4 min read

Astrolabe Digest: 082423

Controversies, sub-pixels, and layoffs, oh my!

Hey, hi! Welcome to Astrolabe Digest. This is a new column for paid supporters1 aimed at keeping y’all informed about the best stories in Astrolabe’s orbit. Think of it like a levelled-up version of Quest Markers.

Astrolabe Digest isn’t here to replace main Astrolabe issues (I’ve got a couple cooking and they are doozies!), but to supplement them by bringing you more goodness while the big stories bake.

With freelance games journalism becoming more and more untenable, I’m looking at diverting my time and energy toward providing more value for paid Astrolabe supporters, as a way to keep doing what I’m doing. So, if you appreciate my work here or elsewhere, consider a paid subscription.


The Baldur’s Gate 3 controversy

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  • On Twitter2, game developer and leader of Strange Scaffold, Xalavier Nelson Jr. laid out some thoughts about Baldur’s Gate 3’s impressive scope, but argued that it shouldn’t be used as a precedent for future RPGs:

    “Celebrate the achievement represented by Baldur's Gate 3. It looks like a massive amount of effort is about to pay off in a big way, for one of the brightest voices in the medium, but if you shout that "EVERY RPG SHOULD BE LIKE THIS GOING FORWARD, YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE--" You've not just missed the point, you've created the expectations and conditions to ensure your favorite creators may never be able to give you the thing you love ever again.

  • Destin Legarie, director of video content strategy at IGN, followed up with a widely discussed video called Baldur’s Gate 3 is causing some developers to panic.”

  • Among many responses, Brandon Sheffield’s excellent piece called “Yelling is not journalism” examines how and why the video failed basic journalistic practices:

If it were me, and I worked as a journalist, and I had a question, and that question had been asked by players constantly since the advent of DLC, I would attempt to do some journalism to find out the answer. Why CAN’T they do this, if the same question has been floating out there for nearly 20 years? Clearly this is not an easy answer if it has been around for such a long time.
  • The Remap Radio crew have a fabulous discussion about the original tweet thread, the IGN video, and the fallout. “It is so clear there are so many perverse incentives in the media landscape right now that you are rewarded for just teeing off,” says Rob Zacny. “It is true that the system is broken and has perverse incentives,” follows-up, “It is also possible to just put out … a poorly informed opinion wrapped up in a take.”

  • Bloomberg’s has an in-depth story on “The Secret Behind the Success of ‘Baldur’s Gate 3’.”

    As Larian’s owner, [Vincke] can push back against suggestions that might be better for revenue but worse for his creative vision, like when someone tells him Larian should be embracing business models that would, in theory, earn the company greater profits. “That would affect the type of games we want to make,” Vincke said. “That’s not what I want to do.”

  • Oh, yeah, and, if you haven’t heard, it’s really, really, really good. (But not perfect.)

RetroTINK-4K unveiled, looks incredible

Sample image from RetroTINK 4K
  • After months of anticipation, Mike Chi unveiled the RetroTINK-4K. This high-end upscaler is designed for people who want to hook up their old gaming consoles to their 4K screens while retaining razor-sharp pixels and/or shockingly satisfying CRT shaders complete with sub-pixels, black frame insertion, CRT-style bloom support via HDR. If you understand those words, this device is for you.

  • Priced at roughly $1,000 US, the RetroTINK-4K isn’t an entry level device.

  • Fortunately, the more affordable3 RetroTINK-5X Pro is still a terrific device for people looking to upscale their retro games.

  • The crew at My Life In Gaming has a beefy four hour archived stream where they go in-depth with the device and creator Mike Chi. If you’re not impressed after this video, I can’t help you.

  • Digital Foundry’s John Linneman is a big fan.

BioWare announces layoffs

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  • Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age creators BioWare announced layoffs for approximately 50 staff “in order to meet the needs of [their] upcoming projects.”
  • However, if you're laying off Mary Kirby, you lose all plausible deniability that your business decisions are in pursuit of the best possible video games your company can create. With BioWare since 2006, Kirby was responsible for many fan favourite characters, including Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition’s roguish dwarf, Varric.
  • This is ironic in light of Baldur’s Gate III’s immense critical and financial success, given BioWare’s role in creating the original games before abandoning their turn-based roots in favour of action oriented RPGs. They’ve been sailing troubled waters since.
  • “Just incredibly discouraging news out of that studio, and from a publisher that can afford not to treat people like excel spreadsheet formulas,” said Kotaku senior reporter Ethan Gach.

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  1. They’ll be exclusive for paid supporters on release, then opened to everyone a week later.

  2. I’m not calling it X, and neither should you.

  3. It still clocks in at a spicy $325 US.