In Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy, the open world’s innocent bystander fights back

The “what if characters in video games were actually living people” premise is now almost 40 years old, bridging Tron, Wreck-It Ralph, Ready Player One (and, for a really deep cut, Automan). It gets a twist next summer in Free Guy, in which Ryan Reynolds is a non-player character in an open-world, Grand Theft Auto-type video game who sees the truth with a pair of They Live sunglasses and starts fighting back.

Free Guy might seem like the kind of campy, spoofy, wink-and-nod collation of geek-culture references that got Ryan Reynolds a bathtub full of nominations for his two Deadpool movies. But from the trailer 20th Century Fox dropped today, Free Guy to me more resembles a longer-running, rounder-hearted spirit of the silver screen: What if the average person suddenly found themselves in power? Just sayin’, I think this three-minute clip could give Frank Capra a stiffie.

Either way, I’m here for it. Free Guy is written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, is directed by Shawn Levy, stars Reynolds and Jodie Comer, and has Taika Waititi thrown in as a bonus, so you know it’s gonna be weird and funny as hell.


Knives Out’s lighting expert pulled out all the stops for the movie’s best closeups

Ah, the key grip. For those not in the know, they’re the lighting and rigging engineer on the set. Basically, the director of photography’s muscle. They have to come up with all kinds of methods, improvisations and experiments so that you, the viewer, can see what the director is holding in their mind’s eye.

For Knives Out, Rian Johnson’s whodunit that premiered Nov. 27 and is getting a lot of traction at the box office right now, key grip Matt Mania went all-in to deliver verisimilitude in the film’s lighting. He sculpted the lighting diffusers in order to reflect, in the actors’ eyewear, a realistic presentation of the windows in the rooms where they are sitting for their closeups.

Cinematographer Steve Yedlin credited Mania’s mattes in a tweet this morning.

It’s a really cool you-may-have-missed-this detail for a really cool movie with a really cool cast. And it’s another thumbs-up for practical effects in a time when a lot of things are simply shot on a green screen for convenience’s sake.


The Elder Scrolls: Legends has been shut down

The Elder Scrolls: Legends, Bethesda Softworks’ foray into the card-battler genre, is effectively closed. The game’s community manager told players yesterday on Legends’ official subreddit that development has ended, which cancels the console launch that Bethesda announced for Legends at E3 2018.

Bethesda’s Christian Van Hoose characterized the decision as a mothballing of sorts, with “any new development or release [put] on hold” indefinitely. That also means the card set promised in The Elder Scrolls: Legends’ April development roadmap has been canceled, too. Legends’ online and single-player modes are still playable and Bethesda will support online play with monthly rewards and in-game events, Van Hoose said.

Last summer, Bethesda fired original developing studio Dire Wolf Digital and put Sparkypants Studios in charge of the project. At the time, spokesman Pete Hines said Bethesda wasn’t unhappy with Dire Wolf’s performance, but it did consider Legends to have “a lot of untapped potential.” The game was announced in 2015 and, after a public beta period, launched on Windows and Apple PCs in March and May 2017, followed by Android and iOS editions. The Elder Scrolls: Legends’ most recent expansion, “Jaws of Oblivion,” launched in September 2018.

As a make-good to players, everyone will receive “the Tamriel Collection,” an assortment of three-attribute cards and more, for free on their next login to The Elder Scrolls: Legends.


Fortnite’s movie theater will show a scene from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Fortnite’s in-game drive-in theater, Risky Reels, will show a scene from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker next weekend, Dec. 14, six days before the space-opera blockbuster opens in theaters worldwide.

In-game theater posters are already advertising the screening, which begins at 1:30 p.m. EST next Saturday. The actual clip will be shown at 2 p.m., Epic Games and Disney are giving players 30 minutes to get to the theater and take a seat. Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams is expected to make an appearance, too.

Earlier this week, dataminers uncovered evidence of a special event, codenamed Galileo, taking place at the drive-in. Risky Reels has been a popular landing spot for Fortnite players, featuring rows of rusted-out cars staring at a blank movie screen. Most players should know where to find it, but if you don’t, it’s in located in the far northeast of Fortnite Battle Royale’s map.

Risky Reels has hosted other promotional collaborations before, including for Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet last year. Last month, Epic added a Stormtrooper skin to Fortnite’s premium wardrobe.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters on Dec. 20, and will close out a narrative arc spanning four decades and nine films.


9 great movies you can now stream this month

New movies become available to stream almost every day on every platform, making the already daunting task of choosing something to watch even more difficult. To help parse through the lot, we’ve taken a look at all the most recent additions and chosen the five best movies currently available to you.

From grungy fantasy to biographical dramas to schlocky action romps, here’s what you should be streaming right now.

Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) holds a listening device to his ear during a congressional hearing Warner Bros. Pictures

The Aviator (2004)

With The Irishman now on Netflix, Martin Scorsese fever is in the air (and it’s sending some Marvel fans into a fit, but that’s another story). If you’re familiar with the heavy gangster films that led the director to his conclusive, three-and-a-half-hour epic, consider one of his slicker dramas. The Aviator stars Scorsese’s other longtime collaborator, Leonardo DiCaprio, as Howard Hughes, the show business maverick who become obsessed with breaking air speed records and launching H-4 Hercules “flying boat” into the sky. Scorsese winds through Hollywood history to find Hughes at his highs and the crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder than would bring him to his lows. With a star-studded cast, it’s the definition of well-polished character study.

Stream on Hulu

robert redford as david chappellet looks over his shoulder, the white snow behind him The Criterion Collection

Downhill Racer (1969)

This often-overlooked sports drama stars Robert Redford as David Chappellet, a laser-focused downhill skier who navigates moguls better than social hierarchies. His coach (Gene Hackman) wants him to play nice with his teammates, but David can’t shake his desire for accomplishment, even at the cost of love. Michael Ritchie, known for broader comedy work like Bad News Bears and Fletch, made his debut with the drama, which couples Redford’s deep performance with pristine ski footage.

Stream on Hulu

The Head Hunter

It’s the live-action Skyrim movie you didn’t know you needed. Scaling the fantasy genre down to the level of gnarled, psychological horror, The Head Hunter follows a warrior seeking revenge on the monster that killed his daughter. The build up of director Jordan Downey’s indie quest is severe and brutal, and the atmosphere bleeds through the frames. Here’s the one big thing you really need to know: “head hunter” is a literal job description. Our hero hunts heads.

Stream on Shudder

two men sit in the grass looking at a can A24

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Jimmie Fails stars in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which is based in part on his life. The story revolves around the former Fails family home, which was purportedly built by Jimmie’s grandfather. Since his father lost the house, Jimmie has been obsessed with returning to it. Along with his playwright friend Montgomery (played by a terrific Jonathan Majors), Jimmie embarks upon a quest to get it back. Joe Talbot’s directorial debut is a stunningly beautiful elegy, from the glowing Bay Area cinematography to a triumphant score.

Stream on Amazon

malcolm x stands at the podium outside and gives a speech Warner Bros. Pictures

Malcolm X (1992)

Denzel Washington remains one of today’s great actors. Those who got wise to the legend’s talents later in life probably missed Spike Lee’s sweeping portrait of the civil rights activist, which excels with Washington’s concentrated, charismatic naturalism. Clocking in a little over three hours — just three episodes of a binge-watch! You can do it! — Malcolm X tracks the events that evolved transformed Malcolm Lee into “Malcolm X” into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Throughout the odyssey, Lee uses color and lighting to conjure moods that straight-laced historical adaptation wouldn’t convey, complementing Washington’s determined performance.

Stream on Netflix

Two adults lay on a bed with their child snuggled between them. Photo: Netflix

Marriage Story (2019)

Despite its title, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is about divorce. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as Charlie and Nicole, a couple in the midst of separating. They haven’t stopped loving each other, nor is there some single inciting incident, which is what makes the divorce so difficult. As lawyers are drawn in and boil their lives into too-simple terms for the sake of a settlement, they struggle to keep ahold of their professional and private lives, which were previously so intensely tied together. Baumbach resists the easy route of painting one as the villain and one as the hero, making the divorce all the more bittersweet — and rewarding — to watch.

Stream on Netflix

Sol Nazerman sits in pain, light broken up by a grate at the pawn shope Allied Artists Pictures

The Pawnbroker (1964)

Sidney Lumet built a career on confronting the truth. With his lights pointed at the system, the surface blistered in films like 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Serpico, and The Verdict. Considering it all, one of his early films, The Pawnbroker, is also one of his most provocative. Grappling with the aftermath of the Holocaust like few had done before, the drama centers on Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger), a survivor who set up shop in East Harlem, but has never been able to shake the horrors of genocide, or the guilt of leaving the concentration camps intact. The world is a nightmare, and Sol, dealing with customers who need to sell of their possessions to get by another day, holds everything in. Until he doesn’t. The bar for “tour de force” was set by Lumet, who peels back the layers at just the right moments, and Steiger, who unleashes hell when called upon.

Stream on Amazon

phase IV: an ant crawls up on a bed and looks at a girl in close up Olive Films

Phase IV (1974)

Fans of Ant-Man and other Formicidae-themed films must seek out Phase IV, the only directorial effort from title sequence master Saul Bass. The setup is a trip: An intergalactic anomaly causes Earth’s ants to become hyper-intelligent and aggressively productive. They build ant hill monoliths in the desert, and when threatened by mankind, devise a plan for all out war. Bass goes for broke with weird visuals, delivering something between Them! and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Stream on Amazon and Hulu

Dalton stands in front of a crowd at the road house MGM Home Entertainment

Road House (1989)

Come to Road House for the bar brawls, stay for the bare-knuckled fist fights. The simple pleasures of this Patrick Swayze vehicle have gained cult status over the years (how could an ’80s action movie directed by a guy named Rowdy Herrington not?), and there’s nothing we could say that could do justice to its oddities than Polygon contributor Sean T. Collins’ Road-House-essay-a-day project, so go read that when you’re done.

Stream on Hulu


Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance changes depending when and where you ride

Rise of the Resistance is the latest cutting-edge attraction at Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The dark ride leads guests to the heart of a First Order Star Destroyer (aka makes standing in line kind of fun), where they eventually must make their escape with the help of Disney cast members dressed as Resistance fighters. “The break out” invites guests to board two seemingly identical cars for a chase sequence that feels like it’s straight out of the movies.

The ride is a sensory overload, and one that begs to be experienced more than once just to see all the details. But when you ride the ride a second time, in a different car or during a different time of day, riders will actually get two distinct experiences, according to the Disney Imagineers.

At a premiere event at Walt Disney World, John Larena, creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, mentioned that the ride has multiple viewpoints and that the subtle details of the experience really depend on which seat you get.

“There are eight seats in every vehicle,” Larena explained at a media event. “There’s two vehicles in there and I’ll tell you, it matters whether you’re on the side, in the front … it really does dictate where your head kind of trends to catch all these other thing. Totally different perspectives.”

During one critical moment, a shootout near a fleet of AT-ATs, the cars are separated and each views the scene a little differently, like a parallel moment in time. The front car sees Finn standing, with his back against crates, while the back car sees him crouching. Immediately after, both cars launch up: the front car sees directly into the AT-AT cockpit, while the back car gets a side view.

Guests dodge huge turbolaser cannons as they attempt to escape a First Order Star Destroyer as part of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Photo: Matt Stroshane/Disney Parks

Because the ride just has so much going on, even if you ride in the same exact place a second time through, you may pay attention to different details. Larena cites a moment when the escape vehicles zip through the Star Destroyer’s gunnery, where giant cannon props blast right over guests heads, embroiled in a space battle right outside the window.

“You might just look at the gun turbo guns that would catch your attention,” said Larena. “[But] if you direct your attention outside. There’s a whole other story that’s happening out there [via projections] that actually makes sense with everything that’s happening in the physical world.”

The bulk of Rise of the Resistance takes place in these two cars, but the lead up — a line that’s disguised as mini-rides — also has a re-ridability factor. Loading into the transport vehicle pioneered by new character, Lieutenant Bek a Mon Calamari, guests blast off from Batu. While the front of the ship features an animatronic Bek, the back shows a panoramic view of the planet as the ship departs. Depending on whether you ride in the morning or the evening, the projection changes to reflect the time of day, a small note that infuses all the more reality to the fantastical Star Wars story.

“It’s a very authentic story,” said Jon Georges, executive producer on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. “Because you are authentically there.”

Ride of the Resistance is now open at Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World in Orlando, FL. The ride’s Disneyland counterpart opens on Jan. 17. For a closer look at the attraction, watch our ridethrough video at the top of the story.


There are no heroes or villains in Netflix’s Marriage Story

It can be tremendously hard to tell a story that has conflict, but no villain. Not all stories have a clear-cut bad guy — life isn’t so simple — but villains provide a source of conflict that can be easily parsed. When one character is in the right and the other is in the wrong, it’s clear who the audience is supposed to be rooting for, and easy to define the terms of any confrontation.

In the new Netflix film Marriage Story, as a divorcing couple escalates their relationship conflict to painful extremes, writer-director Noah Baumbach could have easily turned his separating parties into a protagonist and an antagonist. But Baumbach has built his career (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, The Meyerowitz Stories) on exploring the gray spaces between overtly right and wrong sides in personal face-offs, and Marriage Story is no different in its refusal to present any absolutes, except perhaps the absolute that love is strange.

Charlie (Adam Driver) is a theater director, and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is a former film actress now starring in Charlie’s shows. As the film begins, they read letters they’ve composed, detailing exactly what they love about each other. Their marriage of 10 years seems perfect — until Baumbach pulls back, revealing that they’ve written those letters at the behest of a divorce mediator. The counselor asks them to read their letters aloud, and Nicole, annoyed and embarrassed, refuses.

Johansson and Driver across from each other in a subway car.
Strangers on a train.
Photo: Netflix

Nicole and Charlie’s separation grows more complicated when Nicole violates their agreement to not involve lawyers, and their legal representatives shuffle the details of their lives into black-and-white boxes they don’t really fit into. Charlie’s lawyer Bert (Alan Alda) sees the shades of gray; as he tells Charlie, “Most people in my business, you’re just transactions to them. I like to think of you as people.” He’s like Baumbach in that respect, but where Baumbach, as the storyteller, has the room to be empathetic, Bert, as a lawyer, does not. Nicole’s lawyer, Nora (Laura Dern), sees divorce as a competition, where Nicole is in the absolute right, and deserves to win as much in the settlement as possible. To share custody of their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), Charlie needs to approach their divorce in the same aggressive, all-or-nothing way, or at least find a lawyer who will.

That forced compartmentalization is painful to watch, especially as Charlie and Nicole seem adrift in trying to deal with it. While they say they don’t want to involve Henry, it’s unavoidable, given their living plans. Charlie protests that they’re a New York family, while Nicole, who was born in Los Angeles, has transferred Henry to school in L.A. while she shoots a TV pilot, and she wants to stay there.

As Nicole and Charlie wrestle with their incompatible hopes — and with increasingly aggressive actions by their respective lawyers — the divorce turns acrimonious. Yet through it all, neither person is presented as wrong. Though the story naturally skews toward sympathy for Charlie, simply by burdening him with more problems than Nicole faces in the immediate moment, Baumbach never lets the scales tip. Whenever Nicole and Charlie are together, the camera never focuses on one of them more than the other. When Baumbach uses a close-up to capture strong feelings in one of his stars, he matches it with reactions from the other, rather than focusing on one single font of emotion. And in their time apart, he follows them evenly.

The whole film revolves around a sticking point that relies on that even-handedness: Charlie and Nicole are separating, but they still love each other. The tenderness they feel for each other hasn’t disappeared, and they will, by necessity, remain a part of each others’ lives. There isn’t one huge, dramatic, catalyzing incident that’s driven them to divorce, so much as a decade’s worth of straw upon the camel’s back.

Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) exchanging gifts.
A happier memory.
Photo: Netflix

Johansson and Driver perfectly capture that sometimes-unwilling tenderness, which makes their characters’ eventual anger even harder to witness. The degree of tenderness they share opens them up to equally potent detestation. And as that bitterness and anger is finally unleashed, Baumbach focuses the camera closely on his leads’ faces. He’s built up to this volcano of emotion; while Nicole and Charlie’s outbursts and accusations are startling, it’s also easy to understand why they’re so quick to relent and to forgive each other.

The rest of the cast helps ground the film, particularly Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s mom, who still wants to be friends with Charlie in spite of Nicole’s protests, and Merritt Wever as Nicole’s sister, who’s similarly hapless in dealing with Charlie’s excision from the family. Baumbach doesn’t let the audience becomes as familiar with Dern and Alda’s characters, but they still color in the big picture of Charlie and Nicole’s divorce with mini-monologues on the nature of separation, and their respective viewpoints on how to handle it.

Divorce — or the ending of any relationship, really — doesn’t invite tenderness, or the space to consider that both sides of a dispute might be wrong and right at the same time. But Baumbach takes the time to make room for their opposing viewpoints and experiences, and he creates a richer film for it. Marriage Story is beautifully bittersweet. There are no winners or losers in Charlie and Nicole’s separation, and no heroes or villains, either. They’re all just, as Bert says, people.

Marriage Story is streaming on Netflix now.


Audica Review – Electronic Gun Music

Before it made games that just dropped the pretense altogether and used plastic instruments, Harmonix was already the master at turning your average, run-of-the-mill controller into an instrument of musical chaos in Frequency and Amplitude. That same ethos is the engine driving Audica, which seeks to do the same for VR motion controllers. It’s a game with a killer idea, but the execution is just short of the mark.

At its core, Audica is a VR shooting gallery that makes music. In a world where stylishly slicing boxes with lightsabers is the current gold standard for rhythm games, stylishly making music with blasters was pretty much the logical–even welcome–next step on paper. Your instruments are two neon laser tag guns. Colored targets fly toward you to line up with a circle on a specific beat in a song, and your job is to shoot that target on the beat with the correct colored gun for the maximum amount of points. The game does throw curveballs at you–some targets require you to hold your gun sideways, for example. But, by and large, Audica’s premise is simple: make music with laser pistols. Despite this simplicity, though, making beats with bullets feels great in Audica.

Your lasers feel appropriately futuristic; by default, they’re cool, reflective cannons with mirrored blades attached to the barrel that convey a sense of power. That feeling of power is all the more pronounced once you start firing away at targets and get in sync with the ebb and flow of a song’s note pattern. Every successful hit generates a slick, track-specific “thwap!” that punctuates every note.

Screenshots were provided by the publisher
Screenshots were provided by the publisher
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If, for whatever reason, the default sound on a track doesn’t work for you, you do get the option to customize the effect. That same level of customization carries over to the calibration options, with some extremely user-friendly settings to account for your sense of rhythm or lack thereof. That’s even more crucial in virtual reality, and Audica aces it, weaving the calibration tools in with the beat and targeting tutorials rather elegantly before you even start the game proper. Even with the calibration, the game is extremely forgiving when it comes to perfectly hitting a target dead center, though perfect aim does help achieve the best possible scores on a song. Still, just jumping into a track and firing at will is a blast because Audica is so approachable.

Audica’s big, pervasive caveat, however, is that you better like fast-paced, thumping EDM from the last five years, because there’s really nothing else in the game. Constricting the pool of music causes all of the tracks to bleed together after long sessions. The DLC helps, bringing some bigger star power and at least some element of chill to the soundtrack with songs like Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” and Billie Eilish’s “bad guy,” but these are also some of the trickiest songs in the game, even at lower difficulties. More than anything, those tracks are a perfect showcase of how versatile the note charting and game design can be given a bigger musical palette to work from, and highlight just how much less of that creativity gets a spotlight in the main tracklist.

Also, even by rhythm game standards, Audica is too tricky for its own good. Far too often, notes are there to taunt, trip up, and challenge instead of letting you revel in the music being played. Audica’s challenges often come from deliberately destroying your groove, creating off moments that don’t feel like you’re supposed to get in sync with the music being created by your shots and swipes. It feels like trying to win a dance competition, and every few seconds, someone tosses an orange at your head.

In this case, that orange can take the form of frequent errant notes, targets outside your field of view, or modifiers that you can’t turn off, many of which ask the unnatural–a certain modifier that requires you move your arms an arbitrary amount during the song is probably the most egregious of them. On Advanced and Expert modes, you still get a wide berth to hit the targets anywhere, but it doesn’t matter if those targets appear off the beat and ask more of you than responding to the rhythm. When the game isn’t getting in its own way–and the note patterns are complex, but follow a certain rhythmic logic–it does feel empowering, like you’re in a breezy, futuristic version of Baby Driver. In particular, tracks like KD/A’s “Pop Stars” that flit back and forth between poppy melodies and impactful hip-hop line deliveries lend themselves extremely well to punctuating every note with a pull of the trigger. But this isn’t sustained across all of Audica’s tracks. Obstacles are far too arbitrary too often for that.

Mostly, though, you just can’t help but get the feeling of playing a grand experiment, and it’s a shame that Audica doesn’t land as well as Harmonix’s other rhythm games. There’s a lot that’s simply, innately cool about Audica’s concept, the very idea of using weapons to make music, but once you reach a certain level of proficiency, the enjoyment dries up faster than it should.


The history of PlayStation was almost very different

This week marked the 25th anniversary of Sony’s original PlayStation, a bet that went on to be an undeniable success for the company, with the PlayStation family of consoles having sold more than 430 million units since then. But back in the 90s, Sony’s venture into the game industry almost went a few different ways.

For the anniversary, we decided to look back at what could have been.

The Nintendo deal

PlayStation was largely the brainchild of Sony Computer Entertainment engineer-turned-CEO and chairman Ken Kutaragi, whose interest in video games can be traced back to watching his daughter play games on the family’s NES in the mid 80s. Seeing her play with the NES, released as the Famicom in Japan, lit a spark in Kutaragi’s brain, and he began to see how popular video games would become in the future.

Kutaragi would later get the chance to collaborate with Nintendo, creating the Super Nintendo’s sound chip. As the story goes, Kutaragi made the deal with Nintendo unbeknownst to his superiors at Sony, a decision that infuriated them, his job only saved by then-CEO of Sony Norio Ohga who allowed the engineer to finish his work on the highly-regarded SPC700 sound chip.

The successful partnership led to another collaboration between Sony and Nintendo — this time on a disc-based add-on for the Super Nintendo. But on either side, Kutaragi wasn’t getting a ton of support. Despite the success of consoles by Nintendo and Sega at the time, many at Sony saw video games as a fad, and not an industry worth pursuing. At Nintendo, the decision to print games on CD-ROMs opposed to the then-traditional cartridge was met with skepticism, despite CD-ROMs being able to hold far more memory than cartridges.

Nevertheless, Kutaragi went to work creating a prototype for the disc-based add-on, at the time called the “Play Station.” And then, in a famous-though-often-misreported story, Nintendo went back on its deal, terminating the partnership with Sony and announcing it had struck a deal Phillips instead.

The Sega talks

Still determined, Kutaragi turned to Nintendo’s then-biggest rival in the video game industry, Sega, entering into talks about a possible collaboration on a disc-based console. Following its massively successful Sega Genesis console, similar to Sony, Sega had been looking into using CD-ROMs for video games, first releasing an accessory for the Genesis called the Sega CD before setting its sights on a disc-only console. The two parties had also worked together in the past, as Sony Imagesoft, a subsidiary of Sony Music, had published eight games for the Sega CD.

For several months, led by Kutaragi and former head of hardware development and later president of Sega Hideki Sato, the two parties explored what a Sega-Sony CD-based console would look like, and whether the two companies would actually enter a partnership. But, even early on, Kutaragi was having cold feet about working with Sega.

“We kept it secret, whereas the Nintendo-Sony fiasco was largely publicized and public knowledge,” Shinobu Toyoda, former COO and executive vice president of Sega of America, told Polygon last year in an interview about the potential collaboration.

Shuji Utsumi, former vice president of product acquisition for SCEA, who worked with Kutaragi on the potential partnership with Sega, said in an interview for a recent Polygon documentary on PlayStation’s 25th anniversary that Sony decided it’d be the one backing out this time — and it did so early in the process. Utsumi said when Kutaragi would come back from meetings with Sato and Sega’s U.S. department, he was already telling coworkers he likely wouldn’t take the offer. “He didn’t in the end.”

“From there, we started to look at what we had to do in order to pursue making a system ourselves — what were the challenges, what were the costs, and what we needed to do. We started to plan from there,” said Utsumi.

Sony going it alone

To get what he wanted, Kutaragi just had to do one simple thing: make his boss mad. So, the two had a meeting together, and Kutaragi pitched his plans for a Sony-made video game console. It would end with Ohga enraged and Kutaragi finally getting the greenlight he was after.

Kutaragi had to convince Ohga — the man who’d saved his job years before — that video games was an industry Sony needed to be in. The meeting would become a legendary story. “There was a meeting with only maybe eight people in it. No other executives,” Utsumi said about the pitching the CEO in an earlier interview with Polygon. “It was just Kutaragi’s team pitching Ohga. Ohga was personally interested in the project.”

To drive his message home, Kutaragi reminded Ohga about the failed partnership with Nintendo, asking him if he’d sit back and accept what the company had done to Sony. This reminder was enough to enrage Ohga, who, the legend goes, told Kutaragi, “Go for it. Do it. This is a project that Sony needs to be in.”

“Ken’s career went from almost zero [to essentially running Sony Computer Entertainment],” Utsumi said about the meeting.

With the greenlight from Ohga, Kutaragi went on to oversee the original PlayStation’s development. The console released in December 1994 and September 1995 in Japan and the United States, respectively. It went on to sell more than 102 million units, beating its collaborators-turned-competitors’ consoles, the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn, by wide margins.

… Microsoft?

Despite the success of the first PlayStation, some executives at Sony didn’t see a successor as a guaranteed win. In 1999, as Kutaragi was planning the PlayStation 2, he was talked into a meeting with Microsoft’s Bill Gates by Nobuyuki Idei, Ohga’s successor as chairman of Sony.

The meeting, which occurred in secret in May 1999, according to a 2002 report from The Wall Street Journal based on interviews with numerous Sony executives, saw teams from Sony and Microsoft discussing the possibilities of launching an online video game console together. The companies met at least one more time in July 1999, according to the report, but talks ended soon after. Details on the meetings are scant, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that neither Microsoft or Kutaragi would comment on why they ended, but the outlet says Idei told Gates, “I don’t control Ken Kutaragi.”

The next year, only a few days after Sony released the PlayStation 2, Microsoft announced its own video game console — the original Xbox. The two companies began a fierce rivalry with each other for dominance in the console space.

Over the last 25 years, Sony’s failed partnership with Nintendo has become a big chapter in the history of the game industry. For the people that were there, it’s also been something of a “what if” scenario, a hypothetical where the industry’s biggest consoles never came out. Sony’s potential collaborations with Sega and Microsoft, on the other hand, not so much.

Whether or not any of these collaborations would’ve been fruitful, there’s really no way of knowing. But 25 years and 430 million units later, it’s safe to say Sony’s choice to go it alone ended up being a resounding success.


Halo: Reach’s PC release is technically impressive, most of the time

Almost 10 years after its original Xbox 360 release, Halo: Reach has finally made its way to Windows PC. So how does it hold up, and is it competitive with other modern PC games?

Let’s dig in.

A visual upgrade

Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PC only has a few graphical options. You can adjust the resolution all the way up to 4K, enable or disable v-sync, and set the frame rate to 60 frames per second or unlimited. The game also lets you choose between three graphics options: Performance, Original, and Enhanced.

The Original setting is exactly what it sounds like, recreating how the game looked on Xbox 360 back in 2010. The Performance setting actually degrades the visuals a bit, making it playable at a higher frame rate for those with older computers.

Halo: Reach’s Enhanced setting is where things begin to get interesting. Draw distances are longer, textures are improved, particle effects are more impressive, and the density of the foliage is higher. Comparing the Original and Enhanced images below, you can see grass appear on the cliff on the right side of the screen; increased density in the small gray bush between the gun and the tree on the right; and way more texture detail on the rocks to the right of the rifle’s scope. It doesn’t look like a new game, or even like a modern game, but it certainly looks better in just about every way.

And performance doesn’t seem to be an issue; I was able to choose the Enhanced setting and unlock the frame rate to experience the updated graphics at around 160 fps consistently, running Reach in 1080p resolution on an Intel Core i7-7700K and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080. The game never dropped below 90 fps through hours of play, even during the most visually demanding, complicated areas. The only caveat is that the animations can get a little wonky — like shadows moving at a different speed than characters, or legs not quite syncing up with movement — once the game tops 100 fps, since Reach was designed with a target frame rate of 30 fps. Whether those issues are worth the smoother play is up to you.

Speaking of aiming, Reach handles itself quite nicely with a mouse and keyboard. The more accurate aiming lends itself to the jumpy enemies, and the often slow multiplayer action means making the most of every shot is always important. Unfortunately, the game’s bloom system, which makes weapons less accurate the more you fire them, feels significantly worse with the improved accuracy of a mouse. Since I know where every bullet should be going, watching them fly off in random directions was a source of endless frustration. The system was always one of Halo fans’ least favorite additions to Reach, and on PC it makes using the assault rifle feel downright random.

One of the most welcome additions is the adjustable field of view, an option that’s common on PC but rarely seen in the Halo series, which historically has always kept the FOV narrow. It’s set to the mid-70s as the default, but bumping it up to the 90-100 range improves your situational awareness and shows off the game’s gorgeous, often expansive environments. If the lack of general graphical settings bums you out, at least this aspect of the updated presentation is a big step forward.

The audio problem

For all the impressive improvements to Reach’s visuals, the PC port’s audio is something of a disappointment. The sounds often get muddled together, with music, character dialogue, and explosions all competing for your attention in a slushy mix.

The entire soundscape has been flattened out, and distinct sounds become nearly indecipherable even when heard through good headphones. It’s bad news during the campaign, but worse when playing against competitive players online — it’s tricky to try to hear where gunfire is coming from, or the direction in which a vehicle is moving.

The panting of the Spartans — which happens if you sprint for more than a second or two — drowns out nearly every other sound in the game, and that can include the gunshots themselves. It’s certainly next to impossible to hear the footsteps of incoming players or enemies.

The good news is that this is a known issue, and will hopefully be fixed in the future, although it could take some time.

“Players have reported various issues regarding game audio not sounding as expected (muffled, inconsistent volume, low quality, etc.),” the official blog post listing bugs and issues explains. “This is a known issue present at launch and the team is working to resolve this. Unfortunately, it is not a quick fix and is one that will require quite a bit of work and time to resolve.”

Despite the few minor complaints with the shooting that’s always felt a little off and the disappointing sound, Halo: Reach’s PC release is an impressive first foray onto the platform for The Master Chief Collection. According to 343 Industries, the other Halo games in the package should be headed to the platform sometime soon, and we can only hope they get the same kinds of impressive visual upgrades as Reach.