring” and replacing it with Steam Direct, a system that does away with the community involvement in favour of a verification process “similar to setting up a bank account” and then a recoupable fee for each game submitted. Greenlight used to allow the same developer to submit additional games for free once their first had passed through.
This is intended to reduce “noise in the submission pipeline”, which most would agree is a desirable goal. The problem is how much the fee will be set at, and how exactly it can be recouped. It has to be high enough to dissuade the scam artists, but low enough that legitimate small-time studios (and especially ones based in countries with lower average incomes) can still manage to get their games on Steam.
To be blunt, there is going to be no good number here. Valve are taking feedback and mentioned that they’d been advised on fees ranging between $100 and $5,000! No matter what it is, some scams are going to get through, and some developers are going to fail to get on the store. Since profitable games are meant to be able to recoup the fee, perhaps less well off developers who believe in their game could borrow to pay the fee, but frankly, game development is already very expensive and risky. A high fee here is quite an unwelcome added expense for the little guys.
In true Valve style, they seem to be prepared to make sweeping changes and “listen to the community” (which is good, but also points out that they don’t really have a solid plan) just to see what breaks, and fix it later.. well, that’s one way to do it, and it’s their platform so what can I say?
They’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater and waiting to see what the next baby looks like, basically.. and it’s not actually the worst idea..
Re-emphasis on publishers
..for them at least. They can set this fee quite high to try and clean up their store. This just means that serious indies will have to go to people with deep pockets to get their games published. Re-enter the publisher!
The Kickstarter revolution (also circa 2012 – for games anyway) meant that games could raise lots of capital from the public, without needing to be beholden to a publisher. But with the success rates for Kickstarter campaigns (for digital games) falling off in the last couple of years, and with a potentially high barrier to entry to the commercial storefront in this Steam Direct fee, we may see the power back in their hands.
Publisher Raw Fury announced just days after Valve’s statement, that they would cover the Steam Direct fee for developers who couldn’t afford it, without obligation. They won’t own part of the game or anything. Their aim is to develop closer ties with talented developers, and to garner good will and make a bigger name for themselves, generally. That’s a great idea, since personally I hadn’t heard of them before, and now I think of them as quite a forward-thinking publisher who isn’t gunning for your back pocket. Good will earned!
How many others will do the same, or similar? That’s when I realised..
Raw Fury will obviously be vetting the submissions that they get to try and put through the games most likely to recoup the Steam Direct fee. That means they will be doing quality control for Steam!! Think about that! Valve have just outsourced their quality control department, and Raw Fury will pay Valve for the privilege!
People were long arguing that Valve, a multi-billion dollar corporation that employs approximately only 360 people (2016 figure) should hire more staff to oversee Greenlight submissions. They could most definitely afford it. The number of new Greenlight submissions averaged just a few dozen per day normally. That’s certainly something that a small new department could handle. Valve just don’t want to say ‘no’ to anyone truly deserving, or ‘yes’ to any hate speech or copyrighted material that sneaks by a human worker. They’d prefer instead to let their automated systems take the blame for any missteps.
Again, that’s probably fair enough, though.
How this all affects RetroNeo Games
RetroNeo Games’ plan was to launch our Greenlight campaign to coincide with our new ‘vertical slice’ demo of the game that shows off our home carrier, some characters, new sound design and music, and a bit more gameplay. This same demo would be ready for GDC for any publisher or press meetings we might stir up.
But with Valve’s announcement that Greenlight would be gone during Spring (when I was in school in Ireland, I was taught that Spring was Feb – Apr, so we were already in it by my count..) and that it would be replaced with a potentially very high pay wall, the team had a quick emergency meeting over Skype on Saturday and decided to shift focus to doing a Greenlight trailer and page, sprucing up the website, and launching by Monday. The trailer would basically be the one we’d released just weeks before but with a Greenlight logo at the end. Previously the plan had been to shoot new footage from a playthrough of a newer demo and put that on the trailer.
We chose to move up our timeline because we knew that hundreds of other developers would be thinking the same way as us, and that the Greenlight servers would be absolutely flooded in a matter of days. We were only a few weeks from our intended launch anyway, so we figured we had an advantage in terms of the quality of the submission that we could make.
It’s a pity because I’ve done a lot of research in the past year (one 2016 Gamasutra blog stood out in particular) as to how to maximise your launch on Greenlight. This included having a playable demo ready, having YouTubers play said demo, try to get press to talk about it, translate the page into multiple languages, and hook up Google Analytics.
Now, just two weeks shy of accomplishing all of this, we had to go off half-cocked. Seeing the green light turning red, we basically had to rev the engine to try and make the amber, because the red might be too expensive to… eh.. this metaphor is falling apart, sorry!
So, without translations, a press mailing list, a MailChimp campaign, or a demo, we launched. About the only thing we did get from our list (because it was the quickest thing to set up) was the ability to take some preorders on the site to prove to certain legal bodies that we’re “in commerce”. They’re still available at the time of writing, heavily discounted, but limited in quantity.
How have we done so far?
Well in the first week we got about 300 votes and made it 18% of the way to the top 100. There’s no specific target to meet, but thousands of votes and being in the top 100 is certainly desirable (and normal for games getting through in the past).
The problem is that now, after a second week, we’ve gotten almost no further!
The reason we wanted all our ducks in a row was to maximise the ‘yes’ votes while Steam’s algorithms were still sending natural traffic to our site. Just by launching, you’ll get a certain number of referrals from normal Greenlight users browsing, but after that you’re on your own to generate your voting traffic. In normal circumstances, the Steam algorithms send people your way for a few days.
Our natural traffic died off in under 12 hours. That’s a measure of just how many other new Greenlight games were going up just 3 days after Valve’s announcement. At that stage we were closer to 200 votes. The next 100 votes we got during the first week were basically from friends and colleagues through Facebook and Twitter shares.
I’ve heard similar stories from many developers who are struggling with the campaign because they were forced to launch early and are just drowned out by the noise.
What did we try?
Since the launch I’ve been working every day for at least 12 hours, but not so much on the Greenlight campaign. Getting the demo ready for GDC to wow press and publishers was still a better priority – after all, nobody knows how many Greenlight votes you really need anyway, nobody knows when Greenlight is actually shutting down, and we had a request from a publisher to see a new build of the game. So, after launch and until yesterday, a new demo was priority number one!
I suspect that once Valve stops taking new submissions for Greenlight, they’ll probably let through a lot of what remains in the following weeks, though they have kept their options open by declaring that anyone who has paid the $100 Greenlight fee and who doesn’t get through will be reimbursed. So, who knows?..
That doesn’t mean that I’ve ignored Greenlight either, though. Not at all. Over the coming days I ran a tentative €5 Facebook and €5 Twitter ad campaign (well targeted, with video) to see what happened. We got about a dozen clicks total and about 2 new votes. So, probably not worth investing too heavily there, then. One issue is that you have to log in to Steam (if you even have an account) and often have to be emailed a security code for a ‘new device’ (so sick of doing that!), so anyone clicking a mobile or browser link would not likely be logged into Steam, and probably wouldn’t bother doing so.
I got the Greenlight page translated into Russian, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese and German. Even though the algorithms had stopped sending us traffic, I hoped that a new language detected might send us users from those territories. It didn’t. Absolutely nothing! So I decided not to proceed with French, Spanish and Italian.
I also contacted about two dozen Greenlight community user groups who exist to highlight legitimate Greenlight games. I especially targeted groups interested in space games. We did get included in four collections, but I saw no corresponding increase in traffic to us, unfortunately.
Well, with the GDC demo complete, I now get to turn my attention to contacting proper press outlets and YouTubers. I’m a big fan of grassroots marketing and using your own networks, but having tapped the social circles and developers that I know already we seem to have reached the limits of what that can offer us – namely, 320 votes.
Contacting press and YouTubers is a very low probability game, but one good bit of coverage can do wonders, and there are some existing relationships that I can leverage. That’s now the stage that we’re at to try and get more votes.
I have confidence in our game, our trailer, our demo, and our team, but we’re fighting in an oversaturated market.
This has felt like a bit of a weird blog to write. I often write about the industry somewhat abstractly, but I’m right in the middle of this one, and it’s an incomplete story. Greenlight isn’t gone yet, we haven’t yet been accepted for or refused press coverage, and nobody, including Valve, knows much about Steam Direct yet.
I do hope I can do a positive follow-up to this blog in the near future. Until then, I can just thank you for reading, ask that you vote for us if you haven’t yet, and consider sharing our Greenlight campaign with your friends.
Thank you! If you’d like to hear the end of this story, sign up to our mailing list below to be notified when new blogs go live.
I’ll leave you with our Greenlight trailer. And don’t forget to try our free demo. Download it from the Sons of Sol page.
This past week Los Angeles saw E3 2016 come and go in its usual flamboyant fashion – if a little less spectacularly than other years. Indeed, many worry about the future of E3. EA, Activision Blizzard, Disney and Wargaming all declined to exhibit on the show floor, though EA did retain their own press conference.
It seems that the rise of streaming events and online coverage is making the (sometimes) million dollar spots on the show floor less and less attractive to the big companies. Foot traffic was down to 50,300 from 52,200 last year, yet online streaming platform Twitch (alone) set a new record of 12 million unique views.
You know what they say; the one constant is change. Whatever the future holds for the expo, E3 2016 did happen, and here’s my overview.
Disclaimer: I couldn’t possibly mention everything, but I’ll give some of the bigger news first, then some items of interest to me, then wrap up with a quickfire section of headlines for you to follow up on if you like.
More of the same
I mean this insofar as a lot of the games we were shown were first announced last year, and the show certainly felt less spectacular that 2015’s when it came to new reveals. You can read my last year’s coverage here… you know, if you really wanted to.. can’t see why you would now, to be honest.
You may recall that in 2015 we were given a plethora of new reveals including Doom, Fallout 4, Shenmue 3, Scalebound, Sea of Thieves, The Last Guardian, Gears of War 4, Recore, Horizon: Zero Dawn, For Honor, Final Fantasy VII, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Dishonoured 2, and many more. All of those were brand new (or at least very recent) reveals for E3 2015 and from that list, this year (apart from Doom and Fallout 4) we were just seeing more of those games. And even one of Bethesda’s big announcements was that Doom and Fallout 4 will be coming to VR.
So it felt like we’d less new announcements and largely just updates on what we knew about. C’est sera, sera.
Top New Announcements & Gameplay
These are just a few of my pics of the brand new announcements or gameplay that aren’t VR related (VR follows).
Battlefield 1 (Gameplay)
I still hate the name for like the 19th Battlefield game just because it’s set in World War 1. It’s dumb as all hell! Moving on..
We already had the reveal trailer a few weeks ago but E3 was the first time we saw gameplay. You can find a star-studded gameplay event on YouTube where celebrities play a map from the new game. Plenty of streamers and YouTubers have gotten their hands on the demo by now as well so there’s a lot to check out if you desire.
The game and the destruction are looking beautiful visually and the zeppelin crashing down on the map (its fall location is based on where it is when destroyed, not preset) and crushing buildings is spectacular. The zeppelin also seems to spawn in for the losing team to try to help them claw back, which should help to combat the horrifically one-sided battles that can sometimes occur.
I loved Battlefield 1942, mostly because of the combined arms. The planes were slow so they actually were interacting with soldiers instead of being jets that scream past the entire map in two seconds. This is the first Battlefield game since the original where we have slow-moving planes again and that excites me, greatly!
There also seems to be a ‘driver’ and ‘pilot’ class to the game. Could Dice finally be focusing on lending some importance to the vehicles apart from having them just be expensive taxis to the front lines for Assault players who then just abandon them? Here’s hoping.
I gave up on Battlefield after 3 (played 4 a little though). This could be the one to bring me back in. Let’s hope the single-player story is nowhere near as f***ing stupid as Battlefield 3 and 4‘s. That stuff was hard to take..
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Again, we knew about this, but knew virtually nothing about it. Now we have a sweet-looking gameplay trailer, a glimpse of the female playable character and some Krogan, Asari and Salarian NPCs, and the Mako (the only directly pilotable vehicle) in action.
I don’t like how Mass Effect 3 left off, or how subsequent DLC was sold with the hint of clarifying it when it didn’t (see the Indoctrination Theory), but I loved the first two and a half Mass Effect games. The endings of 3 also don’t come into play in Andromeda, so I’m actually excited for this.
Bethesda opened their press conference with this video teasing Quake Champions. What do you do after a remake of Doom? Why, a remake of Quake, of course!! It’s set to be an arena shooter with eyes on the eSports market (and it’s not a MOBA. Apparently people somehow thought that. Don’t ask me why). We didn’t see any gameplay but the new Doom really delivered this year! This should have Quake fans excited.
New Elder Scrolls?
It wasn’t part of Bethesda’s conference, but in subsequent interviews we’ve learned that they’re working on a new Elder Scrolls game (a new Skyrim, for those who forgot that Skyrim was actually called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).
They’re also working on two other unannounced big titles. I might hazard a guess that one is Fallout 5, and one could be a brand new IP? I’d be surprised if we hear anything about them before E3 next year though.
The Last Guardian Release Date
It’s coming October 25th, 2016. Playstation 4 only.
Hideo Kojima’s New Game: Death Stranding
Hideo Kojima made his first on-stage appearance since leaving Konami (which was nice to see. Almost like a prisoner of war returning home) and announced the new game he’s working on with this trailer.
Look, get as hyped as you want, but we know nothing about this game. We already knew he was working on something with Sony and that Norman Reedus was probably involved. Now we’ve just confirmed that it promises to make at least as little sense as his Metal Gear games, if not less. Nice to see a trailer, though. Definitely one to watch.
Halo Wars 2
The first Halo Wars I actually really enjoyed, and it remains the top selling console RTS of all time (though that’s not saying an awful lot). I’ve really gone off Halo since 343 Industries took over but if this is dealing with a different story line to that of Halo 4 and 5 then I could get on board.
The big bit of news about it is that it will be playable on Windows 10 (though not simultaneously with Xbox users, so no cross-platform multiplayer) with full mouse and keyboard controls.
I never thought I’d write news on a sports game, let alone the annual love-child of the most corrupt sports organisation in the world and EA (who we all love to give stick to but who are actually angels by comparison) but something actually happened in the franchise. Yes, I know they added female teams last year, but it was still the same game and gameplay.
Now the game has a story mode! ‘The Journey’. It’s optional, and it’s separate from the traditional modes of play, but finally – some innovation!
Apparently you can only play forward and mid-field roles because the story and dialogue require it. It’s not clear whether you control just the one character for the whole game (I somehow doubt it) or whether if you score too many goals you could fail the story objective (of losing, let’s say) and have to restart the match (I also somehow doubt that) but I’m very interested to learn what they did. How interesting would it be if Rocket League had actually convinced them to focus on single-player controls? I’ve always thought a sports game would be interesting done from the point of view of a single player.
It’s also shifted to using the Frostbite engine? Yes, the same engine as Battlefield and Battlefront.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo finally showed us some more of the new Zelda game and it’s been charming the pants off of people! Earlier this year it was announced that it’s been delayed until 2017. It was rumoured to feature a male or female Link but it’s now confirmed that you can only play as a male Link. I thought the gender was always unspecified before, no? People just assumed it was a guy? Made it more interesting I thought.. ah well.
It will be out on the Wii U and the new console, NX. There is also Amiibo functionality.
It focuses on open-world gameplay and exploration, survival, cooking, physics-based puzzles, and, of course, combat and boss battles.
For Honor showed off some story in a new trailer and announced a release date of February 14th, 2017. Valentine’s Day. You’ll play through the campaign and switch factions as you do so, starting with Knights, then Vikings, and finally, Samurai. It still has the multiplayer mode, of course.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord
I loved Mount & Blade: Warband for its melee combat, first and foremost, but beyond that it was an incredible RPG, open-world, trading, political, war simulator. Most simply described as a feudal-simulator where you could do just about everything.
Bannerlord seeks to take this further and their E3 trailer showed off a 500-person siege battle complete with murder-holes, siege towers, catapults, and crumbling castle walls. Siege battles were one of the weaker aspects of the original and they seem to be turning that weakness into a strength. I’m super excited for this next year!
Mirage: Arcane Warfare
It wasn’t a new announcement, but the PC Gaming Show at E3 was the first I’d heard of the new game from Torn Banner Studios, the team who made Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, an imperfect sword combat game, but still one of the best ones out there.
The new game adds magic and spells to the melee combat of Chivalry to bring a bit more movement and range to combat. Swords and close-combat are still a part of it, but this move seems to have spread the fighting out a bit. The big weakness of Chivalry was that sword fights in multiplayer became about just swarming a player and moving on. 1 vs 1 was always interesting but any other number ruined what the game was about, in practice. If you’re charging a powerful attack, getting hit with a quick, light one will cancel the attack, which should make the fighting more deliberate and considered.
I’ve heard this be compared to the combat of the Jedi Knight games, but it looks far more refined than that. It’s a third person open-world melee combat game with elements of Journey, CCGs, RPGS, and fighting games all rolled into one.
You choose a combat stance and build a deck of moves within that when fighting AI or other players. You can also team up with up to two other players with a gesture system, which leads to actual chat if you’re online with friends.
This IGN interview shows the trailer but also goes into some depth on the combat and the game in general. If you’ve any interest in melee combat, check it out!
Age of VR?
Everyone heavily invested in the VR space will tell you that 2016 is the year of VR. They would. The need it to be so. They might say that next year too, or VR might prove to be a very shot-lived thing in the games industry, as Oculus and Valve split the already tiny market either with exclusive titles or by virtue of the fact that games taking full use of the Vive’s movement controls may not work well on Oculus Rift. That remains to be seen. However, if you’re one of the few who have invested in a VR headset, there’s some nifty looking titles coming your way at least. First person games, especially.
Serious Sam VR, Killing Floor: Incursion VR, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Star Wars: Battlefront (X-wing VR mission), Final Fantasy XV VR Experience, Batman: Arkham VR, Farpoint, Doom, Fallout 4, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, and more. The problem I see is that VR still largely doesn’t know what it’s doing in gaming. Most of those games mentioned (especially if you recognise the brand or see VR in the title) are just short modes of larger games, of branches of larger games that they decided would make a nice VR spin-off.
I’m not trying to throw a wet blanket on VR, but I’m just saying that I remain sceptical because very few of these games look like they prove VR’s worth. Most of the shooters have you standing still (Serious Sam was about fast movement and lots of shooting. Now it’s just about shooting) or using a teleport to get around. They clearly haven’t figured out how to get first person shooters into the VR world yet (perhaps they don’t belong there, but time will tell).
VR works better where you’re sitting driving a car or a plane. So the Battlefront X-Wing mission looks exciting, but it’s not a full game, either. Star Trek: Bridge Crew looks fun, but doesn’t necessarily prove VR. Games like Pulsar and Artemis are already doing the same thing without VR or the flashy brand name, and have proven to be a lot of fun. If Batman: Arkham VR is in third person view like the other Arkham games then it could work. The public haven’t seen it but a few reports say that it’s good. I say this because third person VR games like Lucky’s Tale have been proving quite popular. Again, though, VR isn’t a key component in something like Lucky’s Tale, it just happens to be a worthwhile way of experiencing the game.
Giant Copis one of the most “right” VR games out there I think.
PC Gamer have a good summary of some of the interesting VR seen at the IndieCade booth, too. Check it out for more.
My Favourite? Eagle Flight!
In my March article on VR I mentioned Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight. We saw a little more of this at E3 (it was the same demo I’d played at GDC). For me, this is the only game I’ve seen that convinces me of VR. The movement feels correct. You don’t trip on the wires because you don’t have to walk around. You don’t need to clear out a whole room to play. The steering controls (tilt your head to turn and look at where you want to go) feel precise and are the only way you could reliably pull off some of the precise manoeuvres seen in the video.
Other New Announcements
In the interest of speeding things along, here’s where I switch to bullet points. All entries are still newsworthy but these aren’t getting the full treatment either because we lack information, because we already had enough information, or because they’re fairly pedestrian announcements.
Referencing the tradition of shareware that made the first Doom (and other games of the era, where you’d get about 1/3 of the game totally free forever and developers hoped you’d pay for the rest) so popular, Bethesda launched a 1-week free demo of just the first level of the new Doom….. cough. Shareware and even the idea of demos are very dead, then. The week’s almost up as I write, too. I can tell you this, though: Just buy the game. You won’t regret it. Update: A few days after writing, Bethesda announced that they would leave the demo available for the time-being. Presumably in response to feedback like this. Good job, team. 😉
There will be a HD version of Skyrim.
Fallout 4 will be fully playable in VR.
Microsoft announces the 40% smaller (physically) 2TB XBox One S console, for release in August.
To soon make the S irrelevant, they also announced an Xbox One Scorpio which will be (to paraphrase) really really really really really good. It’s their VR-ready console but it’s a long way off and we don’t have specific specs. Just a video of developers saying that it’s great.
By contrast, Playstation announced before E3 that they wouldn’t be showing their advanced console (Neo) because they basically had no games to make it worth showing yet. Both companies’ approaches are valid I guess. Predictable, also, so neither announcement is particularly exciting.
Xbox Play Anywhere means you can buy a game once on either Windows 10 or on Xbox and play it on either. It follows Microsoft’s policy of bringing the two platforms closer together, but 99% of gamers don’t care, I wager. They’ll play on their platform of choice and see no need to use the other, a lot of the time.
EA showed a video announcing a lot of new Star Wars games, but not what any of them actually are. So this isn’t news. We all knew that there will be many Star Wars games coming down the pipe. We also knew that Jade Raymond and Amy Hennig were involved. Now we just… know it more?…
Watchdogs 2 was announced. It’s set in San Francisco, features a black protagonist, and lots of drone use. The first game was a total mess when it came to gameplay fitting with story though. It felt all wrong (pretty solid gameplay, but too GTA if you ask me). If you liked Watchdogs 1, get excited, but forgive me if I don’t just yet.
A new Spiderman game from Insomniac Games was announced for PS4. Not sure if we’re getting a PC version. The trailer looks great but there’s virtually no gameplay to be seen. Superhero games can be hit and miss but this looks good so far.
Gwent, the card game seen in The Witcher 3, is becoming a new game in its own right.
State of Decay 2 is happening. Hopefully it will be a bit less glitchy and come together better than the first one, but that’s good news for anyone not sick of zombie games yet.
Dead Rising 4, also, for Windows and Xbox.
Sea of Thieves was announced last year but little was shown. It’s starting to look like a lot of fun, though. Multiplayer pirate crew-based sandbox game for PC & Xbox.
Titanfall 2 will have a story mode and release on October 28th, 2016.
Day of Infamy, a World War 2 mod for Insurgency, is becoming its own game, but the trailer actually looked pretty poor with bad voice acting and graphics that looked about 10 years old. Still, gameplay is king.
Ark: Survival Evolved gets a new (gigantic) dinosaur and a mode where you can play as every creature in the game, from a T-Rex to an ant. There’s also a new ‘mate’ button to go with the ‘poop’ button.
Trials of the Blood Dragonis a new title from Ubisoft out now. It seems to be in the same faux-retro OTT testosterone-infused action vein as Far Cry Blood Dragon but based on the Trials Fusion bike platforming game.
Steep is Ubisoft’s big new sports title and is a socially-oriented snow sports game based in an open-world (ish) Alps area where you can ski, snowboard, hang-glide and even wingsuit race down custom race tracks crafted by players on the open mountain.
The Surge is a sci-fi action game inspired by Dark Souls. It should be interesting for those who have heard great things about the Souls games but for whom fantasy just isn’t their thing.
Dual Universe is an emergent sci-fi MMO that looks like it sits somewhere between Space Engineers, Star Citizen, No Man’s Sky, and Minecraft. Is there room for another game in there? Sure! Particularly if Star Citizen never comes out or if No Man’s Sky can’t live up to the ridiculous levels of hype surrounding it. (I’m not saying that either of those things are likely, just possible).
Tekken 7was announced, and actually is coming to PC and consoles.
Forza Horizon 3 is set in beautiful Australia, looking fantastic, and is coming to PC and consoles.
Fallout Shelter will have a PC edition, if you haven’t played it on mobile yet (it’s free but a tiny phone screen can be a bit awkward).
Dropzone is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) based on 15-minute rounds.
Warhammer’s Dawn of War 3 RTS was announced a couple of weeks earlier, but showed its first gameplay at E3.
Alienware showed off a portable PC for VR. It’s nice that they’re trying to solve the cabling problem, but I really think that this is not the way. The weight of the laptop on your back for extended sessions as well as the heat an Alienware laptop generates running high-end graphics would make this horrible to use. No thanks, guys.
There are so many more games that I didn’t mention. I didn’t go particularly deep on Nintendo, Playstation or Xbox exclusives or on smaller games that were announced before this E3. It may not have felt as impressive as last year overall, but there are some great games coming out soon, and you should be particularly excited if you’re a VR evangelist.
Thanks for reading. I hope my E3 summary gave you something to get excited about and look into. I’ll be back to more opinionated blogging next month.
Okay sorry, you’ve been click baited a little. I haven’t played John Romero’s new shooter – of course I haven’t! The ‘game’ I refer to is following the stealth marketing campaign that surrounds the new shooter, and uncovering its mysteries.
Once a month I take time out of developing my Asteroids-like game, Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest to blog on gaming news. I’ve been following this story with great curiosity recently.
Last weekend I did a hefty amount of research into Hoxar, the mysterious (and fictional) augmented reality company that lies at the heart of this mystery. During this past week a lot has been hinted and teased, including the fact that “On April 25th at 11 am EDT, the full details of Night Work’s upcoming game will be revealed”.
What I’m writing down today is a summary of what’s happened, what’s known, and (a little bit) what I think the new Romero shooter is going to be. While I may be proven wrong in just two days, this is something of a snapshot in time for posterity’s sake. Plus if I’m right, I’ll seem like an awesome games journalist and PC Gamer should probably think about giving me a job (if they’re reading.. hint hint).
The one thing I’ll give you for free before we kick off is that the new game is NOT called ‘Hoxar’. A reliable source high up in the studio confirmed that to me.
On April 20th, John Romero’s YouTube Channel released the video above and the gaming press have picked it up. It’s the most visible element in the campaign leading to the announcement of the new shooter.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve already seen it and know its significance, but hopefully I’ll tell you some things you don’t know.
Adrian Carmack opens the video, playing a role analogous to Rey from Star Wars Episode 7. Adrian (artist) was the co-founder of id Software with John Romero, Tom Hall and John Carmack (no relation) where they pioneered the shooter genre with games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. He’s also credited with coining the term “gibs” – short for “giblets”.
None of the original four co-founders work at id any more and to the best of my knowledge, Romero and Adrian haven’t done a game together since Quake in 1996. The same source that I mentioned before has confirmed that Adrian is involved in the production of the new shooter – not just this teaser.
In the video, Adrian’s ‘Rey’ character approaches Romero’s ‘Luke Skywalker’ and proffers him a keyboard and mouse (lightsaber), initiating Romero’s “Return”. John Romero hasn’t stopped working in games, so the presumption is that, instead of a return to game development, it’s a return specifically to the genre that they pioneered together – First Person Shooters.
As proof, The Return points towards the new Night Work Games Ltd whose currently sparse website does prominently display the text “A NEW FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER IS BEING BUILT AT NIGHT WORK GAMES LTD. IN GALWAY, IRELAND”.
According to the same site “Night Work Games Ltd. is the dark and violent subsidiary of Romero Games Ltd”, which is also now based in Galway.
As trivia; the video was created by 2 Player Productions, the same team that did the Double Fine Documentary and Minecraft: The Story of Mojang. Apparently, hearing that Romero was now based in Ireland, they decided to mimic the famous scene from the end of The Force Awakens. The final scene from Episode 7 was filmed on Sceilig Mhicíl (Skellig Michael) in County Kerry off the West coast of Ireland. This video was filmed in Connemara, about 200km North of the Skelligs, and on the mainland.
Adrian Carmack has also had an Irish base of operations for a little while, having bought a 5-star hotel in County Laois in 2014.
Anyone who signed up to the Night Work Games newsletter or who’s been following John or Brenda Romero’s Twitter feeds will have caught wind of something called ‘Hoxar’. It’s been floating around for a few weeks before we knew anything about Night Work Games or The Return.
Shack News seem to have scooped the Hoxar story on April 15th, with Romero confirming (in a way) the validity via Twitter.
Hoxar’s website (registered in February this year), at a casual glance, appears to be just some technology company interested in revolutionary VR. But if you read a little into it, you realise that they’re calling VR (which is only just getting started) “a thing of the past”.
The biggest clue that they’re not real is probably that their technology has “sight, sound, smell, and touch components”.. nobody in their right minds is working on smellovision. That train has sailed. (although – that’s what they said about VR..)
If you Google Image search any of the photos on the site you can see that they come from stock photo websites or similar, and you won’t find any of the supposed employees on LinkedIn or anywhere else.
A lot of detail has gone into the site, and there’s even job openings. Apparently, a PR company is helping with this game, so presumably this whole Hoxar thing is part of their brief while Night Work Games makes the actual game.
What the company supposedly do is develop “BLACKROOM”, an extremely (impossibly) advanced virtual reality experience that doesn’t require any headsets. It includes advanced AI and uses hoxels (holographic pixels). It has entertainment, therapeutic, and military applications. The kicker though is their PMT (Predictive Memory Technology). Read the site’s info itself if you want, but essentially, in the fiction, it reads people’s memories and extrapolates more realistic experiences based on what the user would expect to happen.
The Social Media Fiction
Again, you can track it all down in detail yourself but in short; Through the Hoxar Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as their various newsletters, they’ve told us of how their tests with the technology are proceeding. A woman got to reunite with her dead mother and find closure – great!
There was also a military test that went wrong and is basically being examined – not so great! But this is why you test! Nothing to worry a bout..
This smacks of the kind of thing you hear on the TV or radio at the start of a horror movie before the hero turns it off, thinking nothing of it, only to have it start chewing on his or her leg thirty minutes later.
Hoxar certainly seems to be this game’s equivalent of Doom‘s UAC (Union Aerospace Corporation). When will the scientists learn?!
The other thing to note is that the dates mentioned in all posts are in April 2036. Presumably, many people have glanced right past the dates, not noticing that there’s one digit out of place. So while we’re getting ‘live’ updates every other day, the fiction presumes that we’re in 2036.
In the Hoxar newsletter of April 24th, they have a post about Curse of the Ebon Raven, an “entertainment HoloSim” horror game so intense that nobody has yet made it through.
The end of the announcement said “To arrange an engagement, contact please contact Thexder Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org”.
I find this curious because it’s the only mention of this so far, and the game is about to be announced in two days. I’m not sure where they can go with this one (unless the hauntings turn out to be real! – ooooohhh). Nevertheless, I bit, and answered the email. To my surprise, I got a response. See below.
This email was sent out 1 minute after yesterday’s newsletter from Night Work Games. A minute is 60 seconds. 6 times 10. Ignore 10. 6. The first, second, and third numbers in ‘666’, the number of the beast! Coincidence? Wake up people!!
Okay so I’m not sure what to make of that one, but I know I’m not flying to Scottsdale to drive up 3 miles of road to an empty construction site. I put this down to just an extra level of detail to the crafting of the game’s mystique, and I have to say that I’m impressed. The reason I say that is actually my next point.
One of the most curious things that I found (and I haven’t seen any other media mention it so far) is the company address. Other media have rightly claimed that the company is registered in Scottsdale, Arizona (note that the company name isn’t trademarked with the USPTO, which would have been done for a real company of this size), but they haven’t examined the address.
11666 East Del Cielo Drive. The 666 seems like an obvious hint towards devilish themes (‘del cielo’ means ‘from the sky’), but it goes deeper than that. This is remote. 5 miles outside of Scottsdale, and 3 miles from the nearest road that the Google Street View car has visited.
Because I couldn’t get a look through Street View, I used the satellite photos (I feel like such a spy! I love living in the future!). See the photos below.
There’s nothing there! How curious. There is a reasonably sizeable structure built into the side of the hill a little bit down the road. If I was feeling particularly conspiratorial, I’d accuse it of being a bunker built into the hillside. This is a real satellite photo, remember. You can go to Google Maps and find this yourself.
Companies can put their addresses into Google Maps, so I think it’s probable that 11666 was deliberately placed there by the game’s marketers, and not that the address was pre-existing. But, that said, you can also find results for 11665, 11664, etc. If you explore the satellite views on the way up this road, there are a few (very large, very nice) homes built nearby.
I do think there’s something to this, but I couldn’t say what, exactly. Why didn’t Romero and co just completely make up an address? It didn’t have to be searchable on Google Maps. It wouldn’t be the first conspiracy theory to come out of the deserts of the Western United States though. Most likely it’s all just part of the theme building and the fact that it’s searchable is just another layer of game-detail for the curious gamer to appreciate. It’s good design to reward Explorer-type players, because they spread stories about their findings (like I am now) and hype the game for just a small amount of content creation.
How ready could this game be? Is it just starting out or has it been happening for years under our noses? In 2012, John Romero told Eurogamer “Yes, I’m definitely going to be making another shooter and it will be on PC first,” he explained. Read the article here. If the game he mentioned in that article is the one he’s about to announce, it could almost be done. It would also mean that it was developed in the US, since that’s where the Romeros were based until moving to Ireland in 2015, a decision they apparently only made after visiting Ireland in 2014. Night Work Games is based in Ireland, as I’ve mentioned.
Could it be a coincidence that this new game will be announced to the world less than 3 weeks before the new Doom game releases on May 13th?
May will also see the release of shooters Homefront: The Revolution (single & multi player open world game), Overwatch and Battleborn (both largely multiplayer ‘cutesy’ shooters). This year will also give us Cliff Bleszinski’s Lawbreakers as well as possibly the new Unreal Tournament, the original of which Bleszinski also created.
I find the timing curious. It’s doubtful that those big titles were looking over their shoulder for what Romero could be doing, since he’s been involved more in mobile and social games for years. Gearbox were more concerned with what Blizzard were doing, and vice versa. Then rises a phoenix from the ashes. A small new company (like id was) set to blow the comfortable competition out of the water.. maybe..
I speculate, but regardless of whether the timing was deliberate or not, the new Doom and the new Romero shooter will definitely be compared. If Romero’s shooter is actually close to releasing, the two games will be locking horns in a comic-book style grudge match for the ages. This could be a real life Batman vs Superman for games (though hopefully good).
What type of shooter could it be?
Well this is all speculation now, but the Hoxar stuff certainly hints at experimental technology gone wrong and has military and horror overtones. Doom and Quake certainly match those descriptions. Add to that the fact that Adrian Carmack is involved and I’d certainly say that we’re looking at some sort of demonic, mutant, or alien sci-fi horror shooter.
Indeed, Night Work Games’ website background is the surface of the moon, and the ‘o’ in ‘Work’ is a picture of the moon. Of course this could just be in reference to “Night”, but it’s quite possible that it’s a double entendre, since this studio has only recently been founded in order to put out this one specific game.
Single or Multi Player?
There’s no way in Hell that John Romero is teasing a “Return” to the first person shooter if it doesn’t at least include multiplayer Deathmatch. Call that confirmed right now! The aforementioned Eurogamer article from 2012 did say “Romero also hinted at a “MMO-ish” style of play, with a persistent world and data” so if that’s anything to go by we can expect some PvP action, but hopefully also the option for some solo quests.
Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake were all famous for pushing technical boundaries, and while Hoxar hints at high-tech augmented reality, I think the obvious fallacy of that site doesn’t point us reliably at a cutting-edge technology or a VR based game. It still could be, but I don’t think anything hints at it.
The original id games were all driven by John Carmack’s ground-breaking tech, but he’s currently working with Oculus and has been for years. It seems very unlikely that he’s involved or that this will be a VR shooter.
On the other hand, it’s stated that this is a PC FPS, with no mention of consoles. Could this be because it’ll require a high-end PC to run? It does seem possible.
Romero has said over the past few years that he craves the speed and skill of the old shooters, and that modern cover shooters don’t satisfy him, so we can certainly expect this game to be fast and have heavy retro influences. I wish it would be sprite-based, like Doom, but Romero said in the Eurogamer article that it won’t be.
I’m sure of one thing, though: Knowing John Romero’s renowned penchant for spectacle and his love of first person shooters, we can expect this to be something special!
Stealth marketing campaigns are fun (if you care about the content). In effect, they’re the meta-game already begun.
For anyone who’s been participating, they’re basically playing the prologue of the game. Sure, it happens to be a detective game and not a shooter, but the slow building of anticipation, and the excitement when you read into a new clue and imagine the implications – that’s marketing gamified! Romero has always been an exceptional game designer, able to empathise with the player’s experience.
The Hoxar campaign is, to me, early evidence of a legendary game designer back in the saddle, and I’m excited to see what news comes on Monday, April 25th 2016, at 8am Pacific Time, 11am Eastern, or 4pm Irish.
The next Far Cry game was revealed the week before last with the trailer above (well, after an elaborate time-wasting/hype-generating (?) live streamed cave painting thing). The noteworthy thing is that, for the first time, the game isn’t set in modern times, but in 10,000 BC!
You play Takkar, a hunter who’s lost his tribe to the bellies of sabre-tooth tigers and/or the now-squishy feet of woolly mammoths. The game takes place in a land called Oros, where you will climb the food chain and tame the wilds! Or something..
Coming so soon after the November 2014 release of Far Cry 4 (Primal will release in February 2016), many suspected that this was maybe a standalone expansion pack to that game, in the same way that Far Cry Blood Dragon was for Far Cry 3. But no, this is a full priced game, at $60 for PC.
Very little is known about the game yet, so for now let’s just give it some benefit of the doubt and assume that the game is of full length and going to be worth the money. If you’d like to gamble on that now, however, Ubisoft has you covered! You can of course pre-order immediately and get the Legend of the Mammoth content, whatever that is.
I’m not here to complain, though. I think this is a very bold move for Ubisoft and I’m very glad to see it happen. While I’m sure another team is busy cranking out Far Cry 5 somewhere, (which will be very similar to Far Cry 4, which was very similar to Far Cry 3) the Ubisoft Montreal team (with help) has stepped outside of the normal comfort zone of their franchise and tried something different. That at least has earned my respect and attention. Can you imagine Call of Duty setting their next game in a time period that had no guns?!
This also isn’t a magical or mythical 10,000 BC (to the best of our current knowledge). There are no dinosaurs, no magic, and seemingly no cop-outs. The game is discarding a lot of the things that the Far Cry series is known for. These would be:
luscious open-world environments (okay, check)
fire physics (yeah, okay, probably)
and -of late- wing suits (surely not) and riding elephants (probably).
What do they get in return for these sacrifices? Well, not a whole lot that we’ve seen so far. Spears and bows? The series already has bows and throwing knives. It also already had factions and crafting to a limited degree. Primal promises these things, but hopefully it’ll build them out in worthwhile ways.
We get mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, but we already had elephants, tigers, rhinos and sharks. There’s no massive difference there, except maybe scale. This also has me a little nervous. Those two animals are featured prominently in the trailer and marketing material. Presumably, this is them putting their best foot forward, as is the marketing way, but these are not particularly innovative creatures for the Far Cry series. The elephant was new to Far Cry 4 and was a point their marketers tried to sell relentlessly. I don’t think a mammoth and no guns will make many people splash out $60+ for the new game. But, as I said, we know little about the rest of the game yet. The video below offers some French-accented clues.
They won’t commit
PC Gamer had a good article about what they would and wouldn’t like to see and, like me, were also concerned that “no guns” doesn’t really mean no guns. Maybe you could put some ‘boom powder’ in a stick to shoot rocks and things. Yeah, that’s a gun! And a crap gun, at that! I hope they commit to the vision, otherwise there was no point in tying their hands by setting the game in the Stone Age. But hey, the game launches in 4 months. Whether such a feature (or any others) is in or out has been decided long ago and won’t change now.
I’m also concerned that they’ll stretch some leather hide into a wing-suit “because Far Cry needs wing suits now. Put in in”. If you do that, you also need a parachute, mate, and earliest credit for those goes to Leonardo Da Vinci. Just commit, and we’ll be fine.
That this will be anything like the movie
I don’t mean the terrible Far Cry movie, but the even more terrible 10,000 BC movie, with an honourable 8% on Rotter Tomatoes. Seriously, am I the only one who’s seen it? Nobody has mentioned it in connection with this game yet, so far as I can tell.
I’m not saying these two things are similar, but they are both set in 10,000 BC, open with a pack of hunters sneaking towards a herd of mammoths, have the hero’s tribe slaughtered, and relocate the hero to a jungle environment. I hope to God the similarities end there. The resemblance is uncanny! It can’t have been accidental, and I’d be very worried about anything taking story tips from 10,000 BC the movie.
Why I’m Optimistic
As I said, we know so little yet, and my concerns may be totally unfounded. My optimism is equally unwarranted, but Ubisoft wouldn’t have taken a bet on stripping away core gameplay pillars if they had nothing to prop the rest up with (I hope). We could see some great new stuff!
In my swordfighting in games article last month I lamented how far melee combat in games had come (not far at all) over the years. The enemies in Far Cry Primal are known to not just to be wild beats, but also other hostile tribes, seen in the trailer wielding clubs. With no guns in the game, up-close combat is going to be very important. This could also be on my concerns list, because if we are expected to just repeat the tired old “step-back-to-avoid-enemy-swing, swing-yourself, step-in-to land-the-swing, repeat” formula this game will get old fast, and definitely mean that Ubisoft missed a trick. A AAA studio like them should be able to deliver us something interesting in a gun-less first person action game, and I hope they do! Blocking and different attacks at a minimum!
In all other Far Cry games, taking down any hostile animal has simply been a matter of hitting it with enough bullets or explosives.. or cars.. or some combination thereof. If you look at something like Horizon: Zero Dawn, we can see multi-staged approaches to weakening enemies, avoiding their attacks, and hitting different critical areas. I find it hard to believe that killing a mammoth in this game will be as dumb as hitting him with 100 sharp sticks. I’m hoping (and not spending a penny if it’s not the case) that taking down the mammoth, the main feature on the box art, will involve avoiding its charges, luring it into traps, and/or tricking it into rising up on its hind legs so you can then attack the soft underbelly. Any less than something resembling that would just be phoning it in, and unworthy of a Far Cry game.
It’s known that you need to work with friendly tribe members to conquer other tribes. The problem with games marketing is that it can be deliberately vague when it’s trying to inflate a feature. For example, I could say about Far Cry 2, 3, and 4 that you work with certain groups to conquer other groups, and it’s only technically true. In a practical sense, you do everything, and there might be a couple of other guys around to get shot for you.
If this has been expanded upon in any meaningful way, like having squad orders or abilities, there could be something unique in the game. It wouldn’t be hard to do for a studio to do in this day and age, but I somehow don’t expect much from this feature.
Same goes for crafting. Games 3 & 4 had crafting of limited items, but it wasn’t overly important. Crafting weapons and medicines for survival in the stone age would be very important. Ubisoft seem to be making a fuss over the crafting system so let’s hope there’s something to it.
I do think the announcement of this new direction is newsworthy, as it’s a bold move! Charging $60 for a game that seems like it’s been in production not much longer than a year is also a bold move, but we’ll see what it’s worth as details emerge in the run up to a February 23rd, 2016 console release (March for PC). I’ve my gripes with all the Far Cry games (and especially the Crysis ones) but I’ve always been a fan of the series (except Crysis 2 & 3). I can’t imagine that Primal will be too disappointing to a life-long Far Cry fan like myself, but I’ve been wrong before..
Hopefully, though, we’ll be getting a unique First Person (non-)Shooter. Are you excited? Guarded? Totally cynical? Do you know anything about this that I don’t? (If you’re from the future you’re cheating!) Leave a comment!
Until next time..
PS Check out my own game Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest. A new combat demo has just gone up for browser play or PC download. I’d love to hear your feedback.
Wow! What an E3! This was my first year with a working situation that allowed me to stay up and watch the conferences, as well as follow the show closely online during the week. The general consensus it that this was the best E3 for many years. It’s also my first E3 since I started a blog, so it seemed a good topic for this week. I’m just going to sum up the news and games that have me the most excited. I’m pretty much exclusively a PC gamer, but I won’t focus solely on PC here either and I’ll go pretty broad. First up: VR and AR (virtual and augmented reality).
On June 11th, the week before E3 actually started, Oculus held their own press conference and finally revealed the consumer version of the Rift, as seen above. I had a previous blog on how Oculus was seemingly lagging behind their competitors now, despite starting the new VR race, and that they needed some big announcements to catch up. Well they caught up!
The demonstrated final consumer version comes with plentiful size adjustments and detachable headphones.
A big announcement was their partnership with Microsoft. All Oculus Rifts sold will come with a wireless Xbox One controller. This is huge as developers can target a single input device that they know all users will have.
There will be an online store for your Oculus games, which will include the ability to demo the games before buying them, in recognition of the fact that a traditional video trailer can tell you very little about what a virtual experience will be like.
Price was not announced, and the release date is still a vague “1st Quarter, 2016”.
The huge reveal was their main input device (not the Xbox controller), the Oculus Touch. Clicking the pic above will take you to that part of their press conference. It looks like a controller split in two, which allows each hand to move freely in the virtual space, and without any wires. It also features haptic feedback (vibration, for touch sensation) and a ring of sensors that accurately track your finger movements, for great control or “social interaction” (use your imaginations there). It’s set to release a few months after the primary Rift launch, but accounts from people using it at E3 are very positive, saying it’s on par with or better than Valve or Sony’s input offerings.
Microsoft stole the show at E3 with their HoloLens, winning IGN’s “Coolest Tech” award for the show. If you didn’t click the picture to view their Minecraft demo, do it now! I’ll wait.. or if you’re not interested just skip this whole section, but you’re missing out. It’s hard to convey what the experience is like without having it for yourself, and so I first viewed that part of the conference with a bit of scepticism, but by all later reports, what people saw through the camera at the press conference is exactly the same experience as when people got to try for themselves later. This is an incredible technology. On the show floor they also had a (very tailored, admittedly) Halo experience with the HoloLens which you can catch a glimpse of here.
The only negative report was that the viewing window on the Lens was very narrow, in that you lost the effect in your peripheral vision, but this is still in the prototype phase with no release date, remember.
So, moving onto games, what has people excited?
Star Wars Battlefront
Winning IGN’s Game Of The Show award, Battlefront wowed with its long overdue gameplay reveal. Considering we’ve had 3 trailers without a second of gameplay up until now and they were already cheekily taking pre-orders, this was long overdue. Personally I had wondered what they could have been hiding. The game had received a lot of negative press up until now but they finally put out something positive.
As you can see from the gameplay video (click the pic), DICE have really nailed the sights and sounds of Star Wars. In terms of gameplay, this map looks a lot like the Battlefield franchise’s Rush maps, but there’s a lot going on here to be excited about and it seems to feel more like a Star Wars game than a Battlefield one, which is important.
What Battlefield doesn’t have (any more, at least) but Battlefront does, is bot support, meaning you can actually play in single player mode, which is a big plus for me, personally, as I don’t always like relying on servers and the decent behaviour of other gamers.
This other video shows off a wave-survival mode which looks decent. Again, the graphics and animations are something to be excited about, and this was running on Playstation 4, not PC, so you can expect these visuals to be typical.
Release: Nov 17th, 2015 Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1
Bethesda kicked off E3 on the Sunday night (before E3 officially starts, technically) with their first ever E3 press conference, and it was a major event, widely lauded as the best conference of E3.
DOOM gameplay was revealed at the very start of their conference and can be seen above. They’re clearly going for speed, action, gore, violence, and frantic over-the-top gameplay. I was never a major Doom player but this strikes me as exactly the kind of game Doom fans were hoping for when we saw the (ridiculous) ten second trailer only a few weeks ago, as opposed to a survival-horror (whatever that currently means).
The game features a single player campaign, multiplayer, and a very detailed in-game level/scenario editor. This could be the big arena shooter for years to come, at least until we see the next Unreal Tournament.
Release: Spring 2016 Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1
The main reason people give Bethesda the credit for best show of E3, was the reveal of Fallout 4. I’ll admit that I never played the other Fallout games (I know, shame, shame) but even I could feel the excitement as Todd Howard showed off his new baby. I’m super-pumped for this. The game looks incredible. It looks like a game-changer just as Skyrim did. Incidentally I’d never played an Elder Scrolls game until Skyrim but like many others, I was an instant convert. Bethesda are really hitting their stride when it comes to making RPGs more accessible and exciting to the masses while still keeping their core audience.
You’re better off watching the video but let me try to bullet-point some stuff here:
You can play as a man or woman.
You can play in the world before the bombs fall and the main game commences.
You set the appearance of the male and female couple at the start with an intuitive-looking editor, and the game then interprets the appearance of each and generates what the couples’ child looks like (like GTA V does for your multiplayer character).
The special edition comes with a real plastic ‘pip-boy’ arm band that you can wear and put your phone into. Why?
Because there’s a companion app for the game that lets you manage inventory, etc through your phone, though you can still do it in-game.
As an aside, nearly, Howard mentioned that they’d also developed Fallout Shelter in which you manage a (you’ll never guess) fallout shelter and its survivors, The shelter looks a lot like the 2012 Xcom’s “ant hill” base management. The game is free but has micro-transactions, is so far only on Apple devices, but will come to Android, and is currently outselling even Candy Crush.
Back to Fallout 4, you can craft your own bases and villages, and defend them with turrets, lights, traps and more, all of which require power management. It’s like Rust or DayZ inside Fallout 4, though you don’t even have to participate at all.
The game is set in post-apocalyptic Boston, and is a huge huge game world.
You can have a dog (Alsation) companion who they DON’T kill on you for normally-predictable dramatic effect.
The game won IGN’s Best PC Game award AND their Best RPG award for E3 2015.
Release: Nov 10th, 2015 Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky, which doesn’t often step into the light of day, showed off some more gameplay this year at Sony’s conference, and also appeared during the brand new PC Gaming conference on the Wednesday. It also picked up IGN’s Best Adventure Game E3 award.
Previously the game was going to be a timed Playstation 4 exclusive, and then likely to release on PC, but Sean Murray of Hello Games announced that the game will release for PC and PS4 at the same time! What that time is, we still don’t know, as Murray apologetically explained that they couldn’t yet announce a release date (though they had wanted to do so at E3).
Release: Expect to see it released before the next E3. I’m betting 9-12 months. Platforms: PC, PS4
Yeah so we’re going with the North American spelling, since this is being developed by Ubisoft Montreal.
This was one of those unexpected treats. This brand new IP from Ubisoft annoucned during their press conference is centred around medieval sword fighting between vikings, knights, and samurai, because why not? The gameplay demo above shows off a lot, but essentially two teams of four players fight for control points (in the demonstrated game mode, at least). Dozens of NPC warriors are there as sword-fodder but the main fights happen between players using the “Art of War” control system, which looks like it uses the triggers and control sticks to attack and defend from different angles. Watching your opponent’s body language is key here. Players can also call in arrow and catapult strikes on their enemies.
There will be several modes, though, including a single-player campaign.
I’m excited about this one, as I always am when I see attempts at sword fighting done right. We’ll have to see how this one plays next year. Chivalry was okay but still usually devolved into button mashing, with the available nuances lost. Mount & Blade: Warband has the best sword fighting I’ve seen in a game to date, though the upcoming Kingdom Come: Deliverance also looks to have an interesting take on it.
Release: unknown Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1
So I’m particularly excited about this one as 2012’s Xcom Enemy Unknown is one of my all-time favourite games, and my own game in development is heavily influenced by the Xcom series. A (non-gameplay) trailer was released the week before E3 but we saw some gameplay at E3.
The game is set twenty years after Enemy Unknown and the story is based on what happened if you failed (as many of us did) and the aliens took over the Earth. Xcom is now a (moreso than before) guerilla organisation fighting from a now mobile base.
The aliens themselves are much tougher, each like a mini-boss, but your grunt enemies are now human(ish?) soldiers called the Advent who are baically stormtroopers for the dark and evil alien administration. Collaborators. Traitors. So it’s fine 🙂
A big new change is that the maps are procedurally generated, meaning you never quite know what to expect, or what’s around the next corner. A fault with EU was that after a while the (wonderfully created, but limited) maps started repeating themselves and you sort of knew how best to approach the area each time. Not so, anymore.
You can now engage in melee combat, carry injured soldiers off of the battlefield, destroy floors and ceilings (only walls before), and call for your own extraction zones. You also have procedural objectives on the map and you can complete missions by taking these objectives and fleeing without having to kill every enemy, which should make for some awfully exciting sprints for the evac zone.
Release: November 2015 Platforms: PC only
At this point, I’m going to shift gears. I could talk all day about what has me excited from E3, and for two days if I talked about games that others care about even if they’re not quite for me, but I’m just going buzz through the rest.
I recommend you skim this section for titles that interest you and click the links for trailers and more info.
Unless I state otherwise, chances are the games are for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Playstation 4 exclusive (though I REALLY hope it comes to PC) Horizon: Zero Dawn is the most worth mentioning. It’s a new IP set on post-post-apocalyptic Earth when humans have reverted to tribal social structures and machines have evolved into dinosaur-like wildlife. It sounds silly and looks silly at first, but there’s something really special going on here. It was nominated for all sorts of awards and won IGN’s Best Playstation 4 Game of E3.
Sea of Thieves is a new multiplayer pirate game from Rare that looks pretty awesome, though so far it seems like it’s only coming to Xbox.
Rare also announced Rare Replay which is a 30th Anniversary celebration of Rare’s career making games, giving you 30 old Rare titles for $30 on the Xbox One. Most of these titles were from Rare’s heavyweight days as N64 champions and are well worth playing or replaying.
Just Cause 3 is looking very silly, explosive and fun. Everything a game wants to be and could be if it took itself less seriously. This game is just about awesome explosions and stunts, and isn’t trying to be anything else.
Microsoft announced that Xbox One will soon have backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games, and with a host of exclusive titles coming soon, they’re hoping to convert many 360 users to the new console. Will Playstation follow suit? I hope so, but there’s no official word one way or the other.
Starfox Zero for Nintendo Wii U is getting a mixed reception. I looks graphically very appealing but requires heavy use of the gamepad for your targeting, while the TV screen shows off the wider, more cinematic views. Will you spend most of the game looking away from the TV? I don’t know, but it looks gorgeous to me. The game is neither a prequel, sequel, nor reboot, apparently. It just.. “is”.. I guess.
There’s a new Hitman game on the way, which is looking like taking some of the wind out of Assassin’s Creed’s sails in the next year.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided is looking good if you’re a Deus Ex fan. We’re still following Adam Jensen, marking the first time we repeat a protagonist in the series. It looks a lot like 2011’s Human Revolution, but moreso, if that makes sense.
We continue our march towards Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain‘s November release (we hope it’s not delayed) with another 40 minute video of gameplay, though there’s barely anything new in this video if you’ve been following previous gameplay footage.
We’ve an announcement trailer for Mass Effect Andromeda but there’s no gameplay, very little info other than that you’re a new hero in a new galaxy, and the game’s still a long way off.
Gears Of War 4 is coming to Xbox One (the trailer says “Gears 4”) but it’s confirmed that “of war” will still be in the title. This gameplay looks stupid to me. Where the hell does the super-massive storm come from and go to all of a sudden? It’s a two minute super storm that just serves to make the heroes go into a building. That kind of lazy design really turns me off.
Gears of War 1 is getting a HD remake and coming to XB1 AND the PC, for once, with a multiplayer element based on Gears 3. This marks Gears’ first appearance away from an Xbox console. August 25th is the Xbox release, but there’s no date for the PC release yet.
Switching to Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy series of games, there’s three games to talk about. Firstly, Rainbow Six: Siege continues to look great and a single-player element is confirmed, though sadly there are no AI squad-mates to accompany you, so it probably isn’t really worth talking about next to the multiplayer experience.
Secondly, The Division showed off a new so-so-scripted gameplay demo, which really disappointed me and many others. Basically, every player winds up betraying and fucking over every other player until one is left, and now the game basically looks like DayZ without the zombies. By this I mean “just not fun to play with people”, which is the whole point. Graphically, it looks less impressive than it seemed before, also, and I think that the general consensus is that the ball has been dropped on this one. The game was probably delayed too many times and just missed the boat, though that remains to be seen, come release next March.
If The Division dropped the ball, though, new announcement Ghost Recon Wildlands picked it up! It’s a 4 player co-op experience in a huge open world in which you approach your targets your way. Plan your approach, set up a sniper, booby-trap a vehicle, whatever. This one actually looks quite fun (if you’ve 3 competent friends who want to play with you).
We saw some footage of Rise Of The Tomb Raider, which is an Xbox exclusive. From the gameplay video this may as well be a movie as it’s so scripted and on-the-rails. Apparently the game does actually contain tombs and puzzles though.
The new Mirror’s Edge is called Catalyst and is prequel. Very little is known but it’s confirmed that this time you can’t use guns at all. In the original you could take an enemy’s gun and just fire off what was in the clip, but not reload or keep the gun.
The multiplayer team shooter Rising Storm is getting a sequel set in Vietnam, The original was set in WW2. I wonder if they’re just following what DICE did with Battlefield more than 10 years ago. If the next one is set in 2142, we’ll know.
Arma III is getting a huge new island expansion called Tanoa.