January continues to be a slow month for major new releases, and we are continuing to see a high volume of remakes, ports, and re-releases. This is probably welcoming news to those of us who have massive back catalogs of games to get through, but it does kind of bring the excitement down of the coming week since there isn’t a whole lot to talk about. The one bright spot is that indie developers continue to give us the goods, and this week they are delivering in spades. Check it out…
Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition/Act V (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 28th
It has taken seven years, but the surreal adventure game Kentucky Route Zero is now finally ending with it’s fifth episode. To commemorate this occasion, developer Cardboard Computer has partnered with Annapurna Interactive to release the full game on consoles and as the “TV Edition“. I’m trying to keep myself from looking up too much information on the game as I have been able to successfully keep myself from knowing anything about it after all these years, but in short, according to Wikipedia, Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist, point and click adventure game. You take on the role of a truck driver named Conway who is tasked with making one final delivery for an antique store he works for. On the way he encounters several mysterious people and events, and that’s all I want to know about this game. As a side note, if you’re a fan of magical realism, one of my favorite authors is Jonathan Carroll, and he has spent his entire literary career writing in the magical realism style. My favorite books of his are The Wooden Sea and White Apples, so if Kentucky Route Zero is anything like those stories then I am very excited to finally give it a try.
Buildings Have Feelings Too! (PC/PS4/Switch) –
Releases Jan. 28th TBD
I have a sinking feeling that this has been delayed, particularly because it is not on any of the big three’s digital storefronts, is not available on Steam, and Amazon now lists the release date as May 12th, 2020.
The city building simulator has been a long staple in the video game industry since Will Wright brought us SimCity in 1989, however, none of these games have ever stopped to ask just exactly how the various buildings feel about being built. Well now we can wonder no further, as the developers at Blackstaff Games are finally giving these buildings a chance to tell their side of the story and lament the passage of time and obsolescence with the release of Buildings Have Feelings Too! In a city where every building is alive and sentient, you are tasked with discovering just what each building needs in order to be happy and to help them fulfill their personal goals. You will start off in a small industrial community from the Victorian era, and eventually make your way to modern times, and keep up with all of the changes that come up along the way. I’m actually really excited to give this game a try, it’s quirky and irreverent, while at the same time giving me something I am familiar with. Sleeper hit of Q1 2020? We’ll see.
Warcraft 3: Reforged (PC) – Releases Jan. 28th
With the success of World of Warcraft, it can sometimes be easy to forget that the series started out as a real time strategy game, so it is a delight to see Blizzard remake their 2002 classic Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos for modern PCs. Featuring the same game play we are already familiar with (constructing buildings and spawning units), the game is now much prettier to look at, with completely re-worked character models and allowing for 4K visuals. This is a welcome throwback to those who have missed this series’ original roots, and if your only experience with Warcraft is through WoW, I would implore you to check this title out and see where it all started.
Warhammer Underworlds: Online (PC) – Releases Jan. 28th
Based on the tabletop game of the same name, Warhammer Underworlds: Online is a 2 player PvP miniatures game that has you playing cards and rolling dice to take out your opponent. The game is going to be in early access for the time being, and if you are one of these early adopters you’ll receive four exclusive character skins that will not be available after early access has ended. I know we get a lot of Warhammer content every few weeks, but this actually looks pretty fun, and it likely won’t cost you nearly as much as buying the real miniatures and building/painting them.
Code Shifter (PC/PS4 (maybe)/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 29th
Retro style graphics are still hot in 2020, and not only that, but crossovers are showing no signs of going away either. I’m not knocking either of these, I’m just stating that they are still going on, and is likely at the point where it’s not just a genre all on its own. While the above trailer is in Japanese, I am pretty certain we are getting this title in North America since I see store pages for it on both Steam and the Nintendo Switch eShop, and that’s good enough for me. Based on the trailer and various synopsis’ I’ve read, the game is about a fictional company called Awesome Rainbow Corp, a video game developer who is looking to launch their latest game. However, mysterious bugs keep popping up, so one of the programmers sends in their avatar, Sera, to take a look. Sera uses a debug program called CODE SHIFTER that allows her to transform into characters from various licensed titles in the Arc System Works library, including River City Ransom, Guilty Gear, and BlazBlue. It looks like it’ll be a good time, and is yet another small title that I can’t to get my hands on.
Ports and Re-releases:
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 28th
After releasing on PC back in May of 2018, Obsidian’s sequel to their Kickstarter phenomenon Pillars of Eternity is now hitting consoles this week. With part 2, Deadfire, players find themselves attacked by the ancient god Eothas who destroys their castle and steals part of their soul. Banding together with a party of unique and color characters, you set off on a quest across the Deadfire archipelago to stop his reign of terror.
Aviary Attorney: Definitive Edition (Switch) – Releases Jan. 30th
In more weird, indie goodness, we have the 2015 release Aviary Attorney now making its way to the Nintendo Switch. Billed on its Steam page as “The hottest bird lawyering game to come out of 1840’s France“, you play as Jayjay Falcon and his assistant Sparrowson on a mission to prove the innocence of your clients and ensure they receive a fair trial. Taking healthy inspiration from the Ace Attorney series, this game is a delightful puzzler that will have you squawking up a storm.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – Byleth (Switch) – Releases Jan. 28th
Oh boy, another Fire Emblem character, just what I wanted in Smash Bros. Ultimate! I mean, if Three Houses hadn’t been such an awesome game I might be more upset, but honestly, aren’t there enough of these characters? There are so many FE characters that you could likely make a spin-off series with just those fighters. Anyway, this is the last fighter that players will receive for free if they purchased Fighter Pass 1 (you can also buy the character as a single, but why?). Fighter Pass 2 goes on sale the 28th as well, promising SIX more kick ass characters, one or two of which will probably be more Fire Emblem characters.
- Journey To The Savage Planet (PC/PS4/XBone) – Releases Jan. 28th
- Coffee Talk (PC/PS4/Switch/XBone) – Releases Jan. 29th
- Bookbound Brigade (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Jan. 30th
- Sisters Royale (PS4/Switch) – Releases Jan. 30th
- Through the Darkest of Times (PC) – Releases Jan. 30th
- HyperDot (PC/XBone) – Releases Jan. 31st
- Milo’s Quest (Switch) – Releases Jan. 31st
- Reknum (Switch) – Releases Jan. 31st
- Dawn of Fear (PS4) – Releases Feb. 3rd
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Two games from intense creative types, and one game based on a show known for being created by an intense creative type; these are your classic games in today’s history lesson.
Star Trek Online (PC) – Released Feb. 2nd, 2010: Wiki Link
By 2010, the MMORPG genre had grown enormously. Started in the early 1970’s as text based MUD titles, the genre evolved in the 1980’s to include graphics, had a major evolution in the 1990’s there they term MMORPG was finally coined, and reached mainstream and financial success in the 2000’s with titles like EverQuest, Final Fantasy XI, and of course World of Warcraft. After the major success of these games, particularly WoW, many studios were clamoring to push their way into the space with licensed properties. You had games based on Star Wars, The Matirx, Lord of the Rings, Disney’s Toontown, and (of course) Warhammer. In 2004, a small company called Cryptic Studios released a fairly popular MMO called City of Heroes, one of the few original IPs in the genre, but in 2007 they had to relinquish the rights to the original owners NCSoft. They weren’t too bummed because they had a deal coming up with Marvel to make a licensed MMO using their universe…but then that fell through. Turning that game into the generic Champions Online was probably not what they wanted, but it worked out and the game still runs to this day. However, Cryptic would finally get a chance to play in the established IP sandbox when they were given the rights to make an MMO based on the Star Trek franchise. The game was unique in that it allowed players to control both a starship and a unique character, mixing the style of EVE Online and all other traditional MMOs. The game was received well by the Star Trek community, but critics were a bit harsh on the game, calling it boring, shallow, and repetitive. There were some who found the mix of vehicle combat and ground based missions to be disjointed, and lamented that the game did not pick one over the other, saying both suffer as a result. Despite the criticisms, the game garnered a decent following and you can still find tons of people playing the game today. Perhaps the most widely known thing about the game is the tribute it payed to Leonard Nimoy when he passed away in 2015, erecting a statue in his honor, not just because they were fans of his, but because he lent his voice to the game, not only as the character Spock, but as the game’s narrator.
The Sims (PC) – Released Jan. 31st, 2000: Wiki Link
1989’s SimCity was a groundbreaking achievement in video games, and helped usher in the age of the simulation game. In the years after it was released, Wright and his company Maxis would create several games that fit into the SimCity mold, including SimFarm, SimLife, SimEarth, SimCopter and SimAnt, but none of these titles really moved the needle like SimCity did. According to Wikipedia, the idea for The Sims came to Wright in the early 90’s after completion of SimAnt and took inspiration from a 1977 book on architecture and urban design called A Pattern Language. To Wright, the idea of building a satisfying home for a group of simulated humans was intriguing, but after the idea failed miserably in focus tests it was shelved. Unable to get the idea out of his head, Wright would convince Maxis to let him tinker with the project in the background while simultaneously working on SimCity 2000. While Wright and another programmer named Jamie Doornbos worked on the game they found that the social aspects of the characters were much more interesting than building their homes. They soon found it incredibly rewarding when they allowed the characters to visit each others homes and engage with one another and the objects they placed there. It became apparent that it wasn’t going to be a game about building the perfect home for passive characters, but instead a game where you would build up the social skills of a reactive character, and that by giving them personality traits you would be able to see them live out their lives and either succeed or fail. Despite Wright and Doornbos’ excitement for the game reception at the company was still lukewarm, particularly from their new corporate overlords at EA. According to an article in the New Yorker, everything changed at E3 in 1999. Wright stated that EA was so unimpressed with the game that they didn’t even bother putting it in their clip package for the show, and shoved Maxis in a dark corner where they hoped no one would be able to find them, because according to Wright, if they didn’t get a good reception at E3, The Sims would be cancelled. Then, during a brief press conference, something crazy happened. For months before E3 the team had debated if they should allow the characters, now called Sims, to engage in same-sex relationships. After all, if the game was to be a true representation of human life then it would only be natural that same-sex relationships would spring up. For a while it was in, then it got taken out, then put back, then taken out, then put in but assumed would be taken out by EA who was “a family company”. For E3, one of the programmers was tasked with coming up with a demo, but it was expected that the game would be on auto-pilot, with all of the Sims being given scripted commands and not allow for any autonomy. Well, the crunch set in and the programmer, Patrick Barrett, didn’t have time to script every character’s actions, so a small handful were allowed to wander freely. As E3 progressed and the game ran, two of the female characters with full autonomy struck up a relationship with one another and it blossomed into love, and during a scripted sequence of a wedding, these two Sims decided, as if by some miraculous chance, to kiss on screen in front of the press and various executives at EA. Suddenly The Sims was the talk of the show, and there was no going back, Maxis and EA knew they had a hit on their hands. As Barrett would state, “I guess straight guys that make sports games loved the idea of controlling two lesbians“.
With an intense marketing campaign, including several infamous “casting” videos, The Sims released to major fanfare on January 31st, 2000 (or February 4th, because the internet is a cesspool of misinformation). The marketing worked, and The Sims was an absolute smash, becoming the best selling game of 2000, and by 2002 it would overtake Myst as the best selling PC game of all-time (it has since been dethroned). The Sims transcended the typical gamer archetype and appealed to a wide swath of players, bringing many demographics that were overlooked by the gaming industry; tween & teen girls, adult women, and middle-aged/senior men and women. In a harbinger of the casual gaming boom to come, these “new” gamers, previously only catered to by Nintendo and their handhelds, were suddenly clamoring to buy new PCs powerful enough to play this delightful dollhouse simulator. These fans were a driving force for the game and it’s popularity allowed Maxis to continue making expansions for the game, seven in total, for the next three years before releasing The Sims 2 in 2004. There are a few watershed moments in gaming where the hobby would become larger and more accepted, and the release of The Sims in 2000 would be one of the most important of the last twenty years.
Enjoy some more The Sims casting commercials that I remember seeing played ad nauseam on MTV during a New Years Eve/Day marathon.
A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia (NES) – Released Jan. 1990: Wiki Link
By 1990, the video game industry was about to enter its third decade of mainstream relevance. During the heyday of Atari you would see programmers start to put their names on the games, giving rise to the notion that you could have auteurs in the game space. At this point you would have a few notable names like Will Wright, Ken & Roberta Williams, Al Lowe, Richard Garriott, and Atari master programmer David Crane. Crane’s earlier games included several major Activision titles like Dragster, Laser Blast, Kaboom!, and his most well known game, Pitfall. In 1986, Crane would leave Activision and join a new company created by his friend Garry Kitchen called Absolute Entertainment (named as such because it was alphabetically above Activision). After making a couple of games for Atari consoles, the team at Absolute realized that the future was with Nintendo and their 8 bit machine. After a brainstorming session with their in-house development team at Imagineering (not the Disney one) it was decided to create an adventure game that would push the envelope in the same way that Pitfall had done a few years earlier. Crane had become enthralled with the idea of using items in a game, but thought that current inventory menus were clunky and unsophisticated. What he proposed was having a separate character who would become the items, and this would morph into the idea of feeding jellybeans to a sentient blob, an idea that even Crane admits was a bit “off-the-wall”, according to Wikipedia. When Absolute sent copies to Nintendo HQ for approval and testing it was one of the most played games that had ever crossed their doorstep. The various Nintendo employees were having tons of fun trying to solve the puzzles that Crane and his team had laid out, and even sent over tips on how they could improve the game, such as indicating that it was possible to outrun the blob and lose him, so Crane would add a ketchup jellybean (get it, ketch-up…catch up, eh…eh…) allowing the blob to instantly transport to the boy’s location.
Reception by the gaming industry was pretty high, with the title winning “Best in Show” at CES in 1989, being praised as a technological marvel with it’s impressive AI controlled blob character. However, upon release in late December of ’89/early January of ’90, critics were less kind. They felt the game was too empty, with few enemies to overcome in this bland, underpopulated world, but they were quick to praise the same things that won it “Best in Show” at CES, and that is the ingenious design and brilliant use of the blob character. While critics were lukewarm, audiences fell in love with the game and made it a financial success for Absolute who would go on to make a sequel for the Game Boy in 1991 called The Rescue of Princess Blobette. One other accolade the game received was from the Parents’ Choice Foundation, which gave the game a Parents’ Choice Award in 1990, praising A Boy and His Blob for promoting positive human values, intelligent design, and an ability to hold the players interest. It is reported that David Crane was especially proud of this. By the mid 90’s Absolute would shut down and the rights to A Boy and His Blob would go to Majesco who released a re-make of the game for the Wii in 2009, coming out the same day as Brutal Legend and Uncharted 2. David Crane would continue to work on games for Absolute, designing and programming several licensed Simpsons games (Bart vs. the Space Mutants, Bart vs. the World, etc.), and then go on to work on the notorious Sega CD game Night Trap, before kind of fading out of the game industry. Oh, another David Crane fun fact, he programmed a game in 1985 called Little Computer People, a life simulation game that would directly influence the creation of Will Wright’s The Sims. Small world, eh?