Katamari Damacy has had a troubled history of ephemerality, but the first game in the series has finally been re-released as Katamari Damacy ReRoll. It is a bare-bones update, the game was never a graphical showpiece, but the focus here is on making Katamari available again for the first time in over a decade
The unique gameplay of Katamari Damacy is still just as fun. Rolling things up to make a bigger katamari (ball) is so relaxing. The bigger your Katamari, the tinier the prince pushing the ball is by comparison, but the bigger ball also lets you and him roll up larger and larger objects until you’ve gone from rolling up erasers and pencils to rolling up continents and planets.
The Steam for Windows version of Katamari DamacyReRoll suffers from some limitations due to how old Katamari’s design is. There is no autosaving, and it’ll warn you about that, so you need to return to a house on the main planetary menu to manually save between levels.
Another limitation shows up when you launch ReRoll on Windows for the first time. ReRoll appears in a tiny window on your screen, and you can’t access the options to change the resolution until you complete the first level. That might be difficult if you’re trying to play on your couch. It’s not a huge issue, but it was a surprise that Katamari didn’t immediately choose a resolution to match the desktop.
Katamari Damacy ReRoll is a can’t miss classic. At $30 it’s ten dollars more expensive than it was when it was originally released at the bargain price of $20, but Katamari is worth every penny. I can’t think of any game as hopeful and vibrantly silly. ReRoll is out now on the Nintendo Switch and Steam for Windows.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the latest update to the classic Counter-Strike gameplay, and it is now free-to-play, and the game’s developers at Valve have added a battle royale mode called Danger Zone. Unfortunately that mode doesn’t involve crashing cars through puzzle-y intersections.
Everyone who owned CS:GO previously now has “Prime Status,” which apparently puts you into a different match-making hopper with other “Prime Status” players. It sounds worse than it is, though, since it’s possible to get to that tier through playing the game and reaching the 21st rank, as the FAQ explains:
Prime Status is an upgrade available to all CS:GO players. When you have Prime Status you are matched with other players who also have Prime Status, and Prime users are eligible for Prime-exclusive souvenir items, item drops, and weapon cases.
There are two ways to upgrade your account to Prime Status; reach Rank 21 by earning XP and add an eligible phone number to your Steam account, or purchase the CS:GO Prime Status Upgrade in-game or through the Steam Store.
I suppose then the question is “how long does it take to reach Rank 21?” and the answer is probably “a long while” otherwise they wouldn’t be charging $15 for it.
This is Rival Megagun, it’s a competitive multiplayer vertical-scrolling shooter. I love it.
Twinkle Star Sprites was the first competitive multiplayer vertical-scrolling shooter I ever played, it’s a Neo Geo classic.
The thing that makes these games special is that they are unique multiplayer novelties. There are fighting games, there are shooters, there was even Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo if you’re into competitive multiplayer puzzle games and have good color vision. As far as I know there are just two examples of the competitive multiplayer shoot-em-up, and Rival Megagun is much more approachable than Twinkle Star Sprites, although both games are available via modern digital download services with online multiplayer today.
Rival Megagun does even more to differentiate itself from it’s one rival. Megagun has more interesting characters, better music, and you have a dedicated button to send bombs and other interesting weapons to your competitor’s side of the screen. Even better, Rival Megagun lets you transform into a giant boss monster space ship and fuck your opponent’s shit up.
Ben Heck leftThe Ben Heck Show at Element 14 and is back on his own channel. SNK’s cash-in on the mini console wave produced a mostly disappointing miniature arcade machine that doesn’t even wear the red and white color scheme we’ve come to expect. Heck’s first big project post TBHS is tearing down the Neo Geo Mini with his expert commentary and then rebuilding it as a portable, with the correct colors, in these two videos:
There’s a freely-downloadable prologue on Steam for Windows that lets you play those upgraded Hitman (2016)’s campaign missions, if you have access to them, as well as redone training missions from Hitman (2016) that include the new features like vegetation you can hide in.
I loved Hitman (2016) for all its quirks, it’s the best goofy action game where you can dress up and get shot for pulling a fire alarm. Although this game drops the episodic format, Hitman (2016) 2 ( 2018) still includes the scheduled elusive targets that were the reason I returned for many more silly one-off assassinations every month.
Mumbai is like a better version of 2016 Hitman’s Marrakesh, with large, bustling crowds that border more restricted areas that, crucially, are more enjoyable to traverse. A construction site that doubles as a movie set is a particular standout, with a clever placement of guards that ensures that—even with the right disguise—you’ll need to take a circuitous path or scale the unfinished elevator shaft. A great Hitman level forces you to adapt and respond as you go, and Hitman 2’s environments excel at providing the routes and options needed to adjust your plan on the fly.
Hitman (2016) 2 (2018) is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam for Windows at $60 all the way up to an eye-watering $140 for the ridiculous edition that includes a briefcase with a rubber duck inside.
There was a version of the previous Hitman game for Linux and macOS but I haven’t seen anything promising those ports for this sequel.
Tetris has always been an exceptional puzzle game; now, thanks to the efforts of Tetsuya Mizuguchi and developer Resonair, it’s something much more than that. Mizuguchi’s career-long fascination with synaesthesia has given us the likes of Rez, Lumines and Child of Eden – and in the way it turns play into performance, Tetris Effect has at least as much in common with those games as Alexey Pajitnov’s seminal puzzler. The result, not unexpectedly, is extraordinary.
My favorite part of this review, though, is in the list of pros and cons, there’s this con: “Pretty much ruins all other Tetris games”
While writing up the last post I noticed that the long-running Grand Theft Auto fan site, Gouranga (named after the original GTA’s kind of awful practice of running over a procession of Hare Krishna’s), has shut down and the domain is owned by Rockstar’s parent company, Take Two.
Gouranga was the place to read about Grand Theft Auto until the site’s owner, schu, stopped updating it during the development of Grand Theft Auto IV. Schu was even nice enough to offer unofficial support for those games.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is out today, it’s another game that doesn’t understand that a bigger number means sequel because this is Rockstar Games’ prequel to Red Dead Redemption. Not Red Dead 1, that was a different game called Red Dead Revolver which as near as I can tell almost nobody played but impressed somebody enough to greenlight Red Dead Redemption.
Anybody coming to Red Dead Redemption 2 expecting Grand Theft Auto with horses will be rather baffled by this slow-paced, sumptuous, character-driven Old West historical drama, in which you spend probably 60% of your time simply riding around the American wilderness. There’s action too, in the form of shootouts, train robberies and frequent thrilling escapes on horseback, but these flashes of excitement punctuate a game that is largely about just being somewhere; about hunting, fishing and having long conversations on cross-country rides or around a campfire. In a mad fit of indulgence, Rockstar Games – the creators of Grand Theft Auto and one of the most successful game developers in the world – appears to have spent seven years and hundreds of millions creating the video game equivalent of Deadwood.
Sounds great, I’m excited. Fire up the consoles, we’re going to ride horsies like big boys, yeehaw.
The polishing, rewrites, and reedits Rockstar does are immense. “We were working 100-hour weeks” several times in 2018, Dan says. The finished game includes 300,000 animations, 500,000 lines of dialogue, and many more lines of code. Even for each RDR2 trailer and TV commercial, “we probably made 70 versions, but the editors may make several hundred. Sam and I will both make both make lots of suggestions, as will other members of the team.”
The result of all their labor, Dan says, is “this seamless, natural-feeling experience in a world that appears real, an interactive homage to the American rural experience. [It’s] a vast four-dimensional mosaic in which the fourth dimension is time, in which the world unfolds around you, dependent on what you do.”
“…that additional effort is a choice, and we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this. Lots of other senior people work in an entirely different way and are just as productive – I’m just not one of them! No one, senior or junior, is ever forced to work hard.”
That’s not a real denial of anything, and keep in mind that it has been 8 years since Red Dead Redemption shipped. 8 years sure sounds like plenty of time to ship anything, even if they also shipped Grand Theft Auto V 5 years ago and have been working on Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V Online since. Clearly Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge game and the high scores benefitted from the work these people put into the game they love over that seemingly vast time, but there’s no way this gets better.
Rockstar then made a half-hearted attempt at remedying the situation by allowing current employees to speak publicly without fear of retaliation, which, I don’t know what you think that means but it definitely doesn’t actually mean you could talk about working conditions without fear of retaliation. Anyone who has worked for more than a few years knows that you can’t speak frankly about a current employer unless you are the executive running the company.
Three people who worked at Rockstar San Diego between 2011 and 2016 recall a period where they were told that overtime wasn’t optional. “It was mandatory 80 hours for basically the whole studio,” said one person who was there. “If you don’t have any work to do on Red Dead 2, just test GTA V for another eight hours.” Said a second: “Maybe they didn’t tell anyone 100 hours, but they definitely told us 80. Concept artists were sitting there being glorified QA.”
For some people working on Red Dead Redemption 2, crunch started as early as 2016. For others at Rockstar, crunch periods started in the fall of 2017, a year before the game’s release date. Even when the company wasn’t in official crunch mode, dozens of current and former employees say they’ve felt compelled to stay late for a variety of reasons. “Rockstar pressures employees to put in overtime in several direct and indirect ways,” said one current Rockstar developer. “Coming in on weekends is perhaps the only way to show you are dedicated and care. So you can be very efficient and hard-working during the week, but if you don’t show up on the weekend, you’re accused of not doing your share and will be constantly harassed.”
Schreier also confirmed that an employee who worked on a Rockstar game for multiple years and leaves before it ships won’t be included in the game’s credits:
“That has been a consistent policy because we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line,” said Jennifer Kolbe. “And so a very long time ago, we decided that if you didn’t actually finish the game, then you wouldn’t be in the credits.”
Rockstar have a website up to credit people who left before the game shipped, which is good except it doesn’t include any mention of title or contribution, and this list should also be in the fucking game. People working on games everywhere need a union to collectively bargain for their time, pay, and define standards for receiving credit for the work they’ve done.
…and it’s that games are still magical. It’s like they’re made by elves. You turn on the screen and it’s just this world that exists on TV. I think you gain something by not knowing how they’re made. As much as we might lose something in terms of people’s respect for what we do, their enjoyment of what we do is enhanced. Which is probably more important.”
Not knowing how something is made, or caring about it, is the hurdle that players need to cross in order to help the people making these games attempt to have a life outside of work. If you appreciate games, even ones with highs as high as Red Dead Redemption 2 (and there are some incredible lows in the writing of it and other Rockstar games), then you need to learn that everyone working on them needs to be able to have a life outside of them.
Another note: if a developer has a game listed on Steam, itch.io, and a personal website, buy it anywhere but Steam. Sure, yes, Steam is a useful tool and it’s nice to have your games in a single spot, but itch.io gives developers greater flexibility in profit margins, and on a personal website, nearly all of it goes to them. For smaller developers, the dollars add up. Other forms of economic reinforcement include supporting creators on Patreon—or tipping.
Maybe the most telling quote about this situation was from Houser in Goldberg’s original article that sparked the current conversation about poorly managed crunch. Speaking about his office, Houser said: “It’s an absolute shithole,”
Developer hacker training simulator, EXAPUNKS, has exited Steam’sEarly Access program for games that aren’t ready for the spotlight yet.
Typical development courses are about learning “big data” and rust and other modern baloney, Zachtronics’ EXAPUNKS is about pulling off hacking heists to earn a cure for the phage that you were accidentally infected with. Oops!
In the early access process much has changed, Zachtronics added an animated gif recorder to save short clips of your solutions to EXAPUNKS’ programmular puzzles. They’ve also added a bonus 9-level campaign, and released a free TEC Redshift player program on Steam that lets you experience community-made homebrew games on the in-game fantasy console without owning the full EXAPUNKS game. Interestingly enough, the homebrew games are embedded in image files distributed online. It’s not quite clear how to get them, so I’ll explain here that you download the image to your computer and then drag and drop the image file into the TEC Redshift Player. Here’s an example image I found online that plays the original GameboyTetris music in the TEC Redshift Player.
Every time I write about EXAPUNKS, or any other Zachtronics game, I want to mention that I think they’re something special, they each inhabit a little world of their own perfectly and I love that about them even if I’m not always up to their challenge.
EXAPUNKS is $20 on Steam or through the Humble store for Windows, macOS, and Linux. There’s a temporary sale, bringing the game down to $16. The feelies that were available for pre-orders may be available directly from the developer, otherwise you’ll probably get a PDF or something with the game to read Trash World News, the in-universe zine.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for everyone who was raised on a diet of murder simulators, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is out, and it’s good, with some caveats.
This year’s Treyarch-designed Call of Duty is something like three years of work now that there are three studios working on their own individual series within the Call of Duty brand.
As usual, I’ll note here that I have good friends at this Activision studio but I try to not let that influence my opinions about any of their games.
Black Ops 4 is split into three subsidiary modes: competitive multiplayer, blackout (battle royale mode), and zombies. There is no single-player campaign, which I am pretty disappointed by, but there are a set of tutorial matches with vignettes that tell the tales of Black Ops’ different playable characters.
The playable characters – with different abilities in the regular competitive multiplayer mode – took some getting used to. I never cared for defined “hero characters” in games that didn’t traditionally have them. WarCraft 3 being the example that first sticks to mind. Nevertheless, I enjoy them in Black Ops 4
BLOPS 4’s UI is somewhat broken and poorly designed. Look at this icon, what does it mean to you:
If you said “settings” or “options” you’re wrong, just like I was. It is the “custom game” icon. If you click that icon while you’re in a party the UI changes from this:
Which are quite similar except for the disappearing “settings” button and the addition of some text that says “custom games.”
If you don’t notice either of those changes, and you hit “play” you’re plunged into a match that you’re hosting without any human players. If you’re as dumb as I was, you’ll sit there for a few minutes wondering when they’ll join.
Still, despite all the quirks to the UI, Black Ops 4 is an undeniably fun multiplayer-only romp through murder town. The competitive multiplayer modes are fine, there’s one like Counter-Strike this year, it’s called Heist. You can still just play team deathmatch if you want. This year you can only heal when you press a button instead of by hiding and waiting for the jelly to disappear from the screen’s edges.
Blackout is the new Battle Royale-like and it’s fun, it feels a little bit incomplete but miles ahead of the competition in terms of how the game feels to play. With PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds I’m always struggling to do the most basic tasks. Clambering over or onto an object in Blackout works 9 times out of 10 instead of PUBG’s 4 or 5 times out of 10. Blackout also has it’s own spin on almost everything. There are packs that provide you with perks, and you can’t examine items that are on the ground to see their stats. I’m guessing they want us to learn what they look like.
The downside to Blackout is that there’s only one map, for now, and it isn’t clear where this mode is going to go. It can’t compete with Fortnite, per se, because it isn’t free-to-play, or at least not yet. Does that mean there will be a Blackout mode in next year’s Call of Duty? Will Treyarch continue to work on this one, including adding more content? That isn’t clear to me.
Finally, there’s still a Zombies mode if you enjoy co-operative zombie hunting with ridiculous dialog between Zombies-specific characters the studio designed. I want to enjoy this mode, I almost never do. There are a lot of hidden things about it, and I’ve never learned about them.
For me, the best single-player Call of Duty campaign was Infinite Warfare in 2016, and I also miss playing that game’s multiplayer. I enjoyed all of the sci-fi movement trappings that this game has eschewed by placing the timeline in-between Black Ops 2 and 3, which seems like the weirdest decision of all given that this game has no single-player campaign and a bunch of cutscenes instead. Also, the number is 4 which is higher than 3. I’m not sure Treyarch understands how the numbers work. Maybe they need to call Mason.
This is the first year that Activision has gone all-in on Blizzard’s Battle.net launcher and Black Ops 4 is only available there for Windows players alongside Destiny 2 (Destiny 1 was never available on Windows). As disappointed as I am with Valve, lately, there isn’t any good reason for this from a player’s perspective. We get Battle.net’s social features and rich presence notifications but that is about it. I’m curious where 2019’s Call of Duty will end up, but it is extremely unlikely it’ll be on Steam. Activision definitely doesn’t want to give up any cut to Valve. The negative feedback in the reviews for WW2,Infinite Warfare, and Advanced Warfare on Steam probably didn’t help things, either.
Unfortunately, this year Activision has again chosen to split their players up with an add-on pass that isn’t included with the “standard” $60 version of Black Ops 4. They’re also adding in some kind of in-game microtransactions.
I’m not going to fully review Black Ops 4, there are good reviews elsewhere. Notably, IGN split their review into four pieces, one for each mode and an overall score. It’s a game that I’m surprised to find my friends who abandoned Call of Duty years ago talking about and playing, and I love it.
Despite all of the odd decisions and bad UI, I love playing Black Ops 4. It’s the definitive way to play Treyarch’s version of multiplayer Call of Duty, and I have fun with their take on the Battle Royale genre. If you miss dumb, exciting, and fun multiplayer shooters, this is that. If you loved any campaign from previous Call of Duty games and you like to skip multiplayer because you didn’t want to be schooled by 12-year-olds, this isn’t for you. I’m losing to them every night, and that’s OK. I can still get to the top of the leaderboards sometimes.