Volt’s Treatment of Quality Assurance Teams is Still Miserable

Jason Schreier spoke with 11 people who worked at Treyarch about the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 development cycle:

They described a company in which contractors, and particularly testers, feel like they’re perceived and treated as inferior. Throughout Black Ops 4’s rocky development, testers said they worked under unfair conditions—a theme that’s common in the video game industry, but one that remains worth scrutinizing. Those who spoke to us for this story said they did so because they hope that public pressure will lead the studio to change.

This whole article reminded me of my time at Microsoft, working on the original Xbox as a QA contractor for Volt/VMC over a decade ago.

I’ve told this story many times on the various sites I’ve run, but the short version is that while working at Microsoft my coworkers I enjoyed the work itself, we were paid incredibly poorly and were treated like completely disposable workers.

Microsoft’s management strategy at the time was to berate and yell at our group if anything happened that could possibly have been our fault. During the development of Halo 2 my group was yelled at for leaking information on some weapon in the game. As far as I know, nobody on my team had done that and the Microsoft manager who yelled at us had no information that lead them to think we were to blame. They just wanted to yell at somebody, and a group of contractors testing their games was the easiest target.

Of course, when something was not right for our team, the issues were given the lowest priority. For example, our time sheets were edited to change our hours and undercut our pay, I complained to my manager at Volt, but nothing was done so I had to scrutinize my pay check and double-check my time sheet to make sure it had not been edited on the shared file server we used.

The final straw for me was when I started a new contract at the Microsoft Game Studios building and we were berated by our new manager because a previous group of testers had apparently sometimes taken “too long” in the restroom. We were told that “too long” was any longer than five minutes. If we were in the restroom for more than five minutes we would be fired. The lines at the rest room could get long, so it was a certainty you would be caught under this rule and fired if management didn’t like you. I went home that day, thought about it, and was in the good position to be able to quit the next morning without worrying that I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent.

My experiences weren’t as awful as the ones reported by the people working at Volt today, but the only real solution is the same now as it should have been then, unionization. Collective bargaining is the solution for every workplace where workers are exploited, but it will take a very strong group to form a union, take action, and put an end to Volt’s mistreatment of workers.

Nintendo Direct for E3 2019 Notes

Nintendo doesn’t do a stage show for E3 anymore, instead they release a pre-recorded Nintendo Direct video:

They’re putting Dragon Quest & Banjo-Kazooie characters characters into Smash. “Hero” from DQ this Summer, Banjo-Kazooie this Fall.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age: Definitive Edition is one heck of a game title. Apparently this is a re-release of an earlier game with additional stories, music, monsters you can ride (what?!), side-quests, and a ridiculous feature that lets you swap back to 16-bit pixelated sprites if that’s your deal. Coming out for the Switch on the 27rd of September.

Yoshiaki Koizumi introduced Doug Bowser, the new head of Nintendo of America, to talk about the Direct.

Watching this Luigi’s Mansion 3 trailer makes me miss the party games from the Wii-U. Luigi has a new Poltergust G-00 for absorbing and smashing ghosts or furniture. Gooigi is the gross counterpart for Luigi to play with, in co-op or alone. ScareScraper is an online/local 8-player co-op mode. It’ll be out some time later this year.

Apparently The Dark Crystal is getting a tactics game called Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics. The game is due late this year. Watching this trailer makes me think I’ve never seen that movie.

Zelda games are my jam and this Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake can’t get here soon enough, the new art style is fantastic, the dungeon builder looks like it could be fun if they let you share the dungeons you build. Really makes you wish for a Zelda Maker. It’ll be out for the Switch this September.

Do you love annoying anime voices? The third Mana-series game, Trials of Mana has a remake due for the Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows, early in 2020. It was never released here before, but oh boy does it have annoying anime voice-acting.

If you’re not satisfied with just a remake, all three original Mana games are bundled in a Collection of Mana that is out now on the Switch. The same collection has already been out for a few years in Japan.

The game that dared to pretend that it’s historically inaccurate to have people of color in a fantasy land that could have literally anyone or anything, including “Witchers,” Witcher III is getting a Switch port later this year.

Do all class reunions feature murder-sprees, and people talking without moving their mouths? That sword-whip thing is pretty awesome. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is out on July 26th. Maybe after this game is out Intelligent Systems can move back to the Advance Wars series, please?

Resident Evil 5 & 6 are headed to the Switch this Fall, 0, 1, and 4, are already out.

No More Heroes has been kicking around for a while now, and it’s got another third game headed for the Switch next year. It’s the appropriate platform for motion-controlled lightsaber charging.

I don’t know what a sequel to Contra should look like in 2019, but this probably isn’t it. Contra: Rogue Corps looks awful but maybe it’ll have some redeeming co-op qualities when it comes out on the 24th of September.

It’s the Contra Anniversary Collection with one good game, the arcade version nobody knows, and 8 other games that hardly anyone knows about. A 74-page eBook is included if you’re into reading that on your Switch. The good news is that this collection is out now if you’re super Hard Corps into Contra.

Daemon X Machina looks like good mech stomping and shooting if you’re down with that, though some of the environments look too simple. It’ll be out on the 13th of September for the Switch.

The fanfare at the beginning of this trailer is a real treat to hear again. Panzer Dragoon is getting a remake by Forever Entertainment and it’ll be out on the Switch this Winter. While looking up some info on the 1996 Saturn original I found out about a Japan-only Game Gear Panzer Dragoon Mini that looks incredibly bad. The developer previously announced a remake of the second Panzer Dragoon, but there are no details about that one yet.

The first Pokemon Pokemon Sword & Shield are due out on November 15th, and players will be able to embiggen some Pokemon with their Dynamax forms that make them huge. There are a bunch of other details in this Treehouse video above.

Megacities, extra-dimensional invaders, and it’s from Platinum so you know it’s all action. August 30th for Astral Chain.

Romero Games is making Empire of Sin, a 1920’s inspired isometric mafia game that looks a little like old GTA games. Spring 2020, presumably for more than just the Switch.

People keep saying this game looks bad, and honestly I don’t see it. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is due out on July 19th. Of course, this is a 2019 game so it has an “Expansion pass” with “content from” Marvel Knights, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. Hopefully there won’t be loot boxes.

I didn’t get a chance to write about this when it was first announced, but it’s pretty awesome that Nintendo gave their Link and Zelda characters to the developer behind Crypt of the Necrodancer who have made this, Cadence of Hyrule. Just like Necrodancer, Cadence has a unique rythmn-based movement and attack system. This game comes out today, June 13th.

There’s another Olympics coming up, so of course Mario and Sonic have to compete for olympic game dominance. It’ll be on the Switch in November.

Animal Crossing is an amazing game that I’m so happy has found it’s audience in the US. Unfortunately, the first Switch version, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, is delayed until March 20th, 2020. I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. The Treehouse folks have more information and some more gameplay with the developers here:

At this point the Direct switched over to a montage showing some more games, here’s a quick list:

Spyro: Reignighted Trilogy, it’s just the remaster of the original games that is already out on other platforms. September 3rd.

Hollow Knight: Silksong is the sequel to Hollow Knight, and it’s ?”coming soon” to Windows, macOS, Linux, and the Nintendo Switch.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is getting remastered for the Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows. The remastered version is out on September 20th.

We saw Minecraft Dungeons at the Microsoft Xbox event first, but the Diablo-like is also headed for the Switch so it made it into this montage. Spring 2020.

The Elder Scrolls: Blades is still due for the Switch this Fall. It’s still a free-to-play garbage game.

My Friend Pedro looks like a very fun side-scrolling action game. You can parkour on June 20th for the Switch or Windows via Steam.

Doom Eternal is “coming soon” for the Switch according to Nintendo, it’s out on other platforms on the 22nd of November but maybe Bethesda doesn’t want to commit to a release date for the lowest of tech specs on this generation.

The Sinking City is our requisite Lovecraft game. Can’t go through an event without one. You can sink with the city on June 27th for Windows, Xbox One, or PlayStation 4. The Switch version has a “This Fall” release window.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood won’t look like that trailer on the Switch, that’s the trailer for other consoles. It’s still out on July 26th.

Dead by Daylight looks like the 3DO port of a PSP game, September 24th. I’ll be amazed if this one runs well and gets a good review from any outlet.

Alien Isolation is getting a Switch port later this year. The “Not Actual Gameplay” note at the bottom of the screen is doing a lot of work for what will probably be the PSP port of the PS4 version.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is out “This Winter” for the Switch, PlayStation 4, iOS, and Android.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 is out on July 12th. That’s the PlayStation 4 trailer.

Stranger Things 3 gets this retro-styled game on the 4th of July.

Time can’t go by without a new Just Dance. Just Dance 2020 is out on the 5th of November, presumably for every platform that exists. Why is there a Cheeseburger on the official website for Just Dance 2020?

Asmodee Digital is dragging their Catan port out for the Switch on June 20th. Nintendo could not be bothered with a trailer on their youtube channel.

New Super Lucky’s Tale is out this Fall. I have no interest in this game based on the history of it with Oculus.

Dauntless, the only thing I know about this game is that it is extremely cross-platform and it’ll be out on the Switch very late this year. Looks like sci-fi Monster Hunter.

Super Mario Maker 2 is out on the 28th of June. That’s real soon.

After Mario Maker 2, the montage ended and out came the teaser for Banjo-Kazooie in Smash. Eventually we will all be characters in Smash.

The “one more thing” was a teaser for a sequel to Breath of the WIld. I loved that first game. It sucks that Hyrule can’t get a break from the constant takeovers, but their loss is our gain.

Overall

There was no new hardware, no more information on Metroid but it’s probably too soon, no Star Fox, no 3DS games. I’m glad they’re taking the time to make Animal Crossing good, and as much as Nintendo has missed the mark on online, they’re also working to correct some mistakes:

Some people love to speculate that Nintendo should be bought by a tech company like Apple, or Sony or Microsoft, but I think that would be bad news. A company like that might help Nintendo exploit their characters better and get more games out on a shorter timeline, but that isn’t what is best for the developers or the games or us. We don’t need a yearly 3D Mario game driven into the ground until it turns into dust like Tony Hawk was.

This Direct, and the delay with Animal Crossing, are hopefully a demonstration of how much some people at Nintendo care about quality. Word is that this delay is so the Animal Crossing team aren’t crunching as much. Maybe that’s bullshit, but if it’s true, it’s great. You be you, Nintendo. Employees, get unionized, there’s always something that needs improving.

PC Gaming Show 2019 Notes

PC Gamer’s “The PC Gaming Show” is back again for 2019. This time it’s sponsored by Epic. Sean Plott and Frankie Ward hosted. Here’s everything they announced:

Rebellion’s Evil Genius 2: World Domination is the sequel to a well-regarded base-building game in line with your Theme Hospital or maybe a little closer to Dungeon Keeper. It’s a little goofy that this trailer shows no actual gameplay, but that is a common theme today, and then kind of shitty that Rebellion decided to frame beta access as something to win. Otherwise, they’re planning a 2020 release on Steam for Windows. Presumably Epic passed on giving buckets of money for this exclusive.

Coming to Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in 2020 it’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2. The game that lets you stalk Seattle as a complete weirdo, out for blood. I’m not really into the vampire thing, but games that contain cities I love like Seattle are always on my radar.

Ward compared Starmancer to Dwarf Fortress in space and that sounds pretty compelling. The trailer reminds me of Spacebase DF-9 which is good. There’s no release date, but I can be hopeful that Starmancer won’t suffer the same fate. Steam for Windows, macOS, and Linux. No release date given, but the website says they’re hoping for 2019.

Tripwire’s John Gibson & Torn Banner’s Steve Piggott appeared on stage to talk about their collaboration on Chivalry II, the sequel to the medieval slasher. Piggot said the new game would have twice as many players on a server at 64, increased the scale of the levels, and added more objectives. 2020, timed exclusive for the Epic Game Store.

Mosaic by Krillbite is coming later this year for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows. Ward called it a “dark and atmospheric adventure game.”Mosaic reminds me of Inside. I really enjoy their parody of clicker games, Blip Blop. I’m playing Blip Blop right now.(

Midnight Ghost Hunt is a competitive 4v4 multiplayer game that looks like it takes the Prey (2017) aliens hiding as objects mechanic and replaces the aliens with ghosts. The Call of Duty prop hunt mode is maybe a more exact comparison with one team hunting the ghosts or props and the other team trying their best to survive to the time limit. Plott interviewed the game’s developer Samuel Malone on-stage, where Malone said the teams change places if the ghost team can make it through until the time limit, which revives their entire team. Steam for Windows. No release date yet, although they’re working on an early alpha for the public.

Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer’s Legacy is a roguelite that has a very nice look to it, unfortunately it’s in the process of raising money through the faux-investment service called Fig. Windows for Steam only, for now.

After Unexplored, the show was interrupted to tell us about a 240hz curved Samsung G-Sync gaming monitor. I hope it works better than mine, because it routinely gets an odd vertical tear until I power cycle the monitor and the manufacturer blames Nvidia for the issue.

Natascha Röösli from Funcom appeared to talk about Funcom’s 2019 lineup. Mutant Year Zero: Seed of Evil is a $15 MYZ expansion for the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, and PlayStation 4. July 30th. It was already announced.

Conan Unconquered is Funcom’s Conan RTS that looks very traditional, and it’s been out for Windows on Steam since the end of May.

Moons of Madness is a cosmic horror game set on Mars due for the Xbox One, Steam for Windows, and PlayStation 4 on Halloween, it was announced a year ago.

Röösli introduced Philip Mayes from Mighty Kingdom, a game studio in Australia that is making Conan Chop Chop. A rogluelike with top-down Zelda-y graphics. There are a ton of those, but why not more? Chop Chop was introduced as an April Fools joke, but apparently they’re actually putting it out on September 3rd. Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch.

Last Oasis is a “nomadic survival MMO” that is going to early access for Steam for Windows on July 15th. The trailer reminds me of Air Buccaneers and Chivalry, with maybe not so hot MMO combat. The full game is out on September 3rd.

Age of Wonders Planetfall has 4X strategy, laser dinos, tech trees, and I think I saw some aggressive penguins in there. August 6th. Steam for Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4. Lennart Sas and Tom Bird showed up to talk about Planetfall and its brain-eating parasites.

Zombie Army 4: Dead War is another sequel to Rebellion’s co-op Zombie Army first-person shooters. It must be impossible to run out of undead Nazi soldiers. Rebellion already has a separate gameplay trailer up:

Gunfire Games’ Remnant: From The Ashes is only the second Cthulhu-y game full of nightmare creatures I’ve seen today. It looks an awful lot like a third-person Left 4 Dead. August 20th, Steam for Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. David Adams confirmed that it is a co-op action game. He also emphasized that the game is highly replayable, but then said all the loot is “legendary” which is an odd decision.

Griftlands is a Klei’s $15 deck building roguelike that has an early version out on July 11th for Windows via the Epic Game Store. Next year it’ll get to Steam, as well, and then in Fall 2020 it’ll be out for real.

Planet Zoo is Frontier’s next management sim. This video has a pooping hippo, so that’s good. November 5th for Steam on Windows.

Shenmue 3’s Yu Suzuki was on-stage to talk about Shenmue 3 and introduce the above trailer, and the news is that the game is now a timed exclusive to the Epic Games Store. Shenmue I and II were re-released in a package for Steam and other platforms last year. I didn’t see any mention of which store the WIndows version was to be sold on Shenmue 3’s Kickstarter page, but it does seem kind of odd to not give the game’s backers the option to choose Steam if that was what they picked in a survey.

Songs of Conquest is an updated, pixelated, Heroes of Might & Magic-esque turn-based fantasy strategy game. Carl Toftfelt spoke about the game in-person and it’s due for late 2020 on Windows and macOS.

The co-op fantasy combat game, Vermintide 2, is getting a player versus player versus mode. There’s a beta going on.

Tion Industries’ Per Aspera is about the challenge of terraforming Mars with human consciousnesses transferred to machines. 2020 on Windows.

Patrice Desilets from Panache Digital Games spoke about Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, a third-person open-world survival game about our ancestors set in ancient Africa that gets to Windows on August 27th.

The split between the different versions of Auto Chess, a game created by Dota 2 fans, is growing. Loring Lee appeared on stage to talk about the official Drodo standalone version of Auto Chess and announce that is headed for the Epic Game Store.

Cris Tales is a JRPG-style game from Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK that is due for next year. Until the 24th of June there is a free demo available on Steam for Windows. The art style for this game is pretty cool, I didn’t think I would like the flat look at first, but it is pretty compelling.

Valfaris looks like it could be a completely ridiculous and awesome metalvania. It’s due this year on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows. There is a free demo available now on Steam for Windows. I am psyched, though I wonder how long you can keep up the metal adrenaline surge through what are often languid explorations of new environments and backtracking through old ones.

Oh, thank goodness, Gearbox got someone else to talk about Borderlands 3. It’s Paul Sage, the creative director. He spoke about the character Moze the Gunner, and her mech called Iron Bear that Moze pilots, different grenade types including one that launches other weapons when it explodes, and more. Game is out September 13th for PlayStation 4, Windows via the Epic Game Store, and Xbox One.

Maneater is apparently an open-world action SharkPG from Tripwire. I appreciate their use of Mississippi Queen in their trailer. Tripwire’s John Gibson said the game is like GTA but if you were a shark. There is no certain release date, but it’ll be exclusive to the Epic Games Store for a year.

At this point the show turned over into a bizarre sponsored ad made of B-Roll without narration for an “E-Win” gaming chair. I don’t know why anyone needs a special chair for gaming, but O.K.

Terraria’s final updates are coming in a final patch called Journey’s End. It’s due this year, no specific release date was given.

I loved Sam Barlow’s last game, Her Story, Telling Lies looks like it could be just as good and features a similar mechanic of searching the transcriptions of video clips for clues that lead to other clips. It’s a unique way of exploring a game I haven’t seen anywhere else. Telling Lies is to be out soon, but there isn’t a specific release date yet.

Warframe: Empyrean is the next expansion for Warframe, but this trailer was more of a teaser to watch an upcoming Twitch stream on the 6th of July.

Genesis Noir is an adventure game set during, after, and before the big bang, about stopping the big bang to save your love. Genesis Noir looks amazing, and different, and there’s a prologue available for free on this site. Feral Cat Den’s out-there adventure is expected to be for Windows and macOS, but there is no release date.

Honig’s El Hijo is a different kind stealth game, where you’re a boy searching for your mom. I can’t think of a better game for a rainy day. The planned platforms are Steam for Windows, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. There is no release date, yet.

Larian Studios is making Baldur’s Gate 3. Sven Vincke from Larian and Wizards of the Coast’s Mike Mearls spoke on-stage about the game and what their goals are. There will be a Baldur’s Gate prequel for table top players on September 17th. There is no release date for Baldur’s Gate 3.

Overall

I’m pretty pleased with this year’s show, obviously a huge undercurrent is the competition between Epic and Valve, and some folks on-stage couldn’t help but get a dig in about it. Valve’s dominance is a problem, but I’m not looking forward to having a more scattered library of games across platforms that will all shutter some day. It’s a particularly big problem for people playing games with Linux who are finding the limits of Valve’s support for their platform and the complete lack of support from Epic who seem to have no plans to bring their game store and launcher to the platform. Otherwise, I don’t think that anyone outside of Valve should be upset with temporary exclusivity deals in general. The specifics of crowd-funded games promising one thing and doing another when Epic shows up with that cash might be the only legitimate cause for alarm.

The long and short of it is that we don’t need another in versus out crowd like we had with early Nintendo and Sega platforms. There are bigger issues, and anyone talking about how Epic has Chinese money is a racist sack of shit. Investors everywhere are shitbags who would prefer that people fight over what launcher we use to play games instead of organizing to take their money through taxes and use it to pay for things we all need.

Microsoft Shitcans Xbox Backwards Compatibility for Xbox One in Favor of Project Scarlett

One of the problems with putting backwards compatibility in the hands of publishers and developers to pick and choose which games get brought forward is that they go out of business and can’t make a decision, make bad choices based on financial decisions, or in this case Microsoft has decided that they’ve done enough and will stop updating the Xbox 360 and original Xbox compatibility lists for the Xbox One.

Microsoft’s Jason Ronald:

We’ve listened closely to community feedback and respect the game libraries you’ve built throughout the last 18 years. That’s why we’re taking our work a step further and announced this week that thousands of games from all four generations will be playable on Project Scarlett. As such, we have now shifted our focus to help make the games you love playing on Xbox One compatible with future Xbox hardware. After this week, we have no plans to add additional Original Xbox or Xbox 360 titles to the catalog on Xbox One, but we’re excited to continue our work on Xbox compatibility across platforms and devices, which remains a top priority.

Microsoft have released a final update with eight more games from the original Xbox and sixteen Xbox 360 games brought forward (Too Human is free for some reason?), and it’s good that it can be assumed that these backwards compatible games were actually tested, but the backward compatibility story isn’t great unless a generic method is released to support every older game. Not just the ones that Microsoft receives approval to support.

Unique games like Steel Battalion, licensed games like Spider-Man 2, some of the best Burnout games, sorta-interesting war games like Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, classic stompy stompy games like Mechassault, Chronicles of Riddick, Project Gotham Racing. There aren’t as many as we lost when the PlayStation 2 backwards compatibility died off on the PlayStation 3, but Microsoft had the chance to make every Xbox and Xbox 360 game playable on hardware they still sell and support, and blew it.

Bethesda Softworks E3 Event 2019 Notes

Bethesda held their E3 event last night, here’s everything they announced.

Pete Hines’ Soapbox

Pete Hines opened the event after a short video about the people making their games.

Todd Howard

Todd Howard followed Hines by talking about the “well-deserved criticism” Bethesda received for the not-so-great Fallout 76. He went on to praise the players that stuck with 76 for a good attitude. Next, he moved on to The Elder Scrolls: Blades, the free-to-play game that I’ve loaded up exactly once.

The Elder Scrolls: Blades Minute with Craig Lafferty & Matt Carofano

Lafferty & Carofano introduced an update to their mobile game that is available now before talking about how Blades will come to the Nintendo Switch this Fall. Accounts and progress are promised to be portable between the platforms, it’s still the same free-to-play game.

Fallout 76 Updates with Tom Mustaine & Jeff Gardiner

With an innovation in press briefings Apple could learn from, Lafferty and Carofano handed off to Mustaine and Gardiner without bouncing back up the stack to Todd Howard or Pete Hines. Amazing. They introduced the above trailer for the Wastelanders update which actually has human characters to interact with. The feature list at the end of the trailer:

  • Human NPCs Return
  • New Main Quest
  • Choices & Consequences
  • New Weapons & Gear

Those things sound a lot more like a Fallout game that I might be interested in playing, and a complete shift from the original pitch of the game which promised that all the human characters would be real people.

The Wastelanders update is due for the Fall.

Of course, no modern first-person game is complete in 2019 without a battle royale mode, and that’s what Fallout 76 is getting in the form of the 52-player Nuclear Winter mode. The winner gets to become vault overseer.

There’s a free trial for 76 from June 10th to the 17th, with an early version of the Nuclear Winter mode. There’s no release date or window for the Nuclear Winter mode. There is a trailer:

Todd Howard’s Thanks for the Critcism, Unless You’re a Criminal Journalist here to Lambast our Games

Howard reappeared to reiterate that every update so far is free, and to say that they’re still working on Starfield and the 6th Elder Scrolls game before thanking the audience for their appreciation and criticism. To the best of my knowledge, Bethesda still refuses to ship review copies of games to press.

Ghostwire Tokyo

Shinji Mikami appeared onstage to announce Ghostwire Tokyo, an action-adventure game and Mikami also introduced Ikumi Nakamura to talk about the game. Nakamura said that while Ghostwire Tokyo is spooky, it won’t be a survival horror game like the ones that Mikami is known for (Resident Evil, Evil Within). Instead, this game is about people vanishing in Tokyo, as depicted in the trailer. This was the most interesting game I’ve seen so far at Bethesda’s show, even though I suppose we haven’t really seen the game. No information about a release was given.

The Elder Scrolls Online…

…continues to be a thing. Matt Firor came out to boast about their growing userbase and the latest expansion that apparently is already out, Elsweyr. I’m not sure which is worse, start-up naming schemes or fantasy naming schemes. No, I’m sure, it’s start-ups. Anyway, Firor introduced the above trailer which is the follow-up to an earlier trailer. MMO’s always have interesting looking trailers to compensate for the lack of interactivty in their worlds. This trailer also ended with what Firor called a cliffhanger, but was more of a “to be continued” because nobody was really imperiled at the end. Firor said there would be a “fourth quarter story DLC” called Dragonhold, more information at QuakeCon, and “dungeon DLC” called Scalebreaker which would appear in August. QuakeCon is usually in August, but I think Firor got tripped up by the audience yelling.

Commander Keen

Firor finished up by introducing Kira Schlitt to talk about the mobile game Bethesda is making based on Commander Keen. Schlitt explained what the Keen game’s history is, before showing some gameplay that looks like it has all the worst free-to-play trappings. This summer, iOS and Android, for a “soft launch.” You know what’d be great? Remastering the orginal Keen games.

Pete Hines Returns

Hines said that Fallout shelter game is more popular than ever, and Hines also introduced a trailer for Elder Scrolls Legends, the mobile collectible card game that has been out for some time. Hines talked about an expansion for Legends called Moons of Elsweyr. That is coming on the 27th of June.

Rage 2 Updates

Avalanche and id’s Rage 2 is an odd game, the first game wasn’t a critical success, this one has little to do with it, and the marketing never really matched the gameplay from what I’ve heard. Still, Hines introduced the above trailer for some upcoming updates, including the first story DLC with a release window of “later this year.”

Wolfenstein Updates

With the third id software universe that’s been plundered by Bethesda, this one mostly for the better, Machine Games’ Jerk Gustafsson appeared after the Rage 2 trailer to talk about the previously announced Wolfenstein Cyberpilot VR game. Gustafsson said it’d be out this July. Also in July, on the 26th is the release of co-op FPS Wolfenstein Youngblood, as depicted in the trailer above. I am all for how much Gustafsson is about killing Nazis, he spoke about how fun it is to kill them in VR and in Youngblood, but there’s some cut to that excitement when Zenimax’s board of directors includes Robert Trump who supports his brother’s fascism 100%. We literally have people who came here seeking refuge from the hell their homes have turned into after US intervention, dying in concentration camps.

Deathloop

Arkane’s Dinga Bakaba and Sèbastien Mitton spoke about a new Arkane first-person action game called Deathloop that looks very interesting. Two characters killing each other and then immediately waking up to do it again each time they die could be a Black Mirror episode, but I think that Arkane’s stories are more interesting than TV.

Robert Duffy & James Altman’s Patent Showcase

Duffy and Altman spoke about middleware technologies they had developed for streaming games to have lower latency and require less bandwidth called Orion. They took the time to get a dig in at Oculus with a photo of Tim Willits wearing an early, slapped-together, VR HMD. Finally, they encouraged people to sign up for the “Slayers Club” a corporate-owned alternative to Doomworld that gives you brownie points for doing what they’d want you to do, including signing up to be unpaid QA for Orion streaming solutions. I think I’m good with Doomworld.

This trailer for Doom Eternal put a nice cap on the patent showcase. Hugo Martin and Marty Stratton appeared after the trailer to talk about Doom Eternal and introduce two segments of gameplay that looked fun. Stratton gave a release date of November 22nd. They also talked about a collector’s edition helmet that they had pre-arranged to be worn by an employee in the audience. Bethesda hasn’t had the best track record with collector’s edition merchandise. Stratton and Martin also introduced a trailer for a 2 demons versus 1 doom slayer multiplayer mode seen below.

I’m glad they’re using Doom as a place for interesting multiplayer ideas, but they keep talking about QuakeCon without talking about Quake. Pete Hines even returned to call some portion of QuakeCon, DoomCon. If Quake Champions isn’t working out, it wasn’t mentioned at all, then I have some ideas for updating Quake 1, 2, and 3.

Xbox E3 Event 2019 Notes

Microsoft’s annual E3-adjacent event for their Xbox sub-brand was today. Here’s what they announced:

Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds was annonced for October 25th, 2019, it’ll be an exclusive to Microsoft platforms since Obsidian was bought out by Microsoft. This is a sci-fi, Borderlands-aesthetic, faux anti-corporate, first-person, single-player, RPG. It’s about a new person shaking up corporate control of colonized worlds. I didn’t really care for the art style, but Obsidian makes good games.

Ninja Theory’s Rahni Tucker and Dom Matthews appeared to talk about how stoked they are to be owned by Microsoft and announce Bleeding Edge. It’s a four versus four team-based multiplayer action game that looks like it’ll have a bit of Ninja Theory’s unique action gameplay. There is a “Technical Alpha” starting on the 27th of June.

Moon Studios’ Ori and the Will of the Wisps had another gameplay trailer, it’s out on February 11th, 2020.

Mojang’s Minecraft Dungeons got announced, it’s an isometric game that looks like it borrows a lot from Diablo in gameplay and of course it’s got that blocky Minecraft aesthetic. 4-player co-op, local and online. Spring 2020 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Windows. Looks like fun.

Phil Spencer’s Soapbox 2019

Spencer showed up about 15 minutes into the show. It’s kind of good that the Xbox division of Microsoft lets developers speak first. The attitude from the audience during this entire thing is completely ridiculous. Press shouldn’t applaud or cheer, so I hope it’s just whatever group of fans that Microsoft lets in making all the noise.

Spencer had nothing of value to say. It was entirely pandering to gamers.

Respawn’s EA’s Jedi: Fallen Order had another trailer. It looks good, I’ll be interested to read reviews when it comes out on November 15th. Don’t pre-order games. It’ll be out on the Xbox One, Windows via Origin, and the PlayStation 4. Where is Titanfall 3?

Blair Witch is a first-person horror game based on the movie, I guess, I’ve never seen the movie. Lots of running in the forest with a camcorder. August 30th. No developer named. Xbox One & Windows.

CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 first-person RPG finally has popped-up thermal collars, a release date of April 16th 2020, every corpo-cop in the sector, a protagonist named V, and Keanu Reeves telling us to “Wake the fuck up, Samurai.”

Reeves also appeared on-stage to talk about the game. It’ll be out on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows.

Thunder Lotus’ Spiritfarer is about managing a ferry for the dead. The developers call it “cozy” and I couldn’t disagree. I love the look of this. Xbox One, Windows, PlayStation 4, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, 2020.

Battletoads was a game on the NES so bad that it became notorious. With notoriety it became a meme. As a meme, Microsoft decided that was worth resuscitating. This looks like a pretty standard brawler, with the addition of minecart levels. No release date. Xbox One.

Deskworks’ RPG Time: The Legend of Wright has a colorful hand-made aesthetic of 2D art on 3D pages and pieces of cardboard that looks like it was created from the perspective of a child. Very promising. Xbox One, Windows, iOS, Android. 2020.

id@Xbox had this montage of various indie games. Sarah Bond followed up to talk about the games in the trailer and guarantee they would be on the Xbox Game Pass the first day they’re released.

Bond also guaranteed that every Microsoft Game Studios’ game would be on the subscription service the day they are released.

The previously announced Windows version of the Xbox Game Pass “For PC” (Windows) is in open beta today. It’s a separate $10 subscription from Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass for the Xbox. Here’s the trailer of games they played for the Windows version of Game Pass which promises “Over 100 High-Quality PC Games by August”:

Presumably Xbox Game Pass for Windows doesn’t require Xbox Live for online multiplayer, but bond also announced Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a $15 subscription that includes the Windows and Xbox One version of Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold.

The open beta appears to be not entirely functional. It requires version 1903 of Windows 10, which Microsoft says is available to anyone who manually checks for updates on Windows 10, but doing so didn’t provide my install with the update. It’s also hard to find the beta installer of this new app, which is linked from this page TK https://www.xbox.com/en-US/xbox-game-pass/pc-games

Microsoft Flight Simulator is getting rebooted in 2020 for the Xbox One as well as Windows.

Age of Empires II Definitive Edition got announced. It’s a remastered version of the original game, for Windows only.

Inxile Wasteland 3 was announced a few years ago for the ridiculous Fig crowd-funding faux-investment platform, here it got a trailer all about the isometric action-RPG in Colorado. It’s on Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One. Spring 2020.

Matt Booty came out to talk about games games games games games games great games games games games great games and they’ve also acquired Double Fine.

Tim Schafer appeared to joke about DF making Halo Stuff, Forza Stuff, and Excel Stuff, before introducing a new trailer for Psychonauts 2:

The description of that page promises that Psychonauts 2 is still coming to every platform it was announced for, Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

WB’s Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was announced for 2020, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Nintendo Switch. They say it’s all nine films in a “brand new” game, so, not redone versions of the original games? We’ll see.

Bandai-Namco’s Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot appears to be an action-RPG with lots of DBZ yelling, powering-up, and drama in addition to fishing, eating, and training with Goku. Those things don’t seem usual for DBZ games, but I wouldn’t know. Early 2020 release window. Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows platforms according to Cyber Connect 2’s Twitter.

Annapurna’s Luis Antonio’s Twelve Minutes looks like an interesting take on the mini-groundhog day nature of stories that repeat themselves. “Coming soon” for Xbox One, Windows.

Anthony Tan’s Way to the Woods was shown again. It’s a third-person game about a deer and fawn adventuring through some version of our world. 2020, Windows, Xbox One. Tan’s video description on YouTube is good. Recommended to click through.

It’s Gears of War 5. I am struggling to stay awake, the protagonist appears to be struggling, too. Rod Fergusson appeared to give a release date, September 10th. Xbox One, Windows. Game Pass Ultimate gives people access a few days early which is kiiind of shitty.

Fergusson introduced this trailer for Gears’ 3-player co-op Escape mode in the under-stage dungeon that also held some wrestlers who are playing the game for some reason:

A third trailer said that some people would get to play as an Endoskeleton from Terminator if they pre-order the game or play within the first week. Don’t pre-order games:

The Xbox Elite Controller is getting an update on November 4th. It finally gets Bluetooth support that the Xbox One S controller has had for years in addition to other promised improvements. Unfortunately there is a now a built-in battery pack, so you can’t use your own recharagable batteries. That isn’t going to be fun when you run out and can’t just swap in recently charged set. It’s $180 for the new version.

Techland’s Dying Light 2 is still in the works. Spring 2020. Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows.

Forza Horizon 4 was released last year, but this year Microsoft announced a bunch of Lego stuff is coming to the game on June 13th in a DLC pack Lego Speed Champions. I am on-board. Finally, the on-stage Forza car is a Lego car.

Funko Pop is objectively awful, Gears POP is that mobile game we talked about last year. It sure looks like a free-to-play game inspired by Clash Royale and absolutely nothing like the majority of the videos we’ve seen so far. iOS, Android. Another sad reminder that Windows Phone is dead. No release date yet. Please don’t encourage the Funko people.

State of Decay Heartland is an expansion for State of Decay 2 that’s out now.

The Free-to-Play Phantasy Star Online 2 is finally coming out next Spring for Windows and Xbox One. It had been available for years, but not localized for English. I’ve played a bit of this through the hacked version that the community had put together.

Phil Spencer introduced SmileGate’s Crossfire X, a ridiculous trailer that contained 0 gameplay. It’s “First to console on Xbox One in 2020.” Apparently the FPS has been around in one form or another since 2007.

Tales of Arise is another Tales game from Bandai Namco. 2020. PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows.

It’s Borderlands 3. I enjoyed 1 & 2, but wow it’s almost like any time I think about this game now, I think about how Randy Pitchford is probably at minimum a creep, and possibly someone who has embezzled money to steal from his employees, assaulted his employees, been a complete dickhead online to everyone, and much more. This game is coming out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows on September 13th. There’s a free DLC pack to link Borderlands 2 and 3 out now called Commander Lilith & The Fight For Sanctuary. That DLC pack is “free to download” until July 8th if you have Borderlands 2.

Elden Ring is coming from From Software’s Hidetaka Miyazak and Gerorge R.R. Martin’s George R.R. Martin. It’s another fantasy action-RPG from From. Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows, no release date.

Phil Spencer’s xCloud Soapbox

Spencer promised that E3 attendees would get to try the xCloud service at the event. Spencer said that you could stream from your home Xbox or their Xboxes in data centers “wherever you go”

Xbox Project Scarlett is the code name for the next Xbox. All of the technical details in this video are completely ridiculous. 8K, “up-to 120 frames per second” “ray tracing.” I would not buy into what either Sony or Microsoft are selling us about anything besides possibly quicker load times. Any kind of real ray tracing means there won’t be high frame rates, and especially not at an 8K resolution. I am going to bet that some people will be a little upset with Microsoft and Sony for advertising these features that they cannot deliver. Microsoft says that the new console will be available late in 2020. Halo Infinite is the only announced launch game. No information about the size of that SSD.

Here’s the Halo Infinite trailer:

Overall

Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass is obviously extremely compelling as a “Netflix for games,” just like EA’s Origin subscriptions and Apple’s Arcade could be. The first problem with these subscriptions is that they can be assumed to be a little like a pyramid scheme for developers. Presumably the first people on board with the subscription services get better marketing placement and better cuts. If these subscriptions become the dominant way that we get our games, the middlemen providing the subscriptions will look to decrease the developers’ cuts over time until it’s like Spotify and Apple Music with artists receiving 0.0002 cents per play.

The second problem is the same as with streaming platforms, a decreased ability to preserve the games for the future. Some day the Xbox platform won’t exist. Microsoft will be out of business. The games that are exclusive to their platforms could be lost forever.

The only platform I know of that isn’t directly opposed to game preservation is Humble’s subscription service, but even that only provides DRM-free downloads for some of the games.

Lastly, ongoing subscription billing services are the parasites that corporations are desperately seeking to attach to our bank accounts at every turn. As fun as it is to have access to more music, movies, games, and shows than we could ever consume, there are just too many of these services. It’s the greatest irony that the introduction to this year’s show was The Outer Worlds with a trailer that was incredibly faux-anti-corporate when it’s produced by a subsidiary of one of the largest tech companies in the world.

The Steam Link App is Finally Out for iOS & tvOS

The Steam Link app is finally available on iOS (and tvOS) after being available on Android, and then the Raspberry Pi sbc, for a year. The Steam Link app acts like the now-discontinued Steam Link box and streams your Steam library (and more) to your phone, tablet, or TV. The iOS & Apple TV tvOS app allows for Bluetooth controllers like the Steam Controller as well as Apple-approved controllers that are already available for iOS and tvOS.

Apple initially approved and then blocked the Steam Link app for iOS last year. Presumably that was because Valve’s Steam store was available to users, which was a not-great on Apple’s part but makes about as much sense (none) as Apple demanding a cut of Amazon’s ebooks. The new version of the Steam Llink iOS app doesn’t let people access Valve’s store while streaming, it only allows people to play their game library.

The newest versions of the Android app also allows people to stream games when they’re away from home, the iOS app doesn’t have that feature yet and so you’ll be stuck playing on your home network.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think it is any good that the streaming of games you own locally is controlled by any store, platform, or driver company (like Nvidia’s Shield game streaming service.)  There could be a third-party, entirely open-source effort to stream your desktop with performance in-mind, but there isn’t. The closest thing is the Moonlight project, but it is only available for people with Nvidia’s graphics cards.

All that said, I played a game of Into the Breach streamed to my iPhone from a Windows host using the new app and while that was a confusing setup process (disabling the virtual mouse, enabling the virtual gamepad) it was ultimately rewarding.

I did have one crash when I switched apps and the network connection had been dropped, but I just resumed the game once I re-launched the Link app.

Streaming from a macOS host is a giant pain in the ass, involving the installation of multiple kernel extensions, reboots, and then installing more kernel extensions and more reboots. I can’t imagine this will get any easier with macOS 10.15, if it’s possible at all. Apple delivers a warning to let you know that something Valve is doing won’t work with “…a future version” of macOS:

Screen Shot 2019 06 03 at 12 49 37 AM

That is an ominous warning for a person to read who just wants to play a fucking game. I’m sure they’ll rush out to install the next big macOS upgrade.

I Hope We Don’t Get RSI From Crankin’ It (the Playdate)

Panic’s new console

Renowned Mac and iOS software developer, Panic published their first game Firewatch with Campo Santo a few years ago, are expecting to release Untitled Goose Game later this year, and have now teamed up with the teens that figured out how to monetize themselves in pursuit of wacky audio equipment at Teenage Engineering to make a portable game console called the Playdate.

The Playdate is a bizarre device. There’s a black and white 400×240 screen without a backlight, Panic promises that screen will be perfectly clear during the day and that a reading lamp will be fine at night. I have a question out to them about glare.

The button layout looks normal up until you see that crank on the right side. The crank can tuck away inside the body of the unit for games that don’t need it. The Playdate downloads new games over WiFi. There is Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack as well.

Playdate’s games promise to be real odd ducks, the current list of announced designers are Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy, Noby Noby Boy), Bennett Foddy (QWOP, Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, GIRP), Shaun Inman (Retro Game Crunch), Zach Gage (FlipFlop Solitaire, Really Bad Chess) with more to come. Their 12 games are to be released at no other cost over the course of 12 weeks, once a week from the date a player first turns on their Playdate. There will be an option to skip the wait if you fire one up late in the “first season” of games.

Here’s how Panic describes a Keita Takahashi game for the system:

Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, from Keita Takahashi, the creator of Namco’s Katamari Damacy. This game uses the crank exclusively to control the flow of time, backwards and forwards. Your goal? Get Crankin’ to his date with Crankette while avoiding an ever-increasing series of ridiculous obstacles — obstacles that aren’t affected by the time control. Will Crankin’ make it to his rendezvous on-time? (Spoiler alert: no)

The name is supposed to make us think of setting up a time for kids to get together, but this Playdate console doesn’t have a firm release date yet or any announcement regarding multiplayer, just “Early 2020” with Panic hoping to have pre-ordering available at the end of 2019 and an e-mail waitlist that is supposed to act as a queue for the $150 handheld. The promise is that there will be a limited number of the consoles available at launch, which isn’t great since it probably means you need to pre-order this thing without knowing much about the yet-to-be-released games. Pre-orders are not necessary for anything that is produced at any scale, and it isn’t clear if Panic and Teenage Engineering are small enough to require them.

Panic promises to let us know about future game releases, and more specifications about the hardware (storage capacity, CPU, RAM) closer to the launch of the Playdate. It is not at all clear if you’ll be able to just download rando games that anyone makes, or if this thing tanks you’ll just be stuck with the single season of 12 games that Panic commissioned.

Falcon Age

Falcon Age looks very different, it’s a first-person falconeering and falcon-friendshipper where you and your falcon pal (palcon?) fight off the robo-nvaders seeking to exploit your planet. You can also dress up your falcon buddy,

Outerloop Games’ website says they’ve developed Falcon Age for virtual reality first, but it is playable on regular televisions as well. They’ve even gone to the trouble of adding a non-combat option to just spend time with your falcon friend.

Reviewers for IGN and Gamespot enjoyed Falcon Age. Vice’s (Waypoint, before Vice decided to destroy the good will that Waypoint had created) reviewer enjoyed Falcon Age less from the perspective of someone who wasn’t playing in VR.

Falcon Age is $20 and only available on the PS4 (and PSVR, optionally) for now.

Capcom’s Bizarre Home Arcade Stick Machine Thing

I don’t even know where to start with this thing. It’s a two-player arcade stick with an HDMI port, wifi for leaderboards,16 games built-in. For
£199.99, which is roughly $260 USD. That’s expensive, but Capcom UK claims to have Sanwa parts for the Joystick lever and buttons. That’s kind of worth it. But then you look at the actual design of the case and it’s the fucking Capcom logo! What in the hell were they smoking?

I can’t find any press release from Capcom US, but the UK edition is promised with an October 25th release date. Unfortunately this is coming from Koch media, purveyors of such shit goods as The C64 Mini. Also, there are hints that this might be using an illegally re-licensed version of the Final Burn Alpha arcade emulator. It’s Yikes-O-Clock, do you know where your executives are?