Bethesda’s E3 2017 Notes

Bethesda’s E3 showcase opened up with a montage of the developer’s children encouraging us to get excited for their parents’ games. This is the same publisher that wants you to be less informed because they don’t ship review copies out to journalists and critics early.

VR Games

 

Bethesda’s VR offerings included brief glimpses of Doom (2016) VFR and Fallout 4 VR. Both were depicted with the HTC Vive HMD. It’s good that these games are getting VR editions, but it feels a little late. It’s good that VR is getting full games instead of just shooting galleries, but you’ve probably already played those games if you wanted to. Doom will also be available for the Playstation VR system.

No release date was made available.

Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind

Bethesda played a video montage of other people reacting to the trailer for the Morrowind expansion to their ESO. That is a very strange way to show off your game but I guess it kind of makes sense when the Morrowind expansion is $40 and has been out since May 22nd for Windows and Mac.

Creation Club, or For-Pay Mods, Again.

Hold up, what? Did we not do this before? I don’t have an issue with developers getting paid for work, but it’s obvious that the community at large does. I hope this works out better this time, and the developers of community made items get a better cut. It’ll be out for Fallout 4 and Skyrim on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows, this Summer.

The Elder Scrolls: Legends

It’s Bethesda’s digital CCG like Blizzard’s Hearthstone. Everyone must want to make their own Magic: The Gathering. It’ll get some cross-platform release on Steam, iOS, and Android next month. Also there’s some Skyrim stuff for it:

Skyrim for the Nintendo Switch

You’ll be able to play as Link if you have a certain amiibo. I hope the motion controls are optional. They don’t look so hot.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

It’s a standalone expansion to Dishonored 2 and it’ll be out on September 15th for $30. I still need to play Dishonored 2.

Quake Champions

BJ Blazkowicz from Wolfenstein is gonna be one of the playable characters. I’ve been pretty disappointed with what I’ve played of Champions, and while I’ll give it another shot once it is out of beta I’m not very hopeful. Quake 3‘s style of gameplay doesn’t feel good to me without a level playing field. It’ll never be level when different characters have wildly varying abilities like these champions.

Bethesda also announced a Quake Champions tournament with a $1,000,000 prize pool.

The Evil Within 2

Everything I’ve heard about the original was that it was flawed but promising. The sequel to The Evil Within could do with reassuring players by sending out review copies going out ahead of time. October 13th.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus

Machine Games’ Wolfenstein: The New Order was excellent. I look forward to seeing what they do with this, and the tears of Trump and GG supporters who see Nazis and Klan members being murdered in an occupied United State and feel some sympathy for them. It’s set for October 27th. There’s also this ridiculous collectors edition:

Overall
Besides Wolfenstein 2 and Dishonored‘s new expansion, there wasn’t that much here for me but I was glad for the shorter show.

Xbox E3 2017 Briefing Notes

Every E3 has an Xbox press event, this year Microsoft is leading it off with a brief history of different resolutions
that their hardware has supported. Or at least it has upscaled games to that.

If you’re new to my writing, I’ll note here that I worked for Microsoft over a decade ago on the original Xbox, but I don’t think that really matters much anymore.

Here’s what Microsoft announced during this year’s event.

Project Scorpio‘s final name is the Xbox One X

Just last August Microsoft released the first revision to the Xbox One, the Xbox One S enabled playback and upscaling of video to 4K.
It was bizarre that last E3 Microsoft announced two new versions of the confusingly named Xbox One, the S and they also hinted at an upcoming “Project Scorpio.”

Could you imagine Apple announcing an iPhone 9 and hinting at what is to come in the iPhone 10? It would have the potential to tank sales of the 9 especially if the 9 was as meek an upgrade as the Xbox One S was to the original Xbox One.

The Scorpio had its technical details available back in April via Eurogamer, and now it has a release date of November 7, 2017.

While the Xbox One S had the ability to upscale video to 4K, the Xbox One X should actually be able to run games at a 4K resolution without upscaling. Although it will add graphical updates to older games that haven’t been upgraded for the Xbox One X, Microsoft promises “True 4K” with this console and supersampling from 4K to 1080p if you don’t yet have a 4K display. Nvidia calls this feature “Dynamic super resolutions.” Think of 4K as an incredible chef versus a good amateur chef as 1080p. Scaling down from 4K to 1080p is like the amateur chef watching the incredible one and attempting to recreate the same dish. You’ll end up with something better than if the good amateur had simply tried to make it on their own.

Microsoft is all about these specifications, and there is a price to be paid for them at $500. $100 more than Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro, and the Xbox One S can be had for $250 to $300 which leaves a huge price gap between the two Xbox One consoles.

It’s a strange price to pick when Sony’s PlayStation has outsold Microsoft’s Xbox, but it feels like Microsoft is less interested in challenging Sony with this high-end console than harvesting their hardcore Xbox fans for yet another console purchase.

I don’t doubt that this console will live up to its technical promises, but it won’t offer much to anyone who already has an Xbox One, it’ll still play the same games. Unlike an iPhone upgrade, the smaller physical form-factor won’t make the Xbox One X any more pocketable. A more powerful desktop computer can also run many of the same exclusive games in Windows 10. At least it could if my Microsoft Account would work in Windows 10.

That could change later on. In the future this could be the baseline version of the Xbox One and some games could require the Xbox One X to run at all. The same is true of the Playstation 4 Pro, and I wouldn’t recommend buying either of the original Xbox One or the original Playstation 4 at this point.

Forza Motorsport 7

Racing games have always been showpieces for graphical prowess, and that’s why Microsoft’s racing software has a trade-off each year. One year is a game in the Forza Horizon open-world racing series, the next year is Forza Motorsport’s take on competing with Sony’s Gran Turismo. The cars and racetrack and weather effects look pretty. I don’t really care for non-Horizon games in the Forza series. The best part of the Forza Motorsport trailer is the use of K.Flay’s Blood in the Cut. Great song.

Microsoft also unveiled a new physical car from Porche on-stage during this announcement. Weird.

It’ll be out on Xbox One and Windows 10 on October 3rd.

Metro Exodus

The Metro series hasn’t been exclusive to the Xbox. They’re beloved first-person shooters, but I’ve always had a difficult time getting used to the gameplay mechanics. It was always crazy that the standard currency in them was ammunition. This made any combat experience a trade-off. Fight with cheap ammo, or watch money flight out of your guns and be more effective in combat. In Exodus the hook like we’ve moved on to an open-world post-nuclear apocalypse.

It’ll be out in 2018 for Xbox One and Windows.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Speaking of games I haven’t finished, I haven’t finished an Assassin’s Creed game since 3. With Origins the game has gone to a historical depiction of Egypt with a new RPG leveling system with skill points and a Hawk companion. It also seems to reject all of the alien stuff from the early games, but still has stabbing. That’s why you play an Assassin’s Creed game.

It’ll be out on October 27th and definitely won’t be exclusive to the Xbox One.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

I love Battlegrounds, and Microsoft has a huge coup here in getting console exclusivity on it. Although the specific wording is not clear. “Xbox One Console Launch Exclusive” could be interpreted to mean that Battlegrounds‘ exclusivity is only temporary.

My hope is that the gamepad controls are improved for the Windows version as well.

It’ll be out in “Late 2017” on the Xbox One. Or you can play it now on Steam for Windows.

Deep Rock Galactic

It’s a first-person digger with space dwarves as another “console launch exclusive.”

No release date or range was given.

State of Decay 2

The zombie shooter with a twist on community-building gets a sequel. There’s a good hint of that twist in the trailer.

It’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10 in Spring of 2018.

The Darwin Project

A shouting man appeared on stage to turn this battle royale game into an esport that appears to be completely undeserving. Way to ruin your game reveal. It’s an Xbox Console Launch Exclusive, so at least you know where not to be if you want to avoid someone shouting at you about a game.

Minecraft

It’s Minecraft, but this time they’re going to fix it so that players on many different devices can play together, excepting the original Java version. Because Java is shit.

They’re also adding 4K, other graphics options, and a “Super Duper Graphics Pack.”

This update will be out in the Fall.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

The name is dumb, the cartoon makes anime look bad. This is a fighting game that has so much shouting.

It’ll be out “Early 2018” and doesn’t appear to have any exclusivity to the Xbox One.

Black Desert

Another console launch exclusive, it’s an MMORPG without a release date.

The Last Night

A game that looks very interesting if you watch the trailer and love cyberpunk aesthetics as much as I do. Then you find out the game was created by someone who hates women and loves GamerGate. Apparently this cyberpunk dystopia is also going to have themes of what happens when progressive politics go “too far.” Expect there to be absolutely no nuance to that. I’m gonna pass on this game.

 

The Artful Escape

A side-scrolling game with guitars and dinosaurs and future stuff. Looks like it could be great, no release date and it is another “console launch exclusive.”

Code Vein

Another take on the post-apocalypse is here. Finally.

It’ll be out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows, some time in 2018.

Sea of Thieves

I feel like I’ve been hearing about the multiplayer pirating in Sea of Thieves for the past 10 years. It’s actually supposed to be out early in 2018 exclusively for the Xbox One and Windows 10 stores.

Tacoma

The next game from Fullbright, developers of Gone Home, is this spacefaring spacestation exploration. After Gone Home, I am pretty excited to see how Tacoma turns out.

It’ll be out on August 2nd on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as gog and Xbox One.

Super Lucky’s Tale

This game was originally exclusive to the Oculus VR HMD. No hints were given as to how or if this upgraded version of Lucky’s Tale will be displayed in VR on the Xbox One.

It’ll be out on November 7th for Xbox One and Windows 10.

Cuphead

Exclusive to Xbox One on console, Cuphead still looks amazingly like early cartoons. I hate Jazz and I still want to play this game.

It’ll be out for Xbox One and Steam for Windows on September 29th.

Crackdown 3

I loved Crackdown. You either loved Crackdown or haven’t played it. I hope this game is anywhere near as good as the first.

It’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10 this November 7th.

ID@Xbox Games Montage

This is the point in the show where they realize they’re about an hour and 12 minutes in and they need to condense a bit. How about a montage.

Games Montages will be available at every games conference ever until the end of time.

My favorite part of that montage was Ooblets. It’s supposed to be bits of Pokemon, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing. Here is a better trailer of it:

Ooblets will be out in 2018 on Steam for Windows as well as the Xbox One. I’d like to see the shouting dude from earlier try and shout about this game. I dare him.

Ashen

Ashen is a little bit like Journey and Dark Souls to me, it’s very mysterious and has “high risk combat” according to its official website. http://www.ashen-game.com/

It’ll be on Xbox One and Windows.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Teenage drama is back, and it’s in Oregon. I still need to go back and finish the first game.

Life is Strange wasn’t exclusive, it’ll be out on August 31st, presumably for Xbox One as well as many other platforms.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War
I can’t find the exact trailer used during this press event. Here’s a recent story trailer:

It’s another sequel to a game I haven’t finished. The nemesis system made me want to play a real sequel to Mercenaries. Can J.R.R. Tolkein’s ghost babysit my son while I play through it?

Shadow of War will be out on October 10th on Xbox One, Steam for Windows, and PlayStation 4.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

A sequel to another fun side-scrolling metroidvania. The game’s composer appeared to be playing the piano live to backup the trailer.

No release date, but it’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10. The original was on Steam, so we could expect that as well for this sequel.

Backwards Compatability & Crimson Skies

I’m still surprised at how well the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility program has gone. Despite leaving it up to the game’s original publishers to decide if the game can be made available for the Xbox One it has been very successful in bringing so many games onto the current generation of Xbox consoles.

Phil Spencer announced that the original Xbox would also be emulated on the Xbox One. I’m sure there are even more original Xbox developers and publishers that are out of business and won’t be able to approve their updates for backwards compatibility.

Backwards compatibility for some original Xbox games will be available later this year. Phil specifically pointed to Crimson Skies. There was no separate video available for this announcement online.

Anthem

Bioware’s new game looks a lot like Rage at first, and then turns into an open-world co-op adventure. It’s definitely not exclusive, but it’ll be out in 2018 if it doesn’t get delayed.

Overall
This is another strange Xbox event that hasn’t convinced me that I need an Xbox One when I have a more powerful desktop computer. At this point I am keeping that console around just for backwards compatibility and exclusives that either weren’t brought to Windows or that I can’t play on Windows because my Microsoft Account isn’t functioning correctly with my Windows 10 user account.

Steam Greenlight Shutdown; Direct Starts June 13th

Valve’s Steam Greenlight program has finally been shut down in favor of Steam Direct (which launches June 13th) after months without clarity about when this changeover would occur and what the cost would be to developers submitting their games into the new Steam Direct program.

There’s this interesting note in the announcement from Valve’s Alden Kroll:

Over the next week, a team here at Valve will be reviewing the list of titles that have not yet been Greenlit and will be selecting the final batch of titles to pass through the Greenlight process. Our goal is to Greenlight as many of the remaining games as we have confidence in.

It’s good that Valve are trying to help anyone who had been in the process, but I feel bad for anyone who had a game in Greenlight, or was considering submitting one, during the past 6 months.

Trump Stole Money Donated For Kids Fighting Cancer

Dan Alexander with Forbes:

 The best part about all this, according to Eric Trump, is the charity’s efficiency: Because he can get his family’s golf course for free and have most of the other costs donated, virtually all the money contributed will go toward helping kids with cancer. “We get to use our assets 100% free of charge,” Trump tells Forbes.

That’s not the case. In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it’s clear that the course wasn’t free–that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization. Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.

Additionally, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has come under previous scrutiny for self-dealing and advancing the interests of its namesake rather than those of charity, apparently used the Eric Trump Foundation to funnel $100,000 in donations into revenue for the Trump Organization.

And while donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told their money was going to help sick kids, more than $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses.

Apple’s WWDC 2017 Press Event Notes

Every year Apple has at least two big events, their iPhone event in the second half of the year and their developers conference event in the first half of the year. Each event has it’s own press briefing, here are my notes from today’s WWDC 2017 press briefing. It is long as hell.

The show opened with a comedy skit about a new Apple engineer sitting down at a new desk and accidentally unplugging the iOS app store servers, disabling every app. Soon, the world descends into chaos as people can’t get directions and we see a marketplace of people trying to substitute for the missing apps:

Tim Cook was the first live human on stage with numbers and then to announce that Amazon’s Prime Video service is finally going to the Apple TV.

WatchOS 4:
Kevin Lynch announced new Siri functionality that would automatically present information you might want on the new Siri watch face. Rotating the crown scrolls through the available information. For example you might want to see your upcoming appointments and weather changes. They’re displayed as tiny cards as seen here:

There’s also a new kaleidoscope face along with several animated Toy Story character faces.

WatchOS 4 also has more customized notifications for activity encouragement and better reward animations when you’re done exercising.

The exercise tracking is more advanced and detects when you’re paused while swimming to determine your intervals, for example. It’s also easier now to move from one workout type into another without stopping.

New gym equipment will be Apple Watch enabled and will help you record your fitness activities on that equipment when you swipe your watch near a certain area on the equipment.

Apple Music is improved on the watch with a new app.

The new WatchOS will be out this Fall with a pre-release version available to developers today.


Mac Updates:
Tim Cook introduced Craig Federighi to talk about macOS updates. macOS 10.13 will be called High Sierra, another stability update along the lines of Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion. Craig joked about the name’s obvious weed reference.

Craig promises these new features in 10.13:

Faster Safari web browsing with faster Javascript.

Safari will also block autoplaying video and audio on web pages. That’s great.

Safari will have “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” to prevent sites from identifying you across domains.

Search is better somehow. Apple didn’t really explain how

Mail gets a split view in full-screen mode to edit new messages alongside reading others and is also more optimized for storage.

Photos gets all kinds of improvements such as improvements in detecting faces.

Finally, Photos’ machine learning stuff gets synced across devices.

Photos also has way more advanced editing features on the Mac.

Apple’s Apple File System came to iOS recently to replace HFS+, APFS will be on High Sierra as well.

MacOS will also support h.265 for video compression, which will also be supported with dedicated hardware on Macs.

Craig boasted about their graphics API Metal for a while before announcing Metal 2 that is supposed to give a 10x draw call throughput improvement. It’ll also have better debugging and optimization tools.

Interestingly, Craig talked about how there is a new Thunderbolt 3 enclosure with an AMD Radeon RX 580 and USB-C hub available for developers who want to offload Metal GPU computation tasks to an external device from a Mac. It isn’t clear if this can offload desktop graphics rendering, as well, but you would assume so.

Craig announced VR support coming to the Mac from Valve with SteamVR and engines from Epic (Unreal) and Unity.

All systems that support Sierra will support High Sierra. It’ll be out this Fall with a public beta later in June.


Mac Hardware Updates
New iMacs are coming with 50% brighter displays and Kaby Lake chipsets from Intel. The iMacs are getting support for more RAM, 32 gigs on the 21.5 inch and 64 gigs on the 27. The 27 also gets fusion drives by default. The 21.5 iMac gets improved integrated graphics. The 4k 21.5 inch iMac gets the Radeon Pro 555 and 560 with up to 4 gigs of RAM.

The 27inch 5K iMac gets the Radeon Pro 570, 575, and 580 with up to 6 gigs of RAM.

MacBooks and MacBook Pros are also getting updated with new chipsets.

Industrial Light & Magic’s John Knoll & Epic’s Lauren Ridge showed up to give a VR demo running on the new iMacs. The demo featured live edits to a Star Wars scene in the Unreal Engine. It was incredibly awkward and didn’t demonstrate anything new over what Windows desktop machines could do last year.


iMac Pro

 

There’s a new 27 inch iMac Pro in Space Gray to offer an option for anyone missing the Mac Pro that hasn’t been updated in years. With copious options in CPU (up to 18 cores) and RAM (up to 128GB).

According to Apple it’ll be much cheaper than a comparable workstation that would cost over $7000, this one will start at $5000. It’ll be available this December.


iOS 11
Tim Cook boasted about iOS 10’s lack of fragmentation compared to Android and then reintroduced Craig Federighi to talk about iOS 11.

iMessage apps get an updated app drawer.

iMessages is now in the cloud to sync your message history to all of your devices, and it is still encrypted end-to-end, which should mean that Apple can’t access your messages in any situation. Although practically they could do so and you might not know about it.

Apple Pay is getting person-to-person payments, and it’ll have integration with Messages. Although it’ll store by default to an Apple Pay Wallet you can transfer money to your bank account. Sounds like the introduction of an Apple Bank.

Siri is getting an improved voice that sounds more natural and is still the only option with both male and female voices. Siri will also support translation in beta with some languages. SiriKit for developers will do more and support more applications. The last update only worked with a few custom actions like sending messages in third-party apps.

iPhone photos and videos are getting new compression formats that are supposedly much more efficient. The portrait camera is getting more features for a higher quality end-result.

Memories are enhanced. Video editing is supposed to be much improved as well.

Control Center is now modular and a single page. If you 3D touch a control module you get more controls and more information for that module as it expands to take up more space on the display.

The lock screen notification area will now expand with a swipe to display all of your notifications, not just the most recent ones.

Live Photos are improved, you can pick the key photo and loop the short video in live photos or choose other effects.

Maps gets improved maps for inside buildings like malls and airports. Navigation gets speed limits and lane-guidance. There’s a new feature for drivers called Do Not Disturb while Driving, it’ll be automatically suggested while driving and hide notifications. It can also notify anyone texting you that you’re driving and that you won’t see their messages unless they’re on a VIP list or they can break through by responding with “urgent.”

AirPlay 2 supports multi-room speaker systems from all iOS devices as well as the 4th generation Apple TV.

Apple Music can optionally share your playlists and music library with your friends, developers can also access this information through new APIs.

Phil Schiller appeared on stage to announce some updates coming for developers and users. The iOS App Store gets a complete redesign that looks more like Apple Music. A new Today screen shows off new cards with different stories about new apps. There are new dedicated screens for showing off games and a different screen for non-game apps. Category editors can display videos demonstrating tips and tricks for different apps.

Craig came back to talk about other technology improvements, including ARKit for augmented reality. It’ll work with Unity, Unreal Engine, and Apple’s SceneKit. Craig demonstrated 3D objects like coffee cups and lamps displayed on surfaces like tables that are detected instead of just having the 3D objects overlaid on what the camera sees without any interaction with real-world objects. An updated version of Pokemon Go will support this new ARKit and display Pokemon on the ground instead of just floating in the air.

Peter Jackson’s WingnutAR team appeared on stage to demonstrate an AR application running on an iPad with a science fiction action scene. Using AR to display a pre-configured action sequence is pretty boring, honestly.


The 10.5 inch iPad Pro

Apple introduced a new iPad Pro with a 10.5 inch display and an A10x processor. Joz told us that this supports a full-size software keyboard along with a better keyboard case. It’ll have a better refresh rate that looks smoother when motion is displayed on the screen, so Apple called this ProMotion. It’ll also dynamically adjust the display refresh rate for whatever the content is you’re working on, for better performance or battery life at a slower refresh rate.

The new 10.5 inch iPad Pro also has the same camera as the iPhone 7 and the base model has 64 gigs of storage. They’re available for order today and will ship next week.

Craig came back to talk about iOS improvements for the iPad. The dock can now have a large amount of apps. It can be pulled up from the bottom of the screen in any app. You can pull apps out of the dock into a slide-over multi-tasking split-view. iOS 11 will also support drag and drop. There’s a new Files app that supports iCloud drive and third-party cloud file management services like Dropbox.

The Notes app now supports handwritten notes that get interpreted using OCR as text by the system for searching and can scan a document for editing.

The 12.9 (let’s be honest, 13) inch iPad Pro also gets the new display, processor, increased base storage (64GB) and other features. All of these iPads 10.5 and 12.9 also have the 2nd generation TouchID sensor with quicker fingerprint recognition, but still appear to have physical home buttons instead of the haptic-driven virtual home buttons of the iPhones 7 and 7 Plus.


HomePod

Phil Schiller came back on stage to talk about “Reinventing Home Music” with a new speaker from Apple called HomePod. The first non-Beats branded speaker from Apple since the iPod Hi-Fi. HomePod is a rotund  7-inch tall device with a little bit of an urn shape and has its own A8 chip inside. Supposedly this speaker is very advanced and detects the kind of environment it is in to adjust for different types of rooms and adjust the audio for clarity. It’ll also work with another HomePod automatically for better stereo separation.

Of course, this speaker will support Siri and be Apple’s competitor to Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home device as was rumored for months. Apple says that this speaker will have advanced Siri functionality that is tailored specifically to it.

The HomePod will be $349, in white and space gray, this December.


Overall, this feels like Apple trying to catch up, in VR and AR, with a speaker for Siri and finally getting updates to the iPad Pro and an iMac Pro to help reassure Mac Pro users like video editors that Apple hasn’t completely abandoned them when the Mac Pro still doesn’t have a release scheduled beyond “not this year.”

It’s good to see VR on the Mac, but nothing today addressed the desire for a desktop Mac for gamers to play VR applications unless you want a machine with a built-in display and a GPU you can’t upgrade. As terrible as Nvidia can be as we’ve seen with the GTX 970 memory debacle, I don’t ever want to buy a desktop with an AMD graphics chipset.

I would probably want a HomePod as Apple is the only company offering an AI assistant speaker that gives a damn about privacy and isn’t just trying to sell you shit through their store like Amazon with their Echo.

Steam Direct Update from Valve

Back in February Valve announced that they were going to replace Steam Greenlight with Steam Direct. There was some confusion because Valve had not yet decided on a price per game for submissions, or a timeframe for this change to occur. The original announcement only gave a vague date of “Spring 2017.” Well, Summer starts on June 21st, so Valve’s Alden Kroll has an update for us on the transition to Direct.

The fee for a submissions to Direct is going to be $100, which is thankfully far lower than the top end that Valve had been considering of $5000. However, that is still kind of ridiculous when some of their competitors charge $0 for a game to be hosted on their service.

I don’t doubt that hosting a game incurs a cost to Valve but what they are doing is hosting a few web pages, downloads, maintaining the Steam application and APIs, and handling payments. Support is passed off to the developer or publisher of the game as is community management.

For all of this, Valve will still get a cut of sales, although they do not discuss what that cut is, it has been speculated to be about 30%.

I really wish that Valve had decided to get rid of this fee entirely, or had it straight to begin with instead of threatening developers with the possibility of a $5000 hit for each game submission back in February and then remained silent for five months while they sorted things out. Could you imagine being a game developer considering submitting your game to Steam in this time frame?

With the clarity of the $100 fee we can now know that this is really going to be a discount on Valve’s commission from 30% of the first $1000 in sales to 20%. Games that want to be distributed entirely freely on Steam will just lose out on that $100, and small developers will be punished by the hundred for each game they submit.

This will absolutely not keep out people who want to abuse Steam, which was Valve’s stated reason for the charge as they will just factor the $100 into the cost of doing bad business on Steam. Just like anti-piracy schemes that only hurt people who want to play games they have purchased, this fee will only hurt good people who want to release more games on Steam and not necessarily charge an arm and a leg for them.

It’s no surprise that Bungie and Activision’s Destiny 2 is going to be exclusive (on Windows) to the Blizzard Launcher (nèe Battle.net) instead of going onto Steam and letting Valve take their cut.

That’s not an option for most smaller developers who don’t have the name recognition of Bungie and Blizzard to make their own store and go it alone. They’re going to go to itch for free or Steam for the players and take the hit.

We still don’t have a date for when Direct will actually replace Greenlight. 

So many of the features of Valve’s platform are also passed off to their community of players. Players are encouraged to write reviews, moderate them with votes, and go through the “Discovery queue” that shows you games in a fashion roughly equivalent to walking down a candy aisle to get to the checkout at a store.

This update also included information for Steam Curators, Valve’s other favorite free labor taskforce. People who make videos about games are going to be able to embed their videos alongside the game review snippets displayed on game pages. Journalists and critics who include their reviews Valve’s curator abandoned it long ago, as did I. The curation system never directed enough readers to our websites. At least with the video embeds you should get a proper “view” on your video.

All I want out of the curation system is for nazis and other trolls to be blocked from it, which Valve seems loathe to do when they still allow games from MRA assholes onto their platform.

Heroes of the Storm’s Great Updates

Kat Bailey has this interview with Blizzard’s lead designer on Heroes of the Storm, Travis McGeathy titled On its Second Anniversary, Heroes of the Storm Has Finally Turned a Corner.

It’s a sentiment I completely agree with, and I’ll slightly disclaim my discussion of this game by noting that a good friend works at Activision. When I first tried HOTS a few years ago it was clear that they had made changes to make the DOTA-style of gameplay more palatable, but it didn’t click with me until the 2 year-anniversary updates. Yes, I was another Overwatch player who initially went back to HOTS for the skins, but stuck around for the gameplay.

Now I play it a few times a week, and it’s great to not have to worry about last-hitting and other stuff I didn’t care to grasp from more traditional MOBAs like having to come up with an item build for each game and map and situation. Maybe that’s something that hardcore DOTA players miss, they can stick to DOTA so I don’t have to hear them whining on team chat.

There’s also this part of the interview:

One of McGeathy’s favorite moments was when a high-level player told him about their experience with Zarya. “They said, ‘I never really enjoyed Zarya in Overwatch until I played her in Heroes of the Storm and I figured her out.’ So that’s a special case. Just in general we’re always looking for new and unique ways for heroes to work.”

I don’t play much Overwatch so I never understood the use of D.Va’s defense matrix ability except as a blunt shield. It took Heroes of the Storm for me to understand that her Defense Matrix actually powers up her self-destruct ability faster. Duh.

The only big criticism I have about HOTS is that while it is available (free to play) on macOS and Windows Blizzard hasn’t chosen this opportunity to bring the game to Linux yet. It’s an obvious next-step that is baffling to me at this point.

Geneshift in Early Access

Everyone loves games with a retro aesthetic. Even if that aesthetic isn’t very authentic, an older art style makes it possible for an indie game developer to communicate their gameplay ideas without spending all of their resources on art.

Many games choose a lo-fi art style for that reason, sometimes it’s pixely, Geneshift is another breed. Nik Nak Studios’ Ben Johnson instead chose to start developing Geneshift 8 years ago with an overhead perspective borrowed from Grand Theft Auto 2, before that series went third-person and open world.

Geneshift borrows a lot from GTA 2, the cars, the art style, and the perspective, but it also borrows from Diablo and other action-RPGs to have a single-player story alongside multiplayer. I haven’t been able to get into a game, but there appears to be a fairly large community of players on the game’s discord server.

I’ve put some time into the single player and it is clearly still early on, but it brings back some fondness for GTA2 and the game’s development is an inspiring story.

Geneshift is $10 and out now in Early Access for Windows and Linux.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew Looks Cool As Heck

In the 90’s I went to Star Trek conventions with other nerds who wanted to look at nerd things and circulate pirated tapes of Red Dwarf. With that context in mind I will now tell you that I am extremely psyched to play Star Trek: Bridge Crew because who hasn’t wanted to be on the bridge of a spaceship gesticulating wildly with a bunch of other lunatics in VR space to accomplish whatever Trek bullshit the game calls for.

James Davenport for Windows Gamer (who also produced that incredibly silly animated gif in the top there):

None of us know what we’re doing, and that’s the primary thrust of Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Four people work together on different substations of a ship, moving it around dangerous anomalies, scanning for threats, and shunting power to different systems.

However, it sounds like you’re going to have a difficult time getting the best out of the game as you need many friends with VR setups and even though the game’s multiplayer is cross-platform it’ll still be a hassle to get going according to Games Radar’s Andy Hartup:

You’ll probably never play Star Trek Bridge Crew. At least, not how it’s really meant to be enjoyed. That’s not because this is a poor game, or that it lacks features or fan service – it’s just too rarefied an experience. While you can crew both the USS Aegis and the Enterprise with fewer than four human crew members, it really isn’t the same experience. And while you’ll be able to find randoms or players from LFG groups to boldly go with, Bridge Crew is infinitely better when played with friends. So that’s four of you, with VR headsets, and a copy of the game, and the will and time to role-play Star Trek. Even we, a website that writes about games, VR, and Star Trek really struggled to put in the necessary playing time and overcome the technical hurdles to squeeze the best out of this wonderful game.

One thing that might make a fun multiplayer Bridge Crew experience slightly more likely is that anyone who buys an HTC Vive in June (you’re not going to wait for some kind of revision and price drop at this point, really?) will get the game for free.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew is $50 and available now for Windows with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive HMDs on Steam, or Playstation VR on the Playstation 4.