Konami made over $150,000 from that bloody Castlevania NFT auction

Posted on January 17, 2022 by


To celebrate the 35th anniversary of Castlevania, a videogame about a man who thinks the best weapon to use against enemies who can only be killed by piercing their hearts with wood is a metal whip, Konami held an auction for 14 bloody NFTs

All the items in the Konami Memorial NFT collection have now been sold, with one of them, the Dracula's Castle Pixel Art, going for $26,732. The grand total for the lot came to over $162,000, though as VGC points out, the OpenSea marketplace they were sold through takes a cut of every transaction, which still leaves Konami with over $157,000 from the auction. 

Since Konami earns a royalty each time one of the NFTs is sold on, they'll keep making money off them as long as the NFT fad lasts.

Funny thing is, the 35th anniversary of the original Castlevania was actually last year. A Konami-owned videogame series that properly turns 35 this year is Metal Gear, with the first game released on the MSX2 in July 1987. We can look forward to Konami celebrating that with more NFTs, I guess. Hooray.

For anyone who is still confused about what NFTs are and why people pay silly amounts of money for them, here's comedian (and voice of Megaera in Hades) Avalon Penrose with a definitely 100% serious explanation.

The state of Hearthstone in 2022: So many things at once

Posted on January 16, 2022 by


The state of PC gaming

Apex Legends characters look out of a dropship's doors.

(Image credit: Respawn)

To kick off 2022, we're taking a look at the major games, genres and platforms that make PC gaming to see where they're at as we begin a new year. Here's the state of Apex Legends in 2022.

“The transformation from game to platform continues, and it looks like players will be spoiled for choice for some time to come—just don't expect the ride to be entirely smooth.”

That is how last year's State of Hearthstone ended, and in retrospect, I don't know if it was possible to make a larger understatement. The changes in 2021 were bigger than 2020, and considering that was the year where they added a whole class to the game… There's a lot to cover here. 

It's almost impossible to speak about Hearthstone as “a game” because it's so many different things at once; an autobattler, a card game, a gacha game Pokémon “character battler”, a roguelike, and a representation of the failings of corporate oversight. The list goes on! I'm going to resist the urge to write a We Didn't Start The Fire-esque list of everything you might have missed in 2021, but no matter what, there's one place we have to start.

An important note

In June of 2021, the State of California sued Activision-Blizzard alleging the company's work environment is discriminatory and rife with sexual harassment. The specifics are horrifying, there have been many stories corroborating the allegations, and additional details have come to light regarding CEO Bobby Kotick himself. While the stories may not be from everyone—and many employees at Blizzard have spoken up in support of their local teams and direct peers—the swirling maelstrom of negativity around the company cannot be ignored. And this story has defied the odds by staying in the public eye six months after the initial filing; for comparison, even the massive Blitzchung incident only lasted for a few months back in 2019. 

Anecdotally, the suit has been a catalyst for a larger discussion on worker's rights, unionization, and cultural inclusion at studios. Unfortunately for the Hearthstone team, the news of the lawsuit broke during the hype cycle for United in Stormwind, and the Bobby Kotick expose was dropped during the same cycle four months later for Fractured in Alterac Valley. It's hard for hype to build with that kind of counterprogramming (even though it is much deserved).

So, how is Hearthstone right now?

This is the year where Hearthstone truly felt like it matured into a platform, which means there's more than one game to talk about. The word “Hearthstone” still evokes the collectible card game released in 2014, but for a huge chunk of the player base (Hi, Tim!), Hearthstone primarily means “the program I click to launch Battlegrounds”. For a moment it looked like Mercenaries was a completely new third option, but after the initial hype passed, it's unclear that there's an audience for the current implementation. 

Let's dig into the details of each format—we don't have official data indicating what people are playing, but we do have some info from the Firestone deck tracker developer showing games and hours played by mode.

Shadowstep

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Alright, let's start with Standard!

Since we last spoke in January 2021, the Classic set left standard in one of the largest upheavals to the format… well, ever. It was replaced by the free Core set loaded with returning cards from older sets, brand new creations, and some core staples that bafflingly remained—I'm talking about you, Shadowstep—while other cards that seemed impossible to live without like Shield Block, Savage Roar, and my beloved Voidwalker, separated from Flame Imp in a cruel twist of fate. Still, getting rid of crusty seven-year-old cards and replacing them with new completely free ones was refreshing, while making the game cheaper to play. We take those. 

This year's expansions were aware they were stepping in to fill the power vacuum left by Year of the Dragon, but instead of going for more splashy generation, the approach was instead to push efficiency. Starting with Forged in the Barrens, cards were more aggressively priced than we've seen in the past, with the set not including a single card over 8 mana. The Barrens meta was heavy on grindy value, but the groundwork was there for a future of hyper-efficient draw and fast kills from hand—and that future was called United in Stormwind. 

Stormwind brought the return of Quests but with a new twist. Now they're Questlines and they give intermediate bonuses on the way to the game-shattering final rewards. Prior Quest cycles didn't have much power behind them outside of The Caverns Below, but this time around, they were some of the defining cards of the meta. And what was that meta about? Speed, combos, and games ending with “oh, I guess I'm dead.” The power of the game felt pushed to the brink and combo decks built around effects like Stealer of Souls were breaking every rule whether they included Quests or not. 

The contrast from Barrens' plodding environment was jarring and players who preferred slower games suddenly found themselves without a home while other players found themselves loving the plentiful draw and effective win conditions in basically every class. (That was me. I'm “other players”.) I can't remember a meta quite as polarizing as Stormwind and I'm not just talking about the matchups. The discourse around standard was emotionally charged, especially with the recurring debate around what qualifies as a “control deck” and if slower strategies would ever be good again, forgetting that mere weeks prior Control Priest was a dominant deck in Barrens and led to an unending wave of complaints (to go with the unending wave of Priest's discovers).

Control means different things to everyone, but to summarize: games were too fast for some and reactive tools were not reliable enough to prevent dying to combo, but decks with a high density of reactive anti-minion spells were plenty effective and long games could still happen even if Stormwind cranked up the speed overall. Every balance patch was aimed at slowing things down and many of these were successful, especially when combined with the defensive and anti-spell tools in Fractured in Alterac Valley. Alterac's release (along with some extensive post-launch nerfs) looked like it was going to bring us back to the promised land of slower games without combo kills and many were effusive in their praise of the variety found in the meta. 

Then people found out about Rogue. Whoops.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

The current standard meta is warped badly around the Rogue class and high legend is hard to enjoy with the sheer density of 0 mana Wildpaw Gnolls, sequential Cloak of Shadows turns, and massive damage from hand. Still, Alterac was really fun before the meta narrowed and solutions won't be hard for the design team to find here—hopefully we don't have to wait too much longer.

What about Battlegrounds?

There is a very real possibility this is the main mode of the game. Battlegrounds remains incredibly popular, dominates Twitch viewership, and still hasn't found an effective way to make money, though the cosmetic pipeline for the mode (and all other modes) has clearly escalated. The shop is brimming with hero skins to the point of excess. Well, it would be excessive if Pet Shop Bigglesworth wasn't so gosh darn cute.

But if we're talking about growth and development, Battlegrounds has evolved this year with a massive overhaul, intended as a functional equivalent to a standard rotation. During the last refresh 70 minions changed and entirely new mechanics were introduced. New systems have been implemented too, including a 15-damage cap until someone in the lobby dies, a brilliant variable armor system that allows for heroes to be dynamically adjusted based on their current performance, and… Diablo. Wait, what?

Yes, believe it or not, Diablo joined up with Battlegrounds. At first, he was a joke. High-level streamers commented that his initial implementation was so low-power it was like picking from 3 heroes. After a buff… he was OK! And then they buffed him again and all hell broke loose. (Sorry.) Diablo was so powerful and so visible that his intrusion into Battlegrounds was reminiscent of Doom in the Tombs for standard—but thankfully, the lesson was learned from that bout with imbalance and Diablo was removed a mere month after his introduction. He didn't make a lot of friends while he was there. 

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The Battlegrounds team tried new stuff and pushed the envelope on power much like the constructed team, though admittedly it doesn't seem like the resources were present to react quickly to the power level outliers that have popped up this year. Multiple designers have been hired so this might be a shift for Blizzard to change that—and resources are also being allocated to Battlegrounds esports. Finally! Official BG competitions will be held in 2022 under the Battlegrounds: Lobby Legends name and invitations will come straight from ladder ranking. Maybe there'll be Mercenaries events in the future too… oh yeah, Mercenaries.

Images from Hearthstone's Mercenaries mode.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Did Mercenaries vanish?

The Mercenaries ride was a roller coaster. You may remember our analysis of the disastrous reveal stream or our much more positive follow-up impressions after launch. It seemed like a fun distraction for many and a dizzyingly deep competitive pursuit for some. But what we didn't see coming was the game's very structure fighting back against its players. Fully unlocking and leveling characters seemed like it was intended to be a slow process gated behind randomly rolled daily tasks—but random task spaces on singleplayer maps provided a mind-numbing path to the endgame. The choice was clear: spend hours grinding Air Elemental maps to level the party or struggle to keep up. 

The competitive meta that emerged for players who put the time in was quite complex and many early tournaments showcased the skill inherent in Battlegrounds. But there's never been a bigger disconnect between seeing a cool comp and getting to play it yourself in terms of time (or money) commitment… not to mention that you get to start all over with new Mercs whenever they're released. There was some initial acknowledgement of this from the development team, but since then, official communication has been limited and interest has seemingly evaporated. It's worth noting that in the unofficial Mercenaries Discord, lead developer Paul Nguyen has routinely engaged with players and candidly shared insights as to what's to come.  

Screenshot from Hearthstone's Mercenaries spinoff mode.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Iteration will take time and there's hope on the horizon, but it's hard to stomach the mode's transition from “explosive and expensive launch” to “holding pattern”. Personally, the most frustrating thing is how enjoyable PvP is but how hard it is to get to the point of being able to compete. It almost feels like the gameplay and the structure were developed by different teams, and it's unclear if the structure was meant to serve the gameplay or if the gameplay was adjusted to serve the structure. 

It's also hard to ignore that Battlegrounds had the “beta” tag for almost two years despite its robust gameplay while Mercenaries was considered fully baked right away. Was it based on the team's confidence? Or was it due to the need for Mercs to sell immediately while Battlegrounds needed to wait for the cosmetics to hit the shop?

Hearthstone Duels

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Is there anything else to cover?

Oh, yes. But to be frank, there's too much happening with Hearthstone to really tell you everything in a single article. Let's give you the broad strokes.

  • Hearthstone Esports is transforming. Last year, we wrote that beloved producer Abar had been reassigned due to Hearthstone outsourcing the production of its competitions. But he’s back as the new manager of the entire program and he’s already put some changes in motion, including the complete elimination of Hearthstone Grandmasters for a more open path to the world championship. Esports under his watch has already been much more transparent than prior years. It’s a sea change for a program in desperate need of energy. Hopefully it works!
  • Duels: Quiet launch, but slowly building steam. There’s not much concrete news to share, but Duels as a mode has garnered grassroots support for a bunch of reasons: the mode’s paywalls around hero powers and signature treasures were removed, streamers like RegisKillbin started playing the mode more, and the gameplay is really fun! The FireStone data shows this as the third most popular mode in the game. We were surprised too.
  • Wild: Past the point of no return? If you thought this year had strong cards in standard, you wouldn’t believe what happened in wild. Stealer of Souls brought the first ever card ban to the format and then Stormwind broke things in half with the Questlines making an immediate impact. The Demon Seed was the recipient of the next ban, but the format remains extremely powerful. As an example, Reno Jackson is now considered too slow to be viable. Yeah. And that’s not even considering the concerns from high level players about the rise of “animation cheaters” with Ignite Mage. It’s unclear how widespread the problem is, but unfortunately we do know that multiple players have hit rank 1 legend with the exploit programs. It’s crazy to see in action.  
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  • Arena: An unknown future. Normally we wouldn’t even mention Arena, which is a commentary on the mode in and of itself… but alas, we received the bad news that all of the Arena micro-adjustments were handled by data scientist Tian Ding who has since left the company. Hopefully a solution is found sooner rather than later.
  • The community team has seen major upgrades. This past year has included the hiring of multiple notable members from the Hearthstone community to the community team, including Alkali Layke and DeckTech as well as promoting tenured Blizzard folks like Celso O’Donnell. Last year we noted the devs were ramping up their player connections and that trend is definitely escalating in the best way. Alkali specifically has made major strides in community education on content creation and inclusivity of content creators outside of major established streamers who already had the connections. It’s been a breath of fresh air! 

United in Stormwind announcement cards

(Image credit: Blizzard)

So what's next?

This is the hard part. We've been through two years of Hearthstone transforming itself at a breakneck pace. Is it even possible to predict what's next? Well, in a way, we already know. The team has made multiple comments saying this upcoming year is focused on sustainability. Of course there will still be cool things happening, but instead of multiple new game modes in a 12-month period, we're more likely to get upgrades to what we have already. I'm looking forward to it and it's about time the client gets some love. 

For new card sets, this year is likely to return to three disconnected sets placed in all-new locales that Hearthstone can take full advantage of. Whenever the team does a connected story arc, it's almost always in WoW environments that have some inherent familiarity built in, but we're due for some goofy Hearthstone whimsy. And it's been a while since we've had a spooky set too! My guess is that it's time to finally make Undead a tribal type and give us a set based on the Forsaken. Sylvanas is overdue for a return to constructed. 

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But features are what I'm most excited about, since the team has alluded to all sorts of new options that they're thinking about adding to the game. In-client tournament mode has been talked about, and while I'm about as skeptical as it gets that this will be in the game any time soon, even a passing mention is enough to send me into flights of fancy with the option to pick and ban without using a crappy website. Will they revamp the collection screen? Can we choose which quests we want based on which modes we play (or don't play)? Is it finally time for auto-squelch?! 

We'll see what comes next, but hopefully we'll be able to look back on 2022 and say that, instead of doing more, Hearthstone did better. 

This week in PC gaming: Pupperazzi, Expeditions: Rome and Rainbow Six Extraction

Posted on January 16, 2022 by


Welcome to This Week in PC Gaming, a show where we take a look at the new games, updates, and more coming at you over the next week, every week, until the end of time. Even in January, there's still some new stuff to play.

This week in PC Gaming we're taking all the cute pet pics in Pupperazzi, rising through the ranks in tactical turn-based RPG Expeditions: Rome and cleaning up weird alien goop in Siege spin-off Rainbow Six Extraction.

Mollie is presenting for the first time this week, with Lauren's dulcet tones returning next week.

Awesome Games Gone Quick 2022 Sets a New Record By Raising Over $3.4 Million for Charity

Posted on January 16, 2022 by

Awesome Games Done Quick, the video game speedrunning marathon that raises money for charity, has set a new record for a single Games Done Quick event by raising over $3.4 million.

Games Done Quick shared the news on Twitter following the week-long 24-hour AGDQ 2022, confirming the event had raised a total of $3,416,729 for the Prevent Cancer Foundation and "is officially the most we've ever raised in the history of @GamesDoneQuick – ANOTHER WR."

Additionally, AGDQ 2022 reached the first $1 million in donations in the shortest amount of time in Games Done Quick history.

Throughout the event, which ran on Twitch from January 9-16, speedrunners from around the world showed off their incredible skills for a good cause. There were even a few more world records broken during the week, including InsertLogic's 28:35 run of Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Jaxler's 44:18 run of Pumpkin Jack, and Shadowthepast's 17:21 run of Webbed.

There were also some other truly impressive runs, which you can see on Games Done Quick's YouTube channel, including a blindfolded run of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Yes, you read that right.

According to Games Done Quick's donation tracker, AGDQ featured 148 runs, 28,034 donors, and 49,438 donations

Since 2010, Games Done Quick has raised over $37 million for various charities around the world, including Prevent Cancer Foundation, Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières, Direct Relief, AbleGamers, Malala Fund, and Organization for Autism Research.

At AGDQ 2021, the team raised $3.13 million for the Prevent Cancer Foundation, and it's so great to see the momentum continue to build.

GDQ's next event will be the all-women winter speedrunning event Frost Fatales from February 27-March 5. Summer Games Done Quick 2022 will also still take place this year, but more details will be annonuced at a later date.

Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to [email protected].

Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.

Halo Infinite Developer 343 Industries Is ‘Focused on Reducing Pricing’ for In-Game Items

Posted on January 16, 2022 by

343 Industries has confirmed that it is gearing up to make some changes to Halo Infinite's in-game store, including reducing prices, improving bundles, putting individual items outside of certain bundles, and much more.

343's Head of Design Jerry Hook shared the news on Twitter, saying that the team is going to begin implementing these changes on Tuesday, January 18, and they will continue to monitor and try new things throughout the remainder of Halo Infinite mutliplayer's first season.

"We’ve been monitoring the discussions on the Shop, bundles, and pricing closely since launch," Hook wrote. "Using data and community feedback, we’re going to begin rolling out changes to how we package and price items in @Halo Infinite – and it all starts next week.

"Starting Tuesday, the Shop experience will vary week-to-week. We are focused on reducing pricing across the board, providing stronger values in our bundles, starting to put individual items outside of bundles, and more.

"We will be trying new things throughout the rest of the season so that we can continue to learn and improve for the future. Please keep the feedback coming during this process and I hope to see you all next week for the Cyber Showdown event!"

While Hook didn't go into further detail as to how much these prices will be reduced and what other types of changes we can expect, we won't have long to wait to see some of them put into action.

This is another example of 343 Industries communicating with the Halo Infinite community and committing to improvements, much like it did – and is still doing – for the Battle Pass, multiplayer progression, and lack of a dedicated Slayer playlist.

Halo Infinite's shop isn't the only focus of next week, as 343 has also promised that a fix for the Big Team Battle matchmaking bug is on the way that will hopefully solve the many issues players have been running into.

Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to [email protected].

Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.

Several PlayStation Studios Asked to Put Their Games on PC, God of War Director Says

Posted on January 16, 2022 by

Following the launch of God of War on PC, Sony Santa Monica creative director Cory Barlog has revealed that many of PlayStation's own studios helped convince Sony that it was a "really good idea" to bring its biggest exclusives to PC.

Speaking to Game Informer, Barlog – who served as game director on 2018's God of War – was asked what insight he may have into Sony's decision to put a greater focus on the PC market.

"I think it was the collective of studios all over saying this is a really good idea," Barlog said. "We should be looking into this. Eventually, I think it reached that tipping point. When we had sent so many suggestion box suggestions that they were like, 'I’m tired of hearing all this. Fine, we’ll do this.' It’s a process. We’re still figuring it out as a company and as individual studios how to do this and what the process and strategy will be."

Sony's push into the PC market began in 2020 when it announced it would be bringing Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition to the platform. While other games that were either funded or published by Sony had already made their way over like Death Stranding, Horizon was a true first-party PlayStation Studios game that would no longer be exclusive.

Following Horizon, Sony released Days Gone on PC in 2021 and is gearing up to make Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection available to PC players in early 2022.

As for God of War Ragnarok, Barlog isn't ready to commit one way or another and confirms the decision is ultimately up to Sony as to whether we may see the sequel arrive less than the four years it took the original to.

"I have no idea," Barlog said. "Right now, we’re taking it one game at a time, kind of looking at each one and determining, 'Okay, is this the best thing?' And we’ll gauge how it does. Do people enjoy it? Did we do it right? Is there anything we did wrong? What can we do better in the future if we do this again? But at the end of the day, ultimately, it’s Sony’s decision."

Hopefully, Ragnarok does make its way to PC as, in our God of War PC performance review, we said, "this PC port offers some nice boosts over the PS4 Pro release, it scales well, and although impactful on hardware, it does give you the choice of increasing resolution, quality, frame rates, and even aspect ratio over what PlayStation consoles offer."

For more on God of War on PC, check out our chat with Barlog and Santa Monica Studio lead UX designer Mila Pavlin that dives deep into how Santa Monica Studios made the game more accessible and how it sets the stage for the studio's future projects.

Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to [email protected].

Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.

Digital board game Pandemic has been delisted from Steam without explanation

Posted on January 16, 2022 by


Asmodee Digital's Pandemic, based on the popular co-operative board game published by Z-Man Games, was quietly delisted from Steam on January 6. The mobile version is no longer available to buy either, though owners can still download any version they've already bought. 

Though no official announcement has been made, one player contacted Asmodee support and was told via email that, “We have worked hard over 4 years on Pandemic and withdrawing it from the stores has not been an easy choice. This decision was made with a heavy heart for a multitude of reasons that we cannot disclose.” The email also claimed that Pandemic would be leaving the Xbox store on January 31, and Switch by the end of July.

Pandemic is no longer mentioned anywhere on Asmodee Digital's website. A look at the Wayback Machine shows that its page was removed in November or December of 2021. However, one digital version of Pandemic remains—on browser-based tabletop gaming platform Board Game Arena, which Asmodee bought last year. You can play Pandemic there for free right now, and with online multiplayer, something the Steam version didn't have.

When a planned Pandemic giveaway on the Epic Games Store was canceled in 2020, it was assumed to be a matter of sensitivity given the Covid-19 pandemic was in its early stages. It seems a bit late to follow up for the same reason, so presumably there's something else behind this delisting—especially since Pandemic's still on Board Game Arena. I've contacted Asmodee Digital for comment, and will update this story if I get a reply.

In December, holding company the Embracer Group announced plans to acquire Asmodee in a deal worth €2.75 billion (over $US3 billion).

Dune: Spice Wars details hybrid 4X/RTS gameplay and Early Access features

Posted on January 16, 2022 by


Shiro Games' upcoming Dune: Spice Wars has an imposing legacy of great RTS games to live up to, and a recent FAQ up on the game's Steam page has shed some more light on its direction.

The thing that stood out the most to me was Shiro's insistence on the hybrid nature of Dune: Spice Wars. It won't be fully turn-based like 4X games such as Civilization, but it will be slower-paced and larger-scale than a typical RTS, with an emphasis on economics, politics, and spying. Shiro claims that these are “features that make it a true 4X game but do not detract from the core RTS experience that players would expect.” 

(Image credit: Shiro Games)

This strikes me as a great fit for Dune's intrigue-laden, high politics fiction, but I'm really curious how long a typical game of Dune: Spice Wars will last. An RTS match can be over in minutes, while a 4X run can last for hours or even days. Where will this hybrid game fit in that range? 

The FAQ also provided a clearer picture of what features Dune: Spice Wars will have at its initial Early Access launch. There will be four playable factions to start, with a fifth planned for later in Early Access. Only the almost-mandatory houses Atreides and Harkonnen have been revealed so far. Shiro is planning on including multiplayer and a campaign eventually, which seems to imply that the only mode on launch will be instanced PvE.

I'm finding myself more intrigued by Shiro's Dune the more I see of it. Its art style, distinct from any of Dune's other adaptations, is really striking, and the hybrid 4X/RTS gameplay could hold a lot of promise. I'm hoping to get my “one more turn” fix in one of my favorite science fiction settings when Dune: Spice Wars gets its Early Access release later this year.

(Image credit: Shiro Games)

Techland promises five years of updates for Dying Light 2

Posted on January 16, 2022 by


Elden Ring may have recently surpassed Dying Light 2 as Steam's most wishlisted game, but Techland's upcoming open world zombie game is still a highly anticipated release. There was recently a bit of hubbub over Techland's claim that it will have up to 500 hours of content for completionists to take on, but even that high estimate probably only takes into account what will be available on launch day. 

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Techland recently announced via the game's official Twitter account that Dying Light 2 will receive at least five years of post-launch support, including new content like events, locations, storylines, and in-game items. Dying Light 2 looks to have a pretty expansive open world, one with a significant amount of both horizontal and vertical space given its emphasis on parkour and climbing, so Techland could have a lot of real estate to work with in the coming years for adding new quests and objectives.

It's an encouraging development for this much-hyped release, especially as it does not seem to be contingent on any sort of subscription or battle pass. In addition to the free content updates Techland announced via Twitter, Dying Light 2's official website also indicates that the game will receive at least two more substantial paid story DLCs. Dying Light 2 will be released on February 4.

Sierra made a life-sim, and it wasn’t exactly Stardew Valley

Posted on January 15, 2022 by


From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, it's the game of life. Not the Game of Life, that's something else. Or the game of Life, which is more a sciencey thing. Just a game. Of life.

Sierra Online is mostly remembered for its graphic adventure games, many of them with the word 'Quest' on the end. It did plenty of other things though, some successfully, some… not. Firmly in the 'not' camp was Jones in the Fast Lane, and if you're wondering why, just look at its clumsy title. What does it mean? Originally, this game was called Keeping Up With Jones, as a riff on the slightly less catchy name “Keeping Up With The Joneses”. During development, that changed to this, which only makes sense if you know the story, but is at least better than when Bully became “Canis Canem Edit”.

Got that? Good. But can it make you a winner in life as well as games? Let's find out.

Jones is a board game at heart, though one that uses the fact it's a computer to be as much a life simulator. I could explain the basic details, but they're relatively straight-forward, so let's just run through a typical game such as you might play. You can play singleplayer, against an AI opponent called Jones, but that seems a bit pointless. Instead, this week I'll be joined by my good friend…

Oh. Oh, wait a minute. I forgot to ask anyone. Also, I don't have any good friends since I decided to help save precious water by giving up bathing. This could be a bit tricky.

Well, never mind. I'm almost positive it'll all work out in the end!

PLAYER 1: WEEK 0

Jones can be played with up to four players, each taking a different character: two men, two women. Here at least there is Equality. I pick the guy on the left, because he's wearing sunglasses and is therefore Cool. It is however a little odd that both guys are wearing jeans while the women both shop at the same store 1presumably Togs R Us. It's a big chain. Surprised you've not heard of it.

As far as I know, there's no difference between any of the characters, which seems a shame. In a more complex game, the guy on the left would travel more slowly around the map due to feeling compelled to check every mirror and go “Hey…”, the first lady would suffer a -2 point to Charisma until her painful looking sunburn wore off, the third guy would sometimes end the game abruptly after realising his dreams had deserted him and he was now middle-aged with no future, and the fourth would randomly be arrested by the Fashion Police for wearing a shirt themed on particularly messy sick.

Next comes “Set Your Goals”. Jones is won by meeting goals that you set for yourself at the start, finding success in four categories: Wealth, Happiness, Education and Career. The higher you set them, the longer the game, and the more crushing the disappointment when you realise that you're not in fact a precious little snowflake. This is where the Life Simulation element kicks in. Also, you go to shops and stuff. Anyway. I decide to primarily chase Wealth. With that, I figure I can buy the rest. Especially Happiness. Everyone agrees that's how it works. I'm pretty sure there was a song about it once.

Over to you, Me.

PLAYER 2: WEEK 0

Thanks, Me. Everything's much the same here of course, but for the sake of variety I pick the middle-aged guy. Even if he's identical to the others, I feel his implied life experience will help him face the challenges to come. As part of that greater perceived maturity, I split my Goal Points between Happiness and Career. This will help me feel Fulfilled, while also standing me in good stead for when the internet is invented and I can spend all day watching cat videos without feeling like a failure.

That's the plan, anyway. In a fair and just world, it'd be no problem at all.

Though this was a game designed by the company responsible for Sierra Sudden Death Syndrome.

PLAYER 1: WEEK 1

Right. Life is for the living, so let's start living life. While this is a board game as much as a life simulator, it's not one with dice. Instead, you click on a building to drive to it, with each offering different functions. At the burger bar for instance, you can work, or buy food. Both potentially useful.

Every player starts with $200, no education and no career history, begging the question of what the hell you've been doing. Witness protection, maybe. You saw a mob hit and were forced to leave your cushy life as a professional candy licker in favour of an apartment in a building labelled “Low Cost Housing” and a town boring enough to make Swindon look like Las Vegas. No wonder Happiness is a goal.

Obviously, Job #1 has to be to get a job. I head to the Employment Office, and scan the Want Ads. There not being a candy factory in need of experienced saliva, I have to choose a new career. I need money, so obviously I set my sights high. With no experience and no education, I ask if the local bank needs a new Manager. This pays $19 an hour, but unfortunately I don't seem to qualify. Nor do I have any luck trying to become a Professor at the university, an electronics repairman, or an investment broker. There are other jobs, obviously, but they're beneath me right now. I do after all have $200 in my pocket, which is $200 more than your average bum, barfly or freelance game journalist.

With the week mostly over and entirely spent in the Job Center, I figure I should probably… y'know… eat something. There's not a vast amount of choice in town, so I head to Monolith Burger, a chain Space Quest fans will know. A few bucks will at least buy lunch, leaving plenty for buying some snazzier clothes, maybe a better apartment, a—

A SINGLE BURGER COSTS $81?!?!

And that's the cheapest lunch on the menu! If you want cheese with that, which you shouldn't because cheese is awful, it's another $10. A shake? $105. For those prices, it had better be strawberry with platinum sprinkled in it. No, sod it. They say a human can survive for quite a while without food, and the sacrifice will be worth it once I've had some time to work on a more structured plan.

Turn over. Your go!

PLAYER 2: WEEK 1

Interesting tactics there, accomplishing what I believe is technically referred to as 'nothing'. I however am going to play a little smarter. Look at my moustache. I've probably worked a few Saturday jobs in my time, even if the money was frittered away over the years on minor setbacks like a failed marriage, the banking crisis, or the discovery that crystal meth on toast makes for the perfect bachelor snack.

Secure in my own future, I too head to the Employment Office and snap up a job as a Clerk at the nearest discount store. It doesn't pay much, just $6 an hour, but residents of Low Cost Housing Towers can't be too picky. I drive over there, introduce myself, and work a couple of shifts. That uses up much of the week, but I'm $128 better off than I was when I started it, much like an upbeat episode of 2 Broke Girls with fewer boob jokes, but also 100% less urge to slice my own throat open with a pen.

Overall, I approve of this first week. Good, honest work, and I'm almost positive my new boss' hobby doesn't involve strange children and free candy. Almost. Not quite, but almost. I even have a bit of spare time to stop by the local University and enroll in Trade School. Apparently it teaches you “Trade”. Not sure which one. Maybe all of them. Being a polymath would be good. For now though, a monomath would suffice. I forget to buy any food though, so it'll be a hungry monomath. At least this week.

PLAYER 1: WEEK 2

Well, good for you. Let me know how that works out for you. The way I see it though, when I'm rich, I'll buy an education the old fashioned way—writing a cheque and getting a few degrees through the post. I'm thinking maybe a PhD in Neuroosurgery, where you get all the benefits of being a doctor, but are never likely to be asked to sort out someone's brain tumour at an inconvenient time, like when someone's head is about to explode. Anything less than that though, and pfffft. Not your problem!

Unfortunately, it turns out that not eating really cuts into your week. I've lost almost half of it apparently sitting at home and craving steak, and trying to work out just how the hell I spent $15 playing Solitaire. Was gambling involved? I guess it would be weirder than trying some strip variant.

But to work! Or rather, to find work! Again, I don't find anything worth my time at the Employment Office, even when I point out I'd be willing to be an assistant manager and work up to a more appropriate role. Irritated, I figure I can at least fix my hunger with a burger. Due to what could be called the state of the economy, but is actually just a random die roll, Hamburgers are now only $74. I buy one, taking my cash reserves down to just $111. “Would you like fries with that?” grins the clerk. For $74 a burger, buddy, the fact fries aren't thrown in for free may end up being why your body gets thrown in a dumpster. Next week, I'm going to seriously need some work to get by. With this one almost over though, there's no point trying to get anything sorted. I go home, and go to sleep. Next week, my fortunes will turn around.

PLAYER 2: WEEK 2

Yes, well, Louis Theroux, if you think you had a weird weekend playing Solitaire in your pants… probably not a euphemism… at least you didn't find yourself doing dental work on yourself. But hey. At least that's the bad part of the week over early, and from now on all will be cherry. Maybe cherry pie.

I'm also low on time, and it's made worse when I'm hit with a Doctor's Bill for $40—for what, I'm not sure—that knocks my counter down to half. This week then, I'm going to have to be careful. First up, food. This can't happen again. Since only an idiot would go get take-out this close to the breadline, I instead head to the Market and stock up for two weeks for just $99. I also pick up a newspaper, because this is 1990 and print hasn't been stabbed in the face by the internet yet. It tells me that “North Shore of Bass Lake Sinks”, and nothing useful. Still, it was only $1. No big loss there.

Reluctantly, I give up any hope of going to school this week. There simply isn't time. A couple of days at the store though and at least I have a buffer against future accidents. How about you, Player One?

PLAYER 1: WEEK 3

What's that? Sorry. I was…. apparently… reading a romance novel called “NURSE'S TURN TO CRY”, which I have to presume had a very sexy cover because I 'read it in one sitting'. Anyway, Mr. Self-Improvement, I don't see what you're being smug about. You've slaved your arse off and got $166 from it all. I've so far done absolutely nothing but have $94. And who's got the cool sunglasses?

Me. I have the cool sunglasses. Where are your cool sunglasses? You don't have any.

Because I have the cool sunglasses.

Now, your 'job' idea sounds adorable, and good luck with that. Us cool kids though, again, I point to the sunglasses, know that the universe will provide. And if it won't, the horribly regulated banking system might. Instead of heading to the job centre, that's where I go to apply for a long-term loan I don't intend to pay off, unless by 'pay off' you mean avoid by faking my own death, in which case sssh!

Okay, weil, that makes no sense. If I had more money, I wouldn't need a loan. Likewise, if I wanted a job, why would I be here? Silly banking lady. You know nothing about being cool.

You've probably got a point about avoid take-out though, at least at Monolith prices. 2001 was meant to be a space odyssey, not the number on the till if you asked for a super-size meal. I head to Black's Market, and ponder the situation. Food for a week, $51. Food for two weeks, $95. But a pack of lottery tickets? Only $10! A week of food only lasts a week. But a lottery win? That could set me up forever. I buy fifty tickets. Fifty chances to win millions. But I'm not greedy. If only one pays out, it's cool.

I head home to sit in my broken chair and stare at them for a bit.

But none of them pay-out, so I tear them up and stamp on the pieces. Traitors.

PLAYER 2: WEEK 3

So, seems this weekend I took a friend out to a cheap restaurant. I spent $16. In a town where the burgers can bankrupt Croesus, I dread to think what the main course was. What's cheaper than rat? It was probably that, in a bun. God willing, no 'mayo'. I don't think it would have been there on purpose.

Then, disaster. That food I bought? Turned out I should probably have waited until I bought a fridge to put it in. It's all spoiled, and gone. Also, I had another doctor's bill. Luckily, I'm not disheartened, unless the operation was to remove my heart, in which case $40 seems rather reasonable, really. But I digress.

A fridge is well out of my budget. I have $114. It costs $823. Poo. That means I'm stuck buying food without a bulk discount, and all these bills are really ramping up. Still. A few shifts at work, a bag of food for next week.. again, no time for school, but I'll get to it. Next week. And start that diet, I swear. Which will be pretty easy to stick to, since I won't have any food in the house by that point.

Sigh. If you actually pull off this lottery thing, I'm going to hit you with my car. You know that, don't you? Not even fast. Slowly. Starting with your feet, then breaking every bone up your leg and half of your ribcage and up to your head… then a little turn, and back the same way to mirror the agony on the other side. Only then will I do you the kindness of crushing your skull and permitting sweet release.

Oh. I also stop by the job center to see if I can get a promotion. Nope. Never mind!

PLAYER 1: WEEK 4

Well, that went a bit dark. No word on my lottery tickets. Not sure if that’s good or bad. What is bad though is a demand for rent. Someone could have warned me that my house wasn’t free! Now I have to pay over $300, and I have… one second… $29. I’m no monomath, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be enough. The clue is that it’s a smaller number. A much smaller number. No third digit or anything.

Luckily, the lady there doesn’t seem to like her job much. I beg her for more time. She says “Sure, you can pay your rent next week.” Phew. But with the hunger, I only have half a week to raise it. Well, fine. I don’t like admitting it, but if the choice is a job or being thrown out on the street, a job it will have to be. Just to be sure, I ask about that Professorship… but no. Well, worth a shot. But what else can I try? Janitor? No openings. Clerk? No openings. Salesperson? “Poor work history” lets me down.

Bullshit! I’ve never worked a day in this town! How can I have a poor record?!

Finally though, some luck. Well, I say ‘luck’. Monolith Burger, my old nemesis, needs cooks. The special sauce is now going to be very special indeed. Citizens of wherever this is, you have been warned.

PLAYER 2: WEEK 4

Cry me a river, you work-shy little shit. I've got a house full of spoiled food, my rent's also due, and the only thing I've got to eat are the little bits in my moustache. I'm pretty sure most of them are flies. And I've actually been trying to make something of myself here. I've done everything I was meant to!

I head straight to work. Must work. Must serve customers. Must earn money for the rent. Finally, I scrape together enough. Just enough. Then I look at the clock. No time to pay it. No time for food. No time for school. On the plus side, at least mortality is a thing. And there's no food in my house to go off, so at least that's something. Though it will mean fewer flies. I could go for a tasty fly about now…

PLAYER 1: WEEK 5

Not eating's not so bad. Skipping food for weeks doesn't seem to be cutting into my day any more than skipping it for a week, and I'm not seeing mental stability at any or side-other effects all. Okay. Note to self. Food is just another conspiracy by the Illuminati, or maybe Majestic-12, or possibly whoever it was who cruelly decided that those Cadbury's Bubbly bars with white chocolate in them should be removed from the Bath area in favour of getting people to combine a regular Bubbly with a Milkybar to…

But I digress. An entire week of work flipping burgers gives me just enough to pay the rent, but the office is shut so in my pocket it will have to stay. Since I have a little more, and am now officially Breatharian, I sneak a few more lottery tickets. You never know. Though you probably correctly suspect.

God, I miss food. Delicious, available food.

PLAYER 2: WEEK 5

What do you mean the Rent Office is closed? I have rent to pay! Okay. Okay, Player 2, it's okay. Just don't do anything silly. Go to work. Get enough for food. Then school! You remember wanting to go to school, right? With enough effort, you'll lift yourself out of these doldrums. One day this will all just be a horrible memory to share with people by the fire as they scream for you to put down the poker.

On the plus side, I'm only one course away from mastering Trade. And possibly even finding out which one it is. So that's good news, right? Please. Someone tell me it's good news. I need good news.

PLAYER 1: WEEK 6

And I need clothes, apparently. Turns out if you walk around in the same jeans and a t-shirt for several weeks straight, it disintegrates. This is a real problem. If I know Monolith Burger, it'll have a No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service policy, and I'm guessing that applies to staff providing services too. Unless they're into weird stuff where showing up naked and going “Poverty, eh?” might be an advantage.

I head over to find out. Turns out not. Then disaster! As I go to work, I accidentally buy a $56 cola with no way of getting a refund. One step forward, two steps back. Then, when I do work, I'm cheerfully informed “Your landlord garnished $14”. Great. Not only do I owe back-rent, I apparently owe it to the mob. Who else could control this town to the extent that this is just a regular way of doing business?

How much do I earn for a shift now? $10. Only enough to buy lottery tickets.

I buy some lottery tickets. I do not win. I cannot say I am shocked by this.

PLAYER 2: WEEK 6

I however finally get my Degree in Trade School. With this in hand, I can now enroll in actual courses to become an Engineer or a Pre Engineer, which I’m assuming is an internship involving car maintenance that everyone has to do before officially becoming a Grand Pre engineer. I don’t know much about cars, but that could be worth a look. Not today though. No time. No money. Sigh.

Gotta be honest, really thought I’d be a success in life by now. Two months, tops.

PLAYER 1: WEEK 7

Wake up to find that my clothes have actually disintegrated. Luckily, I was smart enough to wear special CensorBar Underwear, the pants with the built-in black lines. When I go to work though, I'm told I'm not properly dressed. Or indeed, dressed. 

How much do new clothes cost? $53. I head to the clothes shop. How much do I have? Less than $53. Unfortunately, there's no Get This Nudist Out Of Here Discount. On the plus side, there's also no police in this town. The evening ends sitting in my pants in a chair, pondering life and alternatives do it. I wonder how much a bottle of bleach and a mug would cost.

PLAYER 2: WEEK 7

Oh, poor baby! Sitting at home while some of us try to juggle school and work and paying the rent—rent that some of us bother to pay! After all my garnished wages, the damn place finally opens. Weeks of work, and what do I have to show for it? $17 and a rumbling stomach, and I only have that because my trousers held together just long enough to earn it. 

What am I going to do now? I can't go to work in a barrel, the bank won't give me a loan and I have nothing to pawn! They won't even take the barrel! My one consolation is that at least I don't have to live with your sickening… your…

PLAYER 1: WEEK 8

My what? No, no don’t stop there, Captain Manners! Go on! Say what’s on your mind, if you can ever find it! You know! Wherever it’s hiding all the way up your arse!

PLAYER 2: WEEK 8

That sickening voice of yours! Won't it ever shut up? Look at you, surrounded by empty scratchcards and failed dreams! You never took this seriously. You never tried to make something of yourself. You just sailed through this game… into the rocks, yes, but at least you spent no effort before running aground! 

Me, I've got a worthless degree and a dead-end job in the worst store in town and a poverty barrel instead of pants and any day now we're both going to get evicted for not paying our rent, and all that… all that, I could take if not for the fact that you are no worse off than me right now!

PLAYER 1: WEEK 9

Evicted? Pretty sure they'll just keep garnishing our salaries or something. Seems like a full-on Game Over isn't really what this game wants to do, despite coming from those brutal designers at Sierra. Really, I've found it pretty generous. Look, I went scuba diving this week. For free, apparently! So there's that. And look what I just got through the post! Or mail! Whatever we have in America!

Score! Maybe you’ll get lucky too! You just have to have faith. Come on. Just one more turn. You’ll see how quickly fortunes can change when you let yourself just go with the flow…

PLAYER 2: WEEK 9

That does it! That does it! Come here! I’m going to kill you! I’m going to beat you until you go from black and blue all the way to the ultraviolet end of the spectrum! You lazy, feckless little bastard, getting all the breaks in this game! Aaaargh! You are the sickness of the world and the atheist’s wettest dream, for looking at this raving farce of an obscenity you dare call a life, there clearly can be no god!

In conclusion then, Jones in the Fast Line is quite a fun little game.

As you'd expect from its age, it's not exactly The Sims-level of life simulation, but to give it credit, there's a lot here and it does actually feel like a game. The fact it has a sense of humour about itself doesn't hurt either, though as with all jokes, the more they repeat the less welcome they are. 

Still, you know what else makes no apologies for maybe being a little rough around the edges? Life.