Gears 5 Dev Answers Our Burning Questions About Microtransactions, Multiplayer, Battle Royale, Loot Boxes, And More

The Gears 5 multiplayer technical test kicks off today, July 19, giving fans the first opportunity to try out the Xbox One and PC shooter ahead of its full release in September. GameSpot recently spoke with Gears 5 multiplayer design director Ryan Cleven and eSports creative manager Rose Gunson about the game’s new multiplayer features and more.

In the interview, the developers answer our burning questions about the game’s new modes and features, including the Arcade, Bootcamp, and Map-building modes. The developers also discuss their broader ambitions for how they wanted to improve the overall multiplayer experience compared to Gears of War 4, how much longer they’ll continue to support that game, and how the developers are going about making Gears 5 feel unique while also appealing to veteran fans of the franchise.

On top of that, they discuss Gears 5’s new plan to have no season pass or loot boxes (but still offer microtransactions), while the pair also talk about if there could ever be a battle royale mode and more. In addition, they confirm that Gears 5 will have cross-play support for not only multiplayer, but also the new three-player Escape mode, the five-player Horde mode, and three-player campaign.

The first weekend of the Gears 5 tech test began today and runs through Sunday; you must pre-order the game or subscribe to Xbox Game Pass to get in. For lots more, check out GameSpot’s rundown of everything you need to know about the Gears 5 tech test.

You can read our full interview below. All responses are from Cleven, except where noted.

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GameSpot: When you started out thinking about Gears 5 multiplayer, what were your main considerations or specifics points that you wanted to focus on to grow and improve the experience over Gears 4?

Cleven: With Gears 4 we had two main goals with our Versus multiplayer. We wanted to gain the trust of the fans by demonstrating that we could create a Versus experience that was faithful to the legacy of Gears. Second, we wanted to develop Gears of War into a competitive esport. After learning so much from how our community played Gears and the feedback we were given, we wanted to make a stronger statement with Gears 5. We wanted to make something that both respected the legacy but took Versus in a new direction.

For Gears 5, we chose to focus on three key areas in development:

  • We saw that, even with our new ranking system and what we felt was more accessible modes, new players still had a hard time jumping into our multiplayer game. This had to change.

  • Our competitive esports mode, Escalation, was strong, but not best in class. We wanted it to be the best shooter esport out there.

  • Lastly, our core combat needed modernization. Gears combat has such a strong core, it has lasted for over twelve years relatively unchanged. We felt it was both the right time and the right team to make changes.

What were some of the main pieces of feedback that fans gave you over Gears 4 that you’re addressing or improving upon in Gears 5 multiplayer?

We received a lot of feedback over the course of Gears 4. While players enjoyed the fairer matches our new ranking system brought to Gears 4, there were clearly parts of it that players found frustrating and confusing. Our new Division system in Gears 5 brings new ranked leaderboards and rewards to help players better understand what’s happening and give incentive to playing every week.

While players enjoyed all the customization content in Gears 4, players were unable to unlock content by achieving specific goals in the game, which was in place for Gears 3. For Gears 5, we’ve built a totally new system, Tour of Duty, which brings unlockable customization content back to players. Every day, you have fresh objectives to help you rank up in the Tour to unlock exclusive customization options, while completing seasonal medals will also earn you big rewards.

We also received a ton of feedback on the weapon tuning system that was in Gears 4, which included two different tuning sets to help grow our competitive community, one for our core audience and one for our competitive audience, that contributed to fundamentally different paths in gameplay. In Gears 5, we have worked very hard to create a single tuning across both core and competitive modes and we believe we’ve found a single tuning that will make both audiences happy and no one feeling left out.

In Gears 4, you have a very successful multiplayer experience that remains popular today, years after release. Are you planning to continue to support that title after the release of Gears 5?

The Coalition has learned a lot on operating a live game as a service. For Gears 4, we delivered extensive post-launch support in terms of maps, content and gameplay updates. We have learned a lot from our experiences running a live game as a service, and with Gears 5, we have developed a very comprehensive post-launch plan. While we aren’t revealing all the details for this plan just yet, we will be releasing new maps, new modes, new customization content, new hero characters, new events, and more map builder support post-launch. Our Tour of Duty will be updated every season with new challenges and new exclusive content to earn. One of the things we are really excited about, is that at some time post-launch, players will be able to create their own Versus maps in our Map Builder.

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As a first-party game, Gears 5 is launching into Xbox Game Pass. This gives you a millions-wide audience right out of the gate. What are you doing to ensure servers are ready?

Our experience running a successful launch of Gears with an ongoing service has given our team a lot of experience with scaling our services. Gears 5, launching into Xbox Game Pass, presents a new challenge for launch. We have built new, modern services using Azure and performed multiple scale tests to simulate a launch, but to be confident in our new technology, we are running a live Technical Test for Gears 5 Versus Multiplayer starting on July 19, open to all pre-orders and members of Xbox Game Pass. This Technical Test will help us find any remaining issues with enough time to address them before launch.

In partnership with Microsoft Research, we have developed an advanced matchmaking system called TrueMatch that uses Azure-based AI learning to help find the best balance of ping, skill, and wait time, but in almost real-time. It adapts to the ever-shifting conditions of matchmaking, to bring the best experience, to players of all skill levels, no matter where they are.

What are your hopes and expectations for the Gears 5 technical test coming up? Given the final release is coming up so soon, is this more a test of the servers rather than gameplay/features?

Our Gears 5 Tech Test is a way for us to evaluate our server performance and listen to our players as to what changes need to be made for both gameplay/features. For Gears 5, we’re actively listening to our Gears community during development and will look to further evolve our game modes based on player feedback post-launch.

Our primary goal is to make sure that all Gears 5 players have a fantastic launch experience and testing our technology early enough to be able to react will help us do that.

At this stage, I think people know what to expect from a Gears game. How do you feel about that sense of familiarity? How do you think about providing a multiplayer experience that people find familiar and inviting, but also one that offers something new for seasoned players?

The core combat of Gears 5 is built around a new recoil-based shooting system and in-game feedback system we call Battle Language. Gears 5 will feel very different than previous games while remaining true to the essence of Gears. The rifle game in Versus has been overhauled with the new recoil system for a much more modern combat experience, while the new Inverse Omen will change the way players experience getting hit and being damaged in Gears. For weapons, new ice attacks will freeze players, while Stim will provide players with over-health; both are represented by the new Inverse Omen. In PvE experiences, damage numbers and health bars will help players understand the impact of their characters leveling.

The new Arcade mode is an entirely new way to play Gears Versus. It is a great mode to jump into for first-time Gears Versus players as it will be more familiar to players coming from other PvP games. It blends the visceral, intimate combat of Gears Versus with a light take on hero shooters. Character abilities, unique loadouts and in-game weapon upgrading combine with the new Arcade Team Deathmatch to the most fast-paced, over-the-top Versus experience in Gears history.

To help players jump in faster, we’ve built Boot Camp, a quick introduction to the gameplay of Gears 5. If you have never played Gears before, it provides an engaging and comfortable way to learn the core mechanics. If you’re a Gears veteran, it introduces you to the new mechanics in Gears 5

In the iteration stage of design, how wild or weird or different did you get with Gears 5 multiplayer before settling on the maps, modes, and features in the final product? What kinds of things did you consider that didn’t make it into the final release?

We experimented with a lot of modes, maps, weapons and tuning that didn’t make it to the final game, though they might show up post-launch. We are confident that players will love what’s new in Gears 5, including the Ice Cannon and Lancer GL, that fires a mortar, along with our new maps really emphasize the visceral action that Gears is known for.

“Releasing a new entry in an established franchise is always difficult when it comes to navigating fan expectations” — Cleven

Being a live service game, the fans really let you know how they feel about pretty much every facet of your game. How do you go about walking the line between sticking to your guns creatively and giving fans what they want?

Releasing a new entry in an established franchise is always difficult when it comes to navigating fan expectations. The hardest part is to find the common problems amongst the feedback that can inspire new creative solutions. For example, when a weapon is identified by our community as overpowered, it may be that the weapon is too easy to attain or that the movement speed is too fast or too slow. Listening to many different perspectives gives you more clues on what the deeper issues are and we use this approach to identify the key issues, then look for innovative solutions that solve multiple issues simultaneously to create the tightest designs possible.

What are you doing with Gears 5 to support competitive gaming and esports? I think you’ve said you want the game to be more “watchable,” but what does this mean in practice?

Rose Gunson: One of the focus areas we have for the future of Gears Esports is creating an ecosystem that all audiences can watch at a broad level. We want to encourage a viewership that can come in and watch the storylines unfold between the different teams, while also allowing people to see the highest level of professional Gears gameplay in the world.

Cleven: We have overhauled our competitive ranking system to give all players more understanding of how to improve their play. They will be able to see how they stack up against others in their tier and get detailed information at the end of each match for how they performed.

The new Escalation mode in Gears 5 has been significantly improved to support a higher level of competitive play. The metagame has been vastly expanded to create more options for players and more speculation for viewers. The game has been slowed down to help viewers to follow the action. The gunplay has been evolved to make the shooting more visibly skillful. We have added an announcer to the game to communicate what changes are happening on the map. Overall, we feel Gears 5, with Escalation, is the best shooter Esports experience on the market.

The Halo development team actively works with pro gamers to develop Halo multiplayer. Is this something you also do for Gears?

Gunson: The collaboration between esports production and game development at The Coalition is fantastic. We’re really fortunate to sit next to our developers and have the opportunity to go back and forth with what makes sense to further grow and push each other. If we’re all focused on making esports successful, it helps us accomplish a common goal.

Cleven: We value all our players’ input to the game. Working directly with the pro player community over the course of Gears helped tremendously with the tuning of Gears 5. We were able to use their deep understanding of the mechanics of Gears, their insight in what it takes to work as a team and their passion for the game to help us better understand the game we were making. Being able to try new ideas out with an open-minded pro community is something that few developers get the opportunity to do, and we certainly appreciate it.

“We value all our players input to the game” — Cleven

Will there be cross-play between Xbox One and PC like with Gears 4?

We are happy to confirm that Gears 5 will feature cross-platform play between Xbox One and Windows 10 PC for Versus Multiplayer. Cross-platform play also extends across the other Gears 5 modes to provide a great over-the-top three-player experience in Escape, an epic five-player Horde session or three-player Campaign co-op. For the launch of Gears 5, Xbox players will be able to opt-out of matchmaking against PC players for ranked matches.

With Gears 4 cross-play, you experimented with different set-ups for people with keyboard/mouse and controller; how will this work in Gears 5?

With the addition of keyboard and mouse on Xbox consoles, we see the two communities being closer than ever before. Players can choose the control the game how they want to. With few very small exceptions, the mouse and keyboard support will be the same across Xbox and PC. We also support key rebinding and the Xbox Adaptive Controller to enable all types of players to play Gears 5 the way that they want to.

Escape is brand-new for Gears 5. What is this mode all about, and what does it add to the Gears multiplayer experience that wasn’t there before?

The fun, high-stakes nature of Escape is built around having a three-person squad, introducing a new level of strategy and communication for players. In Escape, your three-player suicide squad must infiltrate the Hive, plant the bomb and escape with your life. Players enter with a knife and pistol but must pick up resources along their escape route. It’s everything you love about Gears, turned up to 11. Each character has an ultimate ability that will help you outsmart the horde, outrun the venom, and escape alive.

You have said there will be no season pass or random loot boxes, but there are microtransaction opportunities in Gears 5. Can you talk more about what you can acquire with real money and how you’ve gone about designing an MTX system that respects the players?

We have three sources for customization rewards–Earnable, Purchasable, and Free rewards. The new structure is built to respect player choice: earnable items are not purchasable, purchasable items are not earnable, and free items are only free. The player always knows what they get if they are earning or purchasing content.

As new Hero characters impact gameplay, they will be both earnable and purchasable to players to maintain an equal playing field. Players have full visibility into the Hero Character they are selecting, and there is no randomness involved. New maps and Escape Hives will be free to all. Each of the rewards are divided into seven types of customization: Costumes, Skins, Banners, Expressions, Executions, Blood Sprays, and Marks.

While there are no purchasable loot boxes in Gears 5, there are earnable rewards obtained from simply playing the game. If players choose to purchase separate in-game cosmetic rewards using our premium in-game currency ‘Iron,’ they will have full visibility into what customization items they are purchasing.

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What are your plans for ongoing content for Gears 5 multiplayer? Are you fully embracing the new paradigm of games-as-a-service?

In addition to regular new map releases, Versus will support Map Builder post-launch. This will open Versus to the community, which will be able to build and share their own maps. As to our overall philosophy of maps after launch, in Gears 5 our goal is to create a player-first experience when it comes to in-game content, including maps, which will all be free to play in both matchmaking and private. In Gears 5 we will have:

  • No Season Pass

  • No Gear Packs

  • DLC Maps are free for matchmaking and Private Play

  • Exclusive earnable content in the all-new Tour of Duty system

  • All store purchases are direct, no RNG, so you always know what you will get

The Arcade mode is new as well. You’ve described it as unique and approachable for newcomers. Is this in response to feedback that the standard MP was too unforgiving?

For newcomers, we have both a new training mode that we call ‘Boot Camp,’ which walks players through the core elements of Gears 5 gameplay. The new and approachable multiplayer game type we call ‘Arcade’ features a style of play more familiar to people playing other modern shooters while still feeling authentically Gears.

Arcade blends the visceral, intimate combat of Gears 5 Versus with a hero system that grants abilities, unique loadouts with unique in-game weapon upgrading to each character. It’s faster, more frenetic, with bigger headshots and over-the top action. While returning fans will feel totally at home in Arcade, players new to Gears can jump in and find a more familiar experience than previous Gears games. Arcade is built to be the fastest way to jump in and have fun in Versus.

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The new Map Builder seems like an exciting introduction to the series. How robust are these tools? And how will sharing and discovery of user-made maps work?

Map Builder is a new addition to Gears 5 that lets you create custom Escape Hive maps and experiences to share with and challenge your friends. Whether you build it yourself or play a creation from another player, Map Builder provides an approachable tool for players to make fun Escape experiences. We built it to give players the same tools as our developers to build Escape maps.

Sharing maps is easy. With the push of a button, the map is published to our online services where the community can browse multiple feeds, like most played, or trending, to find the experiences they want to play. Players will be able to create Escape maps in Map Builder at launch and other modes will become available after launch.

What are your thoughts on battle royale in Gears 5? Is this something you might consider?

Gears 5 does not include a Battle Royale mode. We have five great experiences in Gears 5 with Horde, Escape, Campaign, and our extensive list of Multiplayer versus modes, with the added customization of the new Map Builder.

We’re big fans of the Battle Royale genre, but we would want to ensure we bring a Battle Royale mode to Gears in a meaningful way. We’re actively listening to our Gears community and will look to further evolve our game modes based on player feedback post-launch.


The New Game From Journey’s Creators Feels Like A Dream

If Flower and Journey had a baby.

In the new game Sky: Children of Light ethereal figures prance and soar through gorgeous landscapes and crumbling temples. These characters hold candles and spread light throughout the world. At least, I think that’s what’s going on in ThatGameCompany’s first new game in seven years. It’s abstract.

Out now on iOS and coming eventually to Android, Sky: Children of Light feels like an extension or offshoot of 2012’s transcendent cooperative adventure game, Journey. The player, a titular child of light, is a caped figure who embarks on an adventure across seven fantasy realms, using light to revive fallen stars and reform constellations. Players interact with the world and their fellow players via a series of simple icons and gestures as they work together to solve the game’s puzzles and uncover its mysteries.

Unlike Journey, which limited play to two players at a time, the world of Sky Children of Light is filled with silent cloaked individuals hopping and flying about. It’s a social game. Players can make friends, who they can see online and meet up for play sessions. The game preserves some of the magical anonymity of Journey’s anonymous co-op partners by having players assign names to their friends. I named my first two friends Steve and Lara. I have no idea what their real names are. Friends can be added via more traditional methods, but there’s something appealing about having a friend list filled with randoms with made-up names.

Gameplay is harder to describe, which is completely by design. As they adventure through the game, players encounter spirits that feed their light and lead them to ancient temples and other mysterious locales. Each area holds some sort of puzzle to solve in order to progress the game’s story. It might be as simple as applying candlelight to a door switch, or as complex as trying to maintain your light while exploring a rainy forest, racing from cover to cover.

The goal in each area is to awaken an ancestral spirit, who teaches the player a new gesture before ascending into the sky to form a constellation. Forming new constellations unlocks new lands to explore.

I’m getting the same sort of feeling playing Sky: Children of Light as I did playing Journey. I am not sure where I am supposed to go nor what my ultimate goal is, but somehow the game is getting me there. The wind blowing in a certain direction, a light gleaming in the distance or another player anonymously going about their business… these are my guides through these light-hungry landscapes.

(Even the microtransaction store menu is pretty)

Children of Light is a free-to-start game. Players can spend money to buy candles to unlock new emotes and character customization items, or they can receive them in-game by playing or receiving gifts from friends. I haven’t felt the need to buy such things. I’ve been too busy just playing and having a good time.


Tour the Comic-Con Museum’s prop-filled Batman exhibit in 33 photos

On Wednesday, DC Comics and AT&T unveiled “The Batman Experience,” a sprawling collection of Batman-related props, costumes, and vehicles housed in the future site of the Comic-Con Museum, part of San Diego’s Balboa Park. The exhibition was a splashy ode to the character for his 80th anniversary, with curation appealing to any type of Bat-fan, from those with deep comics knowledge to fans of the Dark Knight’s big-screen blockbusters.

Polygon walked the shadowy halls of the Batman exhibit with camera in hand to bring the experience to those who aren’t in walking distance of the Comic-Con Museum. Below, you’ll find shots of the Batmobile, the nippled wonders of Batman & Robin, and a full collection of the Batman Black and White figurines.

the floor of the comic-con museum

Batman movie costumes and props

Yes, Gotham got prominent placement as well.

Christian Bale’s Batman was given its own section in the basement next to a gallery of Batman games. Speaking of …

The toys and games


Fight Night Champion is too good to stay dead

My shorts are stained red with blood, and most of it isn’t mine.

I’m playing Fight Night Champion nearly a decade after its release. It can be a shockingly violent game, even given the subject matter. I deconstruct my opponent with body shots and side steps, throwing off his balance every time he tries to rush inside. But then one of my power punches leaves me open. The punch he sends into my chest drops my stamina-poor fighter to the mat. I extended myself too far and won nothing for my efforts, which isn’t a bad metaphor for the series itself.

a black boxer hits a skinhead boxer with a right hook in a ring at a prison in Fight Night Champion EA Canada/Electronic Arts

Fight Night, as a franchise, should be dead. It was built on a messy web of individually negotiated contracts that often meant popular boxers were dropped from each game’s roster for various reasons. Then EA signed a deal with UFC one year after Fight Night Champion’s release, transitioned the entire EA Canada team to develop UFC games, and extinguished the last unlicensed EA Sports series.

Yet nearly two thousand people are still using the Fight Night Champion servers when I log in on a random Thursday afternoon. The game is backward compatible on Xbox One, extending the series’ lifetime into the next console generation due to Microsoft’s focus on creating a single, contiguous library of games for its users. And Fight Night Champion, graphically and mechanically, holds up really damn well.

There hasn’t been a Fight Night release in over eight years, and somehow, I still see a contender.

I also found a kindred spirit in Andre Bishop himself.

When your very existence feels like a threat

Andre Bishop seems to be a quiet guy. Emphasis on “seems.”

a black boxer, Andre Bishop, bruised and bloodied in a ring at a prison in Fight Night Champion EA Canada/Electronic Arts

No, he doesn’t chase press interviews. Yes, he’s empathetic. And yes, he works hard. However, the further I progressed, the more I realized that what I initially took to be a nature of calm was in fact a constant practice of self control. Andre faces a barrage of indignities throughout the campaign. He’s attacked for his talent, his race, his commitments; sometimes, he’s attacked for the bare fact that he exists. I didn’t find the crunch of restrained pain and force of will that crossed his digital face until I recognized how often it had crossed my own.

I’m black. It’s hard to describe how much of my life feels actively dangerous. I don’t run places, even if I’m late. A black man running down the street inspires questions, if not gunshots. When I’m in cars that are pulled over, I make sure my hands are always in sight. I don’t make sudden movements in public. I use the word “sir” a lot.

When I lived overseas, I slowly discovered that the town my family had moved to was filled with neo-Nazis. I ended up playing a tactical board game with one at the local board game shop. The entire time, I calculated how many rounds I could win and still walk out of the building safely. Watching the bulging vein on his temple, I moved accordingly.

So, when Andre Bishop sinks his fist into another Nazi face, or gets the championship belt he earned against every odd and disadvantage, I feel a sense of freedom myself. He unleashes himself, and grins, and screams his greatness and joy to the world. He doesn’t have to apologize for existing anymore.

In every sense of the word, he won. That story is a tangibly powerful force for the game, even before we discuss the mechanical brilliance of its presentation and take on boxing.

A sport with a story

Before FIFA’s The Journey, or the Longshot story told across a series of Madden games, Fight Night Champion introduced a cinematic story-based campaign to a sports game — one written by Will Rokos, the Hollywood screenwriter behind Monster’s Ball.

It’s the first and only M-rated EA Sports game released to date, and it starts with a bare-knuckle prison brawl against a skinhead. It drops a couple of F-bombs before I even reach the main menu.

The direction here can feel downright experimental, sidestepping technology and gameplay traditions established by previous Fight Night titles to set a renewed baseline for the series: a foundation of measured brutality, tactical turning points, and sudden drama.

My strikes affect the stamina, balance, and health of my opponents. I can trace the cause of every knockout in hindsight; a jarring montage of accumulated damage and tactical missteps that lead to a random jab causing my opponent to buckle to the ground. The game’s camera shakes with impacts and counters, and when a fighter is stunned the entire system shifts to mirror the changing dynamic of the fight. The camera swivels to focus on the injured party, colors for anything outside of the ring drain away, and a keening whistle overwhelms all sound. The atmosphere is no longer one of a battle; it’s a hunt.

a boxer in red headgear and gloves punches a boxer in blue headgear and gloves in Fight Night Champion EA Sports

A sports game — let alone a series — reaching outside of its core audience is a major outlier. People buy the NFL games because they love football, the FIFA games because they love soccer (the more popular “football”), MLB: The Show because they love baseball, and so on. Fight Night seemed to transcend this barrier, or at least try to. Combat simulations of all kinds are of course an industry staple at this point, but that doesn’t fully explain the appeal. My mother doesn’t play games, but when George Foreman weaves during character selection in Fight Night Champion, she’s transfixed.

There’s a purity in what’s being depicted, and it’s reflected in what the developers choose to focus on. The crowd surrounding me is a blocky mess, but realism triumphs inside the ring. Flesh shakes like it’s experiencing miniature earthquakes. Bodies bruise. Blood congeals or drips depending on the freshness of the wound, and the movement speed of the desperate boxer shuffling away.

Leaning, blocking, clinching, and punching are a limited, accessible set of actions, and the absurdly detailed avatars on screen inspire investment. These are people up there, many of whom carry real cultural significance. Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Manny Pacquiao, Joe Frazier … these names carry weight, and their faces and reactions to each fight tell a story.

The challenge for the team of developers working on Fight Night Champion was then to inspire similar excitement about a boxer audiences aren’t familiar with, in an occasionally explicit cinematic campaign that uses familiar sports beats to thrill and challenge.

They manage to do just that, using a secret weapon: the aforementioned Nazis.

The power of beating the bad guys

a black boxer, Andre Bishop, looks at his skinhead opponent in a ring in a prison in Fight Night Champion EA Sports

There was a time when fighting Nazis was less common in video games, and it extended well into the 2010s. It was a bad time. The developers of Fight Night Champion heartily defied this trend by dedicating a significant portion of the Champion Mode campaign to the falsely accused black protagonist, Andre Bishop, beating the shit out of skinheads in the unjust prison hell he’s been sent to.

In contrast to typical modes like the RPG career-esque “Legacy Mode” and the instant gratification of “Fight Now,” Champion Mode gives my fights a narrative context. Cutscenes bookend and intercut the bouts, many of which have special conditions to make them feel unique. Listening to my trainer, or going to the pause menu, informs me that my current opponent is vulnerable to body blows — no “scouting” required. In one scenario, Bishop is hired to be the sparring partner of a heavyweight fighter.

a black boxer continues to beat on his skinhead opponent in the ring EA Canada/Electronic Arts

If I give my boss a concussion with a knockout via a blow to the head, Bishop loses his job. In another scenario, my right hand is broken, forcing me to fight with nothing but my left unless I wish to risk my boxing future. In yet another scenario, someone in my gym is just being a jerk, so I teach him humility. Through punching. Each situation offers a valuable new way to view my toolset, and in a way, the game’s protagonist.

There’s a corrupt promoter, a fame-hungry brother, an arrogant rival, down-to-earth mentors, betrayals, overwhelming odds to overcome … The narrative isn’t particularly original, but that’s not the point. The concept pursued here is, quite simply, boxing; distilled and linear and familiar and triumphant. Actors play their roles admirably, there are some neat character moments, and the weaving of narrative context with gameplay challenges just works. Champion Mode is impressive — I’m surprised others didn’t follow in its footsteps sooner.

When I look at Fight Night Champion as a whole, my chief impression is one of incredible cohesion. Razor-honed fighting systems pair with graphics and animation that continues to impress to this day. Familiar story beats are well-told through an intersection of meaningful challenge, clear writing, and compelling performance capture. Andre Bishop remains a vivid (if forgotten) protagonist nearly a decade after his debut.

As much as I try to find some tragic downfall in the game that speaks to the inevitability of the series’ demise, I can’t. In Fight Night Champion, I don’t see the lovingly created swan song of a dead franchise.

I see a fighter ready for a comeback.


‘The Discord Is The Church:’ A Place For Gamers To Worship

A few months ago, I was watching streamer Matt Souza play Fortnite on a custom server while I played along with his community, GodSquad Church. With a laptop earbud in one ear and my PC headset over another, I landed randomly on a hilltop near Polar Peak, only to immediately be killed by a player I didn’t see. As my screen swerved to spectate my killer, I saw their screen name: PastorSouzy, the handle of Souza. Instead of basking in his victory, as another streamer might, Souza thanked me via stream for joining the chat, adding, “I appreciate you.” Moments later, he killed another player and thanked them for playing too, throwing in a “God bless.”

It’s not the response I’d expect from a streamer or a Fortnite player, but this wasn’t exactly a regular stream. GodSquad is an online church, and the custom server was their version of a real-life church’s spaghetti dinner. GodSquad’s congregation plays games together a lot, but they also hang out on Discord or chat with each other during Souza’s near-daily personal stream. On weekends they have services, which take place on Twitch.

Over Discord voice call, Souza tells me, “I asked myself, if I’m a gamer, which I am, and I hardly ever leave my house, which I don’t, how am I gonna get the story of Jesus to people who don’t leave their house? And that’s when I found Twitch.”

Souza, 29, is the founder and lead pastor of GodSquad Church, which calls itself “the world’s first church for gamers.” The church’s values statement acknowledges issues that gamers tend to face, such as trolling and toxicity, as well as the mental health struggles or social isolation that can come from or drive people to game excessively. In my time observing the church, congregants seem to talk to each other as much about gaming as they do about religion. GodSquad has a Discord of about 2860 members, and while Souza and his wife Amanda Lee, the church’s executive and music director, are based in Virginia, the church’s other staff and congregants are scattered across the world. “The Discord is the church,” Souza says, since it’s the place “where people are doing life together,” but they also have services, streams, and occasional in-person meetups.

The Discord server is separated into different rooms where people coordinate playing video games together, discuss movies and books, and share memes, as well as make prayer requests or meet in private rooms or video chat for one-on-one prayer or pastoral counseling. I’ve spent a month observing the Discord on weeknights and after GodSquad’s services. It’s a lot more lively than your average physical church, with at least a handful of people around all the time. The server gets especially active after a service, when Souza or another worship leader invites regular viewers and newcomers to join them to chat or play games.

Services happen every Saturday evening on GodSquad’s Twitch channel, with a second service having just been added on Saturday afternoons. Besides the fact that no one’s in the same room, it’s a lot like any other church service. Amanda performs modern praise music with the lyrics shown on-screen. Prayer requests are offered up in chat or via the Discord. While it can be funny to hear people referred to by their Twitch handle, the prayers sound familiar to anyone who’s been to physical worship: jobs, relationships, health. Financial offerings are requested through Streamlabs, text, or via GodSquad’s website. The most incongruous parts of the GodSquad services I’ve attended involve giveaways, where staff members raffle off gaming swag and console shop gift cards via “Penguin points,” a personalized Twitch currency that subscribers accrue from watching Souza’s streams. There’s also a reel of top five gaming clips that the community can vote on, which is a way for congregants to share the best of their gaming moments with each other.

Music at a recent GodSquad service
Screenshot: Twitch

The sermons are usually rooted in gaming or other geeky metaphors. They’re delivered by Souza from his home office, with nerdy toys and art in the background, or from the home of one of the church’s other staff members. Sermons I’ve watched include using the idea of video game delays as a lesson in spiritual patience, completionism as a metaphor for the story of Easter, or how God’s promises relate to Avengers Endgame, complete with an assurance that there won’t be any spoilers. A recent series of talks uses the console wars as a jumping off point for discussing diversity. Souza skirted theological specifics but said “Jesus is calling you and I to deal with diversity, whether it’s racial, whether it’s political, whether it’s preferential, whether it’s philosophical, whether it’s simply Xbox versus PS4.” The sermon came down firmly on the side of diversity being a good thing, while drawing a distinction between “sin and holiness,” between ideological differences and what Souza believes God thinks is right, leaving the latter vague. I haven’t heard specific hot-button issues like homosexuality or abortion in GodSquad sermons, though a recent video stood in favor of women preaching, a progressive stance in some denominations. GodSquad seems more focused on the issues viewers face in their lives and how they relate to one’s personal relationship with God than ecclesiastical tensions that might arise in physical churches or those more firmly rooted in a specific denomination.

Sermons shift in topic between gaming and religion, surprisingly, without tipping over into cool youth pastor parody. Gaming is acknowledged as what brought people to GodSquad, but it’s never made overly important or more serious than other aspects of congregants’ lives. While the sound effects and graphics could feel a little hokey to me at times, in sermons gaming largely serves as a rhetorical anchor or a model of a bigger theological concept. Souza in particular shifts between gaming and God well, and he’s especially compelling as a preacher. He’s conversational and intellectually approachable, quick to laugh and to implicate himself in the struggles and spiritual pitfalls he explores. He comes across as warm and passionate about both the message and the people hearing it; even when I’ve been dubious about a certain message or suspicious of a turn of phrase, it’s hard not to hear him out.

Souza gets a lot of public speaking practice since he streams seven hours a day most weekdays on his personal channel. He plays Fortnite and a lot of Old School Runescape. Sometimes the community raids other channels, often other Runescape streamers, filling their chat with messages of love and support. On Fridays, he hosts a segment called Real Talk where he invites viewers to ask him anything, whether that’s deep theological questions or advice about streaming. Christianity occasionally comes up in the chat, the day often begins with a prayer, and Souza falls naturally into talk of faith or Jesus from time to time. But other than that, Souza’s personal channel is a lot like any other streamer’s.

Souza has been streaming video games since 2014, but it wasn’t always as part of GodSquad. He and Amanda met while studying theology at a Pentecostal school in Massachusetts. Later, Souza worked in a brick-and-mortar Assemblies of God church in Oxford, Connecticut while gaming on the side.

At that time, Souza wasn’t public about his love of gaming, seeing it instead as an “almost secret lifestyle.” He’d played games since he was young, but as an adult, he felt it would be considered a shameful pastime, especially in contrast to his public role as a mature pastor. “I worked at a local church, suit and tie on Sunday mornings, I was Pastor Matt,” he explains. “It might sound silly, but it was almost a fear I had, if people found out I played video games… Are people going to think I’m going to be 35 and live in my mama’s basement without a job?”

In the summer of 2014, something happened that changed Souza’s mind. He was watching Twitch streamer Summit1g, not realizing at first what Twitch was, seeing it as “like a website where everyone can get together and, like, watch a YouTube video.” But then, he says, someone in chat asked a question, and Summit answered. “My mind was blown,” says Souza. “I was like, ‘He’s live, this is happening now?’” Summit’s stream in that moment had 25,000 people in it, and Souza couldn’t help but notice: “That is bigger than 99% of the churches in the world. I was like, it’s Tuesday morning!”

Souza was inspired. “I just had the thought: What if we were able to use this to influence people in a positive way, to teach them good principles about how video games and responsibilities do not need to be enemies, and also sharing with them what we have found to be life-changing, which is the power of Jesus, with other people who wanted to hear it?”

In the early days, Souza was more or less like any other new streamer. He got an Xbox, a “crappy” camera, and a “headset mic that was awful.” He made his Twitch title “A Pastor Playing Halo” and started streaming. He describes it as “literally while I’m shooting people in the face I’m telling them, ‘Hey man, God loves you.’” His early clips are incongruous—switching between talking about God’s love to cheering over a particularly good kill—but the casual chatter feels familiar, even if the subject matter might be unusual for Twitch. The channel started with three viewers, but more people started tuning in over the next year, with many of them accepting Jesus into their lives over stream.

A clip from an early stream

After over a year of streaming and gathering more viewers, Souza launched a GoFundMe to start turning GodSquad from a personal project into an actual organization. Due to various difficulties around becoming an officially-recognized church that didn’t have a physical location, GodSquad eventually came to operate under the umbrella of the church Souza had worked for in Connecticut. Souza’s home church was excited about the project—Souza tells me the response to GodSquad from the church world is “either one or the other extreme” between enthusiasm for their methods or disdain for “encouraging even more teenagers to waste their lives.” Luckily, his home church fell in the former camp rather than the latter. In March of 2016, GodSquad became a non-profit, “as real a church as any church you’ve ever walked into,” motivated by “the desire to reach people no one else was reaching, connecting with people no one else was connecting with:” gamers.

These days, when I watch, Souza’s personal streams have averaged between 70 and 100 viewers, with over 100 tuning in for GodSquad services. Souza tells me that his streams average about 7000 people every week, with about three-fourths of them being return viewers. The church has five core staff members: Souza; Amanda, who, in addition to music, manages the ins and outs of the church’s volunteers; media director Dylan “UnworthySeraph” Hoelz, who makes graphics and runs GodSquad’s website and social media; Community Care Pastor Raymond “Pastor Bos” Bosworth; and Joey “Pastor Joey” Simon, who leads the church’s small group studies under the title Level Up Pastor. Many of them stream from their own personal Twitch channels as well. Hoelz is a full-time paid staff member of the church, and Bosworth and Simon receive stipends. Souza and Amanda make money via Souza’s personal stream: “Technically my broadcast is how my wife and I make a living, and both of us just volunteer our time at the church,” Souza says. “Especially with the negative stigma of pastors and money and everything, we want to be above reproach in that area.”

There are also about 75 volunteers. Some moderate the Discord and Twitch chat. Others lead “ministry” guilds in games like World of Warcraft, where they attract other players through their behavior and high level of play and then introduce faith. If these players aren’t interested in learning more, Souza explains, they can just keep playing with the church’s guild. Volunteers must be members of the church for at least three months, and they’re interviewed over video before being accepted.

One volunteer moderator, Chris, tells me over Discord message, “I help cultivate a family friendly atmosphere for the server and Twitch chat and help resolve any conflict that might emerge within members of our server and Twitch chat. As a moderator I am expected to be available at certain times throughout the week, but there are many times where I help out even when I am not expected to, to make sure the community is being looked after.”

Chris came to GodSquad via Souza’s channel. He tells me he grew up Southern Baptist but felt alienated from the church and from God. “I hated churches, because when I showed up to church in ripped jeans and a T-shirt with a heavy metal band on it, I never felt welcomed. A pastor at one church told me to call him if I ever needed anything but wouldn’t answer the phone if I called. I felt like everyone thought that they were better than myself because they went to church every Sunday. It felt like I was surrounded by hypocrites.”

After turning away from religion, Chris says he struggled with depression, turning to “nicotine, alcohol, and women.” In September of 2017, he came across Souza’s channel while on lunch break at work. Souza was streaming a newly-launched game, and Chris stuck around. “To be honest, I thought the guy was a fake pastor that was just using a clever name to get viewers on Twitch,” Chris says. “God knew what He was doing that day. He knew how bad I needed a positive influence in my life. I became a member of GodSquad Church that day, and looking back, I’m so glad that I didn’t leave that stream and that I decided to stay.” After a year of membership, he became a volunteer because he “wanted to help people the way this community helped me.”

People don’t always have the same positive reaction to GodSquad as Chris. Some viewers just leave once they realize the stream can be religious; I’ve seen people enter chat, say, “Oh this is about God, bye” and exit. Others stick around to troll. In a service in February, Souza acknowledged the challenge of trolls coming into the community, saying, “People can come in at any time from anywhere in the world and say anything they want, literally 24/7.” The most aggressive trolling I’ve seen was a viewer dramatically overreacting to the telling of the Easter story, but I’d certainly believe there’s worse.

Unlike other Twitch channels or Discord communities, GodSquad is hesitant to ban people. Souza tells me that on Twitch they’ll often issue people 10-minute timeouts, after which many trolls will just leave. Those who get repeated timeouts, he says, will sometimes get curious and stick around or, he claimed in February, even join the church. Dealing with trolls can be trickier on Discord, where the challenges of time zones can mean that when trolling or hateful messages are left “at 4:30 in the morning, those messages stay there until someone wakes up.”

In our conversation, Souza shares a sentiment common in some denominations that people today are hostile to Christians. He chalks this up in part to what he sees as judgmental Christians misrepresenting the faith. In a recent video, he said, “Twitch is not a God-loving website, it’s a website where people are far from God… It breaks my heart to think that people hate God, but I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that truth.” Whether the people trolling are doing so out of a distaste for religion specifically or just trolling for the sake of trolling, GodSquad faces a conflict of wanting to invite everyone in and then dealing with the consequences of that openness. The ease with which people can enter the church from their own homes means it’s easy for anyone to give church a shot, a strength GodSquad capitalizes on in its messaging. But it also means it’s easy for trolls to cause trouble, a situation most physical churches rarely face.

Recently, Souza has come to suspect the outward trappings of religiosity, especially on his personal channel, might hurt more than they help. He wants to reach people who aren’t Christians—one of GodSquad’s most prominent slogans is “You don’t need to believe to belong”—but most non-trolls willing to enter or stick around a stream titled “Pastor” are likely to be Christian already, or at least curious about religion. In our conversation, he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be seen as a Christian streamer just looking for other Christians to hang out with. To further clarify this image, recently he changed the name of his Twitch channel and other social media and gaming handles from PastorSouzy to SouzyLive.

“I can’t share God’s love with people who refuse to enter my stream,” he said in a video describing the reasons behind the name changes. He compared his old Twitch name to starting a conversation with a friend by bringing up something they hate: “If I want to build common ground with people, it’s unwise for me to say, ‘Hey my name is Pastor Souzy and I love the thing you hate, let’s be friends.’” Whether people who pop into his streams unawares will be more likely to stick around, or whether the change will inadvertently invite more trolls, remains to be seen.

GodSquad faces other challenges unique to being an online-only church. During Saturday services I’ve watched, moderators have had to turn the chat away from games and back to the sermon more than once, like a digital version of hushing the kids in the back pews. During Runescape and Fortnite streams on Souza’s personal channel, viewers will hit him with complicated theological questions or personal issues when he’s trying to focus on gaming. Sometimes he’ll ask them to come back for Real Talk or head to the Discord. Other times, I’ve seen someone fill the chat with the story of an intense personal struggle—a heart attack, a miscarriage—and look for pastoral care a gaming-focused stream can’t necessarily provide. I’ve watched the chat fumble to respond to a person’s repeated requests for help while moderators direct them to one-on-one conversations or the Discord.

The church, in one form or another, is available to everyone all the time, which means people expect Souza to be available, too. Many streamers try to keep their viewers away from their personal lives, but Souza, by virtue of his job and unique community, has to invite it all in. Most streamers don’t go from entertaining viewers with a Fortnite stream to counseling people through their marriage or rallying the community to record a video for a congregant who’s just woken up from surgery.

Souza says, “Our church offers something that I don’t think I can say any other church on the entire planet does, which is that if you want, you can spend all day, every day, with your pastor.” The result sometimes looks to me like the internet version of The SimpsonsNed Flanders calling Reverend Lovejoy too often. Souza says, “No one’s going to knock on their pastor’s door at three o’clock in the morning, but people will definitely send us a Discord message at three o’clock in the morning and expect us to answer.”

The work can be “difficult and exhausting,” says Souza. “I’m definitely a small streamer, but I think I carry a weight that most streamers don’t carry.” When GodSquad was first taking off, he tried to respond to all his messages himself, but that quickly got out of hand, with people waiting too long for a response. “They’re reaching out, looking for help, and two months later their problem is over,” he laughs. “They’re no longer in need of care. I’ve made all these promises—we want to be there for you, we love you—but then they’ve waited over two months for a response.”

It’s a struggle too, Souza says, because he wants to keep his personal Twitch channel and the church separate. “To me, when you’re watching my stream, you’re hanging out with Matt. I’m not preaching a sermon, you’re just hanging out with me and who I am. In those moments when I’m talking about faith or praying for people, I’m not doing those because I’m a pastor, I’m doing those because that’s who I am.”

Souza streaming Fortnite
Screenshot: Twitch

But even making that separation clear, by trying to keep his personal streams focused on gaming or changing his name on Twitch, can’t undo the fact that people are still hanging out with their pastor. They want his attention, like any fan might, but they bring their personal and faith issues with them. Souza plays a greater role in their lives than just an entertainer, regardless of the focus of a day’s stream. “It can be difficult at times to try to live up to the expectations that everyone has,” he says. “I think people can put pastors on a pedestal and think that we are perfect and all-knowing and all-mighty, and the reality is that I’m not… Everyone has bad days, streamers have bad days. On the days you feel like you need encouragement, you’re still the one responsible to be giving out encouragement.”

Souza has methods for balancing life with streaming and with the business side of GodSquad, much of which has to be conducted in the evenings after he streams. He and Amanda have a date night on Wednesdays, and they don’t work on Sundays. “It doesn’t mean there’s not work to be done, we just don’t do it.” He hangs out with friends. He makes sure to pray, read the Bible, and keep his own faith life strong—“If I don’t truly love God it’s not going to be coming out of a place of passion, it’s going to be coming out of a place of obligation.” It’s the usual streamer stuff, as well as the usual ministry stuff, rolled into one. “That’s just leadership,” Souza says, “learning to deal with the pressures and unrealistic expectations. It’s never going to change. It’s not going to get better, it’s only going to get worse… The reality is that this is what I’ve signed up for and this is what I believe that God has called me to do.”

The pressures, as well as the opportunities, are made possible by the unique nature of Twitch. Even so, GodSquad is looking to move beyond the internet and into the physical world. This summer, they’ll have their second SquadCon, an in-person gathering at a church in Richmond, Virginia. They’ve also recently moved forward on a dream Souza has had since before they even started GodSquad: to build a LAN center. It won’t be an explicitly Christian LAN center, but it will nonetheless be a place to establish outreach for people who aren’t in the church and a place for members of the church to gather.

Through fundraising, GodSquad has raised $26,000 for the LAN center—specifically, that money is to put a down payment on some land and clear the trees off it, though they’re still closing on the property itself. The process has been difficult, with GodSquad’s current lack of a physical meeting place making it hard to secure loans as a church. In a sermon about the LAN center in April, Souza spun these challenges into a lesson in patience he could share with congregants. He has dreams of having these LAN centers around the country, “a vision and a plan I hope will outlive me,” but that dream is a long way off.

Souza skydiving as part of the fundraising goals for the LAN center

This project raises the question of why a church with such a strong virtual presence would need land, especially when so many members of the community are unlikely to ever visit it. Souza says GodSquad’s community was happy to give to the effort so that other people could have what they would want: a place to game with their friends. “Gamers growing up, we all sit alone in our rooms. I believe life is better when we do it together, and I believe video games are more fun when we do it together… I think God wants us to have a desire to be together and to have a place to be together.”

GodSquad is a small Twitch channel but a large and lively church, with an active attendance few physical churches can likely boast. Subcultural churches are nothing new: There are churches for runners and cowboys, churches where dinners replace standard worship. Organizations like Game Church and the Christian Game Developers Conference have combined Christianity and gaming before. I’m not sure if GodSquad would be as effective without the gaming angle, if it were something more akin to an online-focused church like Life.Church. Sharing the common interest of gaming seems to help GodSquad’s community cohere in a way physical churches, sharing only the commonality of geography, can struggle to do.

GodSquad’s gaming metaphors might seem corny in a service, but they aren’t a gimmick, and Souza’s passion for the topic is genuine. He wants to entertain viewers in his streams, and he wants to share his passion for Jesus with them, and these two goals are united by a desire to connect with other gamers on the internet. He tells me, “There’s a quote: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care…That’s what I try to do every day on Twitch: build a relationship with them. ‘Hey man, I’m so glad you’re here. You’re a real-life person, you matter and have value. We’d love to play some games together.’”


Are Simba and Nala related? A lion expert weighs in

For better or for worse, the 2019 redux of The Lion King trades the lush animated original for a more nitty and gritty, photorealistic style. You can really see every strand of fur on the lions, every piece of grace on the savannah, every last particle of dust. When The Lion King was hand-animated, we could easily suspend disbelief and buy the fact that Simba, Pumbaa, and Timon swing from vines in “Hakuna Matata” or that Scar and the hyenas parade around in a rocky lair full of swirling green smoke in “Be Prepared.” The new Lion King, however, sheds the fantastical for the realistic.

Now that The Lion King is basically a nature documentary, not a cartoon, real life complications become all the more…real.

For instance — because the only male lions of fathering age (Mufasa and Scar) are brothers, does this mean Simba and Nala are related? From what we see in the movie, that means either Mufasa is Nala’s father, making the two lovers half-siblings, or Scar is Nala’s father, making the two cousins. Either way, yeowch.

Polygon reached out to Dr. Craig Packer, director of Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota, to get to the bottom of this carnivore conundrum.

First thing’s first: let’s take a look at the conditions of the pride as we see it in the movie. We have Mufasa and Scar (real name Taka, as revealed in a 1994 tie-in book) as two males, at least half a dozen female lions that we’re aware of, and Simba and Nala the cubs. Would this automatically make Mufasa or Scar Nala’s father? Not necessarily.

“Usually lion prides have two or three males,” says Dr. Packer.

So there could have been a third male lion that died or something before the events of the movie. Given Disney’s track record of over-correcting their old movies, it’s possible that a director’s cut exists out there somewhere where Simba’s mom Sarabi off-handedly mentions Nala’s dead father.

However, as it turns out, it’s not the link through potential fathers we should be concerned about, but the one through the mothers.

“The females in a pride are all closely related to each other,” explains Dr. Packer. “They’re sisters, cousins, grandmothers, nieces and aunts. So if Nala and Simba were not litter-mates, there is a chance they’d have the same father, but it’s their mothers who would have been as close as sisters or cousins.”

In The Lion King, the title of king passes from father to oldest son. In real life, however, once male lions reach a certain age, they leave home, bond with other young adult male lions, and go out of their way to find a pride they’re not related to that will let them mate. The fact that Simba and Nala even get together not only is pretty squicky because they’re direct cousins, but also because it goes against natural lion order. The answer, then, to our pressing question is: yes, Simba and Nala are related, because their moms are related.

Which, hey, we could suspend when Timon was also hula dancing, but when everything just looks so damn real, it’s a bit harder to ignore. The curse of realistic lions, it seems, is a heightened awareness of realistic lion dynamics.


Final Rebuild Of Evangelion Movie Gets A Freaky Trailer

The first Rebuild of Evangelion movie came out in 2007, when I was in high school. Over a decade later, after many delays, the last movie in the series, Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 finally has a teaser trailer, and will hit theaters in Japan in June of 2020.

The Rebuild of Evangelion movies are reinterpretations of the original series. While the first movie still hews close to the plot of the anime, the later ones are a radical departure from the original story. Still, if there is one universal constant in the world of Evangelion, it’s this: Shinji is going to have a bad time.

The final movie in the series, the bizarrely titled Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0, at long last has a teaser trailer. It’s weird.

The enigmatic trailer mostly consists of long shots of CGI creatures and Evangelions over a foreboding red background. It also has some quick cuts to text or other characters. Most interesting, near the end, you can see a brief shot of the character Kaworu, who didn’t exactly leave the last movie unscathed.

I am excited for this series of movies to finally end, if not just to see what becomes of Asuka, Rei and Shinji, who somehow ended up more traumatized in these movies than they did in the original show. I still have hope that they’ll find love, in the end.


The Fraught History Of The Sims Introducing Same-Sex Romance Options

In design documents for the very first Sims game, renowned programmer Don Hopkins wrote that anyone offended by the game having same-sex romance needs to “needs to grow up and get a life.”

According to a New York Times article, programmer Patrick J. Barrett III added same-sex romance to the game without much input from anyone else, leading to the shocking E3 demo in 1999 during which two female Sims kissed on stage.

“During The Sims’s protracted development, the team had debated whether to permit same-sex relationships in the game. If this digital petri dish was to accurately model all aspects of human life, from work to play and love, it was natural that it would facilitate gay relationships. But there was also fear about how such a feature might adversely affect the game,” the article reads. “After going back and forth for several months, the team finally decided to leave same-sex relationships out of the game code.” But then, Barrett decided to add the code himself.

Hopkins’s design documents reveal some of that back and forth, which is amusing in its own right.

“The code tests to see if the sex of the people trying to romantically interact is the same, and if so, the result is a somewhat violent negative interaction, clearly homophobic. We are definitely going to get flack for that,” Hopkins wrote in the documents. He then goes on to write that it would be “much more realistic” to have Sims’s sexuality determined by two different scales ranging from one to one hundred: one for their interest in romance with members of the same sex, and the other for their interest in romance with members of the opposite sex.

“It would make for a much more interesting and realistic game, partially influenced by random factors, and anyone offended by that needs to grow up and get a life, and hopefully our game will help them in that quest,” Hopkins’ notes in the design documents continued. “Anyone who is afraid that it might offend the sensibilities of other people (but of course not themselves) is clearly homophobic by proxy but doesn’t realize it since they’re projecting their homophobia onto other people.”

After that follows the familiar story: Barrett added same-sex romance while working off of this old design document, and then the world saw that it was possible at E3 the following year.

Reading what Hopkins wrote about same-sex romance in The Sims over two decades ago is heartening. At that time, members of the LGBT community had far fewer legal protections than they do now, and could not legally marry their partners. But the goal of The Sims was not to reflect any particular person’s morality, but rather the reality of the world, which contains a vast array of people. The game, and our world, is better for it.


Google Insists Stadia “Is Not Netflix For Games”

Google Stadia launches in just a few months, but there remain some questions about exactly how it will work and what role it’s looking to serve. In an attempt to clarify people’s questions, Stadia’s product director, Andrey Doronichev, held a Reddit Q&A in which he sought to distance the platform from comparisons to Netflix, which has often been cited by some.

“To be clear, Stadia Pro is not ‘Netflix for games’ like some people have mentioned,” Doronichev explained. “A closer comparison would be like Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus. The Pro subscribers get 4K/HDR streaming, 5.1 sound, exclusive discounts and access to some free games. Roughly one free game per month, give or take. Starting with Destiny 2 (yay!).”

Stadia Pro is the premium subscription service that Stadia users can subscribe to if they wish. It gets you everything listed by Doronichev above, but Stadia Pro subscribers will still have to pay full price for additional games beyond those offered for free, despite a Pro membership already costing $10 / £9 per month–coincidentally the same price as a Netflix Premium subscription in the UK.

Stadia Pro will be launching as part of the Stadia Founder’s Edition, which is currently scheduled to release in November 2019. The premium subscription will be the only way to play Stadia at first, but not forever: a separate Stadia Base service will launch in 2020. Base will be free, but you’ll miss out on the free monthly game and resolution and sound quality will be slightly diminished, to a maximum of 1080p and stereo sound.

Elsewhere in the Reddit thread, Doronichev addressed what would happen to your games if Stadia were to shut down. For more details on the streaming service, check out everything we know about its Stadia’s pricing, release date, and game lineup.


When Is Gamescom 2019? Dates, Times, And Schedule Confirmed

It feels like only yesterday that E3 2019 wrapped up, and we’re already gearing up for the next big gaming event of the year: Gamescom 2019.

Gamescom is held every year in Cologne, Germany. This year’s key date is August 20, when the show kicks off. However, as is the norm with Gamescom, that day is for press and trade visitors only; members of the public can get in from the day after, Wednesday, August 21. The last show day is Saturday, August 24.

This year the event will be kicked off with a new livestream named Gamescom: Opening Night Live. This presentation will be hosted by Geoff Keighley and will include “announcements from major game publishers and independent developers, world premieres of new game footage and special guest appearances from the stars of the gaming industry.” The show will be streamed live on August 19 from 8 PM CEST / 11 AM PT / 2 PM ET / 7 PM BST (4 AM AET on August 20).

This year is Gamescom’s 10th anniversary. Over 370,000 people from around the globe attend each year, making it the world’s biggest gaming convention. Let us know what you’re looking forward to seeing at Gamescom in the comments!