The first three Final Fantasy pixel remasters are out now on Steam, with the next three presumably soon to follow. Though their crappy font spacing has been criticised (there's already a fix for the font), that's not the reason all three have been hit with low user ratings on Metacritic. Nor is it the screen-tearing, the problems players using controllers are having, or the absence of material from other rereleases. Nope, it's because they're not on consoles.
The first Final Fantasy has clawed its way back up to a userscore of 1.7, but as TheGamer notes, it was previously down to 0.7, with Final Fantasy 2 at 0.8 and Final Fantasy 3 at 1.9. In each case it's due to a string of user reviews giving the games a zero. “We want to be able to play these games on consoles”, one review repeated across all three games says. “Classic games such as Final Fantasy should not be gated behind mobile phone and computers. (But please change the text font before releasing on console. Thank you!)”
In each case it's only 11 or 12 ratings tanking the average, which seems like yet another reason not to put much weight in userscores. Which is not to say that averaged-out scores drawn from multiple publications with completely different metrics for assigning those scores is a much better system, of course. It's all pretty silly, is what I'm saying.
According to its SteamDB page, the Final Fantasy 4 pixel remaster has a release date of August 19, while the next two have dates of September 9 and September 30. None of those have been officially announced yet, so take them with a grain of salt.
Two new trailers for Age of Empires 4 have arrived, one a brief glimpse of the Abbasid Dynasty civilization (based on the Abbasid Caliphate and the Mamluk Sultanate, rulers of the Islamic world for 750 years), their camel riders and House of Wisdom, and the other showing naval warfare. Neither has much to say about how the game will play, except that it sure looks like a game you'll be able to run on a laptop.
Which is no bad thing, and the buildings do look much more nicely detailed than the not-to-scale units around them. Given that most of the time in an RTS you're zoomed-out to a ridiculous degree the fact individual models look basic isn't the end of the world. Not that you'd know it from the comments sections, which race back through the years with comparisons like “Nice 2010 graphics”, “2006 graphics ¿why?” and finally “AoE 3 which was launched in 2005 had better looking naval combat than this”.
Age of Empire 4 will launch with eight asymmetric civilizations. In addition to the Abbasid Dynasty you'll be able to play as the Chinese, English, French, Mongols, Rus, Delhi Sultanate, and Holy Roman Empire. There are four historical campaigns (The Rise of Moscow, The Mongol Empire, Norman Campaign, and 100 Years War), and apparently the 3D terrain will provide advantages to units on high ground. Also archers can stand on walls now, which is nice.
Age of Empires 4 will be available on Steam and Game Pass for PC from October 28.
Rumors that Eric Baptizat—a 16-year Ubisoft veteran who left the company to join EA Motive earlier this year—was working on the Dead Space remake have been confirmed. It's right there on Baptizat's LinkedIn profile: “game director on Dead Space”.
Previously, Baptizat was game director on Assassin's Creed Valhalla and a lead game designer on Black Flag, Unity, and Origins. Tempting as it is to make jokes about how the Dead Space remake will definitely have climbable towers or a map full of sidequests for Isaac Clarke to unlock, that's not really how games or game directors work. Baptizat's other lead designer credits include Shaun White Skateboarding and Surf's Up, but I don't expect Dead Space to suddenly involve kickflips or hanging 10 in addition to lasering up space monsters.
The team at Motive working on Dead Space includes a few other former Ubisoft staff, including creative director Roman Campos-Oriola (For Honor), and senior producer Philippe Ducharme (Watch Dogs Legion). It also includes art director Michael Yazijian, who served the same role on Dead Space 2, and in addition Dino Ignacio, who was UI designer on all three of the original games, acted as a consultant. Several ex-BioWare staff are confirmed to be working on Dead Space as well.
Plunging headfirst into the fast, furious world of Shark Riders is a trip. Pixelated purples and reds color a dramatic world of ancient songs, fish gods, and lycaons—desert dogs that live short, drug-soaked lives. As the bearded chief of a seafaring village, I solemnly prick my gums with a hallucinogenic cactus spine and prepare to perform an old ritual. It is time to summon the great white shark.
Even in the form of a short visual novel, Shark Riders taps into the raw, fantastic otherworldliness of Conan the Barbarian and the rough, primeval magic of Krull—a visceral type of fiction powered by adrenaline and huge '80s movie-energy. It's a quick, well-paced playthrough where each sentence feels plucked from a 1940s paperback, sharp and snappy and harmonizing beautifully with the bold, moody ZX Spectrum color palette. I suddenly feel the urge to put on some Ennio Morricone as I blast through this first “pixel-pulp”, which is what LCB Game Studio, a tiny indie studio in Argentina, calls this type of short, serial game.
Writer/game designer Nico Saraintaris and illustrator Fernando Martinez Ruppel make up LCB Game Studio, formed as an ode to the glory days of serialized pulp magazines that brought strange galaxies of fiction to the masses for cheap. But for Saraintaris and Ruppel, the pixel-pulp isn't just a creative genre—it also means taking a different approach to development. “Pulp for us is a work ethic, it's understanding creative production as a trade,” explains Saraintaris. “Our goal is to adapt this way of working from what was the pulp production of the first half of the 20th century to videogame production.”
Back then, pulp fiction was an industry, churning out juicy serial fiction in rough wood-pulp paper magazines sold on street corners and through subscriptions. They ran the gamut from intoxicating adventures and lurid sci-fi stories to out-of-this-world fantasies and racy horror. Pulp was cheap, readily available, and wildly popular. Even literary icons like Ray Bradbury and Sinclair Lewis wrote pulp stories for a bit of steady income.
Saraintaris and Ruppel's pixel-pulps, featuring heavily stylized pixel art drenched in saturated colors, walk the same path as their spiritual ancestors. The pair first met in 2012 while collaborating on literary projects, which led to creating their own publisher called LCB or “Literatura Clase B” (basically “b-class literature”). “Our first fiction together was The Atlantean Butcher, a series of illustrated short stories in the vein of [Robert E.] Howard's… sword and sorcery, all mixed up with the mysteries of Atlantis,” says Saraintaris. It wasn’t long before they started earnestly trying to push a pulp revival in Argentina with novellas like Mano Propia.
Saraintaris and Ruppel also started doing game jams, which led to LCB Game Studio as an extension of their literary work. One of their first projects was a racing game in a Soviet space colony full of Lenin clones—then came The Penanggalan, a horror-puzzler involving the supernatural Malay creature and the first appearance of the LCB's “Experimental Folklore Agency.” Saraintaris and Ruppel eventually decided to lean into their literary roots to start a tradition of their own. “We joke and say that our pixel-pulps are Snatcher-like visual novels,” Saraintaris says, referring to Kojima’s cult 1988 game, “although the vast majority of creative work that influences our work comes from the world of comics and pulp fiction.”
And so, for Adventure Jam 2021, Shark Riders was born. Saraintaris describes it as a proof-of-concept game—it was made in just 2 weeks, but their fully-fleshed out pixel-pulps will be longer with more polish. “Our pixel-pulps have short dev-cycles per 'issue',” Saraintaris explains. “We like to think in terms of issues because it points at the same time to something that can be consumed as a standalone piece but framed in a larger story, a much-used serialization device in pulp narrative. For the development of each issue we allocate a maximum of four months, which allows us fluidity between projects.”
One of their current works-in-progress is Mothmen 1966, a tale born from a long history of weird fiction and soft sci-fi from the '60s and '70s to the present. Saraintaris and Ruppel are both fans of writers like R.A. Lafferty and John Langan, and on the aesthetic front, Argentine artists Alberto Breccia and Jorge Zaffino. But perhaps most important is the overwhelming inspiration of Charles Fort, the early 20th-century writer whose research on weird phenomena laid the foundation for the 'fortean' subculture that deals with everything that science can't seem to explain. “We are very 'fortean',” says Saraintaris. “One of the characters in Mothmen 1966 is Lou Hill, a Fortean writer and researcher… [he's] something like our double, a resource that allows us to suture the meta-narrative of our pixel-pulps.”
Mothmen 1966, set amidst the Leonid meteor shower of 1966, involves (you guessed it) the mothman legend, which was popularized in John Keel's 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies. The game will feature interactive elements new to their visual novels, like a playable in-world solitaire game (“a virtually impossible game to win,” says Saraintaris) that affects the main character's relationship with an NPC.
They're also working on Bahnsen Knights, featuring religious fanatics, F5 tornadoes (the strongest, most intense tornadoes you can have), and Ford Sierras. So far, the key pixel art looks appropriately pulpy. Rich, saturated tones make the light and shadows pop off the screen. Saraintaris explains that their aesthetic is designed to deliberately recall times and environments from a bygone era. “In terms of color—and as we are limited by using the ZX Spectrum palette—the use of chiaroscuro is key,” he says. “The image should work in black and white.”
But their first proper pixel-pulp is going to be Red Dragon Down, described as
Black Hawk Down with dragons” on the game's itch.io page. Saraintaris says it’s just “waiting for its moment” to be released. It’s a mishmash of fantasy and war epics, centered around a group of heavily armed dwarves protecting a dragon laden with gold. “Our idea is to start publishing pixel-pulps as a studio and never stop, a bit like our heroes writing dime novels or publishing stories in pulp magazines.”
While this might seem like a straightforward nostalgia play, LCB seems to have latched on to something really special with the idea of quick and dirty serial games; Saraintaris, as an experienced author, brings a real sense of polish to the prose, while Ruppel's work is a perfect complement to the sensationalist overtones of pulpy fantasy and horror. If pixel-pulps want to become the pulp fiction of visual novels, I'm all for it.
Welcome to This Week in PC Gaming, a show where we take a look at the new games, updates, events, and more coming at you over the next week, every week. Expect a new episode every Sunday morning and expect it to tell you something you didn't know or already forgot about.
This week we look at a trio of awesome indie games full of gore and empathy. A brand new legend emerges in Season 10 of Apex Legends, and EVO 2021 Online kicks later this week, where you can watch digital black belts duke it out from the safety of your computer screen.
Sage is one of the new jobs coming to Final Fantasy 14 as part of the Endwalker expansion, a healer class that fights with four floating blades called nouliths. Its icon represents those four weapons, and the MMO's designers probably weren't expecting it to receive as strong a reaction as it did.
“When we released new details for sage and reaper on the special site, we also included their icons,” producer and director Naoki Yoshida wrote in an update, “not thinking that they were particularly big reveals. However, we soon received feedback from players all over the world, who told us that the sage icon made them uncomfortable or fearful.”
It's due to trypophobia, an irrational aversion to clusters of small, irregular holes. As all articles on the internet are obliged to mention it's not a condition recognized by medical science. But if you've ever seen a picture of lotus pods or surinam toads (the ones whose young hatch from a honeycomb of pockets embedded in their backs) and felt your skin crawl, you understand the sensation. The theory is that it's related to our in-built fears of insect infestations and decaying flesh, and the photoshops transposing patterns of holes onto human skin sure make me wish I hadn't googled them. But then I think the holes in crumpets make them look gross.
The redesigned icon retains the concept of four levitating blades, but no longer emphasizes the holes in them. “The design concept is unchanged,” Yoshida wrote, “with the icon being based on the four nouliths which form the sage's armament. The holes in the original design were added for detail, but they ended up appearing as a cluster. To address the problem, the new icon reduces the holes while accentuating the design concept. Now, comparisons will inevitably be made, and some of you may prefer the original. But we believe that designs like this are things that grow on you as you play the job, and ask for your understanding as we head into Endwalker.”
We once had a neighbour who would hammer, weld, and saw at all hours, prompting my housemate to regularly quote Tom Waits: What’s he building in there? We had a lot of theories, but never found out. Whether you’re making up stories about what next-door is up to or attributing every unexplained noise to “the ghost”, sharehousing seems to have an in-built tendency toward mythmaking.
That’s especially true of student sharehouses, full of overactive imagination and time to talk about nothing. No Longer Home reflects that. It’s set in a London flat and you play two students at the end of their degrees, about to move out and go separate ways—at least, for now. When friends come over for one last barbecue the conversation turns toward these stories, like that of the “love shack” one character had in his backyard. A rundown shed, it nevertheless managed to survive a storm and high winds. The landlord accused him of building it without permission, but it was there when he moved in. A strange little mystery, never to be solved.
No Longer Home exaggerates this mythic quality. Its seemingly ordinary kitchen-sink world is also one where students keep magic potions in the bathroom and your art project, an illustrated bestiary, may catalogue monsters that actually exist. Or maybe they don’t. There’s a hallucinatory quality to the stranger scenes, like you’ve walked through a door or stared at the toaster too long and fallen into your subconscious.
The surreal Kentucky Route Zero is a strong stylistic influence on No Longer Home, which is built on the foundation of the adventure game while containing few of its elements. There are no puzzles for starters, and instead of new areas gated behind brainteasers the story moves forward in time when you walk through certain doors—always signposted with text asking whether you want to move on, or chill here for a while longer.
Mostly you potter about the flat while boxes pile up and the damp spreads, walking from room to room as if you’ve forgotten what you were looking for, then petting one of the cats instead. You examine objects that spark memories, talk, and spin rooms around 90 degrees at a time to find things hidden by angles.
At one point you play a game within a game v buck generator called Among the Leaves. It’s about finding a place to stay in a mystical forest, and you play it while sitting with friends who shout suggestions you can choose from. It’s a rare moment of branching in a game that’s otherwise more about choosing what to talk about than what to do—exploring theme and character rather than altering plot, deciding how the characters discuss what they want to do with the rest of their lives, or the expectations of their parents, or sexuality, or the mess on the counter.
Walls and furniture slide in and out of place and the lights dim and rise to make No Longer Home feel like a stage production: two-and-a-half hours of getting to know some people and a place, then the curtains fall and you’ve got something to think about afterward. I was left wishing for more of the weirdness, since that’s what I like stroking my chin and having theories about. The rooms No Longer Home takes place in usually hang as if they’re in space, suspended against a backdrop of stars, and in an introduction the protagonists stargaze while you decide what the constellation they’re looking at resembles—it’s deliberate in its vagueness, open to interpretation.
You know, the kind of game you only need to check in on periodically to see how things are going with your nation, football team, or spaceship's journey from one end of the galaxy to the other. Or the kind of game where you can mindlessly click or grind your way through most of it without actually needing to engage higher brain functions, which you can then spend marathoning TV shows on the other screen.
What's a game you like to play while doing or watching something else?
Robin Valentine: I never really understand this kind of multi-tasking—my brain just doesn't seem to work that way, if I'm doing two things at once I'm inevitably only really concentrating on one of them. So a game has to be seriously mindless for me to be able to play it even when just listening to a podcast, let alone watching TV.
I did used to do a bit of catching up on podcasts while grinding levels in Diablo III or Torchlight II, but even then all it took was a particularly interesting piece of loot for me to totally lose the thread of what the podcasters were talking about.
So the closest I get really is just fiddling on my phone while I wait for a slow opponent to take their turn in Legends of Runeterra.
Mollie Taylor: I'm with Robin on this one. I'm completely incapable of watching a video or listening to a podcast while gaming, even when I'm doing the most mundane activities. I've tried in the past, but I really rely on things like the game's music and audio cues. I lose my flow super easy without them, which makes grinding even more of a pain than it already is. I wish I was one of those people that could binge-watch a show while levelling up, but the most I can tolerate is chilling with my friends on Discord. We can't all be multi-taskers!
Sarah James: I haven't done it so much recently but I used to level my alts in World of Warcraft while watching something on Netflix—or grind world quests, or whatever else didn't need any particular concentration. Diablo 3 was another favourite to do this with, especially when you've just hit max level and you need to grind item sets. But no games I've played recently spring to mind. I was never truly multitasking anyway—I'd always have to stop playing if an interesting bit came up on the telly, or stop watching and have to rewind to figure out what I missed if I accidentally pulled too many mobs in-game.
Jody Macgregor: I used to do this with various MMOs I dabbled in, because most MMOs are bad and don't deserve my full attention. Same with clickers and idle games, and the kind of action-RPG where you have abilities on a rotation that you just cycle through until the next level-up, which are basically clickers anyway.
Christopher Livingston: When cellphones first became a thing I made an unfortunate discovery: I can't drive while talking on the phone. It's not even about holding the phone, it's about trying to focus on both the road and the conversation at the same time. I seem incapable of it. There are times I even have to turn off music while I'm driving, like if I'm looking for a house number or trying to locate an exit. I can't even focus on looking at one thing while listening to something else.
So, when gaming, all my attention is paid to the game. I've tried podcasts while gaming but there's little point because I'll wind up tuning them out completely and having no idea of what I just listened to. I can maybe play a poker game while the TV is on, but it's not really multitasking since I'll blank out one to focus on the other. Mah brane: it only really does one thing at a time.
Andy Chalk: I'm another addition to the “can't do it, don't do it” crowd. It's strictly one thing at a time for me: I don't have a television anywhere near my PC because if the TV is on, I'm watching it, and if I'm watching TV then I'm not using the PC. I don't even like to listen to music (aside from a game's soundtrack) when I'm playing because, oooh, I like this song, and next thing I know I'm riffling through Journey's Greatest Hits on YouTube and my PC is two steps from a hard crash because I've forgotten that Witcher 3 has been honking away in the background for 20 minutes.
I'm like that with everything, really. If you want to talk to me while we're watching Law and Order reruns then you better hit the pause button because otherwise you're just talking to the dog.
I honestly don't understand how people can do the “multitasking” thing effectively, even if one of the involved tasks is just sort of background noise. For me, trying to do more than one thing at a time is just a very efficient way of ensuring that nothing actually gets done.
ZedClampet: I like to do something else while playing hentai games.
OR, seriously, I like to play mindless games like Farming Simulator 19 and Euro Truck Simulator so I can listen to podcasts. If it's a game with a voiced narrative, I usually turn the shows off even if I could just read the dialogue. Total War games and Warframe are some more that I'll enjoy with podcasts.
Mazer: Any particularly mellow city builder pairs well with a podcast, and maybe some “herbal” relaxation as well. Foundation is a great example, it's so cosy and relaxing to watch the little peasants scurry about chopping trees and baking bread and pitching tiny fits over the lack of a church because I've neglected my stone production.
Farming/life Sims are good zoning out games as well, my favourites being Stardew Valley and My Time At Portia.
JCgames: Games I regularly do both are from paradox. Battletech's a turn based game that it doesn't mater when I move next. A simple tactical strat game that is just fun and you go at your own pace. Perfect for those commercial breaks. Two other good ones are Cities Skylines and Crusader kings III. Slow paced RTS' are perfect for this. Nothing ever too bad ever happens that you need to really worry about and when it does fixing it is pretty easy or can lead to more fun!
An honorable mention for me has to be Mech warrior online. The game has small wait times waiting for matches or for the match to finish if I want my same mech. I can watch a min or two of something in between matches. Out of an average hour of playing you probably have 10-15 mins of waiting, so not bad but just enough that the side distraction helps, Baseball, Golf or Auto-racing fill this role very nicely. It's fitting you asked this question this week though as I have it planned to watch the Olympics and play MWO. You must be psychic!
Zloth: I don't do this much. If the local teams are doing well, I might keep the game on TV at half volume, then look up at it when when people start shouting about something.
Alm: I try and complete Hearthstone dailies every day. Usually whilst watching streams or listening to audiobooks/music.
Kaamos_Llama: Recently I've been replaying Battle Brothers and Battletech. I often play turn based games in the early evening so that I can play something and still be present with the family. Pretty much anything turn based thats not too violent or scary looking that I can put down at a seconds notice works, so that I can talk or do something else easily when needs be.
Apparently, the Steam version of The Ascent and the PC version available through Game Pass are not the same.
This is according to players of The Ascent on PC that noticed the Game Pass version does not support Nvidia’s DLSS and that ray tracing doesn’t work.
Seems Neon Giant is on the case though, as it has stated it is working to bring the two versions to parity.
“It is being looked at, with the intent of fixing it/bringing it to parity with Steam across the board,” said studio co-founder Tor Frick on Twitter.
“We are working with our partners on addressing this as soon as we can. Build processes are different for the two versions, not just a storefront swap” (thanks, Eurogamer).
If you are interested in giving the game a try, be sure to look over Sherif’s review where he calls the game a “consistently stunning and surprising action game that sets a new standard.” You can also look over our reviews round-up to see what other critics thought of The Ascent.
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has responded to an open letter published by employees earlier this week, and his response hasn’t gone down as well as hoped with those who work at the company.
Earlier this week, over 500 (now over 1,000) current and former Ubisoft staff members signed an open letter to the company, criticizing the French publisher’s failure to deliver proper change after last year’s scandal involving members of upper management.
In response, company CEO Yves Guillemot sent a mail to employees, reiterating previous statements made after the scandal broke, stating that the company has made “important progress” over the past year and that the firm takes the issues raised in this week’s letter seriously.
The statement from Guillemot, shared by Axios’ Stephen Totilo, also mentions that a “new company-wide survey” will be launched by the end of the year and that Ubisoft is looking for a new VP of global employee relations.
“Yesterday’s letter expresses concern from employees who want to make Ubisoft a better place,” said Guillemot “We have heard clearly from this letter that not everyone is confident in the processes that have been put in place to manage misconduct reports. This is a top priority for Anika [Grant], who continues to ensure they are robust and independent.”
Despite the reply, the group that drafted the original letter has told GI.biz that few of the group’s “points seem to have been addressed.”
The group said it is well aware that the company has made some improvements, however, it claims Ubisoft continues to “protect and promote known offenders and their allies.”
The group also wants changes within the company to be made collaboratively with employees “at all levels.”
“By being the first to start this collaboration Ubisoft has the opportunity to be at the forefront of creating a better future for the games industry,” the letter states. “We demand that this work be done in collaboration with employees at all levels.
“We want to see real, fundamental change within Ubisoft and across the industry, for the sake of our members. Again, we look forward to a response that addresses all the issues raised and properly acknowledges our demands.”
Last year, various reports from current and former employees painted an unwelcoming picture of the company, what with allegations of sexual misconduct attributed to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla director Ashraf Ismail, and having several executives and managers called out for abuse, discrimination, and more sexual misconduct.