Hitman 2’s first elusive target is now live. As revealed earlier, it’s none other than Sean Bean, playing agent Mark “The Undying” Faba. Let’s see how long he keeps that moniker.

Players have 10 days to take down Faba but only one chance to do it. Best of luck, would-be assassins.

For more on Hitman 2, check out our review here.

New Gameplay Today – Artifact

What’s this? A new Valve game? It’s true! Artifact is a new CCG based on the Dota franchise. It’s only fitting that our own CCG-meister, Dan Tack, walks us through the ins and outs of the title, from deck construction to a victory. But a victory for who/whom?

The gameplay is a little on the slow side, but this is definitely one to watch. Tack is a great resource, showing Leo and me some top-tier strats. It gets off to a rocky start, with the RNG gods delivering disappointment after disappointment in the deck-building phase. Can he overcome this rough beginning? What, you think I’m going to tell you here? Watch the video! Sheesh!

Artifact is coming to PC officially on November 28.

A few days ago, Spanish-language voice actor José Eduardo Garza Escudero, commonly known as Lalo Garza, went to Twitter to express his frustrations. As a common voice actor for bringing English-language properties to Mexico and dubbing them over in Spanish, Garza is often tapped for video games, as well. Last week, he had apparently lost out on a role and, in the process of venting about it, may have said more than he should have.

In a machine-translated tweet, Garza said “Well finally I confirm that the ‘professionals’ of @ PINKNOISEloc decided to remove my characters from #MortalKombatXI. How sad that a company that wanted a lot ends up making decisions that affect both you, the consumers. Goodbye Kung Lao and Reptile.”

Garza later clarified that he did not necessarily know if this project was actually Mortal Kombat XI, as it could be “MKXI, MK10.5, MKXYZ or whatever.” He simply knew that these characters would not be dubbed by him in whatever new Mortal Kombat project this appears to be, if it even really exists.

Mortal Kombat 11 has never been really rumored as much as it has always been assumed. Netherrealm Studios has been on a fairly consistent cycle of fighting games, alternating between Injustice and Mortal Kombat for four games now. Theoretically, this cycle should have positioned Mortal Kombat XI in April of 2019, two years after Injustice 2, but neither Netherrealm nor Warner Bros. have announced anything as people have assumed they were going to. 

Aside from that formerly-consistent schedule, there is also the curious case of the Warner Bros.’ E3 sales. In 2016, it was also assumed by many that WB was ready to announce a sequel to Shadow of Mordor, the highly-praised Middle-earth game. To add fuel to the fire, a “Best of E3” sale took place on PSN, focusing on games that got new entries announced at E3, and it included Shadow of Mordor in the sale. Warner Bros. did not announce anything until February of the following year, when Shadow of War was revealed. This year, Mortal Kombat XL was one of the games in the “Best of E3” sale.

WB and Netherrealm might be wanting to avoid the marketing slump that Injustice 2 suffered from, where the game was announced but not publicly discussed or marketed for six months after the reveal. By shortening the window, they can better pace the marketing of character reveals and trailers to the game’s release. On the other hand, if one optimistically assumes an April date for the game, it already seems way too close to announce it right now.

For his part, Ed Boon stays fairly quiet about Mortal Kombat XI, expressing bafflement and confusion whenever anyone asks him about it on Twitter. But, well, Ed Boon says a lot of things about Mortal Kombat, and trying to figure out what’s coming down the pike by reading his tea leaves on Twitter is a bit like trying to guess next week’s weather by looking out the window. You might get lucky guessing, but the causation argument is weak.

Still, Mortal Kombat XI seems like a fairly likely bet eventually, and the voice actor does not seem terribly confused about it. What do you think? Do we get a Mortal Kombat trailer at The Game Awards? Or perhaps next E3? Or maybe just none at all?

Do you remember the original ending to Half-Life? Toward the end of the game, Gordon would go to Xen, a nice-looking skybox with a number of disconnected platforms that involved extensive use of the long jump module. It looked cool, but it was kind of one-note, and bore more of a resemblance to Super Mario 64’s final worlds than anything from Half-Life’s design until then. So when Black Mesa, a fan-made remake of Half-Life, got its last real build released, the developers didn’t really focus on Xen and opted to leave it for later. It seems later is now, as the team behind the remake has released a trailer of what has become of Xen.

Rather than appending Xen to the game, the Black Mesa team of incredibly dedicated fans have expanded it to be a standalone multi-hour campaign set on the alien planet that so much of the game was leading up to. You can check out the trailer below and see what they mean.

The trailer is almost cut like a trailer to Doom, but definitely looks like an impressive effort from everyone involved. Xen seems more or less transformed into a major new area in the game. Not to run the comparison marathon forever, but there’s shades of Metroid Prime in what the trailer shows, with a lot more colors than even that game. 

The trailer was released for Half-Life’s 20 year anniversary, releasing on November 19, 1998. But the developers say that the content should be ready to go soon and is targeting a Q2 date next year.

The long and winding tale of Telltale’s closure has sprouted another branch as Skybound Games has confirmed that development has restarted on the game today. After Telltale Games closed its doors in the middle of The Walking Dead’s final season, Skybound announced they would be finishing up the final two episodes in early October using Telltale’s former developers.

“After Telltale shut its doors, the game was, unfortunately, unable to be worked on and hence the release dates of Episodes 3 and 4 have been delayed,” Skybound wrote in a blog post today. “But, we’re excited to let you know that many of the talented, passionate team members who originally worked on the game are resuming development efforts today!”

The phrasing of “most of the team members” certainly implies that it is not the entire team from Telltale, which does make sense. Many were probably not able to take temporary work to finish the final two episodes, though Skybound’s CEO has said he wanted the game to be entirely developed by former Telltale staff. It is not clear if the team will be retained after the two episodes are finished.

The final season will go off sale for a few days while it transitions to Skybound. Those who have payed for the season already won’t have to pay again and the episodes will simply populate in their accounts as if Telltale had never closed.

Skybound was vague about when the remaining two episodes would come, but considering how awkward the transition would assuredly have to be, it’s extremely unlikely we’ll see hide nor hair of episodes 3 and 4 in 2019. Telltale recently began procedures to file bankruptcy and liquidate its remaining assets.

DC is hoping to find their footing again with the newest slate of comic book movies, with Aquaman leading the charge. Warner Bros. released a hefty amount of footage along with the last trailer, and this final trailer clock in at less than half the time, but still has the impact of war.

After several movies in the DC cinematic universe, Aquaman represents a bit of a lightening of the one while trying to better preserve the larger impact of its tone, which is fairly unique among modern superhero movies. He also has gold armor, so you know Aquaman cares about looking good.

Aquaman hits theaters on December 21.

At E3 earlier this year, Phil Spencer announced an intention to bolster Microsoft’s internal development ranks with a number of key acquisitions and one studio being built from the ground up. That new studio is called The Initiative, which Microsoft hinted would be working on narrative games under ex-Crystal Dynamics chief David Gallagher. After several high-profile hires, the studio seems to have made another major one: Insomniac’s Drew Murray.

Murray has been key in several of Insomniac’s games through 2015, including being a designer on all three Resistance games up to lead designer on Resistance 3 and directing the Xbox One-exclusive Sunset Overdrive. The developer posted about starting a new job at The Initiative today.

We actually played Resistance with Murray when he was still at Insomniac, if you want to get into the head of Microsoft’s newest developer

Microsoft is more than happy to publicize these hires as it speaks to their reformation of first-party software, a stable they more or less abandoned in the last six years. While it’s still too early to know what The Initiative might be working on, the number of leads they’re hiring indicates they might be staffing up for more than one project at once. We likely won’t see hide nor hair of their first project, whatever that might be, until next generation.

Sunset Overdrive got announced and released for PC last week.

The Sports Desk – Delay Of Game

Maybe it’s just the megaphone effect of social media and various forums, but it seems like fans are angrier than ever about this year’s crop of sports games. Are the titles that bad, has the frustration boiled over from previous years, or is something else entirely going on?

I’d argue that it’s all of the above. Even as games like NBA 2K19 added a mentorship system and NHL 19 revamped the scouting of its franchise mode, titles like FIFA 19 and Madden 19 largely stood still. Many of these games still definitely have fun features, modes, or gameplay moments, but a building backup of legacy issues has worn many fans down to the bone, and if there are bugs, unreliable servers, furloughed features, or over/underpowered elements, the community is going to find out about them all and let the world know quickly and loudly. The natives are restless, as they say.

One of the things that has exacerbated the situation is developers and publishers are treating launch day like it’s just another stop on the game’s ongoing evolution instead of a day celebrating a product that’s putting its best effort forward.

The grueling yearly development schedule and the fact that companies have the luxury of dropping post-release updates online (ignoring those around the world with bad or non-existent online connections) makes release day less a deadline and more of another stop in an ongoing project. This, of course, recalls the endless debate about whether sports games should move off the annual schedule, but I want to bring up another point in the discussion – release dates. The fact that some series’ launches are being pushed forward by as much as a month over successive years is odd given how important time is to the development of a game.

This console generation, Madden’s release date has been pushed up 16 days from Madden 15 to Madden 19. NBA 2K has jumped up 31 days from NBA 2K15 to 2K19. The Pro Evolution Soccer series has gone from a traditional mid-September release to on at the end of August.

I can’t prove that the creep of a few days or even weeks over a multi-year period has a cumulative, negative effect on the product – or that it does at all. However, in a larger sense, it bothers me that the release dates of some of these games are seemingly at the mercy of marketing.

In the case of Madden, I suspect EA wants to capitalize on the “Football is Coming!” pre-season hype to kickstart the game instead of waiting for the opening weekend, or perhaps to steer clear of Kickoff week entirely and to give the title its own space. NBA 2K and NHL also do this by coming out weeks before their real-life seasons start and perhaps to avoid the holiday blockbuster crush, but at what cost? Similarly, I wager Pro Evolution likes that it can get to market before FIFA hits at the end of September. But if this year PES 2019 came out a month later, could it have avoided the hit with the fanbase when the A.I. needed to be fixed via a post-release patch

With all due respect to the many people who work very hard on behalf of games in companies’ various marketing departments, at the end of the day gamers don’t care about marketing. They just want to enjoy the modes and gameplay without the bugs, online troubles, and other frustrations.

Maybe publishers should delay a yearly sports title if it needs it. Would prolonged, early beta periods with public test servers allow the teams to draw from a large amount of player data in order to monitor and adjust gameplay as well as handle/gauge traffic before launch?

For example, even putting aside for a second the gameplay changes made to the NHL 19 beta for launch that have angered some fans, perhaps a delay would have benefitted the title, which somehow picked up server problems after it was released into the wild that persist to this day.

I’m not even a marketing or supply distribution novice, but in terms of delaying a game, is a specific release date that worthwhile to set in stone (often many months in advance) when everyone already knows your annual, clockwork fall sports game is coming…in the fall? Would pushing back a few weeks for polish hurt? Other titles in other genres no less anticipated do this all the time and nobody cares as long as the game performs as expected.

Furthermore, I’d argue that sports games aren’t like traditional games or other media where the first week of sales is make-or-break. The sports games routinely pop up in the NPD for weeks after release, get bumps corresponding to the sport’s real-life playoffs, and in the case of fall titles, receive another wave when Christmas hits. NBA 2K, Madden, and FIFA even sell well year-round.

At a minimum, I’d like to see release dates not keep creeping forward and for games’ release dates to be based on when the product is ready and not an immovable spot on the calendar.

There are many reasons games have bugs, features don’t work properly, or gameplay perfection is elusive. Given that game development always features myriad hurdles, I hope companies are looking at all options to help their teams deliver better quality to the fans on launch day and not just after their frustration has already boiled over.

When the Spyro games first released on the PlayStation in the late 90s, they lacked subtitle options for the game’s cutscenes. This isn’t too shocking, as voice acting on console games was still fairly nascent, and disability options were not often talked about. When the Reignited Trilogy, remakes of the first three games in the series, released last week, the game’s 35 minutes of cutscenes also contained no subtitles despite 20 years of guidelines and best practices informing that decision.

While this in itself is an issue, and one that can be fixed with a patch or an update, Activision’s response to questions on the subject seems to indicate they made a decision not to focus on subtitles. In a statement to British video game outlet GamePitt, Activision provided the following explanation:

“When Toys For Bob set out to make an awesome game collection, there were certain decisions that needed to be made throughout the process,” Activision said. “The team remained committed to keep the integrity and legacy of Spyro that fans remembered intact. The game was built from the ground up using a new engine for the team (Unreal 4) and was localized in languages that had not previously been attempted by the studio. While there’s no industry standard for subtitles, the studio and Activision care about the fans’ experience especially with respect to accessibility for people with different abilities, and will evaluate going forward.”

The statement appears to say that Activision considered adding subtitles and decided it wasn’t a priority. While the company is correct that there is no legal standard forcing video games to have subtitles, as such a guideline would be impossible to enforce, subtitles by and large are expected within most publisher-backed games. The statement does not close the door on adding subtitles in an update, but also does not really suggest it as a possibility, either.

While Activision noted that they are evaluating the problem going forward, it is worth noting that similar complaints were made with 2017’s release of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, which Activision also published and was similar in concept to the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. None of the original games in either trilogy had subtitles, but it seems surprising to have considered it and decided not to bother this many decades later.

It is worth watching The Game Maker’s Toolkit video series by Mark Brown titled Designing For Disability, the episode about subtitles being specifically relevant.

We also spoke to Spyro Reignited Trilogy’s developers Toys for Bob on the GI Show last week, which you can watch below.

 

I often just turn on subtitles so that I don’t miss certain dialogue or because I’m keeping the volume low. For me, it’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance all the same. For some others, it means they literally cannot take in the dialogue at all. Activision is right; there is no industry standard here, but that is less of a defense for Activision and more of an indictment of the industry. Video game subtitles are harder than movies and TV shows because there’s so many more interactive considerations to make, but that statement is strange, and it’s one I bet they wish they hadn’t put out.