Nick Diamon

Everything’s coming up Destiny, even without Activision

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The future is bright for Destiny 2, according to Bungie’s Luke Smith. The latest weekly update from Bungie features a post from the game’s director addressing the news that Bungie is parting ways from Activision. Smith stresses that the studio will continue to work on the Destiny universe and that Destiny 2’s content updates are continuing as planned. In a separate announcement, Blizzard assured fans that the PC version of Destiny 2 will continue to live on the BattleNet launcher for the foreseeable future.

Bungie also thanked partners Vicarious Visions and High Moon Studios for their work on Destiny content. Since both studios are owned by Activision, it’s unlikely they will continue their relationship.

“We’re thinking about what it means to be truly independent, what it means to self-publish, and crucially, what Destiny’s future can now look like for our players.”

What happens with Destiny 3? Where will Bungie find development funding outside of Destiny 2’s revenue? Speculation has been running rife since the breakup announcement. Whatever the company decides to do, players are keen to see what a “truly independent” Bungie looks like.

The Easter Egg game in Watch Dogs 2 is dead

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In Watch Dogs 2, there was a cool meta-mission that had the player infilitrating a fictional Ubisoft office in San Francisco and stealing video of a work-in-progress game. That was Pioneer, a project later confirmed by Ubisoft sources as being real and set for a 2017 E3 showing. Even at that early date there were reports of it hitting some snags in development, but the video was a nice bit of viral marketing and a cool little Easter Egg. According to Alex Hutchinson, Pioneer may never see release. While the designer of Far Cry 4 and Assassin’s Creed 3 may be wrong since he’s no longer with Ubisoft, he’s probably got sources that are in the know. Besides, we definitely did not get a 2017 or 2018 reveal for Pioneer.

Rocket League brings together all gamers

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Rocket League is now fully cross-platform compatible. Psyonix has announced that their arena multiplayer phenomenon is now part of the PlayStation Cross-Play Beta, meaning gamers on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC versions can play together in random match-ups. According to the studio post, a cross-platform party system is coming soon, so pals on different systems can stay together.

Rocket League’s full cross-platform play has been a long time coming. Psyonix thanks their fans and their “generous partners” for making this happen, but Sony resisted cross-platform play since it was first floated as a possibility. It was the additional pressure from Epic’s gargantuan Fortnite audience that likely supplied the main push for Sony to open PlayStation’s servers.

Dozens of Rocket League Sony drivers that don’t hold their platform against the other, lesser, hardware versions will now be able to team up and create a beautiful world of cross-platform gaming.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is in a tussle with lawmen

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Take-Two is suing Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations. The company, founded as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in 1850, filed a cease-and-desist letter against the makers of Red Dead Redemption 2 in December for the use of their name in association with the characters Andrew Milton and Edgar Ross. Take-Two is now suing to have the use of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in their game declared fair use, arguing that the investigative firm’s name is part of the historical setting.

The Pinkerton complaint accuses Red Dead Redemption 2 of capitalizing on the “goodwill” associated with the storied security agency’s trademark, and creates the false impression that the game was made with their approval or assistance. Pinkerton demands ongoing royalties from sales of the game, or a one-time payment based on projected sales.

Take-Two asserts that the use of the Pinkerton name in their fictional setting is covered under the First Amendment. They also point out in their lawsuit that there is a long history of popular fiction using the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s name including BioShock, Deadwood, and The Long Riders.

Playing Battle Royale may get you drafted in South Korea

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Conscientious objectors in South Korea may have their claims denied if they played “online shooter” games. About a dozen men are being investigated since the country’s courts declared in November that the government can no longer jail people that refuse to enter the military based on religious grounds. (Generally, all South Korean males between the ages of 18 and 35 must perform at least 21 months of military service.) The government can investigate objectors’ claims, and prosecutors told CNN that one of things they will look into is whether or not the young men played violent video games. The implication being that if you’re okay with shooting people online, then South Korean officials may not believe your anti-violence stance.

This is how At the Gates almost broke Jon Shafer

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Jon Shafer, the lead designer of Civilization V, started working on At the Gates in 2012 and it almost ruined him. In a long, and very open, blog post, Shafer details the harrowing journey he took in the seven years since he started working on the game. Medical and financial issues mounted until he hit rock-bottom midway through the project. In a November 2015 Kickstarter update, Shafer confessed that things were not on track and that he’d resorted to selling his house and emptying his retirement fund to pay for development.

“And it finally sunk in. It was over. Everything was over. I had destroyed everything. There was nothing left. Of the game. Of my career. Of my life. Anything. It was all gone.”

A pause for reassment, a side trip in 2017 as a Paradox hire, and a “reboot” of his life habits put him back on the right path. Thankfully, Jon Shafer is doing much better now, and with At the Gates almost ready to launch on January 23rd, he’s got something to look forward to.

The God of War expansion that will never be

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Cory Barlog, the director of God of War, revealed to Kinda Funny that his ideas for an expansion were “too ambitious” to be produced. Barlog admitted that his pitch would’ve resulted in an expansion that may have rivaled the size and complexity of the Left Behind standalone product for The Last of Us. Why that would’ve been an issue is unclear, as most God of War fans would enjoy more Adventures of Kratos and Boy, but perhaps Sony and Santa Monica Studio will save some of Barlog’s ideas for the sequel?

“I had a really fun idea for a DLC that I only regret because I would love to have done that.”

God of War was somehow not on any of the Quarter to Three Top Ten Games of 2018 lists.

Don’t panic over Alien: Blackout. There’s an ‘MMO shooter’ coming too.

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The announcement of Alien: Blackout, a mobile title from D3 Go! and FoxNext, being a continuation of Amanda Ripley’s story from Alien: Isolation was met with a collective shrug from gamers. This is where Ellen Ripley’s daughter is going to go after escaping a station filed with killer androids and a tenacious xenomorph? Would it be possible to get back to Jonesy’s adventures instead?

In all the back and forth over how mobile games are getting all the good franchises, people are missing the silver lining. Buried in the Blackout press release, is an interesting bit of information for those looking for a meatier Alien game.

FoxNext Games’ studio, Cold Iron Studios, is also currently at work on a massively multiplayer online shooter set in the Alien cinematic universe for consoles and PC.

FoxNext acquired Cold Iron in January of last year, but no one knew what kind of shooter they were working on. Now we know it’s going to chase that massively multiplayer money.

The Fallout Shelter and Westworld mobile game case doesn’t look like anything

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Bethesda Softworks has settled its lawsuit against Warner Bros. and Behavior Interactive. The suit, originally filed in June of last year, alleged that developers at Behavior Interactive, who worked on Bethesda’s Fallout Shelter, took some of that source code and used it to make a similar mobile app based on the Westworld show. It further characterized the Westworld game as a “blatant ripoff” of Fallout Shelter, copying mechanics and art. Bethesda asked for the Westworld game to be shut down and for Warner Bros. to compensate them for the theft.

Bethesda, Behavior, and Warner Bros. have announced that they have settled the lawsuit amicably. All parties have agreed to pay their own legal fees, but no other terms were disclosed. Both games are still available for download and in-game transactions remain live.

Slightly Mad Studios lives up to its name by announcing a console

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Slightly Mad Studios, the British independent creators behind Project Cars and a slew of other racing games, has announced a new console. The Mad Box, as company owner Ian Bell calls it, will be “the most powerful console ever built” and will support all the bells and whistles a console gamer will want three years from now when the hardware launches. For developers, the console will come with a free game engine, although it’s not clear if that means fully free with no revenue sharing, or if there are back-end licensing fees.

Is it an early April Fool’s gag? According to Bell, it’s not a joke. Speaking to Variety, Slightly Mad’s CEO stated the Mad Box will be standalone hardware like the Xbox or PlayStation.

27 years later, we finally get to see SimCity on the NES

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In 1991, SimCity for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was briefly seen at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show and noted in a short blurb in Nintendo Power magazine. It never actually made it to store shelves. Instead, a 16-bit version of the Maxis city builder would eventually be released for the Super Nintendo, while the 8-bit prototype became something of a game collecting legend. Last year, two cartridges containing the elusive game popped up, and The Video Game History Foundation got permission to digitize the code, analyze the content, and make it freely available to the public. Here is the result.

It’s a fascinating look at the collaboration between Will Wright and Shigeru Miyamoto. This version of the game features “Dr. Wright,” a mentor character that teaches players the basic concepts of digital city planning and serves as tutorial guide. Bank loans are first possible here, allowing players a way to get out of an early financial death spiral, or just bypassing the doldrums of waiting to amass enough tax money to move forward. Unlockable rewards for achievements, like special buildings for hitting population milestones, make their debut in SimCity for the NES.

While these innovations showed up in the SNES release, (and some would even become standard in later SimCity sequels) it’s here that we can see the initial fruits of Maxis and Nintendo working together to make SimCity more of an actual game that the console audience would appreciate. It’s stuff that we now take for granted, but the original SimCity didn’t even have an optimal end-state for its scenarios. It just trusted the player to load a setting like “San Francisco 1906,” set off an earthquake, then fix the damage to their own satisfaction.

Without comment from Miyamoto or Wright, it’s tough to say who came up with which design breakthroughs, but the result is gaming history.

How much Activision does it take to change a Blizzard?

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Blizzard is tightening its belt. Employees are being offered buyouts, department budgets are being reduced, and the development cadence is being increased with a company directive to make more money. The freewheeling Blizzard is done. According to independent sources speaking to Kotaku and Eurogamer, the cost-cutting comes as Activision increases its influence via leadership changes at Blizzard.

For much of its existence, the Activision-Blizzard relationship has been fairly benign. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and Blizzard President and co-founder Mike Morhaime seemed to have an understanding that each company’s culture was best left as-is. While Activision made bank with annual Call of Duty releases, Blizzard followed an irregular, but no less lucrative, schedule based on growing a loyal ecosystem of fans. That all changed at the beginning of the year. New leadership at Blizzard, mostly folks coming in from Activision, brought strategies focused on profitability and oversight. Key components of the new direction is an increase in the pace of product creation while reducing company spend. The recent announcement of Heroes of the Storm staff being moved to other projects being an example of Blizzard looking more critically at its resource allocations. According to ex-employees, Morhaime’s retirement from Blizzard in October capped an end to the old way of doing business.

“A lot of people are worried about the future of Blizzard – if the Activision method seeps in more, what that’s going to become.”

An optimistic view on the issue would be to celebrate the idea of more Blizzard games. It remains to be seen if changing the company’s operations gives us more games without killing the goose.

Dinosaurs and a coaster mark the holiday in Battlegrounds

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Vikendi, the new wintery snow-covered map in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, is live for all players. It’s not just a white-painted version of another map, a common cost-cutting technique in games, but an actual new island with unique points of interest. There’s a decrepit dinosaur park, a rickety roller coaster, and a rusting cosmodrome with a rocket. Snowmobiles are the vehicle du jour in Vikendi, and daring players are already breaking the physics to see how far they can ride on the roller coaster tracks. Is the chicken dinner best served cold?

Heroes of the Storm’s roster can see retirement looming

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Heroes of the Storm is winding down. Blizzard is moving staff from Heroes of the Storm onto other projects. While the studio assures fans that they will continue to support the game by adding new heroes, and staging community events, the “cadence will change” from this point onward. Presumably, that operational pace will not be getting faster.

“Ultimately, we’re setting up the game for long-term sustainability.”

With the resource changes, there’s bad news for competitive players. Blizzard will not be holding the Heroes Global Championship or the Heroes of the Dorm tournaments in 2019.