Dean Hall’s Icarus will not be released in August as originally planned.
The space survival game Icarus, from the fella that brought you DayZ, will now be released in November.
According to Hall, the game needs a “little bit more time to bake to be the most awesome.” An official statement from RocketWerkz, Hall’s studio, says that the team is committed to providing the best experience for players at launch and that the team will be keeping a close eye on the development builds.
“[We] have decided that we want to give Icarus more love by delaying the game, and improving upon our beta process by spreading it across multiple weekends, with each having a specific focus,” reads a statement from the studio.
“A plus side of this also means reducing Beta fatigue for our players. We acknowledge that this news may not be what you wanted to hear, but we are confident it will lead to the best possible Icarus launch.”
All pre-orders will gain access to beta weekends, the first of which will be held August 28-29. Forest, as it is called, will get players acquainted with base building, and learning to hunt. Torrential Storms will be disabled and the only biome available will be the forest.
September 11-12 will see Torrential Storms enabled in the forest biomes. The studio says to be sure to have your fire whacker and repair tool handy in case lightning strikes your base.
From September 25-26, the Arctic biome will be testable. Not only will you have to contend with the forbidding and demanding temperatures of the biome, but there will be Arctic animals around as well.
Beta testers will venture to the desert October 9-10. Here, you can expect desert animals and blizzards.
The October 23-24 beta weekend will focus on Factions and what it means to be a Prospector. Political lore will take precedence, as various factions and corporates have an interest in Icarus – and they need someone “expendable to run errands for them.” Luckily, you will be rewarded for your trouble.
A final beta weekend will take place November 6-7 with more information to be shared in the future.
RocketWerkz will confirm exact start times closer to August 28.
Anyone who pre-orders the game before release will gain access to the beta, and pre-orders can be refunded at any time no matter how long you played the beta.
Announced in June 2020, Icarus is a session-based PvE game that tasks players with surviving on a strange and obscure alien planet. There is an emphasis on crafting, gathering resources, and surviving. It also features base-building mechanics, and while going about your business, you will need to keep an eye on your oxygen levels.
The game is playable with up to eight co-op others or can be played solo.
Blizzard’s recently publicized sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by the state of California is just the latest in a long string of controversies. Between massive layoffs, numerous reports on its toxic workplace, and highly anticipated launches reportedly sabotaged by mismanagement, the last few years have dramatically altered the perception of what used to be PC gaming’s darling developer.
This timeline covers Blizzard’s most notable controversies and high-profile departures since 2018. These events help paint a broad picture of Blizzard’s recent turmoil over the past few years and can also give some useful context in its changing corporate culture and the recent allegations against it.
WoW players are pissed about Battle for Azeroth
The first half of 2018 was relatively quiet for Blizzard, but shortly after Battle for Azeroth launched in August, World of Warcraft players were up in arms. Early in v buck generator its beta, players began complaining about new systems like Azerite Armor being too confusing and unrewarding, but it seemed like Blizzard wasn’t making any positive adjustments based on that feedback. Players were upset by the non-existent communication from the development team about long standing issues. By September, things were so bad that game director Ion Hazzikostas issued an apology to the community and promised to be more communicative and fix Battle for Azeroth’s many problems.
Mike Morhaime steps down after 27 years
Morhaime had been with Blizzard since he co-founded the studio in 1991. Replacing him as president was J. Allen Brack, who had previously served as World of Warcraft’s executive producer.
There was a lot of pressure on Blizzard to wow audiences at BlizzCon 2018. World of Warcraft fans were still upset about the state of Battle for Azeroth, and its developers rolled out an ambitious roadmap of updates in an attempt to right its course. But as the keynote presentation came to a close, players thought they were about to witness the reveal of the much-anticipated Diablo 4. But as soon as principal designer Wyatt Cheng mentioned “mobile,” you could feel the excitement evaporate.
It was an enormous misstep to position the Diablo Immortal reveal as the big finale to BlizzCon. Players who had been eagerly awaiting a proper Diablo PC game felt tricked. It seemed like Blizzard was more interested in chasing trends rather than giving its audience what it wanted. Things only got worse when Cheng later asked a booing audience “What, do you guys not have phones?” after clarifying that Immortal would not release on PC. That would later become an enormous meme wielded by bitter fans.
Blizzard unexpectedly kills Heroes of the Storm’s pro scene
In the month following BlizzCon 2018, things were beginning to quiet down until December 14 when Blizzard announced that it was trimming Heroes of the Storm’s development team and outright killing its esports league just before its 2019 season. With no prior warning, entire teams, commentators, and support staff were suddenly left jobless.
Though it wasn’t surprising that Heroes of the Storm was underperforming, fans and pros were infuriated that Blizzard would wait so late in the year to break the news. Even worse, teams and insiders weren’t even given advance notice—they found out that their Heroes of the Storm careers were over at the same time as everyone else.
Below: A tweet from former Tempo Storm head coach lamenting Blizzard cancelling its HotS esports league.
This is such bullshit and I’m so upset for everyone who has ever put a minute into this scene.https://t.co/oTPo7qNUuqDecember 14, 2018
Former Blizzard employee says HR did nothing to stop racist bullying
In early January, former Blizzard employee Julian Murillo-Cuellar posted a lengthy statement on Twitter detailing the bullying and discrimination he faced while working on the Hearthstone esports team starting in 2016. Murillo-Cuellar alleged that another employee repeatedly made racist comments and harassed him, and any attempts to resolve the issue with HR and management were largely ignored. Murillo-Cuellar also claimed that he was retaliated against for speaking out and even received negative performance reviews that described him as “not a team player” and “difficult to work with.” Shortly later, Murillo-Cuellar says he began suffering from anxiety attacks and major depression and was placed on medical leave in 2017. When he was later placed on unpaid leave in 2018, Murillo-Cuellar handed in his resignation.
Following the controversy, Blizzard issued a statement that didn’t specifically comment on Murillo-Cuellar’s accusations but reiterated its commitment to “inclusive and respectful work environment.”
Activision Blizzard lays off over 800 employees
Activision Blizzard set financial records in 2018. Despite this, CEO Bobby Kotick announced in a February 2019 earnings call that his company would be laying off around 8% of its employees. This amounted to an estimated 800 people across Activision, Blizzard, and King losing their jobs.
The contrast of significant layoffs against a backdrop of record financial performance drew widespread condemnation from all corners of the industry. In a Kotaku report, employees expressed outrage at Kotick’s comments and the chaotic nature of the layoffs—which were reportedly much more extensive than anyone was anticipating. Departments like IT and esports were reportedly “gutted,” while core development teams were largely untouched.
Over the following year, Activision Blizzard sparked even more criticism when it began rehiring for many of the roles which it had initially cut, culminating in a 2020 announcement that it still needed to hire 2,000 employees to meet new demands.
Frank Pearce steps down
In July, another Blizzard co-founder announced he was leaving the company after 28 years. Though one of the less visible faces of Blizzard, Pearce led development on Warcraft 3 and was an executive producer on WoW’s Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria expansions.
Blizzard bans Hearthstone pro over “liberate Hong Kong” message
Blizzard created international outrage when it suspended Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for calling for Hong Kong’s liberation from the Chinese government during a post-match interview at the Asia Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament. At the time, Hong Kong was enveloped in chaos as hundreds of thousands of protestors fought against an extradition bill that would allow for the transfer of criminals to mainland China. Blitzchung was initially suspended for a year and stripped of his prize winnings. The two Taiwanese casters who were present during the interview were also fired.
Though Blitzchung did break one of the rules of the tournament, Blizzard’s decision to suspend him drew widespread condemnation and became a national news story. Employees staged a walk-out in protest of the decision while outraged players organized boycotts across all of Blizzard’s games. Major Hearthstone casters resigned, sponsors like Mitsubishi pulled their support from future events, and American politicians penned a bi-partisan letter condemning Blizzard’s actions. Subsequent Hearthstone tournaments stopped conducting player interviews or using webcams to show players after teams held up signs supporting Hong Kong and Blitzchung, while human rights advocacy groups called on Blizzard to overturn the suspension.
Many questioned if Blizzard’s decision was motivated by a desire to stay in the good graces of the Chinese government. Over the years, China had become an enormous part of Blizzard’s business, but government regulations are notoriously fickle, and many accused Blizzard of silencing free speech in order to protect its business interests.
Free speech protests take over BlizzCon 2019
Tensions and outrage over Blitzchung’s ban grew in severity for weeks before spilling over into BlizzCon 2019. Long before the doors opened to the Anaheim Convention Center, hundreds had gathered outside in protest.
Just before the keynote presentation began, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack took the stage to apologize for how Blizzard reacted. Brack initially didn’t specify whether Blizzard would undo its suspension, but in a PC Gamer interview later that day at the event Brack confirmed that Blizzard would be reducing Blitzchung’s ban to just six months. The two Taiwanese casters would still be fired, however. Brack denied claims that Blizzard’s decision was influenced by its Chinese publishing partner NetEase.
Warcraft 3: Reforged is a disaster
First announced during BlizzCon 2018, Warcraft 3: Reforged was an ambitious remaster that would update the original 2002 real-time strategy game with HD graphics, re-recorded cutscenes, as well as an upgraded user interface and world editor. But when it finally launched in January of 2020, Reforged had failed to deliver on many of its promises.
Maps looked significantly worse than the 2018 reveal, the re-recorded voice overs were scraped entirely, and—most upsetting of all—features that had been present in Warcraft 3 for decades, like clans and offline play, were missing. The new EULA also gave Blizzard full ownership of any mods that were made in Reforged, which greatly upset Warcraft 3’s modding community. And because Warcraft 3: Reforged effectively replaced Warcraft 3 entirely, there was no way to go back and play the original without buying a physical copy.
Players were incensed. The outrage grew so enormous that Brack finally addressed it a few weeks later and apologized for how thoroughly Blizzard missed the mark and promised that it would keep working to improve the game. A Bloomberg report released in 2021 claims that much of Warcraft 3: Reforged’s failings were due to mismanagement and Activision aggressively cutting its budget late in development, forcing the team to abandon features entirely.
Hearthstone pro claims he’s been blacklisted by Blizzard after his wife was laid off
In June of 2020, a popular Hearthstone player named Savjz claimed he had been blacklisted from competing in official tournaments because his wife, Christina Mikkonen, was one of the 800 employees laid off in 2019 and had publicly criticized Blizzard multiple times on social media. According to Mikkonen, Savjz was blacklisted after she criticized a community manager on Twitter for advertising a job opening back in July.
Blizzard responded to the accusations by clarifying that Savjz was not blacklisted but hadn’t been invited because he didn’t agree to a “request for confidentiality” about information regarding the tournament. Savjz claimed Blizzard didn’t want him sharing information with Mikkonen, which he refused. Blizzard eventually apologized to Savjz and the two reached an agreement where he could participate in future events.
Alex Afrasiabi quietly leaves Blizzard
As one of the biggest faces on World of Warcraft’s development team, Alex Afrasiabi’s sudden departure from Blizzard in June was initially a mystery. He had served as creative director for a number of years and had reportedly led development on Titan, Blizzard’s cancelled MMO. Blizzard made no statement about his departure, with players only noticing it after Afrasiabi updated his LinkedIn page to confirm he was no longer with the company.
Afrasiabi is one of the few people directly named in the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, which alleges he repeatedly groped and harassed women employees. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirmed to Kotaku in July 2021 that Afrasiabi had been terminated “for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.”
Blizzard employees share spreadsheet documenting salaries in protest over low pay
In August of last year, Bloomberg reported that Blizzard employees were anonymously sharing their salaries after discovering large wage disparities. According to sources that spoke to Bloomberg, an internal company survey revealed that many employees were unsatisfied with their pay—especially in contrast to how much Activision Blizzard executives like Kotick make. To advocate for better pay, employees created a spreadsheet and began documenting their salary and recent pay increases.
Activision Blizzard hires controversial Trump and Bush-era government officials
Activision Blizzard raised eyebrows earlier this year when it hired Frances Townsend, who had served as a homeland security advisor to president George W. Bush where she became one of the biggest political faces in America’s War on Terror. Townsend also served as a national security analyst for various news organizations, and has also been criticized for defending acts of torture like waterboarding and sleep deprivation. Townsend would serve as Activision Blizzard’s chief compliance officer, working to ensure its games didn’t run afoul of government regulators in foreign countries.
A few weeks later, Activision Blizzard also appointed Brian Bulatao, a former Trump administrator, as chief administration officer. As Kotaku reported, Bulatao became the subject of public scrutiny after a probe into Trump’s firing of an independent watchdog in the State Department. In testimony during a probe into his firing, that watchdog claimed he was fired without cause and Bulatao “tried to bully” him on multiple occasions when investigating the Trump administration.
Jeff Kaplan quits Blizzard
In April, Overwatch lead designer and Blizzard vice president Jeff Kaplan announced he was leaving the company after 19 years. The announcement was shocking, as Kaplan had become the face of Overwatch and was working on its sequel.
Activision Blizzard is sued for discrimination and sexual harassment
In July, The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing revealed it had filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard claiming that employees had faced “constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances” due to a “frat boy workplace culture.” The lawsuit was the result of a two-year investigation, in which the department claims to have uncovered many instances where employees—particularly women and minorities—were discriminated against, sexually harassed, and denied opportunities that were instead handed to less qualified candidates.
The lawsuit includes anonymous testimonies, including one instance where an employee allegedly committed suicide on a work trip after being subject by sexual harassment from a manager. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and former creative director Alex Afrasiabi were two managers named directly in the suit. It alleges that Afrasiabi sexually harassed several women while Brack allowed toxic behavior to fester within the company and did little to stop it.
Activision Blizzard leadership vehemently denied the lawsuit and called its claims “meritless,” which outraged many current and former employees who felt that they were being silenced. In the week following news of the lawsuit, dozens of former and current employees began speaking up and sharing their own experiences of harassment and toxicity at the company. Over 2,500 employees signed an open letter condemning Activision Blizzard leadership and demanding accountability, and employees also staged a walkout in protest.
The PCI Express Gen 4 interface is rapidly approaching default status, especially if you’re talking new as opposed to installed hardware. Intel’s latest desktop and mobile CPUs support it, AMD having jumped on the PCIe 4.0 wagon back in 2019. The Xbox Series X/S and Playstation 5 also support the standard.
As for solid-state drives, we’re now well through the early adopter stage, with numerous high-end PCIe 4.0 drives available, plus several value drives. The new ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite, sampled here in 2TB configuration and M.2 2280 format, falls into the latter category. But where some Gen 4 drives achieve a lower price point by using cheap and not always terribly cheerful QLC or quad-level flash memory, ADATA has managed to price TLC or triple-level flash memory into the bargain, in this case, 96-layer Micron chips.
Without wishing to instruct anyone in the fine art of orally applying a vacuum to an oocyte, as you add cell levels and therefore data density to NAND flash memory, you lose performance and endurance. QLC is slower and doesn’t last as long as TLC before wearing out. Much of that can be masked with tricks like running a portion of the drive in pseudo-SLC mode for improved performance, as is indeed the case with the Gammix S50 Lite. But you’ll catch up with the underlying performance of whatever flash memory you’re using eventually. More on which in a moment.
Anyway, how has ADATA pulled off TLC at this kind of price point? The answer, at least in part, is a more affordable PCIe Gen 4 controller chip. The original Gammix S50 was a high-end PCIe Gen 4 drive with the Phison controller. This ‘Lite’ model is cheaper and powered by the new Silicon Motion SM2267 controller.
It’s the low-cost option from SM’s latest range of PCIe 4.0 controllers. For starters, it’s fabbed on a cheaper 28nm production node, where fancier controllers are typically manufactured on 12nm or thereabouts. It’s also limited to four memory channels and two ARM Cortex R5 CPU cores. The SM2267’s SM sibling, for instance, is on 12nm, has eight memory channels and rocks four Cortex R8 cores.
That said, this new budget PCIe 4.0 controller is faster than SM’s previous-gen high-end PCIe 3.0 controller, the SM2263, with 1,200MT/s peak performance to the older chip’s 800MT/s. What’s more, the increasing density of flash chips means you can achieve large capacities with just four channels, in this case fully 2TB. One other area of arguable corner-cutting is RAM allocation. The ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite gets 1GB of DDR4 cache where you might expect 2GB for a drive with 2TB of capacity. Still, a bit less DRAM is much better than no DRAM at all.
For the record, the official performance claims include sequential throughput of 3,900MB/s for reads and 3,200MB/s and for writes, while the 4K random access is pegged at 490K read IOPS and 540K write IOPS. Overall, then, the philosophy here is actually pretty straightforward. ADATA is aiming to achieve something akin to premium eight-channel PCIe Gen 3 performance, drives like the previous-gen WD Black SN750 or the Kioxia Exceria Plus, with a lower cost quad-channel PCIe Gen 4 drive.
Rounding out the speeds, feeds and specs is 1,480TB of write endurance, which should be plenty for all but a tiny fringe of ultra-intense users and a healthy five-year warranty. Physically, this 80mm M.2 drive gets a thin, flat heat spreader which is claimed to reduce temps by up to 20%. All told, you’re looking at a cost of around three quarters that of a high-end PCIe Gen 4 drive with a more expensive eight-channel controller. So, it’s a pretty attractive proposition on paper.
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But what about, you know, the performance? Peak performance in the most forgiving benchmark, namely CrystalDiskMark 7, is in line with the claims, notching up 3.9GB/s reads and 3.2GB/s writes. The ATTO and AS SSD metrics are a little lower, but either way, the numbers are very much competitive with a high-end PCIe 3.0 drive.
As for 4K random access, again it depends somewhat on the application used. But the broad-brush conclusion is that the ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB returns if anything numbers slightly above expectation if not at all remarkable, at 71MB/s for reads and in the low to mid 200s for writes.
Temperatures are very well managed, with a peak of just 53°C in testing. The well-managed temps imply that the drop from 1.1GB/s initial internal file copy speed to a fluctuating range between 300MB/s to 500MB/s after around 350GB of data is related to exhausting the SLC cache rather than thermal throttling. However, 3,300MB/s to 500MB/s is rather lower than we would normally expect for TLC flash, so that aspect is inconclusive.
Overall, the ADATA Gammix S50 Lite 2TB delivers pretty much on the initial proposition. It largely does perform in line with a high-end PCIe 3.0 drive. The low peak operating temps are impressive too, if arguably academic given the one obvious weak area, namely sustained performance. Still, if you’re looking for a 2TB SSD with a proper five-year warranty and no performance nasties, this is worth popping on your shortlist, provided you can find it cheap enough for the proposition to hang together. Otherwise, check out our guide to the best SSDs for gaming.
Looks like there are some Halo: Infinite spoilers out in the wild.
The first technical test for Halo: Infinite multiplayer is live for Halo Insiders, and along with being able to play against bots, something else was included in the test – something 343 Industries didn’t mean to include.
That something is files related to the game’s campaign. But, of course, the files have been leaked online by data miners along with other information inadvertently included in the tech preview (thanks, Neowin).
According to the game’s project lead Joseph Staten, these files were included in the tech preview by accident.
“We unintentionally included a small v buck generator number of Halo: Infinite campaign files in the tech preview build,” Staten said in a tweet. “Unfortunately, these files contain spoilers.
“Leaks like this are painful for the dev team and can ruin the campaign experience for everyone. So please, keep your eyes peeled for spoilers, and don’t spread them if you see them.”
Apparently, there is a plaintext dump floating around which includes 800 lines of text from the campaign which describe major plot points, quests, and a “twist” in the story – according to The Verge.
Obviously, we won’t be linking to this info dump or any site that contains the information. If you want to be spoiled, you will have to go about finding it for yourself.
Halo: Infinite is out this holiday on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The launch package includes the free-to-play multiplayer, as well as the game’s campaign.
Square Enix’s new re-releases of Final Fantasy 1, 2, and 3 are strong efforts, and worthy of your attention. But there’s definitely scope to improve with patches and future ports.
Classic Final Fantasy has a bit of a ‘version problem’. When it comes to FF1 through FF6, there’s no real definitive release you can point to and tell players ‘that’s the one to play’. The new Pixel Remaster releases don’t solve this problem, but they’re certainly some of the easiest versions to recommend.
The games have been tweaked and adjusted in generally smart ways. There’s new sprite work that while potentially divisive for the 16-bit era titles is a perfect fit and undeniable improvement over the NES versions – and in particular, I think the world looks fantastic. There’s subtle balance changes that some will love and others won’t – generally speaking, this NES trio has been made a little more forgiving and thus accessible.
The absolute best piece of the puzzle is the new music, which features sublime arrangements overseen by original FF maestro Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu’s work in FF1-3 is interesting – more simplistic, stripped back and more like typical video game music – and yet the brilliance that’d go on to make him an industry leader don’t so much appear in flashes as constantly, brightly glare.
This is the sort of soundtrack that will help players who find the late eighties game design foibles of these early Final Fantasies push through the grind or the obtuse quest plotting – it’s just that good. I take my hat off to all involved with the soundtrack; it is one aspect of these releases that appears to be definitive – and I sincerely hope the same ends up true with the next three games, which face the more unpalatable prospect of replacing the already great-sounding SNES sound chip.
The soundtrack is certainly the only piece of these remasters that is definitive, however. Everything else is a little… questionable. The debate of which version of these Final Fantasy games people should play will remain fierce.
For a start, there’s the missing content. These versions of the game are based on the NES originals – and only the NES originals. That means content added in later versions is absent. There’s rough and smooth with this; on one hand, it means that the MP system introduced in later FFs and retroactively fitted to FF1’s later releases is gone, with the original ‘charge’ based magic restored. That’s a win. On the other hand, FF1 and FF2 both saw significant new content on Game Boy Advance, with new dungeons and super-bosses to challenge experienced players and extend the game experience. FF2’s GBA version sees the greatest loss of all – an entire post-game story campaign launched from the menu – a mini-sequel that works as a perfect coda to the game’s overall story.
The sprite work, as mentioned, is an undeniable improvement over the NES version, but will be a matter of taste when compared to platforms like GBA and PSP. Balance changes will inevitably divide. These are lovely versions of these games, but it does rather feel an opportunity has been missed to provide an absolutely definitive edition.
Some of these problems cannot be totally resolved. People will always inevitably debate about the sprites. Short of a graphic style toggle, there’s nothing you can do there. Likewise for balance changes – though in this instance a toggle to swap the rebalanced stats for the NES originals seems more of a reasonable ask. The biggest miss is the content, though – while not central to the game, it sort of sucks to have that stuff missing, as those extras really brought later versions of FF1 and FF2 to life.
It’s true that Square Enix doesn’t have the greatest track record of following up these releases with patches and updates to maximize their representation of these classic games – but one does rather live in hope that all this might be addressed in a console version that could also come to PC and mobile as a version update. Square Enix has made tweaks like this in the past with certain re-releases – though as mentioned, their track record with this sort of thing is extremely spotty.
I’ve seen a lot of belly-aching about this since these games were announced, but let’s put cards on the table: the FF Pixel Remasters will come to console. To be honest, the grapevine is already a-rattlin’ with word of work on those versions being ongoing, in fact. This is just how Square Enix operates. If you look at Final Fantasy 9, it was ported to iOS, Android, and PC in 2016. The next year, a PS4 version followed – and then later still, it arrived on Switch and Xbox. The same was true for FF7, which made its way to iOS months before hitting PS4, gradually winding its way to other platforms. The Pixel Remasters will surely be the same.
If we accept that these releases are indeed coming and they’re just seeing a staggered arrival, the next question is what Square Enix can change to improve the later offerings. They certainly can improve the god-awful typeface , given that industrious folk have already figured out how to swap the Pixel Remaster font for a better one. But could they also consider additional features, or additional content? I sure hope so.
Even if the company chooses to swerve those options, however, these remasters are still pretty reasonable ways to play these classic games. It’s of course the only official way to play the original 2D Final Fantasy 3 in English, but for FF1 and 2 it’s now a respectable port on modern devices, replacing some truly abysmal previous mobile and PC efforts.
With all that said, if you have access to them I’d still advise one to at least consider the PSP and GBA versions of FF1 and 2. As explained above, which you go for will depend on personal preference. If the content gets added later, these will be the definitive versions, though. So come on, Square – finish the job! Buck the trend – and deliver some truly definitive versions.
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, a Russian adventure that's not as porny as it sounds, but whose surrealism might make you gag in a very different way…
Sorry. Normally I try to find something interesting and a little bit unusual for you. This week though, I'm afraid we're going to have to resort to that most tired and cliched of gaming staples: secret agents struggling with sexual inadequacy after being bitten on the penis by a poisoned penguin.
And they say zombies are overplayed.
So… yeah. GAG: The Impotent Mystery. It's a rare example of a Russian adventure that got an international release, but only technically. It seems that there were only about 20 copies sent out—three for the Dutch, seven for the English, nine for the Germans, and one for the Dark Lord on his dark throne, in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie. If more people have come into contact with any sticky part of it, it's because one of its minigames was cut out and released as freeware—an erotic Tetris clone. Erotic as in naked people for blocks, not sexy blocks. Unless you're into that.
Nothing like that happens in GAG of course. There doesn't even seem to be any actual nudity in the English version, though apparently there is some in the original Russian one. (Edit: Apparently not, though there was a soft-core expansion—no comment—called Gary's Vacation.)
It's… ah… an odd adventure, to put it mildly. The title screen alone is head-tilting, as a naked woman in silhouette slides back and forth over a line, before being knocked off it by the falling game logo and turning into a waving penguin. With me so far? Good. It won't last.
From there, we find out that the main character, Gary Tusker, is a member of an agency charged with, and I quote, the Prevention of Sexual And Religious Perversions. From there, a spooky introduction more suitable for a horror game kicks off, with graves and zombies and scantily clad ladies being beamed around… and then talking to demon creatures about plans to kidnap a girl called the Marquese. Then our hero wakes up and has a hallucination based on Doom in which he blows up his telephone with a rocket launcher, and also is a cut-rate virginal Fabio whose hobbies include using a telescope to peek at and film girls in other buildings, and porn. And that is all.
It gets weirder. Go to bed, and you can sleep, a narrator intoning that “Gary slept. But he knew he should wake up at the first click of the mouse. That was a habit developed over the years.” Instead, it takes a couple, after which he groans “OK, stop that clicking, I'm up already!” You can also opt to have a wet dream, which consists of him dreaming about a race between some racing cars, tribal warriors, elephants, rhinos and buses.
The TV—tuned to Horny News, as if there's any other kind—has an announcement about the game's designer being declared the Sexiest Man In The World. His name incidentally is pronounced “Cop off” by at least the English dub. Narrative determinism, ho? Maybe! Then there's a mini-game where you stab flies on a table with a fork because… yummy protein?
Also, he owns these…
The actual plot kicks off with a call from Gary's boss. “If I never hear from you again, scumbag, it'll be too soon,” she growls, despite having phoned him. She assigns him to the Marquese case, responding to his question about whether she's hot with, “What's it to you, limpo?” Also, the phone/fax machine burps out print-outs because… I don't know. On the wall, flies are having sex. One of them poops on Gary's diploma. You also have to cook the flies you already gathered in a microwave.
Oh, and this is in the toilet. If you get the reference, award yourself a point.
Anyway, all detectives have helpers. Gary’s is Lao, the kind of Chinese stereotype that… oh, I have no words. Not only does he have a ‘comedy’ accent, his face has been run through Kai’s Power Goo or similar just to really get its racism on. Anyway, he swaps voyeur porn for items, including “North Korean Passport”, “Globe Of Taiwan” and “Huge Pack Of Dodgy Second Hand Luminous Condoms.” What he actually provides are a gynaecologist’s ID and some house keys. You can also flick through a porn mag where the topless ladies are censored by a penguin and I think I just went insane.
Yep. That was it. Hurt less than expected. I can now hear fuchsia.
Wow. Even the caption I wrote refuses to be associated with that picture.
Heading out to what I vaguely remember being an assignment, Gary finds himself at a spooky castle with en suite teleport hole to THE FUTURE. Blue portal in. Orange portal out. It reminds me of something, but I can't put my finger on exactly what.
You're then mugged by a guy in a robot mech who will only let you into the castle if you prove you're a member of the military Corps of “Ginaecologists” using that convenient ID from earlier. Confused? You should see some of the stuff I'm leaving out. Like the flying turkey in Gary's microwave. I'd mention it, but it would be a distraction.
Or how about that minigame? Yes, you obviously need to match up the rutting couples. It's tough going though, and you don't know exactly what the game wants you to match up. As with Tetris, the drop rate is brutal, and you need to get a seriously high score to win an item you need to finish the game.
Unlike Tetris, not winning ultimately results in the completion of an evil scheme, because past a certain point in the game a bug means that you're not allowed to play it any more.
Nnnngh. I've never been drunk, but this is what I imagine it would be like to play Myst after a whole crate of absinthe. The castle isn't as overtly wacky as the apartment, but it's still got levers that detect your mouse pointer and lock you out, codes written under mats that trip you up while you're standing on them, random military equipment just sitting around, and of course, this professional blockade…
In fact, I'm just going to copy a few things from the walkthrough I found myself using after about five minutes. I think the snippets say more than an attempt to explain ever could.
“When you wake up, you are facing a guillotine and only have your iberium in inventory. Quickly look down at your feet–you notice a candle burning the rope that holds the guillotine up. You now must spit accurately to dampen the candle. When you have success, you are taken a little closer to it. Trial and error will get you there. Finally, you reach out and put out the flame between your finger. You then realize you weren't even tied up!”
“Use the lingerie on the area below to make a bungee cord. You have to calculate how many bras and panties to use to reach the motorboat without overshooting it. It has an instant do-over if you fail, so don't worry about experimenting. You are given a drawing board schematic. There are three combinations that work: 3 bras and 5 panties, 4 bras and 3 panties, or 5 bras and 1 panty.”
And let's not forget the finale:
“Pick up the spell book. The Marquise appears, ready to do you in. Quickly throw the spell book in the fire. The evil is banished, the castle and the Marquise destroyed. This leads to the first end sequence cutscene of a war machine hoedown!”
Incidentally, they're Satanists. Or something. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. I'm just grateful that at this point, both of the game CDs were suddenly snapped in half by an unseen force you cannot prove does not exist.
GAG only officially came out in Russia and the Netherlands (where this English dubbed version also hails from) though I've been told there was a German release as well. The scary part? Crazy as is it is, GAG did well enough to get at least one sequel. I shall repeat that. There is a sequel and it is real!
I think I'd rather eat the game discs. Both at once, as a hyper-crunchy ham sandwich. Only with a baguette instead of the CDs. I'd also like a Kit-Kat. Excuse me. Trip to the shops beckons.
It's a big deal for Halo that Halo Infinite's multiplayer includes bots. It's a first for the 20-year-old series, aside from the PvE Firefight mode that debuted with Halo ODST and the bots in a single game mode in Halo 5 called Warzone that was cool in theory, but also saddled with microtransactions. Bots being available in every multiplayer mode means Halo newcomers can practice against easier opponents, and players who love Capture the Flag but don't want to deal with other human beings online can just jam by themselves. I expected all of this going into Infinite's technical test, but I didn't expect the bot names to make me laugh out loud.
I didn't really consider the fact that Infinite's bots would even have names, but it makes sense in hindsight. The scoreboard would be pretty dull with human names on one side and 'Bot 1' 'Bot 2' 'Bot 3' 'Bot 4' on the other. 343 Industries also could've gone with character names from the Halo series, but they did something much better, putting together an eclectic pool of philosophers and historical figures, deep cut movie references and what I assume are in-jokes, but they work for me anyway.
Despite some of these bots being named after very smart people, they're not geniuses on the battlefield. On Friday 343 Industries kicked the difficulty up a notch, but the bots are still going to be a breeze for the average Halo player. Another difficulty level up the pole may provide a decent challenge. So far they're competent, for the most part, but sometimes they get a bit… confused.
Still, these names: they're great! Better than 99% of gamertags, that's for sure.
Here are my favorite Halo Infinite bots so far. I'm looking forward to meeting more.
The philosophers and historical figures
The foods and movies that might also be completely different references
The needler never gets the respect it deserves. Halo fans have always raved about the Halo 1 pistol and the battle rifle, or the plasma sword or the Halo Reach grenade launcher or even the Covenant carbine, but dammit: I love the needler. And it looks like the combat designers for Halo Infinite do, too, because after a couple hours of hands-on with the multiplayer technical test, I think this might be the strongest the needler's ever been.
I love the tiktiktiktik sound it makes as it fires out a quick sequence of razorlike purple crystals. I love that it homes in a little bit, because I'm a bad shot. I love the excitement and tension of those needles building up to a critical mass where they explode, instantly killing my target. Firing the needler is making a bet that I'll land enough needles to flip its damage from puny to mighty, rewarding me with that purple cloud of death.
I'll admit that needler in Halo: Combat Evolved was a joke, though. Sure, you could use it in the campaign to blow up some grunts, but it took way too many needles to trigger an explosion on other Spartans in multiplayer. Three pistol shots in your head and you'd be toast, your needler still half full. In Halo 2 the needler wasn't much better by itself, but with the power of dual wielding it was fearsome: if you could get your hands on two needlers, you could pump a Spartan full of explosive purple in a blink.
Bungie really gave the needler the buff it deserved in Halo 3, making it strong enough to stand solo in a firefight. I'm sure there are Halo purists who hated that being killed by or using a weapon with homing powers, but that was just fine with me: it meant the needler was pretty much always sitting there on the map waiting for me when I wanted it.
I'm pretty sure the needler remained formidable in Halo Reach and Halo 4, but I don't remember if it was as good at tracking and as quick to hit its explosion point as it is in Halo Infinite. Infinite has a pretty quick time-to-kill, so I'm not sure if the needler really sticks out as unbalanced. But is it good? Oh yes, it's good.
Get ready to dodge spoilers for the next four months, because Halo Infinite story details have already started to leak. Players checking out the first technical test flight for Halo Infinite on PC and Xbox have datamined a slew of story details from the multiplayer-exclusive preview build, and they're already starting to appear online.
343 Industries creative lead Joseph Staten confirmed on Twitter that some campaign files were “unintentionally included” in the build that went out to players and asked those who have seen them not to spoil the game for others. “Leaks like this are painful for the dev team and can ruin the campaign experience for everyone,” Staten tweeted.
Leaks like this are painful for the dev team and can ruin the campaign experience for everyone. So please, keep you eyes peeled for spoilers and don’t spread them if you see them.❤️ 2/2July 30, 2021
I've taken a look at a lot of what leaked and, honestly, Halo Infinite might be a difficult game to spoil. The info dump includes story beats and descriptions of objectives, most of which are hard to parse without context. After all, what we've previously seen of Infinite seems like a fresh start with mostly new characters on a new Halo ring. Also included is a list of achievement titles and weapons that we already know about or that you can probably guess based on earlier gameplay reveals. It's possible I dodged some groundbreaking revelation, though, so diehard Halo fans should probably bury their heads in the sand to be safe.
Halo community director Brian Jarrard advised people who have datamined the information that posting it on public channels will result in DMCA takedowns. “You run a very real risk of getting a takedown notice, which could result in a strike on certain platforms. If you have already posted content, we recommend removing it from your channel proactively,” he tweeted.
The most obvious places I can see this happening are YouTube and Twitter, both platforms that are swift to act on DMCA claims, so post at your own risk. Also, don't post a bunch of spoilers for a game that nobody can play for months, ya knuckleheads.
We've been playing the technical test ourselves and will be sharing some thoughts soon. What's there now is still pretty light (we've been shooting a lot of bots and running gun drills), but it definitely feels like next-gen Halo.
I'm not sure why a hex map is so instantly appealing to me, honestly—maybe it's a reminder of old D&D campaigns from my teen years where world maps were drawn on hexagonal graph paper instead of on a square grid. Hex maps just have an extra bit of wonder and mystery to them, I think.
So when I see a hex map in a game I'm always interested, and that goes triple for the one shown in the trailer for Hexoplanet. Because, wow. It's beautiful.
In Hexoplanet, which is being developed by artist and engineer Max Gittel, “You take control over a robot civilization that recently achieved self-consciousness and needs to prepare a new planet for their masters, the humans.” As in games like Factorio and Satisfactory, you gather resources, build factories, produce products, manage logistics, research tech, and transport materials around the map to where they're needed most using trucks, trains, and boats.
Sounds fun, but mainly I'm just in awe of how beautiful this hexy world looks. I think it's the most beautiful hex world I've ever seen, in fact. Swampy marshes with little lily pads, chunky little ice floes floating off the coast, wheat fields, poofy trees, hexes stacked up to form plateaus and mountains, plus there's some really lovely shaders and atmospheric effects at play. Even the heavily industrialized areas somehow look beautiful, with little smokestacks pumping out adorable clouds of pollution and cargo ships churning through murky brown waters.
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And perhaps there's more to it than a beautiful hex world and a network of resource management. At the end of the trailer, self-replicating bot #392094343 takes a look at the label on its arm, which reads Property of Humans, and then gazes into the sky. Maybe we're in for a little robot revolution?
Hexoplanet is currently in development, with an “anticipated” release next year.