My normal response to anxiety is to immerse myself into a video game. And if there isn’t anything available, I can fall back to watching movies. But that didn’t work this year, because the entertainment industry basically stopped releasing new stuff. So while “Hardly any big-budget games and movies came out this year” isn’t a 2020 story per se and is certainly the most petty of first-world problems, it’s still something I found really personally annoying.
A year ago I ended 2019 by looking forward to some 2020 games and talking about what I hoped / wanted / expected. Let’s look back at what I had to say and compare my expectations with reality…
The anticipation is sky high on this one. The game is still months away and already everyone is expecting that this will be their GOTY. I’m predicting that once this thing hits the shelves, we’ll get a kind of Skyrim-style backlash where people who aren’t playing the game will get sick to death of hearing about it.
Can CD Projekt RED live up to this hype? I don’t know, but I’m more than willing to give them $60 to find out.
The game was delayed from March, to April, to September, to November, to December. So it skipped the whole year.
Must be nice. I wish I could have done the same.
The game is out now, but aside from the memes, joke reviews, and visual glitches there’s not much else to say about it. Like I said last month, you can feel the holes left behind by the cut content. For every minute I’ve spent enjoying the game, I’ve spent another minute puzzling over odd discrepancies and trying to figure out what the designer intended before this thing was hacked down to the bone. It’s a big, complicated, ambitious mess of a game and there’s no way to digest something like this in just a couple of weeks. This one will have to wait for 2021.
System Shock Remake
Supposedly this will come out this year, more than two years past the original promised delivery date. It’s been a long road for this game. The demo released in December did not inspire confidence. It looks right. It feels right. But can they get the content done and polished before they ship it? I have no idea.
Nope! Another game sails right by its release date. 2020 is over, and we still don’t have a new release date for this yet. And even if we did, you’d have to be a fool to believe it at this point.
I guess I’m happy as long as they keep working on it. I’ve been reading the updates, and they are making progress. Hope lives on.
Kerbal Space Program 2
Will this have the same magic as the original? It’s made by a different team, and there’s no guarantee a new team will be able to recapture the magic of the original. Still, the promise of new Kerbal content is really exciting. I’m looking forward to putting these hapless green bastards into space again.
Another 2020 no-show. This one is a lot worse than the others. Not only is the game delayed, but publisher / backer Take-Two gutted the original studio. The project is now being worked on within T2 and we’re looking at a 2022 release date. Also, if I had to pick one game from this list to suffer from a troubled dev cycle and wind up half-baked, this would be my first guess. I have almost no faith that Take-Two knows how to develop or manage this property.
They have a YouTube series dedicated to showing off how much they Care™ about the legacy of Kerbal Space program. These aren’t informal interviews with the devs. These are prepared and tightly edited presentations with a cringy faux-documentary feel to them. It actually reminds me of the various preview videos on Cyberpunk 2077, which showed off a bunch of planned features as if they already existed. The series is notable for the way that everything turned out to be lies, horseshit, and wishful thinking.
Likewise, the Kerbal series feels incredibly artificial. We see the developers talking, but they’re repeating words written by marketing. This is less about letting the public follow development and more about managing public perceptions to reassure us that “Everything is Fine.”
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
And now I feel bad for giving the Jedi game a hard time about its multi-part name. I saw the preview for this at E3 2019, and it looked really good.
The Jedi game in question is of course the one we’re wrapping up now. Bloodlines 2 was originally slated for March of 2020, but is now slated for 2021.
We did get some news in 2020, and none of it was encouraging. Writer Chris Avellone was accused of sexual misconduct last year. He’d moved on from Bloodlines 2 and was working on another game, but in June Paradox released a statement to let everyone know that none of Avellone’s contributions would appear in the game. But hey, no big deal, right? Avellone hadn’t worked on the game in a long time. It’s not like he was the lead narrative designer or the creative director!
In August, Paradox fired lead narrative designer Brian Mitsoda and creative director Ka’ai Cluney, without warning or explanation.
Then in October Paradox noted that Bloodlines 2’s senior narrative designer Cara Ellison had departed the company.
It’s impossible to know for sure what’s going on, why these people were fired, or what the state of the project is, but having so many senior creatives leave is usually a very bad sign. It’s alarming to lose two narrative leads in quick succession like this, particularly on a game that we’re expecting to have a strong narrative focus. And losing those people more than a year before the game is released raises even more questions. The game is too far along to go in a new direction, but also far enough from release that their work was likely very incomplete.
Above I said that Kerbal Space Program 2 was my #1 pick for a game that was going to be a mess at alunch. This one is a close second.
The Firmament is a new game from the Cyan, of Myst fame. Their most recent game was Obduction, which I loved until the merciless loading screens drove me away. Even so, I’m always on board for what this team is doing.
It’s really funny when you think about it. “Oh yeah our game is nearly done we’re about to launch in a few months oh wait actually we have two or three more years of work to do!” I can understand that one or two studios might make this mistake, but the number of projects that went from “early 2020” to “sometime in 2022” is kind of comical. I can assume this is the result of a confluence of factors:
- PandemicI’m talking about COVID-19, not the bygone developer. forced everyone to work from home. I’m not clear on how much friction this might introduce to the development process, but there certainly seems to be a lengthy adjustment period as everyone learns to collaborate remotely.
- Okay, we’re getting the hang of working remotely. However, the shutdown has stalled all of our non-digital pipelines. We can’t print boxes, burn physical copies, or ship them to retail outfits. We can’t deliver on the physical goods we promised with collector’s editions and whatnot. We need to push things back so we can give the physical world time to catch up to our digital goods.
- New console generation. Oops, all of these delays pushed us back (say) a year because of the general societal chaos. However, this puts the game well into the next console gen. Do we really want to release a PS4 game into a world ruled by the PS5? No? Then add another year to the calendar so we can make the jump to next-gen.
Still, it’s a weird world. Presumably we’re going to have a deluge in 2021 or 2022 and all of the delayed games overlap with a bunch of 2022 titles that stayed on-schedule. Right? Or did this madness just pause the entire industry for nine months and we’re going to resume the old pace?
I don’t know. This is my first pandemic.
I don’t have a VR headset so I’m not going to get to play this, but I’ll be glad to see Valve return to their roots. Even if I don’t play it personally, I’ll feel good if the game gets good reviews.
So there were a bunch of games I expected to play, but didn’t. And then the one game I thought I wouldn’t play, I did. I’ll talk more about Alyx later in this series.
I ended my 2019 series by saying “Here’s hoping 2020 is better than 2019.” I think it’s safe to say that this hope was categorically and unambiguously frustrated by the events of the last 12 months. Next time I’m going to talk about the games that let me down in 2020.
 I’m talking about COVID-19, not the bygone developer.
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