Author Archives: Brian Heater

‘Gaming disorder’ is officially recognized by the World Health Organization

Honestly, “gaming disorder” sounds like a phrase tossed around by irritated parents and significant others. After much back and forth, however, the term was just granted validity, as the World Health Organization opted to include it in the latest edition of its Internal Classification of Diseases.

The volume, out this week, diagnoses the newly minted disorder with three key telltale signs:

  1. Impaired control over gaming (e.g. onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
  2. Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
  3. Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences

I can hear the collective sound of many of my friends gulping at the sound of eerily familiar symptoms. Of course, the disorder has been criticized from a number of corners, including health professionals who have written it off as being overly broad and subjective. And, of course, the potential impact greatly differs from person to person and game to game.

The effects as specified above share common ground with other similar addictive activities defined by the WHO, including gambling disorder:

“Disorders due to addictive behaviours are recognizable and clinically significant syndromes associated with distress or interference with personal functions that develop as a result of repetitive rewarding behaviours other than the use of dependence-producing substances,” writes the WHO. “Disorders due to addictive behaviors include gambling disorder and gaming disorder, which may involve both online and offline behaviour.”

In spite of what may appear to be universal symptoms, however, the organization is quick to note that the prevalence of gaming disorder, as defined by the WHO, is actually “very low.” WHO member Dr. Vladimir Poznyak tells CNN, “Millions of gamers around the world, even when it comes to the intense gaming, would never qualify as people suffering from gaming disorder.”

Reflections on E3 2018

After taking a year off, I returned to E3 this week. It’s always a fun show, in spite of the fact that the show floor has come to rival Comic-Con in terms of the mass of people the show’s organizers are able to cram into the aisles of the convention center floor.

We’ve been filing stories all week, but here is a very much incomplete collection of my thoughts on this year’s show.

Zombies are still very much a thing

I’d have thought we’d have hit peak zombie years ago, but here we are, zombies everywhere. That includes the LA Convention Center lobby, which was swarming with actors decked out as the undead. There’s something fundamentally disturbing about watching gamers get pictures taken with fake, bloody corpses. Or maybe it’s just the perfect allegory for our time.

Nintendo’s back

A slight adjustment in approach certainly played a role, as the company has embraced mobile gaming. But the key to Nintendo’s return was a refocus on what it does best: offering an innovative experience with familiar IP. Oh, and the GameCube controller Smash Bros. compatibility was a brilliant bit of fan service, even by Nintendo’s standards.

Quantity versus quality?

Microsoft’s event was a sort of video game blitzkrieg. The company showed off 50 titles, a list that included 15 exclusives. Sony, on the other hand, stuck to a handful, but presented them in much greater depth. Ultimately, I have to say I preferred the latter. Real game play footage feels like an extremely finite resource at these events.

Ultra violence in ultra high-def

Certainly not a new trend in gaming, but there’s something about watching someone bite off someone else’s face on the big screen that’s extra upsetting. Sony’s press conference was a strange sort of poetry, with some of the week’s most stunning imagery knee-deep in blood and gore.

Reedus ’n fetus

We saw more footage and somehow we understand the game less?

Checkmate

Indiecade is always a favorite destination at E3. It’s a nice respite from the big three’s packed booths. Interestingly, there were a lot more desktop games than I remember. You know, the real kind with physical pieces and no screens.

Death of a Tomb Raider

I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider on a PC in NVIDIA’s meeting space. It’s good, but I’m not good at it. I killed poor Lara A LOT. I can deal with that sort of thing when my character is in full Master Chief regalia or whatever, but those close-up shots of her face when I drowned her for the fifth time kind of bummed me out. Can video games help foster empathy or are we all just destined to desensitize ourselves because we have tombs to raid, damn it?

I saw the light

NVIDIA also promised me that its ray-tracing tech would be the most impressive demo I saw at E3 that day. I think they were probably right, so take that, Sonic Racing. The tech, which was first demoed at GDC, “brings real-time, cinematic-quality rendering to content creators and game developers.”

VR’s still waiting in the wings

At E3 two years ago, gaming felt like an industry on the cusp of a VR breakthrough. In 2018, however, it doesn’t feel any closer. There were a handful of compelling new VR experiences at the event, but it felt like many of the peripheral and other experiences were sitting on the fringes of the event — both literally and metaphorically — waiting for a crack at the big show.

Remote Control

Sony’s Control trailer was the highest ratio of excitement to actual information I experienced. Maybe it’s Inception the video game or the second coming of Quantum Break. I dunno, looks fun.

AR’s a thing, but not, like, an E3 thing

We saw a few interesting examples of this, including the weirdly wonderful TendAR, which requires you to make a bunch of faces so a fake fish doesn’t die. It’s kind of like version of Seaman that feeds on your own psychic energy. At the end of the day, though, E3 isn’t a mobile show.

Cross-platform

Having said that, there are some interesting examples of cross-platform potential popping up here and there. The $50 Poké Ball Plus for the Switch is a good example I’m surprised hasn’t been talked about more. Along with controlling the new Switch titles, it can be used to capture Pokémon via Pokémon GO. There’s some good brand synergy right there. And then, of course, there’s Fortnite, which is also on the Switch. The game’s battle royale mode is a great example of how cross-platform play can lead to massive success. Though by all accounts, Sony doesn’t really want to play ball.

V-Bucks

Oh, Epic Games has more money than God now.

Moebius strip

Video games are art. You knew that already, blah, blah, blah. But Sable looks like a freaking Moebius comic come to life. I worry that it will be about as playable as Dragon’s Lair, but even that trailer is a remarkable thing.

This AR guppy feeds on the spectrum of human emotion

Indiecade always offers a nice respite from the wall of undulating human flesh and heat that is the rest of the E3 show floor. The loose confederation of independent developers often produces compelling and bizarre gaming experiences outside of the big studio system.

TendAR is the most compelling example of this out of this year’s batch. It is, simply put, a pet fish that feeds on human emotions through augmented reality. I can’t really explain why this is a thing, but it is. It’s a video game, so just accept it and move on.

The app is produced by Tender Claws, a small studio out of Los Angeles best known for Virtual Virtual Reality, an Oculus title that boasts among its “key features”: 50-plus unique virtual virtual realities and an artichoke screams at you.

TendAR fits comfortably within that manner of absurdist framework, though the title has more in common with virtual pets like Tamagotchi and the belovedly bizarre Dreamcast cult hit, Seaman. There’s also a bit of Douglas Adams wrapped up in there, in that your pet guppy feeds on human emotions detected through face detection.

The app is designed for two players, both holding onto the same phone, feigning different emotions when prompted by a chatty talking fish. If you fail to give it what it wants, your fish will suffer. I tried the game and my guppy died almost immediately. Apparently my ability to approximate sadness is severely lacking. Tell it to my therapist, am I right?

The app is due out this year for Android.

Check out this adorable Bluetooth controller for the Nintendo Switch

8bitdo debuted a bunch of gaming controllers at E3 this week, but honestly, we only care about one. The Zero 2 is an adorable little Bluetooth controller that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s compatible with all sorts of systems, including desktop computers and Android devices, but the size makes it perfect for playing the Nintendo Switch on the go.

And as you can see by the “classic” color scheme above, the peripheral maker was clearly interested in evoking some serious Nintendo nostalgia, with a device that looks a lot like a Super Nintendo controller at first glance.

The Zero 2 sports four number buttons, select, start and a D-pad on the front, with L and R buttons up top, flanking a microUSB port. All have a solid click to them, though the company didn’t have a full operational unit we could play with (the controller isn’t coming out until the end of the year).

I suspect that the diminutive size means it won’t be ideal for long gaming marathons, but it does beat having to hold the Switch for an extended period. Better still, it can be connected to a keychain, so you’ll never lose the thing.

No pricing has been announced.

How Nintendo regained its footing with the Switch and smartphones

As recently as a couple of years ago, Nintendo very much felt like a company at a crossroads. The Wii U presented a rare major misfire for the gaming giant, while its executives stubbornly clung to a strategy that actively excluded smartphones.

The Nintendo of 2018, however, feels newly invigorated. In January, the company announced that the Switch had blown past the Wii’s record to become the fastest selling U.S. console, with 4.8 million units moved in 10 months. These days, that number is closer to 5.9 million in the States, with 17.79 million units sold globally as of April, by NPD’s count.

“We learned from previous launches,” Nintendo executive Doug Bowser (different Bowser) said in an interview with TechCrunch upstairs at the company’s E3 booth. “We made sure we launched with great content. And then we’ve had a steady drumbeat of new titles.”

The company addressed that issue with the launch of the flagship Zelda title Breath of the Wild, alongside the console. This time two years ago, the company’s booth was awash with Zelda imagery, made up to look like a small-scale version of Hyrule. In 2018, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the clear focus, as its E3 presence has shifted to something more tournament style, with large screens displaying the mega-crossover fighting game.

For the company, those two titles represent the company’s first-party play for an “active gamer” segment — a more direct take on the likes of PlayStation and Microsoft. Nintendo’s family-friendly approach is still present in those titles it produced in-house, but things have softened a bit, perhaps, when it comes to embracing third-party titles.

“Our goal with Nintendo Switch is to appeal to a broad audience,” said Bowser. “That goes well beyond family-friendly titles, and obviously with some of the third-party content we’ve brought to the platform, there’s more mature content. We want to make it accessible, but clearly when it comes to our own IP, it’s in a more family-friendly arena.”

Today’s release of Fortnite for the Switch is a pretty clear example of this. It’s a big win for both parties, as the fast-selling console gets access to the large cross-platform title. But even that is a far cry from some of the extreme gore we saw on the big screen last night at Sony’s big kick-off event.

For younger players, the 3DS/2DS is still going surprisingly strong for an eight-year-old system. 2017 actually saw a jump in consoles sold over the year prior. “Younger consumers are coming in through our 2DS and 2DS XL platforms,” said Bowser. “It’s a great entry point for us. As long as consumers are voting, we’ll continue to support it.”

And for all of its early foot-dragging, mobile has clearly been a boon for the company. First-party games like Super Mario Run and third-party partnerships like Pokémon GO have gone a ways toward spreading the gospel of Nintendo IP. Late last month, Niantic announced that its AR game had hit a staggering 800 million downloads.

The newly announced Switch titles Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee represent another step toward a more open, cross-platform Nintendo, as well. The Poké Ball Plus peripheral lets users capture Pokémon on the mobile title and utilize them into the Switch game. It’s a compelling bit of synergy that could point a ways forward, wherein smartphones and the Switch play even more nicely together.

Is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate the most ambitious crossover event in history?

Nintendo sure thinks so. Take that, The Avengers. The game is certainly a massive undertaking and a comprehensive Nintendo history lesson, including every playable character from past Super Smash Bros. versions.

A handful of additions were announced this morning during Nintendo’s E3 kickoff event, including also-ran Super Mario princess, Daisy; new Pokemon; Splatoon’s Inkling and perennial Metroid baddie, Ridley.

The company didn’t give specifics with regard to the number of playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it’s definitely well into the dozens, with more being announced as we push toward the December 7 release date. It seems there’s still a lot to unpack, even beyond the 25 minutes of footage the company debuted this morning. 

“At E3, we’re showing how Nintendo Switch continues to redefine play, with the broadest range of games people can enjoy together anytime, anywhere,” said NOA President Reggie Fils-Aime said in a statement tied to the news. “Fans who’ve debated which Super Smash Bros. fighter is the best now have the chance to settle their differences once and for all, pitting familiar faces against fresh challengers on stages both new and old.”

The title will, naturally, include new stages, which appear to be increasingly complex, as is the nature of the series. Among them are levels from fellow Switch titles Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2.

And, as if the whole thing wasn’t steeped in enough fan service, Fils-Aime also alluded to the fact that users will be able to play the title with a GameCube controller. Nintendo added support for the bygone accessory via a USB adapter late last year. No words on the specifics of when that will be available for the title, but the addition will go a long ways toward improving gameplay over the Switch’s admittedly limited Joy-Cons.

Fortnite arrives on the Nintendo Switch today

After days of press conferences teasing games arriving in some time within the next decade, here’s a refreshing bit of news. As previously rumored, wildly popular sandbox survival game Fortnite is, indeed, coming to Nintendo Switch. Not only that, it’s  available starting today as a free download from the Nintendo eShop.

Epic’s title will be available at 10AM PT today (a little under an hour from now), bringing the battle royale mode that has made it such a massive money maker on the PC, consoles and iOS, which arrived in March. An Android version of the title is also in the works for later this summer. 

The game is a perfect fit for console. Nintendo’s long time focus on all ages entertainment certainly lines up with the title, which skews younger than many of the titles on display at the show this week, along with the (perhaps litigiously so) similar Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG).

The battle royale game play means Switch players will be able to play against a gamers and the growing number of devices Fortnite is currently available for.

Here’s what Sony announced at E3 2018

Sony wanted its E3 2018 press conference to be an event. Not the “we have 50 new titles to show you” event Microsoft just put on, so much as the get up and walk around kind. 

It was kind of like one of those trendy experiential restaurants. The portions are small and you’re still hungry after the final course, but it’s kind of fun, I guess.

The Last of Us Part II

A trailer bookended with a passionate kiss showed up some extremely refined gameplay for the post-apocalyptic survival game. It was…gory. But, then, that’s kind of what we’ve come to expect from the series, and the crowd went predictably wild with each close up hack and slash on the big screen.

Ghost of Tsushima

Another stunning — and amazing gory — one on the giant display. This samurai story is set during a Mongol invasion, featuring a whole lot of sword to torso action and got its gameplay debut at the show.

Control

Not a lot to go on here, but the trailer has a real first-person shooter crossed with Inception, which is perfectly okay with us.

Resident Evil 2

A remake for the popular zombie murdering series got what may well have been the most excited crowded reaction from the bunch. Lot of reveals here, but man was that face eating shot nice and close. It’s up for preorder today and will hit retail January of next year,

Trover Saves the Universe

From one of the co-creators of Rick and Morty, the trailer was fishing for laughs, but came up short, even in a crowd full of Playstation fans. Looks colorful, though.

Death Stranding

Norman Reedus ripping off his toenail was somehow more unsettling than all of the zombie murders of the past half-hour put together. Definitely one of the most innovative trailers we’ve seen so far — beautiful landscapes, close up child birth and hey, neat future umbrella.

Marvel’s Spider-Man Game

Due out in September, we knew this one was going to get some solid face time at the event. Sony showed off a good deal of gameplay, featuring your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man battle some familiar supervillians inside the Raft super prison.

Here’s what Ubisoft announced at E3 2018

E3 news is officially coming fast and furious, a day ahead of the show’s official launch.

Following a fairly disappointing showing from Square Enix, Ubisoft brought out the big guns, including Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy titles and a cameo by a beaming Shigeru Miyamoto.

Here are the biggest announcement’s from today’s event.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Set in ancient Greece, the latest addition to the hugely popular title got a gorgeous new trailer, complete with Socrates — because what action-adventure title would be complete with out one of history’s great philosophers? The title is due out October 5 — refreshingly fast for a show full of “pre-alpha” demos.

Beyond Good and Evil 2

The followup to the 2003 critical darling kicked off the show with an extended trailer and a touch of gameplay. The prequel is built around open-world action Star Wars-style space adventures. Currently in pre-alpha, the game is soliciting contributions from fans through Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord startup.

Trials Rising

The BMX sequel got some high-intensity gameplay footage at today’s event. Currently available in beta, the title will arrive on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch next February.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

Quite possibly the only game trailer with an Abraham Lincoln in the middle, the new Tom Clancy title is set in the nation’s capital following a zombie-style plague. The title will launch in March 2019.

Skull & Bones

Pirate games? This E3’s got ’em. Based on the naval battles from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the new title features large-scale tactical open-seas action.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle — Donkey Kong Adventure

Another familiar face joins the Ubisoft/Nintendo crossover. The downloadable add-on arrives June 26 for the Nintendo, with Donkey Kong in tow.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Speaking of Nintendo, legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto was on-hand at the event to help introduce Fox McCloud and other Star Fox characters as exclusive add-on content for the action-adventure space title. Starlink is due out October 18.

Here’s what Bethesda announced at E3 2018

For the past few days, Bethesda has been dominating a few big downtown L.A. buildings with massive Fallout posters. It’s clear the company is barnstorming E3 this year, and Fallout 76 has monopolized that conversation.

But Bethesda’s got a lot more in the works, including more sequels to beloved gaming franchises and a couple of surprises. Here are the biggest titles unveiled at tonight’s E3 kickoff event. 

Fallout 76

We knew from the outset that Fallout 76 was going to be the centerpiece of Bethesda’s big show. The company’s been releasing info in dribs and drops this week, including a trailer at the Xbox event earlier today. The game, which boasts a map four times larger than Fallout 4, is an online multi-player experience. It’s due out November 14, 2018.

Doom Eternal

We still don’t know much about this sequel to the 2016 reboot. Bethesda has promised some actual gameplay come Quakefest 2018. Meantime, the company’s called it “hell on Earth,” courtesy of boasting twice as many demons as its predecessor.

Wolfenstein Youngblood

Another classic first-person shooter got some sequel love today, as well. The co-op title due out next year features a pair of twins battling Nazis in an alternate timeline version of Paris in the 80s. Makes sense. There’s also a Wolfenstein sequel arriving on the Switch next month and a VR title coming in 2019.

Skyrim: Very Special Edition

Okay, this one doesn’t count, because it’s probably not real. Some things are just too beautiful to live.

Elder Scrolls VI

This one was a teaser, at best. But at least we know it’s a thing that exists — or, rather, will exist — and isn’t that half the battle, really?

Starfield

Another teaser. The minute-long trailer didn’t actually show anything — instead it just confirmed that the company is, in fact, working on the long rumored sci-fi space title.