This Week in Games - Memories from A Year in Hell

by Heidi Kemps,

THE AWFUL, MISERABLE, SOUL-CRUSHING YEAR OF 2020 IS FINISHED! DIE MONSTER, YOU DON'T BELONG IN THIS WORLD!

It felt like it would never end, but we're done. We're finally out of 2020 and into 2021! It certainly won't take much for next year to be better than the hot mess we all lived through. But hey, at least 2020 had some really good games, right? And being cooped up gave us more time to play them all!

Lynzee's putting together an ANN staff Games-of-the-Year type feature, so I won't go into my best game choices too much here. (Hades was my #3 pick, FWIW.) So instead of talking about the best games of the year, how about we recap the most memorable events that happened in 2020? Because even though we're all stuck at home, a lot sure happened in gaming!

But first, a wee bit of news…

YOKO TARO AND YOSUKE SAITO ARE ALREADY MAKING NEW STUFF                        

According to a report from Gematsu, the dynamic duo of Yoko Taro and Yosuke Saito aren't going to be relaxing for too long after the NieR: Replicant remake is finished. In fact, they're already working on two new projects: one of which Saito apparently is somewhat apprehensive about. Yeah, not too much to go on here, but hey, more Yoko Taro projects are always a good thing in my book.

2020: THE GAMING EVENTS THAT DEFINED THE YEAR (BESIDES THE CYBERPUNK FIASCO, WE DID THAT LAST WEEK)

THE DEBUT OF NEW CONSOLES

Well, this one is obvious, right? The PS5 and the Xbox Series systems are what we're going to be playing on for the next several years to come, even if most of us can't get one right now. However, Nintendo's comparatively weaker Switch doesn't seem to be losing ground at all. It's easily the #1 console in Japan and holding strong across most other territories. Some folks seem worried that Nintendo will fall behind, but unless they get the brilliant idea to swap the Switch for another Wii U-style disaster, they're going to be just fine.

NINTENDO DONE GOT HACKED

Early this year, we learned that a hacker had managed to secure a massive amount of internal Nintendo data from one of Nintendo's business partners in China. How much data? Well, about two terabytes, containing a wealth of development-related data going all the way back to the days of the Famicom. Nintendo, it seems, was meticulous about internal preservation, archiving practically everything they ever made and that ever crossed their desk… and bits of it started flowing out onto the internet, piece by piece, in large chunks of data. This has since been dubbed the “Gigaleak.”

But the Gigaleak didn't actually start in 2020 – the hack happened a few years prior, and small things from the Gigaleak had made their way out into the wild, such as a very early Pokémon Gold and Silver demo ROM. However, it was only this year that the true size and scope of the hack was revealed, with more substantial data chunks being distributed. Among the data, fans have found unreleased games, early sprites and code for beloved classics, and plenty of fascinating looks into what could have been – including Weird Yoshi.

But while the Gigaleak has given us a wealth of interesting historical material to look into, there have also been a few rather uncomfortable things about it. Among the documentation leaked are some private communications among development teams – stuff never meant for public consumption. The most recent batch of leaks included some sensitive material related to early Switch development, which also doesn't sit well with me: it's one thing to reveal a ton of old graphic data and prototype builds for 30-year-old consoles, but it's another thing to casually drop potential piracy tools for a still-very-active system that could hurt a lot of people still making games for it. Then again, alongside that Switch development stuff is a bunch of material related to surveillance (both real and online) of prominent console hackers, and the means Nintendo goes about persuading them to give up attempts to crack the hardware. I know that information is valuable and damaging, but… yikes!

I definitely was much happier when the Gigaleak dumps were providing us weird development ROMs and deformed Yoshi sprite sheets. Can we have more of that?

THE LAST OF US 2 GOT LEAKED

I'm a pretty vocal critic of AAA-game development practices, and I feel that Naughty Dog's current crunch-heavy studio culture is unhealthy and unsustainable. I also personally do not care about anything The Last of Us-related. That being said, The Last of Us 2 getting leaked in almost its entirety a few weeks before release was still a shitty thing to have happened. Every cutscene, all of the story twists, and much of the gameplay was released well before the game appeared on store shelves. This fueled the frothing rage of many a keyboard warrior and leaving Naughty Dog staff facing a torrent of online hate before their game was even playable by most folks.

Rumor had it that the leaks were from disgruntled Naughty Dog employees fed up with crunch, but if that were the case, leaking things like this hurts the people who suffered alongside you just as much as the guys at the top, and it would prevent you from getting any sort of job in software development ever again once you were found out. (For the record, Sony says they have identified the leakers and claims they were not involved with the game's development.)

Despite this, though, The Last of Us 2 still sold well and won a bunch of awards, so if the leakers’ intent was malicious – and, let's be real, it probably was – it didn't really succeed in the long run. But the whole thing is unsettling, and I really don't want people feeling justified in hurting all of the people involved in a game's production out of some misguided idea that they'll “stick it to the man.”

E3'S CANCELLATION AND POSSIBLE FUTURE NON-EXISTENCE

E3 getting cancelled was no surprise in a year where pretty much everything got cancelled. What matters now is: will it come back?

E3 has been bleeding for years now, losing big exhibitors like Sony, Activision, and EA as companies find more effective, less expensive ways to deliver announcements and get their games seen by the masses. 2020 was a year of almost exclusively virtual events, proving that physical spaces aren't at all necessary for big gaming showcases to have an impact. With 2020 proving how well you can market to a strictly online audience, why should publishers and consumers even care about the loud, bloated marketing-money pit that is E3? If E3 somehow does manage to make some sort of a return, I doubt it will be anything like the shows from years past

BETHESDA IS NOW OWNED BY MICROSOFT

What can you do with 7.5 billion dollars? If you're Microsoft, you can use it to purchase Zenimax Media, the owners of Bethesda. This gives the house that Bill Gates built control over some of the most powerful properties in gaming, including The Elder Scrolls, Wolfenstein, Fallout, and Doom, among others. That's a lot of potential exclusives!

But will all of Bethesda's future output be locked to Microsoft platforms? It's hard to say, especially when multiplatform releases make the most money – and Microsoft seems less averse to letting its subsidiaries play in other console's backyards than its competitors. We'll likely know more about how the Microsoft/Bethesda relationship will play out come next year, when we'll get more news about the next Elder Scrolls thing and Starfield.

EPIC VERSUS APPLE: BATTLE OF THE BRANDS

In the months since Fortnite was pulled from the Apple Store, Epic Games are still making boatloads of money and still waging war against Apple using not-at-all-subtle parodies of Apple's imagery. Check out the latest thing they sent to certain influencer-type folks:

There is not an eyeroll emoji big enough to express the ridiculousness of Epic playing poor persecuted underdog here. Thus far, Epic hasn't been successful in forcing the game back onto the store through legal means, but they did manage to prevent Apple from disallowing Unreal Engine games on their platforms, thus avoiding dragging other developers into their little playground fight. I have no love for any of the companies involved here, obviously, but I do want to see how this plays out in court since it will no doubt have far-reaching effects down the line.

NINTENDO VERSUS NINTENDO FANS: THE ETERNAL STRUGGLE

People love Nintendo. People really love Nintendo. Hell, people love Nintendo so much that Super Nintendo World is opening at Universal Studios Osaka next year. (Not like many of us will actually be able to go, but y'know.) But it's a relationship that's often strained, especially when Nintendo goes after popular fan projects. And it happened again this year, as an online edition of the popular Big House Smash Bros tournament series was shut down by Nintendo's legal team over plans to use an unauthorized, fan-made software hack to make Super Smash Bros. Melee playable online via emulators.

Fans of Smash have been very vocal about Nintendo's actions, starting a #savesmash hashtag and even disrupting an official Splatoon 2 tournament to get the word out. But sadly, Nintendo – a massive, traditionally un-permissive old company with an aggressive legal team – is unlikely to be swayed by these displays, partially due to their conservative (in a business sense) nature and partially because copyright laws in a lot of areas essentially force them to act. As much as I wish that something could be worked out here to make everyone happy, it's very unlikely.

POWER-ABUSING JERKS GOT CALLED OUT AND SHIT WENT DOWN

Finally, we should end this year's recollection of events by looking at what I feel will have the most impact in the years to come: people speaking up against abuses of power in the industry. Both people in high positions at publishers and developers as well as persons of authority in gaming communities were exposed for the assholes they truly are. While the exposure of their awful behavior has been a painful process for the victims and the folks who looked up to them – and, in some cases, has resulted in the death of conventions, tournaments, and even developers – we are, ultimately, better off in the long term for kicking them to the curb and starting fresh without them.

So what were your favorite games and memorable developments of 2020? Take some time to fondly remember the things you enjoyed most in the forums before we all attempt to wipe this year from our brains! See you all again in 2021!


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