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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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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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Features

10 websites every Nintendo fan should bookmark

Read our round-up of the best ten websites that are informative, useful, and entertaining for all Nintendo fans.

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10 useful websites every Nintendo fan should bookmark
Nintendo / Thumbsticks

Read our round-up of the best ten websites that are informative, useful, and entertaining for all Nintendo fans.

Whether you want to know more about the development of Nintendo’s games, see some brilliant fan art, wallow in nostalgia, or keep your kids entertained, here are the top ten websites that every Nintendo enthusiast should bookmark.

1. Iwata Asks

Nintendo’s late great president Satoru Iwata oversaw many initiatives during his tenure. One of the smallest but most appreciated was an increasing willingness to reveal how the cake was baked at Nintendo’s talented development studios. This was best represented by the nine-year-long series of Iwata Asks features published on the Nintendo website.

Covering everything from Splatoon and the Wii U, to Fire Emblem and Jam with the Band, Iwata spoke to the creative minds behind the Nintendo’s games, hardware, and peripherals. In addition to providing an insight into the development process, each article is a reminder of Iwata’s curiosity and humour.

A printed collection is available in Japan from Hobonichi, and an English-language version is also planned for release. In the meantime, the Iwata Asks hub on Nintendo.com is a good place to begin, but the Wikipedia page also has links to some unlisted interviews.

Link: Iwata Asks / Wikipedia

2. My Nintendo

Many Nintendo fans still feel sore about the loss of Club Nintendo, the long-running rewards programme that gave members the chance to get exclusive merchandise in exchnage for buying Nintendo products. It was replaced by My Nintendo, a worldwide rewards platform that offers digital rewards and discounts for the ageing 3DS and Wii U platforms, in-game rewards for Nintendo’s mobile games.

My Nintendo points can also be redeemed against Switch software on the Nintendo eShop, and members get access to occasional physical goodies, such as the super-cool NES and SNES Switch controllers. It’s worth checking in with the site every so often to see the latest offers. We’ll also post updates here on Thumbsticks.

Link: My Nintendo

3. Before Mario

The name Nintendo is ubiquitous with video games, but the company has a long and storied history that began in 1889 as a hanafuda card manufacturer and covers everything from selling rice and running love hotels. The excellent Before Mario blog covers the products Nintendo created during the 60s and 70s, before it became a global gaming brand, and is a treasure trove of quirky toys, games, and gizmos.

Link: Before Mario

4. Supper Mario Broth

Supper Mario Broth is an ongoing Tumblr featuring thousands of Super Mario-related curios. You’ll find details of in-game easter eggs, merchandise oddities, magazine covers, interviews, and all sorts of Mushroom Kingdom-related miscellanea. It’s a warp pipe worth taking a trip through.

Link: Supper Mario Broth

5. Play Nintendo

Nintendo has always been a family-friendly company. It’s something reflected in the colourful nature of its biggest franchises and the (generally) robust build quality of its hardware. The Play Nintendo website is a kid-friendly hub chockfull of amusing distractions.

The site features characters, quizzes, digital jigsaw puzzles, polls, and more, all themed around Animal Crossing, Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Pokemon and Zelda. Another section features some print-at-home goodies to assemble, including placements, seasonal decorations, and dioramas. Most importantly of all, the site is pro-Tingle.

Link: Play Nintendo

6. Archiverse

The Wii U was not a blockbuster for Nintendo, but it was home to some wonderful games and plenty of innovation. One of its best is MiiVerse, a Nintendo-made social network that was at the core of the Wii U and eventually patched into the Nintendo 3DS.

Every Wii U game had a channel, and many – the likes of Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Maker, and Splatoon – were fully integrated with the network. Because of Nintendo’s family-focussed approach, MiiVerse was well-moderated and the result was a hive of creativity and humour with a genuine sense of community. MiiVerse closed down in 2017, but the folks at Archverse have preserved the entire thing. That’s 133,003,599 posts, 216,901,986 replies, and 72,135,190 drawings to explore. Yeah!

Link: Archiverse

7. The Super Mario Art Archive

The Super Mario Art Archive features a wealth of assets taken from games, websites, and promotional materials. In a Reddit post announcing the project, compiler Cevan says it’s an attempt to catalogue “every official modern Mario image done in the classic art style – specifically, those done by or in the style of Shigehisa Nakaue’s work.”

The entire collection is available to browse via Google Drive

Link: Super Mario art archive

8. Pokémon Database

Pokémon players have a wealth of destinations to visit to look up details of their favourite pocket monsters. The Pokédex on the official Pokémon website is a good place to start, and the recently released Pokémon Home for Switch and mobile is also feature-packed, at a price. However, for sheer usability and thoroughness, we nominate Pokémon Database. The site includes a listing for every single Pokémon, complete with details on its moves, base stats, evolutions, locations, and breeding.

Pokémon Database is also fast to load and suited to mobile devices, making it a useful companion whether you’re playing Sword or Shield on Switch, or Pokémon Go on mobile.

Link: Pokémon Database

9. Starmen.net

Starmen.net is one of several fan sites that have sprung up around specific Nintendo franchises. It’s the go-to destination for fans of the Mother and Earthbound series, pulling together an entertaining compendium of guides, magazine features, articles, and fan creations. So, if you’re a musician looking for the bass tab for Earthbound‘s Merrysville School theme, look no further. Metroid fans should also check out the equally excellent Shine Sparkers.

Link: Starmen.net

10. Unseen64

Another archive brimful of informative tidbits is Unseen64. The site contains articles, images, and videos for hundreds of unreleased and cancelled games across all platforms. Nintendo highlights include a look at the Game Boy Advance version of Grand Theft Auto III, the potential Nintendo DS port of Halo, and the unmade Earthbound sequel for GameCube.

Link: Unseen64

Honourable mentions

Other sites to visit include Super Smash Bros. fan community Smashboards, and the appropriately named Zelda Universe. We’ll also include a cheeky link to Nintendology, an ever-growing collection of Nintendo box art from the makers of Thumbsticks. And finally, keep a link to Nintendo support website to hand, just in case you experience the dreaded Joy-Con drift or a cracked Switch screen.

You can also read our guide to the 10 useful video game websites everyone should bookmark.


Of course, the secret best video games website is Thumbsticks, so thank you for reading our news, features, guides and reviews. Please stay in touch by following us on Flipboard, Facebook, Google News, and Twitter.

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How much will the PlayStation 5 cost?

Details of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are slowly filtering out, but how much will they cost?

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Sony / Thumbsticks

A new video game generation begins later this year with the release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Details of both consoles are slowly filtering out but how much will they cost?

Microsoft revealed the Xbox Series X at The Game Awards 2020 and has been drip-feeding information ever since. Sony has been more tight-lipped about its new games system, the PlayStation 5. We have a general understanding of the console’s technical capabilities. We’ve glimpsed the potential new DualShock controller. We’ve even seen the rather funky devkit, but that’s about it. The only official information has come via exclusive reports from Wired, a logo reveal, and the tantalising empty official PlayStation 5 website.

All of this means that it’s hard to determine exactly how much the PlayStation 5 will cost at launch. We’ll keep this page up to date with the latest official information, but here’s what we know so far, and what we can infer.

In a statement from Sony’s Q3 FY2019 Consolidated Financial Results briefing, chief financial officer Hiroki Totoki has given the clearest indication yet to Sony’s approach in pricing the PlayStation 5. Speaking via translation, he said:

“What is not very clear or visible is because we are competing in the space,” Totoki says, “so it’s very difficult to discuss anything about the price at this point of time and depending upon the price level, we may have to determine the promotion that we are going to deploy and how much costs we are prepared to pay. So it’s a question of balance, and because it’s a balancing act it’s very difficult to say anything concrete at this point of time, but when I said smooth transition, we mean that we will definitely choose the optimal approach and that we will try to have the best balance so that we will be profitable in the life, during the life of this product.”

So let’s unpack this statement a little. Totoki-san’s opening line refers to the competitive space the PlayStation 5 will be part of, and by that, he means the next Xbox. It’s a clear statement that Sony is watching how Microsoft will position and price the next Xbox (or Xboxes) Indeed, it could be that Sony is waiting for Microsoft to make the first move and set the ballpark price range. (Just like Microsoft did with the Xbox One X, a mid-generation refresh that, with the benefit of going second, is more powerful than Sony’s PS4 Pro.)

Sony is surely keen to repeat the mistakes of the past and avoid a price variance similar to that between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 launched with two models, priced at $299 and $399, in 2005. A year later, the launch PS3 models were priced at an eye-watering $499 and $599. Shuhei Yoshida – previously Sony Worldwide Studios President – admits this price disparity was a huge mistake, calling it horrifying. It certainly contributed to the PS3’s sluggish launch in the West.

Sony had greater success with the PlayStation 4, mostly by having a clearer consumer proposition, but also by undercutting the price of Microsoft’s Xbox One – which bundled a Kinect sensor nobody really wanted – by $100.

When Totoki speaks about a “smooth transition” he’s likely referring to making customers comfortable, by aligning with the PS5’s price to existing hardware – namely the PlayStation 4 Pro, which launched at $399 in the US. This certainly fits in line with PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan’s comments about the desire to transfer customers from the PS4 to the PS5 “at a scale and pace that we’ve never delivered on before.”

PlayStation 5 system architect Mark Cerny is on the same page. Following the console’s 2019 announcement in Wired, reporter Peter Rubin confirmed via Twitter that Cerny said: “I believe that we will be able to release it at an SRP that will be appealing to gamers in light of its advanced feature set.”

Totoki also speaks about the PS5’s profitability, which is an indication that the console’s price will – initially, at least – start at the higher end. After all, Sony can always reduce the price to stimulate sales, but can’t go in the other direction.

So based on what we know so far, we predict the PS5 will cost more than the PS4 Pro and will be released at $499 in the US and £449 in the UK.

For one thing, this is bang in the middle of Sony’s historic pricing strategy for PlayStation consoles, when adjusted for inflation. The original PlayStation, costing $299 in 1995, would cost $500 in today’s money. The PS2, also priced at $299 in 2000, would be a bargain $445 in today’s money. The PS3 is the outlier – its $499 price tag in 2006 translates to $630 in today’s money – with the PS4’s 2013 price of $399 translating to around $435 in 2020.

The PlayStation 5 coming in around $500 makes sense, both in terms of its position in the market above the mid-generation, transitional PS4 Pro, and with respect to Sony’s pricing history for PlayStation consoles.

PlayStation 5 at a glance

  • Release date: Holiday 2020
  • Estimated Price: $499 / £449
  • Specifications: 8-core AMD Zen CPU, AMD Navi GPU, custom SSD, 4K Blu-ray player
  • Features: Improved loading times, ray tracing, 4K performance at 120Hz, haptic DualShock controller

Follow Thumbsticks on Flipboard, Facebook, Google News, and Twitter for more whimsical predictions on the future of digital entertainment.

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10 essential Nintendo Switch accessories everyone must own

The Nintendo Switch is an amazing combination of handheld and console. Here are the extra accessories and bits of kit that you’ll need to make it perfect.

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The Nintendo Switch is an amazing combination of handheld and console. Here are the extra accessories and bits of kit that you’ll need to make it perfect.

1. A really big memory card

Remember when the Nintendo Switch launched, and people were worried about the number of games available? Firstly, that’s true of all consoles. And secondly, that seems a little redundant now there are over a trillion games on the eShop.

The Nintendo Switch comes with a modest 32GB of internal storage, and not every game comes on a cartridge. (Even some games sold in boxed, retail format still just include a code to redeem and download the game.)

So if you want to buy download, store, and play all of those lovely games, you’re going to need a really big micro SD memory card. Now take the size you’ve got in your head, and go bigger. Then go bigger again, just to be on the safe side.

You can buy micro SD cards that are specifically designed for Nintendo Switch, but really, just make sure you get one with high-speed access. The minimum you’ll want is 10MB/s sequential write speed, so that’s Class 10 (C10) in standard SDHC/SDXC cards, or Class 1 (U1) or better in UHS cards.

2. A quality case

One of the joys of the Nintendo Switch – and even more so its smaller sibling, the Nintendo Switch Lite – is that you can play it anywhere. On the sofa. In bed. On the toilet. In the garden. The opportunities around the home are excellent.

But it’s the opportunity to take your Switch further afield – on the bus, on the subway, on a plane – that’s really exciting. But that’s also where your console faces the most risk.

You might scratch the screen taking it in and out of your bag. You’re more likely to get bumped and drop it on public transport. You don’t (well, most sane people don’t) take their mobile phone out without a case and a screen protector, so why would you do the same with your Switch?

Get a good quality case – Nintendo makes official ones, but Hori stuff is also great – to keep your Switch safe. You’ll often get a screen protector included, so it makes sense to use one of those, too.

3. A Flip Grip

One of the neat things about the Nintendo Switch’s handheld form factor is that, unlike TV-only consoles, you can play games in portrait mode. (Or as Nintendo calls it, Tate Mode.)

From Zen’s brilliant pinball tables to Ojiro Fumoto’s Downwell, there are loads of games that make use of Tate Mode. But if a game isn’t playable with touchscreen, then playing in Tate Mode with Joy-Con controllers can be more difficult. Some games will allow you to play with a single, docked Joy-Con, while others will require you to stand the Switch on its end and used detached controllers.

With the Flip Grip, an accessory from Fangamer and notable video game historian, Jeremy Parish, this is no longer an issue. The Flip Grip features a pair of rails to attach a pair of Joy-Con, and allows you to safely position your Nintendo Switch between them in Tate Mode. It’s so simple, it’s a wonder Nintendo didn’t think of it.

4. A power bank (and a good quality USB-C cable)

If we have one criticism of the Nintendo Switch, it’s that battery life in handheld mode can be a little short. (Though this is slightly improved in the Nintendo Switch Lite.)

What’s noticeable is that games which particularly tax the hardware – everything from Skyrim and Doom to Nintendo’s own Breath of the Wild – cause the battery to deplete even faster.

If you’re within reach of a plug socket – or at least, a USB port – then that’s not such a big deal. Grab a long USB-C cable, plug your Switch in, and keep going. But if you’re on the move and your battery runs low, then you’ll need a power bank to keep playing.

But the Nintendo Switch is finicky about which power sources it will use. Finding the right gear can be a costly game of trial and error. As featured in our list of essential video game websites, Switch Chargers will help you find power banks and cables that are compatible with your Switch.

5. Extra Joy-Con controllers

It seems counter-intuitive, given the Switch’s handheld form factor, but some of the most fun you’ll have with Nintendo’s latest console is with family and friends.

The design of the Switch and its pair of Joy-Con means you can easily enjoy two-player games with no extra hardware. This was illustrated beautifully with launch title, Snipperclips, and games like Yoshi’s Crafted World, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pikniku have driven the point home.

But things are even better with four players. (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Party, and Smash Bros. Ultimate, Overcooked and Overcooked 2, Kirby Star Allies, Party Golf… the list is extensive.)

To do that, you’re going to need extra Joy-Con controllers. That is an extra cost, but it has the added bonus that you can add more beautifully-coloured controllers to your collection.

6. A Joy-Con charging station

If you’ve got more than one set of Joy-Con controllers, but only one Nintendo Switch console, you’re going to run into a charging problem. To try and make sure your Joy-Con are all charged, you’ll need to implement some sort of charging schedule. Maybe a rota? Take it in turns to swap the controllers around, treat it like another household chore?

(That problem is exacerbated if you’ve only got a Nintendo Switch Lite, whose “Joy-Con” aren’t detachable, so there’s no way to directly charge additional sets.)

Or you could buy a Joy-Con charging station. You can get them in different sizes, depending on the number of Joy-Con you need to charge – and if you’ve only got two, you can get a charging grip that also doubles as a controller – but it’s a really simple and tidy way of keeping on top of your battery problem.

7. A Nintendo Switch Pro controller

The Nintendo Switch Joy-Con grip is a simple solution to a simple problem: How does one use both JoyCon as a single controller if their Switch is docked?

It’s also a simple solution ergonomically speaking, however. It’s not the most natural size or shape for a controller. It feels weird for a short time, and can lead to fatigue during longer sessions. But it comes bundled with your console so it’s basically free. Can’t argue with the price tag.

Nintendo’s even more simple (but predictably, quite expensive) solution is the Nintendo Switch Pro controller. It’s basically a standalone Switch controller, modelled after the Xbox layout – sorry, Sony, but even Nintendo agrees that your thumbstick position is inferior – but it’s an essential purchase if you’re going to be playing in docked mode a lot.

8. A decent stand

The kickstand on the back of the Nintendo Switch is a little flimsy, to say the least. For something that’s designed to be a road warrior, it’s a surprisingly feeble piece of plastic. (And yet another reason why you want a good quality case.)

If you’re going to want to use your Switch in tabletop mode, then you can use the built-in stand. If you’re careful. But if you get a separate stand, you’ll not only find it more stable, but you may be able to charge your Switch while you play. (Something that the built-in kickstand doesn’t allow).

Pretty much any mobile phone or tablet stand should do the job, but keep in mind that not everything with a built-in USB-C port will charge your Switch. Some third-party “docks” have also been known to brick consoles, so keep Switch Chargers in mind when you go shopping.

(Nintendo also offers an official adjustable charging stand, while the Wii U gamepad stand can come in handy if you’ve got one kicking around.)

9. A nice case for your games

There’s a real disparity in the size of physical, retail releases of Nintendo Switch games. The box they come in is massive compared to the game cards, for starters. (And that’s if they come with a game card at all and not just a code. Often they don’t come with manuals, either, or anything else to justify the size of the box.)

Other than them fitting nicely onto a bookshelf, there’s no real reason why they should be the size they are. And then, there’s no real reason to keep your cartridges in the boxes.

But they’re small. Easy to lose. Can be trodden on or snapped. Nintendo even had to make them taste foul to try and prevent people from eating them. You can pick up a sturdy little case for peanuts, and they even come in funky designs.

10. Ring Fit

This is a late entry to the list, bumping Nintendo Labo kits off the bottom (sorry, kids!) but the Ring Fit – and its associated game, Ring Fit Adventure – is a genuinely brilliant bit of kit.

Nintendo has long tried to get us to be more active. From walking to hatch Pokémon to Wii Sports to Wii Fit, the oft-wholesome developer and publisher seems to genuinely care about our health.

And with Ring Fit, this is Nintendo’s best effort at video game-powered fitness yet. From Ring Fit Adventure’s main RPG quest to standalone workouts, you’ll always be able to fit in a quick session. The controller might look weird, but the combination of resistance, stretching, and holding positions really works. And as with everything Nintendo, you can start on a super-friendly difficulty, then crank it up to genuinely challenging levels as your fitness improves.


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10 useful video game websites everyone should bookmark

If you play video games, these ten websites will help you get the most out of your favourite pastime.

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10 really useful video game websites
Ubisoft

If you play video games, these ten websites will help you get the most out of your favourite electronic pastime.

Enjoying video games often means more than just playing them. Sometimes you need help choosing a game to play. Sometimes you need assistance if you’re stuck on a tricky boss battle. And sometimes you’re just curious to know how many copies of Wii Music were actually sold.

Here are ten extremely useful websites that every video game enthusiast should bookmark.

1. HowLongToBeat

In these days of digital discounts and continual sales, it’s all too easy to build up a library of unplayed games. HowLongToBeat is a useful tool that tells you how long – on average – a game takes to complete. It’s a genuinely helpful guide in choosing what to play next, particularly if you tend to avoid either very long or very short games.

For example, the completion time for Pokémon Sword and Shield is currently listed as 25 hours for the main story, 36 hours for the main story and extras, and 83.5 hours for full completion. A smaller title, such as Untitled Goose Game, is 3 hours for the main story, 3.5 hours for the main and extras, and 5 hours for full completion. Figures are also broken down by platform and play style. Anyone can submit their play-times and contribute to the site’s database.

Link: https://howlongtobeat.com

2. The Video Game Atlas

The Video Game Atlas is the largest collection of user-submitted screenshot maps on the web. The site’s coverage is heavily skewed towards older games, recalling the good old days of printed maps in magazines. For that reason, it’s a great tool for retro gamers. So, if you’re revisiting Batman Forever on Super NES or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on Sega Genesis, The Video Game Atlas is the place to visit. A word of warning, however. The site is endearingly old school in design, so it’s best viewed on a desktop.

Link: https://vgmaps.com

3. Games Finder

Games Finder is a recommendation site to help players find games similar to those they like. For example, search for Portal, and you’ll be recommended games like The Stanley Parable, QUBE, Swapper, and Tag, among many others. The site doesn’t cover every game out there, but as its recommendations are curated by a team of editors, the quality is generally high. If you want to match a game on gameplay, mechanics, genre, or narrative theme, it’s worth a visit.

Link: https://gameslikefinder.com

4. VGChartz

VGChartz compiles game and hardware sales data from around the world to create a highly pleasurable numerical rabbit hole. There are regional, weekly, and annual charts to explore, and many games have a detailed sale history breakdown. The site is also a useful source of screenshots and release information. VGChartz is also a reminder of why Nintendo continues to make Kirby games. Kirby Star Allies on Nintendo Switch – a game that literally no one thinks about – has sold over 2.5 million copies since release. Crikey.

Link: http://www.vgchartz.com

5. Switch Chargers

There’s a place at the top table reserved for the folks that run Switch Chargers. The Nintendo Switch is a console that is easy to love, but its highly-specific requirements regarding power and charging can cause headaches. Switch Chargers breaks everything down into simple guides that cover everything from Power Banks and USB chargers to cables and car adapters. It also features useful explainers on how Switch consoles are actually powered, and on how to avoid bricking your system. It’s an essential site for Switch owners.

Link: https://switchchargers.com

6. Gamefaqs

Gamefaqs has been running for 25 years and needs little introduction. It remains the go-to destination for text FAQs, cheats, and achievement listings. The message boards are also worth visiting if you have a specific question about a particular game, with assistance offered by a remarkably polite and friendly community of contributors.

Link: http://www.gamefaqs.com

7. Achievements and Trophies

Speaking of achievements and trophies, here are two sites for the price of one. If you care about earning magical meaningless numbers on Xbox and PlayStation consoles, the long-running XboxAchievements and PlayStationTrophies have all you need to know. Don’t let that 2018 copyright date – or the intrusive ads – put you off, both sites are frequently updated with the latest achievements and trophy information.

Links: https://www.xboxachievements.com / https://www.playstationtrophies.org

8. OpenCritic

Everyone’s a critic nowadays, so the saying goes. Review aggregation sites are nothing new, but our pick for the best goes to OpenCritic. As well as aggregated ratings, OpenCritic lets users interrogate its game review data with score distribution charts and other useful filters. You can also look at particular publication – like Thumbsticks, for example – and see the titles it has reviewed, the average and median scores, and the percentage of games it recommends. It’s also well presented and easy to use. Hardly a given for sites of this nature.

Link: OpenCritic

9. Virtual Gaming Library

The Virtual Gaming Library (VGL) is probably the most impressive database of video games on YouTube. The channel features playlists for all major platforms and a variety of game genres. Most impressive – and almost hypnotic – are the  VGL ‘Project’ videos. Each one features a 10-second clip from every title released on a particular gaming platform. It’s a sublime work of effort and execution.

Link: VGL on YouTube

10. ESRB Game Ratings Search

Clear your throat, lower your voice, and all together now: “M for Mature.”

Knowing more about the content of a game you are playing is important, particularly if you have younger family members. The ESRB issues video game ratings in North America and has a comprehensive database of every title released on major platforms. Each title is listed with an age rating, content descriptor, and a breakdown of interactive elements such as online gameplay. For example, the listing for Teen-rated Astral Chain says:

“In some areas, characters drink alcohol and weave/stumble with slurred speech; one mission requires players’ character find liquor to obtain information from a drunk character. Characters use the word “drugs” in dialogue. The words “sh*t,” “b*tch,” and “a*s” also appear in dialogue.”

The database can be accessed worldwide and is full of useful information. There’s also an app available on iOS and Android. European readers can also access the PEGI ratings database.

Link: ESRB / PEGI


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Features

Large, open-world video games are a sprint, not a marathon

If you can get to the end of a long video game with the wind in your sails and enthusiasm still in your heart, then that’s an achievement in itself. But it shouldn’t be so difficult. Games shouldn’t feel like work.

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Bilbo Baggins going on an adventure
New Line Cinema

“I’m going on an adventure!” Shouts a young, excited Bilbo Baggins, running down the path from Bag End into Hobbiton village and beyond.

He, a homebody hobbit who has never left the Shire, has been recruited by a wizard to serve as the rogue in a party of warrior dwarves. It’s literally the most exciting thing that has happened in his life and – down to the Dungeons & Dragons party composition – is a stirring setup for the main questline of an RPG.

Fast forward six months and Bilbo has walked almost 1,000 miles in a little under six months. He’s been starved, weather-beaten, and exhausted. Over the course of the journey, Bilbo is attacked by wolves, goblins, a giant spider, a corrupted hobbit with an evil MacGuffin, and a literal dragon. And he’s nearly eaten by trolls.

Bilbo is, understandably, worse for wear from the experience. The enthusiasm he held at the start wanes quickly, and often, he wishes he could quit, or had never started the journey at all. But he trudges on because he’s made the commitment. The investment. He’s already wasted so much time on it. He wants to see it through.

The Hobbit, then, is the perfect metaphor for large, often open-world video games.

The Witcher 3 Geralt Roach dragons

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to love about labyrinthine RPGs and expansive open-world adventures. They are one of the most popular genres of video game. The Netflix-powered resurgence of The Witcher 3, four years after its original release, just shows how much the audience love any big games it can get its hands on. Perhaps it’s a value for money thing, or just the desire to eke as much play-time as possible out of each world.

It’s also this desire for more content that has led to the proliferation of repetitive radiant quests, and ultimately, the live service model that is so prevalent. The result is that large, open-world video games are not great respecters of our time. The games themselves can take hundreds of hours to complete, while quests last as long as (and feel akin to) a full day at work. Trying to arrange a group of working adults for regular co-op stints is an exercise in futility.

The net consequence is that players often run out of steam, and bounce off big video games, before completing them.

The “shame pile”

People refer to it as the “shame pile”. It’s quite different from the more shame-neutral “backlog”, which consists of games you’re yet to play (but you totally intend to). The “shame pile” is filled with the games you’ve started but never finished. But we shouldn’t feel ashamed! Not finishing video games is nothing to be ashamed of.

In some cases, I’ve deliberately left games unfinished. My Courier, for instance, is entombed on an Xbox 360 in my garage. He waits, stoic, at the Hoover Dam. Yes Man is at his disposal. All the Courier must do is instruct Mr House’s AI servant on how best to clean up the Nevada Wasteland. But I don’t want him to. I love the world of Fallout: New Vegas so much that I don’t want it to end.

That sort of thing is the exception, however. Most of the games on my “shame pile” are unfinished simply because I’ve run out of steam.

Sometimes, you can pinpoint the precise moment it happens. (Hello, Grand Theft Auto V’s spectacularly underwhelming submarine heist.) Occasionally, you can look at a calendar and see at a glance which shiny new game displaced the incumbent. But more often than not, it’s a combination of repetition, lack of forward momentum, and length of time played.

GTA V submarine

Fallout 4. Final Fantasy XII through XV. Grand Theft Autos IV and V. All of the Elder Scrolls games, from Daggerfall to Skyrim. A bunch of Assassin’s Creeds. And all the rest that don’t immediately come to mind. That’s thousands of hours invested into games that would probably take thousands more to actually complete. And none of them will be.

Some games – either helpfully or mockingly, depending on your point of view – provide a completion percentage to let you know how close you got. Or didn’t get. I can see at a glance that I am 37% of the way through Red Dead Redemption 2, for instance. That’s probably still 40-50 hours of solid effort over the span of a couple of weeks, roaming around a remarkable frontier at a languid pace, but at this moment in time, I can’t see myself going back.

Enthusiasm has waned. The memory falters. Even if I did go back, at this stage I’d have no idea what I was doing, or why.

The antidote

If you can get to the end of a long video game with the wind in your sails and enthusiasm still in your heart, then that’s an achievement in itself. For my part, it’s a madcap dash to complete before I hit the wall. But it shouldn’t be so difficult. So exhausting. Playing games shouldn’t feel like running a marathon.

You could avoid playing long games, for one thing. It wasn’t a conscious decision that I can recall making, but I’ve become aware that I do tend towards shorter games now, in my dotage. I let the younger members of the team take the review codes for big games, preferring to spend three hours with an indie gem than 30 with an RPG. That’s not to say long games don’t come into rotation, but I don’t gravitate towards them as I once did.

And not every big game is off the menu. There are some games that, with a few quality of life improvements and a little bit of respect for your time, are accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Even tired old folk with no energy and no free time. (Like yours truly.)

The Witcher 3, for instance, offers handy plot recaps when you load the game. (Hello, Netflix recap.) You could have spent hours, days, weeks, months away from Geralt and his adventures. In other games, this is fatal to continuity. I’ve started Final Fantasy XIII three times. Not because I particularly loved it, you understand, but because I wanted to try and finish it. However, each time I came back to it, I could not for the life of me remember what was going on. It’s all just a confusing mess of crystals and people and crystals that used to be people. The Witcher 3 is no less complex a tale, but the bard’s recaps make returning to the game after a break a realistic possibility.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, gets around the problem by not really having a story at all. That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching plot – recover memories, release the Divine Beasts, defeat Ganon, free Princess Zelda – but it’s not central to actually playing the game. You can skip it altogether if you’re good enough. It’s possible to walk straight to Hyrule Castle in your underpants and beat Calamity Ganon with just three hearts.

This lack of focus on the narrative allows Breath of the Wild to be played in bitesize chunks. To be conquered piecemeal. To be tackled months apart, and all with no ill effects to continuity or your ability to jump back in. It’s surprising more games haven’t followed this example, but there’s a design purity to Breath of the Wild that requires extreme restraint, made evermore rare by the expectation of open worlds stuffed to burst with content.

how long to beat the outer worlds

And if you’re Obsidian – the developer of Fallout: New Vegas who totally didn’t just make their own Fallout game (in SPAAAAAAACE!) without Bethesda’s involvement – you could just buck the trend completely. How did they do that? By making The Outer Worlds really short.

Beautifully short.

Mercifully short.

It’s a revolutionary idea, but it just might work.

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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 found this article interesting or entertaining and you want to support quality games writing, then please consider supporting us via Patreon, buying us a coffee, or subscribing to our newsletter.


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