Celebrate International Puppy Day with these helpful hounds!

Celebrate International Puppy Day with these helpful hounds!

Who’s a good boy?! These pups! Celebrate the most majestic creature with these pup-filled games.

  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Legendary game worlds and fighters collide in the ultimate showdown. Whether you’re playing the game locally or online* with up to eight players**, don’t forget to call the Nintendogs for assistance!
  • Overcooked 2: The Onion Kingdom is being threatened by The Unbread! The Onion King and his loyal pup Kevin need you, so chop, fry, and bake your way through a series of crazy kitchens to defeat them. No, Kevin! Don’t be a hero!
  • Super Mario Odyssey: Explore incredible places far from the Mushroom Kingdom as you join Mario and his ally Cappy on a massive, globe-trotting adventure. Collect Power Moons to power up the Odyssey airship and save Princess Peach from Bow…wow… Is that dog wearing a hat?!
  • Wargroove: In this turn-based strategy game, choose your Commander and wage war on battling factions. Queen Marcia’s faithful hound Caesar can even command his own armies. You better watch out; this pup gets ruff!
  • Undertale: Fall into the underworld and explore a hilarious and heartwarming world full of dangerous monsters. Date a skeleton, dance with a robot, encounter Annoying Dogs…or destroy everyone where they stand. The future is yours to determine!
  • Mimpi Dreams: Mimpi is a lazy pup who becomes a “Superdog” in his dreams. Whether you’re moving objects or helping him communicate with dream creatures, help him save his friends and learn what it takes to be a good boy!
  • Numbala: Fly a spaceship through galactic islands, rescue your best dog friend, and train at math all while you chase a mysterious space whale! Phew!
  • Left-Right: The Mansion: Gigi the dog ran into a huge mansion, and it’s up to you to save him! Journey through a mysterious place where you have a simple choice to make: left or right?
  • The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince: Transform between the wolf and the princess to solve puzzles, evade traps, and unlock fragments of memories. Weave through the dark and dangerous forest to guide the prince toward a cure.

* Nintendo Switch Online membership (sold separately) and Nintendo Account required for online play. Not available in all countries. Internet access required for online features. Terms apply. Learn more at: https://www.nintendo.com/switch-online.

** Additional accessories may be required for multiplayer mode; sold separately.

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Game source code is a teaching tool, not a trade secret, argues VGHF founder

Today at GDC Digital Eclipse’s Frank Cifaldi, founder of the Video Game History Foundation, hopped onstage to talk a bit about the challenges facing game historians — and how devs can continue helping to preserve game history.

It was something of a follow-up to his GDC 2016 talk, in which he pointed out (among other things) that the game industry is far worse than others when it comes to preserving and understanding its own history.

“Very very few of our notable games from the past are available commercially,” he said today, reminding attendees that when you look at two big works of the late ‘80s, the DuckTales video game and the John Candy film Uncle Buck, only the latter is readily (and legally) available today.

“I think for a lot of games, it’s just too late now”

This despite the fact that according to Cifaldi, “no video game emulator challenged in court has ever been ruled illegal.”

“But because we demonized it, instead of embracing it…I think two things happened,” he continued. “Old games became the domain of the pirates…and we also, I think, by not getting ahead of it and getting these games back into print through emulation, I think for a lot of games, it’s just too late now.”

“I do think we can stop the bleeding a little bit of we embrace the emulator loudly,” he said. “Emulation is king.”

In a quick recap of the highs and lows of game preservation over the past three years, Cifaldi shouted out Sony specifically for using an open-source emulator, PCSX ReARMed, in its PlayStation Classic mini-console.

“For me this was huge,” he said. “This was Sony saying an emulator written by the community was good enough.”

Over the last few years Digital Eclipse has also put out some of its own remasters, The Disney Afternoon Collection and The SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, and Cifaldi says that’s spurred the studio to think more deeply about who buys these remastered old games and why.

He suggests there are three very broad, over-generalized categories of customers for old games: parents who want to show their kids what they grew up with, collectors, and hardcore retronauts.

“The hardcore play hard,” said Cifaldi. “We can do so many things without the industry interacting with us at all. We can download every game ever; it’s so easy to go download a MAME set and have every arcade game ever made playable in front of you.”

An entire industry has sprung up around these hardcore fans, ensuring that there are now a ton of ways to load stacks and stacks of games onto a cartridge to play on original hardware, or hack old CRTs to play games in the most vibrant way possible.

“Nobody’s died yet, but god please be careful,” Cifaldi cautioned.

“We don’t even need the commercial games,” he added. “We can translate games that nobody did, and damn well should have,” like Mother 3.

Cifaldi also gave a shoutout to Roll-Chan, a ROM hack of the original Mega Man which swaps in Roll as the main character, and noted that while he tried to contact the author to get the game included in the Mega Man Legacy Collection, it didn’t work out; “probably because he didn’t believe me.”

If releasing, re-releasing, remastering, or doing anything commercial with old games is part of your business, Cifaldi argues that you should be thinking about how to do it in the best way possible. You’re part of preserving game history, and you’re making money doing it.

And hey, if you happen to be working on a game like this and have access to anyone who worked on the original game, talk to them! They can give you valuable insight into where it came from, how it was made, and how to preserve and showcase it for future generations.

“It’s what I like to call a playable documentary”

As an example he brought the SNK 40th collection back up, highlighting how it’s less of a straight pack of remasters and more of a “playable documentary”.

“It’s what I like to call a playable documentary of what I think is a little strange and wonderful developer from the ‘80s,” said Cifaldi. “Instead of remastering the game, we approached things a little bit differently.”

To give fellow devs some insight into how these kinds of decisions happen, Cifaldi broke down why Digital Eclipse took on the SNK project.

“We’re kind of known for our extra material on these games,” said Cifaldi. “In SNK’s case, they made like 60 games in the ‘80s, and we’d still be working on this project if we did all 60 games.”

So while there are less than 60 playable in the package, Cifaldi says the team worked extremely hard to track down all sorts of promotional materials, screenshots, and more assets from all of SNK’s games. They also put in some historical notes, sourced in part from folks who worked on the original games.

“This was important because a lot of this history hasn’t been talked about, even by SNK,” said Cifaldi. “A lot of these guys aren’t getting any younger, so we wanted to educate consumers about who they are.”

He called special attention to the game’s special “jump in and play” feature, which lets players watch a well-played run of every game and then pause at any time to jump in and take control.

“It’s all pixel-perfect because this isn’t video; it’s actually button playback of the game,” said Cifaldi. “That’s how we’re able to scrub through it….and you can just start playing, because that’s the save state.”

Cifaldi suggests this is almost like flipping through a book, pitching it as a great way to let players who maybe aren’t very good at an old game check out high-level play and later levels for themselves.

He went through a few other tricks Digital Eclipse pulled to get classic games like Ikari Warriors playable on modern controllers before seguing into a conversation about how much devs can learn from the good work going into projects like MAME.

“Three years ago I said we should maybe start using MAME,” said Cifaldi. “I don’t think any studios have done that, including us. But here’s the thing…we’re all using MAME.”

What he means is, devs can and are learning a ton about how to best emulate old games and adapt them to modern hardware by studying the work that’s being done on emulators, even as the work itself is actively unacknowldged by most of the public.

“I think we should stop doing this nudge-wink thing in the industry that we’ve been doing forever,” he said. “This is volunteer work that we’ve been exploiting for decades, in secrecy, like we’re ashamed of it. But we shouldn’t be ashamed of the MAME project.”

“I think we should be proud,” he added. “I think we should be shouting out MAME in the credits, and I’m calling myself out and everyone else on that.”

However, “sometimes MAME is wrong,” he admitted. The team at Digital Eclipse discovered a few mistakes in MAME’s code while building out the SNK 40th collection (see slide above), and they also found that even when MAME runs a game without any issues, it doesn’t always display it in the best possible light for modern screens.

In closing, Cifaldi encouraged devs to think about rereleasing old games as an educational effort, one that can and should sit alongside work like documentaries and historical works.

“W emake documentaries you play with a controller,” said Cifalidi. “Or if you prefer, we make coffee table books you play on a video game platform.”

And there’s so much more the game industry can be doing, argues Cifaldi, to revitalize old games and present them to the world with well-established vectors for selling and distributing critical deconstruction of creative work.

“We can make a game about making the game,” he added. Referencing Scott McCloud’s comic book about the art of comic books, “Understanding Comics”, he suggests devs should be thinking about ways not just to bring back old games, but to showcase the history and art of game development within the games themselves.

“Usually when we talk about game preservation,I think the notion people have is taking the binary data and making sure its online, safe, or accessible,” said Cifaldi. “Usually what I say to that is: no, the pirates took care of that, we’re fine. But actually, we’ve already lost some games.”

He calls out SNK’s first game Micon Kit as a great example. Released in the late ’70s, it’s the game that gave the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection its name, in a sense, but despite loads of work Digital Eclipse couldn’t find a copy of the game’s code.

A shot of Micon Kit 1SNK’s first game (courtesy of Cifaldi’s Twitter account)

“Even with the commercial support to make this historical document about this company’s roots, we don’t have its actual roots,” he said. “They seem to be gone.”

He added that Digital Eclipse sent someone to scour Japan for the game code and other SNK historical artifacts, and its only because of the dedicated efforts of collectors and preservationists that the game was able to include so much historical material.

“SNK actually paid him to work with us,” said Cifaldi at one point, referring to a dedicated Japanese collector who helped scan portions of his collection for inclusion in the game. “That should be a standing ovation, but we’re running out of time, so thank you SNK.”

“Steal from work and put it in a box”

“But scariest of all, to me, is source [code],” said Cifaldi. “I’m not shaming companies when I say it’s just the reality: we didn’t hang on to a lot of the source code, and that’s terrifying.”

Cifaldi doesn’t have a lot of new advice on this front: he suggested everyone go back and watch the game preservation talks given by Laine Nooney and Jason Scott at prior GDCs, then get busy taking game preservation into their own ahnds.

“Steal from work and put it in a box,” he shouted. “I don’t care if you put the box at work or you bring the stuff you stole home and put it in a box, but do it.”

Cifaldi called on devs to not just steal from work and save it, but to ship it to video game preservationists at places like The Strong Museum of Play, the National Videogame Museum, the Internet Archive, and (of course) the Video Game History Foundation.

Also, “the Library of Congress we don’t normally talk about, but they do have an archive in Culpeper,” he added “It’s actually for film, but they also accept code…I’ve talked to them about it and they’re like ‘yeah we’ll take source code, we’ll keep it safe.’”

Also, he added that the Video Game History Foundation will be opening a video game history reference library in the near future. “It may be the first library dedicated to that, but if I’m wrong, if there’s another library dedicated to referencing this stuff, let me know — I’d like to visit.”

“I think one of our best functions in the world is to provide an impartial voice for efforts like this,” said Cifaldi. “So if you have some video game material and you don’t know what to do with it, I’ll help you go through it and talk through your options.”

“The industry sees source material as a trade secret,” he concluded. “We think it’s an educational tool…it’s kind of a new concept, source code as an educational resource. We’re trying to figure it out, but it’s all brand new and we’re figuring out how to do it as we go.”

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Crash meetings, keep a lore bible, and other narrative design tips learned at King

Storytelling and world-building are important tools game makers have at their disposal, but sometimes only have limited space or assets to build out either.

During the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, King’s narrative design lead Tracey John addressed just that, and offered some advice on how narrative designers can work within those limitations to increase engagement and reduce friction (with as few words as possible).

If you’re curious about what King, the studio behind the game Candy Crush Saga, has to offer on the topic of narrative, you’re not alone. John opens the early moments of her talk with that exact same thought: “People wonder ‘How does Candy Crush have narrative design?’”

It’s a question John discovered Candy Crush’s players were asking as well. She shared an image of a survey King conducted with 900 or so members of its playerbase and highlights that 13 percent wanted characters and roles introduced in-game and 12 percent all around wanted more of a story in their Candy Crush games.

But, as John points out, Candy Crush does have an established cast of characters and a cohesive narrative throughout, so the question becomes how does the narrative design need to adapt to make that information more readily apparent to players. On top of that, mobile players tend to skim and quickly tap through prompts, rather than read every word of text that pops up.

“If players really don’t want to read but want more story, how do we give them more?”

John offers up four guidelines to help narrative designers ensure they’re getting the most out of the resources they have: context, clarity, consistency, and charm.

They’re fairly straightforward guidelines but still important for narrative designers to keep in mind. Context gives designers a way to make mechanics and events mesh with the world and characters. John says this means not making assumptions about what players will understand, considering flow and pacing at every turn, and remembering the usefulness of visual cues and strong copy.

Clarity ensures that narrative elements are presented in “a simple and succinct way,” and John says this boils down to being sure to give the right information at the right time, and to not feel the need to have to explain everything. “If you can explain something visually instead of with text, do it!”

Consistency tasks developers with establishing, documenting, and sticking to narrative elements introduced in the game. Players will pick up when something seems out of character or unusual for the world. John says that she and the localization team keep a lore bible for this reason that’s “huge and takes forever to load but is awesome” for keeping narrative consistent across different games and even across localizations.
 

She offers some tips for keeping things consistent like making sure the visuals and text match the game world, choosing the player’s point of view up front, and deciding on (and documenting!) a lexicon and nomenclature up front.

Charm is something the characters and examples John brought during her talk seem to ooze, and something that can be difficult to project when working with limited resources. For Candy Crush Saga, John wanted to give players an unobtrusive way to give more personality to characters, but had to do so without any additional art. The solution was to scatter existing characters across the map and let players tap to see small blurbs that offered up mission hints or light background.

Visual gags can be a great way to carry charm into a mobile game, with the added bonus that there’s not text to localize down the road. It’s important, she says, to test your ideas and jokes, but narrative designers and writers need to know when to kill their darlings. 

“There’s no easy answer or even a right or wrong answer, but as a narrative designer you have to make tough choices,” said John. Sometimes that means cutting charming dialogue in favor of just UI elements that communicate that information with more clarity.

But the biggest tip that John has for designing narrative in a tight space like a mobile game is to make sure that you stay involved in the development process. As she suggests in a slide, “attend or crash meetings!” Learn the production pipeline, make sure you know what other disciplines do, and ensure that your team knows what a narrative designer does. 

“If everyone is thinking about narrative design, no one will forget it.” 

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Labor organizers share insight and tips on unionizing the game industry

There’s been a lot of talk about unionization in the game industry, so today at GDC some union workers took the stage in front of an audience of game makers to share what they’d learned about effectively organizing labor. 

During the hour-long session panel members Emma Kinema (Game Workers Unite International), Kevin Gregory Agwaze (Game Workers Unite UK), Linda Dao (SAG-AFTRA), Justin Molito (Writers Guild of America, East) and Liz Shuler of AFL-CIO (which published an open letter encouraging game devs to organize) fielded some notable labor questions from game devs.

It was a fast-paced discussion that spanned a lot of topics, so if you have time (and access) you might want to rewatch it when the recording eventually goes up on the GDC Vault.

While the latter half was dedicated to audience questions, Kinema first introduced everyone on the panel, which together spanned experience organizing voice actors, writers, game developers, electricians, and more.

Right up front, Agwaze acknowledged that while he and his collaborators helped organize the United Kingdom’s first game dev union, they had to do it by focusing on the national level, rather than taking a more traditional company-by-company approach.

“As opposed to unionizing shop by shop, by forming a national union, you have a lot of members,” acknowledged Agwaze, but “it’s a space that traditional unions aren’t super sure how to approach yet. It’s been a space that’s been traditionally not unionized, and it’s a challenge to figure out how to do it.”

“The most important lesson there is to make sure that we listen, as organizers,” added Molito, who talked a bit about his experience helping organize writers at digital media companies like Vice and Gawker. “When we’re trained as organizers we’re told we have two ears and one mouth, and thus we should be doing twice as much listening. So as an organization we listened very closely to what the people in the digital media sector were saying. They were talking about overwork, underpay, and other common issues.”

Molito says his experience helping writers to unionize taught him the importance of using modern digital tools to organize, at a workplace level and (more importantly) across the whole movement.

“One lesson that was extremely important…is having a movement approach”, added Molito. “So we’re not talking about organizing one shop, or one place, that happens to be the bad place to work. We’re talking about organizing the entire industry, so standards are set across the board, no matter what company you’re working for on any given day…we’re no longer working in an economy where people work at one place for 30-40 years. People jump from place to place all the time.”

The game industry often works the same way, and Agwaze advises anyone trying to organize labor in this business to make as much noise as possible, as often as possible, in as many different channels as possible. It’s a key piece of Game Workers U.K.’s strategy, not only because it’s good marketing but because at this early stage in organizing, there’s just a lot of questions to be asked and answered.

“We have a newsletter that’s biweekly, we have a Discord where people can speak to us, we are going to have a weekly meeting just with our membership, where everyone can join and ask questions,” added Agwaze. “We also have regional meetings once a month…so people can meet up in real life, and get to know each other. We just constantly communicate what we’re doing.”

Since most game industry workers aren’t familiar with what unions are or how they work, Agwaze says his nascent union has had to work hard to keep spreading the word about what they’re doing. The fast pace of work in the game industry hasn’t helped.

“Everyone is working really hard, they’re crunching, so…sometimes we also have to work hard to show them what we’re doing,” he said.

SAG-AFTRA’s also cautioned game makers not to overlook the value and necessity of making time for one-on-one conversations when you’re trying to organize a group of workers. People need to feel enthusiastic about being part of something bigger, and direct face-to-face conversations are a great way to do that.

“You want to make sure that people are educated…that people are involved, and excited to be involved,” added Dao. “So one-on-ones are super important.”

Shuler jumped in to say that, on the bright side, she’s seen a recent surge in labor organization, citing the recent Marriott workers strike as a good example of how workers can successfully fight for better pay and more protection on the job.

“We’re seeing a movement moment,” she added. “I think people are discovering that they don’t have to sit back and take it. They can fight back.”

“I don’t think it’s much to ask, in an industry that’s three times the size of Hollywood, to get a meaningful return on the risk you’re taking and the opportunity you’re creating,” Shuler continued. “The law protects workers who want to come together, no matter what your workplace looks like or what kind of work you do.”

“It really is about this power dynamic,” she continued. “What we’re seeing, not just in this industry but everywhere, is this concentration where the profits go to a handful of people, and the working people get the short end of the stick.”

Shuler believes a lot of people in the game industry (and the world at large) have an outdated understanding of what labor unions do, and how members can benefit. They can offer viable portable health benefits, for example, which might be valuable in a game industry which regularly sees independent workers and workers between jobs asking for money on platforms like GoFundMe to help cover medical expenses.

“People think portable benefits is a new concept,” added Shuler. “It’s not. Unions have been giving workers benefits for decades.”

“What’s happening is the massive disparity of wealth inequality in this country,” added Molito. “There are a few people that are taking everybody’s money and making people work like 60-70 hours a week, and giving them just enough to survive to continue producing wealth.”

“The solution to that is mass organizing into militant, strong labor unions.”

“There’s obviously enormous fear about collective action, because the organizations you’re fighting against have all the power,” Molito continued. “But you find, when you talk to people who are in the same situation that you are, that there’s going to be a lot of solidarity.”

So if you want to get involved, Molito recommends you get out there and find other workers in a similar situation, both within your organization and without. 

“Really just develop that solidarity by talking to each other about what you’re experiencing,” he advised.

“You’re used to working in an open-source environment and solving problems collectively,” added Shuler. “You can apply those same skills and techniques to organizing.”

“It’s all about talking to the people you work with,” said Dao. “Find out their problems, and make connections…we’re all facing these problems, and we want to fight for better conditions.”

The latter half of the panel was turned over to the audience to ask questions, so we’ve gone ahead and excerpted some of the better ones below”

“The independent development scene looks a little bit to me like the independent film scene in our union,” said Molito. “The thing that worked for our union in that space is the community-building: so we’ll have an independent film caucus where people working in isolated situations can get together to talk about their craft, their funders, their problems, and look for solutions collectively.”

“And then also the union has a contract that can be negotiated whereby you would be, if you’re the indie game developers and you’re working as a self-owned entity, then you can become a signatory to the union contract and become eligible for health insurance.”

“That’s been a debate because traditionally we’ve seen people organized around craft,” added Shuler. “But for folks who are independent, who aren’t employees, under the National Labor Relations Act, you’re not eligible, I guess, to form a traditional union as an independent contractor. So that’s where we’re seeing these new models take hold, like Uber drivers or the taxi drivers…people who have traditionally been on their own, and who have banded together to negotiate.”

She adds that as the “gig economy” model takes hold and employers are steadily making moves to try and take less responsibility for their workers, “because they don’t want to be employers anymore,” modern labor should be thinking about how to organize on a larger scale than the companies they work for.

“Of course we’re going to fight that, but we also need to figure out a path forward for workers who want to come together in a different way,” Shuler continued. “As someone who works independently, you still want to have access to affordable healthcare. You still want to maybe buy a home someday…so I think we’re looking at a model of how we can open up the labor movement’s scale, to leverage that for worker who aren’t necessarily employees.”

“One example from SAG-AFTRA is that choreographers are not considered part of our union,” added Dao. “We do cover dancers, but then the choreographers created their own space…a choreographers’ alliance…where they still talk to one another and are actually able to create minimums for each other. So I think there are ways, using this alliance model, to make inroads into organizing and to show solidarity with your colleagues.”

“We know that choreographers have a super specialized skill set, and a lot of them will be in solidarity with the dancers,” added Dao. “And then the choreographers will go to other shows, and if they’re on tour with an artist, and they’ll float these ideas and help organize in that way. So there is that solidarity and that education going on.”

Agwaze said that it’s tricky to draw the line at who counts as a “game worker” and who doesn’t. In theory, “game workers” is a very broad and inclusive group — but it makes practical sense to focus on workers employed directly by the game industry while Game Workers U.K. is still trying to expand its foothold.

“Anybody who is involved in the process of making games is, at some level, in the union,” he said. “Whether it’s user-generated content, or modders, or esports players. But the game industry is a big place where it’s hard to get the solidarity you need form all the workers. So until we can get the foothold we need in this industry, we don’t want ot stretch ourselves too hard, and not cover all our bases.”

“The organizing we’ve been doing since 2015 has all been outside the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the National Labor Relations Act,” Molito answered.

“In many ways it’s a law set up to prevent people from organizing, so we’ve been organizing outside of it…so people who, under that law, would be seen as managers, they can still join our union…we’ve found it useful to sometimes have people in the union who have more power, and may be able to get more from the company.”

Kinema jumped in to share her own advice, noting that “I think it’s really crucial that when you’re organizing with those types of folks, one I’d say bring them on after you’ve organized many of the base-level workers. And secondly, when you’re organizing, make sure the actual structure of the organization…is taking into account the natural power dynamics that some of these leads, directors, and supervisors tend to have in the company. So they’re not overriding anyone’s voice.”

In closing out the talk, Shuler wound up encouraging game makers to feel strong and righteous about trying to organize, but not to necessarily go to the negotiating table with a confrontational attitude up front.

“The scenario we see most often is very confrontational,” she explained. “But there are scenarios where employers and managers will work with you to form a union. And they are rare, but we should approach this effort with the rationale that hey, we want to do better. We want to have a seat at the table, we want to be a shareholder, and have a voice….we can’t always assume that management is our enemy. In some cases, middle management benefits when there’s a union in the company.”

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The Weekender: Amplified Edition

Despite GDC 2019 going on the background, it’s been a pretty vibrant time in mobile gaming this week. As someone who stands at the convergence of several different gaming spheres (mobile, war games, PC Strategy etc…), I’m always more open to visionary ideas that further merge several aspects of my life – that’s why Google’s Stadia announcement was so interesting.

I won’t re-hash what I’ve already said – while we wait to see how it ultimately turns out we’ll continue to review excellent games like Tides of Time, or Assembly. Maybe not Pirate Outlaws… Roguelikes seem to be the new ‘hot’ genre at the moment, and this week is no exception.

Meanwhile, In mobile gaming…

Out Now

NecroDancer: AMPLIFIED (iOS Universal)

The original Crypt of the Necrodancer currently stands as one of our favourite roguelike games, so the fact that there’s now a prequel game is very good news indeed. Amplified features brand-new content, as well as all of the original content from the mobile version of Crypt of the Necrodancer, so be mindful if you already own that, there could be some repetition.

The new content features Nocturna, a shape-shifter, with a brand new story and a new zone complete with new levels, boss battles, enemies and rewards. Groove your way through the dungeon, slashing fools to the sick beat.

Crossroads Roguelike RPG (iOS & Android)

Speaking of Roguelikes, there’s another one that looks interesting as well. In Crossroads you create a character by choosing its race and class, and then you must go on a quest as an agent of the Adventurer’s Guild. You journey to your mission by revealing cards laid on a grid. Some cards will reveal loot, or spells, or powerful buffs, while others will present challenges. It’s all procedurally generated, and there are 5 different adventures to embark on.

A Sea of RPGs

Usually when I come to do this column, especially if I’m not able to get code for things in advance, I simply keep an eye on what’s ‘premium’ as a potential source of new games. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be working as well as of late, as we’re starting to see more games release with a premium price point AS WELL as IAPs. As far this week goes, there’s been a few RPG releases like that, namely off-brand Pokémon-like Evertale (iOS | Android), and JRPG Legend of the Tetrarchs (iOS | Android).

Evertale’s seems more of a token fee, but both game’s IAPs seem to revolve around in-game currency. As we saw recently with Pirates Outlaws, grind can be bad, and it’s made all the more bitter if you have to pay for the privilege.

But then you’ve also got ThirdMiracle (iOS | Android) & Kings Hero 2 (iOS | Android) which have also released this week and don’t appear to be any more than what they are. The former is another JRPG, while the latter is a hex-based tactical RPG in the old-school fantasy façade.

We’ll try and get to all of these as/when we can, but as always – buyer beware.

Updates

Stardew Valley (iOS & Android) (Review)

This update is just on the recently released android version at the time of writing, but the dev have released a patch that’s fixed a few things.

Star Traders: Frontiers (iOS & Android) (Review)

The gift that keeps on giving, there’s been several updates to the game since we last checked. The main thing you need to know that the upcoming release of deployable fighters and Carrier-class ships has been pushed back till the 2.5 update, and the release of a new Era/Story season has been brought forward. Other than that, the Trese Brothers continue to tweak and adjust their magnum opus.

Sentinels of the Multiverse (iOS & Android) (Review)

A firm favourite amongst PT readers, Sentinels has just received its final expansion along with the 3.0 updates. Season 2 pass holders get it for free, otherwise its available to purchase via IAP. It comes with five new heroes, five new environments, and the final boss battle scenario.

DomiNations (iOS & Android)

One of our favourite RTS games, DomiNations is celebrating its 4th Anniversary with a brand new content update focusing on space travel. Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space, has been added as new leader, as well as the Space Shuttle and SETI Wonders. In addition, new events have been added that focus on key milestones surrounding mankind’s journey into space, from Yuri Gagarin, to Apollo 13.

Sales

Sentinels of the Multiverse (iOS & Android) (Review): $1.99

To celebrate the launch of the final expansion, the base game has been discounted to just a couple of dollars. 

Steamworld Heist (iOS Universal) (Review): $4.99

We rather enjoyed this stylish turn-based strategy game, and now you can too as the game is once again down to half price.

Football Manager 2019 Mobile (iOS & Android): $5.99

FM Mobile is the streamlined version of Football Manager (you could almost call it ‘Lite’) as opposed to the near-direct port that is FM Touch. It’s currently enjoying a small discount, if you’re interested.

Alien: Blackout (iOS & Android) (Review): $2.99

We didn’t like Alien Blackout, but it’s now on sale for the first time since launch, down a couple of bucks. It’s also recently been updated with a new mode called ‘Survive’, which is basically Ironman.

And just before we go, Android users can pick up the original Warhammer Quest for $1, if you’re interested.

Seen anything else you like? Played any of the above? Let us know in the comments!

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Sweeney commits to human moderators & quality filters for Epic’s Games Store

“We have a storefront now too, big whoop — our storefront isn’t going to be the be-all or end-all either.”

That’s Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, speaking to Gamasutra at GDC 2019 earlier this week about how the launch of Epic’s new Games Store is going. 

While the Epic Games Store’s debut late last year drew devs’ attention (and games), in large part due to a lean rev-share rate that sees game makers taking home 88 percent of their revenues, Sweeney is keen to frame it as just a “funny early version of a thing that’s going to ultimately be a lot bigger and a lot different.”

“I think the future of game discovery cannot just be about storefronts,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of mechanisms,” citing everything from mobile chat clients like WeChat to Twitch streamers as increasingly valuable avenues for getting your game in front of potential players.

All valid, but Epic’s spartan storefront seems to be rapidly filling up with prominent games, and devs could be forgiven for wondering whether Epic’s generous rev-share rate (compared to the industry-standard 70/30) might change in the future once the Epic Games Store has a large enough customer base.  

“This isn’t like a loss leader type of business for us. 12 percent is our permanent rate, and it includes plenty of margin for Epic to run a healthy and profitable business,” Sweeney told Gamasutra. “We could have gone lower, but we also really wanted to build a lasting business that works for us, and we feel a natural revulsion to services where they’re either free or subsidized, and they’re paid for through a tax that is worse than money.”

It was a less-than-subtle shot at companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook, all of which offer games and services at low (or no) cost but, in Sweeney’s eyes, expect too much in return.  

“There’s nothing worse for paying for a good in a price that’s worse than money. And with Google Search or Facebook, that price is your privacy. And in some walled garden storefronts, that price is your rights as a customer,” he continued. 

Of course the Epic Games Store has already caught some public criticism for the way it handles user data, most notably the way in which the EGS launcher pulls Steam friends data from users’ machines before they elect to import their Steam friends list into the Epic launcher.

Sweeney has already said it was an unintended oversight that’ll be corrected in an upcoming update, and today he noted that another unintended (albeit fruitful) consequence of the Epic Games Store’s practice of giving out free games to registered users.

Paying devs to bring you customers reportedly beats paying for ads

“The process of releasing a free game every two weeks arose for one reason, but we’re hugely doubling down on it for another reason,” Sweeney said. “The initial reason was we felt we had to acquire….we had to bring in a lot of users who hadn’t otherwise seen our store. And releasing cool games for free seemed like a good way to do that. So we put tens of millions of dollars towards that initiative.”

“But what we’ve seen since is that that’s been far more successful than ever expected. Subnautica brought in four and a half million downloads, and it turns out that by paying developers in order for the right to release their game for two weeks, we’re actually supporting those developers and we’re also building awareness of their games.”

Roughly four and a half million Epic store customers downloaded a copy of Unknown Worlds’ Subnautica during the two weeks it was available for free.

Sweeney pitches this a big ol’ value add for everyone involved: devs get paid and grow their audience even as Epic does the same. 

“We actually find its more economical to bring users to the Epic Store by giving away free games than by paying Facebook or Google to run ads for their store,” he adds. “And that’s awesome, because that money would just be going into the pockets of a giant corporation, whereas the money we’re spending now is going towards developers to make more games.”

A stream of customers are now pouring into Epic’s new storefront as a result of those developers’ games, and Sweeney claims the company will continue to regulate the flow of games launching on the Store in order to try and ensure each one has a reasonable expectation of getting customers’ attention.

“In the very early days we’re hand-curating all of the games on our storefront,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that the pace of games coming into the store didn’t outpace the rate of customers coming into the store. It’s been a very deliberate process.”

Self-publishing is coming, with a “reasonably high quality filter”

In the future, the plan is to open the Epic Games Store up to self-publishing, though Sweeney is quick to note that “we’re going to apply a reasonably high quality filter.”

“So we’re not going to see asset flips, and we’re going to explicitly say no to porn games or other intentionally controversial games,” Sweeney continued. “We’re perfectly fine with M-rated experiences like GTA or Far Cry, but we’re not the place for the other stuff. For the bigger anti-social things.”

That’s significantly different from Valve, which broadly takes a hands-off approach to moderating which games are allowed on Steam in favor of giving customers tools to filter what they see.

It’s also a much clearer stance than Steam’s owners tend to take, given that Valve recently managed to both ban a game about sexual violence and also not explicitly condemn it.

So what decides whether a game is a good fit for the Epic Games Store?

“Oh, there will be humans,” Sweeney said. “We have people working that already, for example in the Unreal Engine Marketplace. We have standards and existing processes we can apply to moderate the Epic Games Store.”

Amid all this talk of standards, Sweeney explicitly draws a line between the Unreal Engine side of the business and the storefront side. 

“[Unreal Engine] is a way of expressing your ideas. Anybody, under our standard license, is free to use Unreal Engine for building anything that’s legal, and we have no say over it,” he said. “We’ve renounced that ability in our license. But on the other hand, where Epic is making something available to our customers, like in Fortnite or on the Epic Games Store, we’re going to apply an Epic quality standard to it.”

This dovetails a bit too cleanly with Sweeney’s vision of a future game industry where storefronts are more competitive and up against more varied ways of distributing games; in that future a rejection from the Epic Games Store won’t hurt a game’s prospects, because it will have so many other ways to find an audience.

Sweeney thinks that’s already the case, given that the PC is now brimming with competing online game storefronts, and he says he’s not terribly worried about unduly harming a game that doesn’t make the cut.

“We’re not discriminating against any games based on their speech because the PC is an open platform,” he said. “If we don’t choose to carry their game, they can release it directly to customers, or sell it through other stores if they choose. And so it’s kind of a dichotomy there: on the one hand we make tools for creative expression that are unconstrained, and on the other hand we sell products to customers, and we have a responsibility there.”

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Microsoft unveils new indie game showcase called ID@Xbox Game Pass

Determined to prove the phrase ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ still rings true, Microsoft has announced a new video showcase called [email protected] Game Pass hours after Sony lifted the lid on its own fledgling PlayStation showcase, State of Play.

Unlike Microsoft’s other video program, Inside Xbox, which is more news-orientated, [email protected] Game Pass will offer fans a glimpse at some of the “hottest” [email protected] coming to Game Pass, and will be packed with new reveals, gameplay highlights, and developer conversations.

As we mentioned in our State of Play write-up, the emergence of digital showcases like Nintendo Direct, State of Play, and [email protected] Game Pass marks a change in tack for the console industry’s ‘big three,’ with Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all seeking to keep consumers engaged throughout the year by continuously drip-feeding news and announcements. 

The first episode of [email protected] Game Pass will include updates on some titles featured at E3 2018, such as Afterparty, Void Bastards, and Supermarket Shriek, along with new game announcements and a behind-the-scenes chat with Oxenfree and Afterparty developer Night School Studio. 

The new series will debut on March 26 at 9 am PT, and will be streamed over on the official Xbox YouTube channel.

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Retail veteran George Sherman has been named GameStop CEO

Video game retailer GameStop has appointed George Sherman as its new CEO. The company has been searching for a replacement since May 2018, when it named former Microsoft vice president Shane Kim as interim CEO following the departure of Michael Mauler. 

Sherman brings a wealth of experience to the table, having most recently served as the CEO of Victra, the largest exclusive authorized retailer for Verizon Wireless products and services. The incoming chief exec also held leadership positions at several other big-name retailers including Best Buy, Target, and Home Depot. 

He joins Gamestop at an uncertain time, with the board of directors having halted plans to sell the company after months and months of discussion and buyer rumors. 

The firm also recently sold its Spring Mobile business to raise cash for new initiatives within the games and collectibles market, and during its Q3 financials reported a $488.6 million loss despite strong software sales. 

The GameStop board, however, feel Sherman is the right person to turn the company’s fortunes around, and have backed their new CEO in the long-term. 

“Having recently conducted a thorough review of strategic and financial alternatives, we are at a critical juncture in GameStop’s evolution and, with George’s hiring and his proven experience, we are ready to move forward,” said GameStop executive chairman, Dan DeMatteo.

“While the board recently announced the initial steps of our go-forward capital allocation and shareholder return program, we look forward to supporting George as we accelerate the next steps in that plan, which include several exciting initiatives that have been in development and have the potential to improve the financial performance and profitability of our company.”