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A patch for Civilization VI last night removed Red Shell, a controversial piece of software that track ads for the game which players might have viewed. Considering that a common event in any game of Civ is once-friendly faces turning sour after they discover you’ve been spying on them, you’d think publishers 2K might have just… not. But they did. Red Shell has risen to prominence in recent months for all the wrong reasons, discovered in games from Vermintide 2 to Conan Exiles by players who were none too happy to find it. Many developers have removed Red Shell from their games or pledged to, and here’s Civ doing its part. (more…)
Imagine the Star Wars movies ending with Luke falling to the dark side. The "bad" ending would never happen in the big budget movies, but someone has definitely written it. Imagining those "what ifs" is what fan fiction is for. Videogames, though, don't have to leave their alternate history storytelling up to the fans. They can embrace those doom-and-gloom endings with branching paths and multiple endings. If Return of the Jedi were a game, we could've absolutely had a semi-canon cutscene of the savior of the galaxy cutting down his father and kneeling at the feet of the Emperor.
That's more or less how BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic ended, and it was way better than your typical happy ending. Gaming has accumulated a number of astonishing, melancholy, and downright sadistic endings for those of us who choose to go dark. In this list we won't be talking about game endings that result from failure—like botching the suicide run in Mass Effect 2 and losing half your crew. Instead we'll be focusing on the finales that empower your most heinous instincts. The ones that make you feel like a supervillain. So come along with us, and let's watch the world burn.
Dishonored is a game about vengeance. Corvo's legacy is tarnished by a cabal of greedy bloodsuckers, and you spend the entire game doing your best to re-establish the rightful ruling bloodline, and assassinate the cronies who got in your way. However, if bloodlust captures your instincts too much, and civilians are implicated in your operations, you might end with a cinematic detailing a city that has truly fallen to chaos. It's bittersweet, really: Screw the hegemony, but also let's skip town before things get truly anarchic.
Oh, BioShock 2, what a strange beast you are. The game falls into a category alongside Dark Souls 2 and Majora's Mask, where publishers instruct exhausted development studios to make a sequel using the same assets, and the same general formula, that made the original product such a classic. But looking back, we were perhaps too quick to judge 2K's greed. BioShock 2 was cool, weird, and responsible for launching the luminaries at Fullbright. Its evil ending, where your Little Sister sucks out the essence of yourself to conquer the world—fulfilling all the selfish lessons you taught her—seemed to serve as a final, mocking rejection of Rapture's false hopes in Randism. At the very least, it's a better ending than the first BioShock.
This one's definitely not safe for work.
I think most of us expected Far Cry to die a silent, forgotten death. The first game was a technical marvel, way back in the Crytek years, but it was also saddled with one of the worst stories ever committed to a work of fiction. The idea that Ubisoft's Far Cry 3 resuscitated the franchise with a truly batshit narrative, and one of the most compelling, immediately menacing villains in triple-A history, is almost more crazy now than it was then. Politically, Far Cry 3 hasn't aged particularly well, but man, that ending where you terminate the rest of your friends and get stabbed through the heart mid-coitus as part of an ancient ritual was audacious, to say the least.
I've always appreciated the sense of perturbed melancholy Sid Meier has attached to the conquest victory conditions in his Civilization games. Throughout the series you've been able to achieve supreme victory through brilliant diplomacy, or cultural radiance, or the exploration of Alpha Centauri. Or, you can dump all your points into war production and backstab every other Civ on the map until you've established the One World Government your authoritarian heart so deeply desires. Thank you Firaxis, for always confirming the fundamental evil in the heart of humanity.
God bless Joseph D. Kucan. Command & Conquer's Kane is not the most subtle role in video game history, but it absolutely is one of the most memorable. His delightfully unhinged portrayal of the Brotherhood of Nod's fanatical chairman was captured in dozens of tongue-in-cheek FMV cutscenes, and his finest moment might be at the end of the second game in the series, Tiberian Sun, where he offers a triumphant manifesto before nuking the entire planet. Go watch this now, and it'll make you even more upset that EA decided to resurrect this wonderful franchise as a mobile game. Kucan sure had a way of making the life of a dictator look glamorous, didn't he?
As far as pure, unmitigated darkness goes, no game comes close to Undertale's "Genocide" ending. This is more of an easter egg than a plot contrivance, but basically, if you spend your time in this delightfully twisted RPG killing every character you meet, you'll unlock a special, super-meta final cutscene where you literally erase your save file, thus "ending the world." It's especially wrenching when you consider how much tender love and care Toby Fox put into Undertale's narrative, and how broken and vulnerable each of its characters tend to be. More than anything though, it's a commentary on how easy it is to kill in a video game, and how eager we are to press the "attack" button, just because it's there. You gotta love a game that's willing to confront your evil as an active player, rather than as a detached observer.
Knights of the Old Republic's calling card was the touted moral choice system; how the player could control the political agency of the roguish young Jedi, and determine the fate of the universe by their temperment. Bioware made better use of that concept in the company's work on Mass Effect and Dragon Age, which actually managed to serve up legitimately confounding quandaries, rather than the uber-binary morality of the Lucas Star Wars films, but it still added up to a hell of an ending. If you decide to go full dark, you can finish the campaign as the new Sith Lord with the full command of your forces and your super hot, equally evil girlfriend by your side. It was so gloriously sinister, that it actually managed to eclipse whatever the good guys did. What are video games for, if not to create your very own Darth Vader?
A piece of software called Red Shell that's used by game developers for marketing analysis has caused an uproar among gamers who are concerned by its ability to generate detailed "fingerprints" of users—in many cases without them knowing about it.
"Imagine a game developer is running an ad on Facebook and working with a popular Twitch channel," the Red Shell website explains. "The developer wants to know which of those ads is doing a better job of showcasing the game. Red Shell is the tool they use to measure the effectiveness of each of those activities so they can continue to invest in the ones that are working and cut resources from the ones that aren't."
In other words, if you click a Red Shell tracking link and then launch the releated game, the developer is able to determine that the link led to a sale. The site states that Red Shell does not collect personal information about users, such as names, addresses, or emails. It doesn't track users across games, and the data it collects is not used for targeted ads. "Red Shell tracks information about devices. We collect information including operating system, browser version number, IP address (anonymized through one-way hashing), screen resolution, in-game user id, and font profiles," it says.
"We have no interest in tracking people, just computers for the purposes of attribution. All of the data we do collect is hashed for an additional layer of protection."
Those reassurances don't carry much weight in this Reddit thread, however, which begins by pointing out that users typically don't have a say in whether or not Red Shell is installed in the first place. Games using the software "may offer an opt-out for any type of data/analytics services they use," Red Shell says, but that places the responsibility for declining the software entirely on the user, and could be in violation of opt-in privacy laws—and that's assuming the developer makes the option available at all.
The list of games found to be running Red Shell is surprisingly broad, and includes everything from indies like Holy Potatoes! We're In Space? and My Time At Portia to high-profile hits including Civilization 6, Kerbal Space Program, The Elder Scrolls Online, and Vermintide 2. Some developers have promised to remove the software, but there's also widespread insistence that there is nothing sinister or spyware-like about it.
Vermintide developer Fatshark, for instance, described it as "no more than a tool we can use to improve our marketing campaigns in the same way a browser cookie might," while Total War studio Creative Assembly stated that it's ditching the software only because "it will be difficult" to reassure players that it's not being used for nefarious purposes.
And some studios have said that they will continue to use the software despite the furor. ZeniMax Online, maker of The Elder Scrolls Online, said in a Reddit post that Red Shell was mistakenly added to a live build while it was still being tested. ZeniMax said it would remove the program, but added: "We are still investigating how to use this technology in the future to grow and sustain ESO more effectively. When/if we do so, we will give everyone a heads up with clear instructions as to what it is doing, how it is doing it, and how to opt-out should you so desire."
Dire Wolf Digital, formerly of The Elder Scrolls: Legends, said something similar about the presence of Red Shell in its new project, Eternal: "Red Shell is not 'spyware'; that’s a scary-'Let’s-burn-the-witch!'-word that’s getting thrown around without a lot of information behind. No personally identifying information is collected anywhere in this process," it wrote. "That’s basically it; there’s nothing nefarious going on here, just some under-the-hood analytics that help us understand how our advertisements perform."
Reddit's rundown games containing Red Shell as of June 18 is below, although I wouldn't be surprised to see more games added to it as people become aware of them—you'll probably want to check the thread if you want to be sure you're up to date. There's also a publicly-available Google spreadsheet that contains more detailed information on how each one was identified. For games that don't offer one, Red Shell maintains its own per-game opt-out option here.
Update: Team17 contacted us on June 19, 2018, to say that Red Shell integration in My Time at Portia, The Escapists 2, Yoku’s Island Express and Raging Justice has been fully removed.
Update 2: On June 21, 2018, HypeTrain Digital contacted us to say that Red Shell has been removed from The Wild Eight and Desolate; CI Games informed us that Red Shell was no longer present in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3; and Gavra Games said that it had been removed from Warriors: Rise to Glory.
Games which used Redshell which removed or pledged to remove it (as of June 18, 2018):
Games still using Redshell according to community reports (as of June 18, 2018):
Besides Victoria's England-strengthening Pax Britannica leader bonus, Civilization 6 now lets players call for help mid-battle.
As part of the turn-based 4X 'em up's spring update, new diplomacy tinkerings to Joint and Third Party War means players can now ask others—be that pals, strangers or AI—to join battles they're already engaged in.
"There's been a lot of discussion in the community about Joint Wars. These rules have been updated," says lead designer Anton Strenger in the video below. "First, Joint Wars may be declared using a Casus Belli, which will require a denouncement from at least one of the players. Second, AI and players can join wars that have already begun, and gain the benefits of the Casus Belli that are in effect."
Over to you, Anton:
Further to that, Joint War now requires one party to have denounced their enemy for five turns, so says this Steam Community update post, while the leader screen now clearly identifies that war declaration is part of a joint engagement.
Above, Strenger addresses the yield discrepancies identified by Tyler in March, noting a "general all around improvement in AI scores."
Civ 6's spring update also adds 12 new Historical Moments—from the World's First City with 25 Population, to the World's First National Park and World's First Seaside Resort—the sum of which can be perused here. Civilization 6's spring update rolls out today.
A good spring clean is cathartic after the long and dark winter, and Firaxis will surely feel better after releasing the Spring 2018 Update for Civilization VI later today. Along with improving joint wars, tweaking balance, fixing bug, and making the AI slightly less of a big silly, it adds some new Historic Moments for a fresh breath of springtime air in the Rise And Fall expansion. These include such world-changing moments as the building of the first seaside resort, the founding of the first national park, and the completion of the first totally rad tricked-out water park with a pool, aquarium, Ferris wheel, and all that. Ah, to be stuck indoors on a beautiful day like this… (more…)
England have taken a bit of a battering in Civlization 6 recently, with a series of nerfs making it harder to win with Queen Victoria. Developer Firaxis plans to put that right in its spring update, after which Victoria's Pax Britannica leader bonus will grant a free unit both when you settle in a foreign continent and when you build a Royal Navy dockyard in that new city. That additional unit should make it easier to expand your borders.
The update, which doesn't yet have a release date, will also tweak the loyalty system introduced in the Civilization 6: Rise and Fall expansion. You'll now get more loyalty from cities following the same religion as you, and less from those following a different religion.
The team at Firaxis is also changing the way that joint wars work. You'll now be able to declare wars with a Casus Belli, which is a justification for war in specific circumstances that will mean you'll get fewer warmonger penalties. Both the player and the AI will also be able to join joint wars that have already begun, gaining the benefit of the Casus Belli in the process.
Lastly, the update will tweak the AI and add a few more historic moments, which essentially act as achievements marking important milestones. No full patch notes for now—they'll arrive alongside the update.