Downs and Ups

Discontinued PlayStation services rise again

A sad fact of many online games is that at some point the servers are going to be shutdown and the game will be left unplayable.  Thankfully projects like PS Online Network Emulated exist which aim to restore the online functionality for such titles. They recently announced that Motorstorm for PS3 now had its online functionality restored following on from support for Socom Confrontation, Killzone 2, Warhawk and Twisted Metal Black. The team is also currently working on Ratchet: Deadlocked, Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal and Resistance as well as the trying to bring back PlayStation Home.  To use the service, you don’t need a modified console. Simply point your Playstation’s DNS at the projects server and you’re good to go. You can find the projects homepage here:  https://www.psone.online

 

Halo Infinite can’t please everyone

Halo Infinite’s Multiplayer launch has gone as smoothly as most could have hoped for with one major exception. Many players have found the game’s leveling system to be less than satisfactory. Gaining levels on the battle pass is tied to completing specific challenges which has been  leading to slow progression and high rates of players quitting matches. To the point that the title’s design lead tweeted that he “feels everyone’s pain on progression”. One day later the community manager detailed changes they had already made to help alleviated the community’s displeasure and said larger changes were still to come.

DICE’s Design Lead on Battlefield steps down, then up

Fawzi Mesmar who acted as the head of design on Battlefield V, Star Wars Battlefront II and the recently released Battlefield 2042 has stepped down from his role at the company. An internal email to staff at DICE revealed Mr Mesmar had been planning to leave once the latest title had shipped.

“It was an absolute pleasure to serve on the best design teams in the galaxy. The incredible design work that you do continues to inspire me every day. Thank you for putting some faith in me, I hope I didn’t disappoint.”

It didn’t take long for Mesmar’s future to be revealed though as later in the week Ubisoft announced he would be taking the role as the new VP of editorial putting him in a high position of influence for the company’s future titles.

The Zed games Release Calendar

Fights In Tight Spaces (Xbox Platforms, PC), Solar Ash (PlayStation Platforms, PC) – December 3

Chorus (PlayStation 5 Xbox Platforms, PC), Danganronpa Decadence (Switch) – December 4

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker (PlayStation Platforms, PC, Mac), Heavenly Bodies (PlayStation Platforms, PC) – December 7

Life is Strange: True Colors (Switch), SpellForce III Reforced (PlayStation Platforms, Xbox Platforms, PC), White Shadows (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC) – December 8

Halo Infinite (Xbox Platforms, PC) – December 9

New Releases, New Horizons, and More News

This week in gaming news…

Updates on the Activision Blizzard Controversy.
In its most recent move to improve public opinion after allegations of misconduct, Activision-Blizzard has announced it has created a new ‘Workplace Responsibility Committee’. This move and the announcement seem to further cement Activision-Blizzard’s support of CEO Bobby Kotick, even after last week’s shocking reveal that he has known about the allegations for years. Still, external pressure for his resignation is increasing with demands from a group of shareholders and a second walkout from employees armed with a petition of over 1800 signatures. According to the Wallstreet Journal, despite company support Bobby Kotick has informed senior leadership he will consider leaving the company if he cannot fix the problems in its culture “with speed”.

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl Tops Charts for Release.
Recent numbers out of the UK have shown that the recently released Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl games have been met with unsurprising success. For the week of their release, the games took the first and second spot in boxed game sale charts, while the double pack sat in 9th. As a duo, Diamond and Pearl are now the second biggest boxed launch across all platforms for 2021, just behind FIFA 2022, and just ahead of Call of Duty: Vanguard. Their sales aren’t quite as high as Pokémon Sword and Shield, falling 26% short, but they did come out 13% higher than Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee.

Queensland Primed for Gaming Industry Boom.
In October QLD Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the state’s new 15% rebate incentive designed to draw more games developers and studios to Queensland. This is starting to pay off in big ways with a recent announcement from PlaySide, Australia’s largest publicly listed games developer and best known for its game Age of Darkness, that they will be opening a studio on the Gold Coast in QLD. PlaySide is still scoping out a location for their studio but is hopeful it will be operational by the end of March 2022 and while they haven’t said an exact number of staff for the new studio, there are hopes in a few years’ time it will match the Melbourne Office at 100 employees. It also came out recently that PlaySide have signed an eight-figure work-for-hire agreement with 2K Games. The Agreement will see the two companies working together over the next 23 months to ‘develop a gaming franchise”. Further details are not yet available, but it seems certain we can expect good things from PlaySide and the QLD Gaming scene in coming years.

Hideo Kojima opens Movie Studio.
With the aim of “expanding the reach and awareness” of their games Kojima Productions’ has recently established a new division that will work on music, television, and film projects. The move seems overdue with Kojima’s history of obsessing about cinema in his work and his personal life. “Finding new ways to entertain, engage and offer value to our fans is essential in a fast-moving, ever-changing storytelling world,” Kojima Productions’ Yoshiko Fukuda said. “Our new division will take the studio into even more areas that present our creative narratives beyond video games and to open up ways for our fans to communicate and immerse themselves in these spaces.”

Upcoming Games Releases:

November 26

Date Night Bowling (PC & Switch)

Night Lights (PlayStation 4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One & Xbox Series X)

November 30:

Evil Genius 2: World Domination (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)

Beyond A Steel Sky (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)

Clockwork Aquario (Switch, PS4) – November 30

Oddworld: Soulstorm Enhanced Edition (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One & Xbox Series X)

December 2nd:

Mechajammer (Mac & PC)

 

And that’s all, this week, in gaming news.

Zombies, Run! – Review

Developer: Six to Start & Naomi Alderman
Publisher: Six to Start & Naomi Alderman
Platforms: Mobile (Android and iPhone)
Released: 2011, May 2015 (Free to Play)
Genre: Audio, Apocalyptic, Zombie, Survival, Horror

You’re on your way to Abel Township, taking a helicopter over the zombie-torn landscape. You’re bringing in supplies for the people who have set up a strong, defensive, base known as Abel, but you have another mission. Your helicopter pilot knows something is up, but before you can get into it, well, somebody fires a rocket launcher at you.

From the wreckage you run, your headset feeding you the voice of Sam Yao from Abel, the radio operator who will be your guide, and hopefully guide you to safety.

All you need to do is run.

Zombies, Run! Is an immersive story where you are the main character, with the story told as if you are in it, experiencing it yourself, broken up by your own music playlist of choice. Once you start, you don’t need to stop, you don’t need to look at your phone, and you won’t need to take a specific path or make decisions. A completely auditory experience that places you in this world that is so like ours, only filled with zombies, bad guys, quirky characters, and the voice of Sam forever guiding you. Load it up, pick your playlist, and go. Every step you take is a step closer to unravelling the mysteries and conspiracies that surround you.

Now, Zombies, Run! Isn’t like a podcast, it’s not like an audiobook, and it’s not like your traditional video game. Or a fitness app. It’s similar to all these things, but with award-winning writers at work, a full cast of unique and distinctive characters conveyed through voice acting, and a number of features to help you get immersed in this world, it’s perhaps the only constant that motivates me to move.

It’s really as simple as loading up a mission, picking my playlist, and getting a move on. There is over 8 seasons worth of story, with various storylines, mysteries, villains, friends, sometimes-friends, and look, even romance. Throughout your run you will ‘pick up’ supplies and materials, which you can use to build up Abel, and your music will play in between scenes. And often you’ll be chased by zombies, with a warning and the far-too-close sounds of groaning behind you, you’ll need to pick up your pace regularly to keep ahead of the horde.

Your first story mission involves you getting shot down out of the sky with a rocket launcher. Your second mission is a simple decoy mission to lead zombies away from Abel while the gates are stuck open. Your third mission? Well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. Various characters will come to your aid, help guide you, or maybe just decide that it’s weird that you got shot down and managed to survive, and you must definitely be up to something. You don’t give anything away of course, you’re the strong silent type, just a runner here to help. Maybe. The zombie apocalypse isn’t exactly normal, but you’ll find out just how strange it really is.

During my first run, I went as the sun was sinking. Dark streets, quiet, listening intently to the conversations that were taking place around me. AHH! Oh, just another runner, not a zombie. Phew.

Now, let me tell you a secret. I hate running. I despise it. It feels bad, it’s not fun, I’m really not getting better at it. I’m willing to bet many of you also feel the same way. Perhaps you prefer cycling, or a treadmill. Elliptical, rowing machine, weight training. Or walking.

You can still be an Abel Runner.

 

You can adjust the difficulty of each mission, so that you’re chased by zombies as often as you can handle, or not at all. GPS is the default way of tracking your movement, but you can also use a step counter, or even just set your pace, and the game will just adjust accordingly. For some of these settings, zombie chases won’t be enabled, but that’s fine. You can play no matter what your exercise of choice is, except perhaps swimming. It may go without saying however, wearing earphones while cycling outdoors, or any other exercise that requires constant awareness of your surroundings, is not recommended. But if you have a stationary bike, well, cycle your little hearts out.

The zombie story is not the only story! There are a dozen side-stories related to the universe, unique virtual races that will take you across the solar system, through mythological stories, and so much more. But perhaps my favourite minor story involves radio mode, where at the completion of each mission you’ll get to listen to Eugene and Jack chatter and banter like your regular radio hosts, who happen to be playing music from your playlist. After a really intense mission, hearing their lighthearted chatter is a nice break, and you get to learn more about the more mundane aspects of living through the zombie apocalypse.

And the final feature, you get to manage the base! It doesn’t actually affect your runs, but it’s a nice visual way of seeing how much you’ve accomplished. You get to see how the materials you’ve gathered have gone towards farms, wind turbines, barracks, and so much more. You can also track how much you’ve run, but I like a bit of city building.

Obviously, music is up to you! I have a few playlists, and the app works… alright with Spotify. You may need to adjust your settings to allow all the permissions to work together, but the app doesn’t know that you’re about to hit the hardest drop of all time. It is not afraid of interrupting your songs to throw story at you. And sometimes the music wouldn’t start up again once the scene ends. When I first started running it interacted a lot better with music saved directly to my device, but after a bit of tinkering it works most of the time.

There is a robotic voice for warning you of zombies on your heels, or to tell you that you picked up something. It’s a bit of an immersion breaker sometimes, when you have the passionate Sam warning you and then a voice saying ‘picked up a sports bra’. But this can also be changed, and I just have it set up to buzz a little when I pick something up. And the sound of zombies approaching behind you sounds awful, in the best way possible. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.

But in a scene, the sound experience is great. Initially they are finding their footing, but it’s always good. The soundscape they create, combined with the voice acting, audio effects, I feel a bit like I am in the middle of a movie. It can be extremely satisfying, especially when you get your hands on a rocket launcher yourself.

I love Zombies, Run! I got into it when it first became free to play, and you initially get unlimited access to the first 4 missions, and then a new mission is unlocked each week. I ended up subscribing for an annual fee, to unlock all the missions immediately. Totally work it, and you get a bunch of other bonuses.

But that’s up to you and how quickly you progress. You’ll still have access to simple supply missions, radio mode, and a new mission each week.

It’s not often that something makes me want to try running, and actually makes me feel kinda cool. I just wouldn’t recommend running after dark if you’re the jumpy type. Or just hop on a treadmill! It all counts.

Game Awards 2021, Kong-O-Thon, Xbox Turns 20, and More ActiBlizz!

 

The Game Awards 2021 Announces Game of the Year Nominations –
This year’s Game Awards nominees have been announced, with Deathloop, It Takes Two, Metroid Dread, Psychonauts 2, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, and Resident Evil Village in the running to take the title. Deathloop has the lead for nominations, with 9 in total, while It Takes Two and Psychonauts 2 tie for second with 5 nominations each.
Host Geoff Keighley has mentioned that they’ll be featuring content from 40-50 games in some capacity, with lots to be excited for between 2022 and 2023.
The Game Awards will broadcast live on the 10th of December at 10am Australian Eastern Standard time.
You can check out the full list of nominees here.

Brisbane man raises $7500 for mental health –
In news closer to home, Dr Aaron Raynor spent this Monday the 15th of November at Netherworld in Fortitude Valley, playing Donkey Kong for a 24 hour charity stream raising money for Headspace, a foundation focused on the mental health of youths in Australia. Dr Raynor raised over $7500 by the end of his Kong-O-Thon stream the following morning.

Xbox’s 20th Anniversary! –
Xbox turned 20 on the 15th, with Microsoft hosting a live event celebrating the anniversary. During the live-stream they made several announcements, with the biggest and arguably most exciting being that Halo Infinite’s multiplayer beta would be releasing almost a month early, and is now free to play on Xbox and PC. They also announced a final update to their catalogue of backwards compatible games, with over 70 new additions!
Turning from gaming, they have also shown off a teaser for the live action Halo series that will be coming to Paramount plus in 2022; and a six-part documentary on the creation of the Xbox brand that will be coming to streaming services on the 13th of December.

More news from Activision/Blizzard

In the latest news from the Activision/Blizzard case, one of the most comprehensive articles about the case has been published by Wall Street Journal, who are alleging that CEO Bobby Kotick knew about the sexual-misconduct allegations for years before it became publicly known, even going as far as hiding it from the board of directors. Following this article, Activision/Blizzard have released a statement stating that Wall Street Journal have presented a misleading view of both the company and the CEO. Staff have since organised a walk-out, demanding Mr Kotick be replaced as CEO. Click here to check out the full article.

Monster Harvest – Review

Developer: Maple Powered Games
Publisher: Merge Games
Music: Maple Powered Games
Platforms: Steam, Nintendo Switch
Released: 31 August 2021
Genre: Farming Sim, Pixel Graphics, Creature Collector

You have grown tired of your life, and your uncle has offered you an opportunity. He once ran a farm you see, but he discovered a wondrous creature called Planimals. And as a man of science and botany, he has taken it upon himself to study these creatures. Planimals come from a fusion of slimes applied to growing plants, bringing them to life much like birds and possums. A town has sprouted around this discovery, leading to a lifestyle adapted to these Planimals and slimes. Slimes can be used as a form of energy, and the Planimals can fight for you, act as livestock, and are a loyal companion.

Now, it may sound kinda familiar, but Monster Harvest is a hybrid meant to fulfill a niche. A cute, pixel game, you have to restore your uncle’s farm, uncover the mysteries of this town, the slime, the Planimals, and the menacing group that seems hellbent on making sure you don’t know what’s going on.

Monster Harvest at its basic is pretty straightforward. Grow plants, fight slimes. Use the slimes on the plants and you’ll grow Planimals! And depending on the type of slime used, and the plant you apply it to, you get a variety of Planimals.

The one you’ll encounter first are Planimals that will fight for you. You can create a party of them, and explore the dungeons with them. You’ll encounter dangerous Planimals in there, but with a bit of strategy, you’ll defeat them, finding resources and treasures.

You’ll need to focus on farming in order to maintain your Planimals, and the fruits of your land will provide you with income. Essential for upgrades, new buildings, and new gear and seeds to grow, leading to new Planimals to discover.

You can also combine slimes together to create more powerful slimes to apply to your plants.

The battle mechanic is pretty straightforward, try to attack the enemy Planimal first with your sword and you’ll get the first hit in with your own Planimal. Once engaged in battle, you’ll have access to some attacks and abilities that you’ll use to fight. If your Planimal is knocked out, you get a resource from their… soul? Life essence? That you can use to upgrade the soil of your farm, allowing you to grow more powerful Planimals. But if your Planimal survives the battle, they’ll gain experience and level up. And you can continue through the dungeon, finding more ore and resources, and stronger Planimals.

Other townsfolk have also raised Planimals, and every Friday you can go to the recreation centre and battle townsfolk, raising your own rank within the town.

So, it sounds pretty solid. And I was interested in the concept, as Monster Harvest combined genres I enjoy. But it’s not doing it well.

The mechanics I described aren’t especially robust. Farming is fine, although the drain on my stamina is quite frustrating. Crafting recipes are unlocked as you level up, and to level up you need to farm, fight, or forage. And the stamina usage limits how much progress you can make. Granted, as you upgrade your gear, and earn enough to buy stamina potions, it becomes less frustrating. But it still takes a while to unlock crafting recipes that are actually helpful. It is fun unlocking and building new buildings, and planting as many seeds as I can afford, and seeing what Planimals I get throughout the seasons.

Battles… aren’t exactly exciting. You have one move unlocked to start with, and whoever wins depends on who strikes first. There is a bit of RNG, and some status effects to keep track of, but you’ll have to do that in your head, because there isn’t really a good UI. Oh no I’ve been poisoned! But I’ll have to remember that, I won’t get a little post-it note. You can’t heal your Planimals unless you sleep overnight, and you can’t switch Planimals around or run away in a battle.

 

I do absolutely love that the two top members of my Planimal party will walk around the world with me, following my character around.

 

But my biggest frustration is with the UI, and how this game communicates important things with the player. There is a tutorial… kinda. It just dumps EVERYTHING on you in one go, and you just have to remember that. And there’s not a way to revisit any part of the tutorial. There’s a device that I know I can put things into, but I have no idea what exactly I can put into it, and when I try it just tells me I can’t put this item I’m holding in.

There is a calender and I know that there are festivals. I’ll walk into town and its decorated for… something. And I can’t go into the dungeons while there is a festival. My uncle says I should go enjoy the festival. But I can’t find anyone or anything to do during these festivals. I wander around everywhere aimlessly before giving up and calling it a day.

I think I’m supposed to be able to cook, I can buy salt and sugar for cooking. I have no idea how to cook. And food would be so helpful for my stamina.

There’s a little clock icon at the bottom of my screen, right above my toolbar. It’s not a clock. Not a useful clock. It’s just there for decoration, which took me a while to figure out because it is animated. But it doesn’t mean anything.

And it’s kinda ugly. The game is quite pretty, but the way the user interface is designed is clunky. The font doesn’t fit, literally. Parts of the bars are hidden behind the decorative frames. Navigating my inventory is a pain, it seems to glitch out sometimes, the highlight square doesn’t fit, also literally, and while I play primarily with a controller, I switch to my mouse to move around my inventory and chests.

Music and sound is repetitive, painfully so. The pop sound from picking up things is satisfying, and it can be eerie to hear Planimals making their weird sounds in the distance, but the music is a very short loop. The audio experience means nothing to me except something to numb my mind. I put it on mute and listened to a podcast instead, which actually helped me stay focused enough on this rather shallow game.

 

I wanted to like Monster Harvest. I like the genres, and it’s quite a pretty game. I could play farming games for days, I love raising a party of creatures to bond with and work with. And Monster Harvest is those genres, it does deliver these things, but in an extremely unsatisfying manner. The entire time I was playing I just kept thinking of other games I could be playing instead.

Nothing grabbed my attention, I wasn’t invested, losing my Planimals didn’t really matter. Farming is alright, but I know a dozen other games that does it better. The story is alright, but it’s nothing new. I essentially predicted it within 3 minutes, but it takes forever to progress through.

There is one thing this game did really well though, and its the fact that a couple of my Planimals will walk around with me and follow me. I mentioned this earlier, but it helped my frustrations to look at my mutanko just standing there. He’s a little guy. I love him.

Graphics Cards Heist, More Unity, and More Accessibility

Shipment of Graphics Cards Stolen

An entire shipment of EVGA RTX 30-Series graphics cards have been stolen in transit from San Francisco to California. More specific details about the truck heist aren’t available due to ongoing investigations, but users are warned that it’s illegal to ‘buy or receive’ stolen goods, or ‘conceal, sell, withhold, or aid in concealing, selling, or withholding’ of these goods.

If you think you may have a card that was involved in this theft, you can find out by entering your card’s serial number on EVGA’s warranty status page, or you can attempt to register your card. If you can register it, then you can rest easy. Otherwise, if a user does end up with a stolen card, it will be addressed on a case by case basis.

The heist is similar to an incident at the end of 2020, where about $340,000 worth of GeForce RTX 3090s were stolen.

Peter Jackson Sells VFX Tech Division to Unity

Unity, a 3D game-development platform, will be obtaining the technology used to create Gollum for Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’, and many other characters from movies, making the VFX tools available to creators all over the world.

Under the deal, Unity will be gaining the Weta Digital suite of VFX tools, as well as a team of 275 engineers, joining Unity’s Create Solutions division.

What is the price for a division responsible for ‘Avatar’, ‘Game of Thrones’, and ‘Planet of the Apes’? A cool $1.625 billion in the form of cash and stock.

This makes award-winning technology available to all Unity creators, making industry-pushing VFX tools more accessible than ever.

Forza Horizon 5 Includes On-Screen Sign Language

The car racing game, Forza Horizon 5, will be getting on-screen American and British sign language for cutscenes, bringing a rare level of accessibility to the game.

The feature has been shown off in a video by Playground Games, showing how a picture-in-picture sign language interpreter alongside the cinematic and subtitles. Sign language conveys tone more effectively than subtitles alone, and is an option if players have difficulty reading at the speed of the subtitles.

It’s not the only accessibility option of course, with Game Speed Modification, High Contrast and Colour Blindness modes, text-to-speech and speech-to-text options for voice chat, and a screen reader narrator, not to mention the ability to adjust font style and size.

With greater accessibility, driving cars fast will be available to more and more speed demons.

And now for some upcoming game releases!

November 11

  • Beyond Blue (Switch)
  • Epic Chef (PC, PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Kainga: Seeds of Civilization (PC)
  • Killer in the Cabin (PC)
  • Megaquarium: Architect’s Collection DLC (PC)
  • Skyrim Special Edition (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO)
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Switch)

November 12

  • Gynoug (PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Punk Wars (PC)
  • Shin Megami Tensei 5 (Switch)

November 16

  • Sherlock Holmes Chapter One (PC, PS5, XSX)

November 17

  • Next Space Rebels (PC, XBO)
  • Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall (PC VR)

November 18

  • Guild of Dungeoneering Ultimate Edition (PC)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator Game of the Year edition (PC, XSX)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator: Reno Air Races Expansion Pack (PC, XSX)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator: Reno Air Races Full Collection (PC, XSX)
  • Undungeon (PC, XBO)

November 19

  • Battlefield 2042 (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO)
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Battle Operation Code Fairy Volume 2 (PS5, PS4)
  • NERF: Legends (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Pokemon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl (Switch)