Artifact is a mess. 101 players are in game at the time of writing, with the 24 hour peak being only marginally better at 124. Valve hasn’t said anything about the game since 29th March, when the company announced the team will “be heads-down focusing on addressing these larger issues instead of shipping updates”. The most action Artifact has seen on Twitch in recent months was when people decided to stream full length movies and porn in the game’s section. Artifact, at least for now, is a dead game, and arguably Valve’s most spectacular failure to date. “It was a couple of weeks before the Artifact launch, and I was like, they can’t really launch it like this can they?” Sean “Swim” Huguenard tells Eurogamer. Valve can’t even release a game store client that isn’t slow and buggy garbage, so it doesn’t surprise me one bit they can’t make a card game either. Did anyone really expect Artifact to be any good?
A lot of contemporary video game players take online communications for granted—after all, online services have been a standard feature in consoles for nearly fifteen years at this point. However, before the ubiquity of the internet there was a time when some clever cartridges let gamers run up to the bleeding edge of technology and peer into the future. Today, let’s close out our cartridge series by taking a look at a few cartridges that offered some form of connectivity for otherwise isolated consoles. As always, this isn’t a comprehensive list of everything that existed—it’s just a brief survey at some of the more notable or interesting high points. I really miss the days of whacky console addons.
Sony and Microsoft, bitter rivals in the video game console wars, will team up in on-demand gaming to better compete with newcomers like Google as the industry’s main battlefield looks poised to shift to the cloud, Nikkei learned Thursday. During a recent trip to the U.S., Sony President and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on a strategic tie-up. While details have yet to be hammered out, the partnership will center on artificial intelligence and the cloud, according to an announcement by Microsoft early Friday Japan time. They must be quite worried about Google Stadia to actually work together to try and counter it. Enemy of my enemy and all that.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) today announced a bill that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors”, a broad label that the senator says will include both games designed for kids under 18 and games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions”. Loot boxes are clearly gambling, and ought to be treated as such. I’m by no means enough of a lawyer to determine if this specific proposed bill does enough – or possibly too much – to curtail the predatory practices in games, but it’s a good sign people are paying attention. We sure won’t be able to count on Google or Apple, since both of them profit greatly from these predatory practices.
Because Red Dead Redemption 2 seems to offer to let you stop and smell the roses, but there are a thousand roses with five buttons to hit every time, and it won’t tell you that you were only supposed to smell the yellow roses until you’re finished with the task. It’s a game that constantly tries to explain a complicated approach to things that are simple in every other game I’ve played. Rockstar spent a surreal number of man-hours to get the light to glisten just so as it hits a realistically rendered horse scrotum, but it couldn’t figure out how to create equipment menus that I could understand after dozens of hours of practice. It’s a game that requires the self-punishing dedication of a hardcore gamer without actually being a hard game or giving me any sense of accomplishment. It’s a story. One whose writers ultimately knew what they wanted to say, but who also piled on so many of these same ideas over and over that it begins to feel meaningless. In short, it’s a game that wants to pull itself out of the tar pit with its face. This is probably one of the best – if not the best – reviews of a video game, or any other product for that matter, I’ve ever read. It is incredibly long, detailed, and manages to ask – and answer – a ton of very pertinent questions about not just Red Dead Redemption 2 itself, but the gaming industry as a whole. I’ve played Red Dead Redemption 2, and I consider it to be a bad game. The controls are a convoluted mess, the story lacks pacing and is all over the place, and the game forces so much pointless, meaningless, and repetitive busywork on the player I just got frustrated and bored. Parts of this particular review go into great detail regarding these matters, and it’s refreshing to see someone pay so much attention to these things other reviewers and players just ignore because shiny visuals. It’s a long read, and I’m sure many RDR2 fans and players will disagree, but don’t let that stop you from reading this.
The Verge has an article about a very unusual and rare Game Boy accessory. But the link cable was just the beginning of the Game Boy’s wild, bizarre experimentation with the future. In the late ‘90s, Japanese game company Hudson Soft eventually came up with a more radical idea to bring wireless connectivity to the handheld. It would use infrared — built directly into game cartridges. That way, you could transfer data between two games, or even download data from the internet, directly onto the game. And for some inexplicable reason lost to time, I convinced my parents to buy the one and only Game Boy Color game sold in North America to feature this technology. The system itself was called GB Kiss, named after the awkward physical dance two players would have to perform to bring the cartridges close enough to one another to initiate the infrared data transfer. For Hudson Soft, it was a remarkably ambitions idea, a leftover from its attempt nearly a decade prior to crack the home console market through its partnership with NEC Home Electronics on the TurboGrafX-16, a device that failed to gain traction but nonetheless spawned a dizzying number of wild accessories and mods. Few things fascinate me more than rare, unique, and obscure console accessories and expansions from the ’80s and ’90s, so this is right up my alley. I had no idea this ever existed.
This is a Commodore 64 port of the 1985 game SUPER MARIO BROS. for the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System. It contains the original version that was released in Japan and United States, as well as the European version. It also detects and supports a handful of turbo functionalities, and has 2 SID support. Impressive and fascinating work.
There’s a war brewing in the video game industry, and it’s getting uglier by the day. Steam, the longtime leading digital distributor for the PC platform, is facing a significant challenge from an equally large and powerful player: Fortnite creator Epic Games, which launched its own PC games store last year. The ensuing competition has morphed into a console war-like debate for a modern generation of players who grew up under the unhindered dominance of Steam, a platform now facing its first real form of competition since it arrived on the scene nearly 15 years ago. I’m glad we’re seeing more and more competition in this space. Steam is a hot mess, both the store and the application itself, and the more competition Valve has to deal with, the better. I’m tired of Valve approving every single garbage reskin “indie” title, leading to an endless stream of terrible “games” that makes it incredibly hard to find the few gems among the pile of feces, and I’m tired of the Steam client being a huge, slow behemoth of an application that regularly crumbles under its own sheer bloat (on Windows – let’s not even get started on the Linux and Mac versions). Valve has had this market all to itself for far too long, and they’ve grown complacent. I welcome the competition from GOG, Epic, Humble, and all the others.
Two bits of related news; the 4.0 release of GlideN64, the most-compatible High-Level-Emulation graphics plugin for N64 emulators: but more interestingly, this story about the struggle to reverse-engineer the GPU microcode used in Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine and Star Wars Episode I: Battle for Naboo that have eluded developers for decades.
The video game industry is richer than it has ever been. Its revenue in 2018 was $43.8 billion, a recent report estimated, thanks in large part to hugely popular games like Fortnite and Call of Duty. These record-breaking profits could have led one to think that the people who develop video games had it made. But then the blood bath began. The video games industry is a cesspool.
This account of Anthem’s development, based on interviews with 19 people who either worked on the game or adjacent to it (all of whom were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about Anthem’s development), is a story of indecision and mismanagement. It’s a story of technical failings, as EA’s Frostbite engine continued to make life miserable for many of BioWare’s developers, and understaffed departments struggled to serve their team’s needs. It’s a story of two studios, one in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and another in Austin, Texas, that grew resentful toward one another thanks to a tense, lopsided relationship. It’s a story of a video game that was in development for nearly seven years but didn’t enter production until the final 18 months, thanks to big narrative reboots, major design overhauls, and a leadership team said to be unable to provide a consistent vision and unwilling to listen to feedback. Perhaps most alarming, it’s a story about a studio in crisis. Dozens of developers, many of them decade-long veterans, have left BioWare over the past two years. Some who have worked at BioWare’s longest-running office in Edmonton talk about depression and anxiety. Many say they or their co-workers had to take “stress leave”—a doctor-mandated period of weeks or even months worth of vacation for their mental health. One former BioWare developer told me they would frequently find a private room in the office, shut the door, and just cry. “People were so angry and sad all the time,” they said. Said another: “Depression and anxiety are an epidemic within Bioware.” This makes two incredibly high-profile BioWare flops as a result of severe mismanagement and gross negligence by executives, harming the lives of countless hardworking developers in the process. Once, BioWare was one of the greatest game development studios, but now, it’s barely a shadow of its former self, a running internet meme, and a studio whose upcoming games are not met with anticipation and excitement, but with rolling eyes and distrust. I’m deeply worried about the studio’s future.
In case you’re out of the loop, Stadia follows last year’s Project Stream test, which Google views as a resounding success. In essence, Stadia is Project Stream, delivering a similar game-streaming service, but done bigger, better, and with more features. Like Project Stream, Stadia will allow you to play AAA games at super-high settings, with silky smooth framerates, at up to 4K resolutions — at least, to start. It works remotely, with the actual game being hosted on Google’s remote servers, as it’s streamed to your home. This all comes without a major investment in specialized gaming gear, too. Google is taking this project quite seriously, as it even relies on custom hardware: Google’s expanded its data centers to better provide an optimized experience, for even “the most demanding games,” and that includes fresh new hardware in those data centers. Stadia’s stack, revealed on the Stadia.dev site, includes a custom 2.7GHz x86 CPU, custom AMD GPUs (rated at 10.7 teraflops), 16GB of RAM, and SSD cloud storage. If there’s one company capable of building the infrastructure capable of making game streaming a reality, it’s Google. However, I remain skeptical for now, and will adhere to the mantra of seeing is believing.
The RetroHQ Lynx SD cartridge for the Atari Lynx lets you play homebrew games and backed up ROMs on your Lynx simply by copying them to an SD card, plugging it into the Lynx SD cartridge and then plugging that into your Lynx. It’s a great idea and follows on from many similar EverDrive type units on other retro consoles. The only gripe with the Lynx SD has been its very functional, but simplistic menu loader. Well that’s no more. Atari Gamer has created a whole new menu loader system with many exciting features that will blow the original loader out of the water. This new loader will be the default shipped with all future preorders too! So let’s check it out. It’s remarkable how active the communities around old hardware really are. I never would’ve guessed people are still hard at work on the Atari Lynx, of all mobile consoles.
Many years ago (in 2015), I told you about my Xbox 360 development kit, based on a Power Mac G5. And I finally managed to make it work. Let’s summarize the story. We are in 2003 and Microsoft plans to release its Xbox 360 console in 2005. It is based on a new PowerPC processor (the Xenon, derived from the Cell but that’s another story) and an AMD graphics card. And initially, to provide test machines to the developers, Microsoft has an issue: the processor does not exist yet. The solution, quite pragmatic, to solve the problem while waiting for the first prototypes of consoles consists in using the most common mainstream PowerPC platform: a Macintosh. These PowerMac G5s used by Microsoft for Xbos 360 development couldn’t really be used for anything but running Mac OS X, since the Xbox 360 development software and operating system had all been wiped. As luck would have it, though, this software was released on the internet last year, including the Xenon OS. It also includes an early version of the Xbox 360 dashboard. An absolutely fascinating piece of history.
The Nintendo Switch is Nintendo’s latest console/handheld, and it’s doing really well for itself in terms of sales and appeal. It also marks a change in attitude from Nintendo as well, as the device is not only powered by an Nvidia Tegra system-on-chip, but the company even reportedly wanted to employ the now-defunct Cyanogen Inc. to develop their operating system. Since the discovery of the Fusée Gelée vulnerability, Switch modding has really taken off in the community. Users have theorized for a long time now whether it would be possible to port Android to the Switch. After all, Linux has been ported to it and the device uses the Tegra X1 SoC for which there is documentation to refer to. All that’s left is the blood, sweat, and tears of developers interested enough in porting Android. One developer by the name of ByLaws is taking the challenge of turning a Nintendo Switch into an Android tablet. The Switch is such a perfect formfactor and device for retro gaming. It’s really too bad that such things break warranties and/or block device and game updates, because otherwise I’d get emulators running on my Switch in a heartbeat.
Fast-forward nearly six years. Steam Machines puttered out as an idea, though Valve hasn’t dropped its support for Linux. It maintains a Linux Steam client with 5,800 native games, and just last August, Valve unveiled Proton, a compatibility layer designed to make every Steam title run open-source-style. With Proton currently in beta, the number of Steam titles playable on Linux has jumped to 9,500. There are an estimated 30,000 games on Steam overall, so that’s roughly one-in-three, and Valve is just getting started. However, the percentage of PC players that actually use Linux has remained roughly the same since 2013, and it’s a tiny fraction of the gaming market — just about 2 percent. Linux is no closer to claiming the gaming world’s crown than it was six years ago, when Newell predicted the open-source, user-generated-content revolution. While that is undeniably true, it’s now at least definitely more viable to play games on Linux, even if it’s generally nowhere near the kinds of performance levels possible on Windows – assuming the titles run on Linux at all, of course.
Days after a nasty public split with cloud gaming developer Improbable, Unity has reinstated the company’s license and updated its own terms of service to offer what it is calling a “commitment to being an open platform.” “When you make a game with Unity, you own the content and you should have the right to put it wherever you want,” Unity wrote in a blog post explaining the move. “Our TOS didn’t reflect this principle—something that is not in line with who we are.” The new terms of service allow Unity developers to integrate any third-party service into their projects, no questions asked. As a caveat, though, Unity will now distinguish between “supported” third-party services—those Unity ensures will “always well on the latest version of our software”—and “unsupported” third-party services, which developers use at their own risk. Negative publicity can definitely work.
Recently I got an internship doing back-end PHP and Python stuff for a website for my university. It’s a really nice job that I find fun and I’m thankful to have. But… at the same time, doing all this high-level web dev stuff has given me a big itch I need to scratch. That itch being the fun of low level bit fiddling. itch.io’s weekly game jam email came in my inbox and it announced the Mini Jam 4. It was a 48 hour (well, a bit more actually) jam where the restriction was to have graphics like a Game Boy. My perfectly logical and sound reaction to this was to make a Game Boy homebrew, because that seemed neat to do. The themes were “seasons” and “flames”. I’n not a programmer, but I can imagine old consoles like the Game Boy are great platforms to use to expand your programming skills.
Nobody - from cleaner to programmer - should be working or should be expected to work these kinds of hours in these kinds of conditions. It's inhumane and should be illegal in any functioning modern society. This is barbaric.
In East Germany, a gamer scene emerged just before the fall of communism. Teenagers met at a computer club to swap and play C64 games. The state watched with interest.
Fascinating - and chilling, of course - story.