Elder Scrolls Online Has Plans For 2020 And Years Beyond

The Elder Scrolls Online launched on PC in 2014, but the release wasn’t as smooth or as successful as developer ZeniMax Online Studios might have wanted. Just a year after release, ZeniMax announced that the game would drop its mandatory subscription requirement and launch a console version to help turn things around.

It worked. The game is in a much better place today, with a reported 13.5 million people signing up to play the game to date. Creative director Rich Lambert, who has worked on the game for 12 years, said in an appearance in the GameSpot Theatre today at PAX Aus that ZeniMax is planning to continue supporting ESO for a long time.

Speaking during a panel regarding the games-as-a-service model, Lambert said change is “core” to the experience of a games-as-a-service title. “With single-player games, you release a game and essentially you’re done,” Lambert said. But with an MMO like ESO, continuing to support and update the game and support and embrace the community is paramount to finding success.

Lambert did not offer any specifics on ESO’s content plans for 2020 and beyond, however.

Also during the panel, Lambert spoke about the importance–and the challenges related to–being transparent and communicative with fans in the development process. Lambert said one challenge is that fans can sometimes take a developer’s comments as “gospel” and expect that big changes will be released quickly. But game development can be a lengthy process with numerous behind-the-scenes challenges.

“We f**k up, we make mistakes, we get it wrong sometimes,” Lambert said. “It’s hard to admit you get it wrong. The community will always tell you when you get it wrong.”

ESO is considered a comeback story not unlike Warframe in that it launched to a middling reception before growing to become more successful over time. Lambert recalled that ESO “wasn’t the game people wanted” at release in 2014. The studio worked hard as a group to turn things around with the Tamriel Unlimited update and the console release, he said. “It was hard,” Lambert recalled.

Another important milestone for ESO was the release of the One Tamriel update in 2016. Lambert pointed out that this major update helped improve the accessibility of ESO and draw in new players. The update drops a number of gates that restricted access to some content for some players. This changed with the One Tamriel update, and it helped further fulfill the Elder Scrolls fantasy of being able to go anywhere and do anything, Lambert said.

PAX Aus runs October 11-13 in Melbourne, and GameSpot is on hand at the show all weekend to bring you news and further coverage. For more, check out a rundown of all the panels in the GameSpot Theatre.

Killer Queen Black Review – ‘Cause I’m Having a Good Time

If you’re fortunate enough to have a barcade in your neck of the woods, you have probably seen it: a huge, imposing pair of arcade cabinets with “Killer Queen” emblazoned on the marquee in blue and gold. Maybe you’ve even seen or played a versus session, with five players gathered around each screen attempting to work together and clutch sweet, sweet victory. Killer Queen is ideal for arcades, it’s a unique game built around the camaraderie of being together in a public space–a vibe that’s difficult to translate to the often solitary online experience PCs and consoles offer.

Enter Killer Queen Black, the first appearance of Killer Queen beyond the dimly-lit neon lights of modern social arcades. While it isn’t a 1:1 port of the arcade original, Killer Queen Black nonetheless delivers a tremendously fun and engaging multiplayer experience, whether you’re playing with a bunch of friends at home or joining in random battles online.

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It’s important to realize that Killer Queen in any form is, fundamentally, a multiplayer experience. That means that if you don’t plan to play with local friends or take the game online, there is little that it will offer you beyond a brief tutorial mode and the ability to play with CPU-controlled teammates and enemies. But when you do get a party started, Killer Queen Black realizes its full fun and frenetic potential.

Killer Queen Black has you playing in two teams of four players (down from five in the arcade original), with one player assuming the role of the insectoid Queen and three being worker drones who aid her. Each player has an important role; while the Queen is the team’s anchor and has access to powerful attack skills, the infinitely-respawning drones can pick up berries, ride snails, and upgrade in special pods to gain super-speed or become weapon- and shield-bearing warriors. Victory is achieved in one of three ways: by killing the other team’s Queen three times, collecting and storing enough berries to fill your team’s base, or riding a sluggish snail to your team’s goalposts.

The game’s varied roles and three means of victory offer up a lot of interesting strategies. Do the drones all opt to forfeit the ability to carry berries and ride the snail to gain weapons to go on an all-out offense? Or maybe only a couple should grab gear while one tries to bait the opposing Queen by riding the snail? Maybe your team’s Queen can dodge and counterattack enemies, distracting the opposing team and claiming their power-stations while your drone friends hoard berries or inch the snail to the goal. You can even put yourself in the snail’s jaws to stymie a riding opponent, allowing your weapon-wielding teammates an opportunity to kill off threats. There are many possibilities, and while a lot is always going on at any one time in Killer Queen Black, learning its basic rules and controls is easy enough that most anyone can jump in and quickly enjoy the strategic depth the gameplay has to offer.

Graphically, Killer Queen Black has received a significant overhaul from the arcade original. The arcade game employed a detailed retro-pixel art style, and that carries over to Black. However, the detail on the characters, animations, and background elements is significantly improved, adding a lot to the atmosphere of Killer Queen’s strange humanoid-insect world. As a result it’s not too tough to follow the action, even on the Switch’s comparatively smaller handheld screen, Along with the graphical overhaul comes some all-new maps, many of which emphasize the clever use of screen-wrapping to enhance strategic play by letting you quickly move from end of the screen to the other.

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There are many ways to enjoy the game’s multiplayer modes. You can link a pair of Switches together via a local network for eight-player action, you can hop online in a custom room with friends or an assemblage of random players–you can even take a local team of up to four players online to battle against another group online.

In our testing, online play was generally smooth sailing, though it was pretty easy to tell when players’ connections weren’t ideal; you could see their character jumping abruptly around the map as the game struggled to catch up with their location. (To its credit, the game tries its best to match you with others based on region.) There’s online voice chat for each team to coordinate strategy–though, if you don’t have access to voice chat (a likelihood for the Switch version), you can also communicate through a simple emote and emphasis system that draws attention to places on the map. If there’s one major gripe about online, it’s a lack of options; you can turn certain maps on and off, but that’s about it. With only six maps in the base game (that often repeat multiple times during a five-round set), the scenery starts to feel a stale pretty quickly.

Minor gripes aside, Killer Queen Black is the very definition of a great multiplayer game: easy to learn, fun to jump into, and packed with the sort of clutch moments that make you jump up and cheer. The satisfaction of spur-of-the-moment decisions, like sniping a Queen from the other side of the map with a carefully-timed laser gun blast, knocking an attacker pursuing your Queen off-kilter with a thrown berry, or eagerly shoving yourself in a snail’s mouth pixels from the enemy goal in order to buy your teammates time to complete your berry hoard is consistently engaging. If you’re looking for a unique, competitive multiplayer experience for online or local group play, Killer Queen Black is the bee’s knees.

Blizzard Reduces Ban Time, Returns Money To Hearthstone Player After Hong Kong Controversy

Blizzard recently found itself embroiled in controversy when it banned a professional Hearthstone player and rescinded his thousands of dollars in prize money after they expressed support for the Hong Kong protests in China.

The player, blitzchung, made his statement during a victory interview–and this was in violation of “rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action,” Blizzard’s president J. Allen Brack said in a statement.

Brack went on to say its decision was not driven by its relationship with its partners in China. “The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision,” Brack said.

The executive went on to say that Blizzard enforces rules about what can and cannot be said during player interviews to “keep the focus on the game and on the tournament.” For this reason–and this reason alone–Blizzard decided to take action against blitzchung.

“If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same,” Brack said.

While Blizzard is standing by its decision to punish, Brack acknowledged that the company made some mistakes in how it handled the situation and specifically how it determined the penalties against blitzchung. “We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly,” Blizzard said.

“We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value–Play Nice; Play Fair.”

Brack said that blitzchung competed in the Hearthstone tournament in a fair manner, and as such, he still should have been paid the prize money he earned. “We now believe he should receive his prizing,” Brack said.

However, Brack said “playing fair” encompasses conduct during match play and after, which would include his Hong Kong comments from the post-match interview.

In terms of his suspension, Brack said a six-month ban is “more appropriate” than the one-year suspension that was announced earlier. “There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast,” Brack said.

The shoutcasters were also caught up in the controversy, and Blizzard is banning them as well for steering the conversation away from the game. “With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well,” Brack said.

“One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games.”

After Blizzard announced its action against blitzchung, whose real name is Ng Wai Chung, the response was fierce, with gamers calling for boycotts and some deleting their accounts. US Senators criticized the move as censorship, some Blizzard employees staged their own protest, and host personalities like Brian Kibler announced they would no longer shoutcast Hearthstone events. Most recently Hearthstone’s first ever World Champion, James Kostesich aka “Firebat,” called the penalty ridiculous and unreasonable.

Blizzard’s big fan convention, BlizzCon, is scheduled to November. A group of gamers are organizing a protest over the Hong Kong situation at the event.

Full Blizzard Statement:

“Hello Blizzard Community . . .

I want to take a few minutes to talk to all of you about the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament this past weekend. On Monday, we made the decision to take action against a player named blitzchung and two shoutcasters after the player shared his views on what’s happening in Hong Kong on our official broadcast channel.

At Blizzard, our vision is “to bring the world together through epic entertainment.” And we have core values that apply here: Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; and importantly, Every Voice Matters, encouraging everybody to share their point of view. The actions that we took over the weekend are causing people to question if we are still committed to these values. We absolutely are and I will explain.

Our esports programs are an expression of our vision and our values. Esports exist to create opportunities for players from around the world, from different cultures, and from different backgrounds, to come together to compete and share their passion for gaming. It is extremely important to us to protect these channels and the purpose they serve: to bring the world together through epic entertainment, celebrate our players, and build diverse and inclusive communities.

As to how those values apply in this case:

First, our official esports tournament broadcast was used as a platform for a winner of this event to share his views with the world.

We interview competitors who are at the top of their craft to share how they feel. We want to experience that moment with them. Hearing their excitement is a powerful way to bring us together.

Over the weekend, blitzchung used his segment to make a statement about the situation in Hong Kong—in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action.

Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.

Second, what is the role of shoutcasters for these broadcasts?

We hire shoutcasters to amplify the excitement of the game. They elevate the watchability and help the esports viewing experience stay focused on the tournament and our amazing players.

Third, were our actions based on the content of the message?

Part of Thinking Globally, Leading Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters is recognizing that we have players and fans in almost every country in the world. Our goal is to help players connect in areas of commonality, like their passion for our games, and create a sense of shared community.

The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.

We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took.

If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.

OK, what could Blizzard have done better, and where do we go from here?

Over the past few days, many players, casters, esports fans, and employees have expressed concerns about how we determined the penalties. We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.

We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value—Play Nice; Play Fair.

In the tournament itself blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing. We understand that for some this is not about the prize, and perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. That is not our intention.

But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.

With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well.

Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views.

One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games.

At Blizzard, we are always listening and finding ways to improve—it is part of our culture. Thank you for your patience with us as we continue to learn.

Sincerely,

J. Allen Brack

President of Blizzard Entertainment”

After Pitching Dragon Age Musical DLC, David Gaider Is Finally Getting To Make His Musical Game

Dragon Age lead franchise writer David Gaider is making a new and intriguing-looking musical adventure game Chorus. As it turns out, the veteran game developer–who left BioWare years ago–has been thinking about making a musical game for a long time.

In an appearance at the GameSpot Theatre today at PAX Aus about his new game and studio, Gaider said he in fact pitched musical DLC for Dragon Age during his time at BioWare. The musical Dragon Age DLC could have taken place inside the metaphysical Dragon Age realm called The Fade, he said. It was a semi-serious, semi-joking pitch, Gaider said, but whatever the case, it never happened.

Gaider is now getting to realize that dream. His new game, Chorus, is a musical adventure game where they big story beats play out through song. Gaider is working on Chorus with Summerfall managing director Liam Esler (former Obsidian, Beamdog developer), while prolific voice actress Laura Bailey (Uncharted, Gears of War) is voicing the main character.

Voice acting legend Troy Baker is the Voice Director for Chorus, while Grammy nominated composer (Austin Wintory) is the composer for the game. In short, Summerfall has assembled a truly all-star cast for Chorus.

Summerfall is looking for $600,000 USD on Fig to fund Chrous, and you can visit the crowdfunding page to learn more about the numerous backer benefits and more.

Read next: Dragon Age Writer Reveals A New Game, And It Is Completely Different

PAX Aus runs October 11-13 in Melbourne, and GameSpot is on hand at the show all weekend to bring you news and further coverage. For more, check out a rundown of all the panels in the GameSpot Theatre.

Hidetaka Miyazaki Says Bloodborne Was His Favorite Game To Make

From Software president Hidetaka Miyazaki (who directed a few Armored Core games and most of the Soulsborne games) says that Bloodborne is his favorite of all the games he’s worked on. Miyazaki took on a more supervisory role for Dark Souls II to focus on the development of Bloodborne–a game that’s similar to but altogether a different beast (pun intended) from the Souls series.

“If I [have to] say which one I keep in my heart, it’s Bloodborne,” Miyazaki said in an interview with GameSpot Brazil, our sister site. “It’s the one that left [the biggest] mark on me.” But even for how much he loves the games, Miyazaki still believes Bloodborne could have used a bit more polish prior to release. “I would’ve improved the Chalice Dungeons and the Blood Gems, which I wish were more detailed.”

In the interview, Miyazaki spoke about boss battles and the process of designing the Soulsborne games’ notable enemies. “First comes the design,” he said. “When I have a general idea of how the boss will be, I make a request to the designer so he can create the art… I describe the minimum requirements that a boss needs, and I leave the rest with the designer. Because I believe that adds even more originality.”

In regards to his favorite boss, Miyazaki pointed to an enemy from the original Souls game: the Old Monk from Demon’s Souls. “[The Old Monk] has a unique system, where the player fights other players. Back then, this wasn’t a common system, so I got some critics and warnings,” Miyazaki said. “But in the end, the users liked it, it was something very different. So, inside me, it is the one that marked me the most.”

Miyazaki has already moved on to directing From Software’s next game: Elden Ring. The game boasts a high-profile partnership with fantasy author George R.R. Martin, taking the Souls-like formula and putting it into an open-world setting–a brand-new step for the From Software created catalog. “With a larger world, new systems and action mechanics inevitably become necessary,” Miyazaki said in an interview for Elden Ring. “In that sense, I think that Elden Ring is a more natural evolution of Dark Souls.” Though it doesn’t have a release date, Elden Ring is scheduled to launch on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Dragon Age Writer Shares Stories And More From His BioWare History At PAX Aus

Dragon Age franchise writer David Gaider have the keynote address at PAX Australia today where he shared stories and interesting insights from his time at BioWare before leaving the company.

Gaider, who announced a brand-new game and studio at PAX Aus, started off by recalling his time with BioWare which started in 1999 when he was recruited by BioWare’s James Ohlen to work on Baldur’s Gate II. Gaider was working in hotel management at the time, and he initially turned down the job to work as a writer on Baldur’s Gate II. However, as fate would have it, the hotel he was working for at the time was acquired by a larger hotel chain, and as part of this, Gaider lost his job.

He called Ohlen to ask if the Baldur’s Gate II writing job was still available–and it was. It was a big job working on Baldur’s Gate II, as Gaider and his team wrote an astounding 1.2 million words for the game. After completing that game, Gaider wrote for Neverwinter Nights and the Star Wars game Knights of the Old Republic, which is one of the most highly regarded Star Wars video game stories. Gaider said during the panel that he’s proud that some of what he wrote for the game is Star Wars canon, along with the HK-47 Assassin Droid that went on to become a fan-favorite. He described HK-47 as a combination of C-3PO, Bender from Futurama, and the dog from the Canadian TV show The Littlest Hobo.

Also during the panel, Gaider spoke about how he became known as BioWare’s “romance guy” for the characters he wrote in Baldur’s Gate II and Neverwinter Nights. However, some female fans complained about the romance options in those older games, and to make better characters and romance options, Gaider and his team looked at various online forums, including “Ladies of Neverwinter,” to help improve things.

The conversation then shifted to Dragon Age, the franchise that Gaider is perhaps best known for. He was the lead writer on Dragon Age: Origins, and he said part of his guiding philosophy for the title was for it to steer clear of what Gaider saw as pitfalls from Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically, Gaider said it was important for him to writer the world such that it didn’t have the kind of all-power, unquestionable gods like in D&D. Gaider pointed out that “faith requires doubt,” and it was important to him to communicate this in Dragon Age.

Gaider also shared an interesting, if not completely new, story about how BioWare came up with the name of Dragon Age’s setting, Thedas. The team struggled to come with a name for the Dragon Age setting, so they called it “The DA Setting.” The shorthand became (The) (D)ragon (A)ge (S)etting. Later, in an editorial meeting, a writer asked if they could just call it “Thedas.” And that’s it–that’s how it happened.

Here are some other takeaways from Gaider’s keynote at PAX Aus today.

  • People assuming Gaider is the reason why BioWare games have same-sex relationship options, but in fact, a separate team inside BioWare that made Jade Empire is responsible for making BioWare’s first same-sex relationships.
  • Gaider said around the release of Dragon Age II is when the interaction with fans began to change, due in part to the access fans had to the team–it wasn’t always positive. Gaider remarked, “Maybe familiarity breeds contempt.”
  • Some people thought BioWare focused too much on same-sex relationships at the expense of other content. “There should gave more much more focus on making sure us Straight Male Gamers were happy,” Gaider recalled someone saying.
  • A Dragon Age II expansion called Exodus was canceled, and Gaider remarked, “I was devastated.” The idea, he remembers, was that BioWare would cancel the expansion to focus on making Dragon Age: Inquisition bigger and better.
  • Dragon Age Inquisition was designed to be a “comeback” story for BioWare after Dragon Age II disappointed some fans. There were 850,000 words in the script.
  • Gaider broke down and began to cry when discussing an Inquisition storyline he wrote involving Dorian that related to themes about gay conversion.
  • He said this storyline, and the impacted it had, proved to him the power of video games and their ability to communicate important, powerful, and impactful stories.
  • Gaider worked on the world-creation elements of Anthem, but he ultimately moved on. “It just wasn’t the same for me; something was missing,” he said.

Gaider is now heading up the Melbourne studio Summerfall, which is working on a musical adventure game called Chorus. For lots more, check out GameSpot’s interview with Gaider.

PAX Aus runs October 11-13 in Melbourne. GameSpot will be at the show all weekend, and you can follow along with all the action from the GameSpot Theatre.