Tag Archives: gdc 2019

Insomniac Reveals One Of The Camera Tricks That Makes Spider-Man’s World Feel So Big

Screenshot: Kotaku (Spider-Man)

Last year’s Spider-Man on PS4 offers one of the most sprawling recreations of Manhattan ever realized in a video game. Not only is the city huge, but so are some of the interiors of the buildings that you get to explore. The studio recently shared one of the camera tricks that helped the team to cleverly transition between the two.

Yesterday evening Elan Ruskin, senior engine programmer at Insomniac, shared a clip of what’s happening in the game at the start of the very first mission. When Spider-Man gets to a checkpoint outside Fisk Tower, a short scene starts up in which NYPD Captain Yuri Watanabe fills Spidey in on what’s going on. Normally, players can only see what’s immediately going on in front of Fisk Tower, but Ruskin captured footage of what’s happening in the rest of the game’s world during those moments. Turns out that, in the unseen background, the rest of Manhattan depopulates while the interior of Fisk Tower begins loading.

During the approximately 30 seconds between when players finish web-slinging to the mission point and when they actually get inside Fisk Tower, the game’s resources go from supporting a big open world to detailing the elaborate halls and air duct paths of the Fisk building. In order to hide what’s going on from players, though, Insomniac keeps the in-game camera focused firmly on the front of the building, with backgrounds behind characters pushed out of focus.

“The interior space is much larger than the exterior envelope, and too big to hold in memory at the same time as Manhattan,” Ruskin wrote. “So we use some careful camerawork to hide the swap!”

Lots graphically intensive games, including Spider-Man, sometimes deploy bespoke but drawn-out animations to slow things down and help mask the load times that are going on in the background. This Fisk tower example shows how gracefully that job can be done, so much so that you probably won’t even notice what the developers have done. Instead, the scene just feels extra cinematic and impactful as the camera tracks Spider-Man webbing his way into one of the upper floors to take down the bad guys.

If recent remarks by PlayStation’s Mark Cerny are to be believed, tricks like this might not even be necessary in the next hardware generation. In a behind-closed-doors demo for Wired, Cerny showed Spider-Man running on an ostensible PS5 with solid state drive technology that appeared to reduce load times to the point where it was possible to fast travel in less than a second and speed across the map at roughly the speed of a fighter jet. 

Source: Kotaku.com

Far Cry 4 Director’s New Game Is About Exploration And Commercialism

Journey to the Savage Planet was a bit of a surprise when it was announced at the most recent Game Awards. The development studio, Typhoon Studios, comprises several Assassin’s Creed alumni, and the wacky science-fiction antics in the trailer were a far cry from those games. It was hard to grasp exactly what the game was. Last week, I saw a demonstration helmed by Typhoon Studios creative director Alex Hutchinson. The game captured a sense of classic pulp adventure and mixed that with some anti-capitalist satire, offering a colorful world I’m cautiously curious to explore.

Players take the role of a corporate explorer working for Kindred Aerospace. The goal is to document discoveries on a distant uncharted world while gathering materials to craft Kindred’s patented products. There’s a tongue-in-cheek conflict of genuine awe and cartoonish corporatism as you move through zones and try to uncover hidden ruins. The players land on a planet they were told was a wasteland; instead, it’s packed with life and signs of civilization, including a massive tower in the center of the map.

Hutchinson encountered a variety of locations and wildlife as he explored. The world shifted from icy tundras to lava-packed caves to verdant forests. He passed by strange one-eyed space chickens that would duplicate if attacked, and he slinked away from growling wolf-like beasts. Everything could be analyzed with a Metroid Prime-esque scanner.

Upon reaching a dead end, Hutchinson returned to his junky spacepod-turned-home-base and crafted a grappling hook to proceed to new areas. The Metroid influence was even more clear. This was less a No Man’s Sky-style open world and more of a lighthearted, free-form dungeon crawl with dozens of paths and potential secrets.

“We used to say that hidden content is wasted content,” Hutchinson said. “But I think more and more, we’re going to hide as much content as possible. We want people to turn over every rock they find and dive into every nook and cranny.”

While Journey to the Savage Planet’s title might sound like old-school ’50s pulp, the term savage has a historic use as a slur against native peoples. It evokes images of colonialism and conquest. Hutchinson seemed at least mindful of this tension when I broached the subject.

“One of the early themes I liked was this idea that you arrive on a pristine world and slowly ruin it,” he said, showing off the player’s highly polluting jumpack. I told him that I sometimes felt bad exploring planets in No Man’s Sky.

“That’s what I thought,” Hutchinson agreed. “It’s like you’re ruining it, leave it alone!”

The tension between the colorful world and the impending corporatism was prominent. It’s impossible for players to hide from Kindred Aerospace’s commercialism as they play the role of explorer, scientist, botanist. Kindred’s space initiative was literally called the Pioneer Program, and their greed was highlighted throughout the demonstration. It seemed that some of Ubisoft’s canceled game Pioneer had lived on with Hutchinson after he left the company. Pioneer was originally conceived of in 2013 as a non-violent space exploration game but the project fell through. Ubisoft canceled it this January.

Returning to his home base, Hutchinson was assailed by habitat television infomercials commercials where a chipper announcer rattled through Aerospace products, all of which were the same kind of Nickelodeon-quality grey goo. It’s entirely possible to leave much of the wildlife alone, but company assignments meant to encourage experimentation were a mixture of ridiculous and cruel, such as kicking small critters into lava.

It felt like I was watching a sillier, anti-capitalist Metroid Prime. I’m into that. It was only after I’d left the session that I realized I forgot to ask the primary question on my mind. I emailed the Typhoon team to ask: Had the team considered the implications of using the word savage? I received a reply the following day.

“We created Journey to the Savage Planet with the goal of crafting an optimistic and aspirational adventure reminiscent of the Golden Age of science-fiction for everyone to enjoy,” a statement attributed to the team said. “Our use of the word ‘savage’ is an adjective to describe this vibrant, mysterious and comedic world and is not, in any way, used as a noun directed at a group of individuals or creatures in our game. We hope players will enjoy this upbeat space adventure when we launch early next year and look forward to continuing on our path to create positive and inclusive gaming experiences for all players.”

Journey to the Savage Planet stayed on my mind beyond the demonstration. I’m still processing my feelings about the game’s themes and implications, but its bright silliness and emphasis on hidden secrets were exciting. There’s a fun game here, with a cheeky anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist streak. Players eager for a riff on 3D Metroid will get something to sink their teeth into when Journey to the Savage Planet releases in 2020.

Source: Kotaku.com

Control Is As Weird As Alan Wake, But Much More Open

In some ways, development studio Remedy’s upcoming action game Control has slid under the radar. After an announcement at last year’s E3, Control quietly simmered in the background of upcoming game releases. I played some of the game last week at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco. It was an intriguing mixture of exciting combat and Metroid-esque exploration. It’s looser and more freeform than other Remedy games, something that excites the game’s director Mikael Kasurinen but also leaves him feeling more nervous than ever.

Remedy is known for linear action games with quirky stories. They’re the studio that created Max Payne and the strange horror vibes of Alan Wake. Control taps into that pedigree but changes the formula. Gone are corridors of baddies and highly choreographed encounters. Remedy wants Control to be unpredictable. Players are free to get lost in its world and encouraged to experiment with combat systems.

Control tells the story of Jesse Faden. Appointed as the new head of the Federal Bureau of Control, Jesse’s tenure becomes complicated when a supernatural force wreaks havoc at the bureau’s headquarters. A strange force called the Hiss is tearing down the barriers between dimensions and hijacking people’s minds. It’s up to Jesse to solve the problem, a task that will involve using supernatural abilities like leaping back and forth between reality and the Astral Plane, a parallel dimension.

“I am a bit nervous when it comes to this game,” Kasurinen said. “I think we’re jumping into being strange again compared to Quantum Break, where we were trying to appeal to everybody.” Remedy’s previous title was released in 2016 and published by Microsoft. The reception was mixed.

Control is meant to be a different kind of game for Remedy, an experiment in world design and narrative. A development team member demonstrated the game, guiding Jesse through the Oldest House, the Federal Bureau of Control’s headquarters. A massive brutalist monument, its halls were mostly composed of stark concrete and hard edges. Offices were adorned with technology that looked 50 years too old. Imagine Half-Life if it were set in some old Boston skyscraper. Jesse looked decidedly like an outsider, a young woman in halls clearly built by stodgy old men more interested in their mad science and theories than what might happen if they flipped a switch and opened a tear in reality. The main stairwell was massive, and as Jesse was guided up, she was beset by possessed Bureau members who rushed around with supernatural jerkiness.

Thankfully, Jesse had a handful of tools to deal with anyone possessed by the Hiss. The first was her service pistol, a strange obsidian gun facsimile that transforms into various configurations. The default was a rapid-fire burst that needled enemies to death, but a button press could change it into a supercharged hand cannon that penetrated concrete barriers and ripped through bodies. It paired nicely with Jesse’s other tools: supernatural powers. Jesse could levitate through the air, use telekinesis to hurl chunks of concrete at foes or stop projectiles in their tracks, and even dominate the minds of weaker enemies to make them fight for her.

Seeing it in action was hectic, but when I was later allowed free time to play around, I found the combat incredibly easy to understand. There was a sense that when you leaped into the air, the world still made some type of sense in spite of all the otherworldly magic. If someone fired a rocket at me, I casually snatched it out of the air. If enemies were hiding behind barriers, I levitated to the right position to fire a charged pistol burst. Was that strange Hiss orb buffing enemies? Oh, well that just meant I needed to turn its allegiance and make it buff my health pool instead.

“It’s important to us that we retain a sense of believability,” Kasurinen said. “Things still need to feel heavy and weighty. You should feel it in your gut when it hits an enemy. That’s important not just for Control but for all Remedy games.”

Where Remedy wants to set Control apart from other Remedy games is the approach to world exploration. Kasurinen was quick to mention games like Metroid and Dark Souls when discussing the Oldest House. The aim is to have it be a continuous world that players can explore, finding hidden secrets and using new abilities to overcome previously impassable obstacles. This could mean getting lost in a mirror maze in an abandoned research wing or leaping into the Astral Realm to traverse a distance before popping out somewhere else in the real world. Control has a main story, but the world is full of sidequests and secrets to encourage exploration.

“One of the core philosophies was no hand holding,” Kasurinen said. “No quest markers. We want players to take information and internalize it. You have to look at the world, the signs. You need to perceive the things around you.”

It’s a risk, but that’s the point. If Remedy wanted to embrace mystery and to stress exploration in Control, it meant accepting that players might get lost or miss exciting secrets. It means giving up control. In a slide presentation, Kasurinen used the word “layered” to describe the world design. It was a core pillar for the game’s direction, as was the notion of control itself. To keep things fresh as players explore, many of Control’s encounters are randomized. Kasurinen doesn’t always know what will happen next, and he’s the game’s director. Allowing for the possibility of chaos by moving away from a linear format gives Remedy space to explore gameplay in a different way from their norm.

“I want to be surprised,” Kasurinen said. I want to see things I don’t expect. People might break the game even, but we shouldn’t play it safe. People should be able to experiment. Making it unpredictable is what makes it fun and we need to accept that and let it go.”

What I’ve seen so far has left me intrigued. Mixing Metroidvania sensibilities with frantic combat made for a fun time. Will I curse under my breath while I’m lost in a mirror maze, or maybe get worn out on brutalist concrete slabs? It’s possible, but I’m genuinely curious to see how Control shapes up. If anything else, Remedy’s quirkiness shines through in what little I saw. We’ll know if the experiment was a success or not when Control releases on Aug. 27.

Source: Kotaku.com

The People Behind The System Shock Remake Are Ready To Try Again

The production on Nightdive Studios’ remake of the PC classic System Shock hasn’t exactly been smooth. Kickstarted back in 2016, the project went on a “hiatus” after the studio decided it needed to reassess where everything was going. I looked at the latest version at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week, and while I’m somewhat unsure of the game itself, I found myself enraptured by the story of how it came to be.

When you head to a game presentation at something like GDC, it often means something fancy. It’s a hustle, a magic trick meant to dazzle the press. In some cases, you’re heading to a spacious meeting room replete with swag, big TVs showing builds of the latest games, and designers doing Powerpoint presentations. That wasn’t the case with System Shock. After I met Nightdive Studios’ director of business development Larry Kuperman in a hotel lobby, I was brought to a modest room where the game’s development team had hooked up their laptop to a nearby TV to show a video walkthrough of the game. That is a good story for understanding Nightdive and their System Shock remake. There’re scrappy, which is both endearing and worrisome.

The original System Shock released in 1994. Set aboard Citadel Station, a massive space station orbiting Saturn, players needed to navigate a twisting maze of corridors and interconnected levels while surviving the machinations of the twisted AI SHODAN. It was a game that helped birth a whole new genre—now called immersive sims—and redefined exploration in games. The notion of exploring one continuous space hadn’t been done with quite as much fidelity. It left a lasting impression on fans, some of whom were among the over 21,000 backers who raised over $1.3 million dollars for Nightdive’s remake. In the video demonstration much of what I saw felt in line with a demo the studio released in 2016. The difference was in the details. Citadel Station’s interior seems harsher, with blocky interior-design and dangerous mutants lurking in the shadows between neon-lit rooms. It was bloodier too, enemies and corpses glistening with viscera and slick, fresh rot. It felt like System Shock, which is to say that it was both moody and confusing.

When I got hands on time after the presentation, I found myself winding through hallways, getting lost in the ambiance of a hydroponics garden and smashing monsters’ heads with a lead pipe. One wrong turn took me into a toxic storage facility that I quickly left. A harsh fight left me with little health and no med-kits. Instead, I bobbed and weaved to land attacks on enemies and even snuck around some while I explored. The core experiences of System Shock—exploration, adventure—were intact. It was a familiar game to me, as someone who played the original. Smoother, perhaps, but this remake is certainly not breaking too far from the mold for good or ill.

The philosophy for the remake is this, according to Kuperman: “Not the way it actually was, but the way that you remember it being. Nightdive has made a habit of re-releasing older games. Kuperman used their recent PC port of 1997’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter to expand on his comment. That game had copious fog that made it harder to see and affect performance. Rather than remove the fog for the port, Nightdive merely reduced it.

That seems to be the prevailing ethos for Nightdive. The System Shock remake doesn’t seem set to reimagine or remix the original game. For some, that might make it unremarkable. It feels old-school, which seems to appeal to backers and fans. But that also means a slower pace and combat that, while tense, never quite has a lot of impact. Hitting an enemy or blasting them with a laser doesn’t particularly feel great. The mood is there, the exploration enjoyable, but the actual playing sometimes felt detached and sluggish. For some, that won’t matter. For other players, it’s tempting to look at the remake and shrug. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

Following the project’s hiatus, the team also tried to be more transparent with backers. From long live-streams where designers blocked out Citadel Station piece by piece, to conversations in Discord, Nightdive’s major reinvention has been to build their game while reacting to feedback on the fly.

“There’s definitely some pressure, and a lot of it has been alleviated through transparency with our community,” Nightdive CEO Stephen Kick said. “We give them the platform to express their disdain or love. A lot of what you see is a direct result of what’s worked for them and for us.”

To call a project a “labor of love” is cliché but it feels fitting for the System Shock remake. That became particularly clear once I asked Kick how the project even came about. How did Nightdive end up with one of the most well know properties in gaming? It happened after Kick left Sony Online Entertainment in the mid-2000s, where he was working as a character artist. He was burning out. As he tells it, he and his girlfriend hopped in his Honda Civic and drove all the way through Mexico and Central America and down to the Panama Canal. Kick had a laptop of old games including System Shock 2. He went to GOG to find the original but was surprised to see that they didn’t have it. Extensive internet sleuthing led him to locate the people who owned that intellectual property: a Midwest insurance firm that had acquired it after Irrational Games closed in 2009. When Kick contacted them, the firm expressed interest in the idea of a System Shock 3. Kick instead first secured distribution rights to help re-release the original games on GOG. After sales were strong, Kick eventually secured the entire IP.

“It made me realize there was a market for finding lost games, untangling legal rights, and releasing them. This project is an evolution of that.”

System Shock 3 is in the works and will be developed by OtherSide Entertainment. In the meantime, Nightdive continues their work on the System Shock remake. What I saw contained flashes of the original game but also felt a lot like what I’d played years ago before I was even working for Kotaku full time. It seems like there’s a lot of work left and I walked away from my demonstration a bit apprehensive. Will players respond to the classic experience? Or will the edges remain too rough? We won’t know until 2020.

Source: Kotaku.com

Blizzard Says Overwatch Toxicity Is Down 40 Percent

Not so long ago, Overwatch was a poster child for toxicity run rampant in competitive multiplayer games. People regularly trolled and spewed vitriol while a barebones report system did little to stem the tide. Oh, what a difference a couple years (and a smartly implemented endorsement system) makes.

Overwatch, like pretty much all competitive games, still has its fair share of toxicity—or as Blizzard calls it, “disruptive behavior”—but during a talk at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Blizzard research developer Natasha Miller said it’s down a whopping 40 percent since last year’s addition of two new social features. First, there’s the endorsement system, which lets players reward each other for communicating effectively, playing respectfully, and calling shots. Then there’s Looking For Group, which lets players hunt for others of certain endorsement ranks, hero roles, or communication styles.

While the benefits of Looking For Group are pretty self-explanatory, there’s a bit more going on under the hood of endorsements. Miller explained that they address a central (and often misidentified) problem with online games and the internet at large: a lack of consistent social norms.

“It’s a difference between physical and online communities,” Miller said (via Variety). “If you’re constantly tardy and you only do the bare minimum at work, you’re not going to get promoted. You have to watch someone else who does the work get the raise… In online communities, there are usually no consequences for bad behavior and no rewards for star players. We wanted the community to have their own reward system.”

One of the core goals of the system, Miller noted, was to give players a chance to bounce back even after being penalized. If you’re a jerk or a bad teammate, people will stop endorsing you, and your endorsement level will fall. That means you might miss out on rewards like loot boxes, and you won’t be able to group up with some players in Looking For Group. It’s natural for players to want to earn levels back—and thus, hopefully, to behave better in order to accomplish that.

“The system makes people nicer,” Miller said. Since endorsements launched, there have been questions about whether it’s real niceness or fake niceness born of a desire to win and watch numbers go up. But either option is better than everyone being nakedly toxic swamp people, if you ask me.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Creators Of Into The Breach Came Very Close To Giving Up On It

The strategy game Into The Breach is elegant in its simplicity, but that’s because its designers had to scrap several huge sections of the game that just didn’t work. Matthew Davis and Justin Ma, the minds behind FTL and Into The Breach, came on Kotaku Splitscreen during GDC 2019 to tell Jason and me how many times they almost gave up on making their game.

In the second half of the episode, we interviewed indie visual novel creator Christine Love (Analogue: A Hate Story, Ladykiller In A Bind) about her decision to make her next game a party-based role-playing game. Get In The Car, Loser! will still have plenty of conversation trees, but it’ll also have actual combat, which is a whole new can of worms.

Listen here:

Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below:

Justin Ma: It was literally years of just banging our head against the wall, trying to get something to work and be fun. I hope our next project won’t be that, because it’s a little hard after maybe three or four times throwing out six months of work to still feel like, “There’s something good here.” I’m the more optimistic one of the pair of us, and—

Matthew Davis: You nearly always think, “There’s something here.” And I’m like, “No, it’s terrible.” And we’re back to scratching it all out.

Justin: I think if we’d had to do that one more time, I would’ve been close to giving up.

Matthew: We were very close to giving up on the game.

Jason: Really? So what was the roadblock? Or was there a “eureka” moment where suddenly it all clicked? Or was it the opposite where it was just like, you were trying to climb this mountain?

Matthew: It’s hard to narrow down to one exact thing.

Justin: If we’re hyper-simplifying, we figured out combat that seemed like there was something interesting. And then we spent forever trying to make a meta-game around that. Is it XCOM? Is it other types of tactic games?

Jason: What was the combat part you figured out?

Justin: So combat is just literally fighting in the grid.

Matthew: What you actually think of when you think Into The Breach. And then you have the island map that has where you select missions and you upgrade your mechs. We had five different iterations on it. Completely different iterations.

Justin: We had city-building. We had multiple squads. All that sort of junk. The closest thing to our eureka moment was just literally, “This part of the game works. This part of the game doesn’t work. Cut all that, and just focus on the part that does work.”

Jason: Which parts didn’t work?

Justin: Everything besides the combat. So maybe 60 percent of the game, we just dropped it all and say, “Okay, it’s just a bunch of missions in a row. Screw it.” We know that the actual combat, which is the entirety of the game as it has released, that was 30 percent of what we were hoping.

Matthew: We were hoping for that more XCOM experience where you have lots of missions popping up with times and alerts, and your people get hurt, and you have to devote resources and time to fixing them or healing them.

Justin: Repairing the city.

Matthew: We had huge research trees, repairing the cities.

Justin: We had the FTL text events where your equipment and your mechs would change the options.

Jason: And what wasn’t working about that stuff?

Justin: All of it. It was just terrible.

Jason: So you’re just playing it and it’s not fun? How do you even know, “It’s not fun because this isn’t working”?

Justin: That’s the challenge.

Matthew: There is an element of just an intuition that this doesn’t feel right.

Justin: Matt would be largely the gut check person. You were coding the whole thing, and so I would be in the trenches of trying to iterate and iterate on micro-design, and then Matt would have a chance to boot it up to play and be like, “This is all terrible.” And we were like, okay. Back to the drawing board. Scrap all of that. Let’s see what we can do.

For more, listen to the entire episode. As always, you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play to get every episode as it happens. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at [email protected] with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.

Source: Kotaku.com

No, Cuphead On Switch Won’t Be Any Easier

Cuphead for Nintendo Switch.
Screenshot: StudioMDHR

The retro-themed, hand-animated indie darling Cuphead is headed to Switch on April 18, and its developer is excited for a whole new group of players to try it, and maybe even play some impromptu two-player at a rooftop party with single Joy-Cons. But the studio isn’t about to make the notoriously difficult action game any easier.

“Some people wondered if we were going to tweak the balance or really adjust things, and I don’t see that as being fair,” Cuphead co-director Jared Moldenhauer told Kotaku at a Nintendo indie games event at Game Developers Conference this week. “We wanted to let the next wave of gamers experience it exactly how we intended to make it.”

With an aesthetic directly inspired by vintage Max Fleischer cartoons and gameplay pulled straight from 8-bit run-and-gun shooters, Cuphead wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. Formerly an Xbox and PC exclusive, it will soon be available to players on Nintendo’s hybrid console. The Switch version will even get Xbox Live features added in later, in a further illustration of the buddy-buddy relationship that seems to be blossoming between the two Seattle console makers.

“There’s something beautiful happening on the scene, where you see more partnerships between the giants,” Moldenhauer said. It was Microsoft that approached Cuphead’s developer, StudioMHDR, with the idea of porting to Nintendo’s platform. “When it came up that they wanted to get more viewership on indie games, and they wanted to have more gamers capable of playing these games, they said, would you like to jump on the opportunity of going on Switch?”

Cuphead for Nintendo Switch.
Screenshot: StudioMDHR

“I’d be a crazy person if I didn’t say yes,” Moldenhauer said. “Any child who grew up in the era of the Sega-Nintendo wars, those two are the legendary gods of gaming. So since there’s only one left in the consoles, it’s like, how do we get on that? How do we validate our young selves? What would make little Jerry the most excited in the future?”

Moldenhauer is excited for the possibilities for Cuphead on Switch. Since all versions of the game only have local multiplayer, the Switch’s dual Joy-Cons mean new ways for folks to play together. “We can finally get what our vision is, which is friends and family playing together,” he said.

But even though a release on Switch will likely mean more younger or less experienced players being able to try Cuphead, the game won’t be getting any sort of difficulty or balance tweaks, or extra modes, for its Switch debut. As Moldenhauer pointed out during our chat, the game already has an Easy mode, but it’s an abbreviated experience—you don’t get to play every phase of the boss fights, and you can’t play the final stages at all. That decision was made because the studio wasn’t happy with how the game would have played otherwise, he said.

“Some patterns and some things became too complicated that you couldn’t tone down the variables to make that playable” in an Easy mode, he said. “Essentially, you would be playing nothing… or, there was no joy in it. We tried to reduce it down to what could be easier, yet still a challenge.”

“The end result, where people are a little upset that you can’t beat the game is,” he said, “an homage to the era, that there were just a ton of our favorite games as kids where you’d beat the game on Easy… and it would just be like, ‘now try it on Normal.’ Another aspect to that is, once you’ve built that skill set, going back and seeing more and putting your skills to use, I never had a problem as a kid.”

Source: Kotaku.com

Unions Stole The Show At Last Night’s GDC Awards

“I’m not anti-union, but I don’t really think we need them, right?” said Double Fine head Tim Schafer while hosting yesterday evening’s Game Developers Choice Awards in San Francisco. “We’re all great here and in this show. No one here is union and…” Then the stage lights went out.

“Oh, right,” said Schafer after the lights went out. “Except for the lighting crew. I forgot they’re all union.”

Then the show producers gave him a tiny, nearly inaudible chipmunk voice and changed the teleprompter so it just read, “UNION!” repeatedly, except in one place where it conspicuously said “ONION!”

“I hear you,” said Schafer after the shenanigans concluded. “This is a union show. We’re better for it.”

It was all a staged bit, of course, but one that illustrates that the calls for game developers to unionize are getting louder, and reaching the eyes and ears of its biggest names. The gaming industry’s most visible pro-union organization, Game Workers Unite, is out in force at this year’s GDC, handing out zines and even running multiple conference sessions. With the inescapable shadow of layoffs looming heavier than ever and crunch culture chewing up developers and spitting them out, more and more developers have embraced the idea of unionization. After just one year, GWU has chapters in cities across the world. That said, no triple-A video game companies have unionized yet.

The lights-out bit was neither the first nor the last reference to unionization At the end of the show, after the developers of God of War had taken the stage to accept the award for game of the year, Schafer returned to the stage, his suit covered over with a T-shirt baseball cap emblazoned with the logo of the union whose workers were putting on the GDC Awards show, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 16. In his closing remarks, he also thanked Local 16 by name.

Earlier in the night, Independent Games Festival awards host and narrative designer Meg Jayanth, sporting a pin that read “UNION NOW,” made a more straightforward appeal in favor of unionization.

“It is time, more than time, we as an industry left behind the idea that our work is made better by our pain—that the price of passion is exploitation, that job security and pension plans and workplaces free of harassment are impossible dreams,” she said. “We have to demand them collectively. Not just for ourselves, but for each other as well.”

Other developers also used their time on stage to quietly show support for the idea of unionization. At the end of the IGF show, the Seamus McNally Grand Prize was presented by Night in the Woods developers Alec Holowka and Scott Benson, the latter of whom wore a “UNION NOW” pin and recently founded a worker-owned cooperative alongside fellow designer Bethany Hockenberry to produce their next game.

Reactions to these pro-union sentiments were largely positive, though some questioned the validity of Schafer’s skit in particular, given that he’s the head of a non-unionized studio. Many also pointed out the irony of Rockstar taking home the “best technology” award that night, sans any mention of the sometimes-grueling work culture that made the company a poster child for problematic crunch last year.

Earlier today, video game union organizers Game Workers Unite offered to lend Schafer a hand.

“So,” GWU said on Twitter, “does this mean you’d support a Double Fine employees union or transitioning into a worker cooperative? We’d love to help.”

Source: Kotaku.com

Divinity Original Sin 2 had a disastrous production, according to director Swen Vincke, who said in

Divinity Original Sin 2 had a disastrous production, according to director Swen Vincke, who said in a postmortem panel at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco that they didn’t finish the writing until months before the game came out. They even changed a chunk of Sebille’s origin story one week before launch. Yet it’s still, somehow, one of the best RPGs ever made.

Source: Kotaku.com

Steam Libraries Are Getting An Overhaul 

SteamedSteamed is dedicated to all things in and around Valve’s PC gaming service.  

This week at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Valve announced a series of changes coming soon to Steam. Foremost among them are an overhauled game library and an event system that can be used by developers to keep players clued in about what’s happening in games they own.

During a press pre-briefing on Tuesday, Alden Kroll from Valve described the library changes as a “complete redesign.” Users’ Steam libraries will soon have their own home page, not unlike the Steam store’s front page. That’s pictured above.

The Steam library home page will have a carousel dedicated to game updates and events, to keep players clued in about what’s going on in their games. There will also be a widget dedicated to friend activity, allowing you to see what your pals (and/or lifelong nemeses) are up to in individual games. From there, you’ll be able to matchmake into games with them, if you want.

Individual game pages in the Steam library are also getting re-tooled, again with a focus on providing players with information about updates, events, and friends. There’ll be a feed for events and updates, as well as one for friends’ screenshots, achievements, reviews, and things of the like. Here’s how that’ll look:

Players will also soon be able to sort their games using the same tag system that the Steam store currently employs. Any games that fit the criteria for a specific collection—Kroll used open-world role-playing games as an example—will automatically be added to that collection, taking some of the hassle out of keeping your colossal game collection from bursting out of your figurative closet.

The other big change coming to Steam in the near future is a robust event system designed, said Kroll, to improve Steam’s functionality in this era of “live service games.” Developers will be able to announce an event—say, a tournament, a major update, or a livestream of a big esports match—and players will be able to receive notifications via the method of their choosing. Players will also be able to set reminders about the events that can reach them by way of email, text message, phone notification, Google Calendar, or other options.

This will all be bound together by an events home page that will be different for every user based on which games they have in their library. The page will have sections for recommended upcoming events, as well as “major” and “minor” ones, as shown below.

Valve will provide developers with improved traffic measuring tools so they can see how many people are actually turning up for events—hopefully giving them a less fraught avenue toward keeping their player bases healthy and growing over time. I could see this being especially useful for smaller multiplayer games that wow people out of the gate with a clever idea, but quickly get lost in Steam’s endless churn of clockwork-engineered consumerism and lose large chunks of their player bases.

There’s no exact release date for these features yet, but Kroll said they’re in closed beta right now and will enter open beta “in the next couple of months.”

Source: Kotaku.com