While at GDC 2019, we got a chance to speak with The Red Latern game director Lindsey Rostal from Timberline Games about the narrative-survival game coming to the Nintendo Switch in the summer of 2019. “It was a pretty great way to unveil something that I’ve been toiling away on in the dark… of Los Angeles,” Rostal says about appearing in the latest Nintendo Showcase. The game tasks players with journeying with your dog sled team across a (procedurally-generated) harsh Alaskan landscape, where you get lost while training for your first Iditarod race.

“We have a strong narrative background,” Rostal says of Timberline Games. “I’ve made branching games and I wanted to find a new way to have a more dynamic narrative. Something that worked more in a streaming context and for a larger variety of audiences.” You aren’t racing in the game, you’re struggling to survive against the wildnerness. Due to the randomization of the game’s elements, your runs through the game vary wildly, but you can definitely get lucky.

“It’s a fun way to write. You don’t know what’s really going to happen. There’s likelihoods and there’s relationships between animals in the environments and everything like that,” Rostal says. “But things are changing all the time. The unexpected nature of the world is really exciting. You’re like, ‘This is likely to happen, but [then again] this squirrel might murder me… It can happen.”

Rostal describes the tone of the game as “darkly comedic”. While there’s the tension ice might break beneath you, you’re running low on med packs, and a moose might stomp on you, she says a lot of the game’s lighter moments come from the narration. The main character (voiced by Horizon Zero Dawn’s, Ashly Burch) will be editorializing the world and contextualizing situations like the tension between a squirrel and your team of dogs. “It’ll probably be an entertaining and weird game,” Rostal says about the fact that the character will be talking for their dogs in a lot of situations.

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The announcement trailer for the game ends with a bear attacking a sled dog, which was shockingly grim for a Nintendo Showcase. “The horrible thing is I don’t think I realized that it was as dark as it was… I probably should have put a trigger warning on the trailer,” Rostal says. “We wanted to set the stakes. When you’re going up there to change your life and you’re setting out to do something that’s a little naïve and a little crazy.”

The small team at Timberline games have fallen in love with their game’s environments, saying they joked about creating a “screensaver zen mode” to let players soak in the scenery while using the gyro controls when the Nintendo Switch is in handheld mode. When bringing up the idea of creating a version of the game compatible with Labo VR Rostal says “You never know! If they give me a parka version I’m in.”

Yesterday’s surprise announcement that Cuphead is coming to the Nintendo Switch on April 18 further blew open the door to the growing relationship between Microsoft and Nintendo. While at GDC, we got a chance to speak with a group of “Nindies” alongside Nintendo’s manager of publisher and developer relations Kirk Scott. During the discussion, Cuphead’s co-creator Jared Moldenhauer jokingly ribbed Scott by letting the world know how badly he wants to see Cuphead and Mugman in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

“I’ve dreamed of Smash Bros,” said Moldenhauer. “[Cuphead and Mugman] belong in there. So basically if fans want it, I couldn’t see how Nintendo wouldn’t want the fans to get what they wanted. I think they would because they support their fans a lot . . . So if Nintendo was keeping their fans happy, then I’d be more than pleased to make that the easiest transition. Just a piece of paper, we don’t need anything. You can have those characters make an appearance.”

I asked which characters Moldenhauer would most like to see go up against Cuphead in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. “Maybe just Ice Climbers? Like a two versus two. I’ve been [playing] a lot of the NES mini, and it’s not my favorite game. That’s why Ice Climbers came up because it’s like ‘Well, that one isn’t fun,’ so I kind of want to take those characters and then demolish them.”

To learn more about Cuphead on Nintendo Switch and Microsoft’s relationship with Nintendo, check out our other article right here. 

During GDC 2019, we spoke with Nintendo’s manager of publisher and developer relations Kirk Scott, Nintendo’s product marketing specialist Vincent Chon, and Cuphead co-creator Jared Moldenhauer about how badly Moldenhauer wants the character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and also how the port of the Microsoft-exclusive platformer happened to begin with.

So how did this happen? Take me back to the beginning of Cuphead being ported to the Switch?

Kirk Scott: We’re always trying to get the best content on the platform. So it’s organic, like “Hey, this would be a great idea.” Then somebody at Microsoft says, “Hey we think this would be a great idea too.” Then they talk to those guys and it just happens.

Jared Moldenhauer: Well, from my perspective, and I don’t know so now I’m just speculating, but the industry is changing a little bit more to be more supportive of indies. Why should we have so many walls up? Why not support all gamers and work between the Goliaths like Microsoft and Nintendo to find a balance so that indie gaming can have a better chance… instead of locking things out for the rest of time, that’s kind of a problematic approach that I don’t think would make it in the future.

Scott: Indies are the small guys, so it’s good to give them an opportunity to launch on whatever platforms they can.

Vincent Chon: Our strategy with indies is “I really just to let you guys do your thing.” We don’t want to be a roadblock there, we just want to bring great games to fans.

Do you know if it was Nintendo reaching out to Microsoft to say, “Hey, can we please have Cuphead?”

Scott: I don’t. I don’t know even where it started. It just kinda happened.

So Jared, how did you find out? Did you just get an email or a phone call?

Moldenhauer: It wasn’t me. I’m going to guess it was [Cuphead producer] Maja…. I’m left in a dark corner.

Are there going to be Xbox Achievements?

Moldenhauer: The idea is there’s going to be some form [of achievements] down the road, some sort of integration of Xbox Live but I can’t really speak to that. I have no clue at this point, that’s a question for Microsoft.

Scott: It’s probably coming later.

So not at launch?

Moldenhauer: It’s not at launch at all.

On the left is Nintendo’s Kirk Scott, Jared Moldenhauer on the right.

It’s a bizarre place we’re in, right? Can we all just acknowledge that?

Scott: I’m just psyched to have Cuphead. If that’s bizarre then I’ll take it.

Moldenhauer: And we’re on a Nintendo system, officially!

And it will be the same content?

Moldenhauer:  There’s going to be localization, there’s going to be extra animation flourishes throughout. The cutscenes that used to just be a still image between islands now have some animation. And there might be a few little extras for people to find out…

Scott: Oooooh…

Themed easter eggs?

Moldenhauer:  Who knows?

Seeing anything from Nintendo in that art style, people’s hearts will melt. Please let that happen.

Scott: (Laughs)

To learn more about Cuphead on the Nintendo Switch, check out the details from the announcement right here.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a tough game. Here are some shinobi tactics to get you going without spoiling anything for your trek through Sengoku period Japan.

Combat

If you’ve played the Souls games and Bloodborne, your first barrier is going to be combat. Sekiro’s combat hinges on a completely different play style and mechanics. Learning how to break an enemy’s posture down through continued harassment, staying in the thick of combat while maintaining both offense and defense, is eventually critical to success. Practice deflection and counterplay as soon as you can, it will pay off later.

Use consumables, a lot. If you’re like me, your first instinct is to save all those tasty sugars and other buff items for when you need them. The time you need them is on any boss encounter that’s giving you trouble. You can always farm up or purchase more later in the game.

Many bosses and minibosses have weaknesses that you can exploit for an edge. Some hints are available from eavesdropping enemies as you sneak around, and others are listed on items or prosthetics. If you’re stuck, try different skills, items, and prosthetics from your arsenal to see if they make the fight easier.

Exploration

Spend extra time in each area looking around. You may be tempted to fly through areas using grappling and infinite sprint, but this will cause you to miss many important things. Take time to check out overhanging cliffs, hanging trees to leap on and through, and every small alcove for secrets.

There are many minibosses in the game. These drop prayer beads and other extremely useful items, so you want to kill them whenever possible. The majority of them can be gamed to open with a deathblow from behind or above through some strategy (even running out of the area and resetting the encounter can be useful), effectively halving their potential. You can even roam around, trigger the boss, kill all their friends (if they have them), and run out and reset to land that opening blow. It helps a lot.

Progression

You will often lose half your skill point experience toward the next level and half your coins on death – you may get lucky and unseen aid will prevent this, but don’t count on it. For this reason, try to finish off a skill point and bank your gold before engaging in an encounter that will take you many attempts. Many vendors in the game sell various sizes of gold bags, that you can purchase to store gold as an item – and hence safe from the death mechanics. Keep these for a rainy day when you find something big you want to purchase.

Skill trees and prosthetic upgrades can make a big difference. Work them up whenever possible.

The game opens up at various points. If you find one encounter too challenging, try exploring in a different direction. You can probably find more prayer beads, gourd seeds, and even some prosthetics/skills/upgrade materials. Every major boss you beat offers a memory which translates into more attack power, so coming back to one with even one additional attack power can make a big difference.

Talk to everyone you meet! You may unlock things for sale, puzzle tips, or special questlines.

Finally…

Take breaks. While having complete knowledge of an enemy moveset with your muscle memory working on its own has an extreme benefit, some bosses can be very challenging and it can begin to wear on you mentally. A hard reset on yourself can shake off the spiderwebs and stress. 

Check out our review here!

Battlefield V’s long-delayed Firestorm mode arrives on March 25 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Firestorm is a 64-player battle royale mode that places heavy emphasis on vehicles that give players advantages on land, sea, and in air. The series’ trademark destruction is also present, allowing players to knock down houses and drive through walls. Like most battle royale games, Firestorm offers just one map, which is 10 times larger than Battlefield V’s Hamada.

As the mode’s name implies, the world is on fire, and that blaze creates a constricting circle that brings opponents closer together. When you set foot in this world, you’ll need to scour the terrain for weapons and gear, and hopefully coordinate with your teammates, who you can revive should they be knocked down. The trailer below does a nice job of selling the Battlefield experience we’ve come to expect, and teases a few twists for the battle royale genre that could give it a slightly different flavor than we’ve seen before. Here’s hoping the delay ends up being worth the wait.

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Publisher: Activision
Developer: From Software
Release: March 22, 2019
Rating: Mature
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also on:
Xbox One, PC

From Software’s success with the combat-oriented Souls-like subgenre takes a new shape in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While the game is still all about big bosses and precise conflict like the studio’s previous high-profile titles, Sekiro plays differently than previous works. In addition to mastering a new style of fierce and unforgiving combat, you also have to start thinking like a ninja, using every tool in your arsenal to tip the scales against opponents with tricky movesets and multiple phases. Despite having no traditional level-ups, you have many ways to advance your character by finding items in the world, acquiring new skills, and discovering vendors.

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Using Sekiro’s ninja arsenal is a joy. Grappling around the environment to find secret areas or set up a deathblow from above feels wonderful and snappy. Sekiro has access to a host of Shinobi prosthetics tailored to a variety of situations, including firecrackers to stun and scare beasts and an umbrella to deflect incoming attacks. You also obtain a wide variety of combat arts and ninjutsu that allows for special deathblow effects, giving you a plethora of combinations and skills to approach each encounter with. These abilities can often have both story and combat functionality, utilizing them in interesting ways to complete quest objectives or open up windows of opportunity during bosses – but to say more about this aspect would spoil some serious surprises. And you need all the awesome combinations and applications, because Sekiro is a fascinating, frenetic dance of death at its best, and a frustrating exercise in futility at its worst.

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Sekiro’s intense boss battles are the absolute crux of the game. You must know your opponent’s every move, plan your timing, and practice it to perfection, because a single error can mean instant death. Many opponents can annihilate you in seconds, even with the resurrection mechanic to give you extra chances should you fall to an enemy blow or blade. The moment your mind snaps under pressure is the moment the fight ends, leaving you to exhale and wonder what went wrong. When things sync up, you amaze yourself by the sheer wonder of it all as you counter your opponents’ every move and hammer them down, flowing like a waterfall of masterfully timed excellence. In those moments, you become the ninja. It’s a hell of a rush when it happens, but be prepared to spend hours on fights perfecting your rhythm and craft. The feeling when you get so close and make a critical mistake at the very end is soul-crushing. The death penalty adds to this, slicing off resources upon your demise and crippling friendly characters you meet along the way with a malignant illness. While it is psychologically damaging to see your friends waste away, the disease has gameplay consequences as well; characters afflicted with the rot may not have their questlines available until healed through the use of rare items.

Outside of boss battles, Sekiro’s ninja skills are a lot of fun in the world, which opens up around midway through the game. Sekiro has plenty of zone and enemy variety, so you won’t be confined to taking on soldiers and samurai in the castle for long. You can select multiple directions to travel, a great boon that lets you explore other zones if you get stuck on a boss. While your traversal abilities and speed make zipping through areas a breeze, you must stop to carefully explore to avoid missing critical items. Skills acquired late in the game allow for you to explore earlier spaces in different ways, accessing locations that were previously unavailable. Dozens of mini-bosses help increase your character’s survivability, and you can use your guile to make those clashes much easier, whether it’s with a special prosthetic to exploit their weaknesses or using the environment to set up a stealth deathstrike to begin the fight.

Sekiro’s story moves in strange and compelling ways that defy the initial adherence to the trappings of feudal Japan, and allows the player to discover multiple endings and confrontations depending on choices and secrets. It’s a challenging journey through a weird and wondrous world that forces you to learn and master its punishing combat to succeed. However, the sweet thrill of victory keeps you pushing forward despite myriad disheartening deaths. Sekiro is one of the most difficult games I have ever played, but for those seeking adventure, exploration, and a truly realized ninja fantasy, the trek is worth the high demands.

Score: 9

Summary: An intense, challenging realization of the ninja fantasy comes to life in From Software’s latest offering.

Concept: Command a powerful ninja through a bloody tour of Sengoku-period Japan, using deception, cunning, and rigorous combat to take your enemies down

Graphics: A healthy variety of environments keeps things interesting as you proceed, with especially larger-than-life boss encounters

Sound: An excellent score highlights the intensity and tension during battle and adds additional life to each of the major zones

Playability: This is an extremely difficult game for those looking for a serious challenge. Not everyone will be able to complete or enjoy this title

Entertainment: Sekiro is a wild ride through narrative twists and shocking boss battles, and an amazing triumph or crushing defeat is only ever seconds away

Replay: High

Click to Purchase

This year at the IGF and GDC awards, held in San Francisco at the Game Developer’s Conference, showed a number of games that have achieved prominence in the mainstream over the last year, but also some surprises that the industry recognized regardless of mainstream attention. You can find the nominees below, as well as the winners in bold.

Independent Games Festival Awards

Best Student Game   

Its Paper Guy!
The Haunted Island, A Frog Detective Game
After Hours
En Garde!
Levedad
Sole

Nuovo Award 

Circle0
eCheese Zone
Noita
Mirror Drop
Black Room
Paratopic
Do Not Feed the Monkeys
Nth Dimension[al] Hiking

Excellence in Audio 

Ethereal
Hypnospace Outlaw
Moss
Return of the Obra Dinn
Alto’s Odyssey
Paratopic

Excellence in Narrative 

Wandersong
Genital Jousting
Unavowed
Seers Isle
Watch Me Jump
Return of the Obra Dinn

Excellence in Design 

What the Golf?
Do Not Feed the Monkeys
Noita
Return of the Obra Dinn
Dicey Dungeons
Opus Magnum

Excellence in Visual Art 

Forgotten Anne
Alto’s Odyssey
Hypnospace Outlaw
Just Shapes & Beats
Mirror Drop
Return of the Obra Dinn

Seamus McNally Grand Prize 

Minit
Opus Magnum
Noita
Return of the Obra Dinn
Hypnospace Outlaw
Do Not Feed the Monkeys

Now the Game Developer’s Choice Awards’ nominees and winners.

Best Debut 

Polyarc 
Mountains
Nomada Studio
Villa Gorila
Sabotage

Best VR/Ar Game 

Budget Cuts
Beat Saber
Tetris Effect
Moss
Astro Bot Rescue Mission

Best Mobile Game 

Alto’s Odyssey
Florence
Reigns: Game of Thrones
Holedown
Donut County

Best Narrative 

Florence
God of War
Marvel’s Spider-Man
Return of the Obra Dinn
Red Dead Redemption 2

Best Audio 

Celeste
Red Dead Redemption 2
God of War
Marvel’s Spider-Man
Tetris Effect

Best Technology 

Marvel’s Spider-Man
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Forza Horizon 4
God of War
Red Dead Redemption 2

Best Visual Art 

Gris
Marvel’s Spider-Man
God of War
Return of the Obra Dinn
Red Dead Redemption 2

Best Design 

Marvel’s Spider-Man
Celeste
Into the Breach 
Red Dead Redemption 2
God of War

Innovation Award 

Red Dead Redemption 2
Florence
Nintendo Labo
Tetris Effect
Return of the Obra Dinn

Game of the Year 

Red Dead Redemption 2
Return of the Obra Dinn
Marvel’s Spider-Man
Celeste
God of War

It was a big night for indie developers, who won a number of major awards. God of War ended up getting the major award from the game developers at the end of the night. What do you think of the winners and nominees as a whole this year?

This week, Oculus announced it would be phasing out the current Rift hardware for a new Rift S headset that features a significant number of benefits, including built-in audio, better room tracking, and the ability to see the room in front of you without removing the headset.

The Rift S looks a lot like the original Rift, but Oculus actually partnered with Lenovo to redesign how the system fits your head. The new headset feels snug, but comfortable. In total, the unit weights about a pound, and I quickly forgot it was even on my face. Games look a little better too, thanks to the new lens. Each eye now gets 1280 x 1440 pixels (up from 1200 x 1080) with an 80-Hertz refresh rate. There is still a tiny bit of grain, and I still want a wider field of view, but the upgrade is noticeable.

Users can still plug in a headset for the optimal audio output, but the Rift S also features the same integrated audio system features in the Oculus Quest and Oculus Go. This audio sounded a little thin to me, but it’s similar to the audio output of a standard TV, and it gets the job done.

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Room scale tracking no longer requires external sensors thanks to the built-in Oculus Insight technology, which is composed of five sensors that read your room and help you block off the outer boundaries of your ideal play space. Another great benefit is the Passthrough+ feature, which gives you a good look at the room around you without taking off your headset. Similar to the HTC Vive feature, this is great if you want to make a quick adjustment, send a text, or grab a drink without taking off your headset.

Those who already own a Rift will be happy to know that all current Rift games will work with the S, and all future Rift games will continue to work with the original headset, which may or may not be a good reason to upgrade. The new Rift S releases this spring for $399. If you haven’t jumped into VR yet, the Rift S is a solid option but not a total game changer.

This week, Oculus detailed the release date and price for its updated VR headset tech, the Rift S. You can Read our impressions here. However, Oculus’s other headset – the Oculus Quest – solves one problem the Rift doesn’t: you no longer have to worry about tangling yourself up in cords.

The Quest was announced last year, but this week we had another chance to go hands-on with the Quest at a GDC event, and I walked away impressed by the Quest’s comfort and the level of performance. The Rift S might be capable of displaying more demanding games (since it’s tied to your PC gaming rig), but the all-in-one Quest isn’t a total pushover.

The Oculus Quest features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and provides a resolution of 1600×1440 per eye with a 72Hz refresh rate. The experiences I had on the Quest looked on par with most of the games on the VR market today. Oculus hasn’t announced all of the headset’s 50 launch titles, but some of them include: Superhot VR, Dead and Buried II, Moss, Robo Recall, and, of course, Beat Saber.

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In fact, if you already have a VR setup, you might already have some Quest games, because Oculus has enabled both cross-buy and cross-play between the Quest and Rift platforms. This functionality is dependent on the whims of developers, but hopefully you’ll be able to stop playing many of your games on the Rift and then pick up a Quest and carry on from your last save.

A few high-end experiences – such as Asgard’s Wrath and Stormland – won’t be available on Quest, but the Quest is still a tempting offer because it is a complete VR package. You don’t need to set up extra sensors, and more importantly you don’t have to connect to an external PC. This might not seem like a big deal, but it actually does make a difference. While playing Beat Saber, I was struck with an added sense of freedom I’ve never had playing the game before. Even though I’m used to being attached to a cord when I play most VR games, it still inhibits your actions and occasionally gets in the way. I loved going cordless and I don’t really want to go back.

The Oculus Quest will release later this spring for $399 (64GB), and comes packed with two Touch controllers.

Back in 1994, Sega and Sony both released new video game consoles in Japan. However, it was no secret that Sony’s PlayStation outpowered Sega’s Saturn in many ways. Even among Sega’s internal development teams, the PlayStation was a hot topic, and many development teams were worried that Sony was going to eat Sega’s lunch.

During a classic postmortem on the Panzer Dragoon series at GDC, ex-Sega producer Yukio Futatsugi shared a story about how he snuck into a PlayStation developer showcase before the release of Sony’s console. Futatsugi was blown away by the 3D rendering capabilities of the PlayStation and in particular Namco’s racing game Ridge Racer.

“We rode the train home thinking, ‘What the hell are we going to do about this?’” says  Futatsugi. “That’s how much we were thinking about the PlayStation at Sega.”

What Sega hoped to do was compete with the PlayStation by squeezing every ounce of power out of its Saturn console. One of the few things that the Saturn was really good at was scrolling through 3D environments, and Futatsugi believed that his team could create a 3D shooter that moved through environments much faster than even the PlayStation’s fastest racing games, and he pushed for speed while developing Panzer Dragoon.

The original Panzer Dragoon was an on-rails post-apocalyptic fantasy shooter that released in the middle of 1995. For the time, Panzer Dragoon was a visual wonder and produced a sense of speed that was unheard of at the time. In fact, the action in Panzer Dragoon was so frantic that many Saturn owners felt that it was too hard. However, Futatsugi and his team believed they had produced a visual style that couldn’t be replicated on the PlayStation.

“The Saturn didn’t pack much of a punch, but looking back, I think we were able to create these unique visuals that mesh very well with the dry world of Panzer Dragoon,” says Futatsugi. “It wasn’t something that was very shiny or glamorous, but we created visuals that were impossible on the PlayStation.”