The Bulletin


Games About Nothing

Apple gives a game the heave-ho for being too relevant, EA tries to make good, and more in the inaugural edition of our game news roundup.

By Sam Barsanti • March 25, 2013

The Bulletin is a roundup of a few game-related news stories from the past week.

It ain’t easy being EA
EA logo

It has been a rough month for Electronic Arts. A few weeks ago, it released the latest in its long-running SimCity series, only for the game’s litany of technical issues to render it almost unplayable. Then, as reported by Polygon, the publisher offered one of eight free games (including Dead Space 3, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and, oddly enough, the 10-year-old SimCity 4) to anyone who registered their copy of SimCity by midnight on March 25.

Will it appease the ravenous hordes of the internet? I doubt it, but EA is probably hoping it’s enough to dissuade them from voting for it in The Consumerist’s annual Worst Company In America Tournament. The studio is in the running again after “winning” the “award” last year. Many fans are pretty upset with EA right now, but considering that the competition includes Wal-Mart, AT&T, various banks, and the company behind that irritating “one, two, Kalamazoo” commercial, I’d say it’s facing some tough odds.

Ryan Seacrest announces Draw Something 2
Ryan Seacrest's Draw Something 2 masterpiece

Lately, it seems like publishers have completely forgotten how to announce new games. Earlier this year, Bungie revealed Destiny—slated to be the studio’s first major release since its work on the Halo series ended—by merely telling the press how cool it would be and showing some very Halo-esque concept art. (Guns! Helmets! Space stuff!) Then, an anonymous tipster sent Kotaku a poster that seemed to confirm Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, a new pirate-themed entry in Ubisoft’s series of stab-focused history lessons. That took some wind out of the game’s sails, so to speak, when it was officially announced a week later.

Thankfully, Ryan Seacrest is good at everything, and he’s here to show the heavy hitters how it’s done. On March 18, the American Idol host tweeted, “I somehow convinced them to give me #DrawSomething2 first.” Boom. That’s all you need. No concept art teasers or leaked nonsense, just a surprisingly good drawing of Randy Jackson (which is all anyone needs anyway).

New games coming from Bastion studio and Katamari creator

Of course, Ryan Seacrest is a busy man, so he can’t be around to announce everything. Like, for example, Transistor and Tenya Wanya Teens. The former is a new title from Supergiant (the studio behind Bastion), and it’s a cyberpunk-ish action role-playing game about a young girl who kills robots with some kind of awesome sword. (In other words, it’s every animé ever.) The developers say on the official site that they’re shooting for a 2014 release, but they aren’t sure which platforms it will be on yet. Smart money is on PC and whatever game consoles are still around in a year.

Tenya Wanya Teens

Tenya Wanya Teens is harder to pin down. According to Venus Patrol, it’s “a coming-of-age tale about love, hygiene, monsters, and finding discarded erotic magazines in the woods.” Now, that might sound a little weird, but wait until you find out that it’s played with a giant 16-button controller, and one of the minds behind it is Keita Takahashi, the creator of Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy. So, odds are, its name will be the least weird thing about it.

Virtual reality comes to Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2, Valve’s popular digital hat store (and first-person shooter) will soon be getting its most interesting update since going free-to-play in 2011. Engadget reports that the game will introduce virtual-reality support in the coming weeks, thanks to the Oculus Rift, a Kickstarter-funded VR headset. Hopefully, it works out better than my only experience with virtual reality, which occurred at a Dave & Buster’s in the mid-’90s. I had to take off my glasses in order to wear the giant VR helmet, which made everything look blurry and terrible. Of course, it was a VR game in the mid-’90s, so it probably would’ve looked blurry and terrible either way.

Apple once again affirms that its App Store is not for games about stuff

For the purposes of this paragraph, we will operate under the assumption that video games are not just for kids and can be appreciated by people of all ages on a level deeper than “I am having fun.” Crazy, I know, but hear me out. According to Pocket Gamer, Apple has pulled the Littleloud studio’s game Sweatshop HD from the App Store because “it was uncomfortable selling a game based around the theme of running a sweatshop.” Apparently Apple saw this as a violation of their App Store rules, which give it the power to reject any apps it deems “excessively objectionable or crude.” Obviously, that’s missing the part that says “all apps must be Canabalt-style endless runners or free-to-play FarmVille knockoffs.” Either way, the makers of Sweatshop HD need to realize that games are supposed to be fun, and they should take their smarty-pants satire somewhere else, thank you very much. Maybe now they’ll make a real game. Idea: something that combines endless running with managing a farm.

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63 Responses to “Games About Nothing”

  1. In other news, Double Fine’s Kickstarter-funded adventure game now has a name:

    Broken Age

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      And the splash screen is gorgeous.   So extrapolating outward based on existing data, the game is going to be fucking beautiful. 

      • Girard says:

        Are you a backer, by any chance? The preliminary footage they’ve been showing in the backer docs is lovely. All painterly and gorgeous, with the figures animated a bit like painted cut-out puppets. It is SO up my aesthetic alley.

        I’m also intrigued by the idea of two complementary narratives, though I’m curious how they’ll play off of each other.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          I’m embarrassed to say I am not.  I have a blind spot to Kickstarter campaigns that I want to rectify.  Especially if I get rad making-of docs.

        • Girard says:

          They do still offer a “slacker backer” option where folks can still contribute and get access to the dev stuff, though its minimum is $30, rather than the $15 it was back in the original Kickstarter.
          However, as someone who paid higher than the $15 tier in the original Kickstarter, anyway, I’d still say the $30 is worth it. Beyond the documentaries every month, the art, design and programming staff do regular updates in the forums with artwork and design documents and stuff, which has all been pretty interesting.

        • Captain Internet says:

          I’m a backer. Getting to watch the progress of the game as it gets built has been entertainment enough, so I’ll second what @paraclete_pizza:disqus is saying.
          ‘Broken Age’ is a rather bobbins title mind. 

        • uselessyss says:

          I didn’t think I could like Tim Schafer more. Then I started watching the documentaries.

          In a world where all reality TV is comprised of melodramatic hissy fits between groups of unlikable people, it’s weird to watch something that features literally no one I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

          Double Fine is like the Tom Hanks of game development studios, or something.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @uselessyss:disqus Even better, Double Fine is apparently BFFs with Capybara now and it’s super adorable. “Oh my god you make video games too? Let’s go to PAX together! And have a Steam sale together!”

    • Sam_Barsanti says:

      I actually thought “Double Fine Adventure” would’ve been an alright name, considering the game is all about two separate-but-connected adventures.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       They better how the game isn’t too bug when it comes out.  Otherwise, the internet will have a field day with that name:  Broken Rage, Broken Game, etc.

  2. Xtracurlyfries says:

    Thanks a lot, Barsanti! Way to go and spoil my forthcoming “Settlers of Canabalt” release.

  3. Destroy Him My Robots says:

    Draw Something 2: Something Something

    • Army_Of_Fun says:

      Draw Something 2: Draw Harder

    • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

      Draw Something 2: Revengetch
      Draw Something 3: Asketchscion
      Draw Something 4: Crayonial Marines
      Draw Something 5: Artsolution
      Draw Something 6: Modern Drawfare
      Draw Something 7: Drake’s Depiction
      Draw Something 8: Agraphic’s Creed
      Draw Something 9: Deus Sketch: Doodle Revolution
      Draw Something 10: Guns of the Paintriots
      Draw Something 11: Portrayal 2
      Draw Something 12: Crayon 2 The Engrave
      Draw Something 13: Drawfighter

      This is fun.

  4. duwease says:

     I imagine what upset Apple the most was the unlockable bonus level where you assemble iPhones at FoxConn…

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       They send you a plane ticket and everything!

    • Girard says:

      That’s basically what got Molleindustria’s Phone Story kicked off the app store. Android was more permissive, apparently.

      • duwease says:

        Yeah, that’s the iPhone/Android marketplace dichotomy in a nutshell.  Android has no barriers to entry, which allows some shady software sometimes, while iPhone forces you to buy a Mac and a dev kit and still reserves the right to deny your software if they don’t like the tone or they decide that it might be competition for their own stuff (or that of their partners).

        Not that this makes Android’s market a dev paradise, though.. that freedom also means you have to support all sorts of hardware manufacturers instead of just the one.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          My company is currently in the process of formatting our previously ios-only app for delivery on Android devices, and it has been a nightmare of shifting standards, memory limits and asset optimization.
             Formatting for screen size alone has been absurd.  I had to do a series of brick walls just as visual filler for the nigh-endless variation on sizes and resolutions. 

        • duwease says:

           @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus Yeah, they really ought to at least put together a Standards Agreement for the mutual benefit of all the hardware developers to avoid that.  They’ve given lip service to the idea but.. eh.  Theoretically a platform lives and dies by it’s software, so it should benefit everyone to remove some of the barriers to populating the Marketplace.

          Although there’s still that barrier of Android users just plain spending less money on apps..

        • Halloween_Jack says:

          My take on the whole so-called app store “controversy” is that it was the sort of thing that had many bits spilled on it in the likes of Boing Boing and Gizmodo, which l believe led to developers deliberately violating app store terms in order to get a bit of publicity for themselves. Apple very briefly loosened approval requirements… which almost immediately resulted in someone posting a crude “shaken baby” app (you shook your phone until the baby died), which the abovenamed blogs referred to as Apple’s app, of course. Funny how the “market” acted so quickly to restore the status quo.

          So, eventually, I get a Nexus 7, and start looking for one app after another that I’ve had on my iPhone for years… and not finding them. So if the Android market is so free and liberating, why aren’t developers working exclusively for it? Or at least multi-platforming? Your second para is a decent explanation. 

  5. Johnny Canuck says:

    I believe the word you’re looking for is “topical”. “relevant” doesn’t really mean anything without some kind of context.

  6. Fluka says:

    That Transistor trailer was cool enough that it convinced me to finally get around to playing Bastion.  Having now started Bastion, I am consequentially even more excited for Transistor.

    Also, fifteen minutes of Transistor gameplay from PAX got posted on the internet today.  VATS-style tactical paused combat!  And the narrator voice actor is back, but different!

    Also, we’re doing news roundups now?  I approve!

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I like the News Roundup as well, it has a nice open-forum vibe to it seeded with some great conversation starters.
         By and by, how was your birthday weekend?

      • Fluka says:

        Aww, thank you for asking!  It was nice and lazy.  I planted some pansies, watched season 3 of Archer, and (relevant!) played Bastion. My husband made me crepes for breakfast.  10/10 A+ would celebrate again, etc.  

        Agreed on the “open-forum vibe.”  We were already talking gaming news and sharing articles in the “Out This Week!” column anyway, so this feels like a natural thing to add.

        • Girard says:

          Happy Happy Birthday! We should have all baked you and @Jackbert:disqus a virtual cake.

        • Fluka says:

          Thanks, @paraclete_pizza:disqus !

        • Jackbert says:

          Sounds like you had a fun birthday!

          I also think this news feature is great, both for the “open-forum vibe” and so that I can keep up on gaming news without checking the cesspool that is Kotaku (my self-inflicted Kotaku ban just hit 24 hours).

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus : A cake with chocolate icing and a big red icing button in the center would fit the Gameological aesthetic nicely. Make it pumpkin cake to bother Teti.

        • Fluka says:

          @Jackbert:disqus Yay Gameological cake!  And did you have a good birthday as well?
          If you want raw game news but, like myself, find Kotaku to be a confused bottomless pit of howling winds and angry ghosts, Polygon’s not bad.  I’m not sure I entirely like their style sometimes (their journalistic approach is definitely very “safe” and not inclined to rock the boat, establishment-wise).  And their comments are still crappy, albeit not as crappy as Kotaku. But it’s a decent place to get news and facts without wanting to Kill All Humans.  Now that Gameological’s doing weekly news, however…hmmmm….

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          @Jackbert:disqus   And yourself?  Was your birthday a destructive orgy of excess and wanton debauchery?  Did you have cake?
             Good luck with the Kotaku withdrawal.  If you need to, just compulsively re-read a 1981 Computer and Video Games magazine to get your fix.

        • Jackbert says:

          @Fluka:disqus : I did have a good birthday! I had a yummy seafood dinner and an awesome cake described below, watched three movies, and played some Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. I’ll check out Polygon; right now I’ve been reading IGN because their news articles are short and to-the-point, plus you have to push a button to load comments. (I mainly quit Gawker news sites because I was spending an exorbitant amount of time hate-reading comments.)

          @SpacemonkeyMafia:disqus : Orgies and debauchery are my middle names. It’s, uh, hyphenated, my parents couldn’t decide. My cake was red velvet with purple-food-colored maple icing. Moms are COOL.

  7. So Apple considers a game about a fictional sweatshop to be crude and objectionable, but they don’t consider their own, actual sweatshops to be crude and objectionable.

    This actually happened.

    That’s a real thing.

  8. DrFlimFlam says:

    Now the narrator is your SWORD. I liked Bastion enough to buy it twice, so I’ll probably be into this one, too.

    •  I did, too! Once on its own, then again in an Indie Humble Bundle. Definitely did not have an issue paying for it twice, fantastic game.

      I paid for Psychonauts twice the same way: already owned it for the PS2, got the PC version as part of the Humble Bundle.

  9. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I had my first experience getting Civved last night.  I played a bit over the weekend, but decided to start a new campaign last night.  Sure enough, I lost hours that I should have been sleeping in a fugue of next turn clicks.
       I haven’t been lost in a game like that in years.
       And I’ll argue that it’s not even because it’s the best or most engrossing game ever.  It’s very good, no mistake, but it’s more how the structure entices you to keep moving forward.  Especially this early in the game, where it’s all cancerous expansion with little to no chance for failure, and the toughest battles are barbarian skirmishes, so there is every reason to keep going and little in the way of setbacks to frustrate or break you away from the rhythm of continuous development.
       The research and development are staggered such that you’re always just a few turns away from unlocking something new.  The game might as well just be a button that allows you to administer your own morphine.
       Because I’m a fatalist, I feel certain that at some point I’m going to hit hard up against a difficulty wall -likely when war breaks out with another civilization- and I’m not planning ahead with any strategic merit, just clickin’ and growin’.  But for now, it is absurd in it’s enveloping warmth.
       By the time I actually had the where with all to turn of the game, I bore the same frozen, rictus grin of Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.    

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       Welcome to the fold, brother! 

      The little I played of Civ 5 did lead me to the conclusion that it is probably the most click-y entry of the series.  A lot of the micromanagement stuff seems to be streamlined so that the game suggests things you should do to continue growing and all you have to the approve the decision.  I imagine the player as a boss napping in his office when some underlings comes in with a list of things for you to sign and you do so just quickly just to get back to your nap.

      Really, the problem that has plagued the series for a while has been the unreasonable demands that the AI–in its role both as other civs and as your own restless citizenry–ask of the player.  All the other countries propose insulting lop-sided trades as a flimsy pretext for war when you reject the offer while your citizens have the foresight of 5-yr-old (I want entertainment now!  Turn all the farmers into entertainers!).  In Civ III, I used to skip researching Music Theory because it was a technological dead-end, so screw Bach and his damnable cathedral!  This, however, meant it was the AI never tired of offering it in trade, greedily demanding a king’s ransom for it.

    • uselessyss says:

      I had kind of a similar experience last night when I impulsively bought  Roller Coaster Tycoon (it was only like $2 or something!). Perhaps it doesn’t have the same “next-turn” compulsion (and its not very strategic), but as soon as I booted it up, my nostalgia hit me with full force, and there was no stopping. Before I knew it I had stayed up until 2 AM, constructing ridiculously complex coasters that no one wanted to ride and racking up an insane debt. It was glorious.

  10. Logoboros says:

    So, it’s unclear to me how much damage EA actually suffers from these kinds of fiascos. Everyone seems to hate EA, but apparently everyone nonetheless continues to buy their games. Message boards get flooded after releases like this one (or less profound disappointments, like BF3) with cries of “I’ll never by another EA game again!” and yet there are still lines out the door for whatever the next major franchise release is. Is this just weakness on the part of gamers (perhaps based on the fact that a huge proportion of AAA gaming dollars still come from teenagers)? Or is there some other kind of economic force at work? Or is EA actually, truly suffering from public backlash (certainly the SimCity issues were making national news, which is rather unusual)? Can they just scapegoat their CEO and move on to the next big title without much fear of sales drying up? The SimCity franchise might now by tainted, but do Medal of Honor player care?

    Or is their problem less with gamers and more with studios? Are studios going to be more reticent to publish with (or be acquired by) EA? Do they really have any kind of choice? It seems that these kinds of blunders might actually make EA more likely to lose the faith of creators rather than consumers, but its not clear to me how much (if any) leverage the creators really have in the industry, especially at the AAA level.

    • Merve says:

      “Can they just scapegoat their CEO and move on to the next big title without much fear of sales drying up?”

      You’ve raised a lot of interesting questions, but I’m going to focus on this one. My answer is: they can try, but they won’t succeed. It’s rumoured that John Riccitiello’s hands were tied by shareholders and the other executives, and that he was more or less forced into implementing some of EA’s worst business practices. Moreover, since he’s being replaced while EA’s earnings are flagging, the next CEO is probably going to have a mandate to do whatever he or she can to boost short-term earnings, which will lead to even further anti-consumer business practices.

      Ben Kuchera has a pretty good take on the situation here.

    • I assume that these sorts of PR disasters make potential investors wary of EA. And if EA loses investors, they won’t have the capital to acquire those mid-level developers, or publish their games.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I think gamers who follow EA’s business model are quite a minority.
         A company like EA that publishes so many licenses with really broad appeal beyond just dedicated gamers who pay attention to this stuff, combined with the hollow sturm und drang of gamer message boards pretty much guarantees there will be little or no consequence for EA due to the SimCity launch.  Possibly from a new CEO, for reasons that @Merve2:disqus does a good job articulating, but that will be an indirect result. 

  11. Chalkdust says:

    Awww, my excitement over a new game from Keita Takahashi is tempered by the ridiculous controller thing.  Why your delightful eccentricity gotta spill over from game design into peripherals???

    • Girard says:

      At least he’s got other stuff on the hob that will be easier for us all to play, like his collaboration with Adam “Canabalt” Saltsman for LA Game Space, which should be out around May.

    • neodocT says:

       Looking at pictures of hte controller, it seems like it should be possible to use a tablet or something to play it, in a theoretical world where all tablets easily connect with game systems/computers.

    • mizerock says:

      Was I being ridiculous to hope that this would be out (or at least have a release date)(or any update at all) by now? Or would it not matter anyway, since it really is going to require buying a new specialize controller? I’m a sucker for games that require special controllers, but I do have my limits (i.e., it’s an awesome AAA game, or the controller is under $20).

    • mizerock says:

      Oh, there IS an update!

      … yeah, OK, this game is never coming out, at least not in its current form. Too crazy, and yes, crazy expensive with that special controller.

  12. Brainstrain says:

    I am so very obsessed with the Transistor trailer. Bastion wasn’t really my thing, but the music is so gorgeous. I’ll always support the creation of games like this.

  13. djsubversive says:

    @SwitchBladeComb:disqus was super-awesome this weekend and gifted me his Bioshock pre-order copy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, since he already had it. I’ve gone through the tutorial section, and a bit beyond that (won my first terror mission with only 3 citizens lost), but I spread myself out too thin and had no money, no satellites, and no uplinks to launch satellites (even if I’d had them) about 2 weeks before a council report. And then there was a UFO over Africa but I didn’t have the money to hire interceptors for Africa, so they took down my satellite over Nigeria. And then Nigeria, Brazil, and Germany, I think, all left the project.

    I guess that’s probably a pretty basic “well that’s XCOM” moment, but it’s still frustrating. Mainly because it felt like if I’d done a little more planning and hadn’t been forced to do things a certain way because of the tutorial, I’d have been able to manage that situation better before it spiraled out of control.

    Being forced to place your alien containment unit in that one spot during the tutorial is dumb. And aiming grenades is pretty bad. Other than that, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the game. 

    “You may wish to tell your soldiers that explosives, while helpful at killing aliens, also destroy the valuable artifacts we wish to recover.” Sorry, Doc, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of THREE ALIENS BLOWING UP AT THE SAME TIME.

    My lone survivor from the first (tutorial) mission is a Heavy Assault with the nickname of “Thunder.” I gave him shredder rockets and the two-grenades-per-mission perk. He’s great at blowing things up.

    I restarted a non-tutorial game last night. Still on normal difficulty (although I debated jumping up to Classic), with the “Not Created Equal” and “Hidden Potential” Second Wave options. Those two sound like they’d make things a bit more interesting, rather than just more difficult.

  14. Effigy_Power says:

    I played ‘Sweatshop’ a while ago, when it was available only on the PC and nobody made a massive fuss about it.
    I can’t claim that it made a lasting impression on me, so deep is my compliance with western capitalism, but at least I can say that I did all in my power to alleviate the suffering of my workers by placing a lot of fans, water-coolers and whatnot.
    Still, the fact that Apple doesn’t like the tone of the game, considering the constant stories about their plants in China, probably shouldn’t be a surprise. A shame, yes, but not a surprise.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      So I totally have this opinion because of anecdotes and shit, but it really bugs me how much people tend to think that Apple is a progressive company or something. They have shitty business practices out the wazoo. The whole cult of apple thing makes me really uncomfortable because it’s so obviously people who bought into advertising but think they are above “falling for that sort of thing.” It bother me on multiple levels whenever I see a facebook friend ask whether to get a mac or “pc” and get a bunch of responses that are literally apple quotes and catchphrases.

      I don’t know what the point of this rant is, but there it is.

      • Merve says:

        The point of this rant is that hipsters use Apple products. Hippies use Unix servers powered by wind farms.

      • Halloween_Jack says:

        Your rant is horribly out of date. I’d say that less people think that Apple is progressive than think that they are literally the only company whose products are made in Chinese sweatshops. (Reality check here.)

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          I guess my friends are just out of date then. I’ll tell them that.

        • Halloween_Jack says:

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus : Could be. (Mike Daisey’s spoken-word performance about Apple was This American Life’s most popular broadcast ever, even though they then had to do another entire broadcast retracting parts of it.) Or maybe they’ve read this NYT article which details how Apple is leading reforms of electronics manufacturing in China pretty much unilaterally. (Again, see my link above, and remember that that’s just for Foxconn–not just your electronics but the majority of consumer goods of almost any type are made under sweatshop conditions, if you follow the chain long enough.) 

          Or maybe they have had encounters with the same type of compulsive Apple haters as I have, which have been around for decades and are not particularly open to discussion of the real facts. (And who relentlessly stereotype Apple fanboys; I, for example, have a Nexus 7 and built my own PC, but the haters that I know in meatspace literally don’t seem to be able to hear that when they try to taunt me about how great Android is or how many PC games are still Windows-only.) 

  15. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    I guess it’s fitting my first post is on a new feature; it’s actually similar to one I thought this site could use, basically a thread where we could comment on news stories without simply hijacking an unrelated thread. Is this going to be weekly, or just whenever the fancy strikes?

    Also, it looks like this is @Sam_Barsanti:disqus’s first writing on the site! Congrats! New hire?

    Also, as an aside, when I first saw the byline I thought the site had a new female writer, but judging from your profile picture that seems a little premature.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Welcome aboard! And yeah, a weekly news roundup seems like a great idea to me. Similarish to RPS’s Sunday Papers, but with you wonderful people in the comments instead of your average internet bullshit.

    • Sam_Barsanti says:

      I’m glad people like it! I thought it would be a good idea as well, for the same (or similar) reasons. My plan is to do this weekly, since I follow a lot of the other gaming sites as it is and can’t imagine not being able to gather up a handful of interesting stories to make dumb jokes about every week.

  16. Greg Sheppard says:

    “free-to-play FarmVille knockoffs”Shouln’t that be corrected Harvest Moon knockoffs?