Xbox Live is dead. Long live Xbox network.

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Microsoft has rebranded their gaming network from Xbox Live to the more plain-sounding Xbox network. Microsoft confirmed the change to The Verge and explained that the move was made to distinguish the service from the subscription plan. It’s the end of an 18-year-old moniker.

In January, Microsoft had announced plans to increase the price of Xbox Live Gold, but the company was forced to backtrack after subscribers let their displeasure be known. In fact, Microsoft not only reversed the price hike, they promised to drop the need for Xbox Live Gold for players to access free-to-play multiplayer games.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s ending is certainly no Tenet

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There’s a whole cottage industry of explanation videos that recap and break down the deeper meaning behind movies, books, and games. Stuff like “The Ending of Tenet Explained” or “27 Hints You Missed in WandaVision” are dime-a-dozen on YouTube. Sometimes they have a nugget of wisdom, but usually they’re the most facile examinations possible. Watch a few Tenet videos and tell me what percentage actually bring enlightenment. If you got to the end of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s main campaign and thought, “Wait. What?” then this video from Ubisoft may be for you.

It’s a spoiler-filled hour-long interview with the game’s narrative director, Darby McDevitt, detailing the choices they made in developing Eivor’s path as a Viking. Fair warning. It really is chock full of spoilers, so if you’re going to play the game someday, or you’re still slogging through the main story now, you won’t want the appearance of Elvis or the dinosaur-cloning level spoiled for you.

Does McDevitt give a reason for the way the story just peters out or the unsatisfying epilogue? No, because the story in Valhalla is built around that open world and letting the player continue to explore and grind around England after the credits roll. The script, by necessity, has to take a backseat to the game’s framework. It’s too bad because with a little tweaking, the dinosaur level could’ve meant a lot more than being just a tie-in to Just Dance.

Planetfall: Suppose they gave a doomsday and nobody came?

, | Game diaries

By order of the Wasila Combine — heck, let’s go ahead and make this a religious thing as well — and by the will of the Promethean god, we’re going to uncork our PyrX refineries (pictured) to flood the atmosphere with toxic gas.  Actually, I’m not sure if there’s a Promethean god.  It seems like there would be a Promethean god.  Or at least an ancient civilization that worshipped some god.  Whatever the theology or lack thereof, we’re erasing all life on the planet from within the safety of our own territory.  This will require a lot less micromanagement than doing it with armies.

500 energy and 50 operational points later — Planetary Purification ain’t cheap — it’s a doomsday party and everyone is invited!

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It took almost a decade to fix Grand Theft Auto Online’s loading times

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Grand Theft Auto Online’s loading times are notoriously slow. It’s been something of a running joke for nearly a decade that loading into Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode is excruciating. Even with an SSD in the PC version of the game, it can be multiple minutes of staring at the cloudy cityscape of Los Santos while the game slowly ambles along. Now, Rockstar says improvements are coming thanks to a diligent player.

At the end of February, a fan who goes by the handle “t0st” wrote that they had found a solution that cut GTA Online loading times by up to 70%. (The technical details and sample can be found here.) By eliminating a CPU bottleneck that was demanding calls to verify every single item available in the in-game shops, the game loaded significantly faster. So much faster, in fact, that Rockstar confirmed that they will be using t0st’s findings, which is good news for the company as there are still thousands of daily players that purchase Shark Cards to buy in-game stuff. The faster they can load in is that much faster to spend all their money and buy more in-game cash.

Planetfall: we need to talk about the M-word

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I’m occasionally surprised to hear people who play sci-fi strategy games complain that they don’t want to build their own ships.  Since Master of Orion, this has been a fundamental part of the genre.  It was the cornerstone of warfare in Brian Reynold’s Alpha Centauri.  But it’s especially important in a strategy game that emphasizes tactical combat.  And being an Age of Wonders game, Planetfall emphasizes tactical combat.  In fact, I’d argue it’s a shell for tactical combat.  If you just want to scooch armies around a map and plop buildings into your cities, there are other games better suited to your preferences.  Planetfall, like developer Triumph Studios’ previous games, is for people who want to play detailed tactical battles set in the larger context of a 4X.  Some designers rightly understand that tactical combat can interfere with the flow of a grand strategy game.  But those designers didn’t make Planetfall.  People who love tactical combat made Planetfall.

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Dota 2’s tutorial is so bad, fans are willing to pay to make a new one

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In anticipation of an influx of new players from the upcoming Netflix anime, this already funded IndieGoGo campaign strives to have modders create a Dota 2 tutorial for newbies. There is an in-game tutorial in Dota 2. It’s bad. This is a fact that even the developers of the game acknowledge. It’s little more than a series of mini challenges to teach basic mechanics. Like many strategy games that have multiple instances of DLC, updates, and balance changes, the Dota 2 tutorial was an outdated joke within a few weeks. Even if you ignore that, the tutorial commits the sin of not actually teaching the game as it’s really played in the multiplayer wilds.

There’s usually two ways to handle an outdated tutorial. Either you ignore it, (the Paradox route) and let new players fend for themselves via YouTube or wikis, or you update the tutorial – an expensive proposition. Fans may have found a third option. Create their own via crowdfunding. There’s only one catch. The campaign’s goal will only create a static tutorial that applies to the current map and balance update. It too, will be doomed to obsolescence in mere weeks.

Planetfall: Jewal Gruvich and the Virginia Cull

, | Game diaries

In the years since Civilization VI was released by Firaxis, you could say it’s gotten a ton of post-release support.  If you consider “support” adding stuff rather than fixing things that don’t work.  The process has been fascinating.  Rather than adjust the design or the AI to make a game that actually works, Firaxis has instead piled up increasingly absurd ways to play, with no regard for balance, tuning, or even the principles of good game design.  Civilization VI has become a ridiculous, slapdash, and profoundly idiotic sandbox.  One of the folks on this site’s forum called it “Goat Simulator for 4X games.”  

And given that every Civilization since IV appeals to people who don’t care whether the AI can play the design, it’s a pitch-perfect approach.  I suspect it’s done very well for Firaxis.  They’ve correctly identified their target audience and they’ve given them what they want.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing another 4X with pitch-perfect post-release support that includes perhaps the most dramatic change I’ve seen applied to a strategy game, short of a total conversion mod.  Age of Wonders: Planetfall was given a free update last November that introduced Galactic Empire mode.  It’s nothing short of revolutionary and as a result, Planetfall is now the definitive expression of Dune.  

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Do you know there are known unknowns in epidemic management game Raxxon?

, | Game reviews

When it comes to gaming the spread of infectious disease, everyone loves Matt Leacock’s Pandemic.  Not me.  I think it does a terrible job of modeling the outbreak, spread, and containment of an epidemic.  It’s all gamey abstraction loosely held together by a strained disease motif that makes no sense.  It’s not even a very good design.  It speaks volumes about Pandemic that for all its iterations — diseases, dikes, empires, cultists — the best version of Leacock’s design is about puppets and plastic models.

But then there’s Raxxon.

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PlayStation 4 owners may have to commit to one Call of Duty

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It’s no secret that the file sizes for games have gotten pretty large. It’s not unusual if a game balloons over 150GB after updates and expansions. The more recent Call of Duty games being prime examples of this. In fact, Activision has issued a warning to base model PlayStation 4 owners. Due to the 500GB drive, and the way the system needs to copy files for patching, players are going to have to pick their poison with the latest update for Call of Duty Warzone. They will not be able to have Modern Warfare, Black Ops Cold War, and Warzone installed on the same PS4.

If you’re wondering why anyone would need both of the most recent Call of Duty games installed along with Warzone, the answer is that the progression tracks in the base games’ multiplayer feeds into the Battle Royale mode. Weapons from Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War are in Warzone. It’s generally easier to level up a rifle in the base game’s team deathmatch, then bring the gun over to Warzone for that mode’s use. It’s a system that has kept Modern Warfare multiplayer active, if only to give Warzone fans a quicker way to beef up their loadouts. Alas, with the latest content drop, original PS4 players will have to clear some space and overcome everyone else’s size advantage.