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Highway to Hell: How Mick Gordon crafted the Doom soundtrack

In his GDC talk ‘Doom: Behind the Music’, Mick Gordon, composer at Game Audio Australia, spoke about the compositional process and production techniques used to create the hit FPS’s intense soundtrack.

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Doom - GDC 17

In his GDC talk ‘Doom: Behind the Music’, Mick Gordon, composer at Game Audio Australia, spoke about the compositional process and production techniques used to create the hit FPS’s intense soundtrack.

“We want you to make music that no one has heard before.
It needs to fit the game perfectly, and instantly be loved by millions of fans.”

This was the brief Mick Gordon received from id Software as he began work on the score for 2016’s Doom.

“I first met the id Software team back in mid-2014,” says Gordon. “They sent me a music design document that started like this, ‘Doom is about demons on Mars. You have a shotgun. Send them back to hell.’”

“The second part of the brief went like this: ‘No guitars. We hate guitars. We do not want guitars in our game. Do not put guitars in.’”

In approaching the Doom soundtrack Gordon knew there was a danger in being inspired by the brief, but not executing it. Determined to eschew traditional techniques, Gordon decided to take a new approach to the compositional process.

“You cannot expect to end up with a different outcome without changing the process,” says Gordon. “Change the process, change the outcome.”

“This is a lot easier said than done. If you’re anything like me, you suffer terribly from the fear of rejection. It’s that fear of rejection that disables us from changing our process.”

“Why?” asks Gordon. “Because it’s asking you to take everything you know and come up with a new process in the hope that you are going to reach something better. As humans we don’t want to do that. If something has worked a certain way before, we want to repeat that process to end up with what we perceive is going to be the same result.”

Constructive criticism

The key making this work on a huge AAA video game, says Gordon, is working with a team that shares the same outlook and philosophy. In id Software’s audio team – Ben Carney, Chad Mossholder, and Chris Hite – Gordon found a group of people that supported and endorsed this ambition.

Gordon’s initial submission for the Doom soundtrack used synths, combining low sub notes and high frequency white noise. With a bit of distortion added to the mix, Gordon was confident he was on the right path.

“This was gonna be the Doom sound,” he recalls. “We’re gonna take sine waves, and we’re gonna take noise, and we’re gonna run them through some distortion. I’m an absolute genius! This is brilliant!”

Gordon send the demo track over to audio director, Chris Hite, with a note preparing him to have his mind blown.

“I hit send on the email and I awaited Chris’s reply,” says Gordon. “He replied with this…”

“Meh.”

“I read that on my screen and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve failed again. Time to turn on the cold water in the shower and have a bit of a cry.’ But then, underneath that, he added these lines:”

“I feel you’ve taken the first step on a journey toward the perfect destination. Keep going. You’re almost there.”

“Instantly,” says Gordon, “I felt comfortable with failure. I wasn’t worry about failing with this team. I was encouraged to be able to keep going.”

Hite was encouraging an environment where Gordon felt comfortable with failure. Gordon had to change the process, change the outcome.

Reinventing the wave

Inspired by the story of how David Bowie and Tony Visconti created a scalable reverb technique, Gordon designed a system that dynamically produced interesting musical elements based on an input.

Using some early concept art that suggested a mystical and evil flowing energy as inspiration, he created a system that, when sketched out, resembled water flowing downhill. In this system a computer would generate a simple sine wave that would be split into fourth different paths, each containing a chain that would produce its own effects and output.

  • Chain 1: Four FX pedals and a splitter.
  • Chain 2: Four FX pedals and a compressor.
  • Chain 3: Tape echo, FX pedal, AKAI, spring reverb, and a compressor.
  • Chain 4: Mini amp, microphone, splitter, and a pair of compressors.

Each output was then run into a mixer, then into an EQ and compressor, before finally being entered into the Digital Audio Workstation.

Doom - GDC 17Source: Mick Gordon’s talk, GDC 2017

The result of Gordon’s first experiment with this array was, well, a deep, rumbling buzz made from sub sine wave tones. However, when the same tone was run through the array several times, the output transformed into a deep, threatening, skull-crunching rhythm.

“The way that I started thinking about this, was that this was my instrument. I’m feeding it a very basic input and all I’m changing from that input is the amplitude and pitch of what I’m sending through.”

The only sound going into the system was a sine wave, and the reason for that was simple, says Gordon.

“It’s our most pure representation of what sound can be. It’s a wave that goes up, and then comes back down. Therefore any interesting thing that is happening inside this array was being imparted on that sine wave in the purest form possible.”

The music created through this method sounded good, and the id team were happy with the approach. Nonetheless, Gordon felt the music was missing one, very specific ingredient. Although the new Doom felt like Doom, it still wasn’t sounding like Doom, and Gordon knew exactly why.

It had no guitars.

“There was a really good reason behind that,” says Gordon, referring to the brief’s original guidance. “It’s because the sound of an electric guitar, somehow instantly summarises a genre that has become a bit of a joke.”

Trojan horse

A heavy metal soundtrack evokes a certain tonal quality. Yes, Doom is filled with demons and violence (so you’d be absolutely forgiven for thinking a heavy metal soundtrack fits) but drop-tuned, point-headstocked guitars can conjure up the wrong sort of image. There’s always a danger your buzzsaw-guitar, adrenaline-thumping score winds up sounding like an audio caricature.

Nonetheless, Gordon believed that a harsh, aggressive sound was entirely appropriate the game. And eventually, he got permission to add a little bit of guitar to the soundtrack.

“What we wanted to do was experiment with different guitar tones. We didn’t just want to take general metal sounds and put those into the game.”

Using Zynaptic’s Morph plugin, Gordon took the chainsaw sound effect from the original Doom game, and merged it with a tone composed on a 9 string guitar.

“Once I got this, it felt like it was the little Trojan Horse I was able to sneak into the id Software base. And once I was in there I was able to put in as much guitar as I wanted,” he says.

Doom Mick Gordon guitarSource: Doom: Behind the Music (Part 1)

“All of a sudden, just by adding that stuff in, it started to feeling like Doom game. It started to make the player run around the arena a little bit more and be comfortable in doing that. By changing our process, we changed the outcome. We were able to come up with some sounds that fit the game. I would argue that it’s not stuff that nobody’s ever heard before, but it was something that started to become quite unique for Doom.

“It fit the project. And by adding a bit of guitar in there, it started to fit the project even further, even though it was in the brief as a no no. We then decided to go back and change that brief in order to act on the other point, which was that it needed to be instantly loved by millions of Doom fans around the world.”

And in the respect, it was objective achieved. The game was released in May 2016 and Mick Gordon’s score was often cited as one of the highlights of the game, lending it energy, drive and a suitably hellish grind. The Doom soundtrack went on to win the award for Best Music at the 2016 Game Awards as well as send fans into a frenzy uncovering various easter eggs hidden within the music assets of the game.

Gordon refers, once again, to the mantra for this project.

“Change the process, change the outcome. If you’re struggling to come up with something new, if you find yourself stuck in a rut, if you’re suffering from creative blocks, change the process. Change the way you’re doing things and you’ll end up with a different result.

“Not only that, have the courage to do so. I say courage, not confidence. Confidence comes from doing the same thing over and over again. It takes courage to change that.

“Finally, and most important,” concludes Gordon, “A team that encourages an environment where you feel comfortable in failure will enable you to thrive.”

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Features

Xbox Series X: Why is 12 teraflops a big deal? Is it a good number?

You’ve probably heard quite enough about “12 teraflops” this week. But if you’ll indulge us one more article, we’ll break down what the figure means – in useful, real-world, value terms – for the Xbox Series X.

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Xbox Series X 12 teraflops
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You’ve probably heard quite enough about “12 teraflops” this week. But if you’ll indulge us one more article, we’ll break down what the figure means – in useful, real-world, value terms – for the Xbox Series X.

We still haven’t been revealed the actual specs of the Xbox Series X. We’ve been given glimpses of performance. Snippets of capability. A general hand-waving sense of what to expect.

That includes things that make a practical difference to players, including further support of Xbox Game Pass, backwards compatibility, and a sort of “forwards compatibility” that means, even if you buy a game like Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox One, you’ll get to play it for no extra charge on Xbox Series X.

On the technical side that includes SSD storage (which will all-but eliminate loading times), real-time ray tracing (for hyper-realistic lighting effects), and something called “Dynamic Latency Input” which means, we think, that controls will be more responsive. Somehow. Microsoft hasn’t gone into the details for that one.

The closest thing to actual specs we’ve seen is the promise that games will be able to run at 120 frames per second, and that the Xbox Series X will be capable of 12 teraflops. And that’s been all over the internet since the announcement yesterday. 12 teraflops, plastered all over the press. 12 teraflops, repeated like a mantra. 12 teraflops. 12 teraflops. 12 teraflops.

So, what exactly is a teraflop, and why is having 12 of the things a big deal?

Xbox Series X water

What the flop?

A teraflop – the nice, spellcheck-friendly way of writing out TFLOP/s – is a unit of measurement. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • “Tera” the size, like kilo, mega, or giga. (If mega is million, and giga is a thousand million, then tera is a million million. Yes, like gigabytes, megabytes and terabytes.)
  • A “flop” is a floating-point operation. (In really simple terms, that’s a complex mathematical calculation involving either really big or really small numbers, i.e. lots of decimal places.)
  • And the “/s” on the end signifies per second. (That bit’s easy. We’ll give you a simple one to finish.)

So the Xbox Series X does 12 teraflops, or 12 TFLOP/s, or twelve million million floating-point operations per second. But why do we need to use teraflops to measure performance? Surely you can look at the specs of a device and see at a glance which one is better?

The truth is that that figure of 12 teraflops, being shouted about town in relation to the Xbox Series X, isn’t in itself a specification. You can’t look at “12 teraflops” and instantly get a handle on how powerful something is. “12 teraflops” is, in isolation, a bit meaningless.

The value in using teraflops as a relative unit of measurement is that it’s a measure of theoretical performance that isn’t system-dependent.

Let’s take the performance of cars as a for-instance. You can look at the engine of one car, and see that it’s got a displacement volume of 2 litres. If you see another car that’s got a 1.6-litre engine, you’d think you were safe to assume the latter is slower. On paper, that makes sense. Bigger is better, right?

But what if the smaller engine has a turbocharger? What if the smaller engine produces more torque? What if the smaller-engined car weighs less? What if it has a Fast and the Furious nitrous oxide button? In real-world terms, the bigger engine isn’t necessarily better. That’s why we use other units of measurement – miles per hour for top speed, time to 62mph for acceleration – to offer an absolute comparison between things that might be very different.

Now consider computing, and more specifically, graphics processing hardware.

The processor in your PC is easy. A core’s a core. It’s easy to compare, no matter which manufacturer you’re buying from. Graphics cards are a little different. Nvidia measures the number of “cores” in its GPUs with its proprietary CUDA cores. AMD measures its “cores” in Compute Units, or CUs, which are made up of Stream Processors. These are not exactly the same thing.

You can fudge it, a bit. You can make comparisons. If you multiply the number of CUs in an AMD graphics card by 64 (because a Compute Unit contains 64 shader processors) you can come out with an approximation of Nvidia’s core count. But even when you make that sort of equivalency it’s still not an entirely fair fight. One graphics card might have a faster base clock speed. The other might have a faster boost clock. But the boost clock might not be on all cores. One might be more efficient. The other might be able to run hotter. Graphics card specifications may look similar across generations, even, but newer variants can offer significant performance increases for less power. (And when you take inflation into account, they’re not always that much more expensive. (Well, when cryptocurrency-mining shortages aren’t driving prices.)

All this adds up to is a very difficult way to compare technology. So we use the number of teraflops a graphics card can output as a sort of vendor-neutral, agnostic expression of maximum mathematical throughput. And the sort of mathematical throughput that teraflops are used to measure (in the enterprise IT and scientific worlds) is very similar to the workload that’s done by graphics cards when doing rendering, shaders, and all that pretty stuff.

And in the absence of any other specs to go on, we’ll have to use the “12 teraflops” number provided for the Xbox Series X to work out whether it’s a “good” number or not.

Xbox Series X specs Feb 2020

So is 12 teraflops a good number, then?

So now you know (roughly) what a teraflop is, (mostly) how it’s calculated, and (broadly speaking) why it’s a good idea to use teraflops to compare the power of something like the Xbox Series X. But is 12 teraflops a “good” number?

That depends. (Sorry, there are no easy answers here, but hopefully, easy-to-follow explanations.)

Given the teraflop is a unit of peak theoretical measurement that is, in isolation, a bit meaningless, we have to compare the 12 teraflops of the Xbox Series X against some other things (also measured in teraflops) to see how it stacks up. The sensible place to start is video game consoles. Here’s how the 12 teraflops of the Xbox Series X stacks up against other console hardware:

  • Xbox Series X – 12 teraflops
  • Xbox One X – 6 teraflops
  • PS4 Pro – 4.2 teraflops
  • Original PS4 – 1.8 teraflops
  • Xbox One S – 1.4 teraflops
  • Original Xbox One – 1.3 teraflops
  • Nintendo Switch – 1 teraflop
  • Nintendo Wii U – 350 gigaflops (note the change in measurement unit here)
  • Xbox 360 – 240 gigaflops
  • PS3 – 230 gigaflops
  • Original Xbox – 20 gigaflops
  • Nintendo Wii – 12 gigaflops
  • Nintendo Gamecube – 9 gigaflops
  • PS2 – 6 gigaflops

And we’ll stop there. (You could argue that the numbers stopped being relevant when we dipped into gigaflops, but we thought it was interesting. It’s a great illustration of  how far hardware has come in the last 20 years.)

What’s obviously missing from that chart is the PlayStation 5. It feels like we’ve been playing a big game of chicken, with neither side wanting to show their cards while there was still time for their opposite number to change tack or undercut their offering. Given that the Xbox One X went second – and beat the performance of the PS4 Pro by 30% – you have to think that Microsoft must be feeling pretty confident about the 12 teraflops figure in relation to what the PS5 will offer.

The really interesting thing about the Xbox Series X is that it’s, in some ways, more akin to a gaming PC than a games console. It’s bigger. It’s more powerful. It doesn’t exactly look like it fits under your telly. So how does the 12 teraflops figure for the Xbox Series X stack up against PC graphics cards that are currently on offer?

  • Nvidia Geforce RTX 2080 Ti – 13.5 teraflops
  • Xbox Series X – 12 teraflops
  • Nvidia Geforce RTX 2080 Super – 11.2 teraflops
  • Nvidia Geforce RTX 2080 – 10.1 teraflops
  • AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT – 9.8 teraflops
  • Nvidia Geforce RTX 2070 Super – 9.1 teraflops
  • AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT – 8.1 teraflops
  • AMD Radeon RX 5700 – 8 teraflops
  • Nvidia Geforce RTX 2070 – 7.5 teraflops
  • Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060 Super – 7.2 teraflops
  • Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060 – 6.5 teraflops
  • AMD Radeon RX 5600 – 6.4 teraflops
  • AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT – 5.2 teraflops
  • AMD Radeon RX 5500 – 5.2 teraflops

(We’ve not included the RTX Titan or AMD Radeon VII because they’re not exactly easy to come by. We also haven’t included any professional or enterprise cards like Nvidia Quadro or Tesla.)

So there aren’t many graphics cards above the Xbox Series X on that list, and most of them will cost you upwards of a grand. The cheapest variant of the card directly above it, the RTX 2080 Ti, will give you change from £1000, while the most expensive comes in closer to £2000. The card immediately below it in the performance stakes, the RTX 2080 Super, will set you back £650-850.

Now think about how much a brand new, high-end games console – like the Xbox Series X – might cost. £450? £500? £550? £600? We reckon the PlayStation 5 will come in around the £450-500 mark, so if the Xbox Series X is more powerful (as Microsoft’s bravado might suggest) then it makes sense that it might cost a little more.

But the prices listed for the cards above are literally just the graphics cards. That doesn’t include the case, the motherboard, the CPU, the RAM, the SSD, the power supply, the cooling. Or the peripherals, like a fifty quid controller. Or the operating system, which isn’t free, either. Comparing it to pre-built systems – which is just easier, but you’d be able to do this cheaper in a self-build – you’ll be able to pick up an Alienware Aurora desktop, with an RTX 2080 Ti (and all the other high-end components, including a high-end processor, 16GB of RAM, and an SSD) for three grand. Yes, that’s three thousand pounds.

And then think about console pricing. Microsoft might be able to offer the Xbox Series X for under a grand. That’s under the cost of just the equivalent graphics card on its own. It might even be in the console pricing Goldilocks zone, closer to £500. That’s just remarkable.

So if your question is, “is the quoted 12 teraflops figure in the Xbox Series X good?” then the answer is, “it depends” and “that’s a bit of a vague question, to be honest, good’s a bit subjective.”

But if your question is, “is the quoted 12 teraflops figure in the Xbox Series X good compared to equivalent-power PC gaming hardware, particularly as a value proposition?” then the answer is, “yes, absolutely” and “it might seem expensive for a new console when the price is announced, but there’s no way you’d be able to build anything similar for anywhere close to console prices.”


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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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PlayStation 5 cost
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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dangerous to go alone nintendo switch accessories sandisk
Nintendo / Thumbsticks

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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Check out the rest of our Essentials lists, and don’t forget to follow Thumbsticks on FlipboardFacebookGoogle News, and Twitter.

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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


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.

Thumbsticks needs your support

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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