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Year in Review: 2021

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By Nelson Schneider - 12/30/21 at 10:11 PM CT

Alack and alas, 2021 has come and gone, and it was nearly a dreadful remake/remaster/port/whathaveyou of the exceedingly dire 2020. Was there anything praiseworthy to get excited about? Or was it all Fails? Read on to find out:

Top 5 Fails

5. The Year of Ransomware

Ahh, remember back in the Summer of 2021, when we thought the worst thing the year had to offer was a bunch of ransomware attacks? Yeah, they were pretty annoying, and blew up the news during the brief window in which it seemed that COVID might be under control. Fortunately European investigators and the FBI managed to find and arrest a number of the shitheels behind the wave of cyberattacks. Of course, this rare competence shown by bureaucrats is likely going to give us all a false sense of security, so when the next big cyber-meltdown hits, we can all stand around with our mouths open, wondering how it happened. Again.

4. Nintendo Network “Plus Expansion”

Nintendo demonstrated some Sony-grade hubris when they presented their 2021 “improvements” to their gawd-awful subscription network service. The Nintendo Network was always a bad deal, even it if was 1/3 the cost of the competition, largely because it was just an obtuse paywall between Nintendo fans and online gaming, offering pale imitations of core online features – such as Cloud save backups and voice chat – which PC gaming still has for free. The only novel arrow in Nintendo’s quiver was transitioning the Virtual Console from the Wii and WiiU into a subscription-tied ability to access a piddly library of NES and SNES games. The “Plus Expansion” that was one of 2021’s biggest fails, however, aimed to make that emulation library a bit beefier, with Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis (Megadrive, to you Europeans). Even better, it would grant ‘free’ access (to subscribers) to the “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” expansion pass. All for the low, low price of MORE THAN DOUBLE THE BASE SUBSCRIPTION! Fanboys and apologists are still trying to defend this move, but it really is indefensible.

3. Ubisoft Goes Crypto-Crazy

The Big Three (Electronic Arts, Activision, and Ubisoft) have been under fairly close scrutiny over the past few years with their horribly scummy monetization techniques – borrowed almost in their entirety from mobile gaming, which caught these particular diseases from China (just like everyone else!). One would think that a company headquartered in Europe, where stealth gambling mechanics and predatory monetization are frowned upon would try to be on its best behavior until the whole issue of corporate greed ruining lives blows over. But no, Ubisoft announced in 2021 that it would take grasping monetization even further by building NFTs and cryptocurrency into its upcoming game releases. This… I… WHY?! If you are a legitimate business that creates/manufactures a legitimate product and sells it on the legitimate open market, WHY would you want to even dabble in the Financial Black Arts, which are better left to third-world hellholes and organized crime syndicates… oh… there it is. Ubisoft is tacitly admitting that corporate finance and organized crime are the same thing, which we knew all along. At least Penny Arcade had a good take on this disaster.

2. The Never-Ending Microchip Shortage

Nearly every machine manufactured in the 21st Century includes a slew of microchips for a wide variety of reasons. Computers run the world, completely. Without them, everything from government bureaucracy to simple entertainment to shipping and logistics systems would come to a screeching halt. Yet, in 2021, apparently due to a “market slowdown” caused by the pandemic, the biggest microchip and semiconductor manufacturers in the world cut their production. Which was absolutely retarded. Now no one can get a new computer, new car, new game console (a year after launch), new tractor, or anything else with a microchip as the fabrication plants churn through a massive backlog of orders… I can relate to that last part. This kind of never-ending chip shortage was bound to occur sooner or later, due to the fact that nearly all of our chips are manufactured in a single region.

1. Chairman Xi Goes Bananas

Just when it seemed like China was ready to participate fully on the world stage, something spooked the head of the Communist Party, and over the course of 2021, the country backslid on all the progress it made. The open market which made China the world’s largest economy? Shackled and neutered because Chairman Xi was bent out of shape about social media knowing more about people’s private lives than the CCP’s military police. I understand and fully support Chairman Xi in taxing the ever-loving EFF out of grossly excessive Chinese billionaires that arose from this open-market experiment, but without globalism, China’s economy is destined to stagnate and crash: It’s got way too much global reliance in the very foundations.

On top of money problems, China has been facing an overwhelming trend of young people “lying flat,” which is to say, becoming as jaded and withdrawn as their NEET counterparts in Japan. Who would have thought that more access to information and education would allow people to develop the ability to put “2” and “2” together and get “we’re completely and hopelessly screwed”? In order to counter this social and workforce malaise, Chairman Xi tightened up the Social Credit system that rolled out over the last few years with absurdly heavy-handed restrictions on videogaming. As if a fun hobby that allows for momentary escape from the deplorable state of global politics and the environment is to blame for young Chinese feeling like nothing is worth putting in effort. Surely “lying flat” couldn’t be caused by the overwhelming gender disparity that will see a huge portion of Chinese men spend their lives as overworked incels, while educated Chinese women get all the good jobs because such “progressive” virtue signaling plays well in the Western media… that would make too much sense.

Top 5 Wins

5. Google Shutters Stadia and Game Development

Google Stadia was an Internet meme from the moment it launched. A mere two years later, it’s effectively dead, with the parent company no longer putting in any dedicated effort in maintaining it as a product… but still allowing others to license what (little) work went into it for their own misbegotten Cloud gaming notions.

4. Sony Reverses Course, Decides Not to Shut Down PSN for Legacy Hardware, Also Patches Ownership Glitch for Legacy Physical Games

Sony was on course to nuke everyone’s physical media PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita games by disabling those legacy gaming machines’ ability to access the PlayStation Network. Either due to a glitch or an intentionally engineered piece of DRM (my vote is for the latter), these devices could be rendered unusable in the event their CMOS battery died, requiring a quick reconnection to PSN to revalidate their security keys… but without the ability to connect to PSN, they’d be permanently borked.

Fortunately, Sony heard their fanbase’s pleas, and reversed course, leaving only the PSP (the nut you can play with outside) to face CMOS doom. They also allegedly fixed the issue with the PS5, perhaps in an effort to renew interest in the hard-to-find, just-launched console.

3. The COVID-19 Vaccine… Kinda Works

Yay! There’s a COVID-19 vaccine! Yay! It’s available for everyone! Yay! There are three different flavors! Yay! Only one of them really works… wait, what? Yeah, in 2021 we learned that the Johnson & Johnson “one-shot” vaccine is a joke, and that Pfizer’s isn’t nearly as effective as Moderna’s. So guess who on the MJ Crew managed NOT to get COVID in 2021? Yeah, the two of us who got Moderna… and who don’t work around diseased throngs of students during the day.

But now we’ve got the lovely Omicron Variant that has mutated-away over half the receptors that even the best M-RNA vaccine uses. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Thanks, China.

2. Capcom Commits to a “PC-First” Mentality

In 2021, Capcom came-out as the first-ever Japanese videogame developer to adopt a “PC-First” mentality when it comes to game development and releases. It only makes sense, since the PC gaming sector is still experiencing incredible growth, and if you target “open” hardware, porting to “closed DRM boxes” becomes a lot less work than the other way around. Not only is this good news for PC gamers specifically, it’s fantastic news for Capcom fans as a whole, since the main trend out of the Land of the Rising Sun has been for formerly-beloved developer/publisher outfits to shift focus toward a “Mobile-First” mentality, which means gacha, Freemium nonsense, and the death of quality IPs. Now, if only there were still some un-ruined Capcom IPs I still liked…

1. Valve Continues to Innovate AND Iterate

Lord GabeN may be a Kiwi now, but Valve has managed to remain a good, privately-owned business. Sure, they’ve had missteps, such as opening up Steam to any Tom, Dick, and Harry with $100 and a terrible “game” to sell, but, honestly, this feels like criticizing the company for being “too generous” (and it’s not like console digital curation is much better). Valve hasn’t resorted to any of the nonsense tricks that outfits like Epic have, nor have they bowed to pressure from outside companies to conform to what The Big Three think the Games Industry should look like, thus resulting in EA crawling back and, once again, selling their (terrible) games on Steam as well as their own Origin store.

Outside of the digital distribution space, Valve has continued to innovate in the realm of VR, proposing a brain/machine interface that will enhance the VR experience. Linux has become more viable as a gaming platform recently SOLELY due to Valve’s efforts with the Proton compatibility layer. Even when they aren’t strictly coming up with something new, Valve creates iterations on existing concepts with gobs of appeal and polish. While I personally don’t give a flying fart about the Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch-style portable PC gaming, a lot of people DO, which has made it very difficult to even pre-order a Deck.

Yes, indeed, the company that single-handedly revolutionized PC gaming continues to do so. Even when they’re a little bit early to the party, Valve’s pie-in-the-sky ideas are always interesting, even if they aren’t practical.

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