Is the Next Generation of Consoles at Our Doorstep?
(Editor’s note: Apologies in advance for the “plosives” feedback in the microphone this week. Sound quality got an upgrade, at the cost of regular-sounding Ps! I’ll add a pop filter to the setup moving forward.)
It’s sure been a packed week for entertainment news. Between studio acquisitions, E3 shakeups, and live-action childhood horror films, there’s been practically no time to breathe during the exciting days leading up to Thanksgiving.
Not all the news was good, however, as we also learned of the passing of Marvel juggernaut and creative legend Stan Lee. While I can’t claim to have had much of a connection to the comic-book mogul or his work—aside from the MCU films—his passing leaves an indelible mark on the world of entertainment and its followers. Stan Lee may have passed far too soon, but his legacy will be remembered forever.
With that, let’s tune into the full episode:
Timestamps and Topics
0:00 – 0:37 — Intro
0:38 – 7:22 — Microsoft
7:23 – 10:48 — Sony
10:49 – 12:19 — PlayStation VR
12:20 – 19:08 — Square Enix
19:09 – 23:02 — Toy Story 4 and Detective Pikachu
23:03 – 24:26 — Stan Lee
24:27 – 27:25 — The Game Awards
27:26 — Outro
Can Microsoft’s Acquisition of Obsidian and inXile Move the Needle for Xbox?
At XO18, Head of Microsoft Studios Matt Booty officially announced that the company would be adding two new studios to its growing arsenal of first-party talent. The first: inXile Entertainment, headquartered in Newport Beach. The second: Obsidian Entertainment, headquartered in Irvine.
While the news of Obsidian’s acquisition shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for those who’ve read up on recent reporting from Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, the most interesting part of this announcement is—perhaps—the fact that Microsoft is making room for not just one, but two RPG studios. Isometric ones, at that.
The similarities between these two studios don’t end there. Obsidian and inXile are both mid-sized developers with a focus on hardcore, pen-and-paper-influenced, lore-heavy role-playing games. Both are headquartered in California—inXile in Newport Beach, Obsidian in Irvine—and are a short 20-minute drive from one another. Heck, they both have the word “Entertainment” at the end of their names.
The studios are so similar, so like-minded, in fact, that the two even signed an agreement in 2013 to share technology with each other in order to cut down on development costs for their respective projects at the time. So it makes sense—if not conceptually, then financially—that Microsoft would choose to pull the trigger on both studios at once, in effect doubling the magnitude of its acquisition while giving it a solid foothold in what has, up until now, been one of the weakest genres for the Xbox’s portfolio of first-party exclusives.
The addition of Obsidian and inXile only serves to strengthen a growing list of Microsoft studios. Counting the five new development teams revealed at E3 2018, Microsoft has essentially ramped up its internal studio count from six in 2017 to a whopping thirteen in 2018. Here’s the full list:
- 343 Industries (Halo 5: Guardians, Halo: Infinite)
- The Coalition (Gears of War 4, Gears 5)
- Turn 10 Studios (Forza Motorsport 7)
- Rare Limited (Sea of Thieves)
- Microsoft Studios Global Publishing (Project Spark, ReCore, Ori and the Will of the Wisps)
- Mojang (Minecraft)
- The Initiative (?)
- Undead Labs (State of Decay 2)
- Playground Games (Forza Horizon 4, unannounced action RPG)
- Ninja Theory (DmC: Devil May Cry, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice)
- Compulsion Games (Contrast, We Happy Few)
- inXile Entertainment (Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera)
- Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire)
Even when you set aside Mojang (since it’s essentially just Minecraft) and Microsoft Studios (which is a publisher of second-party games, and not strictly its own development team), that’s still one heck of an impressive list. 343 and The Coalition still look to be Microsoft’s flagship studios, given their important IP, but the addition of new talent from Obsidian, inXile, and others completely opens the door for new, creative content across a wide range of genres: RPG, FPS, open-world game… you name it.
While nothing concrete is in the works for most of these studios just yet, expect the landscape to shift quite a bit two or three years down the line for Microsoft. Sony may have caught Microsoft off guard with the PlayStation 4, but next gen could bring a whole new set of surprises from the men and women in green.
These PlayStation VR Deals Are Tempting!
My backlog is as bloated as ever, but that won’t stop me from taking advantage of some fantastic Black Friday deals on PlayStation VR. I mean, have you seen these prices?
- PlayStation VR headset, PlayStation Camera, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Moss bundle — $199.99 MSRP (Target)
- PlayStation VR headset, PlayStation Camera, two PlayStation Move controllers, Creed: Rise to Glory, SUPERHOT VR bundle — $249.99 MSRP (Target)
I’m torn between the two choices. The $199 bundle is unquestionably the better bundle from an entertainment standpoint; Astro Bot is considered to be one of the best platformers in years, while Moss has been described as a fantastic, whimsical adventure game. That said, the $249 bundle is likely the slightly better deal, considering the fact that two Move controllers are bundled in with the SKU.
Do I take the plunge on the more expensive bundle, knowing I’ll have to settle for a decent Creed game if it means netting those colorful wand peripherals? Or do I kick that motion control nonsense to the curb, cut right to the chase, and have one hell of an evening playing as tiny, cute little robots and an even cuter mouse?
Black Friday, you are tearing me apart!
Thank You, Tabata
Final Fantasy is my favorite game franchise of all time. I started in 2004 with Dawn of Souls—a collection housing remastered versions of Final Fantasy I and II—on a blue Game Boy Advance SP that I was gifted by my grandmother during the same year. While it was hardly the greatest experience I’d ever had (I secretly longed after the copy of A Link to the Past my brother had been given for his SP), it was my gateway into the Final Fantasy universe.
I ultimately gave up on Dawn of Souls, aggravated mainly by the difficulty spikes and obtuse world design. (To be fair, I was nine at the time, and despite the sheen of the 2004 remaster, the fact remained that Final Fantasy I and II were from 1987 and 1988, respectively.) It wasn’t until January 2007 that I made contact with the series again, except this time, it was at the complete other end of the Final Fantasy spectrum.
Final Fantasy XII is, to date, my favorite game in the series. It’s grounded. It’s mature. It’s vast, beautiful, melancholic, and oddly soothing, all at once. Some people may hate it, as I’ve detailed thoroughly in the past, but to me, XII represents the very best of Final Fantasy.
Around the same time that I started playing XII, I began following a pair of upcoming games that had been announced at E3 2006: Final Fantasy XIII, and its sister title, Final Fantasy Versus XIII. While both games would end up seeing development hell, Final Fantasy XIII really got off pretty easily, in retrospect. People weren’t exactly uniform in their opinion of the game, by any means, but at least it came out within five years of being revealed.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII? Now, that’s a different story completely. The game went mostly silent in the months and years following the launch of the mainline XIII game. It popped back up at one point, was pronounced “Dead” at another, was resurrected and renamed Final Fantasy XV, and ultimately became the quirky, “Stand by Me” road trip game that we know today. Through it all, the game was altered, slowly but surely, from the Versus XIII that I’d known when I was in middle school to the XV that I would ultimately play as a senior in college.
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t disappointed by XV. The game had simply been in development for too long for me not to have the wildest and most unreasonable of expectations for the final product. Shakespeare! Opera! Romance! Teleportation! Versus XIII was ahead of its time in 2006, and it still was in 2016.
We’ll never know for sure if Versus XIII would have been an attainable goal for a game, let alone a JRPG, in any year. That said, regardless of whatever qualms I have about the final product, I have mountains of respect for the man who took up the mantle of “director,” midway through development, bringing XV to the finish line.
The news of Hajime Tabata leaving Square Enix left me at a loss for words, as someone who followed his creative direction of XV, read his numerous interviews, and watched practically all of those lengthy (and, frankly, superfluous) Active Time Reports. Through my appreciation for Versus XIII, I came to admire Tabata’s contribution to the project, even going so far as to poke fun at the game’s original director, Tetsuya Nomura, who—for one reason or another—just couldn’t seem to get anything productive done with the original game.
In a weird way, seeing Tabata—this macho, mature-looking dude—come in to “save” XV was cathartic for me. He was the superhero coming to save the day: an icon for Final Fantasy fans this generation, and the clear face of the series up through the anticipated launch of XV in 2016.
So to see someone I’d identified with leave, get let go, or whatever the case was… it’s sad. The truest “end of an era,” if ever there was one.
Thanks for the memories, Tabata, and I wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors.
The Game Awards: Is There Room to Grow?
Fellow writer Sam Martinelli is back with his Punished Notes series, and his writing is as sharp (and his takes as hot) as ever.
Sam provided some thoughts earlier this week on everything from Red Dead Redemption 2 and the Halo series to Forza Horizon 4’s changing seasons and the controversy surrounding Blizzard with Diablo Immortal. I highly encourage everyone to drop what their doing and go check it out (unless you’d be “dropping” my podcast, in which case y’all better finish that first, now).
Among the most interesting points of discussion brought up by Sam in Punished Notes Vol. 6 is the notion that The Game Awards is a bunch of overblown hoopla. To be honest, I had never thought to be critical of the show itself—mainly because I’ve always associated it with sleek trailers and exciting reveals. Remember the reveal of Batman: Arkham City at the 2010 VGAs, or the (now-infamous) announcement of No Man’s Sky at the 2014 Game Awards? Or the hilarity caused when Reggie Fils-Aime dropped the juicy tidbit at the 2013 VGX that Cranky Kong would be in Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze?
Okay, so not every reveal is made equal. But at the very least, I would argue that every one of Geoff Keighley’s self-produced shows has offered some form of entertainment and value to the gaming community over the years. Well, except the VGX. That was actually horrendous, from beginning to end (Cranky was bad, but Joel McHale hosting was even worse).
However, Sam brings some compelling evidence to back up his argument. The fact that the Game Awards cuts off nominees before the end of the year and is hosted in early December. Inconsistencies in the award categories themselves, from a Best Independent Game award (isn’t this unnecessary in a world where indies can be nominated for overall GOTY?), to a Games for Impact one (does this mean to suggest that the actual GOTY nominees provide, essentially, less of an impact than the ones nominated here?). And, of course, the prevalence of esport awards, even when nominees aren’t for games released this year.
We’ve Come So Far Already
I’ll be upfront: I don’t agree with most of these takes. While I don’t love the idea of an awards ceremony cutting off nominees before the actual end of the calendar year, the Game Awards isn’t the only offender here—the Oscars has a similar cutoff for films (even if the show itself is typically hosted in February, well after the end of the calendar year).
Sure, I’ve seen several favorite games get shafted by The Game Awards—Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in 2014 and Xenoblade Chronicles X in 2015, in particular. Heck, we’re at the point where history is even beginning to repeat itself—Xenoblade Chronicles 2 missed the deadline in 2017, while Super Smash Bros. Ultimate missed it this year… but do you notice a pattern here? The same game franchises are getting punished, year after year, for one simple reason: they’re being released after the deadline. It’s that simple. Oscar season is a real thing, and “Games season” should be, too. I don’t necessarily agree with the practice, but it is what it is.
As for the award inconsistencies, I don’t see too much of a problem with overlap between categories. Many outlets, ours included, have platform awards that are predictable in nature, just based on the fact that nominees are shared with the public before the actual winners from each category are announced. Simply put, there’s bound to be some cases where certain games snowball with their wins. To that, I say: let the best game in each category win, no if, ands, or buts. That said, there’s still plenty of room for diversity in ceremonies like The Game Awards, which is why categories like Games for Impact are so important. God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 have already made a tremendous impact on gamers worldwide, and the nominees for the Games for Impact category won’t take away from that fact in the slightest, the way I look at it.
So is The Game Awards, in its current state, a bunch of hoopla? Depends on who you ask.
Personally, I enjoy the event for what it is: a celebration of how far games have come, and a tease of where games can still go. It might not get everything right (and, oh boy, it sure doesn’t) but when everything is firing on all cylinders, we get gems like this:
I think I can end this segment here.
One More Thank You, This Time for Stan Lee
Finally, it would be criminal of me to wrap up without reiterating the massive impact that Stan Lee had on the entertainment industry, consumers, and the world at large.
In honor of the man himself, I’d like to share a list of just a few of the phenomenal things from this year that Stan Lee, either directly or indirectly, helped provide for us:
- Black Panther
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Deadpool 2
- Marvel’s Spider-Man
- Daredevil Season 3
And then, of course, to share a quote that many have probably already seen or read, but just needs to be posted once more on the internet (it’s too good):
I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing. When you’re seeing how happy the fans are — as they [see up-close] the people who tell the stories, who illustrated them, the TV personalities — I realize: It’s a great thing to entertain people.
–Stan Lee, The Washington Post
Excelsior, Mr. Lee!
Thanks for listening! Check back soon for another episode of Weekend at Dave’s.