It can be pretty frustrating to find out that something you want to fix is difficult or impossible to repair. Glued-on screens cover batteries that are all custom fit inside small cases that prevent curious people from learning how things work and fixing problems with their devices. Iconoclasts from Joakim Sandberg takes that a step further, it’s a world where a mechanic, Robin, finds that her profession is outlawed. Your mission is to get Robin and her friends together to fix things in what looks like a bit of a metroidvania side-scrolling action-adventure with a Metal Slug-y vibe to the art.
Iconoclasts is a fine game, offering both satisfyingly sharp platforming and shooting, and some really smart puzzles. It’s enormous too, packed with secret areas and other stuff to discover. And although I found the humour a little glib and childish at times, it tells its heartfelt story well. A lot of Metroidvania games go for a bleak, downbeat atmosphere, but Iconoclasts is infectiously vibrant and sunny, even if the story does occasionally venture into dark territory.
Patrick Klepek has a post up on Waypoint, discussing a homophobic game that unsurprisingly managed to get onto Steam. He sums up Valve’s issues with content moderation very well. I’ve trimmed the quote just to remove the name of the game.
…is a symptom of a larger disease. Steam’s “new releases” tab is full of trash, and while you can be generally sympathetic to Valve wanting to allow all sorts of creators an easy path to publishing on their enormous platform, it doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility to make sure it’s a platform that doesn’t promote hateful speech.
The MRA garbage I wrote about last year, Dating Lessons, is still up on Steam as well. Anyone working at Valve should be embarrassed to have their salary funded by getting a cut off of sales of this trash.
It’s an amusing vulnerability because the exploitation of it occurs when your character dies on a game server, and your character model’s ragdoll is replaced with an exploitative payload that the researcher was able to exploit because certain security flags weren’t set on portions of Steam. This is what you see in action when you watch One Up Security’s video embedded above.
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.
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, Geneshiftis 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.
Rogue Legacy was a new style of metroidvania. It reset the castle when your character died, just like Rogue and Nethack, and randomly generated a new castle when you came back to life. Dead Cells has those generated dungeons and also changes out the progression system and combat to be somewhat Souls-like. I love the variety of weapons and effects that speak a little bit more to Symphony of the Night while the art reminds me of the Neo Geo classic, Garou: Mark of the Wolves.
It is in Steam’s Early Access program, but it felt very far along to me, much further than most other Early Access games.
Today we’re announcing changes to gifts on Steam. The gifting process has had a bunch of friction in it for a while, and we want to make it easier for you to share the games you love with friends. Steam Gifting will now be a system of direct exchange from gift buyer to gift receiver, and we will be retiring the Gift to E-mail and Gift to Inventory options.
The post goes on to elaborate about enabling the scheduling of Steam gifts, which is new and should have been in years ago, but also has a few more changes that aren’t good:
Declined Gifts Resolve The Way They Should
In the old system, a declined gift would sneak back into the giver’s inventory and remain on their bill. Now, if a recipient already has the title, or just doesn’t want it, they can click decline and the purchase is refunded directly to the gift giver.
A refund of a declined gift should be an option, but it shouldn’t be the default.
Picture this: Sally buys Fran Civilization V on sale. Fran decides she doesn’t want Civilization V. The only thing that can happen now is that Sally gets her money back.
Two other things that should be options, in addition to a refund for the gift purchaser, are:
Fran gets the refund as Steam credit (or cash, which is probably better), so that Fran can decide what she would rather have. This is what normally happens if Fran gets a gift that she returns from a store.
Fran sends the gift back to Sally. Sally is presented with the options of keeping the gift in her gift inventory to decide what to do with it later, or Sally can keep the gift for herself, or Sally can return it for a refund. This means that Sally doesn’t miss out if she bought Civilization V during a sale and would like to do something else with the gift without losing out on the sale price.
I also wonder how this will work out for developers. If a gift is refunded 5 months or a year from now, how is Valve going to claw those dollars back from the developer’s future profits?
Safe Cross-Country Gifting
No more worrying if a Gift to E-mail or Gift to Inventory is going to work for a friend, gifts sent through the new system will always work on the receiver’s account. When there is a large difference in pricing between countries, gifting won’t be available and you’ll know before purchase.
This is Valve working around a problem they had where people in countries that had lower prices on games could purchase games for people living in countries where game prices were artificially inflated.
For example, games can be very expensive in Australia or Canada so folks in the United States would buy games for their friends overseas. There’s absolutely no good reason for the price of games to be inflated elsewhere, they’re digital goods and aren’t extra difficult to virtually ship. It does make sense in some cases to drop the price when the local economy can’t support purchases, however.
Either way, this is a really shitty move on Valve’s part. They talk a lot about decisions only being made in favor of the people buying games from them. This is not benefiting anyone but Valve and publishers.
Multiplayer shooters are changing. What was a field dominated by arena free-for-all shooters and then samey-military combat games where the most significant change was the switch from World War 2 to the modern military aesthetic and then to the future has now become forked down the path of realism mixed with the old arena combat.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds takes a bit of survival games like the eternally unfinished Day-Z and combines it with battle royale books and movies to turn the game into an incredibly tense, brief, survival arena combat experience.
Battlegrounds is a modern-military shooter set on an island where up-to 100 players parachute in from a transport aircraft with nothing but their fists to start. All other weapons are scattered around the limited rural towns and buildings that make up the human settlements of this island along with clothes and kevlar and ammo and kitchen implements.
The hundred players have just one life each to squander as they choose. As you glide to the ground you’ll see other players picking their starting spot. Landing near buildings at the start can help you get armed, but you might have more competition.
Landing on the southern-most detached island is stupid because there are two bridges off of it and you’re going to die.
If the game stopped innovating there, everyone would be wise to just camp in buildings. That definitely still happens, but the brilliant change versus Day-Z and other survival games is that Battlegrounds forces players together by enclosing a slow moving force field on a timer around a randomly picked circular section of the map. At the same time, a player count is ticking from 100 down to 1 and you hope to be the last person left alive.
As the playable area of the map shrinks, players are forced out of camping into taking risks like running through open fields to reach the newly smaller playable zone.
Unlike most other shooters, this take on a multiplayer battle royale is the only way to play Battlegrounds. There’s no capture-the-flag. No team deathmatch. Just trying to stay in a shrinking circle on an in-game map where each minute alive adds more value to your character and leaves behind only the most skilled players hunting each other down to be the last one standing.
I thought it would be much more terrifying to lose a character after 10 minutes, the game gently rewards you at the end of every match with some in-game currency to unlock new character customization options and tells you how many players were left when you perished.
At that point you’re almost guaranteed to have found a few nicer weapons and modified them with better scopes and found a bigger backpack.
Most modern shooters limit players to just a few weapons on their person at any time and Battlegrounds isn’t different there. You get two long guns, a pistol, and some grenades if you’re lucky enough to find them. Even better is finding a vehicle that can feel like your ticket to the top ten until the playable zone shrinks to the point where you’re forced on foot.
Managing that inventory is a bit fiddly and I wish it were simplified so that it wasn’t such an incredible risk to sort through it while playing.
Once, when I was playing with a group of three, we had been surviving for about 30 minutes and we reached the outskirts of a set of a factory buildings. One of the team was separated from us as we clambered down a hill into the valley. We heard gunfire and knew that we couldn’t do anything for him at our new lower vantage point.
Now down to just two survivors, we found a multi-story building on the lot stocked with weapons and vantage points to snipe from. It was almost in the center of the playable circle on the map, so we set up shop. Switching jobs between watching the stairs and peeking out of the windows for any survivors trying to move on our building. This felt perfect as we watched the player count dwindle down from about 50 to under 20.
As the force field closed in we realized we were going to have to give up our safe house and run for the new playable area, but Battlegrounds had a new trick. We were stuck against the side of a mountain. There’s no way to climb, so we were quickly sapped of our health by the force field in third place because we didn’t think to look for an escape route.
I don’t know yet if the gameplay is going to get tiresome without the progression of other post-Modern Warfare shooters to level your character and unlock new guns and accessories. All you can unlock now with the coins rewarded after a match are clothing items for character customization.
A lot can change, the game has all kinds of bugs as it is still in Steam’s Early Access program, but it is refreshing to play something new and different in Battlegrounds. Already it takes great moments from my favorite survival games like Day-Z and packages then up into more streamlined bite-sized chunks. Scavaging for items. Lying in wait for every other cutthroat bastard once you have something worth protecting. Every game is unique. It’s thrilling to get these scenes condensed into a new experience.
Every death is a new anecdote. Just now I made it to 12th place and had everything I could want. While racing in a newly acquired dune buggy to escape the forcefield into the new playable area, I forgot that the game’s physics are janky. I pulled up to one of the only two shacks in an open field and got out of my car, but because of the jank my character immediately died from falling damage because the car wasn’t completely stopped.
That might sound frustrating, but it was hilarious at the time.
This is what I love about Battlegrounds. Each life in its world is a delightful mess that leaves you with a story to tell.
Valve is about to overhaul Steam in order to ensure that good games are visible and lazily developed games created for the purpose of making a quick buck—which Valve apparently calls “fake games”—sink beneath a sea of algorithms.
I’m not sure how this works, Valve have gone from saying that they want to take a more hands-off approach (back in 2014) to this new war on “fake games.”
The problem with this system, of course, is that it risks burying a handful of good games, as well. To combat this issue, Valve is going to introduce a program called Steam Explorers. Explorers will play through queues of games that haven’t been selling super well. If they dig a game, they can flag it. The more games get flagged, the more the algorithmic gods will smile upon them.
Anybody will be able to be an Explorer, much like Steam Curators. They’ll also get their own forum, so they can do things like arrange multiplayer matches in games that nobody else is playing.
The solution to all problems is unpaid labor from their community while they’re raking in profits. If this were EA with Origin, or Ubisoft’s uPlay, or basically anyone besides Valve, there would be a lot more people upset about not being paid to work. Or you would hope that people would be upset about their passion for games being exploited when Valve could just hire people to help curate the service.
I’ve also noticed the Link having a positive impact on my terrible attention span. When I’m playing at my desk I’m forever alt-tabbing to check Twitter or any number of stupid distractions. And I’ll usually last an hour in a game before quitting and doing something else. But camped out on the sofa, my attention doesn’t wander as much. I pay more attention to what I’m playing, and play it for longer, which is a discipline I thought I’d lost.