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Now That’s Why I Love A Best 2008 Ever! July

The dreary English summer crept by with gales and drizzles, and so all we did was stare into the internet, searching for truth. We found only tales of videogames, and these are they...

Twas July, month of the five-billion E3 trailers, and more press releases than you can possibly imagine. Interesting news, ironically, was scarce. Nevertheless we dug many fine nuggets from the silty bed of our informational mudflat...

Actard Lives! Activision and Blizzard merge to create a games company of terrifying proportions.

John: Leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. I don't like the portent of events like this. We're getting dangerously close to the pickle music publishing has gotten itself into, with only three giant publishers left and the clusterfuck that's created. However, it's also forced independent music into inventing new methods to be heard, so perhaps it could have interesting consequences for gaming too?

Kieron: Yeah, ditto. The bigger publishers get, the less likely it seems that I'd want to continue to writer about mainstream games, y'know? I suppose the most interesting part of the deal is that while it was Vivendi and Activision actually merging, the only bit of Vivendi worth a damn was... well, Blizzard. Which is another one of those humbling pieces of evidence which makes you realize the Juggernaut that is WoW.

Alec Didn't we already talk about this in one of these posts? I'm sure I said something impossibly profound that I don't need to repeat here. I'm quite sure it won't be long before either Actard grows so big that we simply stop paying attention to it, in the same way an elephant is too big for an ant to be conscious of its presence, or the inevitable complacency of giant corporations sees it collapse under the weight of its own dreary franchise-milking and inability to understand what gamers really want. Either that or it'll buy its own global police force to ensure everyone in the world subscribes to WoW or is tossed into a dank jail cell.

Jim: Yeah, hard to see an upside to this kind of expansionism, isn't it? If there is an upside then... no, I can't think of one. Rich people will get rich. That's good, right?

We talk to Good Old Games. What is going on with all this DRM-free classic game nonsense? Why would anyone want to play games that are old?

John: And now it's alive, and impressive. And undercutting Steam. I'd like to see their catalogue swelling considerably, but there's already some gems on there. I found myself spending a surprising amount of time with Stonekeep recently, which just about managed to run coherently.

Kieron: But as the industry spins off in one direction, more interesting new avenues for Gog open up. And - moreso - new avenues for old things. I suspect we'll find ourselves writing about most of GoG's back catalogue over the coming twelve months, which risks turning RPS into the games journalist equivalent of Mojo. There are worse fates, I suppose.

Alec: GoG is lovely, but I hope they can get beyond their current policy of selling oldies that just work and into actively reworking games that Vista/XP turns its nose up at. I've got dusty copies/backups of most of the old games I treasure, but I'd definitely fork out for jiggery-pokered versions that don't required faffing around with Dosbox or whatever. Hopefully that'll be feasible if GoG's successful enough.

Jim: This is probably the most important aspect of the PC: the twenty-year back catalogue. It's great to see someone starting to tap them, especially in that super-fertile turn of the millenium period, where top-notch PC games were coming out our ears, and also the ears of talented developers.

Halo MMO story, before it was revealed that a Halo MMO had been in development at Ensemble. We Iz Kleva!

John: Aborted MMOs are the new aborted gaming movies. Everything's getting an MMO! Quickly, how can we make more money out of these Worms games? Worms MMO! Sonic MMO! Buggy Boy MMO! (Someone's going to take these ideas seriously, aren't they?)

Kieron: I'd totally play a Buggy Boy MMO. For a week. Thinking about this... well, I've only played one MMO at all seriously this year. Warhammer. I did about the same last year - I played more games, but went into each one more shallowly. I'm - fundamentally - not interested in only playing one game. And there certainly isn't enough gamers to support as many MMOs as people want - when I last chatted to the Lord of the Rings guys, they were talkijng about getting used to the ebb and flow of players as they surf the new content. I think that works now, but I'm not sure it's sustainable. I wonder if what I'm interested in is something akin to Sony's multi-MMO pass, or some future derivative thereof? I dunno. And worse, I don't see 2009 answering that question.

Alec: Some days, I wish I had a time machine and a gun. After I'd killed the guy who'd cruelly ordered that Marmite-flavoured Mini Cheddars cease production, I'd find the creators of the first MUD. I do like a good MMO, and God only knows I've poured too much of my life into City of Heroes and WoW - but sometimes they feel like an unhealthy obsession the entire industry has developed. I'm sure it'll one day lead to great things, but right now I'd rather it get ib with something else instead of wasting yet more time on doomed products or rinse'n'repeat clones it reckons can snatch a slice of tasty WoW pie. But I may only be saying that because the vast majority of work I'm offered is related to MMOs. Makes me miss the days when I was only ever asked to review RTS expansion packs.

Jim: Random angle on this: Planetside was totally awesome for about a month, then it fell over. What if someone could figure out how to make it sustainable? PvP missions, scaleable objectives, and so on. It has to be possible, and a Halo MMO could be the franchise big enough to give the thing commercial legs.

One of our biggest stories of the year: Ubisoft use an illegal crack to er crack their own game? What?

John: I think when publishers are talking about DRM, they should be forced to wear a clown costume, honking their squeaky nose throughout, while the public throw alternate buckets of water and confetti over them. I think it would help moments like this feel more fitting.

Kieron: While amused, I admit, I was hardly surprised by this one. I honestly expect it was just one minor coder saying "Fuck it - I've better things to do than this".

Alec: Yeah, it's a thoroughly 21st century version of nicking post-it notes from the office or not refilling the coffee pot. The lesson is less don't cut corners, and more to be aware that crazy men on the internet will always analyse your code in terrifying detail.

This is one of my favourite stories this year - there's a genuine human laziness to it. Good work, Ubi.

Kumar does E3, because we couldn't be there. Thanks, Kumar. And in other news, bigwigs all slagged E3 off, saying it was small and rubbish.

Kieron: The general feedback I got from the show was... well, either next year they'll just minimise and re-think it conceptually or actually go full out and spend some serious cash... and if that doesn't give them the coverage they desire, knock the whole thing on its head. I kinda wish I was there, just to examine the guts of the machine a little. I've always enjoyed big trade shows, just because you get a feel for the industry in a way which you don't really get in a flat in Northern London. It's normally a feel which makes me gag, but it's a feel nevertheless. I can't work out what the big question is. Is it "Can the US Games Industry not Support A Major Trade Event?" or is it "Are Big Trade Events' Day Past?"

That said, I could just go to PAX.

Alec: Being on the outside looking in again - I've done too many E3s to want to go to another - it didn't seem like this show was small fry. There was still a vast amount of news and trailers coming out of it. Surely that's the point? I guess it's related to the element of the games industry we don't really see from within our journalistic commune - impressing retailers in the name of convincing them to order untold thousands of copies of publishers' latest and greatest. If the year's major tradeshow isn't much more than a couple of haybales and a black'n'white telly, Amazon, Best Buy et al will be less tempted to dig deep.

Jim: The giant info-dump of a trade show seems a little pointless to me. As a blogger I rather feel like I want a constant trickle of information, so that smaller stuff can get the attention it deserves.

Kieron produces the most comprehensive preview of Champions Online anywhere on the web.

John: Kieron's like some sort of GOD.

Kieron: Yeah, this was hard work, but worthwhile. It's the sort of thing which made me wish we actually monetized the site properly so we could do actually do something this hefty every week. Champions is going to be interesting too. I'm one of the few people who've played both Champions and DC Heroes, and the contrast between the two is notable. While Cryptic were talking about being inspired by action twitch games in the controls, in practice, it's really merely a streamlining of what they've already done - conversely, the physics-heavy Final-Fight-isms of DC Heroes are more like an action game than anything we've seen in the genre so far. The other big question is what's happening now that Cryptic has sold itself to Atari. When I was there, they were talking about the money from the sale of City of Heroes to NCSoft being used to provide for the company's future. Selling to Atari now isn't exactly a statement in belief in Champions. One worth watching, I think.

Alec: I'm a little worried Champions might get the axe as a result of the Infogrames-In-Disguise buy-out. After all, popular theory has it that its foundations were originally intended to be Marvel Universe Online - who knows why that game was cancelled, but there's a chance it was because what Cryptic had come up with wasn't deemed strong enough. Given how turbulent a year it's been for MMOs, anything that's considered a gamble could be in a lot of trouble. Star Trek, on the other hand, is more of a sure bet. It's entirely possible Cryptic will find themselves tasked with working only on that. Hope not. I've a few concerns about Champions, but I won't be happy until I've recreated my City of Heroes character in it.

Jim discusses co-op games and the challenges thereof.

Kieron: People wondered about Harvey's wisdom when he slagged off Blacksite after launch. Which I totally get. But seeing him interviewed in a co-op feature only to have the co-op feature stripped from the game makes me understand why a man may feel the need to lash out, y'know?

Alec: 2008's been good times and bad for co-op. For every game that's done it well and right, there's been another that's had it removed - I lost all interest in Brothers In Arms 3 once I heard it had no co-op, for instance. There's clearly some major challenges in implementing it successfully into a singleplayer game - we're still a way off it being a de riguer inclusion, I suspect. Oh - and hurry up, Sven Co-op 2.

Jim: Agreed, we lost some good co-op this year, but had some fun additions to the canon, like Red Alert's ubiquitous co-op. Also co-op led to one of the best gaming sessions I've had this year, when we resurrected SWAT4 a couple of months ago. Fucking hell that was good.

Cryptic definitely developing Star Trek Online. It's official!

Which you have to suspect is another reason why Atari were interested in Cryptic. It's also a game I have trouble imagining working in any meaningful way. There's room for a great single-player Star Trek RPG, I suspect. But as an MMO... well, there's s clearly the space for an imaginative ship-based one - though whether you could sell it on a team-only format is another question. I really doubt they'll be trying it.

John: In one of its previous incarnations, Mike Stemmle was writing for it. He's since left to join Telltale to make their Strong Bad games rather marvellous. However, I'd love to think his legacy has somehow survived the change of developers. Finding out he was writing for this was a bit like the news that Bryan Fuller has joined the scribing team on Heroes. Really smart people working on dubious licenses so often leads to happy times.

Jim: I'm quietly optimistic about this. Shame it's Star Trek though, as it's one of my least-favourite sci-fi universes.

Mass Effect downloadable content turns up. Did anyone play it? Does anyone really care about these add ons?

John: As I hinted at in my piece about Mass Effect this month, the DLC rather ruined the world for me. (The game world, not the real world - it wasn't that devastating.) Despite their being nothing wrong with the content included at all, it was the timing. You had to load a previous save game before the end of the game, and then divert from what you'd already done to do some other filler stuff. It made no sense. It therefore couldn't change the interactions between you and your party, because it had to somehow remain canon to the tale you'd already told yourself. Which made the whole idea rather silly, really.

Kieron: I think DLC is still in the horse-armour stage, alas.

Alec: I love that 'horse armour' has passed into the popular vernacular so. No need to say what it refers to any more - its very name is enough for almost anyone to rue the broken dream of DLC.

Back and forth from EA on the value of sports games on the PC. They will be around in 2009.

John: It became even more confusing when some 2009 EA Sports titles got PC releases, while others didn't. There's still been no clear announcement on how the 2010 titles will be different for the PC. I'm a little suspicious that they won't be different in any way whatsoever.

Kieron: That's set up for a sarky punchline, yeah?

Jim: The annals of foot-to-ball remain a mystery to me. And this Eyes Hockee? Weird.

Rage facts: Id's next game has stuff in. Looks dirty, shiny.

Kieron: I think I'm looking forward to the return of EA Sports' games more than this. And I won't play any of the EA Sports games.

Alec: Rage does a little vanilla at this stage, though then again that seems to be what people want from their big shooters at the moment. Quake III was the last time id were truly great. I wonder how aware of that they are, or if they're too busy wearing money hats to appreciate it.

Kieron: Okay - sorry for that. I'm clearly in an overly sarcastic mood, and the Mad-Max-isms have done nothing to earn that kinda scorn. But I just can't make the leap of faith required to get excited by it.

Jim: Yes, it's really hard to get hyped about this when the last interesting Id achievement was Quake 3. Still, maybe. Just maybe...

PC Gamer UK, Britain's Greatest Living Magazine, launches the Reader's Top 100 Site. You can vote for your top 100 all time PC games, and web automagic takes care of the aggregate placings. Huzzah!

Kieron: I just went onto their site and despite voting being now closed, there's no link to the final list on the site. Presumably it went up somewhere, yeah? Poor, deserted site. The saddest emoticon in the world = :(

Jim: I'd assumed they would keep this site open as a kind of ongoing perma-top 100. Seems silly not to, eh readers?

Notable Games

Space Siege arrives, with a demo in tow. People aren't impressed. Why so glum?

John: Watch out Gas Powered Games! How powerful is the Curse Of Blizzard On Diable-Clone Developers?

Kieron: After the rest of RPS' scorn towards it, I never got around to playing this. Which we should take as conclusive proof that review-scores totally effect people's purchasing decisions. Roll on Demigod.

Alec: I've got a good half-dozen conspiracy theories as to why Space Siege was quite so dreary. Most of them involve accusing GPG of knowingly being slapdash, either as a result of contractual obligation or an eye on quick cash. Pay no heed to me though - I always suspect the worst of people. One thing's for sure though - love or hate GPG's other games, this felt as thought it had come from a completely different, dramatically less talented studio. Oh, and a quick andecote - a Dungeon Siege-loving chum who unwittingly bought a copy of this on release tried to trade it in a mere month later. He was only given £2 for it.

Ship Simulator 2008
Oh baby.

Kieron: So... Summer drought, yes?

Jim: I'm sure something else came out in this month.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.