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Christmas-themed video games are scarce for a reason

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Illustration by Evan McGrady

Jonah Schuhart, Contributing Writer

Even though so much of the world’s media and merchandise are saturated by Christmas propaganda with Santa acting as the poster boy, you’d be pressed to find a video game entirely dedicated to Christmas.

Santa has been slapped on everything from movies and TV to Coca-Cola bottles. The big man is so popular that during the holidays, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American mall without a half-drunk Saint Nick making empty promises to small children. 

 Now that’s not to say that there is a complete lack of holiday games. A quick internet search reveals pretty quickly that there are a few notable examples. 

The most recent game that comes to mind is Dead Rising 4, which took a more humorous spin on the series’ original mall setting by having it take place during the holidays. 

The game’s launch trailer even parodies “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” with a voiceover from the game’s protagonist. Going back a bit further in time, there was an official game based on the Tim Burton movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas” called Oogie’s Revenge for the Playstation 2 and Xbox. 

This game is exceptionally notable for being a triple-whammy of surprise. Not only is it a 3D brawler like God of War (for some reason), but all the boss fights are also musical numbers.

It also joins the “Home Alone” games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) as a rare example of a licensed holiday movie game, and is probably the only one that combines elements from both Halloween and Christmas.

“Christmas is all well and good, but that much holiday cheer can only be taken seriously for so long before it becomes ridiculous.” – Jonah Schuhart

Less rare than true blue holiday games are Christmas-themed expansion packs, also known as downloadable content (DLC), for existing games. The most classic example of this is Duke: Nuclear Winter, the 1997 festive expansion to Duke Nukem 3D.

This expansion put a league of angry elves called the Feminist Elven Militia and snowmen in front of Duke’s barrel. In a similarly campy manner, Saints Row 4 also released their own Christmas-themed DLC pack, How the Saints Saved Christmas, furthering the absurdity the series is known for.

Plenty of modern multiplayer games also hold Christmas-themed events. Every Christmas season, Overwatch holds their yearly “Winter Wonderland” event. During this limited time, the whole game gets a bit of a holiday re-hash, competitive balance changes are made and new cooperative game modes are made available. 

Of course, an Overwatch event wouldn’t be complete without a plethora of new character skins. Between mid-December and January, the whole game looks like somebody set off a bomb made in Santa’s workshop. Overwatch isn’t the only game that follows this model either. Street Fighter 5 and Grand Theft Auto have released holiday packs for their multiplayer modes. 

But that still doesn’t answer the question of why there are so few holiday-themed games compared to movies. Most of the examples listed above are either previously licensed properties, intentional parodies of Christmas tropes or DLC. And it’s not as if the holiday season isn’t important for gaming. 

Plenty of each year’s most anticipated releases come out between Halloween and Christmas, so why not try and cash in on it with a full-on Christmas-themed game? 

It’s possible that it’s because video games have a much longer lifespan than a movie does. It may be easy enough for viewers to enjoy 90 minutes of corporate Christmas cheer in the movie theaters or on TV, but it seems like a stretch for a 12-hour game entirely dedicated to Christmas to be equally as enjoyable. 

Christmas is all well and good, but that much holiday cheer can only be taken seriously for so long before it becomes ridiculous.

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5 ways phone gaming will get better, thanks to new Qualcomm chip

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Mobile gaming is picking up some new desktop gaming tricks for better gameplay overall.


Angela Lang/CNET

Two digital pinballs roll slowly across the screen, one a dull grey blob, the other a dynamic orb with light and shadow dancing off its surface as it rolled. This is one demo Qualcomm used this week to show off how its new 5G chips for 2020 — the Snapdragon 865 and 765G — will upgrade gaming on your future phone. 

Built for high-end devices, the Snapdragon 865 chipset contains the lion’s share of the new features, which you should expect to see on phones like a future Samsung Galaxy S11 or LG G9. Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 765G is a midprice 5G chip made just for gaming phones, a distinction from the regular Snapdragon 765 that should help nudge more phones for gamers into the market.

Mobile gaming is an enormous business, and growing every day. Fortnite had nearly 250 million players around the world in March 2019, according to Statista. Esports viewers will surpass every pro sports league by 2021, and 80% of gamers in China will pay more for a gaming phone according to Qualcomm. 

We’ve already seen gaming phones such as the Razer Phone 2 and Asus ROG Phone II help push the demand to bring desktop gaming benefits, which include higher screen refresh rates that make graphics smoother and software modes that keep the focus on the game, to mobile. 

Here’s how gaming on phones can look more like desktop gaming.

5G rendering speeds for premium and midrange phones

Any phone in 2020 that uses either the Snapdragon 865 or 765G chips will work with 5G networks, and that’s good for gaming. 

Faster speeds mean you’ll be able to download large game files faster, and it’ll also make real-time gaming possible. You might even gain an advantage against cloud gamers on 4G, who will be hampered by slower reaction times. (The 765G’s Adreno 620 GPU renders graphics 10% faster than the standard 765.)

Snapdragon 865 supports 5G speeds up to 7.3Gbps, while 765G supports up to 3.7Gbps downloads over 5G.

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A demo phone with Snapdragon 865 inside powers this digital pinball machine.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Up to 144Hz screen refresh rate

Higher-than usual screen refresh rates are starting to hit the mainstream, thanks to support for 90Hz displays in the Pixel 4 and OnePlus 7T, and 120Hz screens in the Asus ROG Phone II and the Razer Phone 2. 

That means smoother graphics rendering and faster response time for gameplay, which promises to make the experience smoother overall. Snapdragon 865 will support up to 144Hz display refresh rates, which is a first for mobile and the gold standard for desktop, Qualcomm said, especially among competitive gamers and eSports players.

Qualcomm added that PUBG Mobile now has a 90fps gaming mode that’ll roll out soon, after working with Qualcomm to optimize the refresh rate.

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The Pixel 4 and OnePlus 7T both use 90Hz refresh rates on their displays.


Angela Lang/CNET

Unoptimized games get a graphics makeover

There are a lot of engines baked into Snapdragon’s Elite Gaming platform to make games look their best, like adding support for over 1 billion colors and 10-bit HDR gaming. 

But for games that aren’t designed for such high-resolution graphics from the ground up, Qualcomm’s chips aim to automatically enhance the graphics’ colors and details on all games running on Snapdragon, without having to make changes to game code. 

One example is Lineage II: Revolution, which has made over $1 billion in revenue and commands an average of four hours’ gameplay in a single session. In the demo we saw, playing on Snapdragon 865 changed the fast-paced action and scenery from blurry and glassy to saturated and sharper just by enhancing the color, which in turn helps differentiate details.

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Lights and shadows

Let’s return to pinballs bouncing around the screen. Snapdragon’s gaming suite is designed to apply desktop-level depth of field, dynamic lighting, shadows and motion blur to make the little details more immersive and realistic.

In addition, a new hardware feature, called Adreno HDR Fast Blend, can accelerate the rendering of particle effects such as fire, snow and smoke, which use up a lot of resources to process well. This tool helps squeeze out those details quickly and accurately, without churning through battery and overheating your phone.  

Get driver updates straight from Google Play

PC gamers can update their drivers frequently, to fix bugs, and also boost performance. Being able to update individual GPU drivers wasn’t possible on Android, but a partnership with Google has made it so. 

You’ll soon be able to download drivers from the Google Play store, starting with Qualcomm’s app, called Adreno GPU Driver. You’ll be able to access those drivers after you’ve had your phone for awhile, not only just after it’s launched.

Qualcomm announced a heap of other news this week, including how Android R will let you store a digital version of your driver’s license, and support for phones with 200-megapixel cameras.

Originally published earlier today.

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