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Elite Dangerous: Horizons arrives on Xbox One in two weeks

Posted by on May 21, 2016 in Horizon, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Frontier Developments has announced a release date for the Horizons expansion coming to Elite: Dangerous on Xbox One. The Engineers update for PC players also has a release date.

The Engineers update will release on May 26 for all Season Pass holders alongside a large, free update for all players.

Xbox One players can download Horizons on June 3, and the content has also been handed a permanent price drop.

From today, Horizons for PC is available as an upgrade to Elite Dangerous for £19.99/$29.99/24.99. It can also be purchased as part of the Commander Deluxe edition package for £39.99/$59.99/€49.99. It also comes with eighteen paint jobs.

Elite Dangerous: Horizons for Xbox One will be made available as an upgrade to Elite Dangerous for £19.99/$29.99/€24.99. And like the PC version it will also be packaged with Elite Dangerous as part of the Xbox One Commander Deluxe edition for £39.99/$59.99/€49.99.

You can have a look at the most current changelog through the official forums.

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Homefront: The Revolution Review – Not A Revolution, More Of A Thing That Exists

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments


Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Co-op

Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.

The Homefront license isn’t one I saw coming back, despite the fact that it seemed to have some potential. The first game didn’t make much of an impact in terms of sales or critical reception and thus it didn’t seem likely that the name would ever be plastered on a videogame box ever again. And yet after five long years of development we Homefront: The Revolution, which ultimately doesn’t actually have much to do with the first game. Indeed, it arguably would have fared far better without the Homefront branding, but that’s pure speculation. So what does this FPS bring to the table?

The premise is that North Korea has become a giant in the electronics industry thanks to Apex, a company that has essentially become the Apple of this fictional world. Having made its money from phones and other smart devices Apex moves into military production, pumping out weapons, vehicles and other toys that America simply can’t get enough of, buying up everything it can lay its hands on. Unsurprisingly this proves to be a stupid idea because eventually America begins suffering from major economic issues, at which point North Korea enacts a secret backdoor it had built into all of its technology that renders America’s army practically useless in one fell swoop. The North Korean KPA (Korean Public Army) invades America under the incredibly thin pretext of trying to help, even handing out some aid packages, before quickly dismissing that idea and becoming tyrannical jerks. As premises go it’s interesting if a bit far-fetched. Surely America would not base its entire military off a single supplier whom they have no reason to try? And why is the rest of the world happy to sit by and let North Korea invade?


As for the player, you’ll be taking control of Ethan Brady, an entirely mute lead character who is rescued by the legendary hero of the resistance. Sadly said hero gets captured, while you get recruited into the resistance with the goal of finding him, because according to the trio of Dana, Parrish and Doc he has the charisma and support of the people needed to spark the revolution. Stiff animations and lifeless looking faces do the impressive voice work no favors. Revolution has cobbled together a stellar cast of actors who deliver the iffy dialogue with skill. Quite frankly they deserve much better than the script they are given which is entirely inoffensive and standard stuff.  There’s little effort given over to painting the revolutionaries as freedom-fighting champions who try to avoid bloodshed where possible, which is refreshingly honest. Throughout history occupations and revolutions have typically brought out the worst in both sides, and Homefront does the same. One character out of the main trio attempts to argue against the loss of human life on both sides of the conflict, but the other two are on the warpath and have a raging hatred of the Korean forces occupying their city, which is perfectly understandable. They are not above using torture and hiding weapons within clinics to achieve victory, and refer to their enemies as Norks.

Bur despite not hiding from the inherent violence that comes with revolutions the writers do so very little with their own premise. There’s no attempt to explore the depth to which people are willing to go to regain freedom, or to flesh out the resistance so that they become anything more than a mob of faceless grunts. The leading trio have absolutely no character development throughout the entire campaign, remaining steadfastly one-dimensional. They each have a sole defining traits; the doc wants less killing; Dana wants more killing, and Parrish is the patriot willing to do whatever it takes. Outside of these things they aren’t people. They have no discernible personality, except that Dana is a violent person who would probably have wound up in jail if bad guys hadn’t invaded. Speaking of which the Korean forces are nothing more than people wearing suits of body armor and therefore could actually be absolutely any nationality. They might as well just be Generic Goons from the country of ThatBadPlaceWotTheDarkLordCameFrom. At one point you get a text message from the doctor saying you should remember that the Korean forces are human beings under those helmets, people who are simply following orders. It’s laughable, though, because all the game presents them as is walking suits of armor. You never even get to hear them speak, or perhaps learn what the regular ground troops think of it all. Do they regret a lot of the violence their comrades are inflicting? Do they believe what they’re doing is a good thing? Collaborators are part of the narrative as well, but like the Koreans and the revolutionaries nothing is really done with them. When you manage to get the collaborator sector freed from Korean control you’ll find people beating the living crap out of the collaborators, but not once does the plot ever stop to tackle it. Collaborators throughout history are a complex bunch, some doing it for power, others purely for survival and some still doing it because they believe they can ultimately help There’s such rich narrative possibilities within Homefront’s setup, and it ignores them all in favor of hitting predictable beats. The plot comes across as boring and clichéd, and isn’t helped by the fact that your character remains mute throughout. Characters have conversations at you rather than with you, and then send you off to blow something else up, an order you must simply obey without hesitation. You have no agency, a fact that becomes even more amusing when certain scenes have you looking back almost longingly at the doctor and his pleas for a less violent approach, while following the other two leaders out of the room like a puppy dog. It’s a shame, really, because there are flashes of something better hidden away in Homefront’s story.

Ditching the linear levels of the last game this new Homefront has instead adopted a template that seems to have studiously been taking notes from Ubisoft’s Far Cry series, right down to the small outposts to assault and tech panels that magically reveal the surrounding activities on the map. Scattered around are resistance caches, bases to attack and overwatches to be setup. And of course patrolling these open streets and ruined landscapes are the enemy forces, making yuou choose between skirting around them using the very basic and sometimes inconsistent stealth or just diving in to the fight, a strategy will typically ends up setting of an alarm. You begin amidst a city block that’s partially destroyed but still inhabited, but eventually move on to a section of city that houses collaborators and is thus vibrant and beautiful towards its centre, an attempt to distract from the outer fringes of the same area which are anything but. Later you’ll traverse a ruined area where poisonous gas forces the wearing of a gas mask and infiltrate a zone designated for prisoners. These zones have two color values; red zones are full of nothing but the enemy who patrol in force and will shoot on sight, while Yellow Zones are also inhabited by regular citizens doing their thing. In both zones being spotted by the enemy means they’ll open fire, but in the Yellow areas you’ve got a tad more leeway provided you keep your weapon holstered and don’t stray too close to patrols or scanners. It’s a pleasing amount of variety in the environments, helping to keep the otherwise repetitive side-missions a bit more compelling. Sadly it’s not a seamless open world, but load times between areas are relatively fast.

Yellow Zones are also where you get to do the most revolution-y stuff. By tackling bases, sabotaging generators, blowing up roving truck, saving citizens and establishing overwatch locations you can build up the Hearts & Minds meter, and when it’s full you get to insight a riot and take the area back. This acts as the basis for a fair number of the primary campaign missions which are enjoyable if pretty bog-standard stuff. If you’re looking for bombastic set pieces and epic moments that stem from a crazy bunch of systems working together and occasionally crashing together then Homefront really isn’t going to be for you. Liberating a sector from the tyrannical rule of the armor bros is…well, a bit anticlimactic. After I took back a few from the control of the North Koreans I gave up. Plus, why should I do the job for the guy who I’m supposed to be helping rescue?


Wherever you happen to be levels tend to offer a solid amount of verticality, be it through framework that can be climbed, ruined buildings with crumbling floors or bridges that cross-cross overhead, plus there are frequently tunnels and houses to dive through. Combine this with a pretty fast sprint speed and no stamina meter and you’ve got a game that can be played surprisingly fast at times. A reasonably smooth mantle lets you get about easily, as does the fact that you can fall from quite a height without ever taking damage.

This feeds nicely into the combat which falls squarely into the realms of unspectacular but fun. The selection of weapons on offer is very basic, presenting players with a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, crossbow, rocket launcher and marksman’s rifle. At any given time you can pack two of these along with the pistol, but Homefront tries to get around this realistic trapping with weapon conversion mods. Purchase one of these nifty conversions (each weapon bar the rocket launcher has two) using special points gained for taking on enemy bases and you can then bring up an in-game menu which lets swap out parts of the gun, turning it into something else. Thus via conversion mod a pistol can be quickly turned into a bullet-spitting SMG, an assault rifle can transform into an LMG or even a limpet mine launcher, and a crossbow can become a blunderbuss or a flamethrower because of reasons. Mechanically it’s really no different to just letting players carry all the weapons instead of just two big ones, but I have to give the developers some credit for coming up with a thematic way to let people have access to more guns at once. Plus, it’s kind of cool to watch the animations play out before your eyes, though I do wish there was a method for doing it on-the-fly without having to bring up the radial menu, faff around for a second and then wait while the parts are fitted to move around again.

Weapon customization is handled pretty well, too, if again in a basic fashion. Attachments such as new scopes, a muzzle breaker, suppressor and a few other things can be bought from vendors and then fitted to a weapon using the in-game radial menu. Whatever you select Ethan Brady will run through a neat little animation where he fits the upgrade to the weapon. From vendors you can also purchase new gear like bulletproof vests and webbing that lets you carry more ammo. Finally you’ve got access to molotovs, hack grenades that can turn drones against their human masters, explosives and decoys. Each of these also has RC car, remote detonation and proximity sensor variants.

Despite the weapon selection being small and rather humdrum they all feel satisfying to use, packing enough oomph to make it feel like you’re really doing some damage. Sadly the A.I. you’ll face off against aren’t exactly a smart bunch of cookies, typically displaying as much teamwork and spatial awareness as a brick with the word “soldier” written on it. They’ll frequently run out into the open for no reason or turn battles into a shooting gallery. Possibly the dumbest examples are when an alarm goes off in a Yellow Zone and suddenly you find yourself being swarmed by an infinite line of soldiers who all run down the run so that they can be gunned down. In other words they typically make up for stupidity with sheer numbers or the fact that if an alarm goes on for too long there’s a chance for one of their damn huge blimps to float over and start making things worse. Still, smart or not the relative speed and ease with which you can scoot around makes combat quite fun, and you can’t absorb too much damage without dying, either, so there’s a little caution needed.

Speaking of which death in Homefront is treated as nothing more than a small inconvenience. Upon being brutally bulleted (it’s totally a word, I swear) you somehow magically revive at a nearby resistance base with a message stating that you’ve lost the valuables you’ve collected. That’s hardly a problem, though, considering they rarely add up to more than $100 worth and completing main story missions will often give you a few thousand Dollars to play with. And that’s not counting side-missions.


If you get bored of playing through the actually quite substantial singleplayer offering then you can team up with a few friends to tackle six short co-op missions. Strangely the competitive multiplayer which was the best part of the original Homefront hasn’t carried over to this sequel that’s not really a sequel. These six missions are fun, mostly because you’ve managed to rope some other people into playing with you, and offer a surprisingly deep progression system that seems like it was designed for a far more substantial co-op campaign than the one we get, which can be completed in about two hours.

And that’s most likely because there was supposed to be something more substantial. Somewhat fittingly after the credits have rolled a small message pops up from the developers thanking fans and talking about how the game had a rough development over its five years in production, and that the small team who made it are proud of what they’ve accomplished. They should be, really. Still, their message does ring true as Homefront: The Revolution feels like it could have been so much more than what it is, and there are hints of an unfinished game everywhere, such as how you can walk up to a resistance member and recruit them with a tap of the E key, a fact that never gets mentioned.

The rough development occasionally shows itself in the performance as well. Running on the CryEngine the game looks pretty nice at times, particularly during daylight. There’s a nice leve of detail within the environments that goes a long way toward selling it as a real city that is being occupied by enemy forces. Throw in some reasonable textures and lighting work and you’ve got some decent graphics. At night things look a lot rougher, though. Overall it looks reasonable. As for how it runs that’s a bit more of a mixed bag as I encountered a good number of framerate dips. None of them were serious enough or frequent enough to really damage the experience, but seeing the FPS drop from a stable 60 to 40 was a bit irritating. Consoles seem to be suffering far more, though, so at the moment PC would appear to the preferable platform.

There’s a good number of glitches and problems, too. I had a number of crashes while playing, plus a few examples of the game suddenly locking up, and then delivering 1 frame every ten seconds or so before eventually catching up with itself. However, once it had caught up the textures had gone bonkers and I was forced to quit out anyway. Enemies spawning directly in front of me when I was running around or driving through the streets on a bike was another issue that caused me a couple of headaches, and on a couple of occasions they audio got jumbled up. There’s also a frustrating issue where the game will grind to a halt for a few seconds whenever it autosaves, which is a lot.

Is Homefront: the Revolution a fantastic game that you absolutely need to play right this instant? No. But it is a solid FPS, so if you’ve got some spare cash and want a new shooter it’s worth checking out, although Doom might be the more tempting option while you wait for The Revolution to go on sale. There are a lot of rough edges that really needed to be smoothed over with a few patches, but I think I can honestly say that I’m glad Homefront managed to come back. There’s a lot of potential here for powerful storytelling and fun action which was hampered by a troubled development. The team that created it, though, clearly have a passion for the project, and I sincerely hope they get another crack at it.

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Fractured Space goes free-to-play, large update released

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

A large content update has been released for Fractured Space along with news of it going free-to-play.

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The extra content includes two new sector maps, gameplay improvements, a “Fly Before You Buy” ship testing feature and new missions. Early Access players will also find two new ships, a Drop System, and twenty additional crew members and more.

This new Drop System goes hand-in hand with the new crew members which would arrive Drop Pods. These pods can be earned on a daily basis through the completion of games over the course of each day. This feature didn’t sit well with players.

In response to the dissatisfaction noted, Edge Case Games CEO James Brooksby issued the following statement:

“Basically we messed up,” he said. “The new Crew Collection System has been rolled out in a way that we are not proud of, and you guys have reacted to in a very understandable way. We have always worked closely with you, the community and listened along our journey through Early Access. And we are listening now.

“We will now do what we should have done in the first place and ensure you have the crew you already played so hard to get. To ensure we don’t miss anything, the best way is to give everyone who has played Fractured Space before the last update all the available crew that were attainable then.”

That should be a relief to some players. Also, those who have spent Platinum and Credits on Drop Ships before yesterday, May 19 at 5pm UK will be refunded.

Brooksby said the crew collection system will improve over time and features such as Ranked Play, Replays, Spectator Cam and more are in the works.

Originally launched on Steam Early Access in November 2014, Fractured Space has attracted over 500,000 players.

The game will see a full launch later this year and a look at the new content update can be seen below in the video.

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How to Fight China’s Mobile Game Pirates & Avoid Clash Royale’s Fate – by Mary Min

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

With China on track to overtake the US in mobile game revenue on iOS in the next few years, developers are even more focused on launching their games in that market. However, rampant piracy and copycatting continue to be a challenge – perhaps becoming even more of a problem since I wrote about it last year. Here’s a look at the problems the industry faces in China now — along with strategies for dealing with them.

Chinese Piracy: Fast, Cheap, Out of Control


Clash Royale clones in Chinese app stores

As it happened, I gave a related GDC talk last March right as just about everyone in the industry was watching aghast as Supercell’s blockbuster Clash Royale was cloned for the China market in less than a week. Just as notable is the cost effectiveness of this copy:

Take a look at the data in this slide:


Cost to create Clash Royale: Millions. Cost to clone Clash Royale: Thousands.

This info above is from a colleague who’s the CTO of a gaming company in China. After consulting with a few other Asian game developer colleagues, my team concluded this was an entirely feasible estimate in terms of numbers.

You’re reading the numbers right: It cost a company just $30,000 to build an extremely quick knockoff of Clash Royale, which after it launched, was earning almost a half a million a month on Android alone. Thanks to broad pool of well-trained engineers, it’s now possible to pay a pittance to quickly create a copycat game that earns back its development cost in just a single month.


Chinese Clash Royale clone’s likely yearly earnings

Do the math (above), and you can see how that revenue adds up. Assuming a $1.60 cost per install and a 1% conversion rate on both iOS and Android, we’re talking around $6 million a year gross — so after the app stores take their cut, an ill-gotten profit for the copycatter of over $4 million. Which also shows why copycatting in China is so pervasive — it’s a big business.

There’s an even greater cause for concern: I can say with confidence that there’s a high likelihood that the knockoff in question has used some or all of Supercell’s original source code — particularly the communication piece between the server and client. I’m convinced there’s no way the copycats could have replicated that smoothness and speed (it’s very sophisticated tech) without having directly taken the source code.


Copycat vs. Clone vs. Crack: Defining the difference

Before we go any further, I want to make some distinctions between the different types of potentially infringing apps we see on the market. Some developers regard “copycats” as an accepted part of the gaming ecosystem, believing that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The question is, how far can you take it for something to be OK? Can you really say you “own” a particular gaming style? After all, no one would argue that Tekken, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter are copies of each other.

I break down apps into these three categories: copycats, clones, and cracks.

Copycats: Countless games, as any longtime gamer can tell you, are directly inspired by other games. This does not necessarily involve hacking or other infringing/unethical activity, especially when the copycat comes with substantial tweaks and additions to the original title. For the most part, the game is self-developed with its own code, and in doing so, the developer builds on top of a known game mechanic or idea and adds his/her own twist to the new game.

Clones: When a copycat involves pervasive imitation in every aspect of the game, and starts to include source code from the original game, we are entering into the realm of clones. These games are not self-developed, and primarily rely on the original source code for the game’s algorithms and logic. (Sometimes reverse engineered through recorded gameplay.) Most of the time. it is a simple “reskin” of the game, meaning the source code is largely untouched and only the graphics are switched out.

Cracks: Cracks are modified version of the original game that allows you to cheat, by getting free items/gold, allowing you to bypass restrictions placed by game designers (speed hacks, unlimited lives, etc.), removing ads, and other barriers that may be in place.

On left, Oniix/Game Hive’s official game Tap Titans; on right, its Chinese pirate Tap Tap Heroes

I explored these distinctions in a Gamasutra post last September highlighting the grief my colleagues at Oniix endured when their latest game, Tap Titans, was apparently copied in China. After playing the Chinese knockoff, they learned that not only was the surface UI similar, discovered, so were the leveling curves, scoring logic, etc. This was not just an imitation of their games images and UI design — it was almost certainly an outright copycat that had also reskinned graphics on top of Tap Titans’ source code.  

Clash Royale and Tap Titans are not rare examples of the phenomenon — the problem is rampant:   


Chinese 2048 Android clones as far as the eye can see

We took this screenshot above from a top Android app store in China. As you can see, there’s not just one knockoff of 2048, but numerous — I count three dozen on just this one screencap from just one app store (there are thousands in China) alone.


These problems aren’t confined to China, by the way, but are quickly being exported overseas — including and especially into the US. Last month, there a California court posted a ruling on Lilith Games (Shanghai) Co. Ltd. v. uCool, Inc, with Lilith alleging that uCool, a US-based company, had copied 240,000 lines of code along with the overall look of the game. According to a legal analyst, Lilith had a high chance of winning the lawsuit overall, yet their preliminary injunction was denied. The junction was denied even though many gamers in the public now believed it was Lilith which was the infringer, because uCool’s game was released to US app stores before Lilith could do so itself. Again, this is an example for why it’s so important to be proactive. You can take infringers to court, but by then, it may already be too late — and the law might not help you enough to ameliorate the problem.


Cracked apps easily accessible through a Google search

… And this is from a US-based website that lists all “cracked” apk files for games. There are countless sites like this online. If that’s not a visual to convince you to start protecting your game now, I don’t know what will.

Now that I’ve hopefully laid out how serious this problem is, let’s look at a multi-prong strategy for dealing with it:  


Seven point app protection plan

Pre-Launch Code Protection: Memory Hacking Prevention, String & Binary Obfuscation

On the development side, you want to secure your code against multiple varieties of hacking. I explored these in detail in this Gamasutra post: “Six Strategies for Protecting Your Mobile Games Against Hackers, Crackers & Copycatters”. The key is these are pre-launch strategies, reliable only if they’re implemented before copies of the game are available to the general public. If you try protecting your app after it’s already in app stores, it’s too late. After a game’s already been released, it can sometimes require weeks of development time to retroactively secure a code vulnerability. And by then, as we see in the Clash Royale case and many others, hackers may have already done their worst.

In addition to protection on the code side, there’s precautions you can take on the business side:

  • Launch worldwide from the beginning: Many publishers hesitate to do this, and often don’t have the resources to do so. But at the very least, create a global rollout plan even before the initial launch, so you’re ready to globally expand as quickly as you can — and start with China. The downside to a launch delay gives Chinese pirates time to put out copycats, build a fanbase, and tarnish your brand.

  • Scan the China market often: Your local partner in China (and we highly recommend having one) will probably need to do this, but it’s not just about scanning the Chinese app stores. You also want to search the web, to catch unscrupulous copycatters pointing people to their download sites. As for China’s major app stores, you and your partner should form good relationships with them — know the key people who can help you immediately, when the inevitable finally happens.

As I noted above, my team has counted at least 100+ clones and copycats, and countless “cracks” for Clash Royale. And those are just the ones that are at the top of the leaderboards — who knows how many lurk beneath the surface? Any mobile game, regardless of level of success, is a target for hackers. So if you’re developing games to become worldwide hits, preemptive protection must be an integral part of your plan.

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The Measure of Success – by Jonas Antonsson

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

This is the second time we get to write a “We just published a game and it was awesome!” post. It’s turning into quite the trend. We approve! The “awesome” part is a little different this time around, though.

Kingdom paid for itself within the first 24 hours from release. If Kathy Rain had done the same, we would have been both super surprised and probably sporting new adamantium enhancements right about now… but we can’t because Kathy Rain didn’t do that.

In fact, a quick Google search and visit to a certain site (cough cough SteamSpy) would confirm that sales haven’t been amazing.

What’s so awesome then?

Here’s the thing—Kathy Rain simply needed to exist. When we partnered up with Joel Staaf Hästö, the one-man army we know as Clifftop Games, we didn’t do so expecting to become insta-rich when the game launched. Nope.

We expected his game to be loved though, as we loved it. And we expected it to do well financially over a longer period of time. It’s a niche game from a new developer in a very tough space within games, and these things take time and patience.

So here’s what’s so awesome and in line with what we wanted—Kathy Rain has been received pretty well, with Steam Users giving it 92% positive ratings, and for the most part critics dig what Kathy has brought to the table.

Even though things have started off a bit slowly on the sales side, we know that eventually the game will turn a nice profit. It will grow a long tail because of its critical acclaim, timeless looks, and a story that tackles taboo stuff not typically discussed in video games.

It will take a bit of time but that’s A-OK. We were prepared for that. We can afford to be patient. We have money for a rainy day. We can wait. But do you know who can’t wait?

Joel. The developer.

And this is usually where the developer dies

Figuratively, of course. Here’s a classic example of why:

  • A publisher invests money to see the game reach completion. They also fund marketing, promotional activities, and additional services. Perhaps they even invest in some additional post-launch content or DLCs. Maybe.
  • At a minimum, said publisher requires that their investment be paid back before any revenue is shared between the publisher and developer.
  • The game gets released and sales are slow. It will take time for the game to generate enough revenue to return the investment to the publisher. Sometimes a quarter. Sometimes six months. Sometimes a year or more.
  • The publisher can usually live with that (and has more than likely factored in this risk) although they are likely to classify the game, at this point, as a failure—something to be shoved aside, with no further thought of additional investment for the game neither through money nor time.
  • Way too often the developer can’t survive this sort of scenario, usually because they don’t have other sources of income. They are – to put it frankly – fucked. This is especially true for newer and smaller developers.

And herein lies the dreaded entrance to “The Developer’s Valley of Death.”

Some of us here at Raw Fury have spent many years on the developer’s side, and we are intricately familiar with The Developer’s Valley of Death. As the weeks and months pass by, you start to grow desperate. Maybe you take on a work-for-hire contract that, essentially, takes away some (or all) of your independence. Maybe you get more money from the publisher in exchange for the IP, an additional share of the revenues, your second child ,or some other added constraints. Maybe you just stop independent development altogether and walk away.

All the while, your critically acclaimed game goes on to slowly but surely cover the investment made by your publisher, allowing them to at least recover their investment and perhaps even make a bit of a profit over time.

The studio death scenario is not going to happen this time around though

Nope. Here is what we’re doing instead:

  • We’ll continue funding Joel through his company, Clifftop Games, for the next 12 months or until the revenues generated by Kathy Rain have reached a point where we have recovered our total investment and the shared royalties can sustain the development studio.
  • We do not require anything in return. Not the Kathy Rain IP. Not increased revenue share. Not rights to future titles, revenue streams, or anything else.
  • In fact, outside of making a mobile version of Kathy Rain, which was part of the original agreement, Joel is free to do whatever he wants. We just want to make sure he has the freedom and ability to create more games. Speaking as gamers, we cannot afford to lose his creativity and passion in this industry. In fact, he’s already cooking something up—and we do not have sole or first rights to publish, or do anything really. Joel can do as he pleases.

Wait, why the hell is a publisher doing this?

Because we want to and we can. Well, okay. There’s more to it.

We also consider this an investment in ourselves. Our long term growth is found in our reputation, approach, and behavior. We want our actions to speak loudly. We’ve helped create and publish two amazing games already and here is an opportunity to affect a broader change when it comes to the dynamics of a classic publisher/developer relationship.And we truly want to be a catalyst of change.

You see, Raw Fury is about what makes us happy. And doing this—what we’ve just described by making sure an indie dev can stay independent instead of going back to work for a larger company—makes us very happy. We love games and we love nothing more than being able to help support the people that make them. That is what makes us tick and we truly believe that by focusing on the people and not the quarterly bottom line, we’re more likely to be both happier and better off in the long term. And, perhaps more importantly, help foster an indie ecosystem that thrives even when we don’t hit our targets right off the bat.

In this day where closing studios is the established and accepted norm, we want to do our part to combat the norm.


We want to challenge how success is measured and point out that money shouldn’t be the only applied metric. In an industry that is smack full of impostor syndrome, depression, anxiety, and other things that are sometimes associated with the emotional work that goes into creativity, it is also important to think about how we measure success and failure. Of course money is important, as an enabler, but sometimes you need help creating something that doesn’t only serve commercial value, but an artistic need. Not acknowledging that is to miss the point of making games.

For us, Kathy Rain is a success because it has something to say and players are hearing it. Creating it has changed the developer’s life, and through it we’ve been able to help tackle things that aren’t usually seen in games. And finally, because it raises our portfolio as a publisher, so in that regard it is even a business success.

Even though Kathy Rain has momentarily failed financially, it has succeeded in so many other ways.  We should all think about how we perceive and handle our misses instead of only embracing our hits. For us, Kathy Rain feels like a success. Clifftop Games is a success.

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Stellaris Review – To Boldly Click Where No Man Has Clicked Before

Posted by on May 19, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Stellaris' official logo.

Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Paradox 
Published by Paradox
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes

Review code provided free of charge by Paradox.

Right now the human race is pondering ways of achieving ways to leave our solar system and colonize other planets. Theories on how to terraform Mars or to set up a base on the moon are thrown around constantly. Despite the fact that we’ve yet to sort out our own planet, we already want to travel through space and seek out new planets and life. Stellaris, the new strategy game from genre veteran Paradox, lets you take control of humans or an alien race who embarking on their first forays into the universe, guiding them through the process of setting up a galactic empire, building a military, colonizing new planets, researching powerful technology, handling diplomacy and declaring way. It’s big and flawed and sometimes ugly, but at its core Stellaris is a compelling experience.

You start small; a single planet is your home, so you build a science ship and use some influence points to hire a scientist to command it. A quick order and it begins surveying the system while you start the process of gradually building up your economy. Time passes and you begin sending your science vessel into new solar systems where it discovers minerals and other goodies, so naturally a construction ship is built in order to construct the necessary space stations to acquire them. Eventually you’ll probably stumble upon your first habitable world and eagerly build a vessel to colonize it. Before long you’ll be lord and master of two planets, each with spaceports capable of producing basic ships of war, because it’s inevitable that you’ll bump into an alien species. It’ll be a momentous occasion, but the big question is whether they’re friendly or colossal dicks. An encounter with ravenous looking giant bugs might leave you surprised to learn that they’re a diplomatic species looking for allies, while the cutest looking fluffy things may be war-mongering bastards intent on conquering your entire empire.

A view of the galaxy in Stellaris.

It’s all a bit impersonal as you view it from far above. There are two methods of watching what’s going on; a sector view, or a full galactic view. Sadly there’s no seamless zoom between the two which feels like a real mistake. No matter species you encounter there’s never a sense that they’re truly alien to you. You won’t find strange lifeforms that live entirely underwater or something that doesn’t require food to survive. Each race is a few different ideological beliefs and stats, but that otherwise follow the same style of technology and needs. The diplomacy screen offers a relatively small amount of options for dealing with the other races you’ll meet. Through this you can offer basic trades for resources or even research, allow border crossings and even migration between species, form alliances, declare war and more.

Technological advancement is handled differently than in other 4x games. Rather than having a preset tree of technology for each research path – physics, biology and engineering – that you progress along you’ll be dealt random cards out of a deck, with some rare cards representing large leaps forward in the advancement of your species. Other more standard types of technology are weighted to help ensure some semblance of balance across the galaxy. It’s a fascinating system because on the one hand it forces you into making decisions that feel important. You’ve got three scientists, each of which focuses on one of the three scientific areas and that can research one thing at a time. Typically you’ll be given three pieces of technology to choose from, and whatever you opt to focus on its possible you’ll won’t see the other options again for quite some time. In the case of the rarer technologies there’ll be moments where you’ll be forced to pick something more immediately useful with the knowledge that the opportunity to research that rare item may not pop up again. On the other hand the variable nature of the system means it’s difficult to focus your empire. You might begin be forced to research more military tech when you really want to develop somewhere else. It also has the effect of making the mid-game and late-game less interesting as quite often you’ll have researched and developed most of the big tech available, leaving you with small stat boosts. It’s a system likely to divide opinion, but personally I like how it makes you adapt and change instead of choosing a strategy at the very start of the game and trying to stick to it for as long as possible.

When it comes to expanding your borders there are a few options. Firstly you can simply construct a frontier outpost in any surveyed system which will claim that area as yours, linking it to your existing territory if its close enough. These bases cost power and influence to maintain, but are good for grabbing faraway zones that perhaps contain considerable resources or even just for giving yourself a buffer between you and the opponents. To get to said far away zones, however, you will need to upgrade your ship’s warp capabilities or build something like wormhole generators. The bigger option is to build a colony ship and send it off to some distant planet. As you research more technology you’ll open up the ability to colonise a wider variety of planets or even terraform existing ones.

Select one of your colonies and you can a close up view of a tile system that’s used to micromanage the economy. Every tile can have something built on it provided there’s an active population to run it. Furthermore most tiles tend to naturally have one or two resources on them that will lead to improved production if you put down the appropriate building type there, thus a tile that already puts out natural minerals will be best suited to a mine. You can, however, opt to ignore this and build whatever you want should the empire be lacking something specific, such as power or minerals, both of which are important since maintaining fleets of ships can become very expensive. On top of that some tiles will have to be cleared of various obstacles before they can be used, which requires certain research to be done. Naturally as you progress through the tech tree new buildings and upgrades will become available to use, letting you improve output to help keep up with a burgeoning empire that spans multiple sectors of space. Rulers can also be assigned to each planet, providing a variety of bonuses. Provided you meet a population’s food requirements you’re generally okay, but if happiness dips too long people will start to leave or other more disastrous things can happen.


Interestingly there’s a limit to how many planets you can have direct control of. Should you want to colonize any more than the surprisingly small limit of just five you must assign planets to groups where a single governor will rule over multiple zones in your stead. You can direct the governor to focus on certain things or even allow for existing buildings to be demolished and replaced with new ones, but for the most part your level of control is minimal. As your empire grows ever bigger you’ll eventually end up with numerous planets that you have little influence over. In this regard it’s like running a country; you have say over the big picture but must leave the day-to-day running to other people, otherwise you’d be overwhelmed and unable to cope. However, the limit of just five feels far to small as it really isn’t that difficult to keep track of numerous planets. You can opt to go over this limit, but doing so incurs some hefty penalties. But the biggest problems is that Stellaris’ A.I. is a bit…um, slow. It’s not uncommon to find that planets not directly under your control seem to be screwing up left, right and centre. This problem stretches to the opposing empires, too, who will often make incredibly stupid mistakes, such as tricking ships to defend their borders or making strange political decisions.

The other option for expanding is to just head out into space and start blowing stuff up. Sadly attempting to conquer other empires through force is where Stellaris is at its least engaging. As you unlock new tech for your ships through research you can use the ship design panel to create new templates that make use of improved weapons, armor and power supplies, and existing fleets can be commanded to return to a starport for an overhaul. The exact size of the military you can field is governed by a variety of things, including the amount of spaceports you have, leaders and various bits of research. And of course as you advance through the game you’ll get access to larger vessels, culminating with battle ships. It all sounds decent enough so far, but when it comes to actually battling the enemy it’s just a case of clicking the attack button and waiting. Fleets are assigned a number indicating their power, and whichever fleet has the biggest number will almost always win, except in a few rare instances. Thus invading an entire empire amounts to nothing more that patiently sending fleets to different solar systems and watching as a fairly mundane space battle takes place. Repeat until success is achieved. Capturing an enemy empire isn’t as simple as you might think, though. You can’t simply waltz in and start taking over planets. No, instead you have to first formally declare war, and then set out the goals you hope to achieve in the conflict, such as forcing the enemy to cede planets to either yourself or other empires. As you wage war and occupy planets with armies you’ll earn War Score, and it’s this that dictates how many of those goals you can achieve when negotiating for surrender. The act of conquering entire empires should be exciting, but Stellaris somehow makes it a dull process. You just consult your diplomacy screen to see roughly how your military compares to the chosen victim, and if it’s looking good declare war and start tossing fleets into their sectors. There’s no tactical thinking involved, it’s just watching some numbers go down until victory is yours.

Military conquest sadly seems to be only viable option a lot of the time in Stellaris. There are two win conditions; colonize 40% of the life-sustaining worlds or subjugate everybody else. In a crowded universe full of empires vying for territory, however, both of these goals are damn near impossible without having to build a powerful military force designed specifically to blow the crap out of every other empire floating around in space. On the one hand being able to achieve victory simply because all the other species stop to marvel at the brilliance of your empire as per other games of this nature is somewhat stupid, but it does at least provide varying paths to victory, whereas in Stellaris it all tends to revolve around conflict. It’ll be interesting to see if new victory conditions get added to the game through DLC.


I’ve not had enough with Paradox’s other strategy games to rightfully be able to say if Stellaris is a deeper or more streamlined experience. What I can say is that even after ten hours playing my first game I was still learning and discovering new things to try. A chance encounter with a primitive species provided the opportunity to study them in order to gain more scientific points for research, but that was a fare less compelling option than accelerating their technological advancement. It took some considerable time to do, but eventually I had helped create a new space-faring empire who became subjects to me. Thankfully they were pacifists and thus never felt the urge to rebel against my authority. In fact when I offered them independence, believing that to be a morally good choice, they were somewhat hurt and actually wanted to remain part of my empire. Eventually I integrated them further into my empire. I felt a lot of pride; I’d helped raise a civilization up and in return they were thankful, and were now taking their own forays into space and encountering alien species. And then things started to go to hell as a mid-game event occured to try to shake things up, taking the form of an alien species from outside of the galaxy suddenly invading by landing squarely at the edges of my empire, edges I hadn’t bothered to protect because as far as I was aware there was no possible threat from that direction. Boasting substantial military power over my own weaker forces, because at the time I hadn’t realised pure brute force was going to be so important, they ran roughshod over me. Despite this lot of aliens being a threat to everybody, none of the other empires could be called upon for help, annoying. Only one lended a hand, and that only because we were in an alliance that was waging war against a different empire and their fleet was merrily following my around. Eventually I fought the scourge off, but my loses were heavy and recovery slow. Even, then, though, I ran into interesting new technologies and even managed to research the debris of one of the “Fallen” empires, an ancient race with incredible power. Along the way alien species moved to my planets thanks to opening my borders up to allies, and I even began researching policies that would allow other space-faring races to become available for leadership positions within my empire, granting new bonuses. There are loads of other things to consider, too, like the beliefs of your own people and those of others. Planets can potentially rebel, and new factions can come of that. New types of power generation could make you seek out important strategic resources. Defeating an enemy could lead to cool new tech to research. There’s a lot going on in Stellaris.

Thankfully the tutorial does a reasonable job of imparting the requisite knowledge for dealing with a lot of it. It’s far from perfect, though, as there are glaring areas in which the game leaves you stumped, and the interface can be a chore to work your way through at times. Considering just how much is actually going on, though, it’s sort of impressive that the UI doesn’t actually take up pretty much the entire screen and use a baffling array of buttons just to move a ship. Still, that doesn’t mean you might not be annoyed by how it can be difficult to keep tabs on your defensive stations and fleets because if you zoom out to take in your empire they’re a bit hard to see amongst everything else. You might want to choose a research option that lets jungle tiles on planets be cleared away to make room for more buildings, but there’s no way of quickly finding out how many of those tiles actually exist in your empire without checking each planet. Again, though, I have to concede that to deliver a lot of the information that feels like it’s missing would likely leave the screen a cluttered mess, something which I’d then complain about blithely in this very review.

Given the amount of stuff, then, it’s surprising how weak the mid and late game is. The A.I. tends to be very passive, even if you have shocking bad relationships with them. This is largely because to actually attack you they’ll probably have to pass through several other race’s borders, which could be impossible depending on the current political situation. Provided you’ve got your neighbours at least ambivelent to your existence there’s very little sense of threat in Stellaris, and thus in almost every game I found my empire stable and safe during the mid-game, capable of pumping out massive fleets. Almost all the important research had been completed, leaving me with very little to actually do except for increase the speed and watch as spaceports produced more ships or resources rolled in. Further exploration was difficult since you can’t fly into other empire’s space at will, although Paradox have already stated that one of the first major updates they plan to do will make it possible to fly across borders by default with the option to close them. By the mid-game most areas have been claim, your planets should be mostly upgraded and everything else will be done. If you’re like me you’ll probably take to mucking around with genetic manipulation or randomly declaring war so you have something to do, forcing other empires to become vassals just for the hell of it.. Hell, even former opponents now under my control weren’t giving me any problems since the inhabited worlds didn’t seem to care that much. I very rarely had to worry about rebellions or anything else.  It’s really the early game where Stellaris shines.


The mid and late game also brings up some minor performance problems. For the most part Stellaris ran very well since it’s not a very demanding title, and it does look quite nice at times, if a bit basic. Planet textures tend to look a bit murky and repeat far too often, but overall the game does look pretty. I’d like to see a bit more creativity in ship designs, though, and some bigger size differences. Once large fleets start operating, though, the FPS can begin to drop when watching the action. I also noticed that swapping between the two main viewpoints would sometimes result in a second or two of unresponsiveness on the menus. Overall problems were largely nonexistent. I never noted any serious glitches or bugs that got in my way.

Ultimately Stellaris is not a game for everyone. It has significant flaws: the combat is dull; the aliens aren’t very alien; there are long periods of waiting; the research system can leave you eeking out tiny bonuses half-way through the game; the scripted events are not varied or interesting enough; the AI is shoddy, and when you get right down to it it’s basically a giant spreadsheet that you manage, albeit one floating around in space. Underneath that, though, is something very, very addictive. I lost my first game because I was stupid and painted myself into a corner, but even then I had a sense of satisfaction because I had managed to form a relatively powerful and successful empire than endured for quite some time. It’s clear to me, even as a Paradox newbie, that the company has a lot of work to do on their formula, and based on what I’ve read it’s work that they haven’t actually been doing. In spite of itself, though, I genuinely love Stellaris. That’s not quite enough to earn it the full recommendation sticker just yet, but with a few updates it’ll be well worth your time.

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