Offworld Trading Company gets totes adorbs

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Just because you’re a Serious Thinking Man Strategy Game About Supply and Demand doesn’t mean you can’t goof around. For all its hardcore cred, Offworld Trading Company has no compunction about using cute cartoony artwork for the factions in its superlative dynamic campaign mode (seriously, if you’re afraid of Offworld Trading Company because you took a creative writing class instead of Econ 101 in college, just click on Single Player Campaign already). But now it’s taking some of that charm and whimsy planetside, front and center, smack dab in the middle of the gameplay. Today’s Conspicuous Consumption DLC — I guess the name Mars Party Pack was already taken — lets you swap in new versions of some of the buildings.

Hacker Array: Enjoy a “Las Vegas” feel with a roulette wheel or embrace the retro style with an old radio tower.
Offworld Market: Send your goods offworld in a giant popsicle or a sleek retro rocket.
Optimization Center: Burst some bubbles with a bubble machine or conduct some electricity with a massive Tesla coil.
Patent Lab: Research patents inside a giant Rubik’s cube or a sci-fi robot head.
Pleasure Dome: Dance off inside a fun time disco ball or skip the dancing in a neon diner.

Sure, it’s $3 DLC. But you know you’ve spent more than that on League of Legends skins.

Forza 7’s very important people are even more important when they yell

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While most players agree the the actual racing in Forza Motorsport 7 is solid, the business model and some significant changes to the series’ caRPG formula have come under fire. One of the controversial decisions was changing the VIP member rewards. In the past, players paid a premium for the VIP editions of the game and they received exclusive cars, doodads, and a crucial permanent 2x multiplier to their race payouts. Fans ordered the VIP upgrade for Forza 7 based on this, but when the game launched, many were disappointed to find the VIP rewards were primarily temporary consumable multipliers based on the new in-game loot crate system. To make matters worse, the original wording of the VIP page failed to mention the changes. Despite adjusting the text of the VIP content listing after complaints, Forza players have continued vocalize their displeasure. The temporary boosts weren’t worth the price.

Turn 10 and Microsoft have relented. VIP membership is being changed to work like the previous games. VIP players will get four exclusive cars, 1 million in-game credits, and a permanent double credit bonus to race wins. Once again, gamers’ have complained, and a developer has made good based on that feedback. While Turn 10 and Microsoft likely won’t change course on the Forza 7’s loot crates and how they influence the caRPG loop, one can hope that future iterations will take the lesson to heart.

Being a shovelware developer on Steam just got a lot harder

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Valve is cracking down on shovelware and games that violate their sales policies. Last week it was reported that Valve quietly de-listed hundreds of games from Steam. Most of the affected titles were part of the “asset-flipping” scene, that is, games made very cheaply by using pre-made textures, models, and sometimes whole game systems offered from various sources such as the Unity Asset Store. While there’s nothing wrong with using community-made assets, many of the games in question did so to meet the bare minimum requirements for being sold on Steam and offer trading cards. As explained by Valve in May, these developers primarily intended to profit off trading card sales over the sales of the games themselves. In fact, the “card-farming” scheme usually started by getting the keys into as many gamers hands as possible via cheap bundles or even giving them away to seed the card generating population.

Polygon communicated with Silicon Echo Studios, whose entire catalog of more than 200 games was de-listed as part of the sweep. (You can see a pitch for one of their games here.) According to the studio, they were unfairly targeted and their games were sold with full disclosure to their customers. The studio did acknowledge that they played fast and loose with the letter of the rules, but no harm, no foul.

“We are no heroes, we have indeed sometimes been conducting our business with some practices people may call shady.”

Silicon Echo Studios has since closed their doors, presumably because their business model was destroyed. It’s a wake-up call to indie developers determined to game Steam. You can get away with a certain amount of goofiness thanks to the company’s reliance on community policing, but there is a limit. Valve is watching, and at least in terms of messing with their money, they do not abide tomfoolery forever.

The larger debate on whether or not Valve is acting fairly continues. It’s their store and their rules, but some people have expressed displeasure over the fact that Valve changes the rules without warning. How then should others trust that the rules won’t change against them? In the short-term, just what is Valve doing to combat shovelware that doesn’t violate their card-farming rules? Steam is a large enough presence in the industry that anything Valve does can have wide-ranging effects on gaming. For example, Valve can close a studio with relative ease.

Can we get a physical version of every Pinball FX3 table please?

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Now that Zen Studio’s Pinball FX3 is out and people are racking up high scores on every table, it’s a good time to take a look at how real pinball machines are made. The A.V. Club journeyed to Chicago to check out Stern Pinball’s wizards constructing these magnificent arcade games. Laying out the tables, choosing parts, putting it all together. There’s something satisfying about seeing all the bumpers, rails, and doodads being assembled to make something you’ll soon be cursing and tilting while drinking a beer.

Since a physical pinball tournament is hard to coordinate across the globe, join us in the forums for the Quarter to Three Pinball FX3 score chase. Hurry, before the scores get too high!

Star Wars: Battlefront II, no, the other two, gets restored multiplayer

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You can wait until November to play Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Frostbite Engine powered multiplayer, or you can fire up Star Wars: Battlefront II from 2005 now and play the newly re-enabled multiplayer for this classic title. According to the announcement, up to 64 players can now fight over the fate of the Star Wars galaxy on Disney’s servers. Official multiplayer for the game has been missing since GameSpy shut down their servers in 2014. While third-party servers have existed to fill the gap, the presence of an official multiplayer solution is welcome news to old-school fans.

Star Wars Empire at War regained multiplayer capability in September.

J.Lo, Kazaam, and A-Rod walk into an Overwatch tournament…

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NRG Esports is closing their latest round of funding and celebrities see money in the growing e-sports industry. Jennifer Lopez, Marshawn Lynch, and Michael Strahan join earlier investors Shaquille O’Neal, Twitter CEO Anthony Noto, and Alex Rodriguez. Check out how excited Shaq and J.Lo are about Overwatch in the video. Do they know about Roadhog’s hook combo? What are their opinions on the Tracer derriere controversy? Does Jennifer Lopez main Hanzo?

Skyrim Special Edition is getting a survival mode, but there’s a price

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Would you pay $15 for a more hardcore version of Skyrim? Bethesda is testing a survival mode for Skyrim Special Edition that will add the usual difficulty enhancers to turn it into a more grueling open-world experience. You’ll need to eat and sleep. The cold can kill you. Fast travelling is disabled. Health no longer regenerates. It’s similar to the survival mode that Fallout 4 received last year. The difference? Fallout 4’s mode was a free update. Skyrim Special Edition’s addition seems to be a Creation Club exclusive with a price.

“Both PC and console players will get Survival Mode free for one week once it launches on their preferred platform.”

Note that “free for one week” bit. In images captured by a beta tester, the Creation Club price (disabled for the test) is 800 points, but thanks to the usual funny money shenanigans, you can’t buy exactly 800 points with real money. The next valid purchase option is $15 for 1500 spacebucks.

Are you ready to matriculate in Assassin’s Creed Origins?

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Assassin’s Creed Origins will get a peaceful free-roaming exploration mode. The Discovery Tour feature, will disable combat and allow players to travel through virtual ancient Egypt and learn about the true history of the setting. It’s an expansion of the series’ Animus Database that presented historical fact with a dash of snark from the in-game character of Shaun Hastings. The Discovery Tour will present interactive tours guided by Egyptologists that consulted on the game.

“It’s a more educative mode, so it’s clearly focused on education and on bringing to people actual facts, more academic knowledge.”

We’ll miss the dry sarcasm of Hastings, especially when it came to his opinions on Victorian era beer. The Discovery Tour feature will not be present at launch on October 27th. Ubisoft plans to add the mode in a free update to the game in early 2018.

Thrustmaster is bringing flight stick geekery to Xbox One

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Thrustmaster has taken the shroud of secrecy off the T.Flight HOTAS One, the first flight stick authorized for the Xbox One. It can be used with PCs as well as the console, and the hardware was designed with assistance from Frontier Developments for use with their Elite Dangerous space sim. (In fact, an update for Elite is releasing today with T.Flight HOTAS One support.) It’s all the thrusty throttley zoomy twisty flight stickery you could want on a console with a limited flight sim library.

The Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS One will hit store shelves on October 7th for $79.99.

The tie-in game for The Mummy is a faux antiquity, so it’s just like the movie

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Here’s the trailer for The Mummy Demastered, the upcoming licensed movie game from WayForward Games. That’s the latest The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella. Not the Brendan Fraser series, or even the Boris Karloff film. It’s got that side-scrolling retro pixel indie vibe, so props to WayForward for making frugal use of the license. It isn’t the first time WayForward has made a pixel-art game for The Mummy franchise. They made 2002’s The Scorpion King: Sword of Osiris. That’s the one with Dwayne Johnson’s computerized head and torso grafted onto a giant scorpion’s body.

The Mummy Demastered is launching later this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, and Nintendo Switch. You can check out how much Quarter to Three liked The Mummy here.

The Battle Royale between Battlegrounds and Fortnite has started

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Bluehole, the publisher of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, is not pleased with Epic’s foray into the same arena. While Fortnite Battle Royale is going free-to-play, Bluehole is pondering their relationship with Epic’s Unreal Engine 4. In an interview with GamesIndustry, Bluehole’s Chang Han Kim pointed out that while they pay Epic for their UE4 engine license, Epic has suddenly become a competitor, including the use of Battlegrounds in their marketing.

“We have also noticed that Epic Games references PUBG in the promotion of Fortnite to their community and in communications with the press. This was never discussed with us and we don’t feel that it’s right.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s likely that Fortnite won’t be the last copycat of Battlegrounds. To date, Bluehole’s multiplayer phenomenon has sold over 11 million units on PC alone.

You can be part of the simian committee in Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier

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There is a new Planet of the Apes game coming from Imaginati Studios, in partnership with Andy Serkis’ The Imaginarium. Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is a storytelling adventure game set between the last two movies. It’s reminiscent of Heavy Rain or Until Dawn, but there’s a multiplayer twist. Up to four people can play together and vote on the outcomes for the game’s choices. But it’s not just a straight majority vote all the time. There are crucial choices that will allow players to spend limited override tokens that will give their votes more weight, adding a bit of a competitive component to the proceedings. What better way to recreate the feel of the apes versus humans war, than with contentious committee voting?

On the PlayStation 4, the voting is done through Sony’s PlayLink system, allowing everyone to sit together and cast their votes via their mobile devices. Imaginati CEO Martin Alltimes hopes the feature marks a return to family couch co-op.

“We can have a social experience around the television that used to be part of console gaming and has now largely gone away with online.”

Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier will launch later this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Valve has a plan for review-bombing on Steam

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There’s nothing like seeing pitchforks and torches held aloft while a mob clicks a thumbs down button. Review-bombing is an issue that has been plaguing Valve’s digital store since user reviews were enabled. A developer says something controversial, or a popular streamer goes all in on a game, and the result can be thousands of negative reviews that drop the average score. Valve acknowledged that users will sometimes score a game based on factors outside of the game content. In the case of review-bombing, this skewed average score can mislead potential buyers if the issues at hand aren’t pertinent to their buying decision. Valve now thinks it might have a solution. Starting today, Steam will display a histogram of the positive to negative ratio of reviews for each game. Consumers will be able to easily see if reviews suddenly took a drastic downturn for a temporary condition, and then click to see a sample review of the time period.

All that Xbox gaming is going to come in handy during the hunt for Red October

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Xbox 360 controllers are being used to control the periscopes on Virginia-class nuclear submarines. Originally, the “photonic mast” periscopes were controlled with a $38,000 specially-designed joystick, but based on cost-cutting directives and complaints from testers that the controls were not intuitive and clunky, Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy conscripted the ubiquitous console game controller to meet their needs. It’s a choice that’s proven popular with the personnel tasked with using the systems, and with the procurement officers on the project.

“I can go to any video game store and procure an Xbox controller anywhere in the world, so it makes a very easy replacement.”

The Xbox 360 controller will be bundled as part of the Virginia-class submarine packages starting in November, just in time for the holidays! Hopefully, the Lockheed Martin warranties on submarines will be just as good as Microsoft’s red ring support.

The pasta rule from The Campaign for North Africa was not actually a thing

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The macaroni rule is a lie. Richard Berg, the designer of the infamously detailed The Campaign For North Africa, admits that one of the much-beloved and odder rules of his World War II board game was not based on reality. In The Campaign for North Africa, the Italian forces have to account for extra water rations for their soldiers to boil pasta. If the pasta points aren’t properly managed, Italian troops may desert, reflecting the inability to feed hungry soldiers in the field. It’s a fiddly rule for a fiddly wargame. Unfortunately, in an epic board game brimming with technical detail, this one rule has nothing to do with history. In fact, it was a joke that Richard Berg included to lampoon the absurdity of his creation.

“The reality is that the Italians cooked their pasta with the tomato sauce that came with the cans,” he says. “But I didn’t want to do a rule on that.”

To add insult to injury, Berg has never completed a playthrough of his own game.