Microsoft is publicly challenging the Federal Communications Committee’s (FCC) recent broadband-availability reports. This outcry correlates with the fact that the American government’s broadband-mapping philosophy has been under scrutiny for some time. According to Microsoft, the FCC’s data “appears to overstate the extent to which broadband is actually available throughout the nation.” The FCC currently defines broadband as 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. In some areas, however, Microsoft has asserted that only a modicum of American citizens have access to this standard. 

This issue primarily stems from Form 477 data – a compilation of Internet Service Provider (or ISP) reports that are more likely to present favorable statistics to quell competitor companies. But why is Microsoft so adamant about keeping the FCC and ISPs in check? For years, the multinational corporation has been working on an ambitious initiative centered around transmitting white space broadband – a premium broadcasting channel that provides increased coverage, low power consumption, and reduced consumer costs – to underprivileged areas. “It took 50 years to electrify the nation,” affirms Microsoft. “The millions of Americans waiting for broadband don’t have the luxury of time.” 

[Source: MediaPost via Motherboard]

 

This news could throw a wrench in Google’s Stadia plans – the new game-streaming service announced at GDC earlier this week. Despite promising efficient cloud-based gameplay, we confirmed that input lag occurred during our hands-on time with Doom. With broadband issues remaining a prevalent yet skewed topic, Stadia may have a bumpy road beyond its eventual release. 

Every year, The Strong – one of the most prominent game museums in the world – inducts several games into the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Today, the museum revealed the 12 finalists for 2019, and you can help choose which titles make the cut.

A committee for the World Video Game Hall of Fame whittled down thousands of nominations to 12 entries, including:

  • Candy Crush
  • Centipede
  • Colossal Cave Adventure
  • Dance Dance Revolution
  • Half-Life
  • Microsoft Windows Solitaire
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Myst
  • NBA 2K
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee

These titles were selected based on four criteria: each has icon status – they’re widely recognized; they need to experience longevity and are popular in the long-term; the games have geographical reach and meet each criteria internationally; and they’ve had influence on games culture and development. Games inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame are put on permanent display at the museum’s interactive eGamesRevolution exhibit.

“These 12 World Video Game Hall of Fame finalists span decades, gaming platforms, and countries of origin,” says Jon-Paul C. Dyson, director of The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games. “But what they all have in common is their undeniable impact on the world of gaming and popular culture.”

Of these finalists, the inductees will be selected by a committee made up of journalists and scholars – and you. From March 21-28, fans can vote for their favorite games on the list as part of a Player’s Choice ballot. (You can read about each of the candidates here.) Fans’ top three games will form a ballot that will join the 27 other ballots submitted by the committee. The final inductees will be announced during a special ceremony at The Strong on May 2 at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.

Last year, the committee welcomed four games into the Hall of Fame, including Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy VII, Spacewar!, and John Madden Football.

This week Google announced Stadia, a cloud-based streaming service that allows you to play the latest triple-A video games at the highest quality on almost any device you have – be it your phone or a relatively old computer. Being able to stream video games like we do movies and television shows seems like the logical next step for video games. Stadia does away with the need to download software, update it, and all you have to do is click “play.” It’s convenient and appears to be hassle free. I love the idea of Stadia, but will it actually work?

Google’s vision isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination. We got our first real glimpse of a streaming future over a decade ago through OnLive (which Sony purchased), and then Gaikai (which Sony also purchased), and we can actually experience it today through PlayStation Now, GeForce Now, and a handful of other services that likely have “Now” in the name.

The one thing that has held all of these services back is performance. Video games are all about player input. When you hit a button, you expect something to happen instantly. Whether you are firing a gun or kicking someone in the face, timing is crucial, right down to milliseconds determining success or failure. That precision, which is basically a requirement in a number of twitch-based games, has yet to be achieved consistently by all streaming services. Latency is a huge issue that can make streamed games a nightmare. Just imagine inputting the commands to move and shoot, yet your character performs those actions a split second after you wanted him or her to. That can spell disaster and is the one thing that makes this streaming future so damn terrifying. On top of input, visual quality can be reduced if latency is an issue. Trying to find someone hidden behind a barrier becomes far more difficult when the barrier and everything around it artifacts and lowers in resolution.

Part of the problem of streaming is players are at the mercy of their internet provider and the speeds they are getting. I have a decent internet connection at home, but there are times where it seems like an unruly beast that bounces up and down in the speeds I’m getting. For Stadia to deliver 4K visuals and gameplay at 60 frames per second (and even 8K and 120 frames per second in the future) the internet connections need to be roaring. That isn’t the case for a lot of us. The internet infrastructure in the United States is a mess. For people living in rural areas, the idea of getting a fiber connection is about as real as spotting a Sasquatch in the woods.

But what about people that have great connections? At this week’s GDC show in San Francisco, CA, Game Informer’s Imran Khan took a test drive of Stadia by playing id Software’s 2016 Doom reboot on what we assumed was an excellent internet connection. When I heard Google was using this lightning-paced shooter as a test for Stadia’s proof of concept, I grew excited since it probably meant Google figured out a solution to minimize latency to the point that players wouldn’t notice it.

If that problem wasn’t solved, why on earth would Google debut a new streaming platform with Doom? They also could have lit their booth on fire to deliver the same takeaway, right? Here’s what Khan had to say about playing that game on Stadia.

The Doom demo is essentially the PC version of the game set into arcade mode, with options of a Razer Keyboard and Mouse or a Razer controller. Upon researching, I could not find any real evidence or reports that these items are particularly infamous for built-in input lag and all three input devices were seemingly wired. It’s not an exact measurement, but swinging your aiming reticle around the screen is not instantaneous, and anyone that has played Doom before can instantly feel the difference.

More to the point, I was missing shots, and it was initially difficult to time melee hits against enemies. It’s not that the input lag makes Doom unplayable, but it makes it harder, and it makes you worse at the game. It’s the kind of thing that would make you reboot your console and check your TV settings.

The thing is, after a few minutes of playing, I was still conscious of the difference, but it felt like it mattered less. It was like controlling that big gun in some shooters with the swimmy reticle that dragged behind the input. I knew what was happening and eventually my brain and my hands compensated for that difference. Was it ideal? Definitely not. Was it a way to play Doom in a stream without a console or expensive GPU? Approximately. And that will probably be enough for a lot of people.

My colleague is correct in saying that an approximation of Doom and the convenience Stadia offers will be enough to win a number of people over. Google has the resources to promote Stadia in a big way and get it in front of more people than any other console provider to date. Think about that for a second. They have the reach. Will it win over someone like me? Unless latency is reduced to a point that I don’t feel like my character is sliding on ice, absolutely not.

Why on earth would I move from games performing the way the developer intends to a slightly worse version? That makes no sense to me. Sure, I may use a service like Stadia for games that don’t require precise input. Being able to continue experiences like turn-based RPGs on the go sounds great. That’s why we like Switch, right? With Switch, we at least know our inputs are going to be logged correctly.

Until our world delivers great high-speed internet for everyone, and streaming companies figure out a way to reduce input lag, this cloud-based future is, well, cloudy. Convenience should not be a replacement for quality. Game developers work their asses off making games as fun and competitive as they possibly can and for a service to alter how that is delivered just isn’t right.

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Perhaps Google will prove me wrong and deliver the best gaming experience to date when Stadia launches later this year, but each new streaming service that comes along always ends the same way with legacy latency issues ruining the experience. I look forward to seeing what Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo do next after Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Switch run their respective courses. I have a feeling all three of these companies are eying a streaming future, but perhaps not as the backbone of whatever comes next. I still think we have another generation of discs and downloads ahead, but with more emphasis applied to playing games over the cloud. Offering a system that does all of these things just makes sense. Why offer just one uncertain solution that will surely fracture the market when you can deliver all of them – and continue the legacy people have come to rely on to get the best from gaming.

Google isn’t the first company to attempt streaming games to eager players, but it could give us our first legitimate contender. Our first hands-on impressions have left us skeptical, however, as does the industry’s previous attempts. Even after purchasing multiple streaming companies, Sony eventually reworked PlayStation Now to let subscribers download the service’s games and play them locally off of their own systems. That’s a damning statement on the current viability of cloud-based game streaming. I’m still excited to check out Stadia myself, and I hope the final vision Google deploys fairs better than what was offered at GDC, but I have my doubts.

During the Game Developer’s Conference panel for Tetris Effect, the psychedelic and absorbing version of Tetris released for PlayStation 4 last year, Enhance Games producer Mark MacDonald went into a little detail about the game’s cutting room floor. While the game boasts a number of modes for different takes on the Tetris formula without compromising the Tetris formula, there were a few modes that didn’t quite make the cut either because they couldn’t make it work or it would just take too much work.

Unfortunately, Enhance Games was very specific that we could not take pictures of or record any part of the presentation, so description will have to do.

The biggest mode that didn’t make it is a Rock Band-style mode that would have let players switch between different instruments and create music using the effects from the game. So moving blocks, dropping them, etc. would create different sounds with the instrument you had selected, similarly to the way the gameplay works in concert with the music in the main game. MacDonald showed off guitar, bass guitar, drums, piano, and voice, though he explained getting voice to sound right beyond just incoherent yelling was not working right when they decided to the cut the mode. Unfortunately, this Rock Band mode would have needed as much work as a full game unto itself, so it had to be cut mainly for that reason.

Another kind of similar mode was built around the idea of creating lyrics to the music through clearing lines. Like the Virus mode in the game, small non-Tetromino pieces were strewn throughout the board, in this case hearts. When the hearts are cleared, different lyrics would pop up on screen and in the audio, allowing users to construct their own song through their puzzle mode. This also didn’t really come together, so it was removed before the game released.

Finally, during Tetris Effect’s weekly community events, Enhance planned to have players build statues and structures together. The example MacDonald showed was players working together to build an astronaut who, when completed, would start dancing the hustle, thus leading to the name “Disco Astronaut.” Disco Astronaut did not make it to release, as Enhance quickly realized that making one of these every week for a year was absolutely unfeasible.

Multiplayer was also considered for Tetris Effect, but the team was not very into the idea, so they ultimately scrapped it. MacDonald confessed they “did not have any brilliant Tetris 99-like ideas” for it, so it went into the bin.

We at least got a number of really cool modes out of what is undoubtedly one of the best Tetris games ever made, so it’s easy not to worry too much about the road not taken. Tetris Effect is currently available for PlayStation 4.

I am a strange fan of From Software’s internet-designated “Soulsborne” games. Most players are either super fans who have played each of the games multiple times, or they’re someone who gave up quickly and never looked back (which is a perfectly reasonable reaction). I am an anomaly in that I think they’re… okay. I beat Dark Souls II and III, played about half of Bloodborne and about half of Dark Souls on Switch. I love the atmosphere, exploration, and level design of these games, but I’ve never loved the methodical combat, and the bosses have always felt like cool-looking brick walls that hold me back from getting to do the thing I want to do – explore and find secrets. I am admittedly early in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice so I haven’t hit the colossal difficulty curve I know is just on the horizon, but it makes a very good first impression.

It feels like a small factor, but having a dedicated jump button makes a huge difference, and the grappling hook is super fun to use. The thing I love about these two mechanics, and the thing that puts it over the edge of other From Software games for me, is how it changes the way you explore. From Software’s level-design chops are the best, and being able to jump and zip to new locations makes exploration much more active and interesting. You’re not making your way through a series of interconnected hallways – you’re jumping over walls, taking side paths along cliffs, and making flying leaps toward that platform that seems like it’s just out of reach. It helps in combat, too, giving you more opportunities to get out of the line of fire and catch your breath, or take a health item. It just makes the flow of movement more enjoyable.

The lack of stamina coupled with infinite sprint also goes a long way in improving movement, and it just makes me feel far more empowered over the action. The familiar sprint from the save point to the boss has always frustrated me in the Soulsborne games, as it feels like an obnoxious hurdle standing in the way of just trying to get in that one final attempt on that difficult boss before the end of the night. With sprinting, grapple-hooking, and jumping, that mad dash now feels like a high-speed platforming exercise, and I love platformers.

The combat is also generally more satisfying, but it is harder. I have never been a fan of blocking and countering, mostly because I don’t like waiting for anything when it comes to action games, and while Sekiro demands a lot of that to be successful, the death blow animations for defeating even minor enemies feels great, and also helps better to broadcast the layout of the battlefield. When you’re fighting a group, there is no question about when you thin their numbers, as each one receives a high-speed, brutal execution.

Retrieving lost experience is also gone in Sekiro, and while there are some steep punishments for dying, they don’t feel as harsh as the Soulsborne games. Basically, I am less crestfallen every time I die, which I appreciate.

Also, the story is generally more engaging since it is less ambiguous, and there is a pause button since it is an offline single-player game. I love pause buttons.

I know I will hit Sekiro’s difficulty wall soon. Dan Tack saying it is “a serious challenge” is not inspiring confidence in my abilities. I am absolutely dreading it, but mostly because I like what I have a played so far so much. Many of my personal Soulsborne hang-ups are addressed with Sekiro, which does raise the question – should it be considered a Soulsborne game? It uses some of the same mechanics and has a similar atmosphere, but its combat is different and the progression is based on a skill tree, which does change things. Should we change the terms to Soulsborniro? Regardless of the answer to that question, I plan on continuing with the Sekiro and when I do arrive at that brick wall in the shape of a gigantic, awesome-looking boss, I will do my best to burst my head through the red clay because I want to see what else the world has to offer.

We’ve been releasing new features and videos about Remedy’s latest game, Control, for the past few weeks, but one nagging detail has remained elusive: When the heck is this thing coming out, anyway? We knew it was coming sometime this summer, but we didn’t know the exact date.

Today, an entry on Microsoft’s online store accidentally revealed the release date, which we have confirmed with Remedy. What are you doing this August? More specifically, what are you doing August 27? That’s when the game will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

For a whole lot more about the game, click on the image below and visit our coverage hub. It’s loaded with exclusive interviews with the dev team and behind-the-scenes information. 

Life is Strange 2: Episode 2 – Rules, which we didn’t like quite as much as Episode 1, has been out since January, and while we still have some time before Episode 3 hits, we have a release date: May 9. Along with that news comes word of release dates for rest of the season; The Life Is Strange Twitter page posted a road map for the final three episodes, and it looks like we might be waiting until the end of the year to find out the end to Daniel’s story.

While you wait for Episode 3 in May, check out our review of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, the standalone story that preceded Life is Strange 2.

[Source: Life is Strange Twitter]

Starting their keynote at this year’s GDC with a bang, Epic Games announced the MegaGrants initiative – a program that rewards monetary support of up to $100 million to ambitious game developers, media-content creators, students, and teachers. Epic Games founded a similar project back in 2015, called Unreal Dev Grants, which provided $5 million to similar innovators. The ceremony for that program concluded earlier this week. 

MegaGrants awards range from $5,000 to $500,000. Recipients will continue to have sole ownership over their projects and have the freedom to publish their work through any and all avenues. Looking to break into the industry using your particular skill set? Head here to apply for a grant.

[Source: Epic Games]

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: IO Interactive
Release: November 13, 2018
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Agent 47 will soon be able to add a few new targets to his hit list with the release of a new Sniper Assassin map. Next week, players can a shipping yard in Singapore, with the goal of thwarting a hostage transfer.

Sniper Assassin is a separate mode in Hitman 2, in which players trade mobility for methodical, creative kills. As a sniper, players have to complete objectives – in this case, stopping the Heavenly Guard from moving hostages to a cargo ship – at long range while (hopefully) remaining undetected. This map doesn’t seem to have much at all in common with the extravagant party level Hitman 2 shipped with, but it also rewards players who make use of their environment and seek out hidden objects. 

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The Hantu Port map is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 26 and is part of the game’s season pass.

Every year, many of the best and brightest minds in video games converge in San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference. Many of them bring along brand new games ready for their moment in the spotlight. From the large GDC Play area and the Indie Megabooth to specially curated showcases hosted by Nintendo and Microsoft, there is no shortage of exciting titles.

Here is an evolving list of the coolest and most interesting indie games the Game Informer crew saw at the conference. Come back each day, as we plan to continually update this list with more promising titles throughout the show.

Games are listed alphabetically.

Afterparty

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Night School Studio
Release: 2019

Night School Studio, the creators of Oxenfree, has a knack for creating unique premises and interesting dialogue. Afterparty is no exception, placing you right in hell. Your only way out? Outdrink satan himself. Apparently, hell is all about alcohol and what you drink impacts your personality, such as making you more aggressive or flirty. This gives you different dialogue options and opens up various paths to completing your objective. 

Our demo had us trying to get into a VIP room. While there are a few different ways to do this, we chose to impress our way in with our beer pong skills. The intense match had us taunting our opponent to get them to fumble and trying our best to aim the ball to reach the cup. All the bars you visit have their own theme, one plays off the bustling Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya, while another puts you in a Nebraska wasteland. The game obviously takes a more comical tone, but also explores the nature of friendship by having your swap between BFFs Milo and Lola, who just graduated from college and end up in hell due to an accident.  Thankfully, you’ll have your chance to drink with the devil and discover more soon enough as Afterparty launches later this year. –Kimberley Wallace

Barotrauma

Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: FakeFish, Undertow Games
Release: Spring

We’ve encountered hundreds of different types of games since Game Informer was formed in 1991, but we’ve never played a 2D cooperative online drowning simulator in space before. That’s the descriptor developers FakeFish and Undertow use to explain Barotrauma. In this game, a team of up to 16 players works together to navigate the treacherous waters under the frozen surface of Jupiter’s Europa moon. Each person takes assumes a particular role aboard the ship, from the captain and security officer to the electrical engineers and mechanics needed to keep the sub running. Along the journey, anything that can go wrong will. Monsters attack the ship, forcing players to man the turrets and repair hull breaches before the flooding disrupts vital operations. Crew members get sick, systems fail, fires break out, and when these hazards pop off simultaneously it makes for some frantic play sessions. –Matt Bertz 

Metamorphosis

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Developer: Ovid Works
Release: Fall 

Polish studio Ovid Works is using the absurdist classic Franz Kafka short story as inspiration for a brand new puzzle platformer. You take the role of salesman Gregor Samsa, who awakens surprised to find himself transformed into a bug. You must traverse through both mundane and fantastical settings while Samsa wrestles with his existential crisis. The game focuses deliberately on the humor and absurdity of the situation, and the gorgeous, hand-drawn textures make it a treat to explore this microcosmos. Should you get stuck, you can pull up a handy overview camera that changes your perspective and reveals new paths. This five-to-six hour experience drops later this year.  –Matt Bertz

Sloppy Forgeries 

Platform: PC, Mac, iOS
Developer: Playful Systems
Release: Summer

Fans of Drawful and Draw Something have a new party game to look forward to in Sloppy Forgeries. This two-player competitive local multiplayer pits wannabe artists against one another to try and recreate famous paintings like the Mona Lisa, Starry Night, The Scream, La Danse, and The Whistler’s Mother using a mouse or touchpad. Their forgeries are made all the more hilarious considering they must work under the constraints of a timer to replicate the masterpieces. Watching players rush to mimic these works of art is hilarious, and the game uses a pixel comparison to see who gets closest.  –Matt Bertz

Star Renegades

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Developer: Massive Damage, Inc.
Release: 2020

Pixel games are almost ubiquitous with indie gaming, so it takes a lot for one 16-bit inspired game to stand out these days. Star Renegades is one of those gems. Not only does Massive Damage’s stunning pixel work stand out on a crowded floor, the tactical rogue-lite RPG looks to offer a rewarding challenge. You lead a ragtag squad of rebels on a quest to push back against an imperious empire. Combat plays out in a series of turn-based RPG battles. At the bottom of the screen, you always have a clear view of the enemy’s next attack and how much damage they will deliver, so you can better plan your teams counter attacks and combos and know when to defend yourself. Each run is procedurally generated, but players unlock dozens of new characters during their playthroughs, which will better augment your team’s survival strategy. The developer says that they were inspired by games like Dead Cells and Into The Breach, so we’ll see if Star Renegades lives up to that high quality bar when it releases early next year. –Ben Reeves

Supermarket Shriek

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Developer: Billy Goat Entertainment Ltd
Release: 2019

After a hapless shopper runs into a goat on a shopping cart, the odd duo is thrust into a series of oddball races and obstacle challenges. Navigating these challenges is easier said than done, however. If it wasn’t obvious, Supermarket Shriek is a goofy game; your shopping cart is actually propelled by the screams of the goat and the man inside it. This odd propulsion system is also a little unwieldy because Supermarket Shriek features traditional tank controls, so when players hold down the right bumper they will turn right and when they hold down the left bumper they turn left. Naturally, holding down both buttons pushes you forward. Billy Goat Entertainment intentionally designed Supermarket Shriek’s controls to be a little loose, which is where the game’s challenge comes from. Obstacles within each supermarket include fire pits, swinging axes, and giant towers of baked beans. Supermarket Shriek can be played single player, but it plays better as a party game where two players each control either the right or left side of the cart. An alternative mode allows players to scream into microphones in order to control the direction of the cart, but either way you play you’ll probably be screaming at your friends. –Ben Reeves