Wolfenstein: Youngblood’s microtransaction mess, explained

The microtransactions offered in Bethesda Softworks’ Wolfenstein: Youngblood are proving to be controversial with some fans. Much of the anger seems to come from the fact that it has been hard to figure out what items can be purchased with premium currency bought with real money, and which can only be purchased using in-game currency picked up during normal play.

Matt Frary, director of PR at Bethesda Softworks, even tweeted this message earlier today:

The answer to that question is no, not everyone understands that you can’t buy boosters in Youngblood. And their confusion isn’t their fault at all. I know this because I was there on the game’s first day of release, trying desperately to figure out what the heck was going on.

So wait … what can you buy?

I was working on a guide that explained exactly what you could or couldn’t buy with premium currency on Friday, July 26, and the task proved to be harder than I had anticipated. The Steam listing for gold bars, Youngblood’s premium currency, stated that you could use them to buy consumables and other items that could give you an advantage in the game.

Here is the original listing from that morning:

Contains gold bars, an in-game currency used to acquire new power armor and weapon skins, gear, pep signals, and consumables to help you and your friends battle through Nazi occupied Paris.

But when I looked at the boosters in the game’s menus, I noticed that they could only be purchased with in-game currency, not gold bars. Here’s an image to show you what I mean:

A list of boosters from Wolfenstein: Youngblood, with a cost of 200 silver coins each.
These boosters could not be purchased with premium currency
MachineGames, Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

So the official listing for the premium currency said they could be used to buy boosters, but the PC version of the game contradicted the listing, while the PS4 version of the game not only let you purchase boosters with gold bars, but there were more boosters available to purchase. Here’s another screenshot, taken on the PS4 version that Friday afternoon:

A list of boosters on the PS4 version of Wolfenstein: Youngblood, with prices listed in gold bars and silver coins
At launch, these boosters on the PS4 version of the game could be purchased with gold bars
MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks

So, at launch, the PlayStation 4 version of Wolfenstein: Youngblood did have an XP booster and a silver coin booster that could be purchased with premium currency as well as in-game currency, and neither of these two boosters existed in the PC version of the game at the time.

I contacted Bethesda to ask about what was going on, and was told that these differences were meant to have been patched out of the game before launch. After receiving that email over the weekend, we’ve done a hard boot of each system and restarted the game to make sure any patches have had a chance to be installed, and checked to make sure everything matched up with what Bethesda said. The ability to use premium currency to buy boosters was removed.

The updated Steam listing for gold bars has also been edited to remove any note about consumables. This is how the text looks at the time of publication:

Contains Gold Bars, an in-game currency used to acquire new power armor and weapon skins to help you and your friends battle through Nazi occupied Paris.

The extra boosters are no longer available on the PS4 version of the game, and premium currency now seems to be limited in use to cosmetic items. This seems to be the way it was always intended, although it’s possible that the conversation about what to include and how to sell each item continued right until the launch date of the game, or the final decisions weren’t patched into the shipping game quickly enough to keep the boosters from being sold for premium currency at launch. There was even some confusion in interviews before the game’s launch about microtransaction plans.

Our guide has since been updated, and as of now is accurate, but trying to figure out what was being sold on which platform, and how, was much more complicated than it needed to be, and the situation was adjusted relatively quickly after the game’s initial launch.

The confusion makes perfect sense now that it’s clear that different listings on different platforms were saying different things, and the selection of boosters changed after players first had a chance to play the game for themselves. Trying to figure out what was happening was confusing as hell.

So it’s not just that players are confused about whether they can buy boosters — they had every reason to be confused. The issue is that the game launched with muddled, sometimes contradictory messages about what was being sold, and for how much, on each platform.

But it’s not fake outrage that’s led to this situation. The real problem lay in a botched launch of the game’s economy combined with poor messaging.

But now, after all that? It’s true that you can’t buy boosters for premium currency, but players could do so, for a brief time, and the situation could always change in the future. The microtransactions in the game are pretty fair, in my opinion, but confusion over what they were is never a good way to calm people down.

Source: Polygon.com

Behind-the-scenes Avengers: Endgame footage shows Thor’s transformation

The digital release of Avengers: Endgame means more scenes, more heroes, and more sweet, sweet behind-the-scenes footage. One of the newly released clips dives into Chris Hemsworth’s take on “new Thor” as seen throughout the events of Endgame.

Thor got a new look in Avengers: Endgame, trading his ripped physique for a couple of pounds and his neatly cropped locks for a ragged ’do. Some of the characters don’t get it, but at the end, Thor proves that he’s just fine with the way he looks — and most importantly, still worthy of wielding Mjolnir.

The clip shows chiseled Chris Hemsworth’s transformation, as well as the humor and heart he brought to this new version of Thor.

“Being able to do this new version of Thor is hugely liberating and fun,” he tells the cameras.

“He’d been playing the character for a while,” says Tessa Thompson, “and wanted to find something new.”

We don’t know if Thor will retain his new look in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, but he’ll definitely retain the humor and heart that the more recent movies bring to the character.

Avengers: Endgame is out on digital services now, and on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray on Aug. 13.

Source: Polygon.com

Satoru Iwata’s dreams for Nintendo finally came true

Four years ago, former CEO of Nintendo and gaming icon Satoru Iwata passed away.

He left behind a storied legacy, from helping to bring gaming to the mainstream through the huge success of the Wii, to supporting the creation of legendary franchises like Super Smash Bros., Kirby, and Pokemon.

What is often glossed over, however, is one of Iwata’s more under-the-radar projects. This project only saw limited success during Iwata’s lifetime, although it could be argued that the ideas behind it were central to his philosophy while he ran Nintendo.

Iwata wanted to make Nintendo into a lifestyle brand. And although he didn’t live long enough to see it, he ultimately succeeded.

Creating something that helped

Even if you’re not familiar with the phrase “lifestyle brand,” you’re likely familiar with the concept. Though the definition can be a little bit fuzzy today, lifestyle brands have existed for hundreds of years, ever since Thomas James Barratt, the “Father of Modern Advertising”, pioneered the idea in campaigns for Pears’ Soap.

The general idea is that a lifestyle brand should somehow feel human, as if it has values and goals of its own, beyond just advertising and selling its own products. This is why Red Bull sponsors so many soccer, racing, and extreme sports teams, and why beer brands sponsor so many concerts; they want you to associate their products and the brand itself with those positive, real-world experiences.

The key here is that those experiences don’t necessarily have anything to do with the stuff the company sells. In this way, a brand can integrate itself into your daily life even when you’re not actively consuming its products. At the same time, the brand builds an identity that is attractive to a market they’re targeting, be it sports fans, gamers, musicians, or even jaded former tumblr-users. The brands want to be your friend, and they want you to know that the kind of life you want to lead is the kind of life they can provide, even if the product is something as simple as a drink or, maybe, a video game.

And Nintendo executives had built the beginnings of a lifestyle brand even before Satoru Iwata took his place at the head of the company in 2002. It was, after all, the House That Mario Built, the company that saved gaming after the video games crash of 1983. People knew Nintendo well after the launch of the original NES, and associated it with the growing trend of gaming culture. There were years when the brand name was synonymous with gaming as a whole; everyone “played Nintendo.” And they were certainly “playing with power.” The media ran stories about how even finding a system to buy could be a challenge.

When Iwata took over, however, he launched a “blue ocean” initiative that allowed Nintendo to take the next step. The strategy was meant to “create a market where there initially was none” by reaching out to new audiences that hadn’t been interested in gaming in the past. Why fight with Nintendo’s competitors over the players everyone knew were buying games, when Nintendo could try to sell a video game console to literally everyone, no matter their age or gender? Nintendo has spent years trying to move to where the fight isn’t in order to find a greater version of sales success.

Who gets to be a gamer? Everyone

Through focusing on accessibility and non-traditional control methods with the wildly successful Nintendo DS and Wii consoles, Iwata was able to introduce the Nintendo family of products to markets that weren’t traditionally associated with gaming. The Wii was another console that kept selling out as soon as stores were supplied, and families that opened one up on Christmas were surprised to find that everyone wanted to a turn.

Wii Sports was a gigantic hit with senior citizens, and non-traditional games like Brain Age and Nintendogs helped make the Nintendo DS the second-best selling video game console of all time. At the time it gave Nintendo the stereotype of making ‘kiddie games,’ but Iwata’s blue ocean strategy was incredibly successful in reaching out to markets that no other gaming company seemed to care about, while simultaneously giving Nintendo a more friendly, joyful identity. It wasn’t about trying to appeal to one new group, it was about trying to appeal to everyone.

Fast forward from the Wii’s incredible success to 2014. The Wii U was a flop, and shareholders were demanding a plan for the future from Iwata. Now that Nintendo had a more established brand identity and market reach, it was Iwata’s job to keep Nintendo from regressing back to the days of selling games to a niche audience. Having gone mainstream, the challenge was now to find a way to stay there.

In a 2014 shareholders meeting, Iwata announced a new initiative for Nintendo, a nebulous “quality of life” project that was meant to extend Nintendo’s reach into the daily lives of its customers. This was something that didn’t seem possible by focusing just on games. Iwata had a plan, so let’s quote him at length:

What Nintendo will try to achieve in the next 10 years is a platform business that improves people’s [quality of life] in enjoyable ways. … While we will continue to devote our energy to dedicated video game platforms, what I see as our first step into a new business area in our endeavor to improve QOL is the theme of “health.” Of course, defining a new entertainment business that seeks to improve QOL creates various possibilities for the future such as “learning” and “lifestyle,” but it is our intention to take “health” as our first step.

The project was poised to build on the massive success of the Wii Fit franchise (Nintendo had sold 43.8 million copies worldwide across Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus), and begin in earnest with Wii Fit U’s launch. Iwata also alluded to peripheral technology in his speech, causing speculation over whether or not Nintendo was attempting to create biometric and health-tracking peripherals in the vein of the Wii U Fit Meter, or the now-shelved Wii Vitality Sensor.

Iwata specifically noted that his “belief that the raison d’etre of entertainment is to put smiles on people’s faces around the world through products and services” was a driving force behind this project. He literally wanted Nintendo to be a company that made people happier and healthier as it sold them games, hardware, and peripherals.

In July 2016, almost exactly one year after Iwata’s death, the Pokemon Company launched Pokemon GO, a game Iwata discussed with Tsunekazu Ishihara, the president of the Pokemon Company, during the last few months of Iwata’s life. The launch of Pokemon GO was part of Nintendo’s renewed commitment to becoming a lifestyle brand that wasn’t always focused on its own hardware, while creeping into the daily lives of fans who may not consider themselves traditional gamers. If you had your phone on you and had someplace to go, you could be playing. Which meant many fans could be playing nearly all the time.

In particular, Pokemon GO was a gigantic hit with senior citizens, just like Wii Sports was. There are plenty of stories of the intergenerational appeal of Pokemon GO, and there have been studies that prove its real, positive effects on the health of seniors who play the game.

More recently, the Pokemon Company announced Pokemon Sleep this past May, a health app designed to gamify getting a good night’s sleep with the help of, you guessed it, a sleep-tracking peripheral.

Iwanta wanted the Nintendo brand to be ubiquitous in daily life, even outside of the gaming sphere. “Yet again, it is our intention to go into a new blue ocean.” Iwata said in the 2014 briefing. It’s a strategy that is still paying off for Nintendo.

It seems clear that Iwata always wanted Nintendo to be the first video games company to truly become a lifestyle brand, a brand that was about reaching people where they were, not trying to get people to come to Nintendo. And he would likely have been delighted by what’s going on right now.

The Nintendo Switch allows players to play video games seamlessly both outside in the fresh air, as well as indoors. It’s not a coincidence that all the commercials showed attractive twenty-somethings playing games at trendy rooftop parties. Nintendo became the company that is always ready for a quick game whenever you’re with friends, and the ads sold an image of young, carefree folks having a good time together.

Pokemon GO gets people out of the house, making friends and exploring their towns in ways they haven’t before. Pokemon Sleep looks poised to become a legit self-care app. There is a movie on the way, as well as theme parks.

Nintendo, as a company, always seems to be aware of the power of fun, and Iwata showed just how profitable that approach could be.

In this way, Iwata’s legacy at Nintendo runs deeper than game development and general corporate philosophy. His optimism, his love for games, and above all, his core conviction that Nintendo should be a force for good in the world — while still bringing in strong profits — is central to everything Nintendo is doing now to establish itself as a part of its customers’ day-to-day activities.

Nintendo wants to be a company that helps make people happy from the moment they wake up in the morning, to when they get dressed in Nintendo-branded clothing, to when they walk to work, to their post-work movie, to their short pre-bedtime gaming session which can now either happen in bed or in the living room, to the moment they fall asleep. And maybe it can help make sure that sleep is productive, too.

What might have seemed dystopian from another company seems benevolent coming from Nintendo. That’s the power of associating your brand with emotions and real-world actions as much as specific products, and it’s something that Iwata understood clearly. If you try to bring pleasure and improvement to a customer’s life, and it makes them feel better, they’ll be loyal to your brand for much longer than someone who just enjoys playing video games.

Iwata, unfortunately, never lived to see the massive success of the Nintendo Switch. He isn’t here to see the way folks bring the system wherever they go, playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe against others on the subway and bringing a spark of joy to an otherwise mundane commute. He wasn’t here to see the release of Pokemon GO, where millions upon millions of people worldwide, across backgrounds and generations, rushed out of their homes into the hot July air to hunt for Pokemon.

But he was here for the Wii. He was here for the Wii Balance Board and Wii Fit. He was here for the Nintendo DS and its offbeat series of Personal Trainer games that ranged in topics from cooking to math. Iwata laid the foundation that allowed Nintendo to extend past gaming and merchandise, and become, in earnest, a central part of people’s daily lives.

In this way, Iwata has kept his promise from 2014. Though he’s not around to see it, his dream to transform Nintendo from a company that makes games into one that intertwines with its customers’ daily lives, making them happier, and, hopefully, healthier, has finally come true.

Source: Polygon.com

Teamfight Tactics is now a permanent mode of League of Legends

Teamfight Tactics, League of Legends’ new auto-battler mode, is going to be a permanent addition to the game, Riot announced on Wednesday morning.

While it was always expected that the mode would become permanent, nothing was official until this announcement. Riot has been attempting to add a new permanent game mode to League for the better part of a year, with modes like last year’s Nexus Blitz getting added briefly without ever living up to the standards Riot expected. Teamfight Tactics is the first of these new modes to earn a permanent spot.

Teamfight Tactics has proven wildly popular since its release last month. The mode has frequently occupied a top spot on Twitch when measured by number of spectators, and even brought new players to League of Legends who wanted to try the new mode, but weren’t interested in the original game itself.

Part of the mode’s continued success has been Riot’s frequent updates, that have included one new champion and a number of balance changes that were meant to keep the game fair and fun. Riot also announced that the next addition to the game would be a brand new origin and four new champions. An origin determines what extra bonuses champions get during the course of the game.

The origin will be called Hextech, and will have the ability to disable items on your enemy’s board. The champions coming to TFT for the first time will be Camille, Jayce, Vi, and Jinx. All four characters will have the Hextech origin.

These changes should arrive on the League of Legends Public Beta Environment on July 31 and are scheduled to be added to live servers on Aug. 14.

Source: Polygon.com

Fortnite’s season 10 story trailer sends Jonesy back in time

Fortnite’s latest season is just around the corner, and Epic has released the story trailer to give players a preview of what’s to come. While we’ll have to wait until the official patch and patch notes on Thursday to know what the season will hold for sure, the trailer certainly seems to suggest that we’ll be going back in time for season 10.

The trailer opens with Jonesy running away from the glowing orb that’s been floating above Loot Lake since the monster attack. The orb explodes, and Jonesy is transported into some alternate reality as he floats through what appears to be time.

As he floats through the purple void, a variety of things from Fortnite’s past fly by him. There’s a Tactical SMG, a Skull Trooper outfit, various buildings that no longer exist, and even some things from old holiday events. All of this ends with Jonesy thrown out of the void, directly outside of a completely unscathed Dusty Depot the instant before the comet crashed into it. Jonesy is able to move, but all of time seems to be frozen around him.

One thing we do know is that the three teasers that Epic released before this trailer hinted at various things from seasons 3, 4, and 5, so it’s possible the game could be taking us on a tour of the past, and visiting each of those seasons along the way.

Fortnite’s season 10 will begin on Aug. 1.

Source: Polygon.com

Powers of X #1 writes the X-Men a new history in an absolutely unexpected way

Last week gave comic readers their first look at Professor X’s wild new plan for a mutant homeland in House of X, with the kickoff of Marvel Comics and Jonathan Hickman’s expansive X-Men relaunch. From what we learn in #1, Xavier is building a place for every mutant to live on the sentient island (and former X-Men villain) Krakoa.

This week, we’ve got our first look at Powers of X, House of X’s sister series, and we can tell you two things for sure: First, there’s actually a good explanation for why the book’s title is pronounced “Powers of Ten.”

And second, Powers of X #1 takes the weird ominousness of House of X #1 and dials it up by an order of magnitude. It’s the wildest comic I’ve read in months.

[Ed. note: The rest of this post contains spoilers for Powers of X.]

Nimrod and Omega Sentinel, two advanced Sentinel versions, in the potential future Human-Machine-Mutant War 100 years after our present, in Powers of X #1, Marvel Comics (2019). Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva/Marvel Comics

Marvel billed Powers of X as being about “the secret past, present and future of mutantkind,” and the first page of the first issue of the six-issue miniseries — which intercuts its storyline with House of X, as if the two were a single 12-issue weekly miniseries — shows the four time periods it will touch on, and refers to them exponentiation. Powers of X… is math.

X⁰ is Year Zero, a period in which Professor X was just beginning to conceive of the X-Men. X¹ is Year 10, in the present time of the Marvel Comics Universe. X² is 100 years after that. And finally, X³ is 1,000 years after that.

The year dates increase by a power of ten each time, get it?

But while Powers of X #1 touches on both the X⁰ past and and X¹ present of the X-Men, it’s predominantly about a period one hundred years in the future, in which mutants fight a desperate war against the Man-Machine Supremacy, an alliance between humans and sentient Sentinel robots.

Wrap your brain around that fast, because writer Jonathan Hickman and artist R.B. Silva throw a lot at the wall as they explain the hundred years of mutant history leading up to the human-machine-mutant war. Just like in House of X #1, Powers of X #1 includes text documents that reveal further details on this weird new future, and from those documents and the comic’s pages we can piece together a sequence of events.

A Human-Machine-Mutant War

At some point in the future, according to Powers of X #1, mutants established a foothold on Mars. At some point after that, most of mutantkind’s “senior leaders” died or disappeared. And during that period of leadership vacuum, the remaining mutant leadership endorsed the creation of “breeding pits” run by Mister Sinister on Mars to stave off mutant extinction.

If you’ve read any X-Men comic with Mister Sinister in it, you know that this was a big mistake.

Sinister’s pits were in an arms race with the Sentinels’ Hounds, or, mutants brainwashed into hunting down other mutants. Hounds were first introduced in the legendary X-Men story arc Days of Future Past, in which they were a major tool of humanity’s oppression of mutants in a dark future timeline. But in Powers of X, Hounds aren’t simply brainwashed mutants, but mutants genetically engineered for useful mutations.

The mutant soldier Rasputin, wielding a massive energy sword, front and center on the cover of Powers of X #1, Marvel Comics (2019).
Genetically engineered to have five different X-genes, Rasputin is front and center on the cover of Powers of X #1.
R.B. Silva, Marte Gracia/Marvel Comics

Mister Sinister, a habitual genetic manipulator, started his own production of an eventual four generations of genetically engineered mutant soldiers from Mars. His first copied the X-genes of existing mutants, while the second produced soldiers with two X-genes, and the third generation could have up to five in combination.

But, naturally, Sinister eventually betrayed mutantkind. His fourth generation of mutants … *checks notes* … formed a hivemind, destroyed 40 percent of the mutant population, and then “committed mass suicide, collapsing Mars, the Sinister pits and themselves into a self-singularity.”

One hundred years after our present day, mutants are in a bloody war against the Man-Machine Supremacy. The mere ten thousands mutants still living mostly eke out an existence as refugees and soldiers in the interstellar Shi’ar Empire.

The foot soldiers of the war seem to be largely composed of genetically engineered mutants, humans, and advanced Sentinels. Powers of X #1 introduces Rasputin, a woman with the telepathy of Quentin Quire, the metal skin of Colossus, the forcefield shield of Unus the Untouchable, the intangibility of Kitty Pryde, and the healing factor of Laura Kinney.

It seems that a few familiar characters — Wolverine, Magneto, Groot, and a ethereal entity that looks kinda like Beta Ray Bill — are still alive, at least in some incarnation. Meanwhile, advanced Sentinel prototypes like Nimrod and Omega Sentinel Karima Shapandar — a human police officer transformed into an immortal cyborg Sentinel by nanotechnology — run the Man-Machine Supremacy on Earth.

Wolverine, Magneto, Groot, and Beta Ray Bill (at least, potentially) in Powers of X #1, Marvel Comics (2019). Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva/Marvel Comics

Days of Future Squared

In a continuity fairly littered with potential future timelines, Hickman and Silva have put an incredibly impressive foot forwards. Powers of X combines old characters with none too few galaxy-brain concepts — exactly the way superhero comics should.

The issue closes with some new characters from the Year 1,000 mark reflecting on the pointlessness of the long-finished Human-Machine-Mutant War — although you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out if those characters are humans, machines, or mutants. I’ll just leave you with one final thought:

Were those mutants Professor Xavier watched crawl out of egg pods in House of X #1 genetic copies of the X-Men?

Source: Polygon.com

Behind the scenes of developing Sigma, Overwatch’s latest hero

Overwatch’s newest hero, Sigma, was very nearly a different character altogether. Fans of the game’s lore might remember the Baptiste short story Reunion, where the formerly Talon-affiliated medic is cornered by some of his old coworkers. One of those coworkers is a charismatic man, and powerful presence, named Mauga.

Mauga, a Talon Heavy Assault, has a long history with Baptiste — and so, Overwatch’s developers reasoned, he would make for an excellent Hero 31.

Swing and a miss

There was just one problem. The Overwatch team wanted to introduce another anchor tank, which is a specific kind of role in the game. Anchor tanks, like Reinhardt and Orisa, are the vanguard for their team. They set up shields, move with their allies, and control the pace of action. They’re a sharp contrast to tanks like D.Va and Winston who are happiest behind enemy lines.

“We really wanted to get another anchor tank or main tank into the game, and we were exploring a lot of mechanics surrounding barriers,” associate game designer Joshua Noh told Polygon in an interview.

When the team works on new heroes, it often looks to fill in parts of the story that have been implied, but not fleshed out. Baptiste, for example, was originally going to be part of another paramilitary group like the Caribbean Coalition. Instead, that seemed like it was extending the canon too far in another direction, and Baptiste was made into a former Talon member. Since Talon was on the top of the team’s mind, and they needed a new tank, the team turned to Mauga.

“We were having a lot of difficulty finding out how he was going to use a barrier, when he’s much more of a close range, berserker, melee kinda guy,” Noh said. And so, Mauga stepped aside, and Sigma took his place.

Overwatch - Art from Baptiste’s Reunion short story. A young Baptiste, wearing a Talon uniform, fights side by side with Mauga, a broad man in a Talon Heavy Gunner uniform with a big grin.
Mauga and Baptiste
Blizzard Entertainment

Talon and tanks

So, what does a Talon anchor tank look like?

Without a character concept in mind, the team returned to the drawing board and worked on prototypes for different anchor tanks. Once they had a compelling kit, they began to work on a gravity angle that justified a character having this power at their disposal.

“The original idea with Mauga was to have a Talon guy, and I think that persisted into Sigma’s backstory,” said Overwatch lead writer Michael Chu.

Not only is Sigma a powerful tank, but his presence in Talon adds more tension and intrigue to the group’s ranks.

“It’s also interesting for Sigma because he’s not necessarily a card carrying believer in Talon,” said Chu. “He’s sort of not there because he wants to be. So we thought that added interesting character to his backstory. I think it’s also interesting to see another scientist in Talon, and I’m looking forward to his interactions with Moira. That’ll be pretty good.”

Sigma is a character who’s disoriented and fractured; an experiment in space with a black hole went terribly wrong, damaging Sigma’s mind and body. He’s now being used by Talon, although we’re not clear on how exactly that dynamic works. Sigma is definitely kept sequestered away from the decision-making process of the group; similar to Baptiste, he’s in a situation that Chu describes as a “frog being boiled.”

“There are other groups that make up Talon,” adds Chu. “Especially for someone like Sigma, I imagine they set him up with his own lab somewhere. So he’s not like… walking down the hallway, bumping into Reaper.”

Overwatch - Sigma performs the black hole experiment that tore his mind and body apart. The image is distorted to represent the damage inflicted on Sigma. Blizzard Entertainment

The nitty gritty of gameplay

“If we were just making the game, and we were going to make [Sigma] as one of our first heroes, I think we would have ended up with something a little bit like Zarya’s ultimate,” said Overwatch lead designer Geoff Goodman. “The giant black hole probably makes the most sense!”

But the team wanted to build a hero with a high skill ceiling who served as an anchor tank, and they also had to avoid thematic overlap with Zarya. Sigma’s kit had been designed first, and then the team realized they could represent it in-game with gravity afterward.

“We wanted to play around with different ideas around that, ideally without crushing or touching the design space that Zarya is,” Goodman said. “You don’t want to overlap heroes too much. So there’s a lot of subtle things.”

One example Goodman gives is Sigma’s Hyper Spheres, which launch two gravity charges that implode. The implosion pulls everything toward it a little bit, including enemy players. It’s a subtle addition to a power that reinforces that Sigma’s on a different level when it comes to gravity manipulation than Zarya. Sigma’s ultimate also has a radically different take on gravity.

“The theme of him controlling gravity is that he launches you in the air, and you effectively have a low gravity setting on you,” said Goodman. “Even if you ended up touching the floor during that phrase that floating stage, you can jump in and do a really high floaty jump. Then after that short window, it drops you back down with a high gravity status; you can’t jump, you move a lot slower, your acceleration is lowered. So just little touches like that don’t affect the gameplay too much, but it helps sell the feel of the gravity.”

There’s still some overlap between the characters — players still attack and use abilities like Lucio’s ultimate in both Graviton Surge and Gravitic Flux — but overall, Zarya retains her theme of strength, while Sigma feels much more like a scientist.

Overwatch - Art from Sigma’s origin animation, showing him hovering. He’s wearing his in-game Overwatch uniform. Sigma is surrounded by the other members of Talon.

The end result is a character with a high skill ceiling, but Overwatch’s developers hope he has a low floor as well. Accretion, Sigma’s ability centered around gathering and launching debris, has a large window of effect that makes it relatively easy to land for a high impact knockdown. During development, Blizzard had to shrink the Accretion missile, as it was large enough to blind Sigma by blocking the player’s screen.

“His primary weapon is an explosive projectile. If you ask high-tier players, they often complain about Junkrat’s low skill, because he can spam his grenades,” said Goodman. Sigma’s meant to avoid that same mechanic. “Sigma’s ’nades are a lot less spammable, because the recovery is a lot longer. You can’t fire them as fast, but you still get that nice splash and everything.”

Because the new metagame of two tanks, two supports, and two damage — better known as 2-2-2 — is still early, the developers aren’t sure where Sigma will fit into the meta. He wasn’t designed for any particular composition, although Goodman suspects Sigma will be a potent dive counter. And this raises the question: What is good at bringing Sigma down?

“He’s really weak against close range aggression,” Noh said. “So heroes like Doomfist and Reaper really keep him in line. He doesn’t have a lot of defenses against beam-type weapons either, so like Zarya, Symmetra, and Winston all kind of bypass his damage blocking from Kinetic Grasp, and they’re high damage in close range.”

Sigma is currently available for testing on PC, by using the Overwatch PTR.

Source: Polygon.com

Coup is a game for backstabbing your friends

Playing board games can sometimes feel like a huge commitment: You need a couple of hours to play, plus however long it takes to get through the rule book. For the latest episode of Overboard, Polygon’s card and board game show, we decided to play something short that take only a couple minutes to learn. Ironically, we couldn’t fit them all in one episode, so part one is all about Coup.

This is a game of vicious cunning and outrageous bluffing. Players are given two characters at the beginning of the game, but are allowed to ‘claim’ they have any character and use their special power. The trick is that anyone else can challenge whether you actually have the card. They just have to be willing to risk losing one of their own cards if it turns out you were telling the truth.

While bluffing is critical, the Machiavellian ability to play your friends off one-another is truly the best skill you can have in Coup. Grudges will grow while alliance rise and fall, but only one player can win this game. If you can carefully cast aspersions and fan the flames of revenge, you can avoid being a target until it’s too late.

Despite it’s complexity, Coup is game you can learn in about five minutes. In fact, almost everyone in the video literally learned how to play the game on the spot. You might even notice that they enjoyed playing it too! If you enjoy this episode, make sure you subscribe to Polygon’s channel for more great videos. You can watch previous episodes of Overboard here.

Source: Polygon.com

The Master takes on new meaning in the age of the Intellectual Dark Web

“…Sam Harris, a neuroscientist; Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital; the commentator and comedian Dave Rubin…the evolutionary biologists Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying; Jordan Peterson, the psychologist and best-selling author; the conservative commentators Ben Shapiro and Douglas Murray; Maajid Nawaz, the former Islamist turned anti-extremist activist; and the feminists Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christina Hoff Summers.” – Bari Weiss, “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web,” The New York Times, May 8, 2018

“I do many, many things. I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher … but above all, I am a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.” – Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in The Master


The Master is a cult movie about a cult leader. Released in 2012, when director Paul Thomas Anderson was riding high on the success of There Will Be Blood, this film about a man whose allegedly forbidden knowledge divided him and his followers from the rest of society was, appropriately, divisive.

“There will be skeptics,” wrote critic A.O. Scott in the New York Times, “but the cult is already forming. Count me in.” The late Roger Ebert counted himself out: “The Master is fabulously well-acted and crafted, but when I reach for it, my hand closes on air […] [W]hat does it intend to communicate?”

Ebert was part of a minority among critics, albeit a vocal one; the film ranked high on many year-end lists. But viewers at large were by-and-large baffled. This is a crude method of comparison to be sure, but compare The Master’s 61 percent audience score on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes — a full 24 percent lower than the number derived from the critics — to There Will Be Blood’s 86 percent and Boogie Nights’ 89 percent, both of which are nearly in line with the official critical consensus.

Even as a person who considers it to be one of the best movies ever made, I get it, man. The staid pace. The elliptical and uncertain relationship between major sequences, right up until the confounding coda of an ending. The tempestuous but hard-to-pin-down relationship between the title character, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman at his absolute best, and his chief acolyte, played by Joaquin Phoenix at his absolute best. The feeling that the searing commentary on Scientology, the sketchy and often sinister self-help/spiritual movement founded by the Hoffman character’s real-life analogue L. Ron Hubbard, was never quite delivered.

What are we to make of this story? This movie about a movement cobbled together on the fly, providing its adherents with the intellectual and philosophical justification for theft, abuse, hatred of outsiders, and near-orgiastic self-adulation? This film about a charismatic, fraudulent blowhard with delusions of grandeur, flanked by his beautiful, much younger wife and his adult failson, promising to return his followers to a lost state of freedom and grace, inspiring the damaged, involuntarily celibate young man who follows him to ever greater feats of self-deception, idol worship, and even violence? What, in Ebert’s words, does it intend to communicate?

It’s hard to imagine the critic asking that in 2019. It’s hard to picture his “hand clos[ing] on air,” instead of a Make America Great Again hat. Right now, The Master communicates the discourse of right-wing edgelords everywhere, and the gilded god-emperor they serve.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, posing for a photo in The Master The Weinstein Company

The Master was created with the founder of Scientology in mind. Hoffman’s fast-talking, boat-loving, deeply paranoid guru; his movement, “The Cause”; and its bible, The Split Saber are pretty much a one-to-one with Hubbard, Scientology, and Dianetics. From today’s standpoint, comparisons between Hubbard and Donald Trump — even physical ones — are just as easy to draw. As a work of fiction, The Master is able to dramatize the processes at work behind all three movements, the two real ones and the one that’s fictional, allowing us to see what they share.

Mainly, fucked-up young men looking for direction and answers. Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is a World War II veteran with a drinking problem so severe it nearly beggars belief. The ostensible love of his life is an underage girl. His explosive, violent temper ruins a budding relationship with a coworker. In one scene he simply sits and, seemingly involuntarily, imagines every woman in the room nude. He quite literally stumbles into Dodd’s world — a yacht whose owner will later bring Dodd up on fraud charges — while hiding from the consequences of his own actions, namely poisoning and possibly killing a migrant worker who, he says in a sort of oedipal explanation, looks like his father.

In Lancaster Dodd, Freddie finds temporary safety and guidance. Here is a man with an impressive list of credentials, most of them bunkum, and few of them relevant to the advice he purports to give and the science-fictional basis (time travel, past lives, an entire secret history of the world) from which it is derived. He has a formal process, literally called “processing,” for analyzing the people who place their lives in his hands. He presents his clique as joyous free-thinkers, sailing through a world of hostile unbelievers who must be kept at bay or shouted down. (“If you already know the answers to your questions,” Dodd spits at a doubter in one of the film’s most famous scenes, “then why ask, pig fuck?”)

If you’re an outcast like Freddie, a man who feels he has no place in the world and no connections to other people, why wouldn’t you be drawn to this plug-and-play worldview?

The same, sadly, can be said for many young men today, drawn like moths to a flame provided by Trump, or Jordan Peterson, or any of the fellow-traveling members of the “intellectual dark web.”

With their impressive-sounding mix-and-match credentials in tow, and amplified by everyone from The New York Times’ op-ed columnist Bari Weiss to comedian-turned-podcaster Joe Rogan to the almighty YouTube algorithm, these figures all provide the Freddie Quells of the real world with a similar message: Despite everything you’ve heard, despite everything you may believe about yourself, you are special. You have the power within you to realize your incredible potential. I will guide you along the way. I will gird you for battle against those who despise you for the truths you are unafraid to hear and repeat.

Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) processes Freddie Quell (Phoenix) while smoking a cigarette in a key scene from The Master The Weinstein Company

But MAGA, the IDW, and other far-right and formerly fringe belief systems have something going for them that Dodd does not: plausible deniability. Much of The Master’s tension stems from Freddie’s inability to not behave himself for very long. His addictions are too powerful, his tendency toward self-sabotage too strong.

Occasionally this can be harnessed, as when Freddie takes point in assaulting the man who dared question his commander. “Naughty boy, OK?” Dodd tut-tuts when he gets wind of what happened. “You are a mischief. A horrible young man, you are.” Dodd’s wife and minder, Elizabeth (Amy Adams, ferocious and oddly underrated), has a different take: “He’s a drunk, and he’s dangerous, and he will be our undoing if we continue to have him here.”

In the real world, there are entire subreddits and chan boards and ersatz paramilitaries for such men. The Proud Boys are just an adjective away from Dodd’s “naughty boy” label.

In the recesses of the internet, on the streets of Charlottesville and Portland, in the red-capped, Q-shirted audience of Trump rallies, and at the center of the mass shootings inspired by all of the above, they can cut loose with the racism, misogyny, and calls for violence that the classy end of the discourse gussies up with talk of preserving Western civilization, masculinity, and other constructs. There’s no need to worry about how any of this makes the Master look: In most cases they’re at a great remove from the center of power, if not the structures underpinning it, and at any rate he has no reputation to care about, nor interest in doing so if he had one.

Which leads us to the big difference between The Master and reality. Lancaster Dodd knows, on some level, that he is a fraud, that he can’t fix anyone. He needs Freddie Quell around because he needs to believe he can fix him. (“If we are not helping him, then it is we who have failed him,” he tells his skeptical inner circle.) Freddie knows, on some level, that he is broken, that he can’t be fixed. He needs to be around Lancaster because he needs to believe he can be fixed. (“Perhaps he’s past help,” responds Elizabeth, chief member of that skeptical inner circle.)

It is impossible to know whether Trump or any of the Intellectual Dark Web thought magnates self-tasked with providing a “we’re just speaking truth to power” backdrop for the president’s modern Nuremberg rallies experience self-doubt of this sort, or use their followers for compensation of this kind. (It’s a bit easier to spot the brokenness and hope for fulfillment of the followers.) Perhaps it comes out in Trump’s plaintive, literal cry that he wishes he could be a nicer guy in public before his keepers shut the interview down. Perhaps it’s in Jordan Peterson’s weirdly masochistic habits, like consuming only meat and water or surrounding himself with leftist art he hates and fears.

But it’s distressingly easier to imagine these figures as Dodd at the very end of the film, rich and secure in a palatial estate, serenading Freddie one last time before cutting him loose for good. No more fleeing the bill for damaged party boats for him. No more fretting about those he cannot help. He’s constructed a world of his own, with his family’s support, where supplicants seek counsel — or simply to bask in the glory of a man who’s remade reality in his own phony image.

The Master is currently streaming on Netflix


Sean T. Collins has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Esquire, and Vulture. He and his partner, the cartoonist Julia Gfrörer, are the co-editors of the art and comics anthology Mirror Mirror II. They live with their children on Long Island.

Source: Polygon.com

PlayStation Plus offers Wipeout Collection, Sniper Elite 4 in August

PlayStation Plus subscribers will get access to futuristic racing game Wipeout Omega Collection and World War II shooter Sniper Elite 4 as part of the subscription service in August. Both PlayStation 4 titles will be available from Aug. 6 to Sept. 2 through PS Plus.

Wipeout Omega Collection, originally released in June 2017, includes high-definition remasters of Wipeout 2048, Wipeout HD, and that game’s HD Fury expansion. It features online multiplayer for up to eight players and local two-player competitive racing. The collection is compatible with PlayStation VR, and currently costs $19.99 from the PlayStation Store.

Sniper Elite 4 was released in February 2017, and sends elite marksman Karl Fairburne to wartime Italy to fight alongside the Italian Resistance. Sniper Elite 4 features a single-player campaign, four-player co-op, and online multiplayer. The third-person shooter currently costs $59.99 from the PlayStation Store.

PlayStation Plus subscribers can still download July’s titles, Detroit: Become Human (which includes a copy of another Quantic Dream game, Heavy Rain) and Horizon Chase Turbo. Those titles are available via PS Plus until Aug. 5.

Source: Polygon.com