First, the card game. It’s called Legends of Runeterra, and is a free-to-play strategy card game, ala Hearthstone. It’ll be out in 2020 on PC and mobile.
Next, the fighting game, which is currently called Project L, and is very early in development.
The shooter is called (for now) Project A, and is described as “a stylish, competitive, character-based tactical shooter for PC”. Unlike a lot of the other stuff shown off today it’s not based on the League of Legends universe. Here’s some early footage:
And finally, the animated series, due next year and called Arcane. It looks pretty good!
After a decade of dominating on PC, League of Legends is finally launching a version of the game on both home consoles and mobile devices.
It’s called League of Legends: Wild Rift, and makes some important changes to the PC version. It’s got a modified version of the map, a new user interface and dual-stick control scheme, with the idea that games can now be finished in 15-20 minutes as opposed to the longer bouts on PC.
Alphas and betas will start rolling out at the end of this year.
Teamfight Tactics, meanwhile, is also coming to phones, as a seperate and standalone app. It’ll feature crossplay with PC players, and will be out in 2020.
Grand strategy masters Paradox today announced a new mobile take on their big space game Stellaris, which has already been taken offline after fans quickly discovered that the title featured art literally stolen from an artist at 343 Studios, the developers of the Halo series.
Here’s the art in question, found within the game (it was quickly available in beta form in some regions):
And here’s the original piece, by 343 artist Kenny Magnusson, which was made during development of Halo 4:
Not only is it blatant theft, it’s even a terrible photoshop! The offending artist has left UNSC logos on the tanks, while the Pelican in the foreground has just been kinda…washed out, even though you can still see the ramp!
It’s here we note that while Paradox—as the creators of the Stellaris IP—are publishing Stellaris: Galaxy Command, they’re not developing it inhouse. Instead, that job went to Hong Kong studio Gamebear, whose previous title Nova Empire…looks a lot like Stellaris: Galaxy Command, even down to the main menu icons.
STELLARIS: GALAXY COMMAND:
It didn’t take long for Paradox to be made aware of all this, with the company issuing a statement saying that the game is being pulled while they perform a “full content sweep”.
A large part of the Game Connect Asia-Pacific conference, held days before PAX Australia as part of Melbourne International Games Week, is developers sharing their wisdom with other developers. Some of that wisdom comes in the form of monetisation strategies, because most Aussie developers are small studios working on mobile platforms or free-to-play titles, and at the end of the day, everyone needs to pay rent.
So there’s often quite a few talks about making money, what strategies work for what games, and at what parts that should factor in the design process. Henry Fong, the CEO from mobile publisher and developer Yodo1, and Featherweight Games co-founder Dylan Bevis, spoke about how free-to-play games needed to consider the monetisation process from the design stage, instead of factoring it in afterwards.
But a key part of the process is understanding the audience of a game — and what they are likely to pay. In the case of Rodeo Stampede, an endless runner which has gotten over 100 million downloads, Fong told the crowd that the highest spending users (or ‘whales’, as they were referred to in the talk) might spend a few hundred. But in the case of Transformers: Earth Wars, another game published by Yodo1, one whale spent around USD$150,000.
I asked Fong to clarify that figure after the GCAP talk, or whether that was just a projection for the mobile game’s highest spenders, and he confirmed that one player “has spent over USD$150,000″.
Given the concern and outrage over microtransactions already, like the player who spent $62,000 on Runescape purchases, it’s hard not to imagine this capturing the attention of regulators. The authors of the recent Entertaiment and Media Outlook told the Australian games industry only last week that regulator attention on loot boxes and microtransactions was likely to intensify.
That’s especially the case once more AI tools become incorporated into the mobile market. Another element of the panel concentrated on the possibilities of automated tools and finding ways to locate the most likely spenders in a game. One tool allowed developers to automate the moderation of communities within mobile games, while the Yodo1 developers created a machine learning neural network that analysed player behaviour and session times to predict what players would become high spenders.
The bot could spot “potential whales” with about 87 percent accuracy, but “we think we can get it up to about 95 percent,” Fong said. The model was trained with around two and a half years of player monetisation data, and Fong explained that it was even technically possible to build in logic that would target different players with different monetisation packages.
But such a model would ultimately backfire. When asked to clarify the capabilities of the tech that, Fong explained it would be a net loss for the studio, since the backlash from players would be disastrous. “We don’t want to create a situation whereby different people pay different prices for the same thing,” he said.
The fact that studios can incorporate that kind of behaviour, however, is usually a good argument for more industry regulation. Fong expected more regulation as video games continues to grow in status, but it was important for developers to work with government along the way. “As gaming becomes a mainstream industry that impacts billions of people, regulation is inevitable and its part of our industry growing up and hitting ‘prime time’,” he said.
“We need to work with the regulators to make sure that they have the full context of the industry and that any regulations work as intended and don’t break a bunch of other things by accident.”
Call Of Duty: Mobile was released worldwide earlier this week for Android and iOS devices. It’s a strange mix of different maps, guns, and mechanics from various Call Of Duty games from the past. It also is developed by a company that is owned by Tencent. So I decided to load up CoD: Mobile on Tencent’s official Android emulator on PC and gave the game a spin with mouse and keyboard.
If you don’t know, back in July, Tencent launched GameLoop which is an official emulator on PC that allows players to download and play a select number of mobile games on their computer using a mouse and keyboard controls. It launched with support for mobile PUBG and has continued to get updated, with new games being added to the service as they launch.
Because Tencent is involved in the development and release of Call Of Duty: Mobile I decided to see if GameLoop would support COD: Mobile. I had played a few matches on my phone and enjoyed it, but it felt like I would have more fun with better controls. (Although the touch controls are surprisingly good, some of the best I’ve come across in a mobile shooter.) So I downloaded GameLoop and discovered that, yes, COD: Mobile does indeed support the emulator.
Playing COD: Mobile on a PC is a very strange experience. Visually it doesn’t look as good as previous games in the franchise. Which makes sense. This was developed for phones. But it looks a lot better than I expected and it ran at 60fps. (Most of the time.) The mix of maps from different games also made the experience of playing COD: Mobile on PC feel strange. Like I was playing some weird combination of multiple Call Of Duty games rebuilt in Unity.
But COD: Mobile played with a mouse feels sooooo much better than with touch controls. That seems obvious, but Tencent has done a great job making it feel great on mouse and keyboard. It doesn’t feel like I’m playing some weird hacked together port of a mobile game. Instead, I often forgot I was playing what is really a free-to-play Android game. Well, that is until it asked me a dozen times to buy credits and battle pass XP. Then it became clear that this was indeed a big, free-to-play shooter.
And to be clear, this is totally allowed. I’m not breaking any rules or cheating. This is an official way to play COD: Mobile on PC. It sometimes feels like cheating, however. You see, a mouse and keyboard are very accurate ways to control a game compared to a small touchscreen. So I would often dominate matches. Yes, the game has a lot of bots in its matches, but even when real players showed up I felt like I was doing much better than I usually do in Call Of Duty.
The biggest advantage the mouse gives me over mobile players is the ability to turn around fast when I hear a gunshot or take damage from behind. Being able to whip around, line up a target and fire in a second makes it hard for mobile players to get the drop on me. I also found I could win long-distance fights better, possibly due to the mouse but also a larger screen with a higher resolution probably helped too.
Another nice thing is that my progress between mobile and PC is shared. So if you are playing or planning on playing COD: Mobile and you have a decent PC, you might want to grab the GameLoop emulator and play with a good mouse and keyboard. You’ll feel like a pro player and you can still play on mobile when you are away from your PC.
Just remember, even though COD: Mobile is better on a PC, it is still filled with tons of microtransactions, loot crates, battle passes, and other annoying monetization options. Some of it feels unfair, like letting players unlock new attachments for guns with real money. And sadly, playing with a mouse won’t get rid of these parts of Call Of Duty: Mobile. They’ll just make it easier to close them when they pop-up.
I knew What The Golf? was brilliant just a few minutes after it began. An early hole was structured such that I could bank a shot off a mound and a get a hole in one, as opposed to sloppily shooting around an obstacle—in this case, some cats chilling out nearby. Setting up this shot made me feel clever. I charged up my meter and sent the ball soaring. It bounced off the mound and into a nearby cluster of explosive barrels, which proceeded to blow up all of the cats. I laughed out loud in surprise. Since then, many What The Golf? levels have made me do that. Laugh out loud in surprise, I mean, not blow up cats, although that’s happened a fair amount, too.
What The Golf?, which is out now on PC and the Apple Arcade, posits two ideas that seem contradictory at first: Regular old golf is boring, but also, with a little bit of ingenuity, anything can (and should) be golf. Moving furniture around? It’s golf. Avoiding traffic? It’s golf. Propelling your own fleshy bone bag of a body through the air? It’s golf. Golf can happen anywhere, at any time, without notice. In an office, in space, in a side-scrolling platformer level complete with parody Super Mario Bros music, except with lyrics that just say “what the golf” over and over again.
All it takes is a simple swing meter—you know, the kind you can aim in a direction and charge by holding a button, like the ones in all the other golf games you have or have not ever played. What The Golf? slaps that little, arrow-shaped sucker on everything under the sun, as well as things above and around the sun, like literal planetary bodies.
It’s a shotgun confetti blast of absurd ideas, where many levels last mere seconds, but they’re guaranteed to get at least a smile out of you, if not a full-blown golferly chortle. What The Golf? never stops escalating, always finding some silly new thing to turn into golf. I had to pause the game when it tossed me into a Flappy Bird clone with golf mechanics; I couldn’t help but put the controller down and physically applaud its willingness to be as hog-bonkers ridiculous as possible with its core conceit.
Another especially inspired level had me load furniture into a moving truck using—what the golf else?—the golf swing meter, at which point I assumed I’d then golf the moving truck to my new destination. Nope. Instead, the truck began to move of its own volition, and I had to follow it by golfing a house, sending it tumbling down a neighborhood street. There are also elegantly simple goofs, like a level where you golf a regular hole into a giant hole in the ground shaped like the number one, thus scoring a “hole in one.” If What The Golf? can’t make you laugh, you might be dead inside. Or a 65-year-old retiree who treats golf with a grave seriousness.
Underlying all these jokes are some surprisingly savvy game design chops. Levels are housed in an experimental golf-laboratory overworld you can explore (as a ball), but it’s mostly an excuse to let you revisit levels at your leisure. That’s when the real fun begins. Every level has two additional challenges that stretch the initially silly gag ideas to their limits. Some challenges involve hitting par—finishing a level in, say, six shots—while others force you to execute nail-biting maneuvers like golfing an easily breakable flower vase into a hole while wind causes it to swerve erratically and nearly shatter against a variety of obstacles.
My favorite challenges, though, are the ones that dial up the absurdity to preposterous meta levels. For example, in one level, the thing I was trying to golf into a hole was the golf meter itself, and the challenge version of that level suddenly switched to a top-down perspective and had me whirl the golf meter around the hole to stave off a tower-defense-like swarm of enemies trying to invade it. The game did not even try to explain why any of this was happening.
What The Golf? is a master of that rare sort of comedy where jokes emerge not from dialogue or situations but from the game mechanics themselves. It nests jokes within each other, first making you laugh at what you’re doing and then laugh even harder when it turns that mechanic on its head. It’s a clever little game that seeks to delight at every turn, and, occasional frustrating levels aside, it succeeds with flying colors—which are, of course, flying because you golfed them into the air.
Pinball Wizard, a new pinball game for Apple Arcade starring an actual wizard, has all the elements of a great subway game: It’s easy to learn, challenging as you keep going, and it doesn’t always need all of your attention.
Pinball Wizard is basically pinball, but with spells. Your wizard is the ball, and you tab the bottom corners of the screen to activate the bumpers and send them flying. By hitting enemies, you damage them, and you can also hit barrels that will give you more health, or coins, which you use to upgrade your skills, or energy, which you need to use your skills. There’s a bunch of passive skills, like ones that reduce the amount of damage you take when you fall off a level. There’s also two offensive skills—a dash attack that allows you to change the direction of your wizard mid-flight, and another than summons an extra ball.
The greatest boon to Pinball Wizard is that the levels go quickly, and there’s only so much you can do to control the wizard careening around them. A lot of the game is hovering your thumbs over the bumpers, waiting for the wizard to come around again. This is punctuated by using your skills, but they deplete your energy. You can’t just spam the dash attack until everything’s dead, and the glidey physics of the game make the ball harder to accurately control. Sometimes when I think I’m aiming my wizard dead at an enemy or an item I need, it’ll hit the wall right next to it and then shoot off in a random direction.
The ultimate lack of control makes this perfect for the subway. I can still have an ear out for when I’m hitting my stop because I don’t need to be fully engaged all the time. Still, when I pull off a tricky move or bump into some torches and trigger a secret in the level, the game has my full attention. It’s a pleasant ebb and flow for my admittedly short attention span.
What I especially like about Pinball Wizard is what the game does when I lock my phone. When I do reach my stop on the subway, getting off the train before the doors close on me really should have my full attention. Often I only have enough time to lock my phone and shove it in my pocket before disembarking. When I reopen Pinball Wizard, the game is already paused, with my wizard frozen in place until I need to kill another 20 minutes underground.
I was not aware that game developers were legally permitted to make action on mobile games that’s as good as the fighting in Bleak Sword. When it comes to games, touchscreen controls are a thing that we just kind of deal with in the hopes that someone comes up with an ingenious use for them, like with The Room series of games. Barring that, most just settle for fine—rare is the truly bad touchscreen control scheme these days, but few are exceptional. This is doubly true for precise, intense action games—touchscreens are just not the best input medium.
At least that’s what I used to think before Bleak Sword, an Apple Arcade game so good I’m furious I have waited so long to upgrade my old-ass iPhone, with its battery that lasts maybe three hours if I ask nicely. Developed by Spanish developer Luis Moreno Jimenez, also known as more8bit, with music by Jim Guthrie and sound design by Joonas Turner, Bleak Sword is a black-and-white (and a little red) action game that casts you as a little pixelated warrior in small isometric arena, assaulted by all manner of horrible monsters. Defeat them all, and you move on to the next level, earning experience, leveling up, and finding items to give you stat boosts. Lose, and you drop your items, lose any experience that hasn’t already been applied to your next level-up, with one chance to try again and win it back.
It’s got a killer pixel-art style, with an aesthetic that seems in step with Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, only more grotesque and in monochrome. But again, what really elevates Bleak Sword are its tight, impressive controls. There are two schemes, a two-handed one and a one-handed one, both in portrait orientation. In the former, tapping the left side of the screen is devoted to attacking—you tap it to parry, or touch and release to swing your sword. A brief touch is a light attack, and a longer touch charges a heavy attack. On the right side, you swipe in any direction to roll and dodge.
In the one-handed control scheme, all of this is done regardless of what part of the screen you touch; you just have to make sure you’re making the right gesture. So you swipe to roll in one direction, tap to parry, and make short or long touches to make your desired attack. This is my preferred control scheme, not just for convenience, but because it makes Bleak Sword’s combat feel more rhythmic, like a dangerous dance with a zombie that also wants to eat you.
This, combined with stamina the game’s stamina meter, works to means every foe has to be taken seriously and the space of each stage navigated mindfully. And those stages are much more varied than their simple looks might make you think: Maybe you’ll find yourself staring down skeleton soldiers on a bridge, or dueling through a swamp full of tentacles that spring up out of nowhere. Dealing with map hazards as well as foes with their own attack patterns helps Bleak Sword keep things fresh, even though it’s got combat so rock-solid it could probably sustain less variety with no complaints from me.
And boss battles? They’re real good.
I’m very sorry, but I’m going to compare Bleak Sword to Dark Souls—but only because Bleak Sword truly seems to be aiming for an experience best described as Dark Souls: Mobile. It’s got the fraught risk and reward of that game’s combat, but in bite-sized combat dioramas. It’s also incredibly responsive in a way that’s actually too fluid for the Dark Souls comparison, but necessary for imprecise nature of touchscreen controls. It’s extremely good, and I can’t get enough of it, at least until my battery dies. It’s probably time for me to get a new phone.
Mario Kart Tour is available today on iOS and Android, bringing some portable kart action to phones and other devices. If you want to enjoy tough races with a faster pace, though, it turns out you’ll need to shell out some money.
Mario Kart games have always had different racing tiers. This usually means starting with the slower 50cc races before moving up to higher-speed races. In Mario Kart Tour, the 200cc tier is actually locked behind a subscription service that costs $4.99 a month. The 50, 100, and 150cc tiers are unlocked from the start. Nintendo outlined the program in a press release this morning:
Players can sign up for a free two-week trial subscription to the Mario Kart Tour Gold Pass by tapping the Gold Pass purchase button in-game. With the Mario Kart Tour Gold Pass subscription, players can unlock the extra-fast 200cc mode, obtain additional in-game rewards from racing and gain access to bonus goals exclusive to Gold Pass holders. Once the two-week free trial period ends, it will convert to a monthly subscription for $4.99/month, unless canceled.
A free trial is nice, but asking for a subscription to unlock additional game modes might be ambitious. Mario Kart Touralready has microtransactions that allow players to buy an in-game currency to spend on randomly acquired things like different drivers and kart parts. Nintendo’s mobile games have been hit or miss, with successes like Fire Emblem Heroes and stumbles like Dr. Mario World. It’s not surprising to see experiments in monetization, but it’s also hard to imagine anyone but the most hardcore players paying a monthly fee for speedier races.
Nintendo’s latest free-to-play mobile game, Mario Kart Tour, launches tomorrow on iOS and Android. Every two weeks the nickley, dimey racer will test players in tours, special races inspired by real-world locations. The first destination is New York, New York, where players can earn Musician Mario and Super Mario Odyssey Pauline as playable racers.
New York City, huh? Kind of the obvious place to kick off a world tour, but the course looks nice and the racers even nicer. Mario is decked out in a jazzy sort of suit.
While Pauline should probably be wearing a helmet or something.
The New York announcement comes courtesy of the first installment of the official Mario Kart Tour News. It’s hosted by Lakitu. You know, the jerk who drops stuff on your head in proper Mario games. This Lakitu is particularly charming, but he doesn’t fool me.