Sovereign Edition of Sunless Skies still MIA

, | Games

Sunless Skies is a great game. Some are saying it’s literally the greatest game of 2019. Developer Failbetter Games has been working on an update, called the Sovereign Edition, which includes an overhaul of character progression, a reworking of some of the endgame areas, and a not inconsiderable amount of new content. The update was announced on October 19, 2019 and scheduled for an August or September 2020 release alongside the console port of the game.

After the announcement, there was no word until September 16, 2020, when Failbetter conceded that console ports are “more complex than they expected” so they didn’t have a release date anymore. Then on December 2nd, they said the Sovereign Edition had been submitted for certification (since it was also going to coincide with the console release). This tends to take a couple of weeks, tops.

Unless something goes wrong. Which we can infer from Failbetter’s silence for another two months. Today, Failbetter conceded the Sovereign Edition is “still seeing some challenging performance problems” and they still don’t have a release date to announce.

Raiders of Scythia overhauls the tired worker placement engine

, | Games

This isn’t really a review of Raiders of Scythia because there’s a pandemic going. That means I’m pretty much limited to solitaire gaming until vaccines are rolled out widely enough to cover “people who really want to get back to playing boardgames with their friends”. That’s a lower priority than, say, front-line health care workers, teachers, and grocery store employees. But it’s a higher priority than hermits, firewatchers, and seamen doing multi-year tours of duty on nuclear submarines. So, fingers crossed. Until then, there are a ton of games I can’t review, much less play.

But this is a short analysis of why I think Raiders of Scythia is so good, including why it’s better than worker placement games in general, and why it’s better than its predecessor, Raiders of the North Sea, in specific. I’ll spend about fifteen minutes explaining why I like it so much, and then run through a solitaire game so you can see how it plays. Also, there will be some Bible talk.

Who needs a blue shell when you can fling Wreckfest’s snowball?

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The latest update for Wreckfest adds a winter track with snow on the road. Which is slippery, sure. But in a racing game like Wreckfest, slippery isn’t enough. Slippery is just the means to the end, and the end is Wreckfest’s glorious damage model. What good is losing control of your car and banging into a wall if you can’t crumple fenders, smash radiators, and twist axels? Wreckfest loves how cars break.

Which is where the giant snowballs come into play. Now cars can be crushed by giant snowballs during the demotion derby events. It’s all part of today’s free Winter Fest update.

In case a Battleship movie wasn’t enough, how about an entire TV show of Risk?

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Hasbro will not be stopped after a Battleship movie. Now they’re announcing a Risk TV series. Which will probably last for about six insufferable hours and then collapse after an acrimonious argument among friends. From the Variety story:

[Beau] Willimon (“House of Cards,” “The First”), an Academy-award nominee and avid fan of Risk, will be writing and overseeing the production of the scripted series. 

Avid Risk fan Willimon’s Academy Award nomination is for the Ides of March script he did with George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Hopefully the script will emphasize that you should never, under any circumstance, let someone grab Australia while everyone else is fighting for the larger continents.

I don’t do vinyl, but if I did, it would be the Ape Out soundtrack

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I’m not hip/pretentious enough to own a record player, and even if I were, I would be too lazy to actually use it. Who has time to slide something out of a cover, put it on a turntable, and carefully swing a needle arm onto the rim?

I would make an exception, however, for the Ape Out soundtrack, available from iam8bit, a hip/pretentious online videogame paraphernalia outlet. They call it “one of the coolest pieces of wax you’ll treat your turntable to”. That must be how people who own turntables talk. When you play Ape Out, dynamically generated jazz accompanies your violent rampage. It’s a soothing contrapuntal to the screams as you escape from the ape holding facility and violently slaughter your captors. To record a soundtrack, they had the developer play through the game to create a kind of definitive dynamically generated soundtrack. Ape Out on vinyl is available for pre-order now to ship later this year.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a real pushover in early access

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That’s a shot of my new favorite gaming activity. I’m shoving someone into a puddle of blood, hopefully to make them slip and fall. I’m being a jerk in a single player game. Baldur’s Gate 3, from Larian Studios, is in early access so I can’t say whether or not this will get tweaked or excised right out of the final game, but for now it’s a pusher’s delight.

The game is based on the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules and shoving is a thing in there. It’s not easy to abuse when you have a human dungeon master and players ready to side-eye you for being a schmuck, but the computer has no such issues. Shove away! You can elbow people into lava. You can push them off cliffs. You can bump them into your teammates line of fire. I haven’t trolled this many in-game characters since I went around Skyrim putting buckets on people’s heads.

In defense of the Batmobile. A look back at one of Arkham Knight’s best features.

, | Games

It’s been five years since Rocksteady wrapped up the Batman series that began in Arkham Asylum, continued into Arkham City, took a brief pre-tour with another developer for Arkham Origins, and then crescendoed in Arkham Knight.  One of the finale’s most prominent features was also its most divisive: the Batmobile.  If you ask someone their opinion of Arkham Knight, you’re likely to also get their opinion of the Batmobile.  “Great game, but the Batmobile stuff sucked,” will be a common refrain.

As an observer of game design, driving game aficionado, and professional contrarian, I take issue with this conclusion.  It fails to appreciate one of Rocksteady’s best design decisions in an all-around excellent game.  So I am here in defense of one of Batman’s greatest toys and how well it was expressed in Rocksteady’s greatest game (although you’ll note my enthusiasm for the Batmobile hadn’t fully developed when I reviewed the game).

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Football Manager’s new goooooaaalll is less waste

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Sega and Sports Interactive are using a new eco-friendly package for retail versions of Football Manager 2020. The reinforced cardboard sleeve and recyclable polyethylene shrink wrap replaces the standard hard plastic case that you see now. The new packaging costs about 30% more than the current boxes, but that difference is partially offset with a reduced cost for shipping and destruction on excess manufacturing. Studio director Miles Jacobson estimates a 20-ton plastic savings over a print run, which would equal a gigantic difference if adopted by the gaming industry.

Going digital reduces a lot more plastic waste, of course, but pundits continue to debate the cost and energy of server farms against the distribution and manufacturing of media. Hit the pitch with your vuvuzela and make yourself heard!

Divinity Original Sin 2 just whalloped Pillars of Eternity

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The other day I decided it would be pretty awesome to play Rebel Galaxy Outlaw on the big screen, with surround sound, leaning back on the couch. Since it’s built to be played with a gamepad, it’s one of those PC games that transitions seamlessly into the living room, thanks to Steam’s Big Picture mode and a Steam Link. So I booted up the Steam Link, set up a controller, opened Steam’s Big Picture, and started scrolling through my installed games. This was gonna be good.

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These are our predictions for the reactions to the Cyberpunk 2077 stream

, | Games

CD Projekt RED will be streaming a 15-minute edited version of the gameplay they’ve been showing to selected folks at Gamescom. You’ll be able to catch the broadcast on August 30th here or here. According to the announcement, the stream will include an interview with the team, footage of the Pacifica area in the game’s Night City, and a demonstration of the way different play styles work in Cyberpunk 2077. Nvidia posted a tiny taste from Gamescom to whip up interest.

As you might expect, some people, rather than being excited at the idea of seeing more Cyberpunk 2077, are angry that CD Projekt RED is only showing an edited chunk of the full Gamescom demo. With fans like that, it’s more fun to predict people’s reactions to the video, then what we might actually see in the stream.

  • More debate about how the first-person view was the wrong or right decision, followed by heated discussion of how balls the combat was in The Witcher 3, and how everyone must’ve been bought off to heap praise on such an obviously over-hyped game.
  • Lady Gaga still won’t know why people keep tweeting #CyberPokerFace at her.
  • Look at this stair-stepping! I’m calling “bullshot” on the video. It’s obviously a work.
  • Someone will zoom in on incomprehensibly small detail and use it to back up their pet theory of the company culture in CD Projekt RED.
  • Countless YouTube videos will be made purporting to show you “Easter eggs you totally missed” with thumbnail images featuring a giant red arrow pointing at nothing.
  • Keanu Reeves will be forced to act like the “you’re breathtaking” meme hasn’t crossed into annoyance for him.
  • See here? That’s some obviously poor HBAO effect. Looks like CDPR is taking the lazy route.
  • Cyberpunk pen and paper game creator Mike Pondsmith will remain a true gentleman, but his smile will slip ever so slightly when people accuse him of copying Shadowrun.
  • Is that transhuman mercenary street samurai racist? Let’s dig in!
  • Collective wailing and gnashing of teeth as gamers realize there are still over 200 days until the April 2020 launch.

Her Story gets an upgrade in Telling Lies

, | Games

Telling Lies, the sequel to Sam Barlow’s critically-acclaimed Her Story, looks like it had a much bigger budget than the original game from 2015. Instead of one full-motion video character, there’s four main ones in this game, played by Logan-Marshall Green, Alexandra Shipp, Kerry Bishé and Angela Sarafyan. Instead of Viva Seifert staring into a camera while being interrogated, Telling Lies features anything a secret cache of surveillance footage might have recorded. Barlow jokes that the “game engine” can now handle exteriors.

Telling Lies launches later this year from Annapurna Interactive.

Soon Guild Wars 2 will be cats all the way down

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You might think Guild Wars 2 is all about crazy creatures like talking bipedal polar bears (kodan), talking gorillas (grawl), talking moles (dredge), talking birdmen (tengu), talking frogs (hyleks), talking plant people who totally aren’t elves (sylvari), totes adorbs cooing penguin/seal hybrids (quaggan), and World of Warcraft gnomes (asura). But the thing about most of those races is that you can’t be them. But you know what you can be? A cat. And you know how Guild Wars has a hundred or so miniature pets, including cats? That means your cat can have a cat.

But Guild Wars 2 has decided it’s time to go deeper. Next Tuesday, on February 26th, you can get a cat as a mount. So now your cat with a pet cat can ride a cat. It’s a cat singularity, which is one of about three hundred reasons that Guild Wars 2 was designated the Greatest MMO of All Time by the International MMO Designation Committee, which is comprised of me and my cat.

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?

Pinball FX3’s bewildering new identity crisis

, | Games

The first four of hopefully lots more Williams tables for Pinball FX3 just came out this week. Williams Pinball: Volume 1 is $10 DLC that adds Fish Tales, The Getaway, Junk Yard, and Medieval Madness, which all feel dated…in a good way. They’re among the physical tables from the days of yore, from actual stand-up pinball machines that exist in the real world, now ported into Pinball FX3 thanks to Zen Studios’ licensing deal with Williams. They introduce an odd dilemma for those of us who’ve been playing Zen’s tables all these years.

Pinball FX’s physics have been criticized as “floaty” or “soft”, and it’s not an unfair observation. Their tables are made to play by their own rules, with their own feel for where the ball should go and how. They never claimed to model actual steel balls rolling down actual inclines, bouncing off actual bumpers, and flipped by actual flippers. You could say their physics are stylized, which has freed Zen Studios to do some truly strange things with their tables. That’s just part of the identity of Pinball FX. There are other videogame pinball options for people who put a priority on real world physics. But with these four new tables, when you play a standalone round independent of the unlockable bonuses and wizard powers, you have the option to choose a “difficulty” setting. The choices are Arcade Mode or Tournament Mode. Arcade Mode is Zen Pinball as it’s always been. “Floaty” and “soft”, if you will. But Tournament Mode is their brand new physics model, presumably built to bring a sense of fidelity to these classic tables. And boy, does it feel different.

It feels so different that it doesn’t feel like Pinball FX anymore. It feels faster, and less forgiving, which is probably why Zen calls it a “difficulty” setting. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s like playing a whole new game. Who could object to getting a whole new game? And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to play it. But if you do like it — which I really do — now you have four tables that play this cool new way, and 78 tables that don’t. Now you might find yourself wishing the 78 other tables would get their own Tournament Mode. Now you might find yourself understanding why people bitched all these years about “floaty” and “soft” physics. Really, it just means I have to make hard choices as I mess around with these new tables. Get used to the new physics? Or pretend they aren’t in there? There are separate leaderboards for each mode, and although part of me winces at leaderboards splitting off in so many different directions, it does give me more options to beat my pesky friends who play Pinball FX3.

But what’s most puzzling to me is that now I like these tables that I didn’t think I would like, and not necessarily because I actually, you know, like the tables themselves. I like how they play. I like Tournament Mode physics. I’m coming around to the actual tables. I’m sold on Getaway, which is fast and flashy and open and growls like a muscle car. It wants to move. The pinball whipping madly around the crazy racetrack at the top of the table will never get old. It also means I’ll never have to play V12 again. Have you tried that table lately? Ugh. Junk Yard and Fish Tales are kind of junky and weird, but it feels nice to play these old fashioned designs for a change. Medieval Madness, however, just feels superfluous, given that Zen already has a jokey generic fantasy table called Epic Quest. But you can’t play Epic Quest in Tournament Mode, so Medieval Madness has that going for it. This will all be a non-issue as soon as Zen releases more Williams tables, especially the real classics like Pin-bot or Bride of Pin-bot, which give that much more weight to the new physics. But please hurry, Zen! It’s a very confusing time for some of us fans.