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You can go your own way – alternatives to attending GDC

Most industries, most activities, have their mothership. Their centre. One place or event with an inexorable gravitational pull, that draws everyone in siren song. For game developers, that’s GDC – but not for everyone.

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This article was first published almost exactly a year ago, in March 2018, just before the Game Developer’s Conference that year. Some of the dates of events mentioned below will differ in 2019, but other than that – given that San Francisco is still expensive, and if you’re coming from certain majority-Muslim countries, impossible to visit – it’s still very relevant.

Most industries, most activities, have their mothership. Their centre. One place or event with an inexorable gravitational pull, that draws everyone in siren song.

For music fans in the UK, that’s Glastonbury. If you enjoy Formula One, it’s Monaco. In the cycling world, it’s Le Tour de France. For surfers, that’s the Noosa festival in Queensland, Australia.

And for game developers?

That mothership, which calls everyone home, is the Game Developers Conference. The industry has bigger events like Gamescom and E3, or the many-headed global hydra that is PAX, but for the people who make games? GDC is the place to be.

GDC

Around this time of year, the video game world gets a little – let’s say excitable. The arteries of social media become clogged with people arranging meetings, and meetups, and discussing the talks they’re giving and the ones they plan to attend.

Advice tweets start to surface, typically well-meaning, trying to advise new attendees on how to make the most of their experience. Then like clockwork, after a few days, comes the pushback against what are – on occasion, from some individuals – smug, self-important edicts. People are told to enjoy themselves and get the best out of it that they can, however they can, which seems like the fairest advice.

Everybody generally agrees that the tweets advocating daily showering; wearing clean clothes; using Purell; not getting too drunk; and making no unwanted physical contact are solid, however.

Twitter handles change to include the almost-obligatory plane emoji-GDC suffix, and then the feeling of excitement – or fear of missing out – intensifies.

“As a university researcher I’m somewhat separated from the hustle of games careers,” begins Mike Cook, an AI researcher who also created Angelina, an AI system for designing video games. “But I see a lot of people talking about GDC as the place to get a big break, the place to find a job or make a vital connection.

“There’s also a huge social weight – Twitter is full of people talking about what they’re doing at GDC, what they’re showing or talking about, where people can find them. Around this time of year, that may be all you see on social media.”

So once a year, the great and the good of video game development descend upon the Moscone Center – the international conference venue in San Francisco, the beating heart of the western technological psyche – to commune, and to learn, and seek social and intellectual nourishment above their peers.

But with peers, comes the inevitable peer pressure to attend.

“A lot of people say it’s where all the business happens and you should go because you never know who you will meet,” Byron Atkinson-Jones, director of indie developer Xiotex, tells me. “That’s all good but it’s a lot of uncertainty to gamble a huge amount of money on. Every year I get people telling me I’m nuts and I should be going. If I had spare cash to hand I would go, but I don’t, so I can’t.”

“It certainly feels like there’s a general assumption that you are going unless you state otherwise,” agrees Natalie Griffith, CEO of Identity Spark. “There’s a clear value for some people, but for others it’s either not so relevant or simply unaffordable.”

Mike Cook goes a little further.

“I mean, it’s tough, isn’t it? We all know deep down that none of this matters, it doesn’t change who we are or how valid our work is,” he continues. “But at the same time things like meeting new people, speaking to the press, learning new things, these all help us survive, help us grow, help us feel good about what we do. You don’t need GDC to be a good game developer, but there’s no doubt it can make certain things easier, and it can open certain doors. This temptation, this conflict between ‘I don’t need to do this’ and ‘This might make my dreams come true’ is something a lot of people fight with, I think?”

And now GDC has a lot of peers. From an event which began in 1988, with a mere 27 developers in someone’s front room, GDC has grown into a comparative giant. When it first moved to the Moscone Center in 2005, it hosted 12,000 attendees. In 2017, it drew in 26,000.

GDC has hosted global events, too, but one by one, these have fallen by the wayside. GDC Canada, GDC China, and spin-off events in Austin and Los Angeles are all no more. The last holdout, GDC Europe – which was hosted in Cologne in the immediate run-up to Gamescom – closed its doors for the final time in June 2016.

Flight

Now there is only one place to go: San Francisco. And in case you hadn’t noticed, San Francisco is one of the most expensive places on Earth to live and visit; that’s before you add on the price of GDC passes.

Passes to the Expo – just the showroom floor, none of the seminars or summits – range from $149 to $299, depending on how far in advance you book. The Conference pass will set you back between $999 and $1,729. The all-access pass, which includes the Expo, the Conference, the Summits, and the adjacent [email protected] event? That will range between $1,949 for the early birds, up to an eye-stinging $2,449 for late purchasers.

GDC does subsidise and supply a large number of passes for free. If you get yourself onto one of GDC’s many speaking panels, you’ll get a pass. If you find yourself on a judging committee, like the IGF Awards, then you’ll get a pass. Full disclosure: the press get them, too, in exchange for covering the event, and at Thumbsticks we’re no exception.

And while San Francisco is an expensive place to visit, if you book everything early enough – your flights, your accommodation, your transport – you can do the whole thing relatively cheaply. For certain values of “cheap”.

If you live in the US, preferably on the West Coast, your costs of travelling to and from the event will be significantly reduced. If you’ve got friends in the area and can sofa surf, or don’t mind cramming into a tiny Airbnb with your buddies, that gets the cost down even further. We’ve heard stories of people doing their whole overseas GDC experience for under £1,000 (approx. US $1,400) – including those subsidised tickets, of course.

More likely, though, if you’re flying from abroad to attend you might be looking at paying between £2,000 and £3,000 ($2,800 to $4,200) for your travel, accommodation, and living expenses while you’re there.

Lots of employers will subsidise these sorts of expenses as part of training and personal development budgets; others will just swallow it up as a cost of doing business in this industry. Similarly, those working in academic research might find a grant, or fellowship, or stipend covers these costs.

But if you were holding on to try and get a talk into the conference schedule, or a speaking spot on a panel, or onto a judging committee, you might not find out until just a few months before the event. By then, not only might you have missed the chance to pick up early bird pricing on the passes – if your talk wasn’t accepted and you weren’t granted a freebie – but you will likely find the price of flights has soared, and hotel options are both limited and expensive.

Then there’s the location of the event itself: the United States of America. As other global GDC events have fallen by the wayside, this effectively reinforces an English-speaking, western focus on the US – and its West Coast in particular – as the heart of the tech industry.

But following the surprise Presidential election result – which, frankly, still has large parts of the world in a state of shock – the United States has become an even less friendly place to visit, if you’re not from the “right” country, or of the “right” ethnicity, or don’t hold the “right” religious beliefs. Quite aside from the sheer expense of both getting to San Francisco and attending GDC, some people are literally unable to attend because they cannot obtain visas or get permission to enter the country, as we reported on last year.

These issues continue well into 2018, and they’re likely not going away any time soon. So what do you do if you can’t attend GDC – or simply don’t want to, which is also fine – but don’t want to miss out on the educational and bonding elements of the world’s largest gathering of video game developers?

Bender blackjack

We’ll build our own Game Developers Conference, with blackjack, and hookers!

#notGDC

#notGDC, as far as Cook can tell, began life as a bit of a joke on social media. One of the earliest recorded uses of the hashtag #notGDC was by independent UK developer Squid in a Box, way back in 2012, who – much like the backlash and parodies of the advice tweets doing the rounds – offered their own succinct advice on how to succeed as a game developer, for those who weren’t able to attend GDC itself.

Their simple two-step plan, from a “presentation” titled ‘How to make good games and not be a dick about it’ is as follows:

  1. Make a good game.
  2. Don’t be a dick.

Seems straightforward enough.

It was in 2016, however, when the #notGDC hashtag first started to be used in any kind of volume.

“The first real usage of the hashtag, the first one I really remember,” recalls Cook, “Is back in 2016 when Alec Holowka, one of the developers of Night In The Woods, tweeted jokingly about attending #notGDC, a real event. We mostly tweeted jokes that year (here’s me pretending to give a talk in Starbucks) but we also talked about sharing blog posts and ideas too.”

Then in 2017, developer Ben Porter decided to up the game on #notGDC.

What followed was not a disparate collection of gags and parodies, but reams and reams of genuine advice, education and support for the many who weren’t able to attend GDC that year. Porter even archived a collection of 18 short ‘non-talks’ from #notGDC for posterity.

#notGDC had grown legs and was beginning to travel.

Seeing that nothing concrete had been arranged for #notGDC 2018, game developer and UI designer Lucy Morris contacted Porter via Twitter, to get his blessing to run this year’s #notGDC event.

https://twitter.com/eigenbom/status/957558029913792513

Cook offered to help out – somewhere in the same Twitter thread – and between them, #notGDC 2018 was happening; not just on Twitter this time, but also with an official website. While the immediacy of social media is great if you want to reach people in an instant, having somewhere to organise and arrange and archive is key to the success of an initiative like #notGDC.

But what exactly should you be expecting if you “attend” this year’s #notGDC festivities?

“Here’s the best thing about #notGDC: we have no idea what to expect,” says Cook. That’s not always the sort of thing you want to hear from an event organiser, but it’s in the spirit of #notGDC.

“I just found out an hour ago that Sean Oxspring is writing about the representation of bees in video games. Bees. We’ve been promised an essay about toilets. Someone’s sharing a world generator they’ve been building for years that you can ride across as a horse. #notGDC has no rules, no limits, we want people to write about the things they really care about – silly, sad, inspiring, scary, anything.

“The most important thing for me is that we see new things,” he continues. “I want to know about things that inspire people, I want to know the non-games skills people have that help them make games, I want to read about the games people grew up with in other countries or other decades than me. #notGDC is about hearing things you won’t hear anywhere else. Unique, unusual, and unedited.”

The great thing about hosting an event online, like #notGDC, is the opportunity to make it accessible and available for anyone who wants to take part, both giving and receiving.

“The thing that makes #notGDC really special,” Cook says, “Is passion – people are writing because they’re excited. You can see the energy and motivation in their tweets. I always think that makes it extra special. It’s also a chance to meet new people and learn about what they care about. You see new faces, new names, new perspectives. We’re hoping people will also write in languages other than English too – we want to make people feel welcome and support everyone in sharing their ideas.”

Online isn’t the only way to go, however. The geographical, logistical, and financial implications of GDC and its San Francisco home lead to a raft of other development events to spring up around the globe. One of those is UK-based #include.

Field of Dreams

If you build it…

#include

#include is a London-based development event, which – like #notGDC – takes place during the same week as the official GDC event in San Francisco.

It’s organised and run by the Indie Games Collective, a UK-based group of like minds including Byron Atkinson-Jones and Natalie Griffith, who volunteer their own time to run events supporting indie game development, and game developers as a whole. This year’s #include conference, like many of the IGC’s events, is being hosted from the (shiny new) headquarters of trade body the Association for United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment, or Ukie for short.

“Ukie have always been very supportive of the IGC events,” says Griffith. “They recognise that while it’s important that they support developers to attend the massive international shows like GDC and Gamescom, it’s also important to help enable some of these smaller, more targeted events too.”

“They are letting us use the room for free and it’s just one more example of how Ukie really do help our games industry and not just the big studios. Without them this event wouldn’t be happening,” adds Atkinson-Jones.

#include carries with it a similar remit to #notGDC, but the physical presence and sale of tickets – sales of which are now closed – also allows them to raise money for charity; this year, for children’s charity Games Aid. It’s an opportunity to good in more ways than one, while still addressing its core remit of helping out the game development community.

“I can’t claim the credit for this one – The Indie Games Collective was originally Byron’s idea,” Natalie says, “And I was very glad to be co-opted on to the team in order to help smaller devs get the chance to learn from industry luminaries even if they couldn’t afford the time or money to go to big events like GDC or even Develop.”

“Around about this time of year the whole games industry goes into GDC fever and for those of us who can’t go it gets quite depressing. So one year I thought, screw this, lets hold our own event!” Byron recalls. “The first one we did went really well and I think we had over 300 people attending it over the two days.”

While the relative size is far smaller than GDC proper, and perhaps lacks the potential global reach of #notGDC, the opportunity for people to come together adds a personal dimension to #include, bridging the gap between the major conference and its unofficial online counterpart.

“It’s a chance to get together in the UK as an industry, listen to some great talks and generally network instead of being at home looking at the Twitter feed of those just waking up to GDC in SF,” says Atkinson-Jones.

There’s also a wide range of content on offer, just like at GDC, though some of it is probably a little less leftfield than #notGDC’s bee and toilet seminars.

“We’ve got a really good mix of content again over the two days,” Griffith tells me. “The aim with all the IGC events has always been to cover as much useful info as possible – so that means not just focusing on technical/design/development topics, but also legal, funding, marketing, personal development and so on. This year’s event will be no different.”

Regional events like #include aren’t the answer to all of the issues associated with GDC, however. You can just as easily replace the expense of travelling to San Francisco with the expense of travelling to somewhere like Cologne for the Devcom conference – which has replaced the old GDC Europe slot in the run-in to Gamescom – or to Develop in Brighton. International travel is costly, however you do it.

If the current Conservative government has its way, the United Kingdom – soon to be divorced from Europe – could become a far less appealing, and more difficult place to visit; just like the United States. The removal of the Schengen Agreement, which allows for easy travel across borders within Europe without visas and permits, could make it harder for people to attend UK-based events like #include, Develop and EGX Rezzed.

The key thing to remember is that local events like #include are just that, however – local.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect people to be flying half-way around the world to attend a scrappy little conference in London like they would for GDC, but a quick Google search turns up dozens of local and regional development events that are similar to #include, all over the world.

A pick-and-mix combination of attending local events like #include, and the online presence of an anti-conference like #notGDC, allows developers and video game professionals to maximise both their learning and networking opportunities – just like attending GDC proper, but without anywhere near the same levels of expense.

Virtual Reality

The future

Byron tells me that there will be more events, like #include, from the Indie Games Collective in due course.

“I’m sure there will be more,” he says. “They usually start with me waking up one morning and thinking, it’s time for another event, and goes from there.”

Cook, on the other hand, is keen that the have-a-go spirit of #notGDC continues long after he and Morris have taken their hands off the tiller.

“I haven’t talked to Lucy or Ben about it,” he says, “But I think it’d be fitting to have new people organise or help run the event every year, to fit in with the spirit of an open, free community.

“I’d love to see it grow, I’d love to see us build up archives of talks from each year, help translate between languages, maybe invite people to record videos or podcasts. But right now, we’re just focusing on making this year’s work. We’re so happy with the response so far, and I hope everyone considers writing something – we want to hear everything the world has to say about games!”

So do we, Mike. So do we.

Support Thumbsticks

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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.

Features

Dan Marshall: It was ‘astonishingly easy’ to add accessibility options

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, says adding accessibility features to Lair of the Clockwork God was “all pretty straightforward, easy work.”

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Lair of the Clockwork God
Size Five Games

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, says adding accessibility features to Lair of the Clockwork God was “all pretty straightforward, easy work.”

The year is 2020. Technology has never been more advanced. And yet, we live in a bizarre, regressive world where anti-vaxxers are on the rise, the UK is leaving the EU of its own volition, and the President of the United States yells at an autistic teenage girl for daring to suggest that his generation perhaps doesn’t ruin the planet for future generations.

In the world of video games, one obvious symptom of this intellectual vacuum is the anti-accessibility crowd. From gatekeepers who want to preserve the rarity of their “achievements” to those who are simply incapable of human empathy, there are still people who don’t believe video games need accessibility features. In 2020.

They’re dead wrong, by the way. (And if you disagree with that, maybe don’t read our website? We’re big advocates of accessibility in games and we’re frankly better off without you, thanks.)

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, spent a few hours this weekend adding accessibility features to upcoming game Lair of the Clockwork God. A sequel to Time Gentlemen, Please! and Ben There, Dan That!, Clockwork God is a mash-up of indie platformer and the series’ classic point-and-click adventure mechanics. It’s obviously a text-heavy game.

We spoke to Marshall via email, to ask about the process of making Lair of the Clockwork God more accessible, and why it’s important.

“I have been useless at all this stuff,” Dan concedes, “but the reality is it’s always good to make sure the game can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. Getting a game out the door is hard, and I do think it’s understandable when this kind of stuff hasn’t been implemented, because that pre-launch to-do list is so incredibly long, and especially for smaller indies who have such astonishingly low resources.”

“So for me, this kind of thing has always sadly fallen off the back burner,” he continues. “This time around I’m in the fortunate position to have the cash and resources behind me to spend a little time thinking about and implementing a few minor changes, that make the game so much more enjoyable for so many people.”

“Oddly enough, Lair of the Clockwork God’s themes kind of deal with all this,” Marshall explains. “By the nature of the beast, that it’s written by and starring two straight white guys… I mean, there’s obviously nothing we can do about that, so we’ve tried to be mindful every step of the way making sure the game is as inclusive elsewhere as possible.”

“The script itself deals head-on with topics like the ‘wokeness’ of the indie scene, or getting older and feeling out of place with new trends and other peoples’ needs… y’know in the game Ben’s this kind of relic from the LucasArts era, and Dan’s desperately keen to be part of this new vibrant indie movement he’s heard so much about, so taking the steps to make the whole game as accessible as possible kind of goes hand-in-hand with all that.”

So how easy has the process been, to add accessibility options to Lair of the Clockwork God?

“Astonishingly easy, to be honest. I spent about 4-5 hours total adding 9 core changes (including some that people had recommended over Twitter), and honestly,” Marshall says, “it was all pretty straightforward, easy work, which is exactly what I need right now. In the scheme of things, that’s probably less time than I spent choosing the colour of the options menu, so it’s worth doing.”

Lair of the Clockwork God accessibility options

“And yeah, some of it was just unbelievably quick. Two lines of code and a new toggle added to the menu and it’s in. So why not do it? There’s obviously some bigger stuff that’s likely to let’s say, break everything, and I’ll do my best to get them in before launch. Lesson learned for the next project is: it’s just sensible to keep this stuff in mind the whole way through!”

For little more than an afternoon’s work, Lair of the Clockwork God is now a far more accessible experience.

Clockwork God now includes options for a dyslexic-friendly font, and adjusting the size, colour, speed, and labelling of text to make it easier for everyone to follow. This might not seem like a big deal if you don’t need it, but it will literally be the difference between someone being able to play the game or bouncing off it.

The year is 2020. Fictional Ben may be insistent that Lair of the Clockwork God’s mechanics stay rooted in 1991, but just like his in-game counterpart, real-life Dan is making sure it’s a modern video game, too.


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Features

The 20 most anticipated video games of 2020

We put together one of those lists again. This one’s the 20 video games we’re most looking forward to in 2020.

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20 most anticipated games 2020
Square Enix / Naughty Dog / Xbox / CD Projekt Red / Thumbsticks

We put together one of those lists again. This one’s the 20 video games we’re most looking forward to in 2020.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020. Well, in video games, at least. The rest of the world is a nightmarish hellscape of fire and fascists, but in the final run-in to the next generation of video game consoles, there are a lot of brilliant games just waiting to release.

Maybe it’s because we’re coming to the end of the current generation. Lots of developers who have targeted the current generation have a very limited window to get their games out – games that have been in development for a very long time, like Cyberpunk 2077 and the Final Fantasy VII Remake – before there’s a risk of them being eclipsed by titles on the more powerful PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

Whatever the reason, 2020 is shaping up to be a vintage year for video games. Here are the 20 games we’re most looking forward to – 20 games, 2020, see what we did there? – laid out in alphabetical order. Just so the screeching loons can’t bicker and argue about how we’ve “ranked” them. (It’s not our first day. We know how the internet works.)

Update: This post has been amended to include updated release dates for games that have been delayed since it was first published.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Yes, the most recent trailer for Animal Crossing: New Horizons felt like a Tom Nook timeshare presentation, but anybody who says they’re not excited for this slice of loveliness is lying to you. We’re wondering if KK Slider will swap his guitar for a ukulele, for the full island vibe? We’ll find out March 20, 2020.

Carrion

Carrion, the “reverse horror game” from Phobia Game Studio and Devolver Digital, is for anybody who ever wondered what The Thing would be like if the protagonist were the thing, and not Kurt Russell’s MacReady. Messy is the answer to that query. Very, very messy.

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 Keanu 500px

This is a game that’s been in the works for so long, there always felt like a chance it might slip to the next generation of consoles. There’s little doubt that Cyberpunk 2077 will look amazing on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, but we’ll all get to experience the breathtaking Mr Reeves on April 16, 2020.

Update: Cyberpunk 2077 has been delayed to September 17, 2020.

Dreams

Dreams has been out in a limited form of early access for a little while now, and what people are making in it seems remarkable for a hobbyist, console tool. But Dreams launches proper on February 14, 2020 – happy Valentine’s Day! – which is when the fun will really begin.

Dying Light 2

Dying Light 2, which is expected to launch in Q2 2020, has been rumbling around the events circuit for a few years now. Every year, we see more and more impressive demos of the worldbuilding and the game’s Chris Avellone-powered branching narrative chops, but we’re yet to actually get our hands on it.

Update: Delayed until… we don’t actually know. Just delayed.

Fall Guys

Expected to launch sometime in 2020, Fall Guys was one of the unexpected stars of E3 2019. Developed by Mediatonic and published by Devolver Digital, it’s a cross between the 100-person battle royale spectacle, silly physics games (like Gang Beasts and Human Fall Flat) and physical comedy game show Takeshi’s Castle. What’s not to love?

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake 500px

The Final Fantasy VII Remake has been in development for an age, and when the game does release on March 3, 2020? We’re still only going to get to play about a third (at most) of the original game’s story. (Our bet is that the first “episode” will run until the assault on Shinra headquarters, and the subsequent escape from Midgar.) But it looks so flipping good, and our hands-on preview was one of the highlights of E3 2019.

Update: Delayed until April 10, 2020.

Ghost of Tsushima

Sony showed off four games at its last foray to E3 in 2018, in a confusing, venue-changing press conference. Two of those games, Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Death Stranding, have since released, while The Last of Us Part II is slated for May 29, 2020. That leaves Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima as the last remnant of PlayStation at E3. We still know precious little about the stealth game, but it’s still expected to launch in 2020 before the PlayStation 5 hits in time for Christmas.

Half-Life: Alyx

One of the biggest shocks of 2019 was that Valve – the game developer who stopped making games to develop a big storefront, instead – is developing a third game in the Half-Life series, Half-Life: Alyx. It’s not strictly Half-Life 3, nor is it entirely a Valve creation, as recently-acquired Firewatch developer Campo Santo has shelved In the Valley of the Gods to work on Alyx. And it’s also a VR-exclusive, which has ruffled some feathers, but Valve is hoping that Half-Life: Alyx will be the killer app that has hitherto been missing, and brings a payday for its investment in VR technology.

Halo: Infinite

Halo Infinite 500px

It seems wild that Halo: Infinite is the only next-generation title on this list of the most anticipated games of 2020, but that’s simply a result of how few launch titles have been confirmed for the PlayStation 5 or the Xbox Series X. If we’re being completely honest, we’re not that excited for a new Halo, but it felt wrong not to include something from the next-gen.

Lair of the Clockwork God

Lair of the Clockwork God, from Size Five Games, is the third game in the Dan and Ben Adventure series, following on from the brilliant Time Gentlemen, Please and Ben There, Dan That. Ben is sticking with series’ staple point-and-click gameplay, while Dan has decided the “real money” is in indie platformers. Lair of the Clockwork God mashes the two together in a brilliant character-swapping adventure.

Maneater

Maneater is a goofy, B-movie of a video game, where you play as a man-eating shark. It features open-world (ish) gameplay and RPG mechanics as you level up to become the biggest predator in the water. It won’t be safe to go back in the water on May 22, 2020.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator was always one of the most deeply boring aspects of PC gaming. Why would you want to execute boring, realistic manoeuvres in the real world when you could be whizzing around space in an X-Wing, for instance? But the modern version, that combines cloud computing with high-resolution satellite imagery, really looks like something else.

The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II 500px

The Last of Us Part II – along with Cyberpunk 2077 and the Final Fantasy VII Remake – is one of the big-ticket items of 2020. We don’t need to sell this one to you. At all. Not even a little bit. We’re equal parts excited and terrified to pick up Ellie’s adventure on May 29, 2020.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the follow-up to 2015’s indie darling, Ori and the Blind Forest, from developer Moon Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios. Simple, stylish, beautiful; expect more of the same on February 11, 2020.

Resident Evil 3 Remake

If you’d asked us a couple of years ago if we’d be excited for a remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, we’d probably have shrugged. Said something noncommittal. Tried not to hurt Capcom’s feelings with our lack of interest. But after the stellar Resident Evil 2 Remake in early 2019, we’re expecting the Resident Evil 3 Remake to be similarly superb when it releases on April 3, 2020.

Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer 500px

Spiritfarer, Thunderlotus’ beautiful, poignant game about helping others into the afterlife was one of the stars of E3 2019. We played it and it is every bit as lovely as it looks. Rumours that we spent our entire time with the demo just hugging the cat are completely unfounded.

Streets of Rage 4

It’s been almost 26 years since the last Streets of Rage game, Streets of Rage 3, released for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. At one point, we would’ve been happy with it being left in the past. But seeing the stellar work done by Dotemu and Lizard Cube on the remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, and the amazing glimpses of the art and style of Streets of Rage 4, this is a blast from the past we can’t wait to play.

Wasteland 3

Speaking of blasts from the past, Wasteland 3 is scheduled for release on May 11, 2020. It’s part of a wider revival of classic C-RPG series, including Torment, Pillars of Eternity and Baldur’s Gate, but Wasteland’s place in history – as the grandaddy of Fallout, among other things – can’t be overlooked.

Watch Dogs Legion

Watch Dogs Legion 500px

Watch Dogs has been on a journey, hasn’t it? From the po-faced Aiden Pierce to the neon giddiness of Marcus Holloway’s San Francisco, it’s facing another yo-yo in tone for Watch Dogs Legion, where Brexit has happened and the outcome for the UK is about as awful as we all expect. The real highlight, though? The ability to recruit any NPC in the game, with the right motivation. Yes, even Helen, the Antifa nana who stole our hearts at E3 2019.

Honourable Mentions

Here are a bunch of other games we’re also looking forward to in 2020, but we had to be ruthless and keep it down to 20. (Otherwise, we could just list games for days.)

  • 12 Minutes
  • Bleeding Edge
  • Boyfriend Dungeon
  • The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
  • Doom Eternal
  • Empire of Sin
  • Godfall
  • Gods and Monsters
  • Hollow Knight – Silksong
  • Kerbal Space Program 2
  • Little Nightmares 2
  • Marvel’s Avengers
  • Murder by Numbers
  • Nioh 2
  • Oddworld: Soulstorm
  • One-Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows
  • Psychonauts 2
  • Sports Story
  • Super Meat Boy Forever
  • Twin Mirror
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
  • Way to the Woods
  • Windjammers 2
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Did we miss anything you’re looking forward to? Then why not let us know – politely and calmly – on Twitter.

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Features

Is Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot worth playing?

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a new open-world RPG from CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco Entertainment, is out now, but is it worth playing?

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Dragon Ball Z Kakarot
Bandai Namco

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a new open-world RPG from CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco Entertainment, is out now, but is it worth playing? We take a look at the game’s critical reception.

Despite a lack of pre-release reviews, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot topped the UK video games chart in its debut week. It’s an impressive performance for an ambitious game that blends RPG mechanics, brawling, and open-world exploration.

Reviews for the game are still hard to come by, but publications covering the game have found it to be an enjoyable enough adventure with engaging combat. The consensus, however, is that the open-world lacks substance. The game, ultimately, appears to be one for committed fans of long-running anime franchise.. Here is our pick of the game’s reviews.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot review round-up

PC Gamer

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is by no means perfect, but it’s a solid RPG that very efficiently covers the entire Dragon Ball Z saga. The game sometimes crumbles under the weight of its own systems, but Kakarot is still a fun title for anyone looking to revisit (or even experience for the first time) the Dragon Ball Z saga.”

76/100 – Review by Liz Henges

Polygon

“As a video game, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is competent. Flying around the world takes some getting used to. But with practice, you can soar just like Goku and friends in the anime, even if it’s just to see how the massive Dragon Ball Z world fits together and to collect upgrade orbs. The combat is also more complex than it originally seems. There’s only one button for punching, but the combination of dodges, punches, Ki blasts, and special moves manages to keep fights fresh and, occasionally, challenging. The real meat of the game is still the combat, and the combat is still competitive with some of the better brawlers out there.”

Not scored – Impressions by Ryan Gilliam

Collider

“I don’t know how folks who aren’t familiar with DBZ will respond to this game, but I can’t imagine it has a lot of appeal for them above and beyond what other action-focused RPGs offer. Kakarot is a nostalgia play, through and though, and it excels at that. It’s absolutely gorgeous, arguably more dynamic and powerful in its epic moments than even *gasp* the anime itself. Sure, the pacing is quite a bit faster than the anime, so there’s not as much time in the build-up to those powerful and sometimes heart-breaking turns, but man do they pack a punch.”

Grade B – Review by Dave Trumbore

Destructoid

“It’s not the anime game to end all anime games. It’s not going to convert any non-believers or onboard them into this decades-old classic universe. Even as someone who still re-watches DBZ, it can be grating at times ⁠— but the juice is mostly worth the squeeze.”

Not scored – Review by Chris Carter

GamesRadar

“… numbers and tutorials aside, the world of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is actually quite good fun to explore. There are loads of places to discover from caves to ravines. It’s just a shame that there’s not much reason to do so. One of the biggest issues that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot faces is meaning, at least when it comes to everything outside of the main story. There’s never enough reason to take part in the multitude of things you can do, not unless you’re simply trying to kill time, which renders many of the large open areas effectively worthless.

3/5 – Review by James Coles

Publication

“As a Dragon Ball love letter, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is nearly perfect, featuring an amazing world and attention to detail. But as an RPG and action-adventure game, it’s only good. Its combat can be fun and some of the more in-depth elements are a good change of pace, but a lot of it feels pointless or time-consuming.”

7/10 – Review by George Foster

Other publications

  • PlayStation LifeStyle – 80/10
  • Spazio Games – 7.5
  • The Sixth Axis – 7
  • Famitsu – 34/40

Title: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
Developer: Cyberconnect2
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release date: January 17, 2020
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows


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Features

Interview: Making AO Tennis 2 a Grand Slam winner

We speak to Big Ant Studios about the development of AO Tennis 2 and the pressure to improve on last year’s instalment.

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AO Tennis 2 header
Big Ant Studios

AO Tennis 2 is the second officially licensed Australian Open video game from Big Ant Studios. We talk to CEO Ross Symons about its development and the pressure to improve on last year’s instalment.

AO Tennis 2 – which is developed in partnership with Tennis Australia – is billed as a significant upgrade on its predecessor and includes a plethora of new features and gameplay improvements.

The headline addition is a revamped and narrative-focused career mode, similar in structure to Codemasters’ impressive F1 campaigns and FIFA’s The Journey. The studio’s full-featured content editor also returns, giving players the tools to create everything from venues and players to car parks and uniforms. It also helps players fill the gaps that the game’s licence doesn’t cover to create a comprehensive simulation of the sport.

We spoke to Big Ant Studios CEO Ross Symons on the eve of the 2020 Australian Open to find out more about this year’s game.

Thumbsticks: AO Tennis 2 includes a new, narrative-driven career mode. Why did you decide to take this approach?

Ross Symons: One of the things that people love about tennis is the personalities that are involved; people have their favourite players, and watch their careers, with the highs and lows that it entails. When looking at AO Tennis 2, we wanted to find a way of reflecting that – tennis is as much about what happens off the court than on, so giving players a chance to engage with that side of the sport was important.

What is the most challenging aspect of adding narrative elements to the game?

We had to build a lot for the narrative career mode – we needed to build the manager’s rooms and the press conferences for the cut scenes, for example. We also needed to find a way of balancing what occurred through those scenes, and making sure they had some impact on the development of the player’s career.

To do that we needed to introduce new systems (such as the reputation system) and new mechanics to go with that. It was a lot of work. We think that the results have been more than worthwhile, though, and a lot of fans have come up to us to say they appreciate what we’ve done there.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

The first AO Tennis game had a slightly rocky launch, but it was much improved by a series of patches and updates. Did you take anything from that experience and apply it to the development of AO Tennis 2?

We always take fan feedback on board at Big Ant Studios. It’s a core principle that drives our team and we use that feedback to help inform our development. AO Tennis’ improvements came thanks to the excellent feedback and support of a truly passionate community of fans, and AO Tennis 2 is the next stage in that ongoing evolution.

Speaking of that community, Big Ant’s content editor has a devoted user base. How important is the editor to AO Tennis 2, and do you see it as a key component of the studio’s future games?

Our content creation suite has been a point of pride in our games for a very long time now, and we continue to build on it as we can. Whether it’s Tennis, Cricket, Rugby League, or another property that we’ve worked on, we’ve always wanted to provide that sandbox experience that allows players to take the game, and make it their own in every way.

Being able to share content online also means that we’re able to give our players an endless well of new experiences to enjoy. You’re right that we’ve got an enormously devoted community – AO Tennis 2 has over 20,000 players available to download already! It adds great value to the game for everyone.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

AO Tennis 2 stars some of the sport’s biggest players, including Rafael Nadal, Ash Barty, and Angélique Kerber. How do you approach bringing such distinctive athletes into the game and representing them accurately in-game?

With a lot of research. We make sure we take the highest quality photogrammetry of each player that we can – and we personally take control of the photography to ensure that it’s of a universally high standard. Then we sit down and watch hours of videos to understand how each player moves and behaves on the court.

We’re lucky that we’ve got a lot of passionate tennis fans at Big Ant, who have a great eye for the subtleties of the sport, and a great respect for how individual the game really is.

As a Melbourne-based studio, do you feel a sense of responsibility in developing the official game of the Australian Grand Slam? 

It’s not just that we’re Melbourne-based – we’re just a couple of minutes walk from the tennis precinct itself! Yes, we do feel a great deal of responsibility for making sure that our game reflects the energy and excitement of the biggest tennis event in the southern hemisphere.

Luckily we’ve been able to work very closely with Tennis Australia themselves, who are very much fans of video games and want to give tennis fans the complete experience – watch the games at the venue, and then come home and recreate your favourite moments on your gaming console.

Are they any aspects of the Australian Open that give the tournament a specific flavour that you try to capture?

Melbourne Park is such an iconic venue. It’s not just a court where people play tennis. It’s a space that, after many years now, has a heritage and history that deserves respect. We’ve gone to great lengths (and worked closely with Tennis Australia) to make sure that we’ve got the small details of this venue down right for the game.

Generally speaking, the Australian Open is well-regarded as “the happy slam,” so we also wanted to make sure that AO Tennis 2 reflects that positive celebration of the sport that the crowds that come to the event have come to love.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

Big Ant Studios produce games across a range of platforms, from iOS and Android to Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. How do you work to scale your games across platforms of such varying capabilities?

We develop our own engines and technology at Big Ant, and having that extra level of control over the engine allows us to be more flexible and creative with it. As a result, we’re able to work rapidly to bring our games to new platforms.

AO Tennis 2 feels like a significant step up from the first game. Do you plan to continue your partnership with the Australian Open, and what else can we look forward to from Big Ant in 2020?

While we can’t discuss future development plans in any detail, we can say that we remain committed to our existing properties, and we’re always on the lookout for new opportunities. It’s going to be an exciting couple of years for sports fans, so stay tuned!

AO Tennis 2 is available worldwide on PC. The Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions are out now in Europe and Australia, and will come to North America on February 11, 2020.

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Is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore worth playing?

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the latest Wii U game to be ported to the Nintendo Switch. Is the game worth a curtain call?

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Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore review
Atlus

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the latest Wii U game to be ported to the Nintendo Switch. Is the game worth a curtain call?

Slightly overlooked on its original 2015 release, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore takes to the stage once again as the latest Wii U game to make a Nintendo Switch comeback. It’s a heady blend of the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises that taps into Japanese idol culture to create a distinctive RPG based around dungeons and dancing.

The game is broadly untouched on Switch, but it does include all post-release DLC, a new zone and some new costumes. Some of the features that used the Wii U Gamepad have also been adapted.

The critical response is broadly positive, with many reviewers having the chance to experience the game for the first time. Here is our pick of the best Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore reviews.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore review round-up

The Verge

“It’s becoming cliche to say that a game is perfect for the Switch, but RPGs in particular benefit from the platform. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a great example of this. So much of the experience is slowly trawling through maze-like dungeons, with plenty of strategic battles along the way. These moments are perfect for playing on the go, while the story sequences — particularly the gorgeous cut scenes — benefit from a bigger screen. Either way, the game looks great, and the copious text and menus are still legible on a small display.”

Not scored – Review by Andrew Webster

Eurogamer

“Generally, the Fire Emblem influence remains incredibly easy to ignore, certainly due to the Fire Emblem developer Intelligent Systems hardly having had a hand in either design or development. That makes Tokyo Mirage Sessions approachable for people who are unfamiliar with either series, but it seems odd to market something as a big crossover of two beloved properties and then skimp on the crossover elements.”

Not scored – Review by Malindy Hetfeld

Nintendo Life

“Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a constant barrage of colour, J-pop music and general unrepentant joy. Even during its less enthralling story moments or its more repetitive sections, it still does its very best to put a smile on your face with its constant positivity.”

8/10 – Review by Chris Scullion

USGamer

“When #FE failed to make an impression on RPG fans in 2015, it wasn’t the game’s fault. Now that it’s a well-advertised game on a popular platform, it should make more of a splash. It deserves to. I missed out on #FE Encore during its first tour, and I’m happy I was able to indulge in its strange hybrid charms the second time around.”

4/5 – Review by Nadia Oxford

Destructoid

“It’s an unapologetically silly game. But for as unconventional as it is, Tokyo Mirage Sessions frequently manages to pay clear homage to both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem in interesting ways. For instance, the rock-paper-scissors-styled combat of Fire Emblem is still in play here. While the battle system itself feels like a particularly flashy spin on the type of combat found within Shin Megami Tensei or Persona, having a level of familiarity with Fire Emblem’s mechanics is going to help a lot in pinpointing an enemy’s weakness.”

Not scored – Review by Dennis Carden

Twinfinite

“Your enjoyment of this game will depend on how much you love and embrace the carefree lightheartedness of the story. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is very much a bubbly and upbeat RPG that never dives too deeply into the sinister side of idol culture, and instead focuses on fun and colorful musical numbers, and the general sense of having a good time.”

4/5 – Review by Zhiqing Wan

Other publications

  • God is a Geek – 8.5/10
  • The Sixth Axis – 9/10
  • Metro – 7/10
  • DualShockers – 9/10

Title: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: January 17, 2020
Platform: Nintendo Switch


Visit our new releases page for more on this week’s new video games. You can also follow Thumbsticks on FacebookGoogle News, Twitter, and Flipboard.

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We hate to ask, but global advertising revenues are the lowest they've ever been. It's killing the online publishing world. If you like what we do and want to support free, quality games writing, then please consider supporting us via Patreon, buying us a coffee, or subscribing to our newsletter.


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