Fortnite’s latest update brought scoped revolvers, brought back the ability to re-deploy gliders, and added new mysteries that players are already unravelling.
Patch 7.20 dropped this morning, a day after Fortnite development studio Epic announced that it would let players re-deploy their gliders, a contentious feature that was removed from the game in November. It turns out gliders weren’t the patch’s biggest deals. There were some big surprises.
One of these is a mysterious ice orb that’s appeared over Polar Peak. If you get close to the orb, your screen ices over and turns white. It’s unclear what the orb will do, but players are already comparing the orb to Kevin, last season’s cube (including, of course, debating what to name it).
The other mysterious addition is a mound of ice on an island across from Happy Hamlet. The mound had a health bar. It started with roughly five billion health points and quickly ticked down. Attacking it dealt 50 damage. Players speculated that the mound would take days to fully melt, but they seemed to have taken matters into their own hands. When I went to explore the mound this afternoon it was gone, replaced by an impenetrable bunker.
It’s hard to say what this all means. Fortnite previously introduced a bunker in Wailing Woods that fascinated players who couldn’t enter it and which eventually led to a series of rifts. It’s possible this new bunker will do the same. Dataminers have suggested the orb will be tied to an in-game ice storm, and some players speculate that it will wreak similar destruction as the cube or introduce enemies like the previous cube-related Fortnitemares event. It’s likely we’ll see more as Season 7 progresses or when Season 8 starts at the end of February.
The Carlton and Floss dance emotes are no longer available in Forza Horizon 4 following changes made to the game as part of today’s big Series 5 update. Although publisher Microsoft won’t say why it removed the emotes, both dances are the subjects of lawsuits against publisher Epic Games for using them in the mega-popular game Fortnite.
While the player controls cars in Forza Horizon 4 and not people, driver avatars sometimes appear on screen, at which point they can perform dance moves of the player’s choice. The game’s Carlton emote lets players’ avatars perform actor Alfonso Ribeiro’s dance from The Fresh Prince while the Floss emote lets them perform the dance originally performed by Instagram personality Russell Horning, better known as Backpack Kid, on Saturday Night Live back in 2017. Both have now been taken out of the game.
When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Microsoft would not elaborate on why the emotes were removed. In a statement, the spokesperson said, “Forza Horizon 4 features a large portfolio of content and is continuously updated.” The emotes have been in the game since it released in October 2018. Other emotes based on popular dances, like one that imitates Drake’s Hotline Bling dance, are still in the game.
Their removal today comes as lawsuits pile up against Epic Games for some of the emotes included in its game. In December 2018, rapper 2 Milly filed a lawsuit against the company for Fortnite’s use of his Milly Rock dance, re-named in the game “Swipe It.” Later that month, Ribeiro and Horning joined in with their ownlawsuits. Ribeiro is also suing 2K, the company behind the NBA 2K games, for using the Carlton dance as an emote in the past.
The latest person to file a lawsuit over emotes based on real-life dances is Rachel McCumbers, the mother of the boy whose dance was added to Fortnite after he submitted it as part of Epic Games’ BoogieDown contest. As Variety reports, McCumbers’ son, known in the Fortnite world as “Orange Shirt Kid,” lobbied the company and fans to try and get his dance added to the game, which Epic Games eventually ended up doing, titling it “Orange Justice.” The rules of the contest stated that no one who participated would be paid, but that hasn’t stopped McCumbers from suing the company for unspecified damages.
Nintendo’s removal of the “taunt” option in Smash Ultimate online play has sparked an outbreak of one of gaming’s most notorious behaviors: teabagging.
In Nintendo’s latest Smash game, players can’t use their fighters’ taunts when they’re playing online in Quick Play mode. In all other modes, the taunt move is typically mapped to the D-pad, and deploys custom animations for each fighter: Donkey Kong beating his chest, Ganondorf cracking his knuckles, Captain Falcon saluting and saying, “Show me your moves!” Players taunt after taking an enemy’s stock to rub it in, or to provoke a hot-headed attack in a stand-off. With no taunts available in online play, some players have resorted to a multiplayer gaming mainstay that, before now, was a rare sight throughout two decades of Smash Bros. games.
In a fifth of my Smash Ultimate online games, my opponent teabags after taking a stock from me. Others I’ve talked to, including friends and frequenters of Smash subreddits, say they’ve seen teabagging in half of their Quick Play online matches. At first, this bewildered me. Smash, a family-friendly Nintendo game that doesn’t even have blood, felt like a strange and incongruous context for that sort of wanton insult. Yet through the past few weeks that I’ve encountered teabagging—even once at an IRL Smash tournament—I’ve come to see how it’s woven itself into the game’s metaplay.
Explaining teabagging to a large audience is probably someone’s definition of hell, but it’s not mine, so here goes. Teabagging is a performative sex act that supposedly originated in Baltimore’s gay nightclub scene. It involves squatting and putting one’s testicles onto another person’s forehead. For the past twenty years, since the early days of first-person shooters like Counter-Strike and Quake, gamers have been maneuvering their avatars to do a simulated version of the teabag in virtual spaces by vigorously crouching up and down. Usually it goes down over an opponent’s knocked-out body. Later, when teabagging migrated over to fighting games, players would do the rapid-crouch from far away.
What does teabagging mean, though? Kotaku editor Maddy Myers interviewed pro gamers about what inspires them to teabag, and while some said they see it as a good-natured teasing among friends, others said they use it to make opponents crack, or get tilted. For those pros, it’s dirty. It’s mean. But it’s a little funny, too—not laugh-out-loud funny, but lul-funny—depending on who you are.
Teabagging is also controversial. It’s been banned from Killer Instinct tournaments. Last year, after one Overwatch pro teabagged another player who was on a less winning team that eventually went 0-40, live fans in the audience booed. Regardless of context or intent, some people consider teabagging to always be mean-spirited, chauvinistic and nefarious. Others get a big kick out of it, or, more cold-heartedly, make use of it as a demonstration of grit and cheek and arrogance—the equivalent of hanging on the rim after dunking the basketball.
On Twitter in 2017, Killer Instinct’s lead designer Adam “Keits” Heart had some strong words in favor of teabagging: “Fighting games are psychology. Disrespecting your opponent can be a psychological play. A ban for taunting removes [an] important human aspect . . . It already has a gameplay purpose because it can inflict psychological damage. The line is drawn outside of the game, not inside of it.”
About a month ago, I was in a too-close-to-call battle against a random Link player in Smash Ultimate. It was tight, my GameCube controller was getting a little moist, and although I was ahead by one stock, I had a lot of damage on me. I made a mistake, though, and neglected to dodge their powerful smash attack. I lost my lead. That’s when he teabagged.
In Smash, your opponent is off-stage when they’re dead. That means you can’t crouch over their virtual corpse, which is the traditional way to teabag in first-person shooters. Link was rapidly bouncing up and down in the corner of the stage. Despite playing lots of first-person shooters, and being an open advocate for good-spirited trash talking, I was pretty shocked. It’s Smash, for God’s sake—it’s basically a G-rated WrestleMania show of video game’s cutest critters, plus Bayonetta. The teabag threw me off. I’ll even say it tilted me. So you can bet that when I knocked him off stage, sure he would never come back, I teabagged in return. He eventually did come back and, I’m reluctant to admit, beat me. I left that match feeling pretty bad. I had never teabagged in another game. But here I was, doing it in the Loony Toons of fighting games.
Smash Ultimate players have been at odds with each other about the recent rise of teabagging in the game.
Crayon_Shin-Chan, who had commented on a teabagging thread in a Smash subreddit, further explained their stance in a direct message, saying that teabagging is okay in Quick Play games but only in certain situations. “People who defend teabagging often cite something like, ‘Well when I get an amazing combo or kill I want to call attention to it.’ And actually, I agree. If you perform some unique combo string into a kill or successfully pull off a risky offstage play, I’d say you earned your teabag recognition,” they wrote, adding, “However, the unfortunate part is that I more often see it used for when the opponent plays poorly. Accidental SD [self destruct], teabag. Repeatedly get caught in the same attack, tea bag.”
One other player, who goes by Nitrogen467 on the subreddit, told me that they really don’t like the increase in teabagging. “It feels unsportsmanlike,” they said. One other, KippyKinz, who plays Ganondorf, said they teabag when their opponent picks Ganondorf too as “a show of respect to each other for playing Ganondorf.”
Nearly everyone I spoke with told me they think it’s happening so much because taunting is disabled in these games. “Understand that we just want to communicate in online matches, but we’re just left with crouching which can make the online experience very frustrating. I hope that Nintendo can trust us to taunt online instead of leaving us frustrated with wondering whether our opponent is t-bagging to disrespect or just say ‘that was crazy,’” said user KittyDerpKat.
It’s difficult to interpret what a teabag means in Smash online. Is it “I’m the shit”? Is it “You suck”? “That was hype”? “U mad”? Some combination of the four? Regardless, I have found myself doing it more and more in online matches, often without thinking. Maybe I’ve just spiked someone. Or successfully punished an overly bold attack of theirs that missed. I’m not immune to feeling myself, and without more direct ways to convey it, the easiest thing to do is flip that joystick.
Since picking up this habit in the past few weeks, I have felt every possible feeling about it. Retroactively, I’d tell myself I was doing it ironically. It’s a meme, I would say to myself. It’s not teabagging-teabagging. It’s just saying “ha-ha.” It’s totally detached from whatever was happening in Baltimore clubs in the ‘90s, and even from the Halo bros of the ‘00s. Opponents wouldn’t take it literally. For my online opponents, of course, there’s no way to tell. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I do want my opponent to understand, in their heart of hearts, that I’m a competitive person and they are a spec of unlucky dust particle. Unlike at brick-and-mortar Killer Instinct tournaments, nobody knows what you mean by your teabag when you’re playing against strangers online, for whom you’re just a feverishly bouncing username attached to the protagonist of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
I’m still undecided on whether squatting up and down in Smash Ultimate is a bit of stupid fun or a throwback to an increasingly passe and arguably shitty breed of gamer behavior. While I am a big believer in the mind game—one tentacle of the all-encompassing experience of getting owned and owning others—disrespect isn’t a crucial part of the equation. Taunts are great because they treat opponents to adorable animations or corny voice lines while also insulting them. Pre-written messages are fine, too, because at least your opponent knows what you’re reacting to. Without established channels of communication, Smash Ultimate online players, myself included, are resorting to an ineffective and wholly ambiguous style of mind game.
I asked my buddy Dave for some feedback on my newfound teabagging habit. Last weekend, during some Smash Ultimate games, I had shocked him by impulsively teabagging after stealing a stock. Dave usually beats me at Smash, and, on top of practicing combos for hours on end, he also relies heavily on making me feel very small and inane with his words and actions. So I was curious to hear how he reacted to the teabagging. “Haha, confusion,” he responded to my text. “You did it so slowly. I couldn’t tell if it was an accident.” He continued, burying me deeper into the Earth, “It was like…. duck…. duck…..”.
Anyone who knows will tell you that it’s always better when it’s personal.
As a post-apocalyptic online survival sim, Fallout 76 allows players to team up, trade with one another, or try to kill each other. This freedom is part of the game’s appeal, but when it’s coupled with exploits that allow some players to become ultra powerful, the result can be a game world that feels inhospitable and unfair. Recently, some players have been using exploits to get high level weapons illicitly, while other players have tried to stop them.
Since mid-December, some Fallout 76 players have been using an exploit to duplicate legendary weapons. They have then sold those weapons to others for for in-game and real-life currency. Last week Bethesda released a patch for the game on PC that included over a hundred changes and fixes, including getting rid of at least one of the exploits that made the weapon duplication possible. This isn’t the first time Bethesda has tried to fix item duplication. On December 11, the company patched out a version of the exploit that involved storing items in a friend’s ammo stash, then having them leave the game and then return to get double of whatever they’d put there. Players found workarounds though, and continued on duping undeterred.
While the latest patch, which arrives on PS4 and Xbox One today, claims to have fixed at least one item duping exploit, players recently found another avenue to get extra copies of the game’s rarest items: a special “developer room” that appears to exist in the game solely for testing purposes. As Eurogamer reported, Bethesda has been trying to ban anyone who attempts to break into this special, off-limits location, which contains plans for building the best equipment in the game.
Weeks of item duping and now the discovery of the developer room have created secondary markets both in the game and in real life for all of the excess legendary items. Guns with the two shot and explosive mods, TSE for short, are the most powerful weapons in the game, but there’s no guaranteed way to get them. While some players have spent months waiting for them to drop while playing the game naturally, others have decided to pony up 1,000s of caps, the in-game currency, or real money in order to buy them. Search Ebay right now and you’ll have no trouble finding hundreds of listing for TSE guns, often in the $10 to $20 range depending on the particular type and stats.
Black markets like these aren’t unusual for MMO-style games, but they’re made easier in Fallout 76 thanks to in-game trading. Unlike in some other games where the best items become bound to whichever player first acquires them, everything in Fallout 76 can be re-traded or re-sold. This has led to an entire sub-category of player characters called “mules,” low level accounts that are used exclusively for trading duplicated items to minimize the risk of getting ambushed or banned.
Players have tried various ways to address the problem. Some have formed posses to try to punish people they suspect of either selling or using duped weapons. Yesterday, Polygon reported on a dupper hunting guide that was circulating on Reddit but has since been removed by the mods because it encourages players to target and grief one another. The guide detailed suspicious behaviors that might suggest duping, such as seeing two players hanging out on a random part of the map together for a long period of time without moving or finding a low level player meeting with a much higher one. “You mileage can vary but if you follow this you will find a duper sooner than later,” the guide read, ominously hinting at just how imprecise duper catching methods can be.
For some, duper hunting has backfired. A few days ago one higher level player reported trying to play with his low level girlfriend only for four level 140 players to try to demolish her camp. “Upon messaging the guy to figure out why he leveled this base he said, ‘I’m not stupid, I know it was a stash’ and proceeded to treat me like I am one of those dupers who are ruining one of my favorite games,” they wrote.
So far, the most recent patch seems to have put an end to some forms of duping, but not the vast arsenals of duped items still out in the wild. There are ways to block high level players and jump to different servers to avoid them, but those options can be a pain when you’re in the middle of completing a quest or farming for loot. Players have suggested introducing new, higher level versions of the best guns, thereby making the existing duped ones obsolete. Until that or some other solution is implemented, duping’s legacy will still cast a shadow over Fallout 76’s end game.
In November 2016, we reported that the hidden sci-fi teaser inside of Watch Dogs 2 was for an unannounced game called Pioneer that was, at the time, in trouble. Nobody at Ubisoft had acknowledged the project publicly until last night, when former director Alex Hutchinson wrote on Twitter, “RIP Pioneer” with a link to the teaser video. Looks like it’s now dead.
A black-winged bird soars over desert sands. It’s a lovely visual that’s captivated me since developer Friend & Foe revealed Vane back in 2014. Now the game is out on PlayStation 4, and the desert flight is one of the few redeeming sequences in an otherwise short and clumsy adventure.
Style has never been Vane’s problem. Our first post about the game harped on its visuals—specifically the sand battering the game’s young protagonist as they trudged through the desert. “That’s Some Gorgeous Video Game Sand” was the headline of the post. It talked about how the indie studio behind the game included folks who’d worked on The Last Guardian with Team Ico. We called it gorgeous again last year, when Ethan Gach reported on troubles that caused the game to be delayed and the entire opening act to be reworked.
Vane is, for the most part, gorgeous. That fact has not changed during development. Those scenes from 2014, with the game’s human protagonist running through the desert? Those are gone. A lot of what happens in the game’s 2016 trailer didn’t make it into the game released this week for PlayStation 4. But the stuff that did make it into the final game is quite pretty, if a bit sparse.
Vane opens with a woman clutching what seems to be her child to her chest. She wanders across a ruined landscape as lightning crashes and great metal sheets are torn up and carried away by the wind. After a long, leisurely walk across this ruined hellscape, the woman arrives at a structure that’s managed to withstand the storm, but her request for refuge is denied. The storm winds close in, and mother and child are swept into the sky. The screen goes dark.
Now we’re a bird in the desert.
Why this happens is a mystery that’s never explained. Vane is a game of few words, leaving it up to the player to both interpret this strange event and figure out where to go and what to do. A canyon cut into the sandy waste leads the player to their first objective. A twinkling flash in the distance guides them to a perch. Icons flashing on the screen teach the player how to land on that perch and call out to fellow birds to join them. The weight of the combined fowl causes a windsock to catch the breeze, leading the flock to their next destination. The player flies from objective to objective, gathering more birds to their flock until there are enough to crash the area’s large weather vane to the ground. It shatters, unleashing a glimmering golden material that has a transformative effect on the player’s feathered avatar.
Suddenly the bird is a child, stumbling across the desert sands, ready to pull levers, push items and engage in other activities birds can’t do. Should the child fall from a great height, they transform back into a bird and take to the sky. When the bird gets close to that strange golden material, they morph into a child once more. What a brilliant gameplay mechanic. A brilliant, woefully underused gameplay mechanic.
Once the ability to transform is unlocked, the action shifts from the open sands to a large cavern. As a bird, the player must gather fellow avians in order to activate a switch, opening a new path. Littered about the cavern is that glimmering golden substance that transforms bird to child. In child form the player can open knocked over bird cages, helping the flock grow. It’s a clever bit of back and forth that had me riveted for the entirety of the 30 minutes it lasted.
I thought the child/bird transformation mechanic was the main focus of Vane, so when the third chapter (of four) rolled around, I was surprised to find it abandoned. Instead of calling birds and forming a flock, I was recruiting fellow children to help me push a glowing orb that transformed the scenery as it rolled. Bird form, so helpful in the caverns previous, was now only used for scouting and saving me should I fall off a high ledge. What a pity.
The entire second half of the game is mostly walking and light platforming. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for Vane’s clunky movement controls. In the tradition of games like Ico and The Last Guardian, moving this game’s human protagonist is a clumsy affair. The child stumbles slowly, as if reluctant to move. Sometimes they climb. Other times they get stuck on the scenery.
Vane’s final chapter is particularly painful. The goal is to ascend a tall tower as the game’s impressive-looking transforming scenery warps stairs and platforms in and out of existence. Every couple of steps I found myself getting stuck, and what should have been a very cool sequence became an exercise in frustration.
There are a lot of clever ideas in Vane, but they’re not given any time to shine. With a fair amount of getting lost, a few unfortunate falls and having to replay an entire sequence due to my character falling through the scenery, the entire affair was over in a little over two hours. I came away feeling less like I’d completed an epic quest and more like I’d finished playing through a very pretty tech demo.