Picture of a gaming controller.
Aug 31, 2021

Axios Gaming

I hope your Tuesday is going well. It’s Stephen with the final Axios Gaming newsletter of the month.

  • Tomorrow is “A Day Off Twitch,” a one-day streamer boycott meant to call attention to the problems of hate speech and harassment on Amazon’s streaming service.
  • Today's edition is 1,200 words, a 4.5-minute read.
1 big thing: A game about that boat

Screenshot: Napas Torteeka

A newly revealed PC game called “Whatever” will give players a rough approximation of what it’s like to steer a container ship through a tight canal, a half year after its inspiration, the Ever Given, got unstuck from the Suez.

Why it matters: For all the thousands of video games that are made each year, it’s rare that one is based, however loosely, on the news.

  • Any good game like that takes time, because games, like large container ships, are difficult to steer to completion.
  • For context: a blockbuster 2011 PlayStation game inspired by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina felt unusually timely.
  • And when a major game released this April referred to a “redneck mob storming D.C.,” its creators said that could only be a coincidence, given production timelines.

The details: “Whatever” is a small indie game. It’s coming from 36-year-old Bangkok-based amateur game developer Napas “Jet” Torteeka, who told Axios over Discord that he last made a game 15 years ago.

  • In March, he was tinkering with some game development tools while looking for an idea, when he opened up Facebook and saw the news about the Ever Given.
  • “I just wondered: How could that be possible!?” he said. “What were the captain and the crew doing to get it stuck that way?”
  • He got to work making a prototype of a game in which you steer a ship through narrow, winding passages.

Gaming projects about the Ever Given have been infrequent so far.

  • In late March, a player modified “Microsoft Flight Simulator” so users could fly over the stuck ship.
  • In the spring, the developer of a game called “Panama Canal Simulator” swiftly released a variation called “Suez Canal Simulator” and in July added the Ever Given to it for players to pilot.

The big picture: The slowness of game development is one obstacle limiting the creation of games tied to the news. The will to “go there,” especially with politically fraught topics, is a factor too.

  • For decades, the industry turned out big-budget, flag-waving war games largely about World War II before finally — and only briefly —focusing any on the more fraught Vietnam War.
  • Even if developers are ready, platform holders can be restrictive, as one indie creator found in 2014 when Apple initially blocked his pro-Palestinian game.

What’s next: Torteeka is releasing an “early access” version of “Whatever” in late September.

  • He hopes players will find his game revelatory. It is cartoonish but designed to simulate the feeling of steering a heavy object while fighting inertia.
  • “When I first played my prototype,” he said, “I knew how amazing every cargo ship captain is.”
2. Nintendo frustrates its fans
"Super Smash Bros. Brawl." Image: Nintendo (via MobyGames)

The organizers of a September fighting game tournament called Riptide have canceled the “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” portion of the event, citing Nintendo’s objections to the planned use of an unauthorized mod of the 2008 fighting game.

Why it matters: As beloved and successful as Nintendo is among millions of gamers, the company often infuriates those fans with the limits it places on the use of its work, particularly its older games.

  • Riptide organizers say they’ll refund people who planned to attend the Ohio event to play “Smash.”
  • But for some attendees, the issue is the cost of nonrefundable flights.

Between the lines: Organizers had planned to use a mod called Project Plus, which fighting game fans say helps balance “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” so that it can be used in competitive play.

  • The event was originally planned for 2020 and was announced for this September months ago, raising the question of why an issue only emerged now.
  • A Nintendo rep declined to comment.
  • Nintendo’s restrictions against mods forced the cancellation of a fighting game tournament last year, sending fans fuming.
3. South Korea pushes Apple and Epic

South Korean lawmakers have passed a bill that will require Apple and Google to permit developers to use third-party payment systems for in-app purchases.

Why it matters: The bill, which is expected to be signed into law by South Korea’s president, could change the way business is done in the app stores and give some frustrated game creators just what they’ve been asking for.

  • Epic’s “Fortnite” was famously booted from Apple and Epic’s stores last August after the game maker intentionally violated app store protocols by allowing players to buy in-game goods directly from Epic, without giving the platform holders their standard 30% cut.
  • Epic has since sued Apple and Google, and a verdict is expected in its trial with Apple this year.

What’s next: It’s unclear how Apple and Google will react, to say nothing of whether South Korea’s law compels new laws in other countries too.

Go deeper: South Korea will be first country to curb Google, Apple app-store payments

4. Need to know

🎮CD Projekt Red is hiring some modders from the fan community to officially work on "Cyberpunk 2077"'s backend and enable more modding support, an example of pro developers officially working with fans who’ve proved their ability to improve the game.

👩🏾‍⚕️Marketplace recently explored the potential efficacy of "EndeavorRX," an FDA-approved prescription video game meant to help children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It was approved last year, and its developers are now looking to connect it with doctors and patients, Marketplace reports.

🏈Nifty Games has raised $38 million as it ramps up work on its short-session mobile sports games such as “NFL Clash” and “NBA Clash,” another sign of the increasingly hot sports gaming market.

🦹‍♀️The next big DC Comics superhero games, “Gotham Knights” and “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League” will be shown during the Oct. 16 DC Fandome event, Polygon reports. Fans have been waiting on both games for years and haven’t seen much of them since last fall. Both are slated for release in 2022.

5. Worthy of your attention

"The Investors Trying to Fix the Most Toxic Company in Video Games" [Alex Kirshner, Slate]

SOC investment group director Richard Clayton: “So, we would argue that it’s really incumbent on us as investors for the long term to be taking action now, to push the company, to change its practices so that ourselves and other investors are going to be enjoying a more valuable, growing company going forward. We don’t think you can pull that off in a way which is consistent with maintaining an unsafe workplace with unchecked abusive practices. We think you’ve got to have a better set of practices in order to be a successful company in the long run.”
6. "Centipede" returns

"Centipede: Recharged." Screenshot: Atari

A new version of the classic Atari game “Centipede” will be released for consoles and PC in late September under the name “Centipede: Recharged” and sporting a more futuristic look. (Trailer here)

  • The game’s lead developer, Adam Nickerson, first partnered with Atari for last year’s “Missile Command: Recharged,” which revamped another classic in a similar style.
  • Nickerson tells Axios he first connected with Atari after discovering an email in his spam folder from an Atari official who liked his work.
  • Atari showed him a list of franchises they had the rights to. He went with “Missile Command” first because he used to be obsessed with it.

As for “Centipede”: “I loved the arcade game and wanted to just play it in the way I remembered it, but add some cool powerups and modern touches to maybe make another generation care about it.”

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🐦 Find us on Twitter: @megan_nicolett / @stephentotilo.

We wouldn't have gotten that boat stuck.