Rundown (2/16-2/22) Madness Direct

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Wherein I discuss those wacky Nintendo fans, the new horizons of the GOAT time vampire, a positively gothic revival, the continued fumblings of East AR Wars.

Diehard Nintendo fans are, from my observations, the most passionate and dedicated group of game likers out there, routinely getting riled up and entering a furor whenever a Nintendo Direct is announced. However, select members of this group have become increasingly… concerning over the past few years, with their demand for news, reveals, and releases having recently reached a point where I worry about whether or not one of these individuals will become so enamored with all things Nintendo that they decide to do something absurd. Like breaking into their headquarters to steal information, stalking key personnel home and threatening them with a weapon until they reveal who the remaining 6 Smash Ultimate characters are.

I know that seems outlandish and impossible, but while it is easy to dismiss most raging sycophantic fanatics on the internet as teenagers having a hissy fit from the confines of their bedroom, never forget the damage one individual can do to harm a company when they have the right motivation, drive, and conviction. Just remember what happened to Kyoto Animation last year… Jeepers, I’m starting this week on a sour note, now aren’t I?

On a lighter note, and one that neatly tied into the preamble that I wrote in advance, this week was home to a Nintendo Direct on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Since the game’s announcement, a lot of people have been wondering if there is something more to this game, rather than it just being a modern Animal Crossing with fewer restrictions and a more tropical theme. And through this 27-minute rundown, it was revealed that, by in large, no, this is just more Animal Crossing, but better. You can choose the starting design of your island, customize it with bridges, ladders, and stairs, eventually get the ability to rework the design of the island entirely by shoveling away cliffs and redirecting rivers, and you even get to decide where your neighbors get to live.

New Horizons is giving players more and better tools to design and invest in their own island, turning it into their own unique and deliberate creation through persistent toiling and hard work. …Which makes the whole one island per system thing seem all the more foolish, as I could easily see people enjoying the ground level designing of an island and homes more than anything else in this game. I mean, they made an entire game based on designing home interiors, but in this new expansive sequel, there is a very real cap on what somebody can do with it.

Regardless, the game looks promising, and like something that a child or retired person could play for years, remaking and revising their very own special place with their very own special friends, having a chill time doing dailies and getting fat bags o’ bells. It is introducing important and appreciated innovations to the series while retaining the core appeal with few detrimental alterations. Which is precisely how the series has been operating over the past 20 years.

However, the world around the series may have very well changed in Animal Crossing’s favor, as the series never had a relevant and easily shareable entry released since the advent of streaming platforms as seen at the start of this console generation. It is relatively easy to stream from a Switch and as an easygoing life sim, streamers do not need to exert as much mental energy and attention into playing the game, allowing them to focus on keeping an audience engaged, and interact with them. Because of this, social media, and the well-established popularity of this series, I can easily see this game joining the 10+ million seller Switch club by year-end.

I mean, I’m certainly not going to buy it, as Animal Crossing is the Super High School Level Time Vampire, and I’ve been a little time-anemic as of late. But if I was a kid with nothing better to do, I would definitely make the dopest prison island in all the land! Seriously, I would terraform everything until my island was a completely symmetrical square designed for grinding items, and looking as sterile and devoid of life as possible. No decorations, only stone paths, stone walls, trees placed in lines, and straight rivers with stone bridges placed over them uniformly.

Now then, did anybody else announce anything this week? Well, remember when THQ Nordic released a playable teaser of a remake of the cult classic Eurojank PC RPG Gothic? It was initially released to gauge the audience on how receptive they would be to a sequel, and get feedback before full production on the title began. Feedback that THQ Nordic has reviewed and compiled before announcing that the Gothic remake has been greenlit for full production, and the development team responsible for it will be taking the plentiful amount of feedback offered to them by fans in order to shape the direction of the project going forward, in order to make a faithful and quality remake.

Again, I really like the way THQ Nordic has handled this remake so far, being very open about their findings from the survey, even letting people download the raw data for themselves, and seeming genuine in their desires to remake this game properly. It is an honesty and openness uncommon in much of the industry, and I appreciate it accordingly… even if I am still cynical enough that I cannot help but view this entire situation as a calculated public focus test for ThQ Nordic as they go about developing this high fidelity, and likely very expensive, next-gen RPG based on a niche series. And what better focus test is there other than a public alpha or beta?

So, that is a good example of how to handle large-scale game development, but; let’s talk about a bad one. EA has become notorious for how they have been handling the Star Wars IP ever since they were granted exclusive rights over its console games in 2013. In 2015, they put out a half-baked multiplayer title that became notorious for its $50 season pass. In 2017, they released a better multiplayer title but decisively chose to cripple the game at launch with monetization practices so egregious that they drew scorn from US politicians. And in 2019, they put out a standard single-player action adventure affair that did well, but not spectacularly.

One could ask why so few games bearing this incredibly lucrative IP have been released, and the most basic answer seems to be that EA just keeps canceling them. Visceral’s Star Wars project, Ragtag, was subjected to a difficult development cycle and was neither shaping up to be distinct or timely enough to meet EA’s specifications, so it was canceled in 2017. The visual assets of Ragtag were then transferred over to EA Vancouver, who were tasked with creating an open world Star Wars adventure, dubbed Orca, which itself was canceled in January 2019. The reason for this was because the game would not be ready for the lucrative holiday 2020 launch period for next gen systems, and EA instead opted to scale down development.

This took the form of a Star Wars Battlefront spin-off, code-named Viking, developed predominately by Criterion Software with support being provided by EA Vancouver. However, due to a tight 2-year schedule and the logistics of getting a Candian and British developer to work on a project simultaneously, it was determined that the game had no chance of being finished in a single year, so EA canceled this project in 2019. Meaning that for all this effort, for all of this development, production, and months of work that were invested into these three projects, EA has basically nothing to show for it. Or at least this is all the narrative illustrated by the most reputable video games journalist around, Kotaku’s Jason Schrier.

Now, I would never say that game development is easy, that solid planning can circumvent any and all issues, or that games should not be canceled if development is going poorly. But hot damn, this sequence of events really does make EA look insatiable, demanding, and more than a bit incompetent, having spent the bulk of a AAA game’s dev cost and time on creating… a bunch of assets that may or may not ever be used.

Well, that’s depressing enough for me to want to close out this week’s rundown, so I’ll do just that. Until next time, see ya.

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