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Year in Review: 2018

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By Nelson Schneider - 12/28/18 at 07:16 PM CT

Another year has come and gone, and the world continues to turn, despite Donald Trump’s best efforts to make it grind to a halt. Once again, it’s time to take a look back at the year and praise the 5 biggest Wins for the gaming community while simultaneously *facepalming* over the 5 biggest Fails.

Top 5 Fails

5. Sixense STEM Vaporware Vaporizes

I’ve been covering the Sixense STEM, the magnetic-tracking-based motion control system for VR and VR-free PC gaming, ever since it was announced as the successor to the Razer Hydra. Sixense’s first solo hardware project was troubled from the outset, despite raising a ton of money on Kickstarter. Thousands of people pre-ordered these things, expecting to receive them 4 years (!) ago, yet the company perpetually dragged its feet, pushing the excuse that the Chinese factories making the plastic casings for the tech kept screwing up.

Well, in 2018, the other shoe finally fell, and Sixense officially announced that the STEM was off the consumer market and that none of the Kickstarter backers or pre-orderers would receive hardware. Instead, we’d be getting a refund, and the STEM hardware will go exclusively to Penumbra – a medical tech company that now owns a majority stake in Sixense – for use in creating VR-based training equipment for up-and-coming doctors.

Nick thinks this is irrelevant, as just another vaporware company evaporating before their niche product hit the market. But it’s not. If STEM was just another VR controller, like the Oculus Touch or HTC Wands, he’d have a point, but STEM was about more than just VR and non-VR motion controls: The magnetic tracking technology used in it is incredible, and could have eventually led to multi-point body tracking in any given type of space, all with minimal wires. If the kind of fantastical VR portrayed in this Summer’s ‘80s-fetishism film (and the book it’s based on), “Ready Player One,” is ever to come to fruition, we need newer, better, competing technologies in the nascent VR space instead of just a bunch of mediocre, clunky, camera-based systems that all work the same way. Look at the bright side, Nick, at least now I’ll stop talking/writing about this thing!

4. Gaming Censorship Rears its –CENSORED– Head

Politicians are worried about ‘Mortal Kombat.’

No, it isn’t the ‘90s, but thanks to President Oompa Loompa and his blame-shifting cronies in the Religious Right, 2018 saw another attempt to blame videogame media for the ever-increasing numbers of mass-shootings occurring in the United States. On the other side of the Sex/Violence Coin, both Valve Softworks and Sony Computer Entertainment decided that anime boobs and panty shots were bad things to have on their platforms. With Sony – now a Western corporation pushing Western SJW values on its own Japanese roots – tons of Japanese ecchi games that normally got by unscathed have been mandated to add censorship overlays to their risqué scenes if they want to appear on the PS4 at all. Valve, on the other hand, can’t seem to make up its mind, initially taking a hardline stance on erotic content in games, then responding to backlash from the community by announcing that they wouldn’t censor anything in any way… then continuing to delay and/or delist ecchi games with little rhyme or reason throughout the year.

Isn’t it ironic that the biggest idiots from both extremes of the social political spectrum are united in their desire for censorship?

3. Tone-Deaf Corporate Publishers Piss-off their Biggest Fans

It was a bad year to be a “AAA” publisher. For some reason, fans of long-running series seem to HATE it when those series are drastically changed in order to morph them into a Live Service or a mobile microtransaction engine. Thus the responses to both Bethesda’s “Fallout ‘76” (a live service instead of a ‘Fallout’ sequel) and Blizzard’s “Diablo Immortal” (a mobile app instead of “Diablo 4”) lead to overwhelming tidal waves of resentment and bad word-of-mouth from the fans. Those poor, poor megacorporations… Think of the STOCK PRICES!!!

2. Loot Boxes are Banned… But Only in Two Inconsequential European Nations

2017 was the Year of the Loot Box – a gambling mechanic inserted into premium, full-priced “AAA” games in order to squeeze more revenue out of the players – and the backlash from gamers and the media was swift and fierce. While some companies backed down – like Warner Bros. removing loot boxes from “Middle-Earth: Shadow of War” and EA removing them from “Star Wars: Battlefront 2” – the continuing presence of loot boxes in many other titles caused governments across the world to examine the issue. Two of these governments found that, yes, indeed, loot boxes are gambling, and should be regulated as such: Belgium and the Netherlands. Unfortunately, countries that actually mean something on the world stage, like the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, and Germany, are still okay with the concept (likely because their aged politicians don’t understand it).

What was the result of the loot box ban in Belgium and the Netherlands? Game publishers simply pulled their loot-box-infested games from the Belgian and Dutch markets instead of pulling the loot boxes out of their games. Is this really a surprise?

1. Nintendo

Oh, Nintendo! The company I love to hate and hate to love had a very, very busy year. After the surprise hit of the Switch launch last year, and an initial onslaught of strong, exclusive games, the company seems to have gone out of its way to display hubristic behavior even before being cemented as the new top dog in the Console Wars.

In 2018, Nintendo threw its legal weight around, squashing a couple of new ROM/emulation websites just because they could. This increased legal presence spooked the admins of the oldest, longest-running emulation site, EmuParadise, and caused them to pull any and all copyright-infringing content (they had already pulled Nintendo’s content years ago), essentially committing suicide in the process.

Hot on the heels of that fun little exercise, Nintendo finally launched their oft-delayed, not-particularly-awaited subscription service for online play. Nobody expected the Nintendo Network subscription to be anything good, what with Nintendo’s long track record of garbage online services dating back to the original Wii, but the actual offering turned out to be nothing but predatory, grasping nonsense. For your $20, you get a year of online play in supported (read: first-party) Switch games, the ability to play a handful of NES ROMS with NetPlay enabled, and temporary access to the ONLY official method of backing-up Switch save data. Yay?

Finally, with units still flying off store shelves, purveyors of shovelware and other garbage realized that the Switch is the new most-desirable-place to build their parasitic nests. Over the course of 2018, the Nintendo Network’s eShop ballooned with ~1000 additions… 90%+ of which are ports of crap that has been on Steam/PSN/Live for years already, but that are desperate for a new audience that doesn’t have a built-up resistance to buying full-priced trash: Enter Nintendo Fans, those doughy, naïve walking wallets whose lack of exposure to the worst of what third-parties have to offer for so many Generations has equipped them to deal with this flood of ports about as well as the Native Americans were equipped to deal with Small Pox. It’s time for the PlayStation 4 to hand over its crown, since the Switch is definitely the new King of Ports.

Top 5 Wins

5. Epic Games Launcher Evolves into Epic Games Store

Monopolies are bad and competition is good. I guess those are true, despite the fact that most of the other things hardline Capitalists constantly try to push are predatory BS. In the name of competition (and likely to sink a lot of their overwhelming “Fortnite” revenue into something so Uncle Donnie can’t tax it), Epic Games, the former home of loudmouth CliffyB, and developer previously known for creating the Unreal Engine and making ‘Gears of War’ titles for Microsoft, decided to give Steam some competition by transforming their “Fortnite” launcher into a full-fledged storefront. It’s a Win for developers, especially those who use the Unreal Engine, as they’ll get a much larger cut of the profits for selling their games on the Epic Store than on Steam, but it’s unclear whether this will actually be a Win for gamers in the long run.

4. Microsoft Buys-up the Splintered Remnants of Black Isle, Reconstituting One of the Best Western Developers in History under One Roof Again after Nearly 20 Years.

We here at MeltedJoystick have always taken a rather dim view of Microsoft’s console gaming efforts. Surprisingly, these last few years, in spite of (more likely because of) the abject failure of the XBONE in the Console Wars, Microsoft has been making a bunch of very positive moves. Hot on the heels of last year’s Win with Backward Compatibility, the House that Gates Built has taken their platform’s overwhelming lack of good first-party games to heart and decided to do something about it, buying up gobs of smaller studios in 2018.

Included in Microsoft’s wide-cast net are the cute little fishes known as Obsidian Entertainment and inXile. Both of these developers focus heavily on RPGs, both of these developers have produced some very good games in recent years, and both of these developers are splinters of the once-great Black Isle Studios, which was responsible (alongside BioWare) for some of the greatest PC RPGs ever made.

Unfortunately, despite being part of the RPG Renaissance that has provided the market with a large number of honest-to-goodness RPGs in recent years, both Obsidian and inXile were beholden to Kickstarter and procuring crowdfunding before starting any of their projects. Now, with Microsoft’s huge wallet at their disposal, the revived Black Isle can focus on making the amazing games it wants to make, instead of rattling its tin cup, begging for spare change all the time.

3. Square-Enix and Sony Prove Complete, Single-Player Experiences are Still Possible.

In complete opposition to what Bethesda and Blizzard did this year, two other huge “AAA” megacorporations proved that, yes, indeed, it is still possible to release a high-quality, big-budget game without a season pass, DLC of any kind, or microtransactions.

Square-Enix has been on my shit list for quite some time, thanks in large part to their complete screwing-over of the two IPs that made them as a company in the ‘90s (‘Dragon Quest’ and ‘Final Fantasy’), combined with heavy favoritism toward their newly-acquired toy, Eidos. But, holy crap, did they do an amazing job with “Dragon Quest 11!” It’s not just a good game, it’s up there in the top 3 ‘Dragon Quest’ titles ever. Likewise, Sony showed that platform holders can still fund big-budget exclusives without looking for predatory ways of nickel-and-diming customers to death, with “Dad of Boy,” the newest ‘God of War’ title, which easily blows away all previous entries in the series.

Both of these games are big-time blockbusters, while both of them are shockingly without secondary or tertiary revenue streams bolted-on to the detriment of the base product. It’s unsurprising, then, that both of these titles made it into MeltedJoystick’s list of 2018’s best games.

2. GOG Launches the #FCKDRM Initiative to Raise Awareness of Anti-Consumer Practices in ALL Digital Media.

In 2018, Denuvo Anti-Tamper, the latest and greatest most annoying flavor of digital rights management on the market, was repeatedly demonstrated to hamper the games that implement it. Enter the crusading heroes of GOG (not God) with the #FCKDRM initiative. CD Projekt, who owns GOG, the DRM-free PC gaming superstore, has been amazing for years, but the fact that the company hasn’t sold-out yet is remarkable, and their continued willingness to use their wealth and clout to promote pro-gamer, pro-customer practices is astounding. It’s pretty pathetic that, at this point in time, CD Projekt is the only videogame company I actively like, but, well, there it is. Let’s just hope that political upheaval and stupidity in Poland doesn’t mess up a good thing.

1. Steam Play Proton Makes Windows Games Run (Better) on Linux

It has been “The Year of the Linux Desktop” since 1998. Except it really hasn’t. That’s the joke. Linux may power most of the Internet, but that’s generally all it’s good for (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The Free Open-Source OS just hasn’t had the traction to catch on as an everyday computer vehicle thanks to a mix of being unintuitive, ugly, and incompatible with most of the software people might want to use, including – especially – games. Valve tried to make Linux mainstream with SteamOS, as a frantic overreaction by Lord GabeN to Microsoft’s introduction of the Windows Store. For lovers of freedom and Open-Source software, the idea that Linux might finally go mainstream thanks to Valve was exciting (they had, after all, been expecting it to happen since 1998, much like Millennialist Christians have been expecting the Second Coming), but it just didn’t happen. SteamOS hobbled and sank the very concept of Steam Machines – adorable pre-built PCs in console-like cases designed for on-TV couch gaming – and Valve seemed poised to stop working on it altogether.

Color us surprised when, in 2018, Valve pulled the tarp off of Project Proton, a new version of their old Steam Play sales model of “one sale, all platforms.” Proton added a suite of automated (but still tweakable) compatibility tools to the Linux version of the Steam client that leap into action when a user tries to play a Windows game in Linux. So far, the reports from testers have been quite positive, giving hope to all gamers who value longevity and ownership of their gaming possessions that there may indeed be a viable alternative to Windows in the (unlikely) event Microsoft goes Full Hitler at some point in the future.

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View Matt's Profile

Matt

Wrote on12/28/18 at 09:11 PM CT

One potential positive for Belgium specifically banning Loot Boxes is that Brussels is the home of the EU Parliament, and hopefully some common sense from Belgium would influence the mind of the EU powers. Yes, this is really hopeful, possibly too hopefull. However, if the EU bans loot boxes, what would Ubisoft do?

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