Digest: Mini Console War, More Gwent, Dead Rising Dead

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Miniature Console War

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It was inevitable: Sony is following Nintendo, Sega, and SNK into the miniature classic console market with PlayStation Classic. The wee PS1 is pricier than its Nintendo competitors at $100, not to mention the fact that it comes with a smaller selection of only 20 games. Just five of those 20 games were announced alongside the console, but they include some of the device’s most famous names: Final Fantasy 7, Tekken 3, and R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 are joined by the iconic — albeit not the most playable in 2018 — titles Wild Arms and Jumping Flash.

There are a few factors that make the PS Classic a bitter pill to swallow beyond its high price tag and limited library. While it does come packaged with two controllers much like the successful Super NES Classic, they’re replicas of the digital-only controllers that first shipped with PS1 in 1994 rather than the Dualshock analog controller from 1998. That means that while some classics like Metal Gear Solid could be included, they will not have analog control or rumble support. It also means some signature Sony games like Ape Escape, which required the Dualshock to play, won’t make the cut.

More irksome is that even with 80 million PlayStation 4 consoles sold, the only way to legally play vintage PS1 games on a modern HD television is using a high-priced novelty item like PS Classic or aging hardware like PS Vita or PlayStation 3. Rather than embrace the growing demand for archival material in a consumer friendly way as Microsoft has done with original Xbox support on Xbox One (where people can purchase legacy software digitally or even use original discs to play some games) Sony has been — at best — dismissive. “When we’ve dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much,” Jim Ryan, Sony’s global sales chief, told Time last year. “That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”

At worst, Sony has arbitrarily restricted access to playing older games on current hardware. Hackers discovered earlier this year that the limited selection of PS2 Classics sold on PS4 run on a single emulator that could, if Sony simply unlocked it, run any PlayStation 2 disc placed in the console. As with the PlayStation Classic hardware, though, Sony’s strategy appears to be based on maximizing the number of times customers will buy a game rather than offering them multiple ways to access a rich library.

A Coven of Witcher?

Adapting The Witcher books into The Witcher games brought CD Projekt Red success. Now, with the announcement of the new single player RPG Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, it’s clear that the studio believes there are more tales to tell in the world.

In Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales (note the plural — this is unlikely to be the only planned release) you play Meve, queen of the Northern Realms, who gets back into battle and adventure in light of the threatened Nilfgaardian invasion. Players will prepare for the coming threat, gathering resources, forming armies, and battle with a side of revenge.

The game’s combat system is based on the The Witcher card game Gwent, providing a meta experience. The standalone version of turn-based card game Gwent grew out of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt after being mentioned in the books. Now that game, which has been in beta more than a year, is getting an overhaul with a launch update called Homecoming. Gwent officially leaves beta and releases along with Thronebreaker on October 23 for PC, and in December for consoles via GOG..

CD Projekt Red owns GOG, so it’s no surprise the PC release will be on its own platform or that a release date just over a month away came together for both. Some may balk at the staggered release, especially one that means an exclusive window for the company’s own platform, but it’s nothing new, and often works in reverse , with a PC release the one pushed back (or never done).

Thronebreaker is the real surprise. This game not only bridges the gap between the RPG content the series is known for and the strategy of Gwent, but offers players more of the world and colorful characters they’re used to. If the writing and gameplay ideas are up to the core game’s standard, these tales could keep players entertained until a new core release arrives. It’s also another sign that the studio has a lot of faith in The Witcher IP and sees ways to further explore the world and characters.

It makes sense, especially given the enduring success of the third game. The fact the books are separately being adapted by Netflix in a production starring Henry Cavill certainly doesn’t hurt the potential for the IP to find new audiences or stay relevant.

Dead Rising Studio Dead

Capcom announced this week that it is closing Capcom Vancouver. “Capcom is currently reviewing the allocation of its development resources that support the production of world-class content,” Capcom told GameDaily.biz. “In consideration of this process, as a result of reviewing titles in development at Capcom Vancouver, Capcom has decided to cancel the development projects at this studio and will concentrate development of major titles in Japan.” Aidan Scanlan, design director at Capcom Vancouver, confirmed the closure on Twitter.

Acquired by Capcom after developing Dead Rising 2 in 2010, Capcom Vancouver has been a productive but troubled studio. While Dead Rising 2 and its expansions were a hit on PS3 and Xbox 360, selling more than 2 million copies, sequels Dead Rising 3 and Dead Rising 4 failed commercially and critically. The 2017 mobile reboot of Puzzle Fighter, Capcom Vancouver’s one non-Dead Rising release, did so poorly that Capcom yanked it from the iOS and Android storefronts just eight months after it was released.

The tragedy of Capcom Vancouver’s closure is that the studio never had a chance to blossom as an independent force. Before it became Capcom’s Dead Rising team, the studio was known as Blue Castle Games and was only just building a reputation for exciting, unusual games. Its signature series was The Bigs, a duo of officially licensed baseball games that focused less on simulating the sport and more on spectacle. Those games gave baseball the sort of freewheeling spirit that made NBA Jam and NFL Blitz staples in the ‘90s, but they also felt substantial and modern; perfectly suited to consoles like Xbox 360.

The closure is also the latest move on Capcom’s part to consolidate its once sprawling global ambitions. During the heyday of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Capcom invested heavily in American and European developers like Blue Castle, looking to grow beyond its reputation as a traditional Japanese developer. In the wake of sales failures like western-developer Bionic Commando, Lost Planet 3, and Dead Rising 4 over the past decade, Capcom is shrinking its operations and focusing on Japan-developed successes like Monster Hunter World and Resident Evil 7. “We know our titles and our audience, and we know the appeal we have, and we also know what our competitors try and do,” Stuart Turner, Capcom Europe COO, told GamesIndustry.biz in August. “We’re not going to stand up to those companies dropping tens of millions on marketing. We are, in some respects, a boutique publisher.”

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Russ Pitts
Editor-in-chief of Escapist Magazine. VP Enthusiast Gaming Media. Co-founder of takethis.org. Co-founder of polygon.com. Former producer @ TechTV. Creator of Human Angle, Press Reset, and Stage of Development. Former six-time Webby Award-winning editor-in-chief of this very website. Twenty+ year veteran of the entertainment and media industries. Capricorn. Loves dogs.