2020’s best tabletop RPGs (so far), as chosen by fans

Many people think of tabletop role-playing games as a monolith, a space occupied solely by heavyweights like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and a handful of other AAA titles. Of course, that’s the same as saying that the only two video games are Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto Online. In truth there is a glorious spectrum of modern tabletop RPGs, filled with novel games ranging in size from self-published micro-games to full-fledged make-believe worlds.

One of my favorite ways to keep track of the best tabletop RPGs is the annual Ennie Awards, handed out each year since 2001 at the annual Gen Con tabletop gaming convention. Gen Con is moving online this year, and so are the Ennies. This week, organizers announced the nominations for Product of the Year. We’ve included all the nominees in our roundup below.

The Ennies are unique among gaming awards. Judges are volunteers, who follow a strict set of ethical guidelines. Chief among them is the vow not to have any professional relationship with any RPG publisher in the lead up to the awards. They help ensure that the Ennies aren’t just a popularity contest by winnowing down the dozens upon dozens of submissions to only the very best. Once the short list has been created, voting on the final winners is open to all.

This year the voting period runs from July 3 through July 12. You can find the complete list of nominees for every category at the Ennie Awards website.


BFF! — Best Friends Forever

Created by the mother and son team of Terri Cohlene and Ross Cowman, BFF! — Best Friends Forever is a beautiful role-playing game that celebrates “girlhood, friendship, and adventure.” Players select from 17 different standees to represent themselves at the table, each one delightfully illustrated by cartoonist Taylor Dow. Then they head off on an adventure via a lavish map, hand-painted by Veta Bahktina. Gameplay is heavy on improvisation, with scenes set in primary school and middle school.


The Deck of Many Things

The Deck of Many Things isn’t an RPG at all, but a supplement for the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. They are reference cards, with information on all of the spells in the Player’s Handbook — including cantrips — up through level five. The high-quality, lenticular cards have an eight-frame animation that shows the effect of the spell in question in a Tarot-sized format.

A complete set — which includes a bonus deck of Animated Things, based on the wondrous item from D&D lore — runs for $300.00, and is currently on sale for $249.00. The team at Hit Point Press also offers a digital version.


Mörk Borg Artpunk RPG

A skeleton, rendered in black ink, on a yellow background. Image: Free League Publishing

From Free League Publishing — the same team behind the award-winning Tales From The Loop-themed RPG — comes a hardcore game called Mörk Borg Artpunk RPG. Described as a “pitch-black apocalyptic fantasy RPG,” it’s firmly entrenched in the old-school revival (OSR) genre, which celebrates the original tabletop games of the 1970s. Anyone who misses the devilish themes of first-edition D&D or who revels in the Dark Souls universe will get a real kick out of it. Otherwise, it also serves as an excellent coffee table book.

Mörk Borg Artpunk RPG is on sale right now through July 6 at 50% off at the Free League online storefront. It’s also available on Amazon.

Quest

Quest represents a profound rethinking of the RPG genre, one that has been custom-made for people who are new to these sorts of games. The core book itself is described as more of a guide than a reference manual, and character creation is accomplished via Mad Libs-style fill-in-the-blank character sheets. The game was created by T.C. Sottek, executive editor at our sister site The Verge, and edited by Polygon’s editor-in-chief Chris Plante. The gorgeous art is the work of Grim Wilkins and Marianna Learmonth.

You can purchase the game on the official website, where there’s a host of free downloadable materials — including a starting adventure.

[Disclosure: Chris Plante has no direct influence over Polygon’s tabletop gaming coverage.]


Royal Blood

An out-of-focus stained glass rose. Image: Rowan, Rook and Decard

Royal Blood is the latest rules-light RPG from the team at Rowan, Rook and Decard. Perhaps best known for Honey Heist, a comedic single-page RPG about bears stealing honey, this time around they’ve gone a slightly more traditional route.

To play the game, all players need is the rules booklet, a deck of Tarot cards, and a few coins. Players take on the role of the human characters in the deck, and are up against the decks’ more ephemeral characters. From the official description:

YOU are a Royal – half-magic, half-human. You’re one of the court cards from the tarot deck – the impetuous Princess of Wands, the calculating Knight of Pentacles, the empire-building Queen of Wands, and so on. You use magic like a brick through the window of the world.

THEY are the Arcane – Death, The Hanged Man, The Devil, The Lovers, The Star. They are reality-bending monsters that wear human skin like a suit.

TONIGHT, before dawn, you are going to corner one of them and take their power for your own in a heist the likes of which the worlds have never seen. The city is going to burn. It’s going to be beautiful.

You can find the game — which is available as a softcover and as a digital version — on the official website.


The Excellents: Excellent Princess Roleplaying

A brightly colored character sheet with room to draw your character and their party. A character sheet from The Excellents Image: 9thlevel Games

Fans of high-fantasy, femme-forward adventuring should check out The Excellents by Adriel Wilson and Chris O’Neil. The RPG runs on the Polymorph system, created by the team at 9thlevel Games, and only requires a single die for each player at the table. To run an adventure, players must fill out a Princess Diary, form a band, and then follow the lead of the Game Mistress. Stats include Crown, Heart, Sword, Shoes, Books, and Beast. You can pick up a copy on the official website.


Thousand Year Old Vampire: A Roleplaying Game

Tim Hutchings’ Thousand Year Old Vampire has been getting lots of attention since its Kickstarter campaign was funded in 2018. It’s a solo game — although it can also be played with groups — that relies on written prompts. Players take on the role of an immortal, and must deal with the consequences of their immoral acts as single-sentence experiences. That sentence then becomes a memory. Players are limited to only five memories overall, and must make the difficult decision on what to forget and what to keep with them as they move on in their journey.

A downloadable version is available now on itch.io.


Trilemma Adventures Compendium Volume I

Trilemma Adventures Compendium Volume I by Michael Prescott is a celebration of old-school RPG illustration, and a fantastic collection of short dungeons and adventures to boot. It’s fully compatible with 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons and plenty of other systems, and would make an excellent gift for your favorite Dungeon Master. Available as a hardcover book for $66, it includes an illustrated bestiary, unique magical items, and lots of bonus material like adventure hooks and in-fiction handouts. It also comes with a free PDF version of the book. It’s also available on DriveThruRPG.


Witch + Craft

Witch + Craft is an add-on supplement for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons inspired by Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service. It adds a new skill set known as “domestic magic” to the game, adding to the color and texture of fantasy worlds. It allows you to build a fighter who is also a carpenter, a wizard who happens to be an award-winning chef, and more. The book also comes with an all-new adventure setting called Cape Verdigris, a land filled with skilled craftspeople and a fun adventure to explore. It’s available in a print and a digital version for $35 and $10 respectively.


Zombie World

Zombie World is a card-based RPG that should be just the thing for fans of The Walking Dead or Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. Players begin by creating their enclave of survivors, and then make their way out into a dangerous world filled with the undead. The game boils down more complex concepts into physical systems that are easily managed at the table. The full kit includes a slim, 36-page rulebook, play mats for the Game Master and up to eight players, over 100 cards, and a dry erase marker. Copies range from $24.99 to $59.99.

Source: Polygon.com

Cards Against Humanity workers are unionizing following allegations of toxic culture

Cards Against Humanity employees are unionizing following allegations of a toxic workplace made by former employees of the company. The union, which calls itself Cards Against Humanity Workers United, is working with the Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United to demand recognition from the company’s owners, according to a Twitter announcement on Tuesday.

“Within the walls of our office, the trust between the staff and ownership has been eroded from years of abusive management,” the union said in its statement. “For too long, our employees have been kept in precarious, powerless, and outright toxic conditions. We acknowledge the removal of toxic management, but the issues in our company extend well beyond one person. In order for this business to survive, we need to confront both of these crises directly and without fear.”

Last week, Polygon published a detailed report about what former employees described as a racist and sexist culture that was pervasive at Cards Against Humanity. We spoke to 21 former employees about the company, many of whom described this culture as having trickled down from leadership. Several named former co-founder Max Temkin in particular. Temkin stepped down from the company on June 9, after allegations were made public on social media, but will remain “a one-eight shareholder.”

The former employees told Polygon that people of color were often the most vulnerable at the company.

The Cards Against Humanity Workers Union said it has “built a shared vision of the future for CAH.”

“To reimagine the CAH workplace and company, we must first approach our work in a way that necessitates being anti-racist, practicing equal accountability, radical transparency, and collaboration,” the workers said in the union’s statement. “As we work to build out the future of CAH, it is vital that we formally institutionalize these values and broaden the appeal of the game.”

According to the statement, the union is demanding the company “immediately equalize [its] workplace,” where many of its employees are considered contractors without “official” employee benefits. “To move forward as a company, all 1099 / contracted employees must immediately be given the choice of becoming full or part time ‘official’ employees,” the workers wrote.

Cards Against Humanity Workers United also acknowledged the accusations regarding the game itself: that it “delights the comfortable at the expense of the vulnerable.” It said, in that regard, that it has failed to make its “anti-racist and anti-bigoted values explicitly clear.” Workers said unionization will help the company become “a better-equipped collaborator with the partners to steward CAH away from the many external and internal issues plaguing it.”

Cards Against Humanity has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment before publication time.

Update: Two Cards Against Humanity workers involved in the union, one a full-time employee and another a contractor, spoke to Polygon by phone on Tuesday. They told Polygon that workers began meeting informally to discuss the allegations made against the company. Because the company’s departments were often siloed off from each other, which is something multiple former employees told Polygon, members of the different parts of the company got together to introduce themselves — “and began trying to communicate with management” as a “rapid response collective.”

“We realized we that all, from all departments, had a lot in common and had a lot of the same goals and frustrations,” a worker said.

Unionization efforts began last week, the workers said. They said they’re “optimistic” that the partners will do the right thing in recognizing the union. The workers said management’s initial response to the allegations when they were first made public on social media was “inadequate,” noting that management was not clear what the consequences and results of the allegations would be.

Source: Polygon.com

Crucible is going back to the drawing board with a closed beta

Crucible was released on May 20. Sort of. After a month of open release and a complete lack of interest from almost everyone, Crucible is being taken out of release and moved back into a closed beta.

According to a post from the Crucible development team, players will have until noon ET on Wednesday to download the game from Steam before it’s closed to new players. In the near future, the post says, interested players will be able to sign up through playcrucible.com. While the game is closed, the development team will attempt to improve Crucible in the many ways it has already outlined.

The development team also plans to have regularly scheduled playtimes each week where the developers can directly interact with the closed-beta players. The developers at Relentless Studios are also putting together a small council of players that it hopes can help shape the future of the game to make it more appealing for everyone.

Steam’s public player statistics make it easy to see why Relentless Studios may have made the decision to move the game to closed beta. At the time of writing, the game has just under 150 players online. Just a few days after its release, the game hit its peak of 10,000 players and has been on a steady decline ever since, making it a catastrophic and very visible failure for Amazon Game Studios.

While games often go dark, with little to no updates, even as developers try to retool them into a better 2.0 version, it’s extremely rare that a game gets closed completely while it’s reworked.

Even if the scale of this move is unprecedented, there is still hope for success for Crucible. Games like the original Destiny and Rainbow Six: Siege both found greater success after big game-changing updates, and Fortnite went from a struggling game to one of the biggest of all time thanks to a change in genre. Unfortunately for Crucible, all of those games still exist and still earn their fair share of players. With such a crowded field, creating a popular multiplayer game requires more than some occasionally fun gameplay to stand out from the competition.

The post from the Crucible team includes no timetable for the game’s return, but mentions that when the game does return, its new version will be based on “community feedback and the metrics that we see in-game.”

Source: Polygon.com

The Last of Us Part 2 has become a minefield

By all accounts, The Last of Us Part 2 is a smashing success: The survival horror game has a 94 on review score-collating site Metacritic and has already sold millions of copies. Sony called it the “the fastest-selling first-party PS4 exclusive ever,” which would be cause to celebrate … except for the fact that merely discussing the game has become, within large swaths of the video game community, toxic. It’s exhausting.

The dour stage was set before release, when part of the game leaked online. Sony, the game’s publisher, said it had identified the people responsible, but not before some of the game’s biggest twists had been made public. Upset by some of the story beats revealed in the leak and the game’s LGBTQ representation, some bigoted reactionaries began a campaign to spoil the experience for other folks.

“It was one of the worst days of my life when the leak happened,” Neil Druckmann, co-director of The Last of Us Part 2, said in a YouTube interview with Kinda Funny.

“A few hours later, [the leak is] everywhere and you’re starting to get hate on every social media you’re on, and soon that turns into death threats, anti-Semitic remarks, and just craziness I never could have anticipated,” he continued, stating that he never thought the game would get this sort of hate. It’s still visible on social media, where top replies to nearly anything from Naughty Dog will include responses like “The game is straight garbage.” It seems unlikely that these opinions are coming from people who have actually played the game, given that it’s impossible to explain how The Last of Us Part 2 could have racked up hundreds of negative user reviews on Metacritic immediately after launch.

The Last of Us Part 2 guide: The Seraphites collectibles walkthrough Image: Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Discussion about the survival horror game was also hampered by unusually restrictive embargo guidelines, which included sentences like “DO NOT include any beat-by-beat descriptions of pivotal narrative or cutscenes moments” and “DO NOT reveal the fate of ANY character or the inciting event.” This prevented websites from discussing any specifics of the game’s story, which was tricky considering that the game reveals something surprising within its first two hours that impacts the remainder of its 20- to 30-hour journey. Curiously, at least one website, GameSpot, actually published two reviews, one without spoilers and one that dove right into those details. The latter was published after the embargo was fully lifted.

Why go through such lengths, especially when the internet was flooded with half-informed takes and speculation based on what had already leaked? Control. Naughty Dog no longer steered the narrative of The Last of Us Part 2, and this was one way to try and regain control. The studio had already gone to great efforts to maintain a tight grip on what folks knew about the experience. As Kotaku reported, Naughty Dog at one point showed a fake scene during a trailer to make people believe that a character would be more present in the game than they actually were.

The vibe around the game hasn’t gotten much better since then. On June 12, Vice published its review of The Last of Us Part 2, in which critic Rob Zacny said that while the game had “memorable moments” that made for great “spectacle,” he was less taken with the story and characters. “Nobody ever reconsiders their quest for vengeance,” Zacny wrote. “Everyone acts under a kind of vindictive compulsion that goes little remarked and unexamined.” Zacny went on to describe the game’s message as complacent, full of “oppressive bleakness and violence.”

While the vast majority of reviews have lavished The Last of Us Part 2 with all sorts of praise, a handful of outlets — Polygon included — have been slightly more critical of the blockbuster game. According to Zacny, Vice’s review prompted a Sony representative to reach out on behalf of Naughty Dog.

“They felt some of the conclusions I reached in my review were unfair and dismissed some meaningful changes or improvements,” Zacny told Polygon over Twitter messages.

Ellie hides under a car in The Last of Us Part 2 Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Zacny clarified that the exchange wasn’t “confrontational,” but that it was nonetheless “unusual,” as the site doesn’t typically have big publishers asking in an official capacity why a review reads the way it does. Such things can happen, of course, though often with smaller developers, or from publishers who have spotted a factual error in a piece that they want corrected.

“I was happy to unpack a bit of my reasoning, however, and received a perfectly cordial message in response,” Zacny said. Naughty Dog’s PR team declined to comment on Polygon’s inquiry about its exchange with Vice.

On social media, responses from The Last of Us Part 2’s creative team have gotten a bit more personal — and public. Co-director Neil Druckmann has been hopping into discussion about the game to wag his finger at journalists who were making fun of a tasteless post that had compared The Last of Us Part 2 to Schindler’s List. Other developers, like God of War’s Cory Barlog, closed ranks around Druckmann, going so far as to unfairly position dissenting opinion as an attempt to tear developers down.

Perhaps the defensiveness was unavoidable. When Naughty Dog’s leak first surfaced, plenty of game makers went on social media to express their disappointment that gaming outlets reported on it at all. Rather than seeing such reportage as a part of the job — it’s news when one of the biggest games of the year has a huge leak months before release — news writers were positioned as betrayers who weren’t on the “side” of developers. Now that the game is actually out, that tension between the people involved with the game and members of the press has only become more noticeable.

In late June, reporter (and my former colleague) Jason Schreier tweeted out an innocuous and fairly broad hot take about the length of AAA games, a subject that is often a topic of debate. No specific game was mentioned in the original post, although Schreier did mention The Last of Us Part 2 as an inspiration in a threaded reply. The tweet went viral.

In response, Troy Baker — the voice actor behind Joel, one of the main characters in both The Last of Us games — quoted Schreier’s tweet alongside a bizarre quote from Theodore Roosevelt about the value of a critic versus that of a creator. “It is not the critic who counts,” the quote starts. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat.” Hundreds of people then came down on Schreier for daring to say anything at all.

Schreier had already clarified that although The Last of Us Part 2 had been the game that inspired his tweet, his central message wasn’t specific or limited to Naughty Dog’s game.

“Games are too long because marketers believe they’ll only sell bazillions of copies and generate bazillions in revenue for stockholders if they can put ‘biggest world ever’ on the box,” he said, in response to another tweet on the subject. Schreier’s offhand critique spoke to some dark truths about the general state of the video game industry. He was referring to the push to make bigger video games as a means of justifying the $60 cost, and how that pads game length. Worse, that endless content push can also lead to crunch and burnout from the people who have to fill these worlds with endless things to do — including game developers at Naughty Dog, according to Schreier’s own reporting.

Still, Schreier clarified that his tweet was mostly a joke. “Any take that declares something definitive about ‘video games’ should not be taken seriously enough to warrant a 400-word Theodore Roosevelt quote,” he said to another Twitter user.

That protective shield around The Last of Us Part 2 can be seen any time the creatives or talent behind the game jump into critical conversations about it. It’s made talking about the game exhausting. On the one hand, we have bigots trying their hardest to tear the game down for its inclusion of queer characters. On the other hand, we’ve got the people who actually made the game putting their figurative fists up. On the third hand (go with it), we’ve got fans and professional critics trying to share their own takes on the game, good and bad and everything in between.

Protagonist Ellie as she appears in The Last of Us Part 2 Image: Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

And then there’s the game itself, which by proxy of its tense genre and heavy subject matter, is also onerous to trudge through. The Last of Us Part 2 would be arduous to play in any context, but it feels particularly oppressive right now, during an actual pandemic in which we’re all trying our best not to lose our minds. You almost can’t blame the creative team at Naughty Dog for being Too Online about all of this. They care about their baby, yes, but more crucially, there’s little else to do right now. The Last of Us Part 2 was, at one point, positioned as the PlayStation 4’s swan song, a grandiose heavy-hitter from Sony’s most esteemed studio, set to release before the next generation of video games. Instead, The Last of Us Part 2 leaked ahead of release and exploded into controversy.

If we’re truly taking the game seriously, nuanced and critical conversations aren’t just necessary — they need to happen without fear that you’ll be perceived as a bully or enemy. Not all Naughty Dog conversations fall into that trap, of course. I appreciated seeing a Naughty Dog employee say that there are many LGBTQ members on the team, and that not taking them into account threatens to erase them. And I’ve also loved seeing some workers dish about the extraordinary thought put into everything, like the act of breaking glass.

But, based on my own conversations with fellow critics, many have assumed an air of wariness about The Last of Us Part 2 discourse. It feels as if there are all these larger forces working toward maintaining the status quo when it comes to big-budget games. It’s not enough that the game is selling well, and that most reviews are positive; you can’t fall out of line with that general consensus, even as a joke, without having to worry about whether or not a publisher will be looking over your shoulder, or if hundreds of fans will blow up your social media. It is not an environment that is conducive to encouraging honest reviews or critical discussion, which is ultimately a disservice to the game itself.

Source: Polygon.com

Everything we know about Marvel’s Avengers game

Marvel’s Avengers is only a few months away, but despite numerous streams and videos, it’s not immediately obvious what kind of game Marvel’s Avengers is. Is it a loot game like Destiny 2? A combo-based action game? A co-op game? Or a story-focused game? The answer to all of those questions seems to be: yes.

Here’s everything we know about Marvel’s Avengers, from the single-player story to the game’s post-launch content.

The story

Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And while it certainly seems to draw inspiration from the cinematic versions of Earth’s mightiest heroes, the game draws more from on the long legacy of Marvel comics.

The story starts with “A Day,” as the Avengers parade around San Francisco for the opening of their west coast Avengers HQ. But things go wrong: The Avenger’s helicarrier explodes, spreading an infectious Terrigen Mist around the city.

Captain America appears to die during the disaster, and the Avenger’s disband — blaming each other for the catastrophic event. A new scientific organization called Advanced Idea Mechanics (better known as AIM) assumes the role of protector in the Avengers’ absence, claiming that it’s researching a vaccine for the Inhuman plague that’s giving some humans superpowers.

Kamala Khan (also known as Ms. Marvel), a local fan of the Avengers, is one of those new Inhumans, and discovers that AIM’s motives aren’t entirely pure. She attempts to re-assemble the Avengers. During the game, players will piece the team back together to take down AIM and the nefarious MODOK.

The missions

During the campaign, players will work to rebuild a helicarrier named the Chimera. Marvel’s Avengers has two different kinds of missions. There are Hero Missions, which usually involve playing as a single hero, tailored to that hero’s special abilities. These are single-player only, and focus on telling each Avenger’s personal story.

There are also War Zone missions. These seem to be the primary cooperative multiplayer missions in the game, and look similar to Strikes in Destiny 2 or dungeons in many MMOs. Players can come together, select different heroes — the game doesn’t allow for duplicate heroes — and dive into the mission with friends. If players want to play solo, they will fight alongside AI companions.

The War Table Marvel’s Avengers The War Table, where players choose their missions Image: Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix

War Zones are repeatable missions, and much more open than the Hero Missions. They feature large environments, tight indoor areas, and bosses. Players can even combine the power of two heroes to beat down on an AI enemy with a team move.

Players can also select different regions to adventure around, which may change the biome or location on the War Table. It’s also possible there are larger multiplayer missions, similar to raids in Destiny 2 or The Division 2. But Crystal Dynamics hasn’t spoken much about endgame activities.

During these missions, you’ll be working with The Resistance. Players will also work alongside different factions like the Inhuman Alliance and former SHIELD agents. The stream specifically mentions heroes like Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan. Players can rank up their reputation with these factions to unlock new rewards.

Heroes

The cast of superheroes in Marvel’s Avengers includes Iron Man and Captain America The five Avengers during A Day Image: Crystal Dynamics / Square Enix

On these different missions, players will take control of different heroes. There will be six playable Avengers at launch:

  • Black Widow
  • Captain America
  • Hulk
  • Iron Man
  • Ms. Marvel
  • Thor

Each of these heroes plays differently, and has a unique skill tree and different loot. In a more traditional loot game, these heroes seem to be entirely unique “classes,” each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

In terms of villains, players should expect to run into Taskmaster and Abomination, as well as MODOK. We’ll likely learn more about Marvel’s Avengers villains ahead of launch.

Customization, abilities, and loot

If you’re looking for a complete breakdown of the characters, and more video, check out Quest Mode’s comprehensive breakdown for Marvel’s Avengers.

At its heart, Marvel’s Avengers looks like a detailed loot game, very similar to Destiny 2. Players will embark on missions, get new pieces of gear, and equip them to specific heroes. These different gear pieces have perks that can change how abilities interact. And some gear is even part of a set, which can give players a bonus when combined.

Iron Man’s gear customization Some of Iron Man’s potential gear in Marvel’s Avengers Image: Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix

Like other gear games, loot is color coded — with gold “beyond Legendary” pieces offering the most unique properties. Loot is also specific to certain heroes — players will get drops for Iron Man gloves, which only he can use. Players will use various different currencies to unlock perks on their gear, encouraging a kind of investment in player loot.

Each hero also has his or her own suite of abilities, and multiple skill trees for upgrades. Heroes battle with light and heavy attacks, as well as special traits, like Iron Man’s missiles or Thor’s hammer. Players can upgrade combos in certain areas, to help build out their heroes. According to Crystal Dynamics, players have enough customization options to create unique hero builds. So while players can’t play duplicate heroes in a War Zone, the Thor your friend plays may have different strengths and weaknesses than the Thor you usually use.

Marvel’s Avengers hero abilities A look at Hulk’s skill tree Image: Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix

Players can also customize their look in Marvel’s Avengers. But a hero’s gear does not affect their aesthetic. Instead, players can don different costumes, which work like skins in something like League of Legends. These are purely cosmetic and offer no power bonus.

There are two ways, that we know of, to earn these costumes. You can complete special story missions or in-game events, and you can purchase some costumes from an online store. Crystal Dynamics previously announced no loot boxes or pay-to-win items in Marvel’s Avengers, so these costumes will likely be direct purchases.

In terms of unique looks, we’ve seen tons of classic costumes for characters like Ms. Marvel, Grey Hulk for Hulk, and a variety of Iron Man suits taken from the comics.

Frequent updates

Once Marvel’s Avengers arrives in September, players can dive into the game’s story and start improving their heroes. Crystal Dynamics plans to update the game regularly, with new heroes, regions, missions, and stories. All of this new content will be free — presumably supported by the costume marketplace.

In terms of what heroes they may add, the studio has already started to tease Hank Pym, better known as Ant-Man. In a special teaser trailer (shown above), we see Pym shrink a giant tank with some kind of shrink-ray cannon. It is possible Pym plays a role in the story and won’t actually don the Ant-Man suit, but he seems like the most likely first addition.

Head of creative at Marvel Games, Bill Rosemann, also responded to Hawkeye fans on Twitter, saying “we hear you … and we love Clint too. Stay tuned, true believers.” Crystal Dynamics has also teased the in-game version of Captain Marvel, a hint that she may also come to the game. In its latest War Table stream, Crystal Dynamics mentioned plans to unveil their first post-launch hero soon.

Crystal Dynamics will launch Marvel’s Avengers on Sept. 4 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. Console players who purchase the game on current-gen hardware can upgrade to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions of the game for free later this year.

Source: Polygon.com

Watch the first trailer for 2020’s liveliest documentary

The next American presidential election is looming in the relatively near future, and conflict-weary citizens are going to need to brace themselves for the inevitable upswing in politicking, propaganda, and flag-waving that will come with it. But there’s a bright spot on the horizon, in the form of an election that’s both a lot less fraught and just as dramatic. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s outstanding documentary Boys State is due for release soon, and the first trailer shows why it may be the strongest, most entertaining, and most immediately relevant documentary 2020 has to offer.

Moss and McBaine’s film centers on one edition of the annual leadership conference that takes place in states across the country, where young people (split by gender — there’s also a Girls State event) gather to form ersatz political parties, create a miniature government, and put up their candidates for election. It’s a social experiment and an early exercise in political leadership, and in this extremely lively documentary, it’s also a telling look at how the sausage is made in American politics.

Moss and McBaine followed a handful of teenagers through the 2018 edition of Boys State in Texas, where the event’s politics have a strong conservative bent. Decrying abortion and gun control is part of the platform, even for the secret progressives, who learn to hide their real beliefs in hopes of getting elected. They’re frank and confessional with Moss and McBaine’s cameras, treating the whole thing as a war game and a learning exercise for their own planned political futures. But out in public, the teenagers let their ambitions and their emotions get the best of them, and they fight for their party’s dominance in creative and sometimes horrifying ways. It’s a fantastically insightful documentary, but it’s also just a lot of fun to watch.

Boys State is aiming at a July 31 limited theatrical release, and it will be streaming on Apple TV Plus on August 14.

Source: Polygon.com

Creating the stunning, surprisingly realistic world of 2020’s most underrated sci-fi release

Director Alex Garland makes movies where the characters’ external surroundings might as well be the insides of their minds. His films tend to center on subjects and characters that have the power, expertise, or money necessary to force their exterior reality to try to match their internal reality.

Think of the house where the experiment of Ex Machina takes place, the pearlescent , seemingly alien intelligence of the shimmer in Annihilation, or the golden, almost holy computer lab in Devs, which is available to stream now in its entirety via FX on Hulu.

But those visuals aren’t Garland’s work. The set designs of many of his film and TV projects come from production designer and art director Mark Digby, who worked with Garland on each of those three projects, as well as films such as Dredd (which Garland wrote) and Rush.

I couldn’t get Devs out of my mind after watching it, however. The show tells the story of a computer magnate with seemingly unending wealth (Nick Offerman) who sets up an elite team of coders from his company, Amaya, in a secretive, sealed-off lab in the woods to work around the clock on a project that he hopes will return something he lost.

There’s a murder mystery, a love story, and a slow reveal about what the project — code-named “Devs” — is actually doing. Devs tells a complete story in a single season, and much of the story revolves around the lab that houses Amaya’s quantum computer, which looks like a glittering, decadent church of the mind.

Those golden visuals, completed by the unsettling sound design and score, gave the show its own soul during a time when most looks at the future tend to blend together. The lab in Devs is, as the cliché goes, its own character. I had to know how they did it.

I recently spoke with Digby about Devs’ awe-inspiring workspace, one of the show’s most striking visuals, and how so much of it was inspired by the realities of quantum computing and modern information security.

The future needs to be secure

Film is a collaborative medium, but viewers often talk and write about movies as if the writer and director deserve sole credit for the end product. Digby doesn’t seem to mind that Garland gets so much praise for his visual style, even though that style largely comes from Digby and his team.

“I can’t be frustrated by it, because even within my own department, it isn’t me that does all the work and comes up with all the ideas.” Digby told Polygon. “So I think to be fair, you have to take that onboard and just be happy that something you’ve created has been recognized and people are getting some joy out of it.”

On Devs, one of the biggest challenges for Digby and his team was the lab where a team of the best coders in an Apple-style software company works on an almost unimaginably difficult challenge. So how do you design an environment where the impossible is routine, and security is of utmost importance?

“The seed we were given was what was scripted, and it was building a floating city in a vacuum cavity,” Digby said. “That, essentially, was it.”

That initial idea gave Digby and his collaborators a lot of room to maneuver. No signals of any kind were to get out of the structure they needed to build, and nothing was to come in. And the typical thoughts that description might inspire had to be the first to go. No one wanted to put an obvious, foreboding structure on the screen that looked like every other secure lab in pop culture.

“We needed a building that would be protected from electromagnetic waves, interference, from light, from sound, from earthquakes, and from geophysical interruption,” Digby told Polygon. “And there are materials and patterns and things that do that. One of those is gold — gold and other metals in a mesh form … And you’ll find them in the components of much of your electronics. So, one of the things we did originally was just opening up and looking into electronic machines, and we found all these beautiful things which were often gold or aluminum or titanium.”

Inspired by the gold and the irregular textures, Digby wanted to design something that would suggest an effort to shield the structure from communication efforts, in or out. Within the show itself, the implication was that the lab designers considered security and functionality first, beauty second. But from Digby’s perspective, starting with a golden palette wasn’t just realistic, it was visually arresting.

For the shape of the interior structure itself, Garland himself brought up the Menger sponge, a 3D fractal pattern based on repeating patterns of nine squares.

It was a similar idea to what the team created under the lighthouse in Annihilation, in fact. The establishing shots of the golden lab in Devs showed just how alien and imposing, yet also symmetrical and beautiful, this design made the workspace.

But that establishing shot could be deceptive. Garland wanted the offices built as a practical set, because even the most beautiful structure still has to be functional if it’s going to be used as a film or TV set. Garland wanted to be able to put actors in the structure, and give them room to play their roles and their reactions as naturally as possible.

“One of the reasons I avoid storyboarding is to avoid prescribing to the actors where they need to stand or what they need to do,” Garland said in a recent interview. It’s important to him that his actors have the freedom to explore the space, to react to it and feel its power. Building something so large and strange is a huge challenge, but it gives actors something to understand and work off.

“So the remit from the beginning was that he wanted the whole thing, which just knocks you to the ground, because it’s quite a task to build a full-cube building,” Digby explained to Polygon. “I think we ended up being 60 feet cubed, and then the outer walls are placed at 90 feet, and he wanted it all covered in the pattern we use, which is real gold leaf. So we lined the studio with a cuboidal interior of 90 by 45 times four walls of gold leaf … but that was quite magnificent to do.”

The lab couldn’t just be a home for an otherworldly computer system, however. It also needed to be a human workspace.

“We came to the conclusion that it would be the bare minimum of what they needed,” Digby said. “And that would be a workstation, a cable for want of a better word, and a screen. And of course, an input device, your keyboard or mouse. There are no slots, you don’t need to bring data in on cards, you don’t need any other laptops. You’re not bringing in memory cards and bringing them out or anything like that, because everything is contained and secure within that floating building. And there’s only one way in and out. It was a long discussion.”

The unfriendliness of the space was part of the story — there’s a sense that the lab barely tolerates human wants and needs, apart from the desire to do the necessary work for Amaya. “[The lab] is floating in space. It’s a contained unit,” Digby said. “Out of this world in inverted commas. Separated from everything else, it might as well be a spaceship in one sense for these folks. They are separated from everyone else up there.”

Unlike most shows or movies set in this kind of environment, the lab actually existed in the real world. “Pretty much 99 percent was practical,” Digby said. Even the floating “elevator” that delivers people from the outside world into the world of the quantum computer was practically built, then pushed along a track to simulate the floating motion. Which brings us to the quantum computer itself.

When real is strange enough

Devs’ quantum computer is golden, and covered in small pipes and what appear to be thin wires of even more precious metal. But this wasn’t an exercise in creativity or world-building, the team just kind of created a larger visualization of a quantum computer.

“It looks like that because that’s what quantum computers look like,” Digby said. “If you look at the images on Google, you will see where that comes from. All we’ve done, essentially, is make it bigger.”

You can see an image of the real thing below:

“They’re normally encased In a protective sleeve, but when you lift that sleeve up, you get these chandelier-like machines full of gold, titanium, and aluminum, etc, and glass tubing,” Digby said. “So they have these chandelier shapes, or almost orchid strings, because the technology in those computers needs to be supercooled down to, I think, a few degrees Kelvin. So they are very sensitive to almost everything.”

You can see the final design from the show below:

That’s the remarkable thing about Devs’ design: Staying true to reality made the sets seem fantastic, even though the production was just trying to create a believable world. “It was quite a torturous process for us, because we fight against anything that’s too out of this world, too fantastic, and perhaps too distracting, visually, from the drama or from the reality we want to base in reality,” Digby said. “So it was quite a step outside our comfort zone, and it was great. Alex said ‘Go ahead, let’s have a look, let’s be a little more specific. Let’s see how we can push the limits.’”

It helped that, according to Digby, they were unaware of how much Devs’ religious undertone, or blatant religious imagery, would inform the work. That made for some happy accidents, such as the halo-style lamps that illuminate the trees near the lab. There had to be something there to provide lighting, but how to light a forest in a way that doesn’t look forced?

Set director Michelle Day came up with the answer that made it onto the screen: They would wrap each tree in a ring of light. The entire thing was designed and executed at the last second, resulting in some unintended magic on the set.

A character from Devs stands under a light, resembling a halo around his head Image: FX via Polygon

“Alex [Garland] as well worked out that if you’re in the right position, you get this iconic imagery,” Digby said, explaining the shots that seem to give certain characters angel-like halos, whether their in-universe actions earned it or not. “It all came about in the journey of filmmaking, I guess. It wasn’t scripted like that. But that’s the beauty, you know. That’s the beauty of what we do.”

Source: Polygon.com

Fortnite’s Summer Splash event features Jeffrey Lebowski in body armor

For this year’s Fortnite summer event, Epic is putting together a collection of limited-time modes, including old favorites and new additions, that will run all season.

Among the returning modes for the Summer Splash event will be Sneaky Silencers — now called Fog of War — Close Encounters, which gave players shotguns and jetpacks, Unvaulted, which lets players use weapons and items that are no longer in the main game, and Catch!, which only gives players throwable weapons like grenades.

Fortnite will also add new limited-time game modes. While Epic doesn’t fully reveal any of these modes in the announcement, the company teased one mode as, “reel ‘em in royale,” which is likely a fishing tournament, and another is described as a game of “elimination-powered upgrades,” which sounds a lot like Gun Game, where you get better weapons every time you get a kill.

Fortnite’s Summer Splash 2020 outfits Image: Epic Games

Epic is also adding new summer skins, including a robotic golf expert, a taco mascot, and what appears to be tactically-minded knock-off Jeffrey Lebowski.

Fortnite’s Summer Splash starts today and will continue until the end of season 3 which, at least for now, is schedule to be on Aug. 26.

Source: Polygon.com

Mondo’s new capsule collection celebrates The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant, Warner Bros. Animation’s beloved movie about a boy and his robot friend, is getting a new capsule collection at Mondo. Alamo Drafthouse’s arm for T-shirts, original art, and other collectibles will release five Iron Giant-themed products on Tuesday — four enamel pins and a T-shirt. Polygon has an exclusive first look at the new collection.

The pins and T-shirt join Mondo’s existing The Iron Giant collection, which currently includes hand-glazed ceramic Tiki mugs and a soft vinyl figure of the gentle robot, as well as a limited-edition vinyl copy of the film’s score.

In the first installment of her Beloved Animated Failures column, Polygon’s Petrana Radulovic celebrated The Iron Giant, which was a box office flop but found a devoted home video audience. She writes:

After the positive press for The Iron Giant — and the many critical observations about the blatant lack of marketing — Warner Media sought to rectify its error, and the company mounted a much more significant campaign for the home-video release of The Iron Giant, bringing it to a wider audience. The film thrived on home release. Warner also sold the TV rights to Cartoon Network and TNT, which played the movie frequently during holidays, making it a staple of family-friendly home entertainment in the early 2000s. It’s considered a certified cult classic at this point. And with good reason: the movie is a treasure.

Mondo’s capsule collection will be available to purchase starting at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, June 30. The enamel pins will cost $10 each, while the T-shirt will cost $25. Check them all out in the gallery below.

Source: Polygon.com

Modern Warfare and Warzone June 29 Patch Update 1.23: Season 4 Reloaded

Infinity Ward has released the latest patch update for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

The update is between 22-32 GB for those who own both Modern Warfare and Warzone. For those who own both and want to play MP after this update, you will be required to download an additional 3.5GB data pack. Once the new update is done, it will take up just minimal additional space.

If you just own Warzone (free to play), the update will be between 22-30GB. Once the update is done, the overall game footprint since will be reduced.

The new update includes the new 200 player BR Quads, new Operator, new Sniper, new MP map, new modes, and more for the game. More details on Season 4 Reloaded is here.

PATCH NOTES:

PLAYLIST UPDATE

WHAT’S NEW:

200 Player Warzone!

Verdansk will now be able to hold up to 200 players. Jump into Battle Royale Quads with 200 players!

Supply Run Contracts!

Upon activation, you and your squad (if applicable) will be directed to a nearby Buy Station. Reach it within the time limit to get a discount on Buy Station purchases.

Spotter Scope!

Think of this as a high-powered scope without the glint; this re-usable scope allows you to scan the environment around you and mark enemies without being detected. Perfect for scouting ahead, the Spotter Scope is a great tool for Operators who want to plan their next move while keeping a low profile.

DATA PACK DOWNLOAD:

Please note that the Season Four Reloaded update will have a download size of approximately 22-36 GB for owners of the full version of Modern Warfare. Console owners must install a secondary download of approximately 3.5GB, then reboot the game to access Multiplayer, if desired. A reminder, console players can choose also to uninstall/remove other data packs (e.g. Special Operations), if no longer needed for a smaller overall file size. For detailed information on uninstalling/removing other data packs, read this article.

Once the Season Four Reloaded update is fully completed, it should minimally increase the overall digital footprint of the full version of Modern Warfare.

Existing free-to-play Warzone players will have a download size of approximately 22GB-30GB, once finished there will be a reduction to the overall footprint on their machines.

Modern Warfare

  • Ground War
  • Blueprint Gunfight
  • Team Defender
  • Cheshire Park 24/7
  • Shoot the Ship 24/7
  • Gunfight Tournaments
  • Realism Mosh Pit is now in the Quick Play Filter
  • Modified Special Operations: Strongbox Regular, Strongbox Veteran

Warzone

  • New Gulag weapons! Semi auto rifles, snipers, along with one “just fists and a throwing knife” loadout!
  • BR Quads 200
  • BR Trios
  • BR Duos
  • BR Solos
  • Plunder: Blood Money

GENERAL FIXES

  • Fix for an issue where players could modify weapons with attachments from other weapons while using a mouse
  • Fixed the wording in the Daily Challenge “Deploy the Manual Turret Killstreak 5 Times” to say “Shield Turret”
  • Multiplayer and Warzone win/losses now track as intended per mode
  • Improved stability for PC players
  • Fix for Kreuger’s eyes coming out of his character model while performing the Brassed Off execution
  • Fix for some Completionist camos not applying to the Witching Hour (AX-50 variant)
  • Fixed an exploit on Krovnik Farmland while playing Reinfected Ground War
  • Fixed a bug where the MIL-SIM CTSFO viewmodel gloves didn’t match the in-game world model
  • Fix for a section of Hardhat that had invisible collision
  • Fix for a bug where Demolition matches would not end as intended in overtime
  • Added the Kali Sticks to modes like All or Nothing, Gun Game, Infected, and Gunfight
  • Longshots now display the distance in the point feed
  • Fixed a bug where the Juggernaut HUD elements would remain on the screen if the player was crushed by a crate
  • Fixed an issue where the player could get stuck in place when throwing a grenade and trying to use a Shield Turret at the same time
  • If a player throws a Molotov at a severely damaged Deployable Cover, the Deployable Cover will break and the Molotov fire will disappear, but damage for the fire remains present for a duration of ~20 seconds. This has been fixed
  • Recon Drones can now be destroyed with Throwing Knives
  • Hipfire reticles are now visible in Spectate and in the Killcam. This will make it easier to tell if a player is using Stopping Power rounds or Slug rounds

WARZONE

  • Fix for an exploit in Boneyard where players could climb into the destroyed portion of a plane
  • Gas Mask now cracks when you’re taking damage near or in the circle
  • ‘Team Wiped’ message now appears in the Killfeed for your whole squad to see
  • Fix for an issue where players could spawn under the map after winning their Gulag match
  • Fixed a bug where players using Charly’s Tactical Human skin or Mara’s Valkryie skin would notice their character models missing from the exfil epilogue in the helicopter
  • The audio for the Supply Choppers is too loud, preventing players from hearing most other sounds and communicating with their squad. This has been adjusted
  • During the Supply Chopper event the supply choppers may spawn from under the map, killing players positioned on top of these locations as they raised through the map. This has been fixed
  • Fix for the final circle being too close over areas that players cannot access such as the middle of Stadium
  • The After Action Report now shows Cash Earned and Placement
  • Fix for a rare bug where a player spawned out of bounds after dying out of bounds
  • Fix for a minor issue where the radio operator dialog and subtitles for called in Killstreaks could incorrectly play the wrong faction
  • Now allow up to three Precision Airstrikes to be called in at once but within a distance restriction

WEAPONS:

  • The M4 will perform an AR magazine reload when attempting to reload the underbarrel launcher while you have the 50 Round Mag attachment equipped. This has been fixed
  • Stopping Power is now applied to headshots. Only certain weapons can go from a 2-shot to a 1-shot head shot, like the FAL and Oden. This fixes a few cases where headshots could sometimes do less damage than body shots when using Stopping Power
  • Start Ammo and Max Ammo Adjustments:
    • Increased Max Ammo: M4 .458 SOCOM Rounds
    • Increased Max Ammo and Start Ammo:
      • CR-56 AMAX M67 Rounds
      • SKS 10 Round Mags
      • Striker 45 Hollowpoint Rounds
      • SCAR Default Mags
      • Oden Default Mags
    • Increased Start Ammo:
      • SCAR 25 Round Mags
      • Oden 25 Round Mags
  • AX-50: Increased damage range
  • HDR: Guaranteed one-hit to lower torso at any range
  • Kar98k:
    • Increased ADS speed
    • Small decrease to hip spread
    • Increased damage range
  • MK2 Carbine:
    • Faster movement speed
    • Increased damage range
  • Dragonuv:
    • Increased ADS speed
    • 2 hit kill min
    • Gun recoil returns to the center more
    • Faster rate of fire
  • FAL: Added a close range damage shelf with one-hit headshot potential
  • AK-47: Increased ADS speed
  • CR-56 AMAX: Decreased damage range
  • MP5:
    • Decreased damage range
    • Decreased 10MM damage range
    • Reduced long range damage to 10MM ammo
    • Slight recoil increase to 10MM ammo
  • Grau 5.56
    • Damage range reduction
    • Slight increase to high frequency recoil
    • Reduced recoil compensation and decreased range on Tempus 26.4” Archangel and FSS 20.8” Nexus barrels
  • Shotgun Slugs:
    • Increased projectile velocity
    • Reduced ads spread
    • Added dynamic hip spread
    • Increased damage ranges
    • Increased lower torso damage
  • No stock attachment:
    • Increased weapon recoil
    • Decreased ADS aiming steadiness

SPECIAL OPERATIONS:

  • Improved the effectiveness of the Decoy Grenade against most types of enemy soldiers
  • Operation Harbinger – Fixed issue where some of the white trucks would appear without any enemies inside of them

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SURVIVAL:

  • At the Weapons Store the weapons with purchased Gunsmith attachments are now displayed clearly
  • The Buy Phase timer now pulses red when about to run out to help remind players of the upcoming wave
  • Fixed issue where the text chat was overlapping some Buy Phase store elements
  • Fixed issue where players could purchase weapons from the store as they are being downed
  • Fixed issue where if players voted to ‘Retry’ after failing beyond wave 55 they would start each Buy Phase with reduced time
  • Fixed a rare issue where players could use Munitions / Killstreaks in while downed

SOURCE: Infinity Ward

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Source: CharlieIntel.com