This Week in Games
Unreal Life

by Heidi Kemps,

One thing I've learned from decades of writing in the anime and gaming space is that there is a significant fandom crossover between anime/gaming and professional wrestling. That's cool and all, and I can see the appeal even if wrestling just doesn't click with me personally. What I find especially interesting, though, is how much developers love pro wrestling. Numerous Japanese games over the years have based characters around famous wrestlers from both inside and outside Japan: you can see overt influences in characters like Hugo/Andore from Final Fight and Street Fighter, King from Tekken, and Jeffry from Virtua Fighter (who was named Willy in early versions of VF1, to make the connection obvious).

Still, I would have never in a million years have expected to see this in my lifetime.

Yes, that's Dwayne The Rock Johnson alongside Garou/King of Fighters’ Rock Howard, as part of a crossover between the WWE and the KoF All-Star mobile game. Yes, it's awesome and hilarious. Yes, there's more where that came from. The fun the developers and artists are having with this just oozes off the screen and I love it. Hell, maybe we can let SNK develop the next main WWE game and throw in a bunch of KoF personalities! They can't possibly screw the pooch harder than 2K Games did.

Well, now that you've seen that radness, let's look at the news!

UNREAL ENGINE 5 IS REVEALED, LOOKS STUNNING

We're only a week into the Summer Game Fest and we've already had two pretty major showcases of upcoming tech! First, let's look at the more recent showcase: Epic's new Unreal Engine 5, optimized for 4K displays and next-gen PCs/consoles. Holy moly, this looks impressive.

Of course, this has plenty of folks excited both inside and outside of game development, because it's friggin’ Unreal Engine! You have more than likely played at least one Unreal Engine-powered game within the last year – hell, if you played the Final Fantasy VII Remake, you've played one within the past month. UE powers many high-profile games nowadays, and it's made significant inroads into Japanese development studios as well: Bandai-Namco, Square Enix, CAPCOM, and Arc System Works are all on the Unreal Engine wagon to varying degrees, and the tremendous popularity of Fortnite among Japanese teens has helped increase the engine's profile greatly. I have no doubt that a lot of high-profile Japanese offerings for next-gen consoles will be running UE5.

Now, the demo looks fantastic, there's no denying that fact. But tech demos always need to be taken with a grain of salt. Even if they're showing “real-time gameplay,” there are numerous bottlenecks and issues you have to consider when developing a full retail product that a tech demo doesn't have to worry about. But there's another thing that has me worried, too: Just how much would making a full game that looks as good as this demo cost?

Making assets for current-gen PC and console games is already expensive and time-consuming; A lot of work in modelling and texture creation gets outsourced to studios in places China, Russia, and India – but if you're a small developer that can't afford outsourcing and only has a few dedicated art staffers, it's extremely unlikely your game's going to reach this level of photorealistic visual quality, potentially making your product look unappealing next to the competition.

There is an upside for smaller devs to adopt UE5, though: Epic is waiving royalties on UE5-based games until they have reached sales of $1 million US dollars. Only once sales go over this magic number do they start taking their 5% royalty off everything earned past that. Also, they won't take royalties on games sold through the Epic Game Store, because everyone just loooooooves EGS, right? Seriously, though, I think both of these initiatives are great for smaller developers and games that wouldn't be able to justify using Unreal Engine otherwise… even though it doesn't really address the issue I mentioned a paragraph ago.

INSIDE XBOX SHOWS US WHAT COULD CHARITABLY BE CALLED “GAMEPLAY” ON THE XBOX SERIES X

Unreal Engine 5 hasn't been the only major reveal of Summer Game Fest thus far, as the event actually kicked off a week ago with a first look at some Xbox Series X gameplay. Sort of. If you were looking for real-time demos, then yes, it was very disappointing, as most stuff shown was essentially trailers. But there were still some good announcements in the mix!

One of the new reveals I really like is the idea of “Smart Delivery.” Basically, if you buy a game for Xbox One and there's a Series X (or Series S, if popular rumors are to be believed) version, you will get that version of the game when you decide to upgrade your console. That's super cool! I know a lot of folks likely won't be able to afford these new systems out of the gate, so not making them re-buy beloved games on the newer platform when they do pick it up is a great idea. (Of course, as some folks quickly pointed out, EA is being very weaselly with Madden 21 Smart Delivery, which I hope won't be a trend.)

The games don't look half-bad, either! Some of more notable titles for this column's audience: Scarlet Nexus, an action/adventure game from former Tales staffers, The Medium, a Silent Hill-inspired game with music by maestro Akira Yamaoka, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which is spreading out to more platforms. That makes me incredibly happy. Remember when Yakuza was just this niche thing nobody except a small group on fans cared about? Now it's headlining major console presentations, and I love it.

Of course, there's plenty more… including Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which they spent the whole game showcase teasing, only to drop about 2 minutes of footage at the end. That was kinda dumb.

Anyhow, I didn't think this presentation was as bad as most folks did, if only because it had some good announcements. But yeah, Microsoft, if you're going to advertise a gameplay showcase, maybe… have people playing the games?

ANIMAL CROSSING NEW HORIZONS IS ABSOLUTELY KILLING IT, BUT THE REST OF NINTENDO'S 2020 IS A QUESTION MARK

A bunch of publishers have released their fiscal year 2019/2020 reports for investors, but it's hardly just suit-and-tie types looking at this data: folks interested in the overall health of the game industry pore over these things, too, looking for hints of upcoming games and announcements and to see how last year's release slate fared.

Nintendo, as it turned out, had a pretty great run in their fiscal year. Hardware sales are up nearly 25%, software sales have increased almost 50%, and first-party games are selling gangbusters. Pokemon Sword and Shield and Luigi's Mansion 3 all did very well, and Ring Fit Adventure would sell even more if they could actually get production to meet demand, but the runaway success is undoubtedly Animal Crossing, which has sold over 13 million copies globally in its first six weeks at retail. That's how much Nintendo expected the game to sell across its entire lifetime. Nintendo certainly found itself in an interesting situation, offering exactly the right game at exactly the right time completely by accident, and they're pretty happy with it.

However, the COVID-19 situation makes Nintendo extremely cautious about its predictions for the upcoming fiscal year, anticipating drops in both overall hardware and software sales for fiscal year 2020/21 as the virus affects the development and distribution pipelines for upcoming games. In the report, only Clubhouse Games, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, and Bravely Default II are listed as definite 2020 releases, while other hotly-anticipated games like Bayonetta 3, Metroid Prime 4 and the Breath of the Wild follow-up are still TBA. This, along with June's usual Nintendo Direct broadcast being postponed, seems to indicate uncertainty that some of the announced and unannounced games currently in the pipeline will make it out this year. Looks like Nintendo might be relying on Tom Nook's finances to buoy them through COVID-19 for a bit…

NEWSBITS

  • CAPCOM released their FY 2019/2020 investor report as well. Amongst the bragging about Monster Hunter World's continued success, the publisher also dropped news that it plans to sell 28 million software units and release “multiple major new titles” by March 2021. If I had to guess, I'd say CAPCOM probably has a few secret, unannounced next-gen titles waiting in its wings that they plan to release during console launch windows.
  • Sony told its investors that the PS5 is still on track for a holiday release. First-party games for the PS5 will now feature a “PlayStation Studios” branding on the packaging and splash screens, like so.
    Also, if you're keen on seeing more Ghosts of Tsushima, there's a State of Play all about it scheduled for today!
  • Hey, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is coming back! It's a remake of THPS 1 & 2, so Activision can't screw it up too hard, right? Heck, they're even getting as much of the original soundtrack back as possible for that dose of late 90s/early aughts music nostalgia. If you were wondering why Superman by Goldfinger was trending on Twitter, now you know!
  • I'll admit, though, I was hoping we'd get a game called Tony Hawk's Existential Crisis, where a middle-aged, out-of-peak-shape Hawkman lives mundane daily life dealing with random people saying “Wow, you look like that Hawk skateboard guy!”

STOP THE PRESSES: EVO ONLINE DETAILS EMERGE

I was just about to submit this week's column when EVO dropped their trailer for the replacement online event. Here it is, fresh out of the oven!

My first thought is… yeah, they had to add in some additional games with actual, functional netcode to make this less of a blowup, huh? Can't say I'm not amused that Them's Fightin Herds is getting top billing alongside everything else – I definitely want to see how that goes. Nice to see Mortal Kombat 11 return after its controversial exclusion, too. But where did Smash go? Hmmm...

Also, word on Twitter is that certain games’ competitions will be region-based to alleviate some netcode woes. While it makes sense logistically, it does take away that “gathering of the world's most passionate players” feel EVO delivers. Hopefully more details in the coming weeks will clarify more about how that's going to work.

Alrighty, that's a pretty news-heavy week in games! Have you been watching Summer Game Fest? Has anything you've seen so far made you excited? Did you dig out all your Tony Hawk soundtrack mix CD-Rs from 2000 in a nostalgia fervor only to discover they've rotted away? Tell us your thoughts on gaming (and maybe your mishaps using LimeWire to download songs) in the forums, and I'll catch you all again soon!


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