VICE vs Video games

This Was the Week in Video Games

Mario's moving to the mobile market, Hideo Kojima's clearing his desk, and Atari's acting like a bunch of dicks.

by Mike Diver
20 March 2015, 8:02am

SOME REALLY RATHER SIGNIFICANT NINTENDO NEWS, PART ONE

The granddaddy of the gaming industry, father to Mario and Donkey Kong and Samus and, um, Captain Falcon, is to finally move into the mobile market through a "business and capital alliance" with DeNA (pronounced "D-N-A"), a company specialising in the sector.

The announcement sent Nintendo's stock soaring, as you'd expect. But fans hoping for iOS versions of early Super Mario Bros and Zelda games, or even ports of N64-era classics, should park those expectations, as Ninty will be working on new games from the ground up, tailored to pocket-sized touchscreen devices.

Just two years ago, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata stated they wouldn't make smartphone games, but with the Wii U a distant third of three competitors in the generation-eight console race, a 180 on that stance makes perfect sense today. In 2014, the mobile games market was worth $26bn, compared to the handheld console take of $3.3bn.

And you can bet the company's ready for the new challenge – a freemium approach is unlikely with Nintendo's reputation, so hopefully we can look forward to some expertly engineered affairs of characteristic charm and universal accessibility.

SOME REALLY RATHER SIGNIFICANT NINTENDO NEWS, PART TWO

Not only is Nintendo making mobile games with its new mates, but there's a new console coming, too. Wii U owners, believe me, I fear exactly the same thing – this delightful but under-served console that we spent the monthly food budget for a family of four on is going to be edged from its maker's attentions as the cream of the company's development crop sets about creating titles for what is, right now, named the NX.

But what is the NX, exactly? We've not much to go on. Itawa only told us enough to comprise a tease, and nothing more:

"As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business, let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept under the development codename 'NX'. It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project, but we hope to share more information with you next year."

Next year is still some months away – bloody Romans and their sodding calendars – so the press has begun to speculate, to second-guess Nintendo's plans for its next console.

CNET has ideas: lose the second-screen experience, stick to just one platform (rather than the current 3DS and Wii U pairing), unleash the untapped back catalogue, and make it cheap. Forbes highlights that the Wii U is Nintendo's slowest-selling piece of hardware since the Virtual Boy (ouch, burn), so it's likely that'll be replaced with a machine incorporating some new-fangled control innovation to trump the U's GamePad. Game Informer lists five wants: for the system to be a home-based and portable hybrid; for it to allow clearer ownership of digital assets; the introduction of a better touchscreen (the U's is a bit iffy); make the whole thing at least as powerful as the PS4; and introduce a monthly subscription service for software access, like HBO Go does for telly.

All. Reasonable. Suggestions. But all I really need is more news on the Wii U Zelda, so truck the fuck on, Ninty, and give me my Hyrule in 1080p already.

Hideo Kojima/'Metal Gear Solid' illustration by Stephen Maurice Graham

HIDEO KOJIMA'S LEAVING KONAMI. UNLESS HE'S NOT. (UPDATE: HE WILL BE.)

We don't know for sure whether he's coming or going, but the rumour is that the Metal Gear Solid creator's downed tools for the super-sized Japanese publisher and developer. Promotional artwork assets for the forthcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain support this, with the "a Hideo Kojima game" information dropped from revised versions. A new Twitter account's come into play, too, with @Kojima_Pro_Live replaced by @metalgear_en as the official source for all MGS updates.

There's more, including the renaming of LA's Kojima Productions studio to Konami Los Angeles Studios. Reddit is where you want to dig deeper. It's all pointing towards what feels like an inevitability: that Kojima's done a runner, be that of his own accord or after no little persuasion to do so, mad though it seems that any developer would make their star man clear out his desk.

Konami has issued a statement, but it naturally says nothing definitive. Videogamer has the scoop on this one: "Konami Digital Entertainment, including Mr Kojima, will continue to develop and support Metal Gear products. Please look forward to future announcements."

Okay, but what about Silent Hills? C'mon, now, children. Kiss and make up, because nobody – least of all sometime VICE contributor and games presenter Aoife Wilson – wants that horror-masterpiece-in-the-making to go and get itself all fucked up.

UPDATE: Yeah, he's off. Gamespot reports that there's been a significant falling out between Kojima and Konami, and once The Phantom Pain ships, Kojima Productions will be disbanded. So, erm, Silent Hills then, anyone?

'TEMPEST 2000' MAKER JEFF MINTER IS PROPER PISSED AT ATARI

Back in 1994, Jeff Minter made a game called Tempest 2000 for a pretty well known publisher called Atari. The game was originally exclusive to said company's Jaguar console, so the only people who played it to begin with were rich idiots or kids whose parents didn't get the anything-but-a-Jaguar memo that Christmas. It later got ported to PC, PlayStation and Saturn. Critics really liked it, regarding it a recommended remake of the original 1981 Tempest.

Last year, Minter made a game called TxK (pictured, above) for the PlayStation Vita. Again, not all that many people played it, because it was exclusive to a handheld platform that's never truly taken off, but it made its money back, and Minter figured it was worthy of translating to other systems. PC, PlayStation 4 and Android versions were planned for 2015 – and then Atari stepped in.

Now, TxK and Tempest 2000 are somewhat alike. Have a look for yourself: here's the former, and the latter. They're clearly the work of the same designer. But they're not the same, in the way that not all platform games are the same, even if the basic mechanics are incredibly similar. Atari's got nothing to do with TxK and seemed happy enough for it to exist on Sony's handheld. But once they got wind of Minter's intention to release it for other devices, a considerable bug lodged itself inside their collective arse, and plans for the ports have been categorically kiboshed. Atari are saying that TxK violates their copyright on Tempest 2000.

Says Minter of the situation: "[The claims] are all abject bollocks, but set up legally so as to be expensive for anyone to contest. Even just going back and forth a few times with letters responding to their threats ended up running up a couple of grand in legal bills, and there is simply no way on God's earth I can afford any kind of legal battle."

Atari's line on things is as follows: "Atari values and protects its intellectual property and expects others to respect its copyrights and trademarks. When Llamasoft launched TxK in early 2014, Atari was surprised and dismayed by the very close similarities between TxK and the Tempest franchise. Atari was not alone in noticing the incredible likeness between the titles. Several major gaming outlets also remarked at the similarity of features and overall appearance of TxK to Tempest; one stated of TxK, 'This is essentially Tempest.' There is no lawsuit. Atari has been in continuous contact with the developer since the game launched in hopes that the matter would be resolved."

To which Minter offers: "Their only contact has been threatening letters from lawyers... I don't count an endless stream of lawyer-crafted attempts to steal my lunch money as 'contact with the developer'."

That Minter actually made Tempest 2000, the game he's apparently stealing from, makes this entire argument completely ludicrous. But then, that's business I suppose, and the business that Atari runs today, its focus on mobile gaming and gambling, sure as shit isn't the same as it was during the Jaguar years.

A GUY WHO WORKS AT WORLD BANK IS PROPER PISSED AT MICROSOFT

Jeremy Hillman, a director at World Bank, makes so much money that he didn't notice $4,500 going missing from his account. But when he did notice, and investigated, it was nothing to do with slurred late-night calls to premium-rate sex lines, or an addiction to train station-priced M&S "specials". His son had spent all the money on FIFA. And Hillman wants it back.

As Business Insider reports, Hillman's son had spent the money on add-on player packs for EA's successful soccer simulator, through Xbox Live. Microsoft isn't returning the cash, though, telling Hillman: "All purchases are final and non-refundable." They said some other things, too, but that's what really matters: no money back.

"Losing $4,500 for many families would be a life-changing disaster," said the completely grounded, man-of-the-people, salt-of-the-earth Hillman in a Medium post about the problem. "For us it is very upsetting... We'll have to forgo some luxuries but we will recover relatively quickly."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry, uncontrollably.

TITBITS THAT MAY TITILLATE

Player character Noctis's (pictured) Ramuh summon in Final Fantasy XV's "Episode Duscae" is pretty impressive. Like, tongue-lolling-out-of-your-agape-gob impressive, when seen on a massive HD screen at Square Enix HQ, as I did this week. The bite-size portion of the upcoming RPG is available to anyone buying Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, released in the UK today. My tip: hang in there through the seemingly endless waves of wickedly clawed cave goblins to grab this rather over-the-top means of ending other skirmishes. Ramuh can be summoned for the "judgment bolt" when Noctis's HP hits zero, and then you just sit back and drink in the devastation. (Update: there's plenty more good, quite possibly secret stuff to be found in "Duscae", as Kotaku reports.)

Farming Simulator is one of those weird grim-reality titles, like Euro Truck Simulator, that has an absurdly passionate fanbase. I just don't get it. But if you do, and haven't had the game on PC already, here's some good news: it's coming to consoles on the 19th of May. PS3 and PS4, Xboxes 360 and One, confirmed. A-maize-ing. Sorry.

The March 17th launch of Battlefield Hardline was struck by DDoS attacks, which did its multiplayer modes no good whatsoever. Seriously, it's nothing to do with EA being chumps or servers being ill-suited to the demands of the player base – the game, as Metro reports, was deliberately targeted by a group wanting to skewer its smooth deployment across the 'net. What began as an Xbox One issue has spread though, says Gamespot: "A growing number of players are unable to connect." I'm paraphrasing slightly, but ain't that the truth, generally.

The late Discworld series author Terry Pratchett's had a spaceport named after him in Elite: Dangerous – and, inevitably, it's disc-shaped. Says Michael Brooke of developers Frontier: "We have a great many Pratchett fans on staff, and we were all saddened to learn of his passing. The sentiment was reflected by our community, so we felt it would be right to remember him in [the game]."

The forthcoming LEGO Jurassic World game's got itself a trailer. It's out in the summer, to coincide with the movie. Want.

SOME NEW GAMES CAME OUT

I mentioned it just up there: the new Battlefield came out, and it's a cops-and-robbers affair. But that's all I've got – I've not played a second of it, and it's unlikely I will. So what are the critics saying, eh? "It plays like a Battlefield game, generally speaking," is Giant Bomb's line on it, adding that it's "hardly a disaster". The Sixth Axis is a mite kinder: "What makes it stand out from the crowd is how it's presented as more of a TV show." Awesome! Just like Twin Peaks, or The Brittas Empire, then.

The mini-games-aplenty Mario Party 10 is out on the Wii U – and there was me moaning about having no games for it. But, based on IGN's write-up, I might just pass on this one: "Nintendo has a history of making games that are enjoyable for all ages. This isn't one of them."

To Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, then – which I have played. I'm playing it right now, actually. Well, I was until I paused to write this. I'm barely any way into it at all, having just finished chapter one – climaxing with a boss battle against a mech-riding L'Cie – but having never played the PSP original of 2011, here are some first impressions.

It's really dark. Like, a chocobo dying, all bloody and beaten, inside the first few minutes dark. There's lots of blood splashed onto the camera. It's pretty nippy, with combat unreliant on cool-down times, and health recharging so long as you can avoid taking hits. The plot is predictably confusing – an hour deep and I'm not all that clear on who I'm actually playing as, though swapping between characters in battle to deploy different abilities – protective walls of energy, fireballs and bolts of lightning – is pretty cool. The story's set during (fantasy) wartime, and some of the imagery is pretty striking: huge airships exploding above a munitions-wrecked urban centre. The chaptered structure is a hangover from mobile-tailored play, but welcomed at home, too. The HD update's been kind to surfaces and cutscenes, but less so skin and facial movements, and several animations are as janky as N64 NPCs. I think I like it, though? Yeah. It's definitely one of the more engaging, original Final Fantasy games I've had the pleasure of playing the preliminary scenes of.

Right, back to it.

@MikeDiver

Previously:

How Sonic the Hedgehog Helped Me Beat Cancer

Pull Your Finger Out, Nintendo – My Wii U's Collecting Dust

Celebrating the Super Weird With Austin's Indie Gaming Champions