Short games you can finish in a weekend

When you need a little break

 After finishing a big, sprawling, epic game, I like to refresh my palate with something short and self-contained. Here's a list of games that will take under 10 hours to complete - short enough that you can finish them in a weekend, or nibble on them for a week.

Abzu

This trippy underwater exploration game only takes 2 hours to finish if you barrel right through to the end. But why would you? It's so beautiful and so entertaining, why not take your time and cruise around with the sea life a little longer.

Firewatch

Clocking in at 5 hours, this is another game that you can stretch out if you want to take the time to enjoy yourself. The woodsy setting is so interesting and peaceful, I feel like I could wander around all day.

Outlast

Looking for something a little less peaceful and more terrifying? Then you've found it in the original Outlast, which will take about 6 hours to finish. That's not counting all the breaks you'll have to take when the tension gets ratcheted up too high for you to bear.

Telltale Games

Most Telltale Games (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands, etc) take around 10 hours to complete. And their episodic format makes it easy to do one chunk at a time, which is great for the busy gamer.

First Sea of Thieves "Pirate Legend" defends his title

Was it cheating, or just normal piratical behavior?

 The first Sea of Thieves player to attain the "Pirate Legend" title is embroiled in a heated swirl of controversy, thanks largely to the Reddit community, which takes offense at the player's methods.

Twitch streamer "ProdigyX" reached Pirate Legend last week. The title requires you to get to level 50 with each of the game's three factions. ProdigyX made it there in record time, thanks in part to the help he received from his followers and Twitch community.

In order to get the title first, ProdigyX engaged in a practice which some dismiss as "boosting." His followers worked hard to finish a series of quests, then invited him into their party at the very end, to turn in the quest rewards. Thus, ProdigyX was able to get the rewards with less time spent.

ProdigyX contends that he only did this about 20% of the time, and the rest of the time he was legitimately playing the game. But even if he had earned the title solely through boosting, it's not clear that he would have done anything wrong. This is, after all, a game which rewards players who find creative strategies for stealing loot from each other. It's "Sea of Thieves" not "Sea of Polite People"!

What do you think? Do you applaud his creativity, or boo his methods?I'm on the fence, personally.

Fortnite Mobile works shockingly well

Fortnite fans will be pleased!

 Fans of the "battle royale" co-op sandbox survival game Fortnite were thrilled this week when Fortnite Mobile was released in a limited beta, to wide acclaim. Unlike virtually every mobile port of a game ever, Fortnite Mobile not only works well, it offers cross-platform play with PC gamers.

It will never be the same without having a mouse and keyboard, of course. But if you're stuck somewhere without a gaming PC (like a long commute on the bus, or a lunch break at work) you might be happy to put up with the inconvenience. Overall, the port offers the same functionality and features as the PC version of the game, just scaled down for mobile. And its performance is surprisingly good, even on less-than-optimal hardware.

But it's the cross-platform play that really catches my eye with this one. Cross-platform play is a rare thing in the gaming industry, for a lot of reasons. (Some technical, some political.) Fortnite Mobile lets you play with PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Mac gaming players around the world. Your progress and friends carry over to the mobile version, so it's effectively the same as your PC game, just scaled down and on a touchscreen.

If you want to try it out now, you can sign up for an invite. The full release will be available later this year. 

What's next: Fallout 5 or Elder Scrolls 6?

Fans of each are desperate!

 Bethesda fans have been champing at the bit for years now. And each side is convinced the other will steal its thunder. But who's right?

Traditionally, Bethesda has alternated between releasing Fallout games and Elder Scrolls games. 

To recap, Bethesda released Fallout 3 in 2008, Skyrim in 2011, Elder Scrolls Online in 2014, and Fallout 4 in 2015. 

So we should be due for an Elder Scrolls game next, right? Not so fast... 

Elder Scrolls Online is, according to official Bethesda sources, the "next Skyrim." If you were hoping the Skyrim sequel would be a single-player game, you're out of luck, because it's an MMO. And the MMO has taken up a huge amount of Bethesda's resources, in the form of new content packs. The recent Morrowind expansion pack, for example, was absolutely massive.

The Elder Scrolls Online has potentially shaken up Bethesda's previous schedule. The massive One Tamriel update/overhaul was released in 2016, and the enormous Morrowind expansion pack was released in 2017. 

Many people feel that this means that another Fallout game will be next. But when? 2018 could well be the year Bethesda announces the new Fallout. One thing is certain: They are playing it close to the vest, as always. 

Call of Duty "swatting" suspect charged with manslaughter

Could get up to 3 years in prison

 "Swatting" has been a thing for a while now, and everyone pretty much knew it would turn out like this. For those not in the know, "swatting" is where you determine the address of your online nemesis, then place a fake call to the police which sends them storming in. Many lulz abound, if you are a complete psychopath.

Late last year, California man Tyler Barriss (25) got in an argument with a Call of Duty player. A third party gave Barriss the address of an apparently unrelated person, Andrew Finch, a 28 year-old resident of Wichita. 

Barriss, evidently believing that Finch was the man he was squabbling with in Call of Duty, placed a call to the Wichita 911 line. Barriss claimed that Finch had killed his entire family, and had poured gasoline all over the house and was ready to light it. 

Police stormed Finch's house. When they confronted Finch at the front door, Finch reportedly made a movement towards his belt. Believing that Finch was reaching for a gun, police shot and killed him.

Barriss is being held on manslaughter charges. No word yet on the identity of the third party who apparently egged him on, then (presumably deliberately) provided Barriss with the wrong address.

The Witcher 3 gets a 4K update for Xbox One X

More games undoubtedly to follow

 CD Projekt Red has released a huge 550MB patch to The Witcher 3 on Xbox. The patch to version 1.60 adds native 4K resolution, which can run the game at up to 60 fps.

The framerate for Witcher 3 on older consoles is locked to 30 fps so this is a major upgrade. This Polygon article includes compare/contrast images, so you can see the improvement it makes.

The Witcher 3 is one of my all-time favorite games. Definitely in the top five - maybe even in the top three. The incredible storytelling, world-building, voice actor performances, and facial animations remain unparalleled in video games, even several years later. The combat is complex enough to offer a lot of options, but fluid enough to feel natural.

I raced through the main storyline, only doing a minimum amount of side quests. Then I took my time working through the two chunks of DLC (Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine).  This approach made me realize how much I had missed by blasting through the base game so quickly. 

I have been meaning to get back to The Witcher 3 for a second play-through. Maybe this big update will be the nudge that convinces me to do it.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 cancels in-game purchases

Last-minute change ditches microtransactions

 In a surprising reversal of current trends in the gaming industry, EA just announced that they are canceling real-world in-game microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront 2. 

This announcement comes at the end of a harsh week for Battlefront 2. The entire internet spent the week heaping criticism on the upcoming game for its economy and progression system, which were originally planned to be very "pay to win." Among other things, this resulted in the most downvoted comment in Reddit history.

Originally, EA added a system of in-game currency called crystals, which players could purchase with real-world money. Crystals could then be used to unlock upgrades and characters. 

In response to the backlash, EA removed the ability to buy crystals for cash, and instead patched in the ability for players to earn crystals through in-game activities, so that "all progression will be earned through gameplay.

However, EA is planning to return the microtransactions to the game at a later date.

Give me all the Photo Mode!

Photo mode is becoming a big thing, and I am here for it

 Assassins Creed Origins apparently has an amazing Photo Mode, and suddenly I'm interested in an Assassins Creed game.

I have always been an unrepentant screenshot-taker. I take screenshots constantly. I keep them, organized by video game, taking up literally gigabytes of storage on my Dropbox account. I have DVDs of old screenshots burned and saved for all posterity. I literally have a successful Instagram account dedicated to my gaming screenshots.

So you can imagine how excited I get when a game has a proper Photo Mode. 

Horizon Zero Dawn has been my favorite so far. Its Photo Mode is incredible, and gives your camera a huge "leash" to swing around and examine the world around you. You can also pop into Photo Mode easily, even when you're in the middle of combat. 

(The process of getting a screenshot off your Playstation 4 and onto the internet is a different story. I had to create a second Playstation account, which I am signed into on my iPhone using the Playstation Messenger app. I message screenshots to this account, and pick them up there. It's clumsy, to say the least.)

The Last of Us had a pretty good photo mode, but I kept switching into it when combat got intense, because the keybinding (push left thumbstick) is used for Sprint on a lot of games. I found myself having to turn Photo Mode on and off each time I wanted to take a screenshot. Kind of annoying.

Somewhere in the middle is the Photo Mode in No Man's Sky. You don't get much "leash" on the camera, but the controls make it easy to frame shots, and it gives you the option of moving the sun's position around, which is something I end up doing a lot to get the lighting just right.

Here's to all the games with Photo Mode, and here's to hoping it becomes a standard game feature in the future!

Future looks bleak for AAA single-player games

EA axes new Star Wars game to "pivot"

 This week, EA halted development on an upcoming Star Wars game, and shut down Visceral Games, the studio which had worked on it for the last three years. EA will be reassigning the Visceral Games developers to other departments inside the company, and has announced their intention to pivot the Star Wars game to something more market-friendly.

The news directly addresses the issue of the elephant in the room: AAA big budget single-player cinematic games are on the way out.

Three market trends are responsible for this situation. First and foremost, in recent years, there have been several extremely expensive AAA single-player flops. Mass Effect: Andromeda, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored 2, and Prey all failed to live up to sales estimates. Given the phenomenal investment each game required, it's understandable that big studios would be hesitant to keep pursuing the genre.

The second trend is the potential for long-term monetization. When you finish playing a single-player game, that's it - you're done. Most people will never go back to it. But multiplayer and open-world games both offer potentially years and thousands of hours of playtime. That's time that can be monetized with everyone's favorite whipping boy: microtransactions.

Whether it's loot boxes or cosmetic items, microtransactions are the thing everyone loves to hate in games these days. But that doesn't stop players from spending a ton of money on them. It's gotten to the point where a game publisher would be foolish not to include microtransactions, they're just that lucrative.

And the third and final nail in the coffin of AAA single-player cinematic games is the rise of YouTube "Let's Play" videos and Twitch streams. If you watch a Let's Player play through an entire game like Uncharted 4, there's no reason for you to play it yourself - you've gotten the whole experience. However, no matter how much time you spend watching someone play a multiplayer game like Destiny 2, it's still different when you play it. So there's pressure on people to buy multiplayer games, whereas single-player games get left in the dust.

Are we heading towards a future without AAA single-player games like The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, to name a recent few? Only time will tell...  

A round-up of free/cheap tools for video game creators

Ever wanted to make your own video game? Now you can!

 It's easier and cheaper than ever to make your own video game. But if you have ever dreamed of making your own video game, you will need a few tools. Luckily, the internet is here to help you out.

Lifehacker created a list of game-making platforms and sorted them by coding experience. Whether you're a beginner or an advanced programmer, there are tools you can use today to get started on your video game.

Unreal Engine 4 went free two years ago, and has become one of the most common game engines for indie games. The free suite will let you develop games for any platform, and all future updates will be free, as long as you agree to "pay a 5% royalty on gross revenue after the first $3,000 per product, per quarter." That's pretty reasonable, for one of the best and most popular game engines around!

Planning to create a mobile game? Here's a list of the 8 best tools for creating games for Android and iOS.

On the artwork side, PC Gamer has an excellent collection of tools for making pixel art, for that retro indie asthetic.

 

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