Sources in the industry say that EA has lost $273 million this quarter (hope you speak German). While one may see this as bad, and on paper it is, keep in mind that money spent on things like advertising for games (this quarter saw advertising for their new sports titles, Battlefield 4, among others) are realized instantly, it can take several months for games to realize their potential value and make up the return on investment. Seems strange that they’d lose money in the quarters that they release their big titles, but with AAA studios and the advertising and promotional budgets their titles are given, it’s not completely surprising.
On the flip side of the coin – that doesn’t mean they’re not feeling the pressure. The upcoming game Command and Conquer has been axed and the developer studio Victory Games is closing. Pandemic Studios, founded in 1998, was purchased by EA in 2007 and closed in 2009. Bright Light Studios founded in 2008 closed it’s doors in 2012. Danger Close, Black Box Games, EA Phenomic, and others – and that’s just since 2009. It’s kind of what you get when you focus on quantity over quality. That being said, most of the developers from these studios merge with larger studios or move on to greener pastures.
On the indie side of gaming – Starbound developers Chucklefish have announced that beta for the game is just around the corner. They’ve made a blog post on their website outlining the three stages they foresee the beta going through. Stage 1 is basically “alpha” in the most common terms – they suggest not playing during this period of the beta if you don’t like encountering bugs, having characters and worlds wiped by frequent patches and updates, and if you don’t want any “spoilers” before the game is fully released. There won’t be any major questlines through the game’s storyline and the game engine will lack polish and could run poorly on slower machines. Stage 2 is a more polished stage, but just barely. It will be more optimized and the feedback from slower computers will be vital for the game’s final performance. The major questlines still won’t be in yet but the sandbox aspect of the game will be close to complete. During the third and final phase (Stage 3) before release, it will be mainly about finishing it up, polishing the game, and prepping for it’s official release. They’ve also outlined that their plans for future post-release content and updates is going to be around a year’s worth. Obviously you shouldn’t feel entitled to any additional content, but this is more than we got after Terraria and obviously less than we got (and continue to get) with Minecraft.
Who all is planning on playing Starbound during the beta?
Feeling a bit cube-ish today so these updates are mainly for those pixel/cube/voxel based games.
First up is the Terraria update, out today. It brings to Terraria changes similar to the big Christmas Update a while back, but for Halloween this time. It adds all kinds of stuff ranging from Halloween themed pets, Pumpkins and Pumpkin wall and tiles, spooky wood and spooky wood wall and tiles, halloween goodie bag drops, the new Pumpking boss, and loads of fun stuff. It’s definitely going to be worth checking out not only because of the fresh Halloween update – but if you haven’t played in several months, Redigit is back and working on the game again and has even hinted at a Terraria 2. For a list of the 1.2.1 changes, check out this Google Doc.
Titled The Update That Changed The World, Minecraft 1.7.2 brings some huge changes mainly to worldgen. Along with a new “Amplified” worldgen setting that greatly increases variation in mountains and plains, 1.7.2 brings in new biomes like:
- Sunflower Plains – Screenshot
- Flower Forest – Screenshot
- Ice Plains Spikes – Screenshot
- Birch Forest – Screenshot
- Roofed Forest – Screenshot
- Mega Taiga – Screenshot
- Savanna – Screenshot
- Mesa – Screenshot
It also allows servers to load a resource-pack (new texture packs for those of you who haven’t been keeping up) onto a client when they join – up to 50mb in size. Achievements are now posted in chat and fishing has gotten a HUGE revamp with the addition of Pufferfish, Salmon, and Clownfish as well as enchantable fishing rods. Seriously the list is way too long to try to condense, so just skim through this post on Reddit to read the changes.
Let’s say you want to play a newer version of Minecraft with over a hundred+ mods than what Feed The Beast offers on 1.5.2. With Minecraft now on 1.7+, you can play a modpack for 1.6.4 called Resonant Rise through the AT Launcher. The AT Launcher is very easy to use and includes several modpacks already ready to install and play. Resonant Rise would be their flagship and has the most mods and is fairly stable (haven’t had any crashes yet myself). One thing to note: A few mod authors do not want their mod distributed through any other means than their Minecraft Forums post… this means that you can’t get permission to include say, the Portal Guns mod in your modpack. AT Launcher gets around this by launching browser windows that automatically take you to the download and can automatically import them into the modpack once you finish downloading a mod required for the modpack. For instance, Portal Guns… Launching Resonant Rise for the first time installs a bunch of mods (from mod authors ok with distribution) and then will launch a browser window that goes straight to the Portal Guns mod (their adfly actually, but it takes 5 seconds and the download starts). Once it finishes AT Launcher will either pick it up on it’s own from your Downloads folder or ask you to place it in the AT Launcher directory.
It’s about 5 minutes of work to get it started the first time – but it’s hardly AT Launcher’s fault. The other way would be to distribute these mods without the mod authors permission and possibly rustle some jimmies in the modding community. ATL skirts this by making you download them yourself and is able to include fun mods without stepping on anyone’s toes.
And finally what was going to be the biggest disappointment in gaming for me in 2013, Wollay the creator of Cubeworld has come out of hiding and spoken to the gaming press about the game for the first time since the game was released as an alpha version. Typically “alpha testing” or “beta testing” a game means that you’re playing a version of the game in it’s development stages and it will have bugs and issues that you can report to the creators to help them discover flaws in their game faster than they could on their own. Wollay is kind of a hermit though and never communicates to his players or followers – and that’s not something new. It’s something he’s never done. Some people didn’t know this about him or some people assumed this would change once the game was released and were extremely frustrated and disappointed when there weren’t daily updates or weekly/monthly patches to the game.
Unfortunately the game in it’s alpha state quickly got boring as there’s really not a lot to do other than try a class, grind some monsters, and visit one of a few biomes/zones. Instead of the quick periodic updates we got with Minecraft in it’s infancy, we got nothing and this made a lot of people angry at Wollay or at the game itself. On the other end of the spectrum is Chucklefish with their daily updates of Starbound – a game that hasn’t been released as an alpha/beta yet.
The whole ordeal is worth a discussion on what we expect from indie game devs now. With Notch setting a new standard of expectations of communication and the game as an ongoing “service” not a “product” and continual updates throughout the games life – even AAA titles like Battlefield see updates and patches on a regular (albeit much slower than Minecraft) basis. Why was there such backlash when Wollay decided to work on his game and not necessarily tell everyone daily what he was doing? Rumors were flying that he’d run off with the money. The argument was “well how long does it take to make a single tweet about still working hard or what you’ve been fixing?”
What’s your stance? Is constant communication by the game developers something you need in a game to make the purchase more worth-while? Even if patches are released and bugs are fixed, it looks like Wollay has really divided his community and has burnt a lot of customers.
Valve has been making some pretty big announcements recently in regards to Steam. They’re rolling out three major announcements every two days and dropping subtle hints as to what they could be in order to drum up hype (like they need to drum up hype with the #1 digital distribution platform for PC gaming…).
SteamOS will be an entire operating system based on Linux that will allow gamers to build their own gaming machine minus things like a costly Windows license. It will be aimed primarily at gaming but they’re working with many of the media services you already know and love and that they will soon be bringing them to Steam and SteamOS, allowing you to access your favorite music and video. A number of Steam games run natively in Linux so these games will have no issue being played on the PC running SteamOS – but there are a number of machines that aren’t compatible with Linux. Valve says this is no biggie because you can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too. Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have – then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV using the new Family Sharing feature that was announced not too long ago. Input lag should be reasonably low as the Wii U and others have shown that wireless LAN is perfectly acceptable in terms of ping and latency for gaming. The best part about it is that it will be 100% free. Announcement Link
2. Steam Machines
Steam is partnering up with several hardware manufacturers to bring several Steam Machines to market. A Steam Machine is a purpose built PC with SteamOS included – and most likely targeted towards the living room. This means that there will be competition and choices when it comes to what Steam Machine you want to buy. You’ll likely be able to choose between a quieter or faster machine, a cheaper or more expensive machine, etc. Release date of these machines is sometime “beginning in 2014,” and they will begin sending out beta machines built by Valve themselves soon and promote discussion, photos, etc of the boxes. They are being fairly open about the Steam Machines saying that they’re ok with you hacking, changing, and even swapping operating systems on them. Most likely we’ll see existing gaming hardware giants like Nvidia, AMD, Asus, and others putting out their versions of the Steam Machine sometime in 2014. It most likely won’t be much cheaper (if at all) than building your own gaming PC and slapping SteamOS on it – but it will establish a standard for PC gaming and will bring more gaming hardware support to Linux which desperately needs it. Announcement Link
3. Steam Controller
If you guessed a gamepad – you were correct. The third announcement was the Steam Controller. It’s a wireless gamepad with two circular trackpads in place of joysticks or the traditional “d-pad”. They’re clicky too so you can press down to click – and if you’ve ever tried to click down with a joystick while at the same time moving it around, you’ll know how unnatural and difficult it can be. If feedback or lack thereof in the trackpads is your concern, fear not. The trackpads are built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small, strong, weighted electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads. They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement.
In the center of the controller is another touch-enabled surface, this one backed by a high-resolution screen. The whole screen itself is also clickable, like a large single button. So actions are not invoked by a simple touch, they instead require a click. This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want. There are also loads of buttons and they’re promoting hacking, disassembling, and repurposing the controller for whatever you want to use it for – just like SteamOS and the Steam Machines. Announcement Link
There are lots of bets on what the next announcement will be and we will edit this space when the announcement is made. The most reasonable guess is a Steam controller. While somewhat anti-climactic after the Steam Machines announcement, the very last bit of info on the Steam Machines announcements page says: Q: Am I going to be using a mouse and a keyboard in the living-room?
A: If you want. But Steam and SteamOS work well with gamepads, too. Stay tuned, though – we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input.
What’s your guess? The first hint was just “O” and that ended up being SteamOS, the second was “[O ]” and that ended up being the Steam Machine. The third is “O+O” and seems like it’d be some sort of sharing or connectivity hint… but stay tuned because 45 hours from the time of this post we will know for sure!