February 15, 2022
Happy Tuesday. Stephen here.
It’s the 15th anniversary of one of my favorite gaming franchises, Professor Layton. It's a series of cheerful detective stories filled with brain teasers and I wish the creators would make more.
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Today’s edition is 1,277 words, 5 minutes.
1 big thing: The extended generation
Friday’s mega-release of PlayStation exclusive Horizon Forbidden West, which will run on the PS5 and PS4 15 months after Sony’s newer console was released, is a milestone in how different this hardware generation is than any before it.
Why it matters: The simple and fairly clean progression of past console generations appears to be a thing of the past.
- The old rules: new consoles launch, and their manufacturers soon stop making major games for their predecessors.
- The new standard: Support for the older devices — even with marquee titles — long into the future.
Flashback: Back when the PS4 launched in November 2013, Sony’s top PS3 offerings faded fast and had nothing of Forbidden West’s scale this far in.
- By 2014, Sony had shifted to PS4, with just two big exclusives for PS3 that year.
- By 2015, 13-plus months after release and comparable to the current point of this latest console generation, Sony development for PS4 had faded to just its annual MLB game release.
- Sony rivals Nintendo and Microsoft have also tended to move on quickly.
Between the lines: The blurred transition has largely been a positive change for all parties, even if in past generations Forbidden West would have likely been next-gen only.
- For PS4 owners, Forbidden West reportedly runs well, “equivalent to 'PC low settings' up against an all-out ultra-class experience on PlayStation 5,” according to Digital Foundry.
- For PS5 owners, the game still looks impressive.
- For Sony, Forbidden West gets a big potential audience, as it can sell to the 100+ million PS4 installed base and not just the 17 million or so owners of PS5s.
- Over at Xbox, Microsoft has enjoyed a similar benefit from the likes of December’s Halo Infinite appearing on Xbox Series S and X as well as the last-gen Xbox.
The big picture: Sony and Microsoft’s cross-platform strategy looks even smarter in light of the pandemic.
- Both are struggling to manufacture enough of their highest-end consoles, with PS5 shipments in late 2021 dropping below those of late 2020 due to COVID-related supply chain issues.
What’s next: Sony’s cross-gen strategy will extend throughout the year, with March’s Gran Turismo 7 and the as-yet-undated God of War: Ragnarok slated for PS4 and PS5.
2. 21 hours with Forbidden West
Forbidden West is a beautiful, comfort food blockbuster, from what I’ve played of it so far.
My impressions: The game puts the player in the shoes of Aloy, a woman who hunts mechanized animals in post-apocalyptic America. She ventures through mountains, forests and deserts toward the Pacific in this new adventure.
- It’s as enjoyable to play as development studio Guerilla Games’ 2017 Horizon Zero Dawn original. It operates at a grander scale, featuring more land, more types of beasts, more weapons and a hang-glider for Aloy to fly.
- What’s gone is the mystery of how this wrecked world came to be, largely answered in the last game through its archeology of ruins and audio logs (light spoiler: most of the blame goes to one really bad tech bro).
- In its place are new mysteries about the fate of computer systems designed to resuscitate the world.
A lingering question for me is how deep Forbidden West gets and how seriously to take it.
- It presents a gorgeous playground in which to plant electrified tripwires and hurl acid arrows to crack the shell of mecha-mammoths.
- But what of its premise? A white woman in Native American-inspired garb ventures into the American West, where supposedly violent tribes await. It’s a setup the designers say is meant to evoke a Western story but not offend.
- I’m just reaching those tribes — all more diverse and complex than their reputations suggested — and don’t know what more the game may do to defy those tropes. Reviews have largely not touched the topic.
What’s next: 21 hours in, I’m only at 19% completion. I’ve yet to see the wrecked Golden Gate Bridge and have plenty more game to go.
3. Cyberpunk do-over
CD Projekt Red finally launched next-gen versions of December 2020’s Cyberpunk 2077 today, alongside a raft of changes designed to make the last-gen versions play better too.
Why it matters: CDPR is trying to salvage a game and its studio’s rep after 2077’s disastrous launch.
- The well-chronicled catastrophe led to apologies, refunds, a temporary PlayStation store delisting and a stock price swan dive for the Polish game maker.
Between the lines: Today’s new version adds revamped crowd and enemy behavior in all versions of the game, as well as a revamped set of unlockable abilities.
- The new PS5 and Xbox Series S and X versions have all of that and enhanced graphics. They're available as a free upgrade for people who bought the game on PS4 or Xbox One.
- The next-gen versions will also be offered as a free five-hour trial for the next 30 days, which might be enough time to blaze through the whole game if you’re a top speedrunner.
4. Need to know
😲 Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa downplayed the appeal of the so-called metaverse in recently translated remarks to investors this month, saying: “There is no easy way to define specifically what kinds of surprises and enjoyment the metaverse can deliver to our consumers.”
💰 Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought nearly $1 billion worth of Activision Blizzard stock in the final quarter of 2021, as its cost plummeted in the wake of misconduct scandals, according to a new SEC filing, Axios’ Rebecca Falconer reports.
🤔 Wordle players who use the New York Times’ version of the game are seeing different daily solutions than those playing the original web version, Kotaku reports.
💰 Mobile gaming company Tripledot has raised $116 million in funding for a valuation of $1.4 billion. It says it’ll use the investment to “accelerate the growth of its portfolio of games and invest in M&A opportunities.”
📱 The CEO of Clash of Clans studio Supercell outlined the company’s plans in a new blog post that discusses, among other things, the need to better address his team’s mental health: “Overworking teammates cannot be the solution. No one should sacrifice their health & wellbeing for their team or Supercell goals.”
5. Worthy of your attention
Roblox: The children's game with a sex problem [James Clayton and Jasmin Dyer, BBC]
Roblox sex games are commonly referred to on the platform as "condos". They're spaces, generated by users, where people can talk about sex - and where their avatars can have virtual sex. In these games, Roblox's rules are thrown out of the window.
Roblox accepts it has a problem: "We know there is an extremely small subset of users who deliberately try to break the rules," a spokesperson told the BBC.
Condo games are usually only live for a short time - often less than an hour - before they are discovered and taken down.
6. Netflix's BioShock twist
Netflix confirmed rumors today that it is partnering with publisher Take-Two Interactive to create a live-action adaptation of BioShock.
Driving the news: This adds to a long list of video game adaptations Netflix has in the pipeline, as it plumbs a category largely ignored by streaming rivals Disney Plus and HBO Max.
Between the lines: The critically acclaimed 2007 game BioShock sent players into a failed Ayn Randian underwater utopia called Rapture, that had since been overrun by a warped group of survivors.
- Netflix says it is adapting the “franchise.”
The big picture: Netflix’s zeal for gaming kicked into overdrive in recent years, with a slew of gaming series and the launch of its own line of video games.
- Netflix has already hosted adaptations featuring top game series Castlevania, League of Legends and the Witcher.
- It also regularly announces deals for new, as-yet-unaired series, including the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil, Splinter Cell and more.
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I still support the PS4 too.