In this week’s bulletin we discuss Valheim, pre-2000 Source Codes, a God of War Update, Imperator: Rome 2, politics and taboos in games, archiving the Atari Burial Ground, New World being delayed, Anno 1800 Docklands, a new Civ VI game mode and Hellish Quart!

Valheim is awesome

Valheim has featured in some bulletins before. And it should because it’s an absolute amazing game! I’ve started playing it this week (with some VALUE people on our own VALUEheim world), and I’m in love. And we’re not the only ones. The Viking inspired surival game now has over 2 million players (!) and more concurrent players than GTA5 and PUBG (Eurogamer). It’s amazing how an Early Access game can take the gaming world by storm, and not through the sheer force of innovative gameplay or amazing graphics (although the game can look pretty). My take is that it owns it popularity partly from the co-operative element of the game (playing together is always more fun). Keep your eyes open for more Valheim content from us!

Image: Although it is definitely not the prettiest, it can still be beautiful.

90 percent of pre-2000 games source codes are gone

The archiving of older games features in this bulletin from time to time. It is important that we think on how to archive games, especially with multitudes of consoles and designs. Source codes can be the solution for this, as you are not limited to physical data. As well as that, source code (and other documentation) gives a good look into the development of the game. Projects like The Video Game Source Project by the Video Game History Foundation seeks to archive these sources. However, it is calculated that over 90% of the pre-2000 gaming source codes might already be lost (Ars Technica). Even when an old source code is found per accident (image below), it is important we start to save the source codes and documentation from games, to prevent any furhter loss of important information.

Image: The Days of Thunder NES prototype source code on these disks sat in a programmer’s basement for 30 years before being uncovered upon his death. Courtesy of The Video Game History Foundation.

God of War PS5 Update

It has taken some time, but the 2018 PS4 classic God of War has finally received a PS5 update, brining the game into the realm of 60fps gameplay. The 2018 version was already impressive, bringing 4K graphics, but was bugged with frame drops and a 30fps cap. However, with this new quality of life update, the game is sure to stun some more new players. Aside from some minor frame drops, the Digital Foundry team of Eurogamer was impressed. Read more on Eurogamer.

Video: Digital Foundry

Imperator Rome 2.0

It is finally here! Rejoice, would-be emperors and empressess, as Imperator: Rome 2.0 is now available. In a massive update, Paradox has overhauled many systems in the game, and brought new mechanics to the ancient battlefields. Imperator now sports a new legions and levees system, espionage against other characters, a completely revamped UI (which is always a good idea for Paradox games) and nested tooltips like in CKIII (which is also a very good idea). Next to the update, the DLC pack Heirs of Alexander also dropped, which adds mission trees for, well, heirs of Alexander. Read more on PC Gamer.

Video: VALUE

When a game is ‘not trying to make a political commentary’

So you might already have seen some news on this, but Polygon had an interview with the creator of Six Days in Fallujah. Basically, the game is a recreation of heavy fighting during the Second Battle of Fallujah in the Iraq War, where the US used white phosphorus (which contradicts International Laws when used against people or in vicinity of civilians). The battle itself (and the entire Iraq War) is controversial enough, so a game about the fighting is even more controversial. Earlier iterations of the game were dropped (because of protests by family members of killed soldiers), but it has since been re-announced to launch somewhere this year.

Image: Dutch-Egyptian Game Dev Rami Ismail is one of the critics of the game (and the depiction of war in the Middle East in general. Rami has since deleted his Twitter account, so I could only post a screenshot.

Peter Tamte, who is the head of publisher Victura, stated in the interview with Polygon that the game is ‘not trying to make a policital commentary’. That statement is ludicrous, as it still baffles me how you can make a game about war (which is pretty political), and call it ‘not political’. Aside from that, the game is also criticized for not portraying war crimes (like the use of white phosphorus), and portraying the US Marines as almost innocent bystanders and ‘celebrating the heroism of […] who fought there’. Tamte claims that much of the depicted actions are based on witness accounts of soldiers present during the battle: ‘they didn’t talk about white phosphorus’. However, the use of white phosphorus is widely documented, and the game does not use the (many) accounts of war crimes being committed, or accounts from Iraqi civilians present during the battle. Critics smash the game for being US Propaganda, whitewashing of war crimes, an US Army recruitment tool and generally twisting the events in a pro-US way (read Daniel Ahmad tweets below, he explains it really well).

Tweet-thread by Daniel Ahmad who explains pretty good how the game is marketed in a certain way, and twists and turns the battle in a pro-US way.

Nazi Taboos in Video Games

Some historical events or elements don’t really go well into games. The item just above shows how some historical narratives are really frowned upon in games, not only because they are offensive, but are also bad for sales (unfortunately, that economic factor is important in the development of video games). Another historical element which is often matter for discussion is Nazi symbolism (see this Straigraph on Attentat 1942). Eugen Pfister and Martin Tschiggerl have written an article on the legal and cultural taboos surrounding Nazis in video games for the Italian Journal of Game Studies. It is a deep dive into certain examples of Nazi depiction, and how the paradigm has shifted over the past couple of years, where the depiction seems to be more accepted than before. Even though it is a very long read, if you’re interested in ‘difficult histories’ in video games it is certainly worth a read.

Video: VALUE plays Attentat 1942, a game which has had some legal issues with Nazi symbolism even though it has nothing to do with glorification of Nazism.

Archiving the Atari Burial Ground

You might know the Atari Burial Gorund, where the company buries nearly 1 million copies of the failed E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game back in the 1980’s. In 2014, a archaeological dig recovered around 1300 of the copies, and gave some to museums and such. Now the archaeological team wants to open access their data, and have it accessible on The Digital Archaeological Record. Because this costs money, they have set up a Kickstarter, where you can back this project! Needing about $2.500, you can support the project here.

Amazon’s New World pushed back to August

Amazon’s open-world MMO New World which was scheduled to launch this spring has again been delayed, and is now set to launch in August. Initially planned for 2020, the game was plagued by Amazon’s reorganization. The game has also already seens some criticism for its depiction of European Colonization. The developers are positive on the other hand, stating that the set back will give them time to develop the game more. An alpha phase is already up and running and is expected to be expanded to Europe in March. A closed beta is planned for July. Read more on The Verge.

Video: Play New World

Anno 1800 Dev Blog: Docklands

The developers of Anno 1800 have dropped a new dev blog about the upcoming DLC called Docklands. It zooms in on the new modular docklands. The devs mention the ‘Speicherstadt‘ of Hamburg, an UNESCO world heritage site, as one of their influences when thinking of and making the new docklands feature, which will expand trade in the world of Anno 1800 even more. Read more on Anno Union.

Image: Anno Docklands. Courtesy of Anno Union.

Civ VI free update: Barbarians become clans

2K dropped another Developer Update for Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, and the upcoming update will feature a new game mode called ‘Barbarian Clans’. It will transform the Barbarians to clans, who can be traded with, bought off with gold, raid and be raided, and will eventually progess into independent city states. Barbarians have long been a thorn in many eyes, as the imperialistic depiction of the ‘uncivilized’ isn’t one of Civ‘s strongest features. Although this is a step in the right direction, one can wonder how they came about this idea. Might it have something to do with Old World‘s depiction of tribes? We can never be sure of course, but I feel that this new game mode is too coincidental with the rise of Old World.

Hellish Quart in Early Access

The sword duelling simulator Hellish Quart has gone into Early Access on Steam. Made by developers Kubold, it is an 17th century, realistic and physics based sword fighting game. The EA version features a survival mode, duels against AI and local multiplayer. It is also a very enojoyable game, according to PC Gamer. Tyler Wilde has had a look at the game, and he is impressed: ‘Hellish Quart is so fun.’ Read the entire review on PC Gamer.

Video: Kubold

Omar ‘oomzer’ Bugter is a Cultural Historian from Utrecht. Since interning at VALUE, he’s stuck around, mainly working on the Interactive Pasts website and the weekly streams. He wrote a thesis on Sid Meier’s Civilization VI and mods, so knows this game very well. He likes many other games, including F1 2020, Hearts of Iron, Mount & Blade and Crusader Kings III., and is VALUE’s in house city builder connaisseur. Tweet to him at @oomzer if you want to know anything about Civ or city builders.