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Gaming Roundup – Trouble in the Industry

Hello! Welcome to the latest Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!

This week, accusations, Mixer closes, announcements from not-E3, and all the latest releases!

Abuse in the Games Industry

We sadly have to begin this week with a serious story. This is a difficult one to discuss because it involves sexual harassment within the gaming industry, so feel free to skip ahead if this is a subject that makes you uncomfortable.

Last weekend, allegations emerged about sexual misconduct committed by Destiny streamer SayNoToRage, also known as Lono. This began with an anonymous confession followed by testimonies from female streamers JewelsVerne, SheSnaps and ShviftyFive detailing harassment, inappropriate touching and attempts at sexual coercion from Lono. This opened the floodgates for similar testimonies alleging sexual assault committed by streamers across Twitch. Many of the names are unfamiliar to me, but I did recognise ProSyndicate as the guy who came under fire a while ago for deceitfully selling gambling to children. He has denied the allegations, although others have remained silent or admitted some degree of guilt.

Accusations emerged from other corners of the gaming industry too. Some accusations were made against Omeed Dariani, CEO of Online Performers Group, a talent agency representing the interests of streamers and other content creators. Several creators severed ties with OPG in the wake of these allegations, and Dariani has since stepped down as CEO.

Most damning of all the allegations, however, is a Twitter thread that collected accusations against various people within game development. However, a quick skim of the thread shows a single connection – Ubisoft, best known as the publishers of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and the Tom Clancy license holder. Many staff have been accused of misconduct, including artists, community leads and voice actors, making the problem look rampant throughout the company. Ubisoft were slow to respond, drawing criticism, but have now responded this morning that they are investigating the claims.

Accusations against staff from other companies, including Insomniac, Capcom and Global Game Jam, have come to light, as well as numerous allegations against prominent games writer Chris Avellone, who recently wrote for Jedi Fallen Order, amongst other big titles. Some in-development titles he was involved with, including Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines 2, The Waylanders and Dying Light 2, are having his work removed from them, while other companies are making the decision to not work with him again in future.

It’s been a shocking week to hear all of these allegations so rapidly over the past few days. Boycotts of affected companies and a Twitch blackout have been proposed as protests in order to get these allegations investigated.

It does suggest that while things are continuing to improve within the games industry, there are still some significant problems that are making women feel unsafe in certain places. It’s also raising serious questions about promo events and the drinking culture that surrounds them, which is where a lot of the more serious allegations seem to stem from. This is looking likely to be an ongoing story as investigations happen and companies respond.

Mixer Closing Down

While Twitch is under fire for neglecting to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, Microsoft’s streaming service, Mixer, has come under fire for a different reason this week.

Microsoft made the sudden announcement that Mixer was to be shut down, and its services would be merged into Facebook Gaming. Big name streamers like Ninja, who signed deals to go exclusive to Mixer months ago, are being given compensation packages as they return to Twitch. However, smaller streamers without that level of clout have been left high and dry, learning of the closure at the exact time the rest of the world did, causing panic about what their next steps were to be.

Even worse, Mixer appears to have not told the staff who worked on the platform that it was going to be shut down. Many staff took to social media to express their shock when the public announcement was made. There is some vague talk about the staff being moved to other departments within Microsoft, so hopefully that promise is followed up on.

While Mixer was never a hugely popular platform for streaming, and therefore its closure isn’t too surprising, to have staff and creators reliant on the platform discover they would be potentially losing their sources of income without warning is not a good PR move.

Former Sony Exec Wants Shorter Games

There are many arguments about the lengths of AAA games these days, with a push towards massive 60-hour experiences being pushed as the ideal. But with increasing costs, games increasingly competing with each other for attention and excessive crunch concerns, there are questions about whether or not games can be scaled back a little.

One person arguing for this is Shawn Layden, former exec from Sony Worldwide Studios. While his position saw him overseeing God of War and The Last of Us Part II, he does acknowledge that they could perhaps have been scaled back. TLoU2, particularly, has drawn some criticism for taking 10 hours longer on average to beat than its predecessor.

There is also an issue with cost. With 4K and SSD and other technologies coming into the next generation, costs to use these will naturally increase, so continuing to push for bigger and flashier games is an unsustainable business model. It’s also burning out developers and pushing out certain stories and experiences that cannot be catered for within open world games.

Personally, I agree with him. I’d rather the AAA industry was a bunch of solid 10-15-hour experiences which optimised their time rather than a sea of bloated 60-hour games that are mostly padding for the sake of having a big map. I still maintain that Portal is one of the greatest games ever made and it’s three hours long, while I’ve lost count of how many soulless and hollow open world games I’ve encountered.

Hopefully this will mark the beginnings of a shift in industry thinking, and hopefully it won’t lead to people complaining about price-hour calculations as if that’s the only value anyone can get out of a video game.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not E3

The past two weeks have seen many big online presentations designed to replace E3’s big announcement window, as the conference had been cancelled this year due to COVID-19 concerns.

However, the cavalcade of announcements has made a strong argument for why a centralised show is ultimately better, as multiple shows happened across two weeks, some actively clashing with one another. Keeping track of it was a nightmare, with multiple sites required to keep track of them all. Not to mention some of the shows were big deep dive “Nintendo Treehouse” style livestreams that lasted a day, while others were more like the keynote presentations E3 online is known for, but it was never clear which was which. Cue people loading up an IGN stream expecting an hour presentation only to learn later that it was 5-6 hours long instead (it was me, I did that, no I did not watch all 6 hours).

Many of the presentations were a little lacking too. There was a strong indie presence, but some indie devs chose to feature the exact same trailers in two or three presentations, while very few announcements were for games approaching release. A lot of vague 2021 dates floating around, which was disappointing.

But there were some big announcements worth highlighting. Here are the biggest reveals.

The biggest game announcement was arguably Star Wars Squadrons, a new ship combat game in the Star Wars universe, from the developers of Battlefront 2. We talked about this on the podcast recently, so I’ll defer to that. Well, the other guys talked about it, I’m massively indifferent to Star Wars stuff in general!

Set to release on the same day (October 2) is a game more in my wheelhouse. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is the first new Crash game in a decade, and promises to draw heavily from the original Naughty Dog trilogy rather than the confused mess that was most of the Crash series after Warped. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one shapes up.

Speaking of games that haven’t had sequels in a million years, Nintendo showed off some new Pokémon stuff lately. And while that included details on the new expansion for Sword and Shield, a tooth-brushing app for children and a Chinese-developed “free-to-start” MOBA for mobile (so many red flags there…), none of that is as important as New Pokémon Snap.

I loved Pokémon Snap back on the N64, which I spent hours with trying to get the perfect photos of Pokémon in the wild. A new one is coming to the Switch and will hopefully expand on the number of stages and Pokémon to find. It’ll also be much easier to share your Pokémon photos this time around with the Switch’s share functions.

Speaking of Nintendo, the new addition to Smash Bros was revealed to be Min-Min, the noodle-loving dragon-armed girl from Arms. As someone who has never played Arms, I know nothing about the character, but I do like her design and she looks to be bringing a unique moveset. Plus she was a better choice than another Fire Emblem character.

In other crossover DLC news, the Samurai Shodown reboot from last year is getting a new fighter, and it’s…*checks notes* the Warden from For Honor. Okay, I didn’t really expect a crossover between SNK’s niche sword-wielding fighting game and Ubisoft’s anachronistic brawler, but here it is, I guess.

Highlights from the Steam Festival

Another aspect to the not-E3 celebration was the Steam Summer Games Festival, where a bunch of indie games got demos for download on Steam. There were far too many for me to play through them all, but I sampled a select few and wish to share some of my favourites.

My favourite of the selection I played had to be Cris Tales. Inspired by classic JRPGs, this is a game about a girl named Crisbelle who gains temporal powers, allowing her to see the past and future alongside the present, and can use this knowledge to manipulate events to be more positive. I really enjoyed this, as it had some excellent writing and voice acting, a gorgeous art style that reminded me a lot of 1960s cartoons, and a really fun battle system that did some clever things with the time powers. The full game is out later this year, and I feel it’s a Game of the Week in waiting.

Backbone is a game specifically targeted at me, as it’s a noir detective point and click starring a raccoon. The story is typical noir mystery and the gameplay is digging around for clues in a seedy city, but they also drew in a lot of fun elements from its anthropomorphic cast that gave it a unique personality. The conversation options offered a lot of fun choices and the investigation was intriguing throughout the small snippet the demo offered. It’s out next year, but I’m already looking forward to playing more.

Roki had a short demo, but I liked what I played. It’s a point and click game based around Scandinavian folklore, and much of the demo involves trying to find a way to pull a dagger out of a bridge troll’s shoulder. There’s some gorgeous art and the protagonist seemed likeable from what we got to see of her. This one’s out next month.

Floppy Knights was a surprise for me. I initially wasn’t sure about it thanks to an art style I didn’t gel with, but once I started playing I almost didn’t want to stop. It played like Fire Emblem crossed with Pokémon with elements of a deck-builder thrown in for good measure. Using a deck of cards, you move units around a map in a tactical RPG style, and your units are little creatures summoned through floppy disks, and you collect more as you progress. This one was weirdly addictive, as the changing hands forced you to keep rethinking strategies on the fly, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Black Book was intriguing. It saw you playing as a young witch-in-training setting out to battle demons. It used some interesting spell-based combat mechanics, and a choice-based narrative where you can decide how to engage with the demonic influence in the land. Felt like it was drawing heavily from folklore for its depictions of magic and demons so that made it feel grounded. It’s out next year.

Dreamscaper was a roguelike that I actually liked. It’s about a girl exploring her dreams at night and using that to build relationships in the real world. The roguelike gameplay existed in the dream world, where you explore a procedurally generated dungeon and battle a boss that I believe was representative of the protagonist’s inner fears. It kept the roguelike elements interesting with some variety in moves which meant it never felt repetitive in the way I find other similar games, and the Persona-style friend mechanics in the real world added a neat twist on the genre’s upgrade system. Dreamscaper is set to come out soon.

New Releases

 

In new releases, there’s the HD remaster Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated, released for all consoles, and bringing back the PS2/Gamecube era 3D platformer starring Spongebob and pals. In other re-release news, I somehow forgot to mention that JRPG classic Persona 4 Golden getting a release on Steam last week. Go play Persona 4 Golden, which now doesn’t require buying a Vita play. You can thank me later.

In smaller releases, Danger Scavenger on Steam is a cyberpunk-themed twin-stick shooter with roguelike elements, and Mr Driller: DrillLand (Steam, Switch) is the latest in Bandai Namco’s puzzle game series about drilling through blocks while simultaneously not getting crushed by blocks. I have no idea what’s happening in that trailer though, so I can’t help you beyond that.

Finally, there’s Ninjala, a Switch-exclusive multiplayer title where you play as ninja kids who are here to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Because the bubblegum gives them powers to help them kick ass better. No really. It’s not a first-party Nintendo title, but if you told me this was made by the Splatoon team, I’d believe you unquestioningly, because there’s definitely some style inspiration going on here.

Game of the Week

Game of the Week this week is The Almost Gone for PC, Switch, and mobile platforms. A puzzle game about investigating surreal dioramas for clues to someone’s missing memories. There’s a surprisingly dark tone to it, with talk of something following the protagonist as they progress. It’s a unique title that brings to mind Monument Valley crossed with a good escape room game. Ideal for playing on the go, I reckon.

And that’s it for this week! I’ll see you again with more from the world of gaming!