XCOM® 2

In one of the few, delightful acts of game marketing in some time, you can now make propaganda for your XCOM 2: War of the Chosen campaign using Propaganda Center, a free program on Steam. It isn't exactly Photoshop, but the posters you create appear in-game, letting you lionize heroes, ridicule Advent, or simply spread memes across alien-occupied Earth.

In the day that this tool has been available, XCOM players, including ourselves, have created some variously effective, funny, and inspiring indoctrination material. Here's the best stuff we've found on /r/XCOM, Twitter, and elsewhere:

A bunch of Starship Troopers posters have popped up, but I love the perspective on this one by NeuroticNyx.

An MIT grad with experience in theoretical physics and exobiological combat. Where you at, Gordon? (One of mine.)

I love this series of portraits by hydrostatic_shock, who uses the filter tool to great effect to showcase his squad. Click for the full gallery.

SayuriUliana flips the propaganda center on its head by creating some mildly upsetting pro-Advent material.

Minimal and inspiring, Redditor nalerenn is basically the Don Draper of XCOM.

You know, if one of my 86 percent-to-hit rockets missed and slammed into this instead, I wouldn't even be mad.

Simple character propaganda with a good tagline. Nice one, deiah.

In this time of global war and occupation, where pornography is likely banned, PCG editor Bo Moore fans the flames of dissent.

Wolverine and Rita "The Angel of Verdun" Vratski are here to remind you that swords are sharp, and they don't require bullets.

Canadians get the job done.

This TF2 tribute could use a Spy, but at least it doesn't miss the opportunity to throw shade on BLU.

"Sometimes you need to appeal to the basic instincts," writes Redditor iR0cket.

Safety reminders are valuable in this time of conflict. Thanks, HeavyRedditGuy.

You're either with us or you're against us.
Prey

A demo version of Prey was released earlier this year for consoles, but not the PC. Arkane's Raphael Colantonio said that sticking with consoles was simply "a resource assignment thing," and also pointed out that the graciousness of Steam refunds added up to effectively the same thing anyway: You can buy the game, play it for a couple hours, and then refund it if you don't like it.   

I didn't (and don't) agree with that take, but it doesn't matter anymore because a free trial version is now available on Steam, too. The announcement doesn't offer much in the way of detail, but the trailer describes it as the "first hour" of the game. To get it, just head to the Prey page on Steam and scroll down until you see the "Download Demo" button on the right, just below where it shows how many of your Steam friends want and have the game. Take it from there.

(The PS4 and Xbox One demos are also being transitioned to trials, the difference being that as a trial, any progress you make and Achievements or Trophies you earn will carry over to the full game if you opt to buy it. That apparently doesn't happen with demos.) 

Prey was also recently updated to version 1.05, which smooths out the experience with more than 30 bug fixes. A full rundown of the changes is below. 

  • Player can no longer become blocked from  rebooting Power Plant for the "Reboot" mission after killing the  Technopath in Life Support.
  • Fixed crash when mimicking bass guitar in the Yellow Tulip.
  • Extra  items gained through passive neuromods, such as organs and tumors from  Necropsy or spare parts through Dismantle, will now properly stack in  the player's inventory automatically.
  • Loading a save from a previous version of the game will no longer remove all quests and inventory, or break the HUD.
  • Fix for some AI-related crashes.
  • Various combat tweaks/fixes for mimics.
  • Opening the TranScribe will no longer disrupt FoV settings.
  • The light on top of a turret will no longer become detached when the player jumps and glides while holding it.
  • Approaching areas with Coral should no longer cause the client to stutter and eventually freeze.
  • Operator corpses from saves made on previous builds will no longer cause performance issues.
  • Repair II and III increase efficiency with suit patch kits. Reduced suit damage from enemies on easy and normal difficulty.
  • Increased  wrench range and strength of melee aim assist. Wrench now always  staggers mimics (interrupts attacks). Mimics stand further back to  prevent players having to look down too much.
  • Stun Gun now  tells the player when a target is out of its effective range. Weapons  will display a "Weapon Offline" when disabled by EMP.
  • Hepatocytic Amp S-m186 chipset now properly only removes the negative effects of the "Drunk" debuff
  • Player will now spawn in the correct location when traveling from Shuttle Bay to other locations.
  • Fixed rare crash when level transitioning to Life Support.
  • Reployers no longer lose collision when recycling them, and then loading a save where they were present.
  • Player can no longer bypass ceiling collision by mantling GLOO.
  • Danielle now voices the correct response to the player's actions with the Cook during the endgame sequence.
  • The fabricated coral detector chipset and the quest-given chipset now both function correctly to scan the coral when installed
  • Fix for rare freeze/crash when in combat with Phantoms.
  • The  Luther Glass quest will no longer incorrectly complete and fail after  the player has already completed the quest in Trauma Center.
  • Lights are no longer sometimes incorrectly 'on' when the player enters the Cargo Bay for the first time
  • Igwe will no longer be found in Cargo Bay when the 'meet January' call is triggered.
  • Mimic's wall jump attack animation is cancelled if they are stunned.
  • Treasure Hunt now lists an objective and marker to return to Abigail's workstation once all the maps are investigated.
  • The nightmare in the Arboretum is now able to get into the greenhouse and use ranged attacks on the player from the doorway.
  • Turrets can now be hacked properly if they've been previously controlled by the Technopath.
  • If  the player manages to fully GLOO the greater mimic while it is in  mid-lunge toward the player's face, the facegrab animation will no  longer play and trap the player.
  • Hitting a stunned Phantom with the wrench no longer breaks their animations
  • Raised phantoms and operators will no longer become hostile to the player 
  • Various crash fixes
  • Various text fixes.
We Happy Few

We Happy Few, the game about getting high and being happy in a not-quite-right alt-'60s England, has been available on Steam Early Access and GOG In Development for more than a year now. Full release is coming next year, Gearbox Publishing announced today, on April 13, 2018. But the good news of the launch date comes the bad news of a price hike, which in this case has seen the cost double from $30 to $60. 

Anyone who purchased We Happy Few prior to the increase will get the standard edition of the game, and the "Jolly Brolly" parasol weapon preorder bonus, for no extra cost. Tier 1 Kickstarter backers will also get the standard edition (but no preorder bonus), while Tier 2 (and higher) backers will get the preorder bonus and the season pass. (Yes, there will be one of those.) At Tier 10 and higher, all the physical swag included with the $150 Collector's Set will also be thrown in. 

The price increase is a kick in the knackers, but developer Compulsion Games said in a lengthy statement that it reflects an increase in the game's scope, from a small "roguelite" to a "full sized, retail game"—which is why it's going to stay in early access for so long.

"The stories of our three characters were rewritten, the quality of our encounters and world has been dramatically increased (that’s what the Clockwork Update was all about - refactoring to make sure we could begin to deliver on that increased quality), and the remnants of that little sandbox game at PAX 2015 were slowly overtaken by a much larger, story-driven experience," Compulsion said.   

"To do this, we sought additional funding, based on the enthusiasm showed by everyone at E3, and grew the team to make the game you wanted. We’re now a fantastic team of 40 people, up from the ~10 we were at PAX. The game that we’re planning to ship in April is roughly 2.5x the size of the Life in Technicolour Update (which has just gone live)in terms of pure content, and we’re confident that we will meet the quality and scope expectations that you guys have." 

The studio also addressed what it apparently sees as the inevitable complaints about DLC and the season pass, pointing out that months will pass between "content lock" and the actual release of the game—a period when a significant part of the team, including designers, artists, and animators, have nothing to do.

"DLC for us is not 'carving out existing content'; it’s building new content that we wouldn’t have been able to do as part of the main game," it explained. "It’s risky, because now that we’ve announced it we’ve committed to it. It’s our first time doing it, so maybe in a year we’ll have a different opinion. In the meantime, once work on the game finishes up, we’ll have a bit of a rest, and then dive into the wacky world of DLC." 

Risky it may be, but I think the price increase is the real roll of the dice here, at least in the short term. Come early next year, the price will probably seem unremarkable to people hearing about We Happy Few for the first time, but for right now it's bound to be a stinger—although full credit to Compulsion for being open and up-front about it. Find out more at wehappyfewgame.com.

The Evil Within 2

Stefano Valentini is a very bad artist. Which is not to say that his work, which you can get a taste of here, is bad—although that, along with other, sharper things is very much in the eye of the beholder. But what he does to create his masterpieces in the twisted realm of The Evil Within 2 is very bad indeed. 

Stefano was a reasonably straight-ahead guy at one point, but his hold on reality was broken when he was injured during a stint as a war photographer. He lost an eye, but gained a "vision" that left him obsessed with the moment of death—"that split second in time when people are, in his opinion, at their most open and most beautiful." Trouble is, he's not very patient about waiting for it to happen. 

It's not easy being a serial killer in the real world, but in STEM, he can do as he pleases. And for whatever reason, he sees Lily as "the key to unlocking the potential of this world." That's probably not going to sit super-well with Sebastian, Lily's father and the game's lead character, who's ventured back into STEM to rescue her. Luckily for Stefano, he's got backup. 

"Born from an untethered and immoral imagination and sculpted from blood and bone and flesh, Obscura is one of Stefano’s greatest masterpieces," Bethesda said. "Somewhere inside of Obscura is a story from another life, long before Stefano ever even learned of the existence of STEM—a story you’ll have to uncover for yourself as you explore Union and discover more about the twisted artist behind some of the horrors hunting you." 

The Evil Within 2 comes out on October 13, which is a Friday. Perfect. 

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

I haven't handled a gun in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds for weeks. In that time I've played over 30 rounds, covered hundreds of in-game miles, and have spent more time hiding in bushes than Sean Spicer. Anyone familiar with Brendan Greene's one-time-Arma mod-turned-runaway megahit will know this is unusual. 

On the off-chance you're not, here's the deal: PUBG is a battle royale sim that parachutes players into an open-world island, has you scrambling for supplies and weapons, and pits you against up to 99 other combatants in bloody warfare till but one person remains. To complicate things further, an ever-enclosing forcefield intermittently shrinks the battlefield to expedite the fight. Spend long enough outwith and you'll expire. Spend long enough within and you'll likely be shot dead—assuming you don't waste everyone else first.

Achieving the latter armed with a S686 shotgun or an M416 assault rifle is no easy feat. Doing so barefisted is… well, nothing is impossible, right?

Before commencing my bare knuckled quest, I decided against enforcing hard rules. I was aware players better than I had shared similar experiences online—however my one and only chicken dinner to this point came as a result of my final foe inadvertently falling foul of the forcefield. When it was all said and done, I'd rather pitifully managed to run over one enemy with one of the game's yellow, Mr Bean-esque Dacia cars, and had offed another with an inordinately flukey grenade lob. With this in mind I decided to take whatever I could get. 

At first, perhaps expectedly, this wasn't a lot. I spent my first several rounds aimlessly sprinting and dying, dying and sprinting (in no particular order) in and out of buildings which, shy of being accompanied by a Benny Hill score, was almost comical. As I danced over well-placed M249s, full ammo clips, and Crossbows, I could almost hear opposite players screaming: What the fuck is this clown doing?!

I imagined their laughter as I charged at them, fists flailing, as if mimicking that one drunk uncle invariably capable of emptying a wedding dance floor to the tune of Eye of the Tiger. Even when I outsmarted foes, I failed. Sneaking up from behind, or getting the jump on my aggressors was swiftly superseded by being shot point blank between the eyes. Moe Greene got off lightly against my plight—and my boxing technique when given a fair chance left much to be desired (skip to 1.50 below).

After a handful of single barefisted kills in almost 20 rounds, it was clear my strategy needed a drastic overhaul. In his esteemed and enduring treatise on military tactics The Art of War, the Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu writes: "The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy." 

Which to me of course translates to: If you can't win, hide in the bushes. Hide in the long grass. Hide in the toilets. Hell, hide wherever you can't be spotted. 

And so I did. I hid in bushes:

I hid in toilets:

In the most literal act of trolling, I hid under bridges: 

And, in a Theresa May-like rush of blood to the head, I hid in wheat fields:

I became a shadow, an unknown, and, still too often literally, a ghost. I racked up hours of peaceful wandering, as I toured The Island unarmed and rarely unchallenged before being abruptly offed as the circle inevitably and resolutely shortened. 

I grew to understand what Gil Lawson was getting at when she suggested Battlegrounds' map gets more haunting as you play it, happening upon quaint nooks and crannies I hadn't previously realised existed—all the while becoming interminably frustrated by my inability to tuck my bloody legs beneath a bed frame or under a hedge or behind a parked car. 

Seriously, I reckon I put new meaning to the term 'trickshot' by way of the amount of times I was killed with one-shots to my overimposing appendages. 

Eventually, though, I got my break. The gods took pity on me and the lay of the ever-enclosing battleground fell in my favour. With every reduced arena came planes of rough, or conveniently situated shrubbery. I crawled for what felt like miles till it was just me and two others in the final squeeze. The Good, The Bad, and The Suspicious Bush. 

Explosions tear through the otherwise tranquil forest. The two active fighters exchange gunfire. I daren't move a muscle for fear of my inflatable tube man legs being spotted. 

And then boom! The soldier at the far end is brought to their knees and suddenly it's one-on-one. 

I'm torn. Do I get up, run and hope for the best? Or do I lay in wait and hope that the now fallen third party shaved enough health off the remaining foe for me to stage a one-punch sneak attack?

I can't decide. Maybe I should move ever so slightly to the left and—BLOODY HELL WHY AM I SO BAD AT THIS GAME?!!!! 

A bullet to the head and my indecision and cowardice has cost me, which feels like a fitting end to my bare-fisted saga. Ah, well at least I've got my memories. 

Now if someone could please pass me that shotgun, that'd be grand.

Total War: WARHAMMER II

Total War: Warhammer 2's announcement trailer first aired back in March and—after showcasing High Elves, Dark Elves and Lizardmen at loggerheads—concluded with a rat nibbling on a corpse. Many speculated this, which features in the above trailer around the 2.28 mark, all but confirmed the Skaven as the turn-based-strategy's then unannounced fourth race. Today, Creative Assembly has confirmed this to be true. 

Led to battle by Queek Headtaker and Lord Skrolk, the following cinematic shows the rat horde in blood-spilling action against the Lizardmen and Dark Elves. 

"Their motives obscured, the devious Skaven are a highly numerous species who inhabit vast subterranean lairs," so says publisher Sega in a statement. "Now, their time of prophecy is upon us, and this verminous Race have emerged to spread pestilence and mayhem across the face of the New World."

And with that, the not-so-secret Skaven will now officially join the Lizardmen, High Elves and Dark Elves in battle when Total War: Warhammer 2 lands on September 28. Head this way for trailers of the other factions at war.     

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

When I spoke to PUBG's Brendan Greene a few weeks ago, he told me the promises he made at the beginning of the runaway hit's development regarding launch dates "came from naivety on [his] part". Bluehole has now stressed that the revised "Q4 2017" target is still on-track, but that weekly and monthly updates will be sidestepped in order to maintain a "high standard of quality."

By way of this Steam Community update post, Bluehole says that changes to the game's schedule aim to improve how it as a team works on the game and how it continues to set "realistic" expectations for players. 

"Until the official release of the game, we will not have our scheduled weekly or monthly patches rolling out as often as before," reads the post. "We’ve found internally that being rushed to finish certain features, and having shorter QA test time between pushing updates caused more issues than it solved in regards to maintaining a high standard of quality. We want to put our best content out, and ensure that everything we do is making the game more enjoyable with every update."

Bluehole continues to say that while weekly patches may fall by the wayside from hereon, the developer will use the time to test for "significantly" longer periods. In turn it hopes to produce more polishes and accomplished updates.

The post adds: "Again, we would like to assure you all that we are still on-track to release our game as per our updated timeline, and we want to emphasize to you that we are not winding down the development, or complacent. We have a lot of work to do, and we want this game to be released with as many fun, rich, enjoyable features and mechanics as possible. Our team will continue to be hard at work, and we are always listening to your feedback."

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

After reading Tom's thoughts on XCOM 2's War of the Chosen earlier this week, I feel a little overwhelmed. With a host of additional technical features applied to what was already a pretty complex game—not to mention a cartload of new customisation options—it looks like we'll have our work cut out for us when the expansion lands later this month. 

Until then, its 'Propaganda Center' photobooth feature can be downloaded now, free-of-charge, on Steam

Available to all, the Propaganda Center allows players to craft "war-and-meme worthy" posters using a variety of different backgrounds, soldier poses and filters. From the main menu, players can view and use their Character Pool or opt to create new soldiers entirely. 

A total of 23 different background images await creative hands, alongside 16 different layouts. "Do you want to make it look like you're taking a snapshot of drafting a recruitment poster?" asks this Steam community post. That's up to you to decide—do so in this direction

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is due August 29. If you missed the link to Tom's early thoughts above, let me redirect you here

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

One of the most amusing gulfs between film trailers and video game trailers is that while the former is fairly coy with violence, the latter does not give a single damn crap. Take this new Shadow of War trailer for instance: the amount of Orcs getting brutally maimed, face-smashed and lashed is actually very gruesome. But it kinda slides right over you, it's just more of the same really. 

This trailer showcases / celebrates / threatens with an Orc tribe known as Terror. You'll see why they've got that name when you watch the trailer, but they've got that name for a much more functional reason: they literally spread fear throughout Mordor. Which, if you played Shadow of Mordor already, you'll know has in-game ramifications.

So says the YouTube description: "In Shadow of War, Orcs now belong to tribes, which extend their influence stemming from the Overlords ruling the mighty fortresses throughout the open world, providing a rich ecosystem of missions, exploration and a dynamic Orc society with diverse Orc cultures, all brought to life through the expanded Nemesis System. As master tormentors, the Terror tribe rely on their infamous reputations to inspire fear among their enemies.

Shadow of War releases October 10. Check out the trailer below:

Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition

Warren Spector is stuck in Prey. The director of Deus Ex, who has worked on many games since labeled "immersive sims"—in fact, he coined the term in a post-mortem of Deus Ex—has been playing the modern games inspired by classics like Thief and System Shock. But he hasn't finished Prey yet. Or, as he puts it: "The crew quarters are kicking my butt."

He's enjoying it though, just as he enjoyed the other recent immersive sim from Arkane Studios, Dishonored 2. "I thought they were both excellent examples of what I think of when I say 'immersive sim,'" Spector says. "They removed barriers to belief that I was in another world and they let me approach problems as problems, rather than as puzzles. I'm really glad Arkane exists and that they're so committed to the genre. Without them I'd have fewer games to play!"

Spector's not the only one who'd mourn their loss. Arkane is still around, but there's this uneasy feeling in the air that there's now some reason to worry. Not about Arkane, necessarily, but the immersive sim in general, this genre held up as the shining example of PC gaming at its most smartest and most complex. None of the last three big-budget immersive sims—Prey, Dishonored 2, and Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided—have broken a million sales on Steam.

It's always been a niche genre, defined by player freedom, environmental storytelling, and a lot of reading diary entries. How long can they be propped up by the fact that some designers really like making them?

Arkane's Prey is the latest in the System Shock lineage.

Don't call it a comeback

In the 1990s and early 2000s immersive sims seemed like the future, an obvious extension of what 3D spaces and believable physics and improving AI could do when working together. But they rarely sold well. When Ion Storm’s third Thief and second Deus Ex game flopped, the studio closed. Looking Glass Studios, responsible for System Shock, Ultima Underworld, and the first two Thief games, was already gone. The immersive sim went into hibernation for years.

Despite the love and praise for games like Deus Ex, they're not easy to sell to players. Jean-François Dugas, executive director of the Deus Ex franchise at its current owners Eidos Montreal, says it can be tough even convincing people to make games that let players deviate from the critical path.

"You need to realize and accept that you will build a ton of material that a good part of your audience will miss," he says. "Since you are building possibilities through game mechanics and narrative scenarios, you know that you might not be able to bring all the pieces to the quality level you would like. You have to rely on the effect of the sum of the parts to transcend it all. The GTA series is a great example of that. When you look at all the pieces individually, they’re not the best in class but what they offer their audience when combined is unparalleled. After that, there is a big effort required to convince your team and upper management that spending money on things that many players will not see is a good idea," he says with a laugh. 

Deus Ex's Hong Kong, richly detailed and packed with things to discover.

Spector disagrees with the notion that immersive sims are harder to convince publishers on. "Honestly, I haven't really noticed any particular challenge. It's not like you go into a pitch throwing around geeky genre identifiers. The reality is that immersive sims are action games, first and foremost and most people get that. It's just that the player gets to decide what sort of action he or she engages in and when to do so. Selling action games isn't that tough. Well, at least it's no tougher than selling any other game idea—they're all tough to sell!" 

There is a big effort required to convince your team and upper management that spending money on things that many players will not see is a good idea.

Jean-Fran ois Dugas

After Looking Glass and Ion Storm's closure the influence of immersive sims was still felt, as people who'd worked on those games brought similar ideas to Oblivion, Fallout 3, and BioShock. The immersive sim philosophy survived in STALKER, Pathologic, and the early projects of Arkane Studios, Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might & Magic.

And then in 2011 Eidos Montreal's prequel Deus Ex: Human Revolution came along, a true immersive sim and one with the Deus Ex name stamped across it. It sold 2.18 million copies in just over a month. The year after that Arkane teamed with Bethesda to bring out Dishonored, a game in the lineage of Thief which enjoyed "the biggest launch for new IP" of the year. Sequels to both followed, as well as Prey, Arkane's spiritual successor to System Shock. The immersive sim was back.

And yet in 2016, Mankind Divided's launch sales were significantly lower than Human Revolution's. In response the series has seemingly been put on hold, though a publicist told me Eidos Montreal are "not quite ready" to answer questions on why it appears to have failed, or whether there will ever be another full-size Deus Ex.

Jensen tried so hard, and got so far. But in the end...

There are plenty of potential reasons why Deus Ex: Mankind Divided sold disappointingly. It launched a long five years after its predecessor. Its microtransactions and pre-order model were unpopular, and though reviews were positive, most noted that it felt shorter and had an even less satisfying ending than Human Revolution. And yet, though they lacked those specific problems, neither of Arkane's immersive sims was a smash hit either. Perhaps Dishonored 2's launch issues on PC hurt sales, though the history of video games is full of rocky launches that sold like gangbusters. As I write this, Car Mechanic Simulator 2018 is still in Steam's top 25 in spite of its bugginess.

Even in their heyday all it took was two commercial failures, Deus Ex: Invisible War and Thief: Deadly Shadows, for immersive sims to go out of fashion for years. Are we about to see that happen again?

If the future isn't bright, why is Adam Jensen wearing shades? 

Human Revolution and Dishonored both seemed to find an audience beyond traditional immersive sim fans, beyond the people who know to try 0451 in every combination lock just in case. Their success encouraged Eidos Montreal and Arkane to go ahead with big-budget follow-ups, but of course games cost a lot to make, both in terms of time and money, need to justify that with strong sales.

Spector says, "it's clear that there hasn't been a huge immersive sim hit on par with some of the other video games out there. I mean, we're still waiting for the game that sells a gazillion copies! I think part of the reason for that is that immersive sims require—or at least encourage—people to think before they act. They tend not to be games where you just move forward like a shark and inevitably succeed. In the best immersive sims, you have to assess the situation you're in, make a plan and then execute that plan, dealing with any consequences that follow. That's asking a lot of players who basically have to do that every moment of their waking lives—in the real world, I mean."

Dishonored 2 applies the immersive sim's freeform gameplay to combat like nothing before it.

It wasn't just immersive sims that didn't sell as well as expected in 2016, however. Titanfall 2, Street Fighter V, and Watch Dogs 2 also struggled for their own reasons—while big, acclaimed games like Overwatch and Battlefield 1 dominated. Dugas says that "your product needs to be more than 'GOOD' today to be successful—whether you are making a movie or a game. People have options and last time I checked there are only 24 hours in a day. If you are not good enough, your audience has gone somewhere else. Bottom line: I believe that if we make outstanding games, no matter what type of genre it is in, people will be there, whether it’s an immersive sim or not."

It's clear that there hasn't been a huge immersive sim hit on par with some of the other video games out there. I mean, we're still waiting for the game that sells a gazillion copies!

Warren Spector

Jordan Thomas, who worked on Thief: Deadly Shadows and all three BioShocks before going indie with The Magic Circle, puts it this way. "Are immersive sims suffering specifically in the market or is everybody? I lean more towards the latter. I think the games space is experiencing a new boom and the simpler your concept is to communicate the more likely you are to find your demographic quickly because they're seeing hundreds and hundreds of concepts at a time. I think that immersive sims traditionally have struggled a little bit with helping people to understand what they're about because they're about many things. They're about a feeling, a cross-section of ideas, whereas a game that is like, 'No—this is just to quote Garth Marenghi—Balls-to-the-wall horror,' it's easier for people to wrap their heads around from a marketing perspective."

Making games like these is expensive, too. "Looking at something like Prey," Thomas continues, "everything is just sparkling. The sheer amount of salesmanship that can go into all of the different reactions that the player can concoct with their chemistry set—literally, in that game, but you know what I mean. The idea of objects being combined to some clever result, every single inch of it shines."

Prey's artfully constructed space station.

As an indie developer, that level of detail and scope is simply out of reach. "I do think that most indie games that would self-accept the label immersive sim have to compromise because the games that typically are associated with this subgenre were kitchen-sink games."

Perhaps immersive sims are just a particularly tough sell in a crowded market. The next ones on the horizon—a Dishonored 2 expandalone, a spiritual sequel to Ultima Underworld, and both a new System Shock and a remake of the original—might face the same problem. They all have something else in common, though. They're all tied directly to existing immersive sims, whether directly or spiritually. None of them are brand new ideas.

It's said that though few people saw the Velvet Underground live, everyone who did seems to have formed a band of their own. The original Deus Ex sold 500,000 copies, a decent amount at the time, and it can seem like practically everyone who bought a copy became a game designer (or at least a games journalist) after studying from its design bible. Its influence is unavoidable, as is System Shock's. That's not to say their influence makes for bad games. Prey is the best thing I've played this year, even though it's essentially System Shock 2 with zero-gravity bits. But there's perhaps a limit to the number of spiritual sequels to the same games we really need. If poor sales motivate future immersive sims to move further from their roots, to try out new settings and inspirations, that might be a silver lining to their current troubles.

Hope comes in the shapes of games that incorporate some of the core elements of immersive sims without being kitchen sinks. Thomas gives the example of Near Death, a survival game set on an Antarctic research base.

"Near Death is made by folks who worked on assorted BioShocks and Deus Exes," he says, "but it is not oriented towards combat whatsoever. It is set in a world with no magic, just you versus an environment which, arguably, is one of the callsigns you might associate with immersive sims." It's another game that presents problems rather than puzzles, in "a fully realized environment that has rules that you must learn in order to eke out an existence. It is that concept writ large. You are trying not to freeze to death and you are using your wits to combine systemic objects in the environment based on some amount of real-world common sense."

More and more games like Near Death are picking elements of the immersive sim to focus on.

It may not seem like it when you're punching a tree to collect wood for the hundredth time, but according to Thomas there's a direct connection. 

I honestly feel like a lot of the people who are building these ultra-successful early access survival games are influenced by immersive sim design. That notion of systems alchemy is at the core of that.

Jordan Thomas

"I honestly feel like a lot of the people who are building these ultra-successful early access survival games are influenced by immersive sim design. That notion of systems alchemy is at the core of that. When the trend caught on it felt fresh, right? It felt liberated from some of the rhetoric associated with immersive sims and very seldom about story at all. It's if you took the parts of the genre that we used to say we loved, which were that all of the rules of the game could be atomized and combined into new molecules—that's what we told ourselves as developers of these things. 'This is a real place, man! With a sort of mathematics that you can learn to speak and you're gonna express your mastery through doing that!' But survival games are that crystallized and they let go of a lot of the high-minded philosophy and let atavism rule."

Survival games aren't the only place the influence of immersive sims is felt. New open-world RPGs and sandbox games are all obliged to emphasize player choice. Horror games like Alien: Isolation and Resident Evil 7 borrow directly from the immersive sim playbook right down to the environmental storytelling through graffiti, and stealth games like Hitman with creative paths to murder can evoke the same feeling. Indie games like Consortium, The Magic Circle, and even Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon each take aspects of the immersive sim each and expand on them, and so do walking simulators. Both Gone Home and Tacoma take the bit of Thief where you rummage through someone's belongings and read their diary, building up an idea of who they are, and make that the entire game. Tacoma is even set on an abandoned space station, possibly the most immersive sim location imaginable.

If immersive sims become too commercially risky for the current climate, and if they go into hibernation for another decade, they won't really be gone. Thanks to the spread of their concepts throughout games they can't really go anywhere—because they're already everywhere.

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