In the seasonal theme of introspection, we at SB towers are trying to limit anything that feels like actual work as another year comes to its end.
With that in mind, Squareblind looks over an entire year of videogaming through the prism of social media.
2018 saw legitimate questions being raised online about the human toll of an intense game development schedule such as the one required to finally release Red Dead Redemption 2. In particular, media began to ask whether such reportedly high pressure working environments employed by Rockstar Games to create the much-delayed game was justified in order to generate a commercially successful digital world that promises the lifelike spectacle of a realistic horse’s backside. Everything has a cost.
The year also was notable for real world politics increasingly seeping into and influencing modern game development and design, while titles such as Fortnite, thanks to some nifty celebrations from footballing superstars, became a significant part of the pop culture landscape in 2018.
So let’s get started.
We kicked off the year with our very own Josh Hewer taking one of his trademark strident views on fears that microtransactions as a business model risked ruining traditional progress in gaming, especially in otherwise enjoyable RPG fare such as Knights of Pen and Paper 2.
He wrote, “This is a game where the classic classes and races of any high fantasy fare, were merged with real-life player cliques such as ‘hipsters’, ‘Jock’, or ‘goths’.”
However, our man found that relying on mandatory financial transactions to drive timely and meaningful progression in the game could be reductive to the industry if adopted at a wider level.
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) January 6, 2018
In another recurring trend for the year, reflections on the depiction of real world historical figures and political campaigns also grew in prominence in mainstream media as an example of the challenges in catering to an evermore vocal and diverse player base…..
When #gaming seeks to be more evocative in terms of storytelling, the industry is now under much more pressure to get characters right when delving into issues of race, culture and sexuality. Even #superMario isn’t immune https://t.co/fkvOZNlNLE
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) January 11, 2018
The latest Civilisation game’s approach to recreate figures ranging from Ghandi to Genghis Khan raised questions over how sensitively groups of people and causes are being portrayed in a simulation that doubles as entertainment. Don’t worry we will come back to the theme.
We also looked at an attempt to create a sequel to a retro home console classic with Double Dragon 4 on the Playstation 4. Despite offering the option of a more orchestral operatic score – the title was content to serve as a direct sequel to a decades old game as if there had not been any technological innovation or industry progression in the meantime. Outside of a nostalgic thrill, there are clearly some problems in blind adherence to an older way of making games and pretending time hasn’t passed.
Neil Merrett wrote at the time, “Double Dragon 4 does emulate perfectly something that was, depending on your view, a fondly remembered or detested game from the past. It is a time capsule, but what is the point of a time capsule if it is not something that can be learned or improved upon, even down to graphical glitches?”
To look or not to look back. That is the question. Take the strange case of 2017’s #DoubleDragon 4. A #retro sequel almost-three decades in the making and proud to learn no new tricks https://t.co/D71oTKWEPW
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) January 14, 2018
The perils of remaking games was further highlighted the following month when popular 16-bit multiplayer RPG The Secret of Mana was released on PS4 with a new facelift and soundtrack, yet critical reception proved underwhelming for the anticipated project.
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) February 18, 2018
The digital ravages of age once again so to speak, where a focus on overhauling the look and music of an iconic game failed to address the dangers of dated gameplay sufficiently.
Squareblind also considered one of the year’s largest sporting events in the form of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, specifically looking at how the games industry had previously attempted to immortalise winter sports in interactive media.
With the #WinterOlympics2018 having come to a close, Squareblind laments the lack of more obscure sports sims finding their way to consoles and asks whether motion controls on the #wii fully realised their potential for sports sims https://t.co/ZDnr5kfXuO
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) February 26, 2018
To this end, was the somewhat maligned, if once hugely popular era of motion controlled games that peaked with the launch of Nintendo’s Wii, actually a golden era for recreating more obscure Olympic sports such as Curling?
We wrote at the time, “You know the one, the Olympic sport where four people gently try to slide coloured stones towards certain target points on a modified ice rink, using brooms to manipulate the ice to allow for a more streamlined or resistant path for movement. In its own way, this was the perfect sport for the motion control era of games.
“Families or teams of four are given specific roles that they must stick to for the rest of the contest. The captain, has the sole responsibility to pick a spot to aim their next stone at – only they can choose. Another player must then act out a sliding motion along the ground, feeling what level of power is needed to shift an opponent’s stones or hit a target area.”
“It is an esoteric sport that is unlikely to become one of the world’s most mainstream televised events, yet in the form of a videogame minigame, there is something wonderful in virtual curling.”
In the meantime, perhaps anticipating the release of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 later in the year, analysts began to make predictions about the danger of a well-timed release….
Researching video game releases from the past twenty years and the main trend I’ve discovered so far is “release your Triple A game at least a quarter away from a Rockstar release or else.”
— George Osborn (@GeorgeOsborn) February 26, 2018
An alarming, but not entirely unprecedented trend of 2018 was the frequency of gun violence across the US – often tinged with political or racist elements. As the country’s gun industry sought to distance themselves from any culpability or need for legal reform, videogame violence was yet again a scapegoat.
So the industry took it upon itself to try and show a much broader artistic, sometimes therapeutic side of gaming beyond blowing things to pieces….
As the erratic US political spotlight shines falls again on the issue of #Videogame violence; a new industry-led initiative is trying to fight back with context by looking at “the emotional & beautiful moments from titles that could be argued as predominantly violent.” #GunReform https://t.co/1CuLWQ3pzb
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) March 13, 2018
The psychological impact of gaming violence is clearly one that requires nuance and understanding, yet the sometimes fantastical nature of fictitious game worlds being used to illustrate perceived fears over the inherent violence of the medium was quickly seized upon by social media…..
— Logan Sama @ 2019 already (@djlogansama) March 8, 2018
On a more prosaic topic, Josh Hewer also wrote about the rather unique sporting RPG Golf Story on Nintendo Switch and how it seeks to capture the essence of a sport and hobby in a way traditional simulations may fail to achieve….
Forget Tiger Woods or the trusty Megadrive #PGATour games, Squareblind’s own @MegaAlligator finds that it is the fantastically off-the-wall RPG #golfstory that really captures how sports and hobbies can ruin your life in a very simple way https://t.co/VIxWRTAsRV
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) March 7, 2018
Squareblind also this year launched a new ongoing series of articles and podcasts looking at what makes a perfect – although not necessarily good – videogame movie.
This started most obviously with the Super Mario Bros movie. A film that was critically and commercially mauled at its release, yet is still fondly remembered by audiences at the time. The movie is a fascinating time capsule of the era it was made and perceptions of video games as art.
As we noted at the time that there are stranger Super Mario stories than the one of two brothers battling through an autocratic police city state overseen by humanoids evolved from dinosaurs. Yet sadly the game’s appeal of precision jumps and persistence defied 90s cinematic conventions…
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) March 25, 2018
A “Wild West” of game development…..
Are olders games always at danger of being irrelevant decades down the line? #Zelda on the NES offers some hope… “The NES was the Wild West of game development, I thought, lawless and free…” https://t.co/Ed1Stlzsnm
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) April 9, 2018
As an example of the dangers of making bold predictions, Squareblind entered April by analysing why at the time, it looked unlikely that Nintendo would embrace the increasingly popular free-to-play Battle Royale shooter, Fortnite.
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) April 9, 2018
Already available on a range of platforms, Josh Hewer noted how the mainstream nature of the game didn’t seem to suit Nintendo’s long standing approach to third player titles.
A Nintendo Switch version was then released on June 12th, proving skilled analysts are not infallible and that even the big N can learn lucrative new tricks.
In another comment piece published the same monht, Neil Merrett noted that online only titles such as Overwatch have evolved to become a communications window for millions of people – similar to the way Skype was once a tool to catch up with loved ones around the world just a decade earlier.
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) April 29, 2018
Outside of the realm’s of console gaming, Squareblind contributor JJ Robinson looked at the PC strategy title Frostpunk and how it serves as both an entertaining game, as well as a civics lesson on the often brutal nature of political compromises. A game it seems where victory does not always feel like winning……
Frostpunk: when innovating the ultimate boss battle, as what cost does victory come when you turn to cold uncaring politics? Finally a #godsim for our fragile times https://t.co/lYcDtTVjWR pic.twitter.com/0crmQxkRVW
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) May 13, 2018
We also considered the growing number of titles adding photo modes that allows players to take in-game selfies of their characters and actions, even in the fantasy world of the latest God of War game.
Neil Merrett noted that the growing importance of allowing selfies within video games – even within ye olde fantasy quests – was telling of our changing interactions with the world around us and how we seek to tell and share stories.
#Kratos: God of selfies – Sometimes, it takes a videogame to show us that the act of taking a selfie is a very human – if annoying – way of telling personal stories #godofwar #gaming #selfieart https://t.co/F5aFgWflJM pic.twitter.com/z5SQAs99XK
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) May 19, 2018
Another pertinent theme of 2018 was the ongoing tension faced in balancing free speech and artistic expression on the internet with a sense of common decency and respect – not as easy as it may sound.
The online marketplace Steam that is owned by Valve Software faced a particular challenge in deciding against curating the games that were being offered to its vast user base.
A title called Aids Simulator on the platform is certainly provocative, and no doubt distasteful for many, but is there a place in the market for outright censorship of titles and what does this mean for games that might seek to be genuinely challenging?
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) June 7, 2018
On a similar theme, Kotaku carried an interesting piece from journalist Luke Winkie on a 22-year old developer seeking to purge certain players from a mod he developed for the game Hearts of Iron IV. He targeted players creating hypothetical alternate futures based on real world fascists coming to power.
Fascinating from @luke_winkie on #HeartsofIron4 and when the fantastical nature of alternative gaming history intersects with real-world fascist ideology when simulating the future as well as the early 20th century. “An era of fascism, communism, political revolt, and genocide” https://t.co/WItYMQB8yO
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) June 14, 2018
June also saw 2018’s E3 event taking place in the US as a means to set out the direction of travel for the industry over the next few years…..
Now that @keefstuart and I have had a bit of time to think, here are the games that stayed with us after playing almost everything at E3 (thanks @peterallenclark for the help covering it all!): https://t.co/8T7BhKNsm2
— Keza MacDonald (@kezamacdonald) June 19, 2018
Released several months earlier at the end of January, Monster Hunter World saw a longstanding adventure/hunting series finally becoming a huge mainstream hit. The series is based on the appeal of dragon hunting and slaying mythical creatures in order to help forge new armours and weapons capable of bringing down ever more timorous beasties.
After huge success in Japan and more modest sales in the west – often on handhelds – Capcom’s latest title in the series has gone on to become its biggest game of all time after moving the series on to the latest generation consoles.
Squareblind considered how the title compared to the esoteric adventure game The Last Guardian on PS4. While both are focused on interacting with beautifully rendered gigantic creatures, they offer a very different approach to understanding our species’ complex relationship with animals and the natural world.
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) July 7, 2018
In other major developments over the month….
my brother bought a copy of god of war from a used game store and they didnt have a cover so they drew one. on the back of a disney video game cover. im screaming pic.twitter.com/5XMkcJYy9X
— bront (@brcnte) June 19, 2018
In a throwback to a long since dormant franchise, Squareblind also looked at how the Driver series sought to carve out a new identity for itself after being eclipsed by the increasingly grand and ambitious open world of the Grand Theft Auto series.
The #Driver game series’ adoption of a #metaphysical mechanic to change vehicles always felt like a cost saving move to limit programming – not everyone agrees with our latest piece. But then the art of a good car game is a subjective thing afterall https://t.co/uvVYkbsmeW
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) July 24, 2018
Ahead of the upcoming release of a high profile new Spider-Man game seeking to maximise the potential of the Playstation 4, we took a look at spidey’s first Playstation outing in the year 2000.
The game was arguably one of the most important attempts at trying to create a satisfying superhero game. It did this by understanding one of the most important factors of the genre that many other titles have still failed to understand and capture – in this case, being an overpowered character – not traditionally good for making a game challenging – is the very point of the super hero fantasy.
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) August 3, 2018
As gamers of all different beliefs, backgrounds and tastes flock to the industry, it was also good to see that the industry beginning to accept dietary preference as an important in-game consideration….
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) August 10, 2018
Amidst broader concerns about the psychological impacts of gaming on society and the development of young people on a physical and mental level, GamesIndustry.biz asked if games had a capability to sway our politics for both good and bad?
“Wolfenstein: The New Colossus seems more effective as a way to vent anger about Nazis than a way to sway people away from Nazi positions.” https://t.co/Gv1T2P8p8v
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) August 10, 2018
Staying on the theme, Squareblind meanwhile considered the role games can play in helping us understand both our best and worst aspects under pressure – in this case filtered through the retro arcade classic Gauntlet 2.
In the three decades since Gauntlet 2 hit the #NES, games have got quite adept at showing us some of our shortcomings and, perhaps in a redemptive way, how we can look to succeed despite them https://t.co/138jc9r6j0 #retrogaming pic.twitter.com/5Ps1dr0sgA
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) August 20, 2018
September opened with Squareblind relaunching our longstanding series of podcasts with Flixels, a programme that seeks to find out whether films can ever effectively convey the experience of a great videogame. For instance, can Goundhog Day may tell us more about gaming that the Mortal Kombat movie?
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) September 1, 2018
From a business perspective, the growing acceptance of digital downloads of games, particularly popular indie titles, saw high street games specialists such as Game in the UK continue to struggle. But is it fair to say that the days of owning boxed games coming to an end is inevitable when companies still seek to offer special physical copies for collectors?
Quite amazed at some of the shift’s at Game stores over the last decade concerning PC gaming and all the accoutrements and snackage on sale, is there a minimum form that the company can survive in, or are its days inevitably numbered? https://t.co/AHJzJ9SzNd
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) September 13, 2018
After all, what would gamers do without classic examples of videogame box art…..
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) September 13, 2018
In an attempt to get some wider perspective on the industry, Squareblind contributor JJ Robinson took himself off to Gamescon in Germany to look at the pressures facing media in covering larger developers seeking to very tightly control what is said about their products….
“Attending Gamescon as a ‘tradesman’ gave me great respect for games media publishers who take on challenging stories, such as the recent @Kotaku investigation of abhorrent fratboy sexism at #RiotGames.” https://t.co/NC5vxqlea2
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) September 18, 2018
A growing number of female gamers does not it seem necessarily make it easier to enter the industry when not a male…
“If the answer is to bring more women into code, but I can’t safeguard their existence… is that an irresponsible move?” https://t.co/57k4bRsQjE
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) September 25, 2018
As we entered October, it was the indy development scene that continued to arguably put out some of the most unique approaches to game design and narrative….
“The insurgents-planting-IED pixels are indistinguishable from the children-playing-catch pixels.” What better way to considers the perils of #gamification that via the medium of videogames themselves? https://t.co/JEzjNILDSq https://t.co/1HndORQ1W0
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) October 9, 2018
Interestingly, this more thoughtful approach also extended to looking at how the industry can play a role in trying to face up and manage mental health issues, perhaps through emphasising with others through gameplay itself.
— Steve Smith (@CitizenSleeve) October 10, 2018
Writing for the chaps at Games Freezer, Squareblind’s Neil Merrett tried to get into the ‘bullet hell’ genre of shooters with Azure Reflections. In this case, the niche appeal of an intense pixie blaster just didn’t cut it as an exciting introduction for newbies, at least for our reviewer.
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) October 15, 2018
Squareblind was also pleased, or rather relieved to finally meet someone with a camera rig to begin tentatively streaming videogame content, such as a marathon session of movie tie ins from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.
The special event, devised to celebrate ten years of the Battle Royale With Cheese blog, sought to ask big questions about whether Michael Jackson, the actor Sam Neill and Uncle Fester from the Addams Family were ever suitable candidates to become gaming icons.
Do we need movie tie-ins anymore? In the last decade, #games have increasingly developed their own effective techniques for conveying satire, loss, companionship & #mentalhealth in a manner that while still cinematic, is completely unique to the medium. https://t.co/0tdNNRgcp2 pic.twitter.com/zMNGIfpZFx
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) October 16, 2018
With the official launch of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 late in October after years of development and delays, games journalism did no harm in its coverage of the human toll on the massive team of developers working on the Western epic.
As one of the most technically sophisticated and critically successful games of the current console generation, it was interesting to see that the developers attitude to a considerable workforce of developers being considered alongside the quality of the game they helped bring to fruition.
Lovely from @kirkhamilton on #RedDead2 – considers not only the art, but the human cost of a product, whether a cowboy videogame or something physical: “A remarkable work of game development and, possibly, a turning point in how we remark upon the work of game development.” https://t.co/5Bu6VzsWUu
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) October 25, 2018
Taking time out of his busy schedule to launch a new web show based on the classic digitiser gaming publication ran on teletext – ask your parents – gaming journo Paul Rose, affectionately known as ‘Mr Biffo’ shared some thoughts with Squareblind on whether a genre such as the arcade brawler ever died. With the popularity of titles such as Bloodborne, Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, is it fair to say that brawlers have evolved in to a very different type of game?
Is #Bloodborne proof that videogame genres never die? Living Teletext legend @mrbiffo shares a few thoughts on the strange mutations happening to once traditional types of games such as the brawler https://t.co/cqWmlQlNxR pic.twitter.com/2xDhPExxuD
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) October 28, 2018
In an attempt for a little more high brow criticism, November saw the Guardian looking at the influential writer Martin Amis’ early encounters with arcade videogames and how he saw their formative appeal….
“’Perhaps the foul-mouthed arcade youths aren’t just improving geometrical and spatial awareness: they’re searching for the meaning of life,’ [Amis] ambitiously wonders. ‘Certainly, he believes that the video game’s challenge invites self-improvement.'” https://t.co/y4rVs11SFE
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) November 5, 2018
In the present day, we looked at Overcooked 2, the colourful multiplayer kitchen chaos simulator and its ability to perfectly demonstrate the human condition when under pressure at both its best and worst, especially when interacting with other people.
“When a carefully planned system is suddenly thrown into chaos due to burnt pasta, or an earthquake making a chopping board temporarily unreachable, how do we cope when we ourselves or those around are succumbing to confusion?”
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) November 11, 2018
In another example of facing up to the nuance and complexities of human nature, we also looked at how the open world design of Red Dead Redemption 2 allows gamers to express all number of violent, creative or stylistic choices in the safety of a digital realm.
Yet when streamers begin monetising videos of the main character torturing and murdering suffragette characters in the game with brutal, sometimes creative methods, are there limits to the type of behaviours that games should allow and where, once again, do you draw the line on censorship?
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) November 26, 2018
Paper published by Dr Jennifer Tichon & Dr Timothy Mavin in the academic journal ‘Social Science Computer Review’ into impacts of #videogames found people more confident in their abilities. “Many also associated themselves with the same resilient traits as their characters.” https://t.co/KmCZPnplIY
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) December 3, 2018
In seeing out the year, it was perhaps fitting to look at the launch of Smash Brothers Ultimate on Nintendo Switch.
To mark what is Nintendo’s biggest launch of the year, we looked at the origins, pitfalls and challenges from creating a shared gaming universe where Mario can set upon Sonic the Hedgehog and Pikachu with a baseball bat.
But with dozens of unique game characters from a wide variety of genres, how do you bring them together into a single satisfying game experience?
Marvel got plaudits in 2012 for bringing together characters from a variety of film genres into a single coherent story. Yet #Nintendo did this decades earlier, bringing a range of characters with very different programming into 1 coherent fighting game https://t.co/GnJIAL3ot0 pic.twitter.com/MbycMYwHx3
— squareblind.co.uk (@squareblind) December 10, 2018
And that’s our round-up of Squareblind’s year in gaming, we hope to see you all early in 2019 for more pretentious takes on games and how they get us through the day. Until there, have a very happy New Year.