Rundown (4/03-4/09) ProSeries by Day, Calibre by Night

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Wherein I discuss the ePub progress, Unreal 5, Monkey Island Part 7 3, The Rise of Max Payne, an NFT failure, and Activision finally doing something good.

…You know how I promised I would release my novels and TSF Series on Amazon? Well, when I said that, I neglected to clarify that this would not be the first time I tried to release my works on Amazon. I originally released The Body of Raiyne on Amazon in April 2014, but I took it down a few months later, because it sucked. It was also super poorly formatted, because I did not have an ePub reader, nor did I know how to format the novel. This time, however, I am doing things properly. Meaning I am not just uploading an unedited PDF. I am making proper ePubs for my six novels and every installment of TSF Series.

After doing some light research, I settled on using Calibre to edit the raw GoogleDoc HTML export of my works, because it seemed like the most intuitive ePub editor out there. Which is important for me, as I only vaguely know what I’m doing when it comes to HTML editing and formatting. 

I looked up zero tutorials or guides, and instead learned by doing. Messing around with the style CSS, seeing how the software interpreted my original formatting, and streamlining everything into 10-20 uniform block types. While I feel I learned a lot since I started, cleaning up and reformatting an ePub is still a time-consuming one. As such, the act of creating ePubs for Verde’s Doohickey, The Malice of Abigale Quinlan, and Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan has taken up most my evenings this past week.

I have spent most of my nights staring at Calibre, and I have been spending most of my days staring at ProSeries, a tax reporting software used by employer. This means that I have been spending about 10-12 hours a day staring at these two interfaces, both with the expressed goal of creating easily readable work products. Of taking raw data and formatting it into something workable and distributable.. 

Now, that might sound kind of miserable to some people, but this is one of the four things in this world that I love doing. For the record, those four things are as follows:

  • Playing video games.
  • Writing essays and stories.
  • Interacting with computer software in order to produce something with value or functionality. (This ranges from making a calculator in Excel to editing an image in
  • Reading comics while listening to music.

Yep, I guess you could say that I’m pretty basic based on those tastes… and you should also note that all of these things involve me being alone, in my bedroom, not talking to anyone. Which, conversely, is why my least favorite thing about my job is when I get roped into a 6-hour-long Zoom meeting with a 30 minute lunch break. It sucks.

No Acquisition Rundown this week, as there were no major acquisitions that metaphorically slid across my non-metaphorical desk. So yay for that.

Now, you might read that I like “interacting with computer software in order to produce something with value or functionality” and assume that I have some desire or aspirations to make video games. Well, I want to release a visual novel before I die, but that is where my video game aspirations begin and end. I adore video games, and believe that they are truly the ultimate medium. But I know that making games is hard, frustrating, and often thankless due to the poor conditions across the industry and the litany of bad stuff that it has been plagued by since the 1980s.

However, never in my life have I wanted to make video games more than when I watched The State of Unreal 2022 Keynote Presentation. A 37 minute showcase of Unreal Engine 5, made to highlight the myriad of things people can do with the software suite that Epic Games has been building over the past few years by gobbling up various tech companies. All in order to make the laborious task of game development easier than ever before.

It all looks fantastic, at least based on my uninformed first impression… But I also worry that Unreal might become the Excel/Acrobat/Photoshop of video games, because it seems like it is too good. Unreal Engine 5 is a fully featured software suite for game development, is versatile by design, has an appealing graphical interface that emphasizes live edits, and has its own highly developed community of tips, tricks, and tutorials. It makes other options look bad by comparison, as you can probably do everything you, as a developer, need/want to using Unreal. To the point where a bunch of AAA developers have switched from proprietary in-house engines to Unreal.

CD Projekt Red announced their switch to Unreal last week, it seems like every first-party Xbox studio is switching to Unreal, Crystal Dynamics is ditching internal engines, and 48% of all console games for current generation systems are using Unreal Engine 5… That’s horrifying. 

I dislike it when there is a singular standard for software, as it almost always results in bad things later down the road, no matter how good things seem initially, and I do not trust Epic as a developer. They are an abusive studio, 40% owned by Tencent, and have shown some worrying priorities over the past few years. 

So… yeah. Unreal 5 looks pretty great. I hope it helps game developers out significantly, and I still do not like Epic or anything with their stink wafting through the air. 

The world of western adventure games is something I never got into. One, because I was not alive during the ‘golden age’. Two, because I used a Mac from the ages of 10 to 18. And three, because games of that era generally have a lot of dated or cumbersome elements. However, I do still respect the genre for being early examples of games that emphasized story and character while deemphasizing combat. 

As such, I don’t have particularly strong feelings toward any game in the genre, but I was still able to understand the significance of the announcement of Return to Monkey Island. The Secret of Monkey Island is one of the most celebrated adventure games, if not computer games, of its generation. With the 1990 original and its sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, having garnered a significant following and shaped many a childhood.

The series continued after the first two entries with 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island, 2000’s Escape from Monkey Island, and 2010’s Tales of Monkey Island. However, those were made without the original creator, Ron Gilbert, who is (aptly) returning to the series for the first time in 30 years. Why did it take so long? Well, it would have happened sooner, as Gilbert has voiced interest in making a new title for a decade. However, LucasArts was put in a weird place after the Disney buyout in 2012, and they only recently restructured the company as Lucasfilm Games. This meant that Gilbert, his studio, Terrible Toys, and Devolver Digital, were granted access to the Monkey Island IP and the opportunity to make a ‘true’ sequel to Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge.

And what do we know about this new game? Very little. All the trailer really did was illustrate the new 2D art style, namedrop some of the lead staff, and announce that the game is coming in 2022. 

Speaking of old PC games that were beyond my era, I know there is a lot of reverence for the first two Max Payne titles by Remedy Entertainment. They had strong noir narratives (at least by the standards of the era), featured a lot of technical innovation, and were seen as paramount titles at the time. They also were released on consoles, but I have only heard people discuss the PC versions, as the game was a PC title, first and foremost.

After the second game however, the series left Remedy’s hands and a third game was developed by the IP owners, Rockstar Games, which was a middling success by their lofty standards. This, combined with Rockstar’s penchant for blockbusters, basically put an end to the series, not that I think people were too bothered by that, as Max Payne was always a self-contained character-driven story. However, it is also a story that the folks at Remedy are clearly quite passionate about. So it is not too surprising to hear that they are remaking 2001’s Max Payne and 2004’s Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

I think this is all well and good, as remakes like this can refresh older works for a new generation, take advantage of modern technology, and also have the luxury of doing something slightly different, as the original will always be out there. That being said, I cannot help but look at this announcement and ask… how the hell is Remedy managing so many projects? 

Traditionally, Remedy has been a one-project studio. Since the success of Control (2019) though, they have been taking on more and more projects. They released Alan Wake Remastered last year, are set to release Crossfire X (single-player campaign) this year, and in the future, they have Alan Wake II, Control’s sequel, a multiplayer Control spin-off, a co-op multiplayer game known as Vanguard, and now two remakes. It begs the question of how development is going on these titles, when they will actually be released, and just how big the staff is on each project. Remedy has about 300 employees, but that number is far less impressive than it sounds.

Of all the AAA game publishers out there, Ubisoft has been the most gung-ho about NFTs, as they were the only ones to roll them out to a AAA title, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. But now, 4 months after they were introduced, Ubisoft announced the end of continued development of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. For the people who bought NFTs for Breakpoint, it appears that they will continue to be able to use them and sell them, so long as the servers stay up, but this effectively means that the market is dead, and the people who bought these NFTs are basically stuck with them. 

I’m actually glad that this was the first major implementation of NFTs in a AAA game, because I think this shows the true futility of NFTs as a concept in games. They are designed for always online ecosystems and, when support ends, the market dries up, the value depreciates, and if the servers go down, then they are effectively worthless. They can still be sold so long as the blockchain is active, but they are even less useful than an NFT that directs to a jpg. 

This all raises questions about Ubisoft’s Quartz NFT initiative and… I honestly hope that this dissuades management from greenlighting more NFT projects. Unfortunately, they invested years of work into this, so they will probably try to shove it into more games going forward, because they think this is a good way to make money and drive up engagement. When in actuality, crypto is still a niche, and it will not take on for the same reason why most people are not invested in the stock market. Because most people do not have the mental energy or bandwidth to care about something so complex and financially-driven. Hell, I don’t care about the stock market, and I’m a freaking accountant.

For the past few months, Activision Blizzard has been under fire for many, many, many things, but of all of their problems, the easiest one to fix would be their underpaid QA departments. Staff who are a vital part of the game development process, yet were relegated to benefit-less and highly taxed contractors who could be laid off at a moment’s notice. This spurred the folks at Raven Software to form a union, but, likely in a move to prevent this from happening elsewhere, Activision Blizzard decided to convert roughly 1,100 temporary or contract QA staff into full-time employees. These new employees will have a minimum salary of $20 an hour and will boost the headcount at Activision by a staggering 25%. …Which hopefully means that their HR and payroll teams are also expanding, because holy moley, that sounds like a lot of paperwork and spreadsheet updating!

Now, you could definitely use this story as a jumping off point to discuss how this is still not enough, how there are still innumerous problems with Activision Blizzard, and how this is all just a distraction, but… why ruin a good thing? A W is a W, and this sets a precedent that will hopefully inspire other QA staff across North America to demand better conditions. Although, it is worth noting that this group does not include the unionized folks at Raven Software. Because Activision likely wants to deal with them separately and in a more ‘discrete’ manner so they don’t need to deal with unions anymore than they need to. Because if there is one thing that megacorps hate more than anything else, it’s unions! Which is why unions are good, actually!

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