What good is a boycott when the target is caught between a rock and a hard place?
The recent cancellation of two panels planned for next year’s SXSW convention in Austin, Texas, has understandably left a lot of people upset. Both sought to confront issues of equality and discrimination in the games industry - albeit from opposite sides - and would have hopefully shed some more light on the controversial GamerGate saga. Sadly, there are those who feel that politics have no place in video games, and an unhinged few went so far as to threaten violence should the panels go ahead. The SXSW organisers were left in the unenviable position of weighing up the danger of the threats against the importance of the discussions. There’s no "right" decision; each option came with significant caveats. Ultimately, though, the safety of patrons had to come first.
There are some who don’t see it that way, however. Internet media publications Buzzfeed and Vox Media, among many others, have expressed resentment over the panels’ cancellations, vowing to boycott SXSW in protest until they are reinstated. This is a seriously misguided move. SXSW did not remove the panels out of fear of controversy or disagreement with the material. The decision was necessary to ensure the wellbeing of attendees. If violence were to erupt, not only could innocent attendees get caught in the crossfire, any valuable debate would devolve into a heated argument that would only serve to harden the resolve of proponents and opponents both. That would be antithetical to the cooperative attitude that protesters are pushing for.
Dismissing the threats out-of-hand would be foolish and irresponsible. There has been no shortage of horrific hostage incidents and senseless rampages in recent times, and the video game industry is hardly immune. Security needs to be a prime concern for any public event. Is it wrong for SXSW to play it safe and protect the patrons responsible for its existence?
What do Buzzfeed and Vox Media hope to achieve? Boycotting is a tool for punishing bad decisions. Cancelling the panels was not a bad decision. SXSW faced a lose-lose prospect, and it made the only choice it could. Proponents of diversity and equality should be showing support, not turning against their ally. If publications like Buzzfeed and Vox Media are so invested in the issue, perhaps they should look at providing their own venues for such discussion. It would be interesting to see how they would react if they received similar threats. Would they be so willing to throw caution to the wind when push came to shove?
Writer: Matt Sayer
If you are wondering who we are, we're primarily a digital magazine for the iPad focused on the coverage of indie video games. Run by the former editor of Game Informer, you'll find worldwide exclusives, but also an interactive media experience unlike any you have seen before. If you have an iPad, you should check out the free sample issue at the very least, or enjoy one of our other episodes as listed below.
Hunting bounties, hauling cargo, accelerating to warp nine; Rebel Galaxy aims to fulfill your wildest space fantasies. Does it conquer the final frontier, or is it heading for a black hole?
Remember that seminal moment in Spore where the camera zooms out to reveal the world is so much bigger than it first seemed? That you were just a tiny fish in an ocean full of possibility? That's the feeling Rebel Galaxy evokes, except unlike Spore, it's not just a one-off trick. There's a lot of progress to be made in Double Damage's space adventure, and every time you think you've hit the top rung, you lift your head and see there's a whole new ladder to climb.
And believe me, you're going to want to keep climbing.
Rebel Galaxy is a space game like no other space game. Right from the get-go you're piloting the kinds of ships that are always off-limits. The corvettes, the dreadnaughts, the capital ships: the ones you normally drool over from the cockpit of a two-man scout ship. Not here. Rebel Galaxy hands you the keys to the big-boy ships and lets you swat those pesky little fighters like so many feckless flies.
Grandeur is something Rebel Galaxy does brilliantly.
Crowdfunding is too often confused with investment. Many backers believe their donations buy them a say over the direction of a game's development, but that's simply not the case. Buyer beware: if you don't trust the seller, don't give them your money.
A lot of weight rests on Star Citizen's shoulders. The crowdfunded space sim from industry veteran Chris Roberts, creator of the classic Wing Commander games, is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest crowdfunded project ever, with over US$90million raised thus far and funding still being accepted. With such high stakes, there's been no shortage of probing questions from backers and critics alike, especially now with the game three years into development and the finish line nowhere in sight. The pressure on Chris Roberts and his team at Cloud Imperium Games to deliver the dream they sold is immense.
Too immense, according to some. In a recent article posted on The Escapist, a group of former Cloud Imperium Games employees unleashed a barrage of accusations condemning Star Citizen's development. Tales of financial mismanagement, wasteful development practices and a toxic work environment paint an ugly picture of the goings-on behind the scenes. Roberts has refuted many of the claims as spiteful slander, and CIG has even threatened litigation against The Escapist for publishing the reportedly fallacious article without proudly verifying its sources. The current lack of hard evidence on either side of the argument makes it difficult to extract the truth. Nevertheless, there is one aspect well worth musing on.
Indie games. What are they? Pensive affairs like Dear Esther, or sprawling epics like The Witcher 3? What does the term really mean, and is it time we dropped the term entirely?
The indie scene is booming. Over half of all current-gen games come from independent studios, built by small teams driven more by passion than profits. It's heartening to see our industry embrace creativity from sources both big and small, but there's one notion it clings to that prevents it from truly evolving: the term "indie." What does it actually mean, and what value is there in trapping games in its net?
Mario Paint crossed with LittleBigPlanet. That's the peanut butter and chocolate combination Nintendo has conjured up with its latest Wii U title, Super Mario Maker. Since the recipe is so good, what other dishes should the industry serve?
Super Mario Maker is Nintendo at its best. The company might seem old fashioned compared to its contemporaries, but as the Wii showed, sometimes its sheltered way of doing things pays off big time. Mario Maker continues that trend. The game transforms players into mini Miyamotos capable of creating entire Mario levels in mere minutes. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, Disney Infinity and other games with packed-in editor tools, Mario Maker's singular focus and simple yet deep interface encourage players of all skill levels to contribute, rather than just those willing to wade through hours of experimentation.
The elegance of Mario Maker's design is too valuable to be a one-off. Its formula is just begging to be applied to other properties. Five of those properties sprang to my mind as being especially ripe for the Maker treatment. In reality, the non-Nintendo titles I've included in this list would need phone or tablet integration to emulate Mario Maker's intuitive touch controls, but since this is just wishful thinking for the time being, let's not worry about that part.
The news of an official Resident Evil 2 remake might be music to many ears, but it's coming at a steep cost to one poor group of loyal fans.
Capcom understands the business of fan service. From building its own gaming-themed bar in Tokyo, to releasing Dead Rising 3 DLC that transformed the game into an arcade beat-em-up, the company is not ashamed of trading on nostalgia. With the unexpected success of Resident Evil HD, a remake of a remake of the 20-year-old survival horror game, Capcom has openly declared its intent to focus on its past, promising a Resident Evil Zero remake for early next year and just recently confirming that Resident Evil 2 will see the same HD treatment. In short, it's a good time to be a Resident Evil fan.
Unless you happen to be Invader Games. Back in 2013, the independent studio embarked on a mission to create the RE 2 remake fans had been clamouring for since the original's GameCube remaster. Now, two years later, the nearly two dozen volunteers comprising the outfit have received the most disheartening of news: Capcom has issued a cease-and-desist letter demanding the immediate termination of their passion project. Two years and uncountable man hours late, with a playable release on the imminent horizon, Capcom only now deigns to declare its disapproval. Why wait so long?
A moody atmosphere doesn't need to come at the expense of a good challenge. InFlux takes the aesthetic appeal of a game like Journey without skimping on the puzzles.
I'm going to come right out and say it: I didn't really "get" Journey. For whatever reason, the critical darling just didn't click with me. It was, and still is, a beautiful game, and I have the utmost respect for the way it conveys story and direction through environmental cues rather than obnoxious tutorials, but the resonant emotional connection that moved many players passed me by. Listening to fellow gamers wax poetic on the game's transcendent undertones, I began to think I must be some sort of a cold, loveless monster with no soul to speak of.
Fortunately, that's not the case. Journey didn't enthrall me, but it turns out I just needed a slightly different sort of game to pluck my heartstrings.
That game was InFlux. Developed by Impromptu Games, an independent studio based in Melbourne Australia that works with collaborators across the world, the game was funded in part by Film Victoria through its Games Investment Programme - an initiative designed to bolster Australia's fledgling stake in the games industry. As an exploration-focused adventure in which you guide a small metal ball through gorgeous environments on a quest of enigmatic purpose, InFlux utilises mood and atmospheric storytelling in much the same way as Journey, while differentiating itself with a greater emphasis on puzzle solving.
These puzzles exist in one of two varieties, either emerging naturally from the world in the form of perilous rivers that must be crossed and volcanic vents that must be fed, or presented more explicitly inside glass-walled test chambers that appear as curious artificial incursions on the otherwise organic landscape.
Comcept's track record is pretty woeful: is ReCore doomed to be its strike three?
ReCore for the Xbox One was definitely one of the more interesting titles announced at E3 this year. Its debut trailer teased a harsh post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the female protagonist fought a horde of mechanical monstrosities in order to salvage the eponymous glowing "cores" that presumably serve as some form of currency. With the ability to use her own core to animate first a robotic canine, then a hulking bipedal robot, potential is rich for innovative gameplay mechanics involving shape-shifting companions. Of course, since the trailer is all pre-rendered and no concrete details about the game have yet been released, this is all speculation. Still, ReCore had me excited.
That's all changed in recent weeks. The interest I had in the game has been annihilated thanks to the storm clouds looming over Comcept, one of the two studios helming ReCore. From the six-month delay of Mighty No. 9 to the shady dealings of its failed Red Ash Kickstarter, everything Comcept touches seems to be falling to pieces around it. As someone who doesn't have a connection to the Mega Man franchise to which these games pay homage, I consider myself lucky that I don't have to watch as an icon of my childhood is dragged through the mud.
But with ReCore, Comcept's withering touch is no longer limited to the past. A new IP and fresh ideas - two things the games industry is always in desperate need of - are at risk of being wasted on a studio that has shown only disrespect for the people supporting it. If Comcept approaches ReCore the same way it has Mighty No. 9, where the current art style is decidedly different to the one originally pitched, what will happen to Recore's bright potential? Comcept has already shown repeatedly that it can't deliver on its promises; what reason do we have to think this time will be any different?
There's only one saving grace for ReCore: co-developer Armature Studio. Staffed with ex-Retro employees responsible for the fantastic Metroid Prime series, the studio has just as much pedigree as Keiji Inafune's Comcept, but it also has the record to back it up. From Borderlands: The Handsome Collection to the Vita version of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Armature has proven itself in recent memory - even if mostly through ports.
Its sole original production, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, received mostly positive reviews, with disappointment only really emerging from comparisons to the high standard established by the other Arkham titles. As a 2.5D twist on the Arkham formula that drew a lot of inspiration from Metroid and Castlevania, I thoroughly enjoyed the game; especially the way it translated mechanics like takedowns and detective vision from its 3D brethren to a 2D plane. Thus, I'm prepared to pay attention to anything Armature is involved in.
As talented as Armature is, though, is it capable of protecting ReCore from Comcept's corruption? It's tough to tell. We know nothing about the division of labour between the two studios. Perhaps if Comcept is only responsible for coming up with ideas, while Armature takes care of actually delivering them, it might be possible for ReCore to fulfil the potential promised in its trailer. On the other hand, if Comcept is in charge of bringing the game to life, chances are the ReCore we eventually get in our hands will be a very different beast to the one we have been teased with.
To me, the Comcept name is a curse. ReCore is under its affliction, and I'm not confident it will escape unscathed. My fingers are crossed, but so too are my arms. Until it proves otherwise, Comcept will be a studio I avoid like the plague.
Making games is a messy business. From a lone idea, the journey they take to reach our hands is fraught with blood, sweat and a whole lot of tears.
The games industry is a business. There is no getting around it. Money is a crucial component of its operation, whether we're talking AAA blockbusters or home-brewed indie titles. Even games made purely as a hobby need to be supplemented by a tertiary income to feed, clothe and shelter the people sacrificing their precious time to it. The substantial costs of the big, slickly-produced experiences that many gamers have come to expect are simply too steep to be funded out-of-pocket by all but the richest philanthropists.
That is why many indie games adopt two dimensions instead of three, utilise simpler art styles and procedural asset creation, and opt for dialogue text over professional voice acting. It's why the race to the 99c price point on the App Store has spawned countless clones and innumerable games relying on murky microtransactions just to make back their production costs. It's why the Kickstarter darling Broken Age had to scrounge up additional investment from external sources despite skyrocketing past its initial funding goal. The fact that games are a source of entertainment often blinds gamers to the fact that they are products too, and just like cars, concords and computers, what you see on the outside bears little resemblance to what's under the hood.
Recently, Double Fine, the developer of the aforementioned Broken Age, released the documentary series chronicling the point-and-click adventure game's development for everyone to watch on YouTube. Showcasing the highs and the lows that the game went through over the course of the three year development, the series doesn't paint the prettiest picture of a game's life cycle. That, of course, was the impetus behind filming the whole thing. Double Fine wanted to show people just how complicated making a game was, especially from the business side of things. With its project being the first big, crowdfunded game, it wanted to maintain complete transparency in order to ensure backers knew what their money was being used for.
Xeodrifter treads the line between being empowering and frustrating, but which side does it end up on?
Rare is the game these days that refuses to hold your hand. The tutorial is nigh ubiquitous and often insufferably droll: I groan every time I'm forced to trudge through another unskippable diatribe on the mechanics of analogue camera control. For first-time gamers, these directions might be useful, but for the vast majority of players, they're just irritating. It seems foolish that for all the advances games have made, there is no established convention for bypassing the boot-camp overtures and getting straight into the action, for both the veteran gamer and those of us who prefer to wing it rather than absorb the manual.
Unfortunately, this trend of underestimating the competence of players isn't limited to tutorials. The Call of Duty campaigns are regularly referred to as corridor shooters, funnelling players through scripted sequence after scripted sequence and offering little to no agency over direction or pacing - players can't even open doors on their own, instead having to wait for AI companions to do it for them. The Gears of War series introduced the idea of "points of interest," scripted events that pluck the player from the moment so they can stare impotently at a story beat. Other games have taken that concept even further, wresting control away from the player entirely in order to highlight an explosion or showcase physics in action as a building collapses in on itself.
By severing the player's connection with their avatar, these moments reinforce the fact that you're not in control, that you're only following a path someone else laid out for you. I don't know about you, but for me there's nothing more immersion-breaking than being reminded your sense of control is just an illusion.
This is where Xeodrifter comes in. From the get-go, the gorgeous 8-bit throwback to Super Metroid foments an air of desolation and loneliness, and not once does it jeopardise this mood with excessive explanation or exposition. After a swift overview of your dilemma - stuck in space with pieces of your ship's warp drive scattered across four planets - the game ceases to offer any direction whatsoever, leaving the task of deciphering the controls, mechanics and the very nature of the game itself up to you alone. Aside from a tiny info box appearing every time a new power-up is obtained, learning is achieved purely through trial and error.
Does Time Magazine's notorious cover really bode so ill for the future of VR?
Stereotypes have been dying a painfully slow death throughout the ages. From the accusations of witchcraft levelled at any woman who dared stand up for herself in the 17th century to the lingering assumptions that Asian heritage comes pre-packaged with superintelligence, people have long sought to homogenise the things they don't understand in an effort to consolidate their world view. It made sense back when we lived in caves, where the shapes in the shadows really were out to kill us, but in civilised society such a heuristic approach is no longer applicable. Books can no longer be judged by their covers alone. Well, that's the mentality we strive for. Evolutionary traits are hard to shake, though, and there is still plenty of prejudice alive and kicking the world over.
Many gamers are no doubt intimately familiar with the preconceptions of those to whom games make no sense. Despite its growing acceptance, gaming still suffers from a slew of generalisations that cast it in an unfavourable light. Whether it be the Nintendo effect and the belief that games are only for kids, or the equally absurd Grand Theft Auto controversy and the claim that games are turning us all into murderous villains, the public perception of video games has a ways to go before it reaches the normalcy of the other mediums in the entertainment industry.
Halo 5: Guardians is losing multiplayer functionality faster than a dive-bombing Banshee.
First splitscreen multiplayer is carved away, and now the Big Team Battle mode is pushed into post-launch add-on status. 343 seems intent on leaving its own stamp on the Halo franchise, but I dare say it's going about it the wrong way. Multiplayer is where Halo has always been King of the Hill, but the way 343 is treating it, it might not be that way for much longer.
Big Team Battle has always been one of my favourite modes. Throwing together massive maps, the biggest and baddest vehicles, and the highest player counts ensures plenty of bombastic fun. 343 has claimed that the new Warzone mode will satisfy players looking for large-scale combat in the interim, but while Warzone admittedly seems like the most interesting of Halo 5: Guardian's additions, it's not particularly comparable to BTB. Warzone is objective-based, with an economy and experience system layered on top of the action. Big Team Battle is just pure explosive chaos. They address two very different play styles, and neither is a suitable substitute for the other.
I have to say, the more I hear about Halo 5: Guardians, the less interested in it I get. I would never have thought I'd be saying that about a Halo game, but here we are. I am honestly more excited for what Creative Assembly will do with Halo Wars 2, the sequel to a game I came away decidedly lukewarm on, than where the Master Chief's journey will take him. End rant.
With so many remakes and remasters flooding the market, Rare Replay offers a refreshingly respectful and bountiful timeline of one of gaming's most talented developers.
Nostalgia is big business. Everywhere you look these days, another relic from the past is resurrected, the rust buffed off and the gameplay rolled out for a second or third attack on our wallets. Quality and integrity vary dramatically, from impressive updates to classics like The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, to slapdash encores of immature franchises like the Prototype Collection. The overture of the latest console generation has been lambasted for an excess of HD remakes and Definitive Editions of games barely two years old. With Gears of War Ultimate Edition, Dishonoured Definitive Edition and Risen 3: Enhanced Edition hitting shelves just this month, it can often seem like publishers are more interested in selling us the same games over and over again than trying anything new.
And why not? If we're prepared to pay multiple times for a virtually identical experience, is it any wonder publishers are so eager to exploit their catalogue? These games are already developed; their most significant costs already outlaid. A fan base exists, and the figures are immediately quantifiable. From a financial standpoint, it's a pretty safe bet, free of the risks of bankrolling an entirely new property. Marketing and critical reception are grounded in precedent, offering the kind of money-back guarantee that gets investors' motors running. In short, it's easy money, and better yet it can be pitched as a tribute to a much-loved franchise and a show of dedication to long-time fans, boosting public image in parallel with profits.
Splitscreen gaming has been hanging on for dear life as the industry has become focused on pretty visuals and online play, but the good times are over.
Halo 5 has no splitscreen multiplayer. It took me several seconds to fully parse that statement when I first heard it. Halo. The herald of console first-person shooters. The king of couch co-op. The source of countless late-night LAN parties all through the 2000's. In my mind, at least, it stands next to N64 classic GoldenEye as the pinnacle of local multiplayer.
And now it's to be no more? The notion seems unthinkable; for many, Halo is local multiplayer. Back in the days of the original Xbox, avid fans of the franchise - myself included - would lug that enormous black brick over to friends' houses, haul in a second monstrous CRT from some dusty corner, and settle down for some 4v4 Team Deathmatch. It may have involved a lot of effort for kids without cars, but it was always worth it. No matter how tight an online experience can get, it will never match the physical ecstasy of a match-winning high-five and the subsequent satisfaction of seeing the frustration in the face of your smack-talking friend.
343 Industries, the developer behind Halo 5, has justified the omission as a tough decision made for the sake of scale and fidelity. The scope of the game's environments, the details of its graphics, and the dynamism of its AI are all too much to replicate in the confines of split-screen. Rather than spending precious development time optimising and potentially compromising the grand vision of Halo 5, 343 chose to scrap the mode entirely and turn its focus on single player and online.
From a technical standpoint, this is certainly a valid move. Implementing splitscreen multiplayer isn't as easy as chopping the screen in half and calling it a day; the strain on the system can be equivalent to running two versions of the game simultaneously in some cases. This is evident in games like Mario Kart 8, where the normally rock-solid framerate takes a noticeable dip when a couple of friends jump in. Back in earlier generations, games like GoldenEye even had to sacrifice texture quality and remove objects from the environment in order to ship functional multiplayer.
But, technical points aside, I'm not sure I support 343's decision. Focusing on fidelity over features seems foolish, especially for a game with as rich a multiplayer history as Halo. Halo 4 on the Xbox 360, for example, was a visual spectacle for the console, squeezing it for all it was worth, and it did not have to sacrifice splitscreen to do so. I raise that comparison not to suggest the technical challenge is equal between the two games - new consoles come with new quirks and hurdles, after all - but simply to point out that 343 is no stranger to accomplishing impressive feats in design and programming. If the studio set its mind to it, I'm certain it could overcome whatever obstacles splitscreen Halo 5 might pose.
Really, though, I'm just in mourning for a mode that I fear is not much longer for this world. Outside of games built for local multiplayer - the Towerfalls, Nidhoggs and the like - it is pretty clear that online play is the only way forward. When the undisputed champion of couch gaming decides to grab its bag and leave, you know the Grunt Birthday Party is nearing its end.
Reach for your wallets and ready those credit card numbers, because there's a rip-roaring deal 'round these parts and you'd have to be bushwhacked to ignore it.
For as little as $3* you can bag yourself 12 delightful Aussie-grown indie games, spanning a wide array of genres. From the tactical apocalyptic survival of Zafehouse Diaries, to the side-scrolling hack-n-slashing of Blade Kitten, to the plummeting platforming of Freedom Fall, there's no lack of variety or creativity to be found. If you have any interest in indie games, Australian development, or just an irresistible bargain, you owe it to yourself to check out Indiegala's Down Under Bundle. Get some great games, and support some home-grown heroes. How can you go wrong?
And if supporting Australian indies is a passion of yours, we highly recommend reading Episode 8 of Grab It. Not only will that support us - an Aussie indie - but the issue includes 68 exclusive interviews and game features on a stack of fantastic Aussie made games.
The full list of games: - Once Bitten, Twice Dead - Zafehouse Diaries - Unhack - Blade Kitten - Deadnaut - Stargazer - An Assassin in Orlandes (Tin Man Games talk digital gamebooks in Episode 6 of Grab It) - Bermuda - Curse of the Assassin - 8-bit Adventures - Amygdala - Freedom Fall (read our review)
*To get all the games, you must beat the average price, which was $2.89 at the time of writing
It might be early days yet, but this robotic fighter could be the game that finally nails the balance between accessibility and depth.
I don't play fighting games. I've tried, but I've just never been able to master the digital manipulation necessary to pull off all those flashy fireballs and devastating dragon punches. I know I'm not alone in this, yet the popularity of fighting games would suggest that I am. Unlike most other genres, fighting games have maintained an assiduous focus on precision play and plenty of practice in the face of a greater industry shift towards broader appeal and accessibility.
Outside of a few exceptions like Super Smash Bros. and Divekick, the majority of contenders favour complex combos and deeply-ingrained muscle memory over pick-up playability. For players happy to invest the hundreds of hours required to join the ranks of the genre's elite, there are plenty of options to sate their appetite. But for those seeking a more approachable experience, the choices are slim to none.
This hasn't bothered me in the past. There are always going to be certain types of experiences that I don't mesh with, for one reason or another. But recently, with the eSports scene growing enough to warrant mention on ESPN, and fighting game tournaments like EVO amassing prize pools of hundreds of thousands of dollars, I've started to feel like I'm missing out on something important.
To buy or not to buy, that is the question? In the wake of reports on the disturbing work conditions inside Konami, what responsibility falls on the gamers to voice their dissent through their purchasing behaviour?
The Metal Gear Solid series has long been a source of debate. Hideo Kojima, the mind behind the eccentric stealth games, has never shied away from loaded issues like child soldiers, racial discrimination and torturous slavery. Nor has he hesitated in using deceit and misdirection to mess with the expectations and emotions of players, placing them in uncomfortable situations and forcing them to question their values and beliefs - if you're the squeamish sort, the franchise is probably not for you.
Even beyond the tumultuous topics his games tackle, Kojima himself has been the focus of hot discussion. The number of times he has vowed that the latest MGS game would be his last is only equaled by the frequency of the absurd stunts he has pulled to generate publicity for an upcoming release. Who else would have been crazy enough to talk reporter Geoff Keighley into interviewing a CG character as if it were a real person to kick-start the elaborate marketing campaign for MGS V?
Not all of the controversy surrounding Kojima and his seminal series has been intentional, though. His recent departure from Konami, his parent company of thirty years, might finally allow him to move beyond the confines of the Metal Gear universe, but the circumstances of the divorce have been worryingly murky. From Konami removing the Kojima name from the MGS V promotional art and official website, to the rumours of internal strife and draconian work conditions within the company's games division, the conversation concerning what will almost surely be the final Kojima-made MGS title is focused more on the politics of the game's development than the zaniness of the content itself.
With Mighty No. 9 delayed for a second time, can fans ever have faith in Comcept again?
After the mess of miscommunication that was the Red Ash Kickstarter, you'd think Keiji Inafune's development studio Comcept would have learned a thing or two about respecting its fans. But no. Tight-lipped for weeks now on the rumours concerning delays to its first Kickstarter project, Mighty No. 9, the company has finally come out and confirmed that the Mega Man-inspired title will not see the light of day until sometime during the first quarter of 2016. The game was initially slated to arrive back in April of this year, before being pushed back to September, and now again for a potential hiatus of another six months.
Comcept has cited bugs and problems with online functionality as the cause of the delay. This is troubling, given that the vague Q1 release window suggests these are not simply trivial issues. Worse, if the bugs will require up to half a year to iron out, it is unlikely that Comcept has only just stumbled upon them. The rumours of a delay that have been circulating for weeks now support this assumption. This means, then, that Comcept withheld announcing the delay during the crucial backing period of its latest Kickstarter, Red Ash. It's no wonder why. The project would probably have missed its goal by even more than the 30%+ that it did, had the troubled state of its predecessor been officially known.
The lack of courtesy on display here is woeful. Comcept is abusing the crowdfunding model with a mentality sourced from traditional publishing. That's not how it works. Fans are not solely interested in commercial success and the state of the final product; if we were, what would be the point in pledging more money to a project like Mighty No. 9 after it had already hit its funding goal? As backers, we want to feel involved in the development process, like we have influence over the shape the game will take. This requires communication and respect, two things which Comcept has ignored by not responding to queries and by opting to take on a second project with the first still in such a dire state.
Some fans have defended Comcept's early announcement of Red Ash as a necessary part of the games business, since idle developers are inevitably poor developers. This might make sense under the traditional publishing model, but things are different when it's the fans holding the chequebook. If Comcept isn't open about the difficulties of development from day one - as a studio like Double Fine was with its Broken Age Kickstarter - then how are we supposed to empathise with its troubles now? All we see is a company taking our money and not delivering what it promised.
Comcept, and Keiji Inafune, have lost my faith. I still hope that Mighty No. 9 and even Red Ash turn out to be excellent games, but I certainly won't be throwing any more of my money their way.
In light of the reaction to the Street Fighter V beta, it is worth examining what the term truly means.
Technical alpha. Proof of concept. Stress test. Early access. The sheer number of different states games can exist in these days is equaled only by the confusion which these esoteric terms generate. Worse, many of the labels often seem to mean different things depending on who applies them. Ostensibly, there are standards to which the bearers of these monikers should adhere, but in practice, conformity is all over the place.
The backlash following the recent Street Fighter V beta highlights the inconsistencies in what people expect these terms to mean. For those not familiar with the debacle, here's the skinny: Capcom encouraged fans of the seminal fighting franchise to pre-order the upcoming game by promising them three rounds of beta access prior to release as reward for their loyalty. The problem was, upon opening the floodgates to the first beta period last week, the servers supporting the game were promptly drowned, and many fans were left out in the cold.
How do we honour our heroes when we don't even know their names?
Satoru Iwata was a great man. It might not need saying, but his contributions to the video game industry, along with his perpetual cheer and endearing laugh, warmed the hearts of gamers the world over. If it wasn't for his pivotal role in the release of the Nintendo DS and the Wii, the entire industry would be a very different place. He will be sorely missed, not just as the smiling face of Nintendo, but as the gamer at heart that he never stopped acknowledging. A legend, with a legacy that will live on long into gaming's future.
Mr. Iwata, though, was an anomaly in his renown. Consider his contemporaries at Sony and Microsoft, or even his predecessor at Nintendo; Steve Ballmer, Kazuo Hirai or Hiroshi Yamauchi. These are not trivial names in the business of gaming, and to some they are regarded with the same respect as the late, great Mr. Iwata. But among the general gaming public, they might as well be nobodies. Microsoft is Microsoft, Sony is Sony; that's all that matters. Who cares what name is engraved into the door of the boss' office?
Just when we thought Comcept and Keiji Inafune's Kickstarter couldn't get any murkier, Red Ash gets its funding under the cover of dark.
And so we plunge deeper into the rabbit hole. After the dubious arrival of the Red Ash Kickstarter a month ago, Keiji Inafune - the co-creator of Mega Man - and his development company Comcept have been the subjects of considerable scepticism. With the studio's first Kickstarter for Mighty No. 9 still undelivered, it was caution that met the announcement of not just one, but two Kickstarters for Red Ash - one for an anime, as well as the game. This in addition to the murky funding goal that, if hit, would only secure the prologue for the game. We highly recommend your read our deeper discussion of the worrisome situation in What Does Inafune's Presumptuous and Disingenuous Red Ash Kickstarter Say About Gamers?
Now things have gotten even stranger. In the final throes of the Kickstarter campaign - with success far from certain - Comcept announced that it has secured funding for the entirety of Red Ash from a Chinese publisher called FUZE Entertainment. While that might seem like good news as the game will be made now, without concern of it shipping incomplete or not at all, it raises a whole lot of questions.
From the ashes of the paid mods inferno comes the spark of an idea, inspired by Patreon?
The recent controversy surrounding Valve's implementation of paid mods into its digital games service Steam has highlighted the passion of the modding community. The backlash concerning the division of revenue was particularly severe, and it's not hard to see why. With only 25% of the money going to the developers of the mods and the rest split between Valve and the original game's publisher, the scheme seemed designed to profit existing companies, rather than reward the individuals producing new content. For a modder to make a dollar for every mod they sell,they would need to charge gamers $4 as $3 of it they'd never see. The incentive is then for them to sell their mods at heavily inflated prices, just so their cut equates to more than a pittance. Not exactly a desirable outcome for modders or gamers.
Apples to Oranges: We examine whether Apple's grip on the App Store is a tender embrace or a deadly chokehold.
Apple used to be a name synonymous with revolution. The iPod, iTunes, the iPhone; the company has changed the direction of entire industries with its novel thinking and emphasis on accessibility. But recently that focus on forward thinking seems to be notably absent. From iOS features cribbed from Microsoft and Google's offerings, to Apple Music being a near straight-up clone of years-old services Pandora and Spotify, the former frontrunner has traded risk for reaction, content to simply retain its dominant position rather than drive the market into uncharted territory. This reactionary approach extends beyond a mere lack of innovation, impacting the way the company responds to shifts in the social landscape.
Keiji Inafune announcing a Red Ash Kickstarter before delivering on Mighty No. 9 tells us some nasty truths about the current games industry.
Keiji Inafune, the man behind the much-loved Mega Man franchise, has been a hot commodity of late. In addition to his involvement with the recently announced ReCore - a game for the Xbox One of which almost nothing has been disclosed (read: 60% of Last Year’s Microsoft E3 Conference Is Still Unreleased - Is That Good Enough?) - he has been furiously active in the crowd-funding scene. After years spent at Capcom listening to fans clamour for the return of the blue-suited robot boy, frustrated with the company's reluctance to green light a new game in the series, he decided to leave and start his own development studio.
What do remote controlled cars and football have in common?
Sometimes simple pleasures are the best. The first sip of an ice-cold Coke on a hot day. The kiss of the sun's rays on naked skin. The doughy embrace of a soft couch and the comfort of a pair of baggy sweatpants after a long day in stiff work attire. Done right, an appeal to base human desires can be infinitely more satisfying than any heady brew of complex emotions. I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything I'd rather do on a cold, wet morning than bury myself under the covers and sleep until Summer.
Developer Psyonix clearly understands this preference for the simpler things. Its latest game, Rocket League, embodies perfectly the virtues of focusing on the basics. What could be more elementary than rocket-powered remote controlled cars kicking around a giant exploding soccer ball? Okay, so maybe the conceit isn't the most primal of enticements, but the mentality behind it is as straightforward as you can get. Sports are fun. Toy cars are fun. Explosions are fun. Throw them all together and you've got yourself the makings of a pretty tasty experience.
After the HoloLens' impressive E3 2015 display, and the coming onslaught of virtual reality hardware questions, what lies ahead for traditional gaming, and should fans be concerned?
Microsoft's presentation of HoloLens during its E3 press conference sparked a storm of excitement within the minds of watching gamers. The undeniably impressive demonstration of playing Minecraft using the augmented reality headset transformed the survival/crafting game into something more akin to a god game like Populous or The Sims. When the demonstrator moved the entire game from the two-dimensional projection on the wall to a three-dimensional model rising up out of a table on stage with a simple voice command, the audible amazement of the crowd was well justified.
If that wasn't remarkable enough, the presenter then proceeded to manipulate the blocky world with simple gestures while his fellow demonstrator played from the typical first-person perspective in co-op. Using his all-seeing HoloLens vantage, the demonstrator was able to locate rich mines below the ground and fire lightning bolts at his partner’s TNT to open access to the buried treasure.
Are epic bargains like those of the Steam Summer Sale really a boon for gamers, or are they in truth undermining the pleasure we get from the games we already own.
The Steam Summer Sale is here, and it's as if a million of inner voices cautioning restraint were suddenly silenced. PC gamers are well-versed in the dangers of the digital distributor's unparalleled discounts, though mobile and console gamers are fast becoming no strangers to slashed prices either. Who can say no to four games for a measly dollar? How is anyone supposed to turn down hours of entertainment for less than the cost of cappuccino? So what if the game received mixed reviews, or is part of a genre that you don't typically play; the price is just too good to pass up!
Inevitably, you succumb to the fear of missing out on a golden opportunity and reach for your wallet. Maybe the game will be a dud and maybe you'll only play it for ten minutes before getting bored, but can you afford to risk the regret of not knowing when the price of peace of mind is so low?
There are lots of reasons why people play games, and I recently realized what it is that makes me such a fan of our medium.
It might seem a pretty simple question with an equally simple answer. “Fun” likely features prominently in many a gamer’s list of motivations. “Entertainment,” too; the delight we get from bombast and spectacle, and the joy of losing yourself in the role of protagonist in a heroic story – just as man has been doing since stories were swapped over a cave's camp fire.
Another powerful drive is “escapism.” To forget the rigours and responsibilities of the real world for a few brief hours and take on the role of the hero; the one for whom the entire world waits, expectant, ready to be saved by his or her hand.
And sometimes the appeal of a game lies purely in the “challenge.” To pit yourself against obstacle after obstacle, testing your skill and mettle in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, perhaps push the limits safe in the knowledge that failure is merely a setback and a second chance is only a button press away.
For these reasons, among many more, we game. But what about me? Why do I game?
Will paid mods being the next "microtranasations?" Grab It dives deep into the main questions that need to be answered should Valve continue with its plans to provide a paid mods marketplace on Steam.
Valve, the company behind digital distribution service Steam, must be pretty disappointed with Skyrim fans right now. After the vocal hostility to its introduction of a paid-mod model to the game's Steam community, it has a lot of thinking to do about how to tweak its approach to allowing mod creators to charge for their work. And you can be sure: there is little doubt Valve will regroup and try again - it has invested too much into the endeavour to abandon it after just one attempt - but it will have to overcome a whole lot of jaded resistance when it comes time for round two.
If you haven't been following the story, here's the Cliff's Notes summary: Valve recently made it possible for community-made modifications to the open-world RPG Skyrim to be sold on Steam. Prior to this, all mods distributed on Steam had to be free; if a creator wanted to charge for their work, they had to use another distribution service for advertising and hosting. The community response was swift, loud, and for the most part, negative.
Complaints ranged from the standard, “you want me to pay for something that used to be free?” and “modding is about creating for fun, not profit,” to more complex concerns about the revenue split. Valve took 30% of the cut; the makers of Skyrim - Bethesda - took 45%; and the creator was left with a measly 25%. Then issues with piracy arose - people other than the mod creator uploading copies of paid mods for free, or stealing and charging for mods they didn't create. Few people argued that mod creators shouldn't be allowed to make money off their work at all; the contention was instead focused on Valve's implementation of the scheme, rather than the ethos behind it.
Regardless, the uproar prompted Valve to roll back the scheme less than a week after its launch, and only days after Valve's managing director Gabe Newell publicly announced on Reddit the company's strong support for the initiative. In the wake of all the indignation and finger-pointing, there are some important points to consider; points that Valve is no doubt discussing in great detail as it revises its approach to this volatile situation:
The Status Quo Change is often a tough sell. People get used to the norm and change carries with it the fear of the unknown - the endless abyss of imagined nightmares that could lurk around the next corner. By introducing the paid mods scheme into Skyrim, a game with perhaps the biggest modding community since Quake and Doom back in the 1990s, Valve sundered the status quo with an axe, causing many players to envision an imminent future where all mods were paid and all the enjoyment they'd had in the past was locked behind a paywall forever more.
This sense of loss cuts deeply, even if it was a worst-case scenario and Valve wasn't technically depriving people of anything. Unfortunately, response to change is not always rational, as the uproar proved. If Valve wants to institute such a notable change to the current system, its best bet would be to introduce it with a new game, one that does not come clouded with a history of freely distributed mods. Like the recently released reboot of the Unreal Tournament franchise from Epic Games, which integrates a modding marketplace from the get-go, starting fresh would significantly reduce potential backlash from spurned fans.
Collaboration Many mods on Skyrim are not singular affairs. The most popular creations integrate and iterate on the works of other mod creators to produce a holistic product that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is only possible thanks to the free distribution model. Since there is no compounding cost, creators can easily collaborate to produce massive, full-scale recreations of the world of Skyrim without needing to individually handcraft new UI elements or expanding player housing; they can simply incorporate mods that already exist. For a project that is often the work of a single developer in their spare time, having access to thousands of ready-made components allows them to dream bigger and achieve more than they ever could alone. Much like Unity, or Unreal - as well as other game-making engines - all mod developers are able to reap the benefits of progress.
Money, however, complicates things. What does a creator do if they want to incorporate someone else's paid mod into their own package? Can they just buy it once themselves and go nuts? Not likely; someone selling their mod is not going to want it distributed for free in someone else's product. More probably, the two parties will have to negotiate some sort of licensing agreement... and that's a messy proposition even between big companies with highly-paid lawyers. It is doubtful that unrepresented parties would be able to reach an amicable accord - the creator of the original mod will want too much, and the applicant will be prepared to pay too little.
Even if a deal is ironed out, considering it is unlikely to incorporate a legally binding contract, there will always be the chance for exploitation from one or both parties. Policing such collaboration would be nearly impossible, even if Valve implemented a system of mediation. And that doesn't even touch upon the sticky issue of people charging for insubstantial re-skins of others' free mods...
Motivation A less immediate implication of introducing money into a pleasure-based economy relates to a psychological phenomenon known as the over-justification effect. In brief, it is the subconscious shift in a person's motivations from doing something for the inherent pleasure of it, to doing it for external satisfaction.
One of the landmark psychological experiments that helped classify this phenomenon involved young children who enjoyed drawing. They were observed happily drawing away for some time, at which point half the group was promised a reward if they continued to draw. Surprisingly, those offered the reward were less inclined to continue drawing, and exhibited less pleasure in doing so. Many other experiments since have supported the phenomenon, whereby subjects who had previously justified to themselves that they were engaging in an activity because it was enjoyable, would come to associate the activity with “work” once some form of tangible reward was introduced.
To bring this back around, a paid-mods scheme has the potential to promote this phenomenon. Modders who had previously created their mods for themselves, or for the simple satisfaction of creating something that others enjoy, will face a tough question: do I continue to give away my precious time and skill while others are charging $2 a pop for a new digital hat? Such altruism is hard to justify, and there will be many who decide to abandon the effort entirely rather than choose a side. Others will concede to the economy; why should they be the only ones not profiting from their work?
Then comes the psychology. Once a modder has been paid for their work, a scale in their mind will start to tip. Each dollar will shift the balance further and further. Before they know it, they will have built up a monetary justification for their hobby. Suddenly, the thought of making mods for free will seem ludicrous. Why would they ever give away something they could sell instead?
Of course, this is a worst-case scenario. Not every modder would succumb to the over-justification effect, and even if they did, it isn't always a bad thing. Plenty of entertainment is produced by people motivated by money. Still, it's an important factor to keep in mind. If mods start targeting the largest demographic in order to make the most money, what will happen to the core tenet of mods: creativity? Experimentation would wane, in the same worrisome fashion of big-budget AAA titles moving away from taking risks and relying more and more on market-testing and popular trends. After all, how many rough, yet ambitious, games have failed over the years due to the risk-averse nature of consumers?
Crowd-sourced Development Looking into the future, a disturbing notion arises. There has been a recent trend of PC games being released missing options, enhancements or even entire modes from their console brethren or their contemporaries. In many cases, modders have stepped up to the plate and built or unlocked these features in lieu of the actual developers. Without the work of these talented individuals, PC players would have suffered inferior ports and perhaps boycotted or flamed the developer in retaliation.
What would happen if these modders started charging for their work? Paid patches for a broken or incomplete game? Many gamers are already up in arms about some of the more flagrant DLC initiatives of recent times - on-disc DLC and seemingly-cut content among the most egregious. How would they react to the notion that they couldn't play the optimal - or merely unbroken - version of the game they paid for unless they ponied up for unofficial “patches?” Worse, what if developers began to rely on these crowd-sourced patches to resolve last-minute bugs in their games, in order to “finish” development by deadline? Post-release patches are already becoming commonplace on all platforms, with games like Halo: The Master Chief Collection requiring a 20GB patch on day one to unlock the multiplayer, not to mention the dozens of patches that game has received in the eight months since its release in order to fix its still-flaky online component. If a developer was under pressure to deliver on a timeframe it knew was unfeasible, it is not too much of a stretch to imagine the studio justifying shipping a buggy game with the reasoning that “modders will fix it.” The developer would get paid, too, so it would be win-win, right?
These issues paint a bleak picture for the future of paid mods. But they represent the theoretical pitfalls of what is potentially a likely venture. Mod makers should have the right to charge for their work if they wish; it is tough to argue against that. Unfortunately, there's a lot more to consider than that. Were the answer to paid mods as simple as that statement, this article would have been a whole lot shorter.
Grab It re-examines Monument Valley, one of the biggest indie game hits of 2014, with a fresh perspective.
Passive beauty is a tough sell in video games. Games are usually about interaction, after all. A good aesthetic can enhance the enjoyment of exploring a game's world immensely, whether it be descending into the murky depths of BioShock's Rapture, or leaping through the bright and blocky landscape of a Mario title. But the keyword there is enhance, and to bank the majority of a game's appeal on its visual character is a risky venture. Unfortunately for Monument Valley, it is a venture that fails more than it succeeds.
Monument Valley is a glorified puzzle game in which you navigate a young princess named Ida through a collection of block-based worlds from an isometric point of view, each constructed like an abstract diorama that may or may not obey the regular laws of perspective and geometry. By guiding Ida to switches and manipulating certain parts of the world, usually through sliding or rotation, you enable Ida to progress through those worlds and enjoy brief, enigmatic conversations with an odd spirit that hints at an earlier travesty and other brave adventurers that came before. The story is light and trivial; there is no arc, no conclusion, no closure. Its existence is ultimately forgettable.
The worlds themselves, on the other hand, are anything but. Cascading waterfalls, staircases that defy gravity, magic boxes that open up to different worlds depending on the method used to unlock them. The crisp colours and lush environments caused me to pause and take a breath upon each new level just to admire the scenery. The effect was even more pronounced on the levels that incorporated dynamic animation, such as the aforementioned magic box, or others that gave me the freedom to rotate the world and marvel at its splendour at my leisure. On those, there were quite literally moments where I gasped and smiled, that elusive childish wonder recaptured for a brief moment.
The problem is that those moments are too brief and too infrequent to hold up what is, at its core, a very simple puzzle game. Aside from one or two head-scratchers, the challenges in Monument Valley aren't that, well, challenging. For the most part, the task of directing Ida through each screen requires little more than moving or rotating an obvious platform segment to bridge a previously unpassable gap. The solutions often take advantage of the illusion of perspective in representing three-dimensional scenes in two-dimensions, and there is a definite novelty to that the first few times you do it. But the lustre wears off quickly, and the game attempts little else in the way of interesting mechanics during its stay.
Perhaps, then, it's for the better that its stay is as transient as its puzzles. Clocking in at around an hour or two depending on whether you get hung up on the scant few tricky segments scattered throughout, Monument Valley left me feeling rather short-changed when its credits rolled. Absent of any real challenge, the only satisfaction I gleaned was from those fleeting introductions to each new level. Too few and far between to adequately reward me, I spent a good portion of my time with the game kind of bored, just going through the motions to get to the next level. Boredom is not the emotion I typically ascribe to puzzle games.
Monument Valley is, to me, too pretty for its own good. More a diorama than a dollhouse, it makes a stunning first impression before revealing that there is very little substance beneath its surface. Calling it a puzzle game seems something of a misnomer; perhaps it would be better cast as an exploration game with light puzzle elements. Regardless, my time with Monument Valley was hardly unpleasant, but neither did I come away feeling like I'd accomplished much of anything. Like a toy store display sealed behind thick glass and a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign, Monument Valley keeps its beautiful fantasy just out of reach.
Part II of Tim Schafer’s ode to the genre he helped established has arrived, and it should have come with a pair of rose-tinted glasses.
The Golden Years. For many people, this period encompasses their transition from childhood to early adult life - that blissful interlude where opportunity outpaces responsibility. The joys and pains we experience during this formative time become the memories that stick with us to the very end. But memory doesn't work like recorded video; it changes over time, and the things we think we remember may be nothing more than figments of our imagination. While this has always been an inescapable limitation of the human mind, nostalgia remains an effective marketing tool.
It’s unfortunate then that the lustre of our treasured memories doesn't always hold up under the harsh light of reality.