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This is how ‘the bird’ wound up in Tales from the Borderlands

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It’s sad when game development studios go out of business. It’s downright tragic when it happens so abruptly that employees get left with no severance, benefits running out, and projects cancelled. The silver lining is that when a company shuts down, ex-employees feel free to relate humorous anecdotes about how the sausage was made. We’re seeing that now with Telltale Games. The bitterness and confusion over the sudden closure has calmed a bit, and the survivors are down to reminiscing about their time together. Here, Molly Maloney, a designer on Tales from the Borderlands explained how the scene with a character maniacally flipping off a bunch of monitors came to be.

“When we requested the animation for Rhys turning off Hyperion monitors in Tales from the Borderlands ep 5, the requested anim was worded as ‘Rhys flips off the monitors as he runs by.’ What we got back was so good [we] decided to just go with that.”

Whatever your opinion of Telltale Games’ output, it’s indisputable that their games had an impact on the industry. The Walking Dead: Season One was an emotional revelation, and while the rest of their catalog perhaps never reached those heights again, the studio plugged away at over a dozen games in the same vein. The studio even dipped into publishing indie titles from other developers like 7 Days to Die and Stranded Deep on consoles.

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.

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.

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.

Design prisons with your cellmate in Prison Architect

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Prison Architect is testing a multiplayer building mode. The surprise Update 16 for the 2015 sim from Introversion is currently in testing for the Steam version and adds co-op online multiplayer that lets budding wardens run their penitentiaries together. In the video, the developers explain that the 8-player multiplayer feature is very much an “early alpha” run and does not use the full build of the sim. Wiring and reports aren’t functional in the Steam test build, but that may change later. It’s not a “prison industrial complex” without other people in on the business.

Let’s raise a Petri dish to the ten year anniversary of Spore

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Penis creatures. That’s all gamers were looking forward to ten years ago. Penis creatures, penis buildings, and penis vehicles were hotly anticipated in the shared worlds of Spore. In 2008, “dickbutt” wasn’t even a thing, but thanks to the way we thought Spore would download random bits of other players’ creations, people expected nothing but crude approximations of genitalia to wind up in their games. While the rare phallic entity did show up from time to time, we mostly got goofy Technicolor blobs that looked like everyone else’s goofy blobs.

The real tragedy of Spore was the overenthusiastic marketing and crazy expectations fans had before the launch. It was going to be a Will Wright-designed sim from Maxis that featured life itself from the beginnings of single-cell organisms all the way to interstellar conquest. It was going to have everything. Procedural generation! User-made asset sharing! An in-game YouTube clip feature! Oh my God, imagine all the penis-monsters! In many ways, it was the harbinger of the industry. Shame about the gameplay. It was as shallow as the tide pool it started in.

In 2013, Soren Johnson, more famous now for being the lead designer of Civilization IV and co-founder of Mohawk Games, reflected on his short stint on the Spore team. Even now, his blog post is fascinating and instructive.

Spore’s biggest issue was that the play at each stage was fairly shallow because the team was making five games at once. (At one point, Will described each of the game’s five stages as light versions of classics – cell is like Pac-Man, creature is Diablo, tribe is Populous, civilization is Civilization, and space is Masters of Orion.) However, making five different games at once is a bad idea; making one good game is usually hard enough.

Ten years later, it’s easier to be charitable to Spore. It’s silly and engaging in the first few stages. The janky real-time strategy stage is terrible, and the interplanetary stuff is pure hogwash, but there’s something satisfying about collecting animal parts and wandering your Teletubbies Spore world. If you just stay in the animal stage, it’s a decent lark. Check it out. This is the penis monster I made.

Community events bring even more collectible junk to No Man’s Sky

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The latest update for space survival crafting game, No Man’s Sky, features community challenges. Starting today, explorers can fulfill special fetch quests that reward players with quicksilver. Instead of giving you mercury poisoning, you can trade quicksilver in for stuff like a “mind blown” gesture for the rare times you’ll use an emote in multiplayer, cosmetic decals, and exclusive base components. The initial wave will have a small selection of community challenge items, but Hello Games will add more as the season progresses.

Over the coming weeks this will expand to 50+ items, including further base parts, emotes, customisations, exocraft, and more.

Let’s see how your in-game menus like that!

The long slow freeze of Subnautica: Below Zero is about to begin

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Hey, that’s not a submarine in that concept art from the Subnautica: Below Zero teaser site. That’s not even underwater! Hmm. What could the folks at the aptly named Unknown Worlds have planned for the next step in Subnautica? Dry land? Or at least wet land that’s frozen? We’ll know soon enough when it enters beta, and for a longtime thereafter we’ll have to make the hard choice between playing Below Zero in whatever state it’s currently in or waiting until it’s finished. It seemed like it was forever before I could play a version of Subnautica willing to call itself v1.0. And based on this comment…

In the coming months, we will release Below Zero in Steam Early Access. Then, we will begin releasing consistent content updates, carefully crafting the game based on player feedback – Just like the original Subnautica.

…it sounds like it’ll be another forever before a version of Below Zero is willing to call itself v1.0.

Traffic has gotten really bad in Afghanistan ’11. So has documentation.

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There are a lot more people on the roads of Afghanistan since I was there about a year ago. And by Afghanistan, I mean Afghanistan ’11, the brilliant hearts-and-minds strategy game that explores the overlapping roles of combat and nation-building. I was just poking around in the new Royal Marines DLC, which adds British units from a time when Brexit sounded like the name of a wheat cracker. It also adds cars. Lot of cars. It’s bumper to bumper out there. Whose cars are these? What are they doing out and about while I’m ferrying soldiers, dropping airstrikes, refueling helicopters, and trying to patch up another leaking water tank for some village that won’t even tell me where the opium is at.

This page announcing the DLC says that some cars are carrying car bombs, and I can intercept them by setting up roadblocks. Eventually I can recruit local police to man the roadblocks. The Afghanis trying to get someplace in their cars can be hassled by locals instead of foreign soldiers. I wasn’t sure how all this worked, so after Alpha Company spent a few turns loitering around in front of concrete barricades, I told them to pack it in. They went back to base. Meanwhile, my political capital had plummeted because I’d forgotten how to play. The game over screen came along shortly thereafter. To the manual! Unfortunately, none of this is in the manual yet. In fact, the manual hasn’t been updated to include any of Afghanistan ’11’s new features. There are plenty of them, starting with convoys, then MOABs, then new rules for politics, combat, garrisons, villages, special forces, and now new UK units, car bombs, and so forth. Afghanistan ’11 has gotten plenty of updates, including a bunch of new content. Yet the manual still says “this feature is coming soon” in the place I went to remind myself how convoys work. Convoys were added over a year ago. As far as I can tell, you won’t find any documentation for anything released after the game first came out. Post-release support should include reminding guys like me how to play when we come back after a long absence. A couple of tersely worded pinned posts in the Steam forum don’t cut it.

The Royal Marines DLC comes out September 6th for the PC. It will be available for the iOS version at an unspecified later date. Between now and then, I’ll be trying my best to figure it all out.