Rising Storm 2: Vietnam

If you've been reading PC Gamer for awhile, you know that we're fans of Rising Storm, Antimatter Games and Tripwire Interactive's multiplayer FPS series. We've loved Rising Storm's scale, authenticity, asymmetry, and teamwork, and the fact that it originated as the work of a bunch of enthusiastic, war-nerd modders.

If you're a fan, too, joining the PC Gamer Club at the Legendary Tier will now net you something special: a set of custom-made cosmetics for Rising Storm 2: Vietnam's factions. For the United States, a "Make Mods, Not War" helmet slogan pays tribute to one of our favorite parts of PC gaming and Tripwire's history. For the PAVN, a bathtub tattoo, for no reason in particular. And for the Australian ANZAC forces, a tattoo of our ancient and unforgettable mascot, Coconut Monkey.

Existing Legendary members should be receiving their item code by email soon, and new members will find their code in the welcome email after joining. Note that these are in-game items which require a copy of Rising Storm 2 to use, but you can hold on to your codes for as long as you want. (If you're interested, RS2 happens to be on sale right now in the Humble Hope for Orphans Bundle.)

These new additions join a growing set of great PC Gamer Club Legendary bonuses, which include a week's membership to RuneScape and an exclusive pet, an ad-free website, a digital subscription to PC Gamer magazine, new game keys in your inbox every month, and more. Check out all the benefits here, and sign up to the Legendary tier for just $5 a month at club.pcgamer.com.

PS, If you're already a member, check your welcome email to make sure you've joined the Discord server (shoot an email to help@pcgamer.com if you're not sure how). We'd love to play Rising Storm 2 with you while sporting our new bathtub ink.

The Signal From Tölva

The valley below me is alive with orange, pink, and green lasers. Two enemy robot factions, bandits and zealots, are battling it out, and neither has seen me yet. One bandit hangs back and fires a sniper rifle, its tracer streaking across the scene with an electronic screech that echoes off the hillsides. The beam smashes into the first zealot with a sound of crunching metal, and the robot crumbles. The second bandit moves forward, powering up a beam weapon, a wide red jet that distorts the air around it and crackles with energy. In response, the nearest zealot beeps into action, sounding a siren before booting up a shield with a hiss, a matrix of light extending from the front of his armor.   

But that shield doesn’t last long. When it powers down with an unmistakable whoosh I pounce, alongside my two AI companions. I aim down my sight, pull the trigger, and the zealot drops, his head flying off and hitting a nearby rock with a dull thud as his now useless shell clanks limply to the ground. The bandits flee. 

The Signal From Tölva’s pace is slow, but its gunplay is anything but. Chris called it "fizzing" in his review and he was spot on: its bright lights and sci-fi sound effects make its weapons come alive, and after each battle you want to head immediately to the next waypoint in search of another set of enemies to blast apart.   

How did small indie studio Big Robot make combat so satisfying? I spoke to founder Jim Rossignol to find out. 

Heavy gear

Until Ian McQue, formerly of Rockstar, drew the designs for the game’s robots, the team saw Tölva as a "Quake-style shooter, complete with bunny hopping and rail guns," Rossignol says. But then they fell in love with the "earthy, grounded" aesthetic of McQue’s art and decided the weapons would have to feel heavier to match. That comes across in the final game: a lot of what makes Tölva’s shooting feel great is that when you pull the trigger, the result is big and powerful.   

The first thing you do in T lva is fire a weapon, and if it s got a crazy science fiction sound and a pulse-y effect then you know where you are with it.

Jim Rossignol

Some games create that feeling with recoil—but given Tölva’s robots shouldn’t have any trouble keeping a gun steady, that sense of weight relies instead on both visual and sound effects. In its simplest form, that means lots of bright lights, whether that’s shining bullet tracers or laser beams. "We wanted to have big colorful lasers," Rossignol says. "[We wanted] big long trails that last quite a long time and light up the landscape. The beam weapons have an enormous fan of light sweeping across the landscape." 

And a lot of the design was informed by a vision of a single scene similar to the one I described at the beginning of this article. "We like that thing where you come over a crest of a hill and you see AI duking it out. You see tracer fire between different units, and that was one of the main goals, and one of the things that I think works best in Tölva. When you see groups engaging each other in the distance you get that flicker of gunfire that allows you to see where people are firing from. That brings those battles to life."

The beam weapon, which fires out a continuous stream of energy, was specifically designed to fit this fantasy. "[It’s] a big continuous concussive beam raking across the landscape, there can’t be anything more science fiction than that, right?" Interestingly, he tells me the look of the gun comes from combining a jet engine and a leaf blower that McQue was using to clear his garden when inspiration struck. Unconventional, but you can see it if you look closely enough. 

There were more subtle features to make the gunfire look great, too. Every effect in the game, whether that’s a bullet tracer or an explosion, has an "air lensing distortion", which essentially warps the world around it. "The first thing you do in Tölva is fire a weapon, and if it’s got a crazy science fiction sound and a pulse-y effect then you know where you are with it."

The guns really shine at night, when bullet tracers act as beacons for distant action. Rossignol says that during development he considered abandoning the game’s day-night cycle and just setting the game beneath the stars because of how good it looked. Plus, having the day-night cycle was a pain, he says, because it required the team to use real-time shadow casting, which is costly to develop and puts strain on players’ PCs. But in the end, the team kept the cycle. "I felt the contrast between those beautiful clear blue-sky days and the starry nights where all the weapons were flickering… it was just too much to lose."

Sound and vision

The one thing that always struck me about the game’s audio was the way that assault rifle bullets sound when they hit robots. It’s a real plink-plink of metal on metal that just sounds right. The sound effects match the aesthetic McQue created, it’s a wonderful mix of futuristic noises and the kind of beeps you’d expect from chunky, battered machines. Rossignol says a lot of the sounds are modulated versions of "the bleeps and whirrs that old-fashioned computers make when they’re switched on, or the kind of noises hard drives used to make." Those sounds help sell the combat, make it believable despite the other-worldly setting. 

As you take your finger off the trigger you hear the end of your shot cut off, that just sells the behavior of the weapon more, and gives them way more life than they had.

Jim Rossignol

The gun sounds are inspired by a single idea that Rossignol picked up at a talk by Introversion Software at an event years ago. "They were saying that even on the very simplest level, if you’re firing and the gunshot audio somehow matched with the video then it sold it better and made it more believable, and that’s always stuck with me." That was made possible when Michael Manning, now at Sumo Digital, came on board with Tölva. He took the team’s existing work to the next level. 

"The extent of our tech was we had a version of your gunshot close up, and another version that echoed in the distance, but Mick was able to show us how to build the audio components to add near, mid-range and far versions of any particular weapon shots. And then you’ve got that stretching effect of the different frequencies being taken out as it moves away from you.  

"Also, rather than having a single sound effect for when the weapons go off, we broke it down to an overall firing noise and a projectile leaving noise, so every weapon has components that make the sound better. As you take your finger off the trigger you hear the end of your shot cut off, that just sells the behavior of the weapon more, and gives them way more life than they had." The game also features a lot of echo, a simple trick that I’ve always thought adds to its atmosphere. It’s something Rossignol wishes he’d included in his previous game, Sir, You Are Being Hunted, and this was a chance to make amends.

It’s the way that these audio and visual effects fuse together that makes Tölva’s shooting standout. For example, Rossignol says the enemies’ shooting was made deliberately inaccurate because he wanted gunshots to fly past the player and thump into the environment around them, creating a sense of panic. "You want the bullets to be landing around you. One of my favorites is the noise of the rail gun hitting the terrain, and they usually miss."

Necessary sacrifices

Of course, as a small studio, Big Robot had to make sacrifices, but most of them are hidden well. Take the guns, for instance. Rossignol explains that while the guns might look and feel very different, they’re actually just one gun model with some variables tweaked and visual modules added, which helped cut development time. The robot shields are another example: the team initially set out to create shields that distorted the environment, an idea inspired by David Lynch’s Dune film. But it was "too intensive", and the solution was a simple overlay to every robot that simply switches from transparent to translucent when the robot turns a shield on. 

The lack of robot variety, too, was a result of development constraints. Rossignol wanted to have robots of different sizes, but had to settle for working with a single skeleton and piecing on different bits of armor to give units their own distinct feel. "That’s a bit of a shame, but if we do multiple skeletons we start running into serious issues," he says.

Perhaps it’s something that Big Robot will put in its next game. Rossignol is currently working on an icy expansion for Tölva but is keen to push the boundaries on his next project, particularly with environment physics, which he says is the main thing he’ll look to improve upon. "[I want] more objects to blow up, more things that could be knocked around by explosions or bullets. I love it in games when you get chain reactions, you blow up a barrel and it knocks somebody out and knocks another guy over and all that good stuff.   

"The size of Tölva’s world meant we couldn’t have more props. If we did a smaller environment next time, I’d love to have that pinging stuff around, I think it adds to the sense of dynamism in game combat. I’d love to do more of that kind of stuff when we move on." Big Robot has shown that it has the talent to create a great shooter in a huge, semi-open world. Reducing the world size in its next game would mean it could pay more attention to visual effects, boost enemy variety and litter the combat arena with debris. And for people like me who enjoyed Tölva’s sci-fi shooting and would love to see it repeated, that sounds like a fantasy that’s worth waiting for. 

Disclosure: Jim Rossignol worked for PC Gamer up until 2010, although the author had no contact with him during that time. 

Total War: WARHAMMER II

Last week, Tom explored Total War: Warhammer 2's Tomb Kings and described them as the "weirdest faction yet". Creative Assembly has now shown off 11 minutes of the incoming DLC's campaign, where Settra the Imperishable faces off against "the Liche King himself" Arkhan the Black. 

Everything from raising the dead, to treasure-plundering at sea and striking trade deals with neighbouring dwarfs is demonstrated in the footage below, as the two eccentric armies lock horns. Have a gander:

Alongside that, Creative Assembly has also unveiled the Tomb Kings' roster—whose Legendary Lords also include Grand Hierophant Khatep and High Queen Khalida, beyond the two stalwarts featured above. Elsewhere, mounts include Skeletal Steeds, Chariots of the Gods, Warsphinxs (warsphinges?), while monsters like the Hierotitan and Tomb Scorpion look terrifying. 

My favourite of the full roster on name alone is the Screaming Skull Catapult, which I'm sure will cause chaos out on the field. 

Total War: Warhammer 2's Tomb Kings DLC is due January 23, 2018. Again, here's Tom's early impressions

Candleman: The Complete Journey

The 3D platformer Candleman was released last year for the Xbox One, and while it doesn't have a lot of user reviews on the Microsoft Store, the overall response is quite positive. It also turned up on Steam Greenlight, although the planned release date of the second quarter of 2017 obviously didn't pan out. That page has been silent since last March, but developer Spotlightor Interactive dropped a new trailer today showing off some enhanced PC features, and announced that it will be available on Steam on January 31 as Candleman: The Complete Journey

Candleman is a fantasy platformer about a man who is also a candle—a very little candle, however, who can only burn for ten seconds at a time. His quest is a simple one: "Players must venture through unsettling darkness and overcome a wide range of enchanted yet dangerous environments in search of a mysterious light in the distance." 

"The game’s positive reception from press and players overwhelmed us for the whole year after its debut on Xbox One," Candleman creator Gao Ming said. "We are extremely proud to see the game we created at Ludum Dare 27 be recognized by so many, and we’re incredibly excited to bring this journey to PC players later this month." 

I haven't played Candleman, but I think it looks really promising. I like the powerful fairy tale ambiance (which is also why I'm such a fan of the Trine games), but the sense of foreboding and darkness—literal and figurative—and promise of a "thought-provoking finale" courtesy of the included Lost Light DLC is what really grabs my attention. I'm not very good at platformers, but I do enjoy a good story.   

The PC release of Candleman will feature a new time challenge mode, enhanced performance, and support for 4K resolution. Steam doesn't currently list a price, but the Xbox One edition goes for $15, so I'd expect something in that neighborhood. 

Genital Jousting

Genital Jousting, the "multiplayer party game about flaccid penises and wiggly anuses", will release out of Early Access on January 18. That's good news if you're into amusing party games, and it's also good news if you're into video games about genitals. But it's even better news for Australians who have longed to play this dick-oriented video game, because it'll finally become available there.

You see, back when the game launched on Steam in 2016, publisher Devolver Digital announced that it wouldn't bother submitting the game to Australia's notoriously finicky classification board. As someone who lives in Australia and has witnessed the whims of that board firsthand, I'm pretty sure the game wouldn't have had a problem getting a rating. But given Devolver's experience with Hotline Miami 2, they're probably wary of wasting time and money with the organisation.

But they've gone and done it anyway, which is good, because now you no longer need to break the law to play the penis combat sim in Australia. The publisher made the announcement on Twitter earlier today, accompanied by a nice animated gif of penises fighting in a blow up pool. It's worth keeping in mind also, that once it launches out of Early Access  tomorrow, it'll get a price increase

Is Genital Jousting worth playing? All reports point to yes, though I haven't done so yet. Here's a nice video of the PC Gamer team playing it back in 2016.

Iconoclasts

Joakim 'Konjak' Sandberg is not very health-conscious. For the past seven years, he's been developing Iconoclasts full-time completely on his own. It's been a heady mix of design, delays and, occasionally, depression, but Sandberg's masterwork will finally release on Tuesday, January 23. When I sit down to talk with him, he says he'll try to remember to take weekends off next time, and maybe he could stand to plan things out a little more. But looking back, he's proud of how far he's come on his own.

We first played Iconoclasts in 2013, two years before it hit Steam Greenlight bearing an optimistic 2016 release date. But Sandberg started working on it in earnest in 2010, and the original idea for it came three years earlier. With art inspired by Monster World 4—an old Mega Drive platformer which was re-released in 2007—and gameplay inspired by Metroid Fusion, it was the biggest idea Sandberg had ever taken on. Compared to his previous projects and experiments, Iconoclasts stands out because of its size alone, but also, he says, because of its ambitious story.  

Iconoclasts is set in a world where everyone's jobs are decided by The One Concern, a sort of government overseer, Sandberg tells me. It's a world permeated by a fuel known as ivory, which is considered holy and used to power various machines. The mechanics who build and repair those holy machines command almost priest-like respect. So obviously you can't just decide to be a mechanic. That doesn't stop Robin, the main character and a so-called 'rogue mechanic', from doing just that after learning about machines from her father. 

Robin's nest  

"It is quite narrative-heavy," Sandberg says. "It's interesting, because I didn't have a script. I made the whole game just like I made games before: I make it as you play it. Which is not something you really should do if you want to have a view of your scope. You don't really know when it ends when you do that.

"At the beginning, the story is how I was thinking at the start of my 20s, and at the end it's how I was when I was reaching my 30s. It was always the intent that it starts very typical, very happy, sort of cliche, then turns into something darker. That's sort of how an adult mind shapes, I guess."

If you cut Iconoclasts in half, you could count the rings on it just like a tree. But rather than the game's age, you'd be measuring Sandberg's. He got into making games as a teenager through the development group Clickteam and, after a few years of tinkering with small ideas, started Iconoclasts in his early 20s. He's now heading into his early 30s, and that gap is reflected in Iconoclast's story. 

"It is sort of a growing-up story, but not in terms of love, in terms of attitudes toward people," he says. "Robin is the center of that. She doesn't speak, so she doesn't have much more character than is implied from others and what you get a feel of from talking to other people and helping them. 

"I'm a big fan of characters and I'm not a fan of lore. I want there to be character arcs. I go by feel when I write these things. Every single character is held back by something they want to be, but that they don't let themselves be because they feel the world wants them to be something else. Their conflict is being bitter about that and taking it out on each other. Robin, as the central character, succeeds and fails to get them to be more open about what they want. 

If I don't finish this, I've thrown away five years.

Joakim Sandberg

"At the start of the game, Robin lives alone and all she wants to do is help people. She's the happy young person who thinks you can help anyone if you just believe. Across the game, she meets people who've lost the ambition to achieve what they want to do in their lives. In a way they're bringing her down, trying to convert her to their line of thinking. The point of those characters is that, for as long as she can, Robin stays positive." 

Sandberg spent some of Iconoclast's development trying to stay positive and find motivation himself. For about six months around the end of 2014, he says it was hard to even work on the game. Finding his current publisher helped, but eventually, he says, it came down to "if I don't finish this, I've thrown away five years." Sticking to an art style he decided on almost 10 years ago was also challenging, he explains, as were the many factors that led to Iconoclast's long development.

Stuck in  

"It's a big game with one person," Sandberg says. "Relative to other games, I actually think I was fast to do this with all the breaks and losing motivation from time to time. What takes all the time for me—and bosses are always involved to do too—is I decided early on to have animated cutscenes, which was hard to get motivation to do and took forever to do. Making gameplay, it feels like you're actually creating content. Making a cutscene, which takes longer to make than a level, feels counter-intuitive. 

"And of course I went back and changed things. Stuff I wrote in the beginning was not stuff I wanted when I was 30. I mentioned I couldn't get a sense of scope. At the same time, if I wrote a script… It's not easy to write, but it's easy to write a lot. If I had a script before I made the game, I probably would have had something even bigger in scope, before I actually got a sense of how hard it would be to make. I think that's a benefit of making it up as I go." 

Sandberg says some of his best ideas were born from his on-the-fly schedule. For example, Iconoclasts originally had much more complicated power-ups. But Sandberg didn't want it to feel bloated—he wanted players to have "just exactly what they need." So, he pared back the upgrades to emphasize finding the right strategy as opposed to stronger gear. That process ate up a solid chunk of 2017, a year Sandberg confesses he can scarcely remember. 

Looking ahead, Sandberg expects he'll still be busy after Iconoclasts releases. He'll have plenty of post-launch maintenance to do, for one, and he already has an idea for his next game, which will be smaller in scope and different to Iconoclasts—something "I want to do rather than something I'm going to design to be successful," he says. But for now, as nearly a decade of helter-skelter development comes to a close, he's got just one thing on his mind: "I hope people enjoy it." 

Iconoclasts will be available on Steam from January 23.

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

The latest Civilization 6: Rise and Fall trailer takes a break from introducing new leaders and nations to provide an overview of the new systems that will be ushered in by the expansion, including Great Ages, Loyalty, Governors, Enhanced Alliances, Emergencies, and new Wonders and Units. 

The primary addition, Golden and Dark Ages, are temporary changes to a civilization that last for an era. Both can dramatically alter the state of the game and will force players to adapt their strategies accordingly, but while Golden Ages are obviously preferable, Dark Ages have upsides too: Golden Ages come more easily when emerging from a Dark Age, and they also enable Heroic Ages, which grant three Dedication bonuses instead of just the single one that comes with a Golden Age.

Changes to alliances also promise to make things more interesting, by making the alliances themselves more meaningful. Instead of merely ensuring that other civs (hopefully) won't drop the hammer on you while you're preparing to do the same to them, Rise and Fall will enable different types of alliances—Research, Military, Economic, Cultural, or Religious—that will provide better bonuses the longer they're maintained. 

Emergencies are similarly designed to encourage diplomacy and cooperation. When one happens—for instance, someone nukes a city—the other players have the option of targeting the aggressor with a joint Emergency action, which will give them a specific objective to complete within a limited amount of time. Completing the objective can confer permanent bonuses to all who take part, but failing to get it done will grant a benefit to the intended target instead. And civilizations don't have to be allied to take part in an Emergency, so doing something to trigger one could have the knock-on effect of bringing together forces that were previously unrelated, with their attention turned to you. 

Civilization 6: Rise and Fall comes out on February 8. If you don't already have the base game, you can pick it up along with a couple of DLC releases for a really good deal—$12, instead of the regular $60 for Civ 6 by itself—in the current Humble Monthly Bundle.

InnerSpace

InnerSpace was successfully funded on Kickstarter all the way back in 2014, and it’s come a long way since then. It's an exploration game where you zip about topsy-turvy worlds discovering relics of an ancient civilization, and the trailer shows a delicate, bird-like craft traveling past coral superstructures, stone ruins, and alien architecture. That ship, called the Cartographer, is also shown opening portals and crashing through glass, and becoming a submarine when it hits water. It's all a bit perplexing, but looks lovely nonetheless.

InnerSpace is the first commercial release from indie studio PolyKnight Games. We spoke with artist Steve Zapata, designer Eric Grossman, and director Tyler Tomaseski about how they helped players learn to fly, and what their plans after release are.

PC Gamer: How did PolyKnight Games come about and how did that lead into development of InnerSpace?

Tyler Tomaseski: We started out at college, at University of Texas, Dallas. We originally started working together on a lot of small projects. Steve and I did a few game jams together, and some longer term projects too. We did three separate four-month-long projects where we "shipped" a really small game, just for free. After that, we decided—because we were working so well together—to start a company developing indie games.

Something I realized very quickly is that because the space is so disorienting, we needed to give the player as many tools as we could

Tyler Tomaseski

Steve and I rallied up some good friends we worked with previously, like Eric Grossman, Eric Brodie, and Chris Miller. We were the core five making up the studio. We were about as small as you can get for a 3D team. Then we started working on InnerSpace. 

It was the game we’d been talking about for a while. We were really interested in space and this concept of inverted worlds. We started with that, then worked our way toward a flying game. Just for the sake of wanting to explore that space, we kind of figured out everything else along the way. We were trying to figure out what sounded most fun inside of that space. 

We worked our way towards Kickstarter, and had a successful campaign. We worked on our own for a year or two, and then we partnered up with Aspyr after we met them at PAX South. Thanks to Aspyr, we were able to increase our team size from five to seven. We’ve ported the game to all the consoles since then too. Originally, we were only working on Windows and Mac, but we’ve added support for Xbox, Playstation, and Switch since then. 

It literally started in our bedrooms. We had a little studio setup in my bedroom where Steve and I both worked on it. Steve would wake me up and I’d just work on it in my pajamas. But yeah, that’s how it started.

So the flying came later—how did you develop those mechanics specifically?

TT: The first attempt I did at it was a very floaty, realistic, more simulation-style flying game. There, it’s a lot more gradual movement over time. You have soft inputs to try and steer it. Something I realized very quickly is that because the space is so disorienting, we needed to give the player as many tools as we could to have the game respond to them in a very arcadey kind of way. That way, they can orient themselves how they want. 

For that, we introduced the drift/stall mechanic where you can change direction without moving your plane that way. It’s why we landed on a plane that is very responsive and does exactly what you want it to do. It’s also why we made the plane very durable. We decided we wanted to make a flying game where you can run into stuff. I couldn’t think of a flying game that let you do that. I think it was more of an iterative process where we started with the extreme opposite of what we have now. The arcadey style control lent itself well to getting used to the space. 

During InnerSpace’s opening hours, there’s a distinct learning curve as the player progresses from world to world and figures out what’s going on. When did you feel comfortable finalizing that early game progression?

You have to get players used to the idea that they don t need to look for "up". The idea of "up" doesn t really matter in our game.

Steve Zapata

Steve Zapata: A lot of it comes down to how we actually built the game. We started by building the main, primary chamber. The game is set up so that all of the secondary worlds you visit all branch from that main chamber. The first time we built it, it was way too large and disorientating. We scrapped it and built a smaller version, which was also too large. In the process of doing this we’re getting player feedback and we’re building these smaller worlds.  

We had a large scale central piece that we learnt to scale down to make more accessible. We also had the smaller worlds which were a bit more focused because that’s where you encounter the boss creatures. They’re designed around a specific encounter. Every time we built one of those smaller worlds, we took information from that process and brought it back to how we approach the central world.

What ended up happening is that the very last worlds that we ended up building were pretty much the tutorial world that you start in. The last boss we built became the first boss you encounter. We kind of worked backward in that sense. In doing so, we were able to apply all of the information that we had gathered by watching people play into the tutorial sequence that introduces them to the game itself. 

What that accomplishes is easing players into this very disorienting space. On face value, it’s extremely disorienting. You have to get players used to the idea that they don’t need to look for "up". The idea of "up" doesn’t really matter in our game, just like how there’s no horizon. 

Because it’s an exploration game, there’s a moment where we, as designers, have to let the player figure it out on their own. We need to teach them to explore and discover. Part of doing that is taking the training wheels off as the player progresses through the tutorial. We let them get a little lost so they can find their way out. The hope is that players will learn through looking and exploring.

Aspyr was heavily involved with porting InnerSpace to consoles. How did Aspyr contribute to the PC release?

TT: We haven’t only been working on ports since working with Aspyr. We’ve actually doubled the content of the game. Since we started working with Aspyr, we have twice as many worlds and bosses. There was just a level of polish that was not going to be there before. 

As we ve seen in the past, people are attracted to the visuals like honey, but then when they sit down with it, they don t quite know what they re getting into.

Eric Grossman

Another thing was optimization. Getting the game working on Switch means things run faster. Where before it would have required a pretty good gaming computer, you can get away with a lot more now. I think it’s going to be a lot more accessible for the PC audience. 

Eric Grossman: I also want to mention localisation. We had a streamer play in French last night and it was amazing. That just would not have been possible if we were just going in on our own. 

TT: Yeah, how many languages are we on now?

SZ: I think it’s like eight total. It’s so cool seeing it in other languages.

Now you’re seeing it in the hands of streamers and media, what’s been the public response?

EG: It’s really interesting. We’ve started to see people get their hands on it—a lot of influencers too. A lot of the press are still working on what they’re gonna write, so we don’t know what the response will be like there. As we’ve seen in the past, people are attracted to the visuals like honey, but then when they sit down with it, they don’t quite know what they’re getting into. We start to see this warm-up period, where once someone has sat down with it for half an hour, they really start to gel with it. 

Now that we’ve actually gotten it to a finished product, we’ve seen a version of that in the wild. It’s really gratifying because we see people who swooned over all the early development stuff and they’re coming to grips with the learning process that Steve described earlier. For me, I kind of forgot that this is going to be a game that people are going to play and it’ll speak to them on an emotional or aesthetic level. 

What are your plans looking like after launch?

SZ: I think we’re open to a lot of possibilities. I don’t think we have a decided one just yet. Obviously we’re going to be doing patches and making sure that any bugs brought up in the community are things that we address. We are planning a 30-day patch as a thing for our backers and so people who missed it at launch can be introduced to the game all over again. I can’t touch on what’s going to be in that patch, but we are planning something kind of fun and special for that. 

TT: We’ve had some rad ideas for things we could do as a sequel. We’re looking at planes to add as content patches. As far as DLCs or expansions, I think we’re going to wait and see what everyone wants out of the game. 

SZ: If we end up doing DLCs or sequels, I very much want to hear what players think. I really want to ingest that and make something those players are going to really like. I think that’s what I’m most excited for personally.

InnerSpace is available on Steam.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

Last year, Tencent unsuccessfully pursued the acquisition of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds developer Bluehole/PUBG Corp. In November, the tech giant secured the rights to officially distribute the battle royale 'em up in China. 

This version is yet to launch in the region, however Bloomberg (via VG24/7) reports Tencent has since helped law enforcement agents clamp down on cheat software manufacturers.  

According to Bloomberg, Tencent has worked with police to uncover somewhere in the region of 30 cases—having arrested around 120 people in the process. The accused are thought to have either created or have been caught advertising cheat software that allows players to perform illegal maneuvers, such as the ability to see through walls, view the battlefield from above, or auto-target enemies. 

The report also notes the accused have used the game's leaderboards as a means of promoting cheat applications—one advertisement asked players to "maintain control and keep your kills within 15 people per game" so as not to get caught—and that those convicted in the past have served jail time. 

At the turn of the year, PUBG Corp celebrated three million concurrent players, however underscored the news by revealing it has handed out 1.5 million cheater bans since the game's Early Access launch last March.

The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

With every Steam sale, our piles of shame grow to new, unsurmountable heights. If you've got a job or a family or some other responsibility, chances are your allocated gaming time is limited. Games can demand a lot of us, these days—whether it's an overload of sidequests, backtracking, repeat playthroughs to see every ending of a story, or because you're playing a multiplayer game with progression in mind.

Here, the UK team discusses whether games are too bloated, and where we draw the line with what we consider good value content versus filler. We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, too. 

Long journeys ahead

Samuel Roberts: Over the holiday, I finished Nier: Automata, capping off the fifth optional ending after 41 hours of total play. That game was mostly fantastic, but it also felt too long to me. It made me repeat the same story beats in a slightly exhausting second playthrough, which shed some new light on the characters but not enough to justify the hours invested. It finally ended properly with a mostly-great third playthrough, after which I had no desire to go back and mop the sidequests I'd missed. 

At this point, I'd seen the same grey boxes and washed out greenery that make up its world so many times. I then looked at the other games I'm yet to finish from 2017: Divinity, Shadow of War, Assassin's Creed Origins, which are all pretty lengthy as well. Many of our favourite games are long as heck, now. Some of them earn it, but others don't. 

Taking something like Arkane's Prey, which I mostly enjoyed, I felt like the last third of the game sent me back-and-forth to the same locations for the sake of it—which wore down the magic of its excellent setting for me. Shadow of War, meanwhile, is a game we called out specifically for being bloated. I wonder if our readers feel this way, that games longer than 20 hours can be more intimidating than exciting. Thoughts?

Andy Kelly: I don't mind if a game is bloated, as long as it's fat with interesting things to do and not just obvious filler. Shadow of War's problem is that the distractions that litter its map, whether it's revealing Shelob's memories or purifying Haedir towers, all boil down to following an icon on a map and pressing a button to interact with it. It's design like this that makes a game feel like a checklist, rather than a collection of fun things you feel compelled to do. Watch Dogs 2, on the other hand, features some really fun, unpredictable side quests that I enjoyed as much as the main game, which I wrote about here.

Phil Savage: Yeah, the best open world games don't feel bloated, just full of options. But the line between meaningful diversion and tiresome padding can be fuzzy. Shadow of War was the latter for me. I played through the opening area—a small, mini sandbox that offers a small sampling of its sidequests and structure—and couldn't bring myself to continue when I was faced with that but on a much larger scale. Seeing the size of the full map just made me feel tired. I quit out and uninstalled it soon after. 

Mandatory sidequests—we can live without them

Andy: Although I loved Assassin’s Creed Origins, it's guilty of a particularly egregious example of padding. Whenever I finished a story mission, eager to tackle the next one, I'd hit a brick wall. The mission would be two or three levels higher than me, forcing me to complete side quests to get to the appropriate level. Which would be fine if 80% of these quests weren't dull and repetitive. I lost count of how many people I didn't care about that I had to rescue from caves and bandit camps. It's a stain on an otherwise superb game, and really tested my patience towards the end. It took me 28 hours to finish Origins, and I'm sure at least eight of those were spent completing side quests against my will.

Samuel: Assassin's Creed is an interesting one, in that I feel almost trained to ignore the majority of the series' side content—ever since those collectable feathers in the original game. Would it have been a great loss to make the level gating leaner in Origins and lose that extra eight hours, leaving it to the player to decide if they're worth it? I don't necessarily think so. 

Game engines can do huge, beautiful worlds, but we don't exactly know how to fill them with interesting activities

Phil: My only hesitance in criticising this stuff is it must appeal to someone, and that someone is essentially me 15 years ago. I used to scour RPGs like Baldur's Gate for every scrap of story, and 100%'d Grand Theft Autos III, Vice City and San Andreas. I even collected those damn feathers in Assassin's Creed II. It wasn't because I enjoyed collectibles—I didn't—but that I wasn't ready to leave these cool worlds. I felt compelled to stay until everything was done. Since then I got a job, and realised there were more games than I could theoretically play in a lifetime—both things that have made me more discerning with how I spend my time. But I recognise that even collectibles, as pointless as they usually are, can add value for some.

Samuel: Thing is, I played both San Andreas and GTA III before I had a full-time job and I still didn't 100% complete them. I played them until I'd seen the credits, then just messed around in the open world until I felt done. I accept collecting the hidden packages has value for some people, but as a player, I feel like I've become pretty savvy about breaking down the higher value and lower value content in a game. I know the difference between a sidequest that starts with a cutscene and a three-minute race that's slightly too tricky to be enjoyable. And for me, it doesn't matter how much I love the world of a game—it still has to give me slightly more back in reward (the entertainment value of what I'm playing) than it's asking in time investment.

To offer a slightly different example, this week I thought I'd start one of Obsidian's two recent RPGs, which I've been considering for a while. According to my favourite games utility site, How Long To Beat, Pillars of Eternity comes in at 36 hours to beat the main quest line, while Tyranny comes in at 23 hours. Knowing that, I started Tyranny—it's unlikely I'll ever get through both, and even if our reviewers preferred Pillars, I'd rather start something where I know I'll see the ending. That 13 hours is potentially a whole other game I could complete. 

Good sidequests vs bad sidequests

Tom Senior: I agree with Phil to the extent that I remember enjoying sidequests and working towards secrets in games like Final Fantasy VII. Finding Vincent, breeding gold chocobos, fighting the weapons—that stuff didn’t feel like second-tier content. Sidequests and secondary activities in a lot of current open world games feel like an afterthought by comparison, and I think that’s because, in open world games, technology has outpaced design for years. Game engines can do huge, beautiful worlds, but we don't exactly know how to fill them with interesting activities. 

There are exceptions, obviously, like Skyrim and The Witcher 3, and on consoles last year Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn. All of these games are full of fun, meaningful side activities that, crucially, don't delay your movement on the critical path. Assassin's Creed Origins' levelling system forces you to engage with the busywork to progress, which is the worst.

There are two big honking problem games I'd pick out: Mass Effect Andromeda and Dragon Age: Inquisition. The critical paths in both games are exciting, full of twists, drama, the stuff that BioWare is good at and known for. The open world side missions were drivel that got in the way and stopped you getting at the best parts of the game. Those games, and Shadow of War, define 'bloat' for me, though at least there is a point to Shadow of War having an open world. I reckon Inquisition and Andromeda could have been great relatively linear rollercoaster single player RPGs.

The Witcher 3 did it best, obviously

Samuel: I can see why open world seemed like the right route for both of those BioWare games. Dragon Age got to show you what felt like its whole world for the first time rather than just snapshots (and it's incredibly impressive to look at), and Mass Effect hadn't really done big explorable planets since the original game. But it's hard to dispute that one reason Mass Effects 2 and 3 were so great is that the busywork was kept to an absolute minimum. Pretty much all of the sidequest content was story-driven. Everyone remembers their favourite loyalty quest(s) from Mass Effect 2.  

That's one solution, then—linear games are totally okay by us, even if some publishers have seemingly convinced themselves otherwise. And open world games can be long, but that scale shouldn't ever get in the player's way. The more of these games that exist in the market, though, the less attention we can conceivably pay to each one—and the less likely we are to try and do everything. Sidequest design is more important now than ever. 

Tom: Statistically, looking at achievements, you can see that not many people ever finish games. Games seem more determined to tire us out than to leave us wanting more. Every hour you're spending in a game is an hour you're not spending with one of the game's competitors, and the games-as-service trend allows games to become platforms for microtransactions that can generate long-term revenue. 

Basically, there are incentives for big-budget games to be massive, but luckily smaller developers are able to create small games that don’t need to meet those big business aims. I wonder if there’s a space halfway for games with big beautiful worlds, minus the giant to-do lists. LA Noire and Shadow of the Colossus spring to mind, focused games that use its open world to create a mood rather than burden us with fetch quests and endless resource collection exercises. I think games are gradually getting better at this, though. The Witcher 3 showed that sidequests can be rich, self-contained short stories that don’t feel like filler. I hope to see more of that sort of thing as open worlds continue to get bigger with each passing year.

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