Wednesday, May 29, 2019

E3 2019 Predictions

As I mentioned in the May update, this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) will likely be Xbox-centric since Sony is skipping the show. With the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 generation winding down, Sony skipping the show, and more and more games being announced or leaked ahead of time, this could be a very quiet show for new games, especially exclusives. The last couple from Sony were primarily trailers and Nintendo does the prerecorded video with some folks showing a few games afterwards (not on stage).

Last year I didn't spend too much time on third-party publisher predictions after going all out in 2017. I've spent a few hours writing this and now I'm basically rewriting it because my first draft was too much rambling and news is hitting earlier than I was ready for so I'm posting early this year too. It's not unusual for news to start weeks before the show but one of my predictions already came true! I said Nintendo would reveal a sequel to Detective Pikachu and while it did not provide many details, it did say yesterday that a new one is in development for the Switch that would conclude the story to the 3DS game. I know, that was an easy one to guess.

While Sony won't be on the show floor, E3 is still a convention for retailers to see what's upcoming and help steer their orders so Sony could be there behind closed doors and there could be some news, like the release date for Dreams (Game Informer reviewed it already based on the early access version). Sure, PlayStation 4 has sold extremely well but it still has to keep the sales going by convincing retailers to order more, more, more. In my first draft I also mentioned trailers could be shown for Death Stranding and Ghost of Tsushima, and nearly two weeks before E3 we now have both a new trailer and release date for Death Stranding (November 8, 2019).

I'll break up the rest of this post as it will still be just a bit long though I'll skip mentioning most of the games already confirmed to be there.

This is Microsoft's time to shine with the only console maker to have a stage presentation so I have to believe the next Xbox will be the highlight. I'd say seeing the hardware or game demos is unlikely, instead it will be a name, specs, maybe a tech demo, and perhaps a release window (November 2020?). Last year it purchased a few development studios that may or may not be able to get games ready by then. I lean toward it being too soon especially with Obsidian being busy on a game for 2K and InXile currently working on Wasteland 3. Microsoft isn't quite done with the Xbox One but I doubt there will be any exclusives we don't already know about as it looks to the future.

If, and it's a very big if, Microsoft lists a bunch of games with working titles for the next Xbox here are my guesses: Forza Motorsport 8, Halo Infinite (in addition to Xbox One), Gears of War 5 (in addition to Xbox One), Minecraft 2, Fable 4, Crimson Skies (that was my prediction for Xbox One last year), and a third-person action game from Ninja Theory (too generic? how about a third-person Age of Empires action game...but with Ninja Theory it is more likely something original).

Bill Gates and an original Xbox prototype at the
Game Developers Conference - March 10, 2000.

Earlier this year Nintendo stated Metroid Prime 4 development had been restarted so don't expect anything from Metroid. Maybe it's time for a new Donkey Kong Country or with Sonic and Crash returning to kart racing, it could be time for Diddy Kong Racing 2. Unlike the other consoles, the Switch is hitting its stride so Nintendo should have some new announcements, however, it could also hold back for the Tokyo Game Show. There were some rumors of a redesign for the Switch and it's probably time for new bundles and colors. I didn't think Arms was huge though it sold well enough to get a comic book so I'll predict we see Arms 2.

Random thoughts & predictions for the rest...

-Ubisoft recently delayed Skull & Bones to 2020 and it might be too soon for another Assassin's Creed. Who am I kidding, it's never too soon for another Assassin's Creed game. We all know Just Dance 2020 is coming and it must be time to leave the Wii behind (Just Dance 2019 is available for Wii and Wii U) and probably the Xbox 360 too. Following the success of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle another team up with Nintendo could be in order. Many keep expecting a new Splinter Cell and one employee mentioned it before Ubisoft said it was a joke. It's possible it unveiled the next Ghost Recon already to put the spotlight on Splinter Cell at E3.

-Sega will finally be bringing the Yakuza samurai spin-offs to North America. Skies of Arcadia 2 will be announced for release in October 2020 on the first game's 20th anniversary. Hey, it's possible!

-XCOM 3 will be unveiled, it has to be! It's been more than three years since XCOM 2 released which was my favorite game of 2016. For myself, being able to create a team that resembles G.I. Joe characters is one of the highlights when playing XCOM.

-There have already been LEGO Star Wars rumors and although Warner Bros. skipped The Last Jedi, we could be hearing about a trilogy with a complete edition of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker. With Telltale gone and Warner owning Batman, it just might find a way to continue the Batman adventure game Telltale started or we'll hear about a brand new Batman game. Last year I thought Rocksteady would show its new game that has been in development a while but it didn't so why not this year. The money is on a Superman game though maybe it's Wonder Woman or Justice League or something else completely.

-Square Enix did confirm a big presentation for Crystal Dynamics' Marvel's Avengers game. I'm thinking Tomb Raider takes a break and I'm hoping Deus Ex returns from a break.

-What happened to Activision? Not including Blizzard, it just doesn't make many games any longer having recently let go of Destiny. Last E3 it did have Sekiro and it published that game outside of Japan for FromSoftware earlier this year. Call of Duty is the one and only big franchise it goes back to time and time again, and lately it's been leveraging older properties, such as Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. Maybe it doesn't need much more beyond Call of Duty but for a publisher of its size it must have something else in development. In 2017 I thought Pitfall could make a return and I'll just keep guessing a new Pitfall until it happens. Other than that, perhaps it will get a big license to focus on. Folks from The Simpsons television show are going to be at E3 so a game must be in the works; maybe Activision is involved?

-If Activision isn't backing The Simpsons the next best guess for publisher would be Electronic Arts which has published a variety of Simpsons games over the years. I think we know most of what EA is currently working on but I'll throw out a guess for a new SSX; not like the last one, instead something more like the first few. A remaster of the first three would work though it would probably not be able to get all of the same music.

-Bethesda is another publisher we've probably already got covered after last year's E3 where the announced games are still a ways off. It's likely going to try and redeem Fallout 76 so expect some changes for that game to be shown.

-THQ Nordic has bought up many properties and other companies the past few years and now has more than 80 (!) games in development across all of its subsidiaries. I'll say it will show a new Saints Row game and since it owns Deep Silver I'll put my dreaded Shenmue III prediction here. I'm thinking Shenmue will be delayed until at least Q1 2020. It's currently three months away which feels too soon.

The presentation schedule:

June 9th: Microsoft (1 PM PT/4 PM ET), Bethesda (5:30 PM PT/8:30 PM ET)
June 10th: PC Gaming Show (10 AM PT/1 PM ET), Ubisoft (1 PM PT/4 PM ET), Square Enix (6 PM PT/9 PM ET)
June 11th: Nintendo (9 AM PT/12 PM ET)

6/7/19 UPDATE: This past week has been full of announcements, leaks, and rumors so I'm doing a quick recap before the press conferences begin on Sunday. Only a few tie into my predictions above.

-Shenmue III has indeed been delayed though not for as long as I expected. It's currently targeting November 19, 2019.
-The next Watch Dogs game called Legion was leaked and Ubisoft confirmed it. I'd actually forgotten about this series when writing my predictions even though I did complete the first two.
-THQ Nordic unveiled Darksiders Genesis which differs quite a bit from the other Darksiders as it is an isometric RPG. Also, the publisher and Black Forest Games are remaking the 2005 title Destroy All Humans, and THQ Nordic is partnering with Purple Lamp Studios to remake the 2003 game SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom.
-Ninja Theory's next game leaked today and it appears to be an original third-person action game. However, it also looks to be multiplayer focused which is very disappointing to myself. I very much enjoyed the stories in Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice but this game might not have much of a plot.
-Rocksteady says that it will not be showing anything at E3. That's unfortunate.
-Larian Studios announced Baldur's Gate III during Google's Stadia conference (I did not realize Google was holding that this week). I've played very little of Larian's games but its Divinity RPGs have been well received so hopefully it can do Baldur's Gate justice. The first two were developed by BioWare way back in 1998 and 2000. In somewhat related news, on June 3rd Beamdog and Skybound announced the Baldur's Gate Enhanced Editions (as well as Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, and Neverwinter Nights) will be coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Switch this fall (at retail too).
-Bandai Namco had a big leak on Friday as well. The first Ni No Kuni is getting a remaster already. Eldin Ring is the game collaboration between FromSoftware and George R.R. Martin. A new Tales game called Tales of Arise is in development.
-Not every game announced in the past week is timed for E3 but here are a couple others: there is a sequel in the works for Yooka-Laylee and Outright Games (focuses on licensed kid games) will be publishing a game based on the most recent (2017) Jumanji movie.

6/10/19 UPDATE: Not sure if I should keep doing updates as I might make this post super long and I doubt many if any at all will come back to read the updates. In any case, I messed up and said EA wasn't having a conference; while that is partially true as it hasn't had an actual press conference in years, it did do an EA Play briefing which was held outdoors. That was primarily about FIFA, Madden, Apex Legends, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and a new expansion for The Sims 4.

The Microsoft presentation was very close to what I expected, though it did not spend too much time on the next Xbox other than to say it's powerful, it's coming holiday 2020, and Halo Infinite will launch with it. As mentioned in the previous update, Ninja Theory does have a third-person action game coming soon for Xbox One. Also, a new Minecraft game was announced but not a sequel, instead it is a dungeon crawler and I'm not too sure you can even build in it. Many of the games shown were from third-parties that are not holding conferences; with Sony not appearing Microsoft was the place for those games to get some time in the spotlight (CD Projekt Red even had Keanu Reeves representing Cyberpunk 2077). New content for State of Decay 2 and Forza Horizon 4 were shown as well but no major titles which doesn't surprise me as I expected any AAA games in development to be for the next console.

There should be more from third-parties in the next day or two so I don't know how wrong I was on all my predictions but we did see a new LEGO Star Wars title from Warner Bros. It does not appear to be a compilation of past LEGO games even though it covers all three trilogies. Sega is indeed bringing a game over to North America that has been in Japan for a while, just not the game I guessed. Phantasy Star Online 2 will be free to play on Xbox One. No other consoles were mentioned, however, that doesn't mean they aren't included. Onto Bethesda which, of course, is trying to redeem Fallout 76 and to do that it is adding human NPCs that players can converse with and a battle royale mode. New announcements included The Elder Scrolls: Blades for Switch, Commander Keen for mobile, Deathloop from Arkane, and Tango Gameworks' Ghostwire Tokyo.

6/13/19 UPDATE: This should be my final update as the show is just about over. My predictions didn't work out too well. Nintendo mostly had expected updates and third-party announcements aside from a Breath of the Wild sequel teaser. It is possible I missed some news but I didn't see anything new from Activision. I think EA might have The Simpsons license as the Tapped Out game is still active which was talked about at that Simpsons panel. However, there was no mention of a new Simpsons game which made the whole thing seem odd. 2K didn't announce anything new so no XCOM 3, unfortunately.

Square Enix's press conference had a lot of Final Fantasy and other classic JRPG stuff. It showed off Marvel's Avengers but that did not grab me at all. Ubisoft's conference wasn't as good as the last couple of years. No Splinter Cell though you can be Sam Fisher in a mobile game with other Tom Clancy characters. There is a new Rainbow Six that involves alien parasites which is not the Rainbow Six I know, and really, why even call it that (yeah, I know, brand recognition). Watch Dogs: Legion does have a cool feature where you can recruit any NPC, though the setting doesn't interest me much (dystopian London). Just Dance 2020 is actually going to be released on the Wii! The Wii U and Xbox 360 platforms have been dropped but not the Wii, amazing.

If you want to see Shenmue III footage it was shown during the PC Gaming Show. Yu Suzuki was there too though he didn't say very much. While he primarily speaks through a translator, they really should have spent more time interviewing him. I suppose PC players might not be too interested in the series, however, with Sony not there and the game not on Xbox One there wasn't anywhere else for him to be. There were plenty of other games announced from smaller publishers this week but that's about it in regards to the games/companies I was making predictions around. As I said at the start of this post, I expected a quiet E3 for new AAA game announcements and sure enough it was. Regardless, I still enjoy taking it all in and watching all the conferences, and expect next year to be a huge show.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Year 3: May Update

I didn't get a whole lot done in May with this being only the seventh post of the month. There was some Star Wars coverage for May 4th and with Star Wars celebration last month a large part of the April update was about that as well. Unfortunately, at the end of April we lost Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew. Of course, being a Wookie in all of the films his face never appeared onscreen in Star Wars so he may not be as recognizable as Carrie, Mark, and Harrison but all big fans of the franchise certainly know who he is. Also, today marks the 42nd anniversary of the first movie that debuted on May 25, 1977.

Peter Mayhew towering over George Lucas, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill,
and Kenny Baker at the Royal London Premiere of the Star Wars Special
Edition release in 1997 (Star Wars Insider #34).

I've tried a handful of games over the past month, such as A Plague Tale: Innocence, Days Gone, Rage 2, Rogue Aces, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Team Sonic Racing. Most I only briefly played though I did complete What Remains of Edith Finch which took maybe two hours which is too short for $19.99; fortunately, I received it for free earlier this month for being a subscriber to PlayStation Plus. Perhaps price shouldn't matter when it comes to length but two hours is very short. The story is unique, however, there isn't a lot to do in the game as the style of play is what some would call a walking simulator. I'll probably complete Team Sonic Racing's Team Adventure mode and should record a "Let's Play" video this weekend. At this point I'd say it's a solid kart racer and the new team aspect is a nice addition. There are plenty of tracks and a lot of items to unlock using gold rings collected during races. I do wish it was more than Sonic though as I miss the other Sega characters from Sega and Sumo Digital's previous kart racers.

E3 2019 is right around the corner now and I've not put anything together yet for that. I'll try to do some predictions though I expect this to be a rather tame show in that the current PlayStation/Xbox generation is winding down and Sony isn't even attending. I'm going to be posting Sony ads the Saturday before and after E3 so at least you'll get to see something of Sony that week. Microsoft news will likely dominate as it's a prime opportunity to show off the next Xbox. Some other gaming news since I last wrote includes the announcement of an Earthworm Jim game for the Intellivision Amico and a new handheld system coming next year from Panic, a company that assisted with Santo Campo's Firewatch. It's a tiny, yellow box called Playdate that plays digital games on a black-and-white screen. At $149 I'm not entirely sure of the market for this since smartphones can handle more advanced games so there will have to be some very unique experiences to gain a fair amount of interest.

In toy and game news Hasbro released its first wave of action figures based on Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch. Back when the game released in 2016 I played for about two weeks and had fun with it but for myself it didn't have lasting appeal. There were plenty of characters then and more have been added since, though there weren't a lot of maps or modes, competitive mode hadn't been added yet, and I was playing with strangers which certainly didn't help. I expect it would be a lot more fun playing with friends where you can work together but also not take it too seriously. Some people were insulting even on day one as I'm sure they played the beta and for some reason expected everyone to be seasoned veterans at launch. My favorite characters when I played were Pharah and Lucio, and I played a fair amount of Reinhardt and Zarya too. In any case, the action figures look nice though at $19.99 each they are expensive and some are only available in $39.99 dual packs.

Thanks for stopping by,

Gaming Ads: Sofel and Software Simulations

Japan-based Sofel, which is short for Software Engineering Laboratory, was founded in 1979 and opened a U.S. branch in 1981. It is still in business today developing business software and RFID systems, and this is a company that doesn't hide its video game past. If you've read all of my gaming ad posts, or at least a portion of them, I've noted how some official websites of former video game companies make no mention of games on the corporate history pages. Sofel's website states that it published its first software for Nintendo as well as a program called Super Paint for Mac in 1987. The Nintendo release might be The Money Game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, though most sources put that in 1988 so I'm not sure. All of its games, whether as developer or publisher or both, were only available for Nintendo platforms with the last one being released in 1994.

Software Simulations was based in Stratford, Connecticut and appears to have specialized in sports simulations and educational software. The company name is rather generic and all of the information I can find is from the three ads I have. It was active in the late '80s and one ad states that it was a division of Munson Electronics.

Sofel albums: Facebook - Google Photos
Software Simulations albums: Facebook - Google Photos

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Gaming Ads: SNK Corporation of America

Originally founded as Shin Nihon Kikaku (translates to New Japan Project) in 1973 and reorganized in 1978 as Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation, the company released its first game, the scrolling shooter Ozma Wars, in 1979. In 1981 it abbreviated its name to SNK as well as opened SNK Electronics Corporation in California to distribute arcade games. The SNK name was made official in 1986 at which time SNK Electronics was renamed SNK Corporation of America. Throughout the '80s SNK released more than 20 arcade games, including the Ikari Warriors series, and many of its games were ported to video game consoles and home computers.

SNK may be best known for the Neo Geo that launched in 1990 as a cartridge-based arcade system called the Neo Geo MVS (Multi Video System). This allowed an arcade cabinet to hold up to six games; users could navigate a menu and select which game they wanted to play. Later that year SNK unveiled the Neo Geo AES (Advanced Entertainment System) that was available first to rent and then hit retail in 1991. The console's debut price was $599.99 and was bundled with one game, and additional games typically cost $199.99 each! During the '90s SNK also became well known for the Metal Slug shooter series and its 2D fighters, such as The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, Fatal Fury, World Heroes, and Art of Fighting.

In 1998 the Neo Geo Pocket (NGP) released in Japan. NGP has a monochrome screen and didn't fare too well, though SNK quickly replaced it in 1999 with the Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) that did release outside of Japan. While it is a fine handheld system, it faced stiff competition and with SNK already struggling financially, the handheld didn't stick around long. Pachinko/slots maker Aruze acquired SNK in 2000, closed the U.S. offices, and then SNK went bankrupt in 2001. SNK employees had begun leaving the company before it closed and many founded other game developers, including Dimps and BrezzaSoft. SNK founder Eikuchi Kawasaki went on to found Playmore and reacquire the rights to numerous SNK assets as well as hire former SNK employees.

I've reached the end of the original SNK and don't want to drag this out too much so I'll summarize quickly by saying Playmore become SNK Playmore (there was an SNK Playmore USA too), and in 2015 a Chinese investment group acquired controlling interest in the company. In 2016 Playmore was dropped from the SNK Playmore name and so we have a new version of SNK Corporation now.

SNK Corporation of America albums: Facebook - Google Photos

Sunday, May 12, 2019

[YouTube] The Children's Discovery System

Released in 1981 from Mattel, The Children's Discovery System is an electronic educational toy that Mattel calls a programmable computer system. It has a 16 x 48 matrix liquid crystal display (LCD), keypad, cartridge slot, and is powered by either six AA batteries or an AC adapter, neither of which are packaged with the system. Included in the box with the computer is a 120-page manual and the Discoveries in Math I module. Each module comes with an activity book, cartridge, and keypad overlay but if you don't have any modules you can play the built-in activities that are split between Type, Music, and Art modes. A variety of modules were sold separately, including more advanced versions of music and art, as well as geography, words, nutrition, memory and logic, arcade games, and a few others.

The original price was $119.99 with modules selling for $20.99 a piece. Although it was released by Mattel Toys, the tech support was handled by Mattel Electronics which is the same division responsible for the Intellivision console, and there are a few similarities. One is that when first turning on the computer a character, called Cursor the Great, runs across the screen that resembles the Intellivision's running man in motion (it looks different but reminiscent). Also, the keypad overlays are not unlike those for the Intellivision controller, though they are, of course, much larger. The early Intellivision game boxes and Discovery System's module boxes both have a very comparable design too.

After my photos and scans below I'm adding two more videos from other sources. One is from YouTube channel Pocket Legion whose video shows the Arcade game modules and the second video is a commercial featuring the Smothers Brothers that was posted by YouTube user MassRepeater.


The last image is my floppy disk drawing from Art Mode.

These photos aren't great but I didn't want to spend time scanning each page so I took a few photos of the opening pages. I added a couple pages from Art Mode here as well to show some of the things can be drawn, including Mt. Rushmore!


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