The newest ESPN cover athlete is a Fortnite streamer

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This is Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. He’s going to be featured on the cover of the October edition of ESPN The Magazine. A first for the publication. If you watch Fortnite gameplay streams, Ninja’s work is inescapable. He plays with celebrities, random people, other famous gamers, and of course, by himself. In April, he broke Twitch records by hitting over 600,000 concurrent viewers. The next month, Ninja broke his own record. By his estimate, he makes “close to” a million dollars a month from donations, subscriptions, and sponsorship deals. To an audience of a certain age, he is the next Michael Jordan or Joe Montana.

Regulators say loot boxes are gambling. Australian study agrees.

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It’s been a bad time for videogame loot boxes. Last week, Belgium began a criminal investigation into Electronic Arts’ refusal to halt the sale of FIFA 18’s Ultimate Team packs in that country. If the prosecutor in Brussels finds enough cause to move forward with a trial, EA will be forced to defend itself in court. It’s an escalation between gaming and government that the industry is keen to avoid.

This week, fifteen international regulatory agencies and the State of Washington Gambling Commission, co-signed a declaration to “address the risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling”. While the agreement is mostly focused on third-party sites linked to loot boxes, like the CSGO Lotto scandal, a key component of the declaration is a pointed warning to game publishers.

“We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected.”

Meanwhile a study sponsored by the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee found that people with gambling addictions spent more on videogame loot boxes, supporting the theory that these rewards trigger the same psychological responses as traditional gambling. The report concluded that these digital loot boxes differ from physical collectible card packs or “blind box” offers in that the immediacy and celebratory feedback of these transactions encourages problematic behavior.

“This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling. It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.”

Hitting that Overwatch loot box button is as good as pulling the lever on the old One-armed Bandit.

Space Base flushes Machi Koro out the airlock

, | Game reviews

Machi Koro sure is cute. The quaint fields, orchards, bakeries, and cafes. The sushi bar and flower stand and pizza joint. Even when it gets serious with tax offices, furniture factories, and airports, it’s still cute. It refuses to be anything other than a lightweight opportunity for a few folks to roll dice and pass around cardboard coins. Someone eventually gathers enough cardboard coins to finish his city. Presumably fun was had.

What I appreciate most about Machi Koro is how every turn is everyone’s turn. In other games, the act of rolling dice is something you do for yourself. It’s my turn, it’s my roll, the number is my result. You’ll get your own result from your own roll on your own turn. The simple twist in Machi Koro is that although we take turns rolling, the result is for all of us. If you roll the right number, you’ll activate my buildings. This means there’s technically no down time, that it’s always everyone’s turn. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do pacing right.

But with Space Base, the concept really takes off. Continue reading →

Daybreak is precisely what State of Decay 2 didn’t need

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Among the many great things about the first State of Decay was its post-release support. The Breakdown DLC added infinite replayability to the core game along with progressively greater difficulty as you got further, with unlockable characters along the way. It very nearly turned State of Decay into a rogue-like. But that was five years ago, before we were kicking the term “rogue-like” around so freely. Then the Lifeline DLC shifted the tone, action, setting, and progression someplace new, with new kinds of characters who played the game differently. So what happened with State of Decay 2 that we get this new Daybreak DLC?

Daybreak is nothing you haven’t seen before, done better. It adds a four-player horde mode, played on a single unimaginative map, as a drawn-out and repetitive slog to unlock gear to draw out the repetitive slog even further. Along the way, bits of gear might trickle into your actual State of Decay game. But your time would be better spent just playing State of Decay 2 to find more stuff instead of grinding away at this half-baked horde mode to discover, oh, look, I got a new kind of hammer in Daybreak that now I can buy in State of Decay 2. Frankly, I would have been more excited by unlockable hats.

Daybreak is always and only four players, so if you can’t find an online game, some bots will tag along. They better because there’s no adjustable difficulty or variable challenge levels. You just live through the same number of waves, comprised of the same creatures, throwing themselves at the same wall, with the same clock counting down the same amount of time, culminating in the same cluster of superzombies with their thousand hit points, every time you play. Every single time. Each like the last. Except maybe you have a new type of shotgun or grenade. If you want State of Decay minus the expansive maps, dynamic crises, characters with personality, and constant threat of the unknown, Daybreak is for you!

However, please make sure you haven’t played Metal Gear Solid: Survive, Strange Brigade, Fortnite, or any of the other games actually designed to do zombie horde modes. Daybreak is glaringly bare bones compared to the game designs it’s aping. It chugs along, herkyjerky and weirdly clumy, trying to do something it wasn’t built to do. I have yet to have a smooth multiplayer experience in State of Decay 2. Yet someone at Undead Labs or Microsoft is intent on making it a selling point.

Previously, Undead Labs’ approach to State of Decay has been to embrace what makes it unique, to double-down on the idea of open-world resource management and community survival, with zombies, vehicles, and a vivid sense of place. It stands apart from Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil, 7 Days to Die, and anything else with zombies. But Daybreak feels like it was made by someone who has no clue what makes State of Decay special. This $10 DLC has no interest in standing apart, much less participating in State of Decay’s unique identity. Instead, it plays like a weak attempt to pander to people who aren’t playing State of Decay, leaving the rest of us to wonder what happened.

Winter is coming again and again in Frostpunk

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Short and to the point. That’s the announcement for The Fall of Winterhome update coming to Frostpunk on September 19th. You get a tantalizing glimpse of a settlement burning in the snow, and that’s it. While there aren’t any details of what’s exactly coming in the free scenario, players of Frostpunk that got past the initially brutal survival curve, may remember that the doomed town of Winterhome had a crucial role in the campaign story. Will you change history and save the community, or will you be tasked with staving off the slow death of starvation and hypothermia with horrible decisions until the bitter anticlimactic rescue? Since this is Frostpunk, I think the latter is likely.

Strange Brigade’s reinforcements are starting to arrive

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If one of your questions when you started up Strange Brigade was “Can I be a cowboy?”, you were in for disappointment when Rebellion released this ebullient monster-massacring smorgasbord. Instead, you had to content yourself with an African tribal warrior woman who could leech health, a Midlands England version of Rosie the Riveter with a mean uppercut, a Nathan Drake-alike who gets some sort of bonus for finding secrets, a North African Indiana Jones with a smart mustache you won’t be able to enjoy because the characters tend to face away from the camera, and a soldier dude who I haven’t played so I don’t know what he does. But no cowboys.

So I’ll give you three guesses what you’ll find in the $7 Texas Cowboy Character Pack. $7 seems a bit much for a new character, especially since there’s already so much content in the game. Speaking of, even if you don’t buy a $7 Texas Cowboy Character Pack, the padlocks loitering off to the side of some of the score attack screens have been replaced with new score attacks. These frantic over-the-top speedruns throw an assortment of the game’s superweapons at you and challenge you to keep your score multiplier up. They’re bite-sized remixes of the campaign levels turned up to 11, and a perfect example of why Strange Brigade deserves the adjective “ebullient”.

Spintires isn’t American enough. Here’s how that’s going to change.

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Spintires started as an obscure survival horror game for trucks, played out in the unfamiliar gloom of a Russian wilderness, featuring vehicles you’ve never heard of. The B130, the C4320, and of course the K700. Don’t forget the plucky little UAZ-469! As it has found its way to a wider audience, it has been slowly pried from the obscurity of its Russian gloom. When publisher Focus Home Interactive rebranded it as Spintires: Mudrunner, they added driver avatars that made it less creepy. Who wants to play as a sentient truck? Now they’re scooching back the Russia to make room for America. Just as European Truck Simulator could only hold out for so long, Spintires could only hold out for so long. Nothing says America like big-ass trucks doing truck things!

The American Wilds expansion — teased in this trailer to the blare of a harmonica because what could be more American? — will be released October 23. It will add homey American maps with American buildings and presumably less gloomy American skies. But more importantly, it will add American brand names. What could be more American than brand names? It’s like when wargames eschew the Eastern Front of World War II, or the Arab/Israeli Wars, or Napoleonics. In the largest videogame market in the world that isn’t called “China”, who wants to play a game where you can’t even be America?

According to the press release, American Wilds consists of…

…a number of highly-requested additions, including 2 new sandbox maps inspired by the rough lands of Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, new challenges to tackle, and seven of the most iconic US trucks from household brands including Hummer, Chevrolet and Western Star.

I’m not complaining. The game deserves a wider audience because there’s nothing else like it. Most driving games are about speed. But Spintires is about the point of contact between machine and earth. It’s about mud, mass, and traction. So long as the sheen of American color and corporations doesn’t change that fundamental part of the game, they can slather it in whatever American trappings they want. Give it a MAGA hat for all I care. After all, Spintires is already about sullying yourself because you’re struggling with the burden of unwieldy baggage in a churned up quagmire.

Steam gets naughty. Porn for sale!

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Valve has approved its first videogame featuring full pornographic content. Negligee: Love Stories gets the honor of being the first “uncensored” game announced for Steam. You need to be logged in to Steam and you must opt-in to “Adult Only Sexual Content” on your preferences page to view the not-safe-for-work entries. While sexually explicit games were available on Steam before, the games were sold in a manner that forced buyers to download a separate set of files via the developers or fans sites to enable the naughty bits. Alternately, games like Ladykiller in a Bind offered erotica that skirted between the lines of mature content and pornography by tempering their visuals. Following a wave of game delistings and fan outcry in June, Valve admitted that changes were needed. With this latest move, developers like Dharker Studios may now be able to sell their wares in an uncensored manner.

Low-poly Lara is ready to explore in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a retro gaming cosmetic outfit for Lara Croft. Along with enabling various throwback outfits like mountaineering gear, tactical webbing, and everything vaguely Indy, players can go to an inventory menu in camp and swap out Lara Croft’s practical but realistic threads for something decidedly more nostalgic. Who cares about tracking the development of Lara from eager spelunker to murder machine when you have progression like this? More low-poly madness is available at PC Gamer.

This is the best character feature of Marvel’s Spider-Man

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Gunfingers! What better way for Peter Parker, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, to greet fellow New Yorkers on the street? A wave? A casual hello? Pow! It’s gunfingers! The universal salute everywhere of dorks trying too hard to look cool. It’s the perfect choice for the web slinger in Insomniac’s just-launched Marvel’s Spider-Man. Parker is a nerd suddenly granted superpowers and fame, so of course the kid uses gunfingers. The less said of the selfie button, the better.

Do you suck at Hand of Fate 2? Then here’s some great news!

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If you’re like me, you’re thrilled about today’s update to Hand of Fate 2, the deck builder meets brawler meets RPG that does some of the cleverest stuff with cards this side of a Now You See Me movie. According to this Steam post from the developers, the update is designed to “empower players of all skill levels”. We all know what that means, right? There’s no need to sugar-coat it. That’s the code phrase for “waaah, you thought the game was too hard, so now that it’s been out long enough for the real fans to enjoy it, I guess we’ll dumb it down for the rest of you losers”. Not that I’m complaining. It’s just that I know how to translate developerspeak.

For instance, the update includes “improvements to player character responsiveness and evasion.” That means “okay, some of you guys are slower than we realized, so we gave you more time to press the buttons.” You can use the bad-ass magic items called artefacts more often. The attack that used to bust armor is now useful for knocking dudes back and stunning them. This is all great news. As someone who’s barely unlocked half of the campaign, I’m grateful for the opportunity to not die so often when I play. And if the above changes aren’t enough, I can always just throw in the towel and play in the new “apprentice mode”. When you play this way, the stuff with tricky timing just happens automatically. Hey, look, I just riposted that guy who was trying to attack me! Aren’t I quite the accomplished swordsman?

I like a punishing rogue-like as much as the next guy, and so long as there’s some steady trickle of advancement, I’m fine with unrelenting death. But I really appreciate it when games like Hand of Fate 2, Enter the Gungeon (see this update), and Darkest Dungeon decide to ease up on me after a while. The people who are really good had their chance. Now it everyone else’s turn.

These update notes explain the changes in detail.