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You aren’t the only one that noticed Ubisoft is in a rut

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Ubisoft is changing things up. The big joke among gamers that have played a lot of Ubisoft games lately is that they all tend to bleed together. They share mechanics, assets, and seem to come from similar open world molds. Assassin’s Creed Origins’ eagle vision works a lot like the spotter drone in Ghost Recon Wildlands, which acts like the eagle in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which in turn seems a lot like the drone in Ghost Recon Breakpoint. You get the idea. Up until lately, no one seemed to care that Ubisoft’s design strategy embraced a certain amount of homogeneity.

With lower than anticipated sales in 2019, it’s become apparent that people may have grown tired of the formula. According to Video Game Chronicles, Ubisoft is restructuring its editorial team to allow more diverse design ideas to come through. In October, Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot told investors that they would be making changes based on the negative reception to Breakpoint and The Division 2, and this leadership restructuring seems to be part of that follow-through. It’s hoped that by spreading out responsibilities and giving vice presidents more say, the franchise teams can grow unique identities with differentiating gameplay. My money says we’ll still see a bird spotter in the next Assassin’s Creed.

It’s a new year, so it must be time for another Skyrim

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Zenimax Online Studios and Bethesda have announced The Dark Heart of Skyrim, a year-long live update for The Elder Scrolls Online. Over four chapters, players will battle in the icy western lands of the Nords and the underground kingdom of Blackreach. There’s a vampire lord running wild, and bad Viking accents abound.

The Dark Heart of Skyrim will also add a new Antiquities system to give players more baubles to collect. You’ll finally be able to say “This belongs in a museum!” in an Elder Scrolls game.

Windows and Mac players will be able to start their Greymoor adventure on May 18th. Console players can join in the fun on June 2nd. Google Stadia players won’t have to miss out. Greymoor is coming to Stadia later, so all six of you can play too.

Maybe it’s time to return to Slay the Spire?

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Mega Crit Games has updated Slay the Spire with substantial additions. The 2.0 Update isn’t just a mere balance pass. A new character, The Watcher has arrived to climb the tower. She’s been testing on the beta branch of the Steam version of the game since September, but she’s finally available for everyone to try – assuming you unlock her by successfully beating the game at least once and also unlocking The Defect. Good luck with that.

The update also adds a Potion Lab, which is great news since there’s a bucket of new potions that come with it. Fancy a drink during your ascension?

Slay the Spire came in second during our official members’ poll for their 2019 Games of the Year.

Your opponent in AI War 2 just got a whole lot more intimidating

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Christopher Park of Arcen Games thinks the Grand New AI update is big enough to be considered the equal of a whole new sequel release. I don’t know if that’s overselling it, but at 29 pages, the patch notes certainly back his case. Heck, the blog summary is longer than many other games’ overhaul patch notes.

“The AI is… well, scarier.  They have more strength in more places, more variance in how they place things, and so on.”

Is the game harder now? Yes and no. There are a ton of interface improvements to reduce player friction, and the pace has been adjusted to give the player a chance out of the gate, but the titular AI is more unpredictable and can use so-called “fire teams” that can act independently from the greater strategic plan. It’s a trade-off that creates the illusion of an AI that is invested in thwarting you, while not overwhelming the player. When it trounces you, just remember that it’s not personal.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order almost had no Jedi

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Respawn Entertainment’s Stig Asmussen spoke to Ted Price of the The AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook podcast and related how Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order came to be. One of the more interesting bits is how the folks at Lucasfilm weren’t keen on sharing Jedi. During EA and Respawn’s initial pitch, Lucasfilm kept wanting to steer them away from the Force, and to concentrate on the more mundane parts of the universe. Hey, couldn’t this game work with a bounty hunter and blasters? Did the main character have to be a Jedi?

Thankfully, Asmussen’s team won the day and we’ve got the Dark Souls-alike with lightsabers we all know. No one wants to play some faceless bounty hunter, right?

Look at Dell’s portable PC that totally does not copy another console

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Ever since the Atari Lynx, engineers have been cramming videogames into handheld hardware. Your phone is one. The Nintendo Switch is another. But what if you want to play “core” PC games in the palm of your hands? Sure, there are a dozen weird options, including the discontinued NVIDIA Shield Portable, but what if you want an option that’s a little more “supported” than something you buy off an AliExpress vendor?

Dell has a portable gaming PC in the works. The Concept UFO is an Alienware device with an 8-inch screen that will play everyone’s “favorite AAA PC titles” at 1900 x 1200 resolution. It even has detachable controllers, so you can play hunched over a screen or waggling two teeny slabs. It’s a concept (it’s right there in the name) so who knows if this is anything more than a CES2020 marketing stunt, but Dell and Alienware have been saying they’re ready to “take back” PC gaming through innovation. Shoehorning Nintendo controllers onto a PC is one way to do it.

The next big addition for Fallout 76 is free parking

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The Watoga Underground is one of the new areas coming to Fallout 76. As part of the free Wastelanders update planned for the game, the city of Watoga features a giant underground parking garage. According to Bethesda, the automated garage is where the citizens of the city stored their vehicles to keep the streets free of curbside clutter. Watoga was something of a pedestrian paradise before the war, it seems.

“Watoga, The City of the Future, envisions a bustling, walkable metropolis where the streets are clear of illegally parked automobiles, traffic and hit-and-run accidents.”

This being Fallout, I can imagine all sorts of ways that Utopian vision went hilariously wrong. Like plastic bags that ship to customers instead of canvas ones, nothing is ever that easy.

Here is the Portal prequel you will never get to play

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Let’s kick off the new year with a hearty dose of disappointment. F-Stop, the secret Portal prequel game from Valve, is getting a multi-part video series via LunchHouse Software. F-Stop, or Aperture Camera, was a Valve internal project that generated a lot of buzz right after the original Orange Box was released, but never made it out of the studio. What happened and why is a mystery, but sharp-eyed fans noticed similarities in Superliminal, the puzzler from Pillow Castle that is ironically not on Steam at this time.

The team at LunchHouse has permission from Valve and is using the game’s source code to produce the documentary series, so this won’t get hit with a legal battle. Maybe we’ll see things from a new perspective.

Game thought lost for 25 years randomly streamed on Twitch

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Rick Brewster is probably best known for creating Paint.NET, the popular free alternative to Microsoft Paint, but in 1994 he was a 12-year-old kid taking his first steps into coding. Like many budding programmers of the era, Brewster learned his trade by dabbling in videogame creation via instructions in a book. One such creation was The Golden Flute IV: The Flute of Immortality. Thinking it good enough for a relative to enjoy, young master Brewster put his DOS adventure game on a disc and mailed it off to a cousin, never to be seen again.

Imagine Rick Brewster’s surprise when Macaw, a retro streamer, fired up The Golden Flute IV just before Christmas. Here was Brewster’s long-lost game, a game he only ever sent to one person, being played live on Twitch! All its primitive preteen glorious CGA graphics and simple audio back from the past like a “lost, drunken cat” finding its way home.

How did this happen? According to Brewster’s Twitter thread, his cousin cannot remember the details, but he was likely trying to do his cuz a solid and submitted the game to to a BBS where it was later collected by a publisher in the 1994 Cream of the Crop 5 compilation disc. From there, it wound up on FidoNet, and into the Internet Archive, where you can play it too.

You better watch out. You better not cry. Here’s an official mod for Age of Empires 2.

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The Age of Empires developers have a holiday surprise for everyone. It’s an official Yuletide graphics asset Winter Celebration mod for Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. It’s a free in-game download that will turn the ground snowy, change spears into candy canes, and snowballs become weapons of mass destruction. You have until sometime in January to download it, at which point the team will remove the mod from the listing. Once you have it, you can enable it from within the game and play in winter whenever you want.

When TIE Fighter was partnered with Dodge Neon

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Star Wars: TIE Fighter is the best dog-fighting action space sim ever made. Fight me for it. But there was a time before 1994 when TIE Fighter wasn’t a sure thing. Larry Holland and LucasArts had an earlier hit with Star Wars: X-Wing, but this was a game from the bad guys’ point of view! The disposable Imperial pilot, no less. Would it actually sell? We laugh about that question now, but imagine trying to market that game.

PC Gamer dug into the history of how the game was made, and one of the often forgotten bits of TIE Fighter’s success was that its demo was pressed and marketed thanks to Dodge Neon. Yes, that pokey little car that hit the streets in wacky colors like “Nitro yellow-green” and “Lapis Blue” along with other questionable choices.

“I wasn’t in much of a bargaining position; I didn’t have a whole lot to give in return, other than they get to use Star Wars in their advertising. For the Dodge Neon, which was nothing like a sci-fi or futuristic car. It was from Michigan. There was nothing sexy about it; it looked like a family car. But it was a big win, because we couldn’t afford to distribute 400,000 demos on our own, or do a TV commercial.”

Imagine Grand Admiral Thrawn’s personal Neon. It would likely be the pimped-out one with the headlight hoods and chrome accents.

Battle Royale has somehow come to Forza Horizon 4

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Microsoft is adding Battle Royale to Forza Horizon 4. The Eliminator is a free mode coming today that features up to 72 players duking it out in open-world car tomfoolery. Everyone starts in a 1965 Mini, but winning races or finding “rare drops” can give the players better cars, and everyone tries to eliminate other drivers. And yes, there is a circular border that slowly contracts throughout the session that will knock players out if they stray too far. It’s like PUBG, but without the inventory shuffling or teabagging.

Command & Conquer has something better than Alexa

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Electronic Arts’ Command & Conquer Remastered will feature the original voice actor for the player’s AI assistant. According to Frank Klepacki, in 1995 Westwood recorded most of their in-game voices using office staff, jury-rigged equipment, and a padded broom closet. Kia Huntzinger, office supervisor, agreed to be EVA, the computer voice of the player’s UI. To many gamers her “Greetings Commander” became as comforting and familiar as Alexa or Siri. Unfortunately, the master recordings were lost, and the game files contained audio flaws that became exacerbated in the remaster process. The solution? Bring Kia back! Luckily, she was game for the opportunity to return to the role. You can hear some of her work in the video here.

Players of Command & Conquer Remastered will be able to choose between the new audio or the original files.

Google says Fortnite has to pay them like everyone else

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Google has refused to waive their standard fee for Fortnite’s in-game purchases. According to The Verge, Epic asked Google for an exemption or reduction in their cut to have Fortnite listed on Google’s Play store for the Android platform. Google, not surprisingly, told Epic to take a hike. The tech giant pointed out that Epic apparently pays Apple the same rate to be listed on the official Apple iOS store, and that their portion of revenue is necessary to maintain their distribution and support costs. Epic says it’s high time for the industry to change.

We have asked that Google not enforce its publicly stated expectation that products distributed through Google Play use Google’s payment service for in-app purchase. We believe this form of tying of a mandatory payment service with a 30% fee is illegal in the case of a distribution platform with over 50% market share.

Fortnite is currently not available in Google’s Play store for Android platform. It has to be manually loaded onto Android tablets and phones via Epic’s store.

PlayStation players can finally see what the rest of the world was up to in Minecraft

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Sony is finally, better-late-than-never, allowing cross-play in Minecraft. The Bedrock Update is coming to the PlayStation 4 version of the game. This will bring the PS4 version up to date with every other platform. The main roadblock to PlayStation getting the update was Sony’s refusal to allow cross-play with its rival in Redmond. That corporate resistance has faded as games like Fortnite and Rocket League have demanded it.

The Bedrock update originally launched in 2011 for iOS, and it subsequently launched on other platforms throughout the years. This update will also allow PlayStation players to purchase the in-game DLC that’s been available for so long. Rejoice! You can give Sony and Microsoft more money at the same time.