Checkpoint #12: Swat Me Baby, One More Time

Get prepped for World of Warcraft Classic, new Modern Warfare details, Fortnite mechs are meching everyone mad, and Discord streaming drops

Welcome back to Checkpoint!

I hope you missed me. You might have noticed that Checkpoint did not cruise into your inbox this weekend as expected. Or perhaps you didn’t notice its absence at all — but don’t tell me that, for my ego is fragile and needy.

In any case, you deserve an explanation: I’m experimenting with a mid-week schedule in order to make healthier decisions and spend more of my weekend in the real world. I enjoy writing Checkpoint, but my day job in digital media keeps me glued to a screen during the week, and it makes more sense to consolidate that time and disconnect more fully when I’m meant to be disconnected.

Please feel free to send me any feedback about the experiment by hitting reply on this email, and we’ll see where things settle over the coming weeks.

Enough jibber-jabber, though: we have news to catch up on! Let's get into it.


She Shook Me Cold War

PC gaming and cross-platform titles

World of Warcraft Classic’s launch day is getting very close. To help you create as much nostalgia as possible, Blizzard has set up a tool to help old guildmates find each other, and you can now reserve up to three character names ahead of launch. If you can’t wait for the end of August, the closed beta has returned for a few final days.

Meanwhile, if you’re playing World of Warcraft proper, you might want to know about these buffs to arms warriors, destro warlocks, frost and unholy death knights, and resto shamans.

Overwatch’s latest patch has pulled Sigma, a new tank, and the Role Queue matchmaking system out of the PTR and onto the live client. Early reports indicate that people are loving Role Queue in comp and I agree — though I found it a bit suffocating in Quick Play on the PTR.

Blizzard’s content release schedule is ramping up as planned, and president J. Allen Brack is pleased with the company’s progress. There are obviously a lot of question marks hanging over Blizzard fans’ heads as we wait to see how this fundamental shift in Blizzard philosophy works out.


Infinity Ward has released 24 minutes of 4K Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer gameplay, and it seems like the game will be as fast-paced as ever. Modern Warfare will feature dedicated servers — a lack of which has been a major source of controversy for some titles in the series. And there’s some heavy non-verbal hinting here that the game will get a battle royale mode after all.

We’re already hearing rumors about next year’s Call of Duty. If they’re correct, it’ll be Black Ops 5 and have a Cold War setting.


Overpowered mechs made the Fortnite community very mad last week, with many dedicated players taking temporary detours into other games. Epic is not ready to remove mechs from the game, but they have drastically reduced their spawn rates.

Ark: Genesis is the next chapter for Ark: Survival Evolved, and will include two expansion packs featuring new biomes, missions, new creatures, and most importantly, giant turtle-islands. Discworld-esque, except that they do not swim in space.

Foundation is a peaceful, fun medieval city-builder in early access for those days when you need to take the intensity level down a bit. This game is all about the building, with no combat elements.

Mortal Kombat 11 update has brought players new Brutalities, Krypt mode, colourblind options, balance updates, and more.

Say a final farewell to the Minecraft Super Duper Graphics pack. It was originally slated for fall 2017, but we’ve had radio silence until today’s news: it has been scrapped entirely because of performance issuesMinecraft may not be a graphically complex game, but it is expected to run across a wide variety of predominantly lower-end devices, which is likely what sealed the pack’s fate.


Drop the Pressure

Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch news

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have all decided not to allow loot boxes on their platforms unless publishers have disclosed drop rates

Xbox Scarlett’s main goal is to improve frame rates and playability, according to Xbox boss Phil Spencer. Microsoft also appears to be committing to future compatibility, so your console-related purchases are rendered useless by new generations less frequently.

In a move that would have been outright shocking in Ballmer’s Microsoft but is just mostly surprising in Nadella’s, we’re hearing that Xbox may allow its new studios to create cross-platform games, including rival platforms Switch and PlayStation.

We’ve gotten some real-world numbers on the new Switch model’s Breath of the Wild battery life: with a new unit’s virgin battery, at least, you can run Zelda for a whopping 5.5 hours. Nintendo also appears to be preparing for the release of a SNES-style controller for the Switch.


Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

VR, AR, streaming, and other emerging tech

DiRT Rally 2.0’s VR update is out now. If you already owned the game, you can get the update for free on Steam. Otherwise, you can grab it from the Oculus Store for your Rift or Rift S.

Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell has left Facebook, following departures by Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, and Michael Antonov over the past three years. As UploadVR notes, Mitchell was the last remaining Oculus co-founder. But as far as indictments of Facebook’s culture goes, it’s actually much worse than that. With Mitchell’s departure, there’s not a single founder from any of Facebook’s cornerstone acquisitions (Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus) left, and all of them left with a great deal of animosity towards the company and Zuckerberg. 


Lost in the Echo

Mobile gaming news

CCP Games is trying to bring New Eden to Android and iOS with EVE Echoes, and a closed alpha starts on August 26. I haven’t played EVE in a long time, but I’m curious to see how the company approaches MMO-style mobile game development.

Acclaimed adventure game Journey has had a surprise release on iOS, the month after the same studio’s new mobile game, Sky: Children of the Light, was launched. 

Meanwhile, 2018’s gorgeous indie game Gris is coming to iOS on August 22.


Swat Me Baby, One More Time

Gaming culture, industry, and miscellanea

Discord now lets you stream gameplay for up to 10 friends, offering a medium to users who don’t want to stream publicly but are keen to let their social circles see what they’re up to. It’ll be interesting to see whether Discord is testing the waters for something bigger, or if this is a quality-of-life feature that we should take as-is.

That $3 million Fortnite World Cup winner we mentioned the other week? He’s the latest high-profile streamer who has had to deal with a swatting incident.

In Australia, an exclusive panel of bureaucrats regularly and consistently acts against the wishes of the public. I could be referring to Parliament House, but in this case it’s the Australian Classification Board, which effectively banned DayZ in the country because unused marijuana models were found in the game files. The developer has understandably decided to remove the plant — something that occurs naturally in the world regardless of its legal status — from the client worldwide to avoid further upset. But it shouldn’t have had to do so.

Roblox may not be of much interest to the core gamer subculture, but it is quietly becoming a massive development platform and is very much worth keeping an eye on as an innovator in the games-as-a-service and games-as-a-platform business.

And just for fun: a Mario Maker 2 savant has built a fully-functional calculator in-game. It’s just very, very slow.


That’s it for this edition.

Thanks for reading Checkpoint. If you enjoyed reading, please let your gamer friends know about it — you’ll be helping me keep this newsletter going. And don’t forget to follow us on social media to receive interesting gaming updates throughout the week:

Hit reply on this email to send me feedback about Checkpoint, or just say hello. I’m always happy to hear from subscribers.

Thanks for your support. See you next time,

- Flob

P.S. Get this in your email from a friend, or reading along on the web? Let us help you spend more time gaming. Get Checkpoint every weekend and catch up on the news in under 20 minutes. No fluff, no fake controversy, and no banner ads: just the gaming content you need to know about.

Checkpoint #11: Diablo in the Details

Fortnite season X drops with mechs, 100 million PS4s are in the wild, World of Warcraft Classic looks huge, and much more

Welcome back to Checkpoint!

The Modern Warfare beta is around the corner with crossplay, Hitman 3 is in the works, Riot confirmed it’s building a fighting game, Read Dead Online’s new class system, No Man’s Sky is coming to VR, and the Fortnite World Cup just made a bunch of teens 💸 rich 💸. 

Let's get into it.


Diablo in the Details

PC gaming and cross-platform titles

The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare beta begins in September, and crossplay will be part of the test — PC, PS4, and Xbox One players will be able to battle each other. Infinity Ward has essentially rethought Call of Duty multiplayer from the ground up, but there’s a bit of nostalgia in there: killstreaks are back.

Heroes of the Storm is getting a new hero — Qhira, a Nexus original — and a ranked queue system. Some of the game’s lead designers told Destructoid that there are more major characters in the pipeline and said that, despite cutbacks last year, the game isn’t winding down.

It sometimes feels like Blizzard built World of Warcraft Classic just to prove that there was no demand for it — now they’re stunned not just by how many people played the beta, but by how much of it they played. The team will also be rolling out Classic’s patches in six stages, instead of the originally planned four.

And you can now play the original Diablo in your browser, for free.

An update to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has added a brand new map, Breach, that takes place in a tech startup’s office. The patch brings back Seaside, which was removed a few years ago, and has updated parts of Vertigo.

Hitman 2 does Siberia in this week’s new Sniper Assassin map, while IO Interactive has revealed that it’s planning a third title in the Hitman reboot series (and a brand new IP).

If you didn’t enjoy any of the games you’ve played on Steam in the past, you can now tell Steam Labs to ignore them when making recommendations. Valve has also released an update on the great Team Fortress 2 hat market crash of 2019, detailing plans to reduce its economic impact.

Fortnite’s season X has arrived and it is making waves by bringing mech combat to the game. Learn more about the patch’s changes and the battle pass.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne might be the first and final expansion for the game, but you can expect continuous updates and free DLC drops for a good while after it releases. But if you’re playing on PC, you won’t be able to get your hands on Iceborne until January 2020.

Finally, Riot Games has confirmed that it is, indeed, working on a fighting game.


Collect Your Wits

Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch news

As of the end of last quarter, PlayStation 4 has sold 100 million units worldwide — it’s the fastest console to have shipped this many units.

Read Dead Online is getting a class-like Roles system, including the Collector, Trader, and Bounty Hunter at launch, with potential for more down the line. 

A new Super Lucky’s Tale game hits the Switch on November 8. There is also a new Rabbids title on the way, and The Outer Worlds and Lego Jurassic World are coming to the diminutive console. Switch Online subscribers can even play Mario Tennis Aces for free next week. But don’t expect your favorite EA titles to cross this particular Rubicon any time soon.

Dragon Quest’s Hero fighter has arrived in Super Mario Smash Bros. Ultimate during this week’s version 4.0 update. You’ll need to drop US$5.99 to unlock the fighter pack.

Not ready to spring for a bunch of new games? That’s fine — you can join the people still discovering quirky glitches and easter eggs in Breath of the Wild. This week: a glitch that allows you to ride the aquatic Prince Sidon.


Automatic Cyberpilot

VR, AR, streaming, and other emerging tech

No Man’s Sky is getting a major update, named Beyond, on August 14. It’ll add MMO features to make the game more social, and support for VR, which has tempted me to finally purchase this game.

Reviews for Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot are in and suggest that the game has a lot of potential, but doesn’t currently make the most of it.

Respawn, developer of Apex Legends and Titanfallwill reveal its own AAA combat VR game at Oculus Connect in September.


Go and Get It

Mobile gaming news

Pokémon Go has now been downloaded more than a billion times. The game turned three a few weeks ago. Even accounting for re-downloads and new devices, this suggests that a significant percentage of the global population has at least tried the game. Go will also get its first official PVP tournament in August.

Google is reportedly testing a subscription service called Google Play Pass, echoing the upcoming Apple Arcade that will make hundreds of mobile games available to users for a flat monthly fee.

To the excitement of iPhone owners everywhere, Monument Valley 3 is now in development.


Method to the Madness

eSports, records, and races

Some lucky youngsters became quite wealthy last weekend. 16-year-old Fortnite player Bugha has taken home a massive US$3 million after dominating the Solo Finals of the Fortnite World Cup. A 15-year-old from the United Kingdom will split another £1.8 million with his duos partner after coming in second.

The Duos winners were Nyhrox and Aqua, splitting US$3 million before promptly breaking upThe Fortnite World Cup Finals peaked at 2.3 million concurrent viewers. If there’s anyone left in your life who is still treating esports like a joke, whack ‘em upside the gullet with that.

Method is still the top dog in the World of Warcraft Mythic raiding world, after taking out World First Mythic Queen Azshara in the Eternal Palace raid last weekend.

A pro Super Smash Bros. Ultimate player, CaptainZack, has admitted to fixing matches in the middle of a controversy around a different issue.


Free Fallin’

Free releases and deals you should know about

Plenty of great free grabs out there right now, between the weekly Epic Games releases and the monthly Xbox and PlayStation freebies: 

  • Epic Games: Grab Alan Wake and For Honor for free until August 9.

  • Xbox Games with Gold

    • Xbox One: Gears of War 4 (Aug 1 - 31), Forza Motorsport 6 (Aug 16 - Sep 15)

    • Xbox 360: Torchlight (Aug 1 - 15), Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (Aug 16 - 31)

  • PlayStation PlusSniper Elite 4Wipeout Omega Collection (throughout August)

And here are the games coming to Xbox Game Pass in August:

  • August 1Ashes CricketPandemicDownwell

  • August 8The Jackbox Party Pack 2Space Hulk: Tactics

  • August 14: Slay the Spire


Mix and Match

Gaming culture, industry, and miscellanea

Ninja shook up the streaming world this week: he left Twitch to stream exclusively on Mixer, presumably for a lot of cash. Ninja’s first Mixer stream beat his average Twitch viewer count, and it looks like this move will end up being a big deal for both parties.

A tax avoidance watchdog has gone after Rockstar North for minimizing its corporate taxes in the UK down to zero.

Children’s gaming juggernaut Roblox has finally pulled off a feat that we probably all saw coming: it hit 100 million monthly players and beat Minecraft as the top dog on that particular block.

We got a full cast reveal for the upcoming Halo TV series, which includes Natascha McElhone (Californication) as Cortana, and a release window — early 2021.


That’s it for this edition.

Thanks for reading Checkpoint. If you enjoyed reading, please let your gamer friends know about it — you’ll be helping me keep this newsletter going. And don’t forget to follow us on social media to receive interesting gaming updates throughout the week:

Hit reply on this email to send me feedback about Checkpoint, or just say hello. I’m always happy to hear from subscribers.

Thanks for your support. See you next time,

- Flob

P.S. Get this in your email from a friend, or reading along on the web? Let us help you spend more time gaming. Get Checkpoint every weekend and catch up on the news in under 20 minutes. No fluff, no fake controversy, and no banner ads: just the gaming content you need to know about.

Checkpoint #10: A Day of Doom

Wolfenstein: Youngblood launches, Overwatch’s 31st hero confirmed, old Doom games on new platforms, a Joy-Con class action suit, and more

Welcome back to Checkpoint!

The latest Wolfenstein title has arrived, Overwatch’s next hero will be a barefoot astrophysicist, not every can get access to Grand Theft Auto Online’s new casino, old Doom games are available on consoles, and a class action lawsuit has been filed over Joy-Con drift.

Let's get into it.


A Rush of Blood

PC gaming and cross-platform titles

Wolfenstein: Youngblood has continued the recent trend of surprise early launches, kicking off 24 hours early on PC. Initial reports suggest that it’s fun, about as content-rich as an expansion, and priced accordingly (US$29.99).

Star Citizen’s latest update means that pilots will be more aggressively pursued by AI the worse their crime stat is. Smuggling missions and a better black market economy make this is an update focused on the game’s seedy underbelly. 

Overwatch’s next and 31st hero has been confirmed. Sigma is an astrophysicist who seems able to warp gravity, and has made waves for his choice of footwear (which is to say, not wearing any footwear at all).

The Steam economy has gone awry as a Team Fortress 2 glitch began to pump out rare items. The sudden influx of Unusual quality items has caused their prices to plummet on the marketplace.

Grand Theft Auto Online players in over 50 countries have been barred from participating in the new casino’s activities. They’re still able to enter, but they can’t purchase chips, owing to gambling laws in affected countries.

Nuclear Winter — Fallout 76’s battle royale mode — may not be out of beta yet, but it’s already getting a second map. Quality of life improvements for the mode, a new Vault raid, and NPCs will also arrive with the update.

The Epic Games Store is hustling to catch up on features with Steam, and we’re starting to see cloud saves appear — for selected gamesMoonlighter, which is currently free on Epic, appears to have been the first to use the feature.

Fortnite’s latest patch adds a Storm Cout sniper rifle, and a bunch of birthday items to celebrate the second year of the game. Meanwhile, a controller player managed to take second place in Fortnite World Cup duos, and the arena cheered as a former cheater was eliminated from play.


Day of Doom

Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch news

DoomDoom 2 and Doom 3 released on Switch, PS4 and Xbox One this week. The release was initially embroiled in controversy due to the requirement to log in via one’s Bethesda account, but the company now says it will patch out the requirement.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Nintendo in the US, taking the company to task over the infamous Joy-Con drift issue. Nintendo released a statement encouraging affected users to contact support. Reports suggest that the company is now telling customer service agents to believe customers and help customers sort the issue out more effectively.

The Xbox One homepage has been redesigned, axing Cortana and making Game Pass more prominent.

Well-received hospital sim Two Point Hospital is coming to PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch towards the end of this year.

Running out of room for your Super Mario Maker 2 courses? Good news: the upload limit has been increased from 32 to 64.

EA Access has gone live for PlayStation 4 users, and you can check out the full list of available games.

Finally, in Switch port news: Pillars of Eternity is coming to the device this August.


In the Current Climate

Gaming culture, industry, and miscellanea

Respected streamer, esports commentator and StarCraft player Geoff Robinson (iNControL) passed away last week. He was just 33, and died of a sudden illness.

Video games need to start addressing climate change, says JR Burgmann. 

Discord now allows you to sort your endless list of servers into folders, giving you the illusion of control that you need in your gaming life.

The rise of the battle royale format could have a dramatic effect on esports


Safety Valve

VR, AR, streaming, and other emerging tech

The Valve Index’s stock shortages are over — it’s once again shipping, at least in the US. Meanwhile, Telefrag VR could be worth a look, bringing the fast pace of arena shooters to VR.

Google is trying to deflect very real concerns about the longevity of game purchases made for cloud streaming platforms. Meanwhile, we can expect plenty of Ubisoft games on Stadia, with the company saying that the porting process is not costly. 


Continental Drift

Mobile gaming news

Retro-futuristic RPG Hyper Light Drifter is now available on iOS.

And finally, the Pokémon Company and Tencent have announced a partnership to create a new Pokémon game, presumably for mobile.


That’s it for this edition.

Thanks for reading Checkpoint. If you enjoyed reading, please let your gamer friends know about it — you’ll be helping me keep this newsletter going. And don’t forget to follow us on social media to receive interesting gaming updates throughout the week:

Hit reply on this email to send me feedback about Checkpoint, or just say hello. I’m always happy to hear from subscribers.

Thanks for your support. See you next time,

- Flob

P.S. Get this in your email from a friend, or reading along on the web? Let us help you spend more time gaming. Get Checkpoint every weekend and catch up on the news in under 20 minutes. No fluff, no fake controversy, and no banner ads: just the gaming content you need to know about.

Checkpoint #9: Grand Theft Lotto

GTA Online casino announced, Overwatch Role Queue, Dota Underlords free battle pass, a Switch refresh, and more

Welcome back to Checkpoint!

Grand Theft Auto Online’s casino DLC has a release date, a Role Queue system is coming to both quick play and competitive mode in Overwatch, there’s a quarantined party zone for cheaters in Apex LegendsPokémon Go gets a quality-of-life update, and the first The Witcher TV series trailer is here.

Let's get into it.


Grand Theft Lotto

PC gaming and cross-platform titles

The long-awaited free DLC for Grand Theft Auto OnlineDiamond Casino and Resort, lands on Tuesday. Players will get to try their hand at games like blackjack, roulette, poker, and slot machines. There’ll also be horse races, new cars, and a purchasable Master Penthouse.

Ubisoft is joining the fray of games subscription services this September with Uplay+ (US$15/mo), and has unveiled the full list of 108 games that will be available at launch (most of Ubisoft’s titles, and — the big draw, if any — almost all DLC).

A platter of Overwatch news this week:

Apex Legends has a beautiful way to deal with cheaters: it’ll take them out of your queue (you are a good, upstanding citizen, yes?) and force them to play with one another.

This week in anti-DLC: Dota Underlords’ first battle pass will be free.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is starting to flesh out a story for its world, and has dropped a cinematic trailer to introduce you to it. I’ll avoid giving you the details here should you prefer not to have it spoiled for you. Meanwhile, a hefty update has been released, including an Erangel remaster, car radios, changes to healing, and more.

Fortnite had an end-of-season monster versus mecha battle over the weekend. It added some Tac Shotgun variants and made some sniper changes in the same patch. And it looks like Save the World is going free-to-play next season (reportedly), which probably makes sense, since I don’t know anyone who has actually bought it.


Neon Paralysis

Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch news

Hot on the heels of the Switch Lite announcement, Nintendo has revealed a mainline Switch refresh that features significantly longer battery life.

Surprising nobody, Super Mario Maker 2 is June’s best-selling game.

After Microsoft announced Xbox Game Pass Ultimate last month, users figured out that you could load up on the cheaper Xbox Live Gold subscription and have that time converted into Game Pass Ultimate time for $1 — which includes Live Gold, Game Pass, and Game Pass for PC. Instead of trying to squash this trick, Microsoft has embraced it and is encouraging users to go for it.

New Switch Joy-Con color combos are on the way! You can see them all in this handy post. All I can say is that I’m suddenly unhappy with my neons, but too paralyzed by choice to know what I’d buy instead.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 has a release date, and it is October 31, which you may also recognize as Halloween. Apt.

Nintendo being Nintendo, it has deleted a popular user-made Mario Maker 2 level for unexplained reasons. As far as I am concerned, this company banks on its nostalgic adoration to get away with far too much fan-hostile bullshit — particularly when those fans are creators.


A Turing-Complete Wipe

Gaming culture, industry, and miscellanea

The first trailer for Netflix’s The Witcher is here. Let’s not waffle on about it — just go and watch, if you haven’t already, then let me know what you think (hit reply to this email). Meanwhile, new details about the Magic: The Gathering animated series have spilled.

In high-profile departures: Blizzard co-founder Frank Pearce is leaving the company after 28 years, while Tim Willits is leaving Id Software after 24 years. Both represent the end of the line for the old guard at each company.

Microsoft has released its Q4 fiscal year 2019 financials and says that Xbox revenue has dropped by a massive 48%, supposedly due to “current-gen fatigue”. Of course, it’s more likely that this is because Microsoft has teased new consoles than fatigue — the “current” PC generation has been incrementally improving for 30+ years.

Ah, a Turing-complete computer made out of sewerage in Cities: Skylines. Elsewhere in more pleasant user-generated content, someone has built a giant piano in Minecraft Earth.


Gorn Gore

VR, AR, streaming, and other emerging tech

Google has had to do a lot of clarification about what’s included in the monthly subscription recently (noting that it is not a games subscription service like Game Pass). It does plan to offer “roughly” one free game per month, a number that does not try hard to compete with Xbox Live Gold, PlayStation Plus, or the Epic Games Store. It also won’t support Bluetooth audio at launch, and TV play with a Chromecast will require official Stadia controllers.

Gorn, the VR gladiator game, has finally left early access. It’s available on Steam and the Humble store for $15, and can be used with the Index, Vive, or Rift..


Ahead of the Curveball

Mobile gaming news

Overwatch comics are coming to mobile via Snapchat, with existing releases Train Hopper and Dragon Slayer coming first. They’ll be converted into a mobile-first format, with animations and other dynamic features.

The latest Pokémon Go update introduces a raft of quality-of-life improvements, including the ability to check IVs within the app, and easier curveball throws on large phones (as an XS Max owner, thanks Niantic).

new Pokémon Masters trailer has shown off the mobile game’s co-op gameplay, where you’ll play against AI opponents with two friends. 

Sky: Children of Light, from the designer of Journey, has finally arrived on iOS after its reveal at the 2017 Apple iPhone keynote.


That’s it for this edition.

Thanks for reading Checkpoint. If you enjoyed reading, please let your gamer friends know about it — you’ll be helping me keep this newsletter going. And don’t forget to follow us on social media to receive interesting gaming updates throughout the week:

Hit reply on this email to send me feedback about Checkpoint, or just say hello. I’m always happy to hear from subscribers.

Thanks for your support. See you next time,

- Flob

P.S. Get this in your email from a friend, or reading along on the web? Let us help you spend more time gaming. Get Checkpoint every weekend and catch up on the news in under 20 minutes. No fluff, no fake controversy, and no banner ads: just the gaming content you need to know about.

Checkpoint #8: Switch Lite, Now with 99% Less Fat (and Features)

Steam Labs launches, Nintendo Switch Lite announced, Lord of the Rings MMO redux, Dr. Mario World, a lost $60k Pokécard, and more

Welcome back to Checkpoint!

There’s a new Nintendo Switch coming to town, Valve has remembered it owns Steam and started tinkering with it again, Cuphead is coming to Netflix, and poker just became the pastime of choice for our robot overlords.

Let's get into it.


Release the Valve

PC gaming and cross-platform titles

Valve launched Steam Labs this week, a website that showcases a number of experimental Steam features — this is the kind of long-overdue action we can expect with Epic holding Valve’s feet to the fire. These features include:

  • Micro-trailers — auto-generated six-second videos generated from full trailers

  • Automatic Show — a 30 minute auto-generated video rounding up new game releases and other news

  • Interactive Recommender — generates a list of games you might like to try, using machine learning and your play time on already-owned titles.

Interactive Recommender is reportedly a very good start, and the most exciting feature of the bunch. Debate over Epic’s tactics aside, they’re the first contender that has managed to shake the space up in well over a decade.

Amazon Game Studios is publishing a free-to-play Lord of the Rings MMO for PC and consoles, which is still in development and as yet has no release date. Amazon Game Studios has partnered with Leyou Technologies to build it — Leyou announced the game last year, but we’re just now finding out who the publisher is. This is particularly interesting because Amazon is working on a Lord of the Rings original TV series. The game isn’t a tie-in, but perhaps a rising tides mentality is what motivated Amazon to pick the game up.

Instead of betting the farm on the Battle Royale craze, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will play to the franchise’s fast-paced, run and gun strengths with a fresh new mode called Gunfight. Two teams of two go up against each other in small maps, with mirrored loadouts that are determined by the game, reminiscent of the play that made Nuketown so popular. 

Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto has unveiled Disintegration, the new shooter IP he’s building with his studio, V1 Interactive. There’s a vague teaser video that shows some kind of mechanical contraption, and few other details for now.

Overwatch’s Jeff Kaplan posted a new developer update, letting fans know that Hero 31 will be released later than planned in order to release it in the best possible state. We’ll also see the Summer Games event arrive earlier than usual. More interestingly, a new system is coming that’ll shut down matches as soon as cheating is detected. Nobody except the cheater will receive penalties, including SR penalties, which makes this a pretty welcome development.

This is very 2019: Zombie Army 4’s developers recently said they’d need “a bloody good reason” to make the game an Epic exclusive, and you already know where this is going. Epic ponied up an amount of cash that evidently equates to one good reason, and now the game will indeed be an exclusive.

Finally, because I love a good strategy god game: Abbey Games has launched Godhood into early access on Steam and GOG. Build your holy site, battle competing gods, and convert nearby tribes — sounds like a blast (let me know how it is if you try it).


The Buried Lede

Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch news

Nintendo has announced a Nintendo Switch Lite that’ll arrive in September. It’s meant to be portable-only — no docking to your TV — and will cost US$200. Reactions are mixed. The lack of docking is almost definitely a product differentiation decision, not a technical one. The unreliable JoyCons are built-in on this model as well, so we hope Nintendo is better at improving problematic hardware designs than Apple has been with its butterfly keyboards. There will be a modest battery life increase.

I think you’d have to be in a very specific market segment to want this (having a disposable US$200, but not US$300), but I’m often wrong. There will also be a Pokémon Sword and Shield special edition if you’re into that.

Meanwhile, Nintendo plans to upgrade the original Switch with a new CPU/GPU chip and flash memory — though we only know this from an FCC filing, so we’ll need to wait for more details. There’s probably no Switch Pro on the horizon this year.

We all had massive backlogs before Game Pass came along, and now we’re all screwed. Microsoft has recognized this, and built the equivalent of Netflix’s My List into the service. You can now add Game Pass games to your Play Later list, to help you plan what you want to tackle when you’re finished with your current slate.


The Cuphead Show

Gaming culture, industry, and miscellanea

Cuphead is getting an animated Netflix series, aptly titled The Cuphead Show. Netflix has been going ham with game-to-screen adaptations lately, and we really hope it’s the first to crack that particular nut, because the hype has gotten quite real after decades of disappointment.

Imagine losing a $60,000 Pokémon card in the mail. There would be tears. Many, many tears.

Someone has remade Azeroth in Unreal Engine 4, to give us a taste of what World of Warcraft might look like were it remade today. It loses some of its cartoony charm, but it does look gorgeous.


Hold ‘Em Down

VR, AR, streaming, and other emerging tech

Facebook’s Pluribus AI has beaten top poker professionals in 6-player Texas Hold ’em. Previously, AIs only did well against human poker players in two-player matches, but Pluribus developed some interesting betting techniques to take out this win.

Could Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell be coming to the Oculus Rift? Reports suggest Facebook has signed a deal with Ubisoft to do just that, which is exciting — those IPs seem like great immersive VR fodder. Or they would, if I could get my Rift to stop fogging up.


Cash Doctor

Mobile gaming news

Dr. Mario World is now available on iOS and Android. The game hit a day early, and is getting great reviews as a clever puzzle game. It hit 2 million installs and $100,000 in revenue within 72 hours, which is a payday I’d gladly accept. Call me.

There’s a long way to go before Doc Mario can touch Pokémon Go, though, because that game has now made $2.65 billion in revenue since it launched three years ago. Yeah, I know. It hurts. You can put your head on my shoulder.


That’s it for this edition.

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