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Days of Summer for Black Ops 4 begins June 4

PlayStation on social media today has shared a brief video that is teasing the upcoming Days of Summer event for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.

The new teaser video states that the Days of Summer event for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will begin on Tuesday, June 4, as revealed in-game by the countdown of the Operation Spectre Rising contraband stream.

The Days of Summer event is expected to bring a new Contraband Stream in the Black Market to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, alongside other updates across the game as Operation Spectre Rising continues in the game.

We’ll update as more is revealed.

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Mordhau beginners guide

The ins and outs of Mordhau’s medieval combat can be daunting to learn. From its variety of different swords, axes, war hammers, and bows, to the different kinds of attacks and blocks you can do with each of them, there’s a lot going on with every fight. So we’ve put together a few tips to help you survive your first foray into the brutal chaos of Mordhau.

Horde is the best mode for learning to play

There are three modes (so far) in Mordhau:

  • Frontlines: A PvP mode that pits two teams of 32 players up against each other.
  • Horde: A PvE mode where a small team of players face 21 waves of AI-controlled enemies.
  • Battle Royale: A PvP mode that’s an every player for themselves free-for-all where no one spawns with loot, and you have to pick up weapons as you fight until one player is the last standing.

The best mode to learn the game in is Horde. Enemies are more plentiful, since the waves quickly grow to around 60 enemies, and the AI-controlled soldiers are easier to predict. Spending a bit of time in Horde can help you get used to the controls, the different types of attacks, and the basic ideas that will help keep you alive in other modes.

You start each match of Horde with only your fists, but you gain gold for getting kills and finishing rounds. Scattered around the map are various weapons that you can buy with gold. This means that almost every weapon in the game is available in one way or another on each Horde map. While you’re learning the gameplay, it’s also a good idea to experiment with different weapons and learn how each of them hits enemies and what their attacks are like.

Mounted combat is a difficult task in Mordhau, requiring a nearly completely different set of skills from ground combat.
In Mordhau’s Frontline mode players can jump on horseback

Play to the strength of your weapon

Fighting in Mordhau changes quite a bit depending on which weapon you’re using. But there are a couple ways to gauge how you should fight and what your weapon does well. All weapons in Mordhau can be broken up by two attributes: speed and range. Here’s what those mean:

  • Speed: How fast your weapon attacks, and how long it takes to swing it from start to finish.
  • Range: How far your weapon can reach and still do damage to enemies.

For the most part, weapons that have a longer range have a slower speed, and weapons that have a faster speed have a shorter range.

What this means during a fight is that you should always play to the strengths of your weapon. If you have a short sword, attack quickly, but you’ll need to be up close. If you have something a little bigger like a two-handed great sword, you should keep your distance from the enemy. Thanks to its size the great sword swings slowly, but you can hit enemies from a long distance.

Once you get a feel for using the game’s weapons and you know which ones you prefer, learn how those weapons match up against the other weapons in the game. If you like using short swords and you run into an enemy with a spear, you should try to get close to him because you’ll attack faster and your sword can’t reach as far as their spear. This is how you should approach every fight in Mordhau.

Learn to parry

Mordhau is a complex sword fighting game full of intricate moves and countermoves. Each maneuver is useful for something, but the one move that stands above all the others in its usefulness is the parry. Parrying is blocking an enemy’s attack with your weapon. It’s Mordhau’s simplest move, and you need to be able to do it well.

To parry an enemy attack you’ll need to press the parry button (right click by default) just as the enemy is starting to swing their weapon toward you. If you go too early or too late, the attack will hit you.

After your parry, the enemy will be very briefly stunned, allowing you to counterattack. But if they’re quick, they can parry your attack as well. Just like in a real sword fight, most attacks in Mordhau are parried — or should be — and you are always only one or two hits away from ending a fight for good.

A melee in Mordhau. Triternion

Kicking is risky and necessary

A kick in Mordhau is a low-damage attack that briefly stuns whoever it hits. It’s also unblockable. So, if you’re facing someone who has a shield, your best option is to kick them then follow it up with an attack. The problem with kicking is that your legs are as long as a sword held out in your arms, so you have to be up close to hit your target.

Kicking can also be a great way to break up a fight full of parries, but be sure to only take the risk when you’re sure your opponent isn’t going to attack. If your opponent has started to swing or their walking toward you like they might attack soon, it’s best to run back out of their range. If you kick and they swing, you might just lose your leg.


After Its Closure, More Telltale Games Are Disappearing

If coping with the closure of Telltale Games last fall isn’t hard enough, prepare for more heartbreak. According to digitial distribution site, the now-defunct studio’s games are being delisted from the storefront.

A post on the site’s forum states that the rest of Telltale’s titles will be removed from GOG on Monday, May 27 at 3 AM PST / 6 AM EST / 10 AM UTC / 11 AM BST. This includes The Wolf Among Us, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Hector: Badge of Carnage, both Batman: The Telltale Series and Batman: The Enemy Within, the entire Sam & Max series, the Puzzle Agent series, and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People. Anyone who purchased these games on GOG before the delisting will still have access to the titles in their libraries, the post confirms.

Tales from the Borderlands was also supposed to be cut, but according to a statement from publisher 2K Games to Eurogamer, “We are working to get Tales from the Borderlands back up on digital storefronts as soon as possible. All prior digital purchases of the game will of course still be honoured and supported.”

Tales from the Borderlands and The Walking Dead cannot be purchased on Steam at this time. A handful of other titles–such as the complete Sam & Max series and the final season of The Walking Dead–cannot be bought on Steam either, while games like Batman: The Telltale Series and The Wolf Among Us are still listed as available for purchase. It’s unclear if the rest of Telltale’s games will be pulled from the platform on Monday.

With the news of GOG pulling Telltale’s catalog from the platform, it’s possible that the PlayStation and Xbox One stores could face a similar fate in the near future. As of now, though, both the PlayStation Store and the Xbox One store list Telltale games as available for purchase.

The California-based studio closed its doors in October 2018. The shuttering shocked fans, critics, and employees of the company, as the stufio was still wrapping up development on The Walking Dead: The Final Season. The studio also had three, now-canceled games in development: a second season of Game of Thrones, a Stranger Things title, and The Wolf Among Us: The Second Season.


Steam’s ‘spring cleaning’ event gives your backlog some love

Steam sales have become notorious events, with players often joking about buying games on sale they’ll never actually play. Steam’s spring cleaning weekend promotion moves in the other direction by encouraging players to go back to games they already own.

The event, which kicked off today and runs through May 28, offers new badges for your Steam profile which can be unlocked or upgraded by completing daily tasks or projects. Projects only need to be completed once, and persist throughout the weekend. Tasks update every day.

Today, my tasks are to play one of the titles that have been made free to play during the event. Here is the full list of games you can play for free during the event:

  • Dead by Daylight
  • Endless Space 2
  • Grim Dawn
  • Don’t Starve Together
  • Black Desert Online
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • Assetto Corsa

Steam also selected some random games from my library for me to play, bringing titles I had forgotten about back into the light. Steam even challenges me to play a game that I own but haven’t started yet, which is a great reminder that I need to play Dishonored 2.

As for the projects, there are some clever challenges to tackle. “Nostalgia” can be completed by playing a game that I have over two hours in, but haven’t picked up in a while. Playing a game I purchased within the last six months triggers the “Can’t Wait” achievement, and there’s even a project to play the first game I ever added to my Steam account. That challenge will be updated to ask players to go back to the second game added to their Steam account if they fulfilled the challenge last year.

This is a neat excuse to dive back into some games you already own rather than buy new ones you might not find time to play.


Pokemon Sword And Shield: What We Want At E3 2019

In 2018, Nintendo and the Pokemon Company announced and released the first Pokemon games for Switch, Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. They are reimaginings of the classic Pokemon Yellow, designed for newcomers to the franchise and inspired by Pokemon Go‘s mechanics. While the Let’s Go games are mainline Pokemon RPGs and the first on Switch, they’re not the same kind of core Pokemon experience fans have been getting on Nintendo’s handhelds for two decades. That will come with the system’s second set of Pokemon games, Sword and Shield.

Nearly two years after the initial E3 2017 teaser, Nintendo and the Pokemon Company officially revealed Pokemon Sword and Shield. They mark the eighth generation of Pokemon games and are set in an entirely new region with all-new Pokemon, meaning anticipation is high. Because they are set for a late 2019 launch, it’s also highly likely we’ll see more of them at E3 2019. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about Sword and Shield so far and what we can expect at E3 2019.

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What We Know So Far

The February 2019 reveal trailer for Sword and Shield contained a number of key details about the Gen 8 Pokemon games. Set in the UK-inspired Galar region, Sword and Shield will include a mix of old and new Pokemon and will see the return of random encounters and wild Pokemon battles after a brief break with Let’s Go. Gyms are also back in Gen 8 after a break from the formula in Sun and Moon.

We were also introduced to the three new starter Pokemon: the Grass-type monkey Grookey, the Fire-type rabbit Scorbunny, and the Water-type chameleon Sobble. Based on this Grass-Fire-Water setup, which has been present in every Pokemon game aside from Yellow and Let’s Go, we can assume that Sword and Shield aren’t totally overhauling the Pokemon formula.

What Is Confirmed For E3?

While Sword and Shield haven’t been confirmed outright for E3 2019, we do know that Nintendo’s Direct presentation will focus on “Nintendo Switch titles for 2019,” which includes Pokemon. Nintendo hasn’t shared many details thus far, but we do know that the presentation will be followed by three days of Treehouse streams; those often include developer interviews and in-depth looks at gameplay. Nintendo’s presentation takes place June 11 at 9 AM PT / 12 PM ET / 5 PM BST (2 AM AET on June 12).

What We Hope To See At E3 2019

The reveal trailer showed quite a bit about Sword and Shield: basic Pokemon battles, trainer customization, the starters, and bits and pieces of the varied Galar region. But there are still a lot of question marks. One of the big mysteries so far is a red and blue circular symbol found throughout the trailer, including on a Gym and even in the games’ logo. Sun and Moon also had a symbol in their logo–a crystal, which ended up representing the games’ new Z-Crystal battle mechanic. Fans have speculated that the circular symbol in Sword and Shield could also represent a new battle mechanic, so we’re hoping to find out what that is at E3.

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We’re also hoping to see more of the Galar region and its new Pokemon. It looks to be an expansive region, and it even has trains that might be used for fast travel, but we can’t know for sure from a trailer alone. Gameplay of the player character walking around a city, for example, could give us a better idea of Galar’s scale. We also hope to see more of the region’s Pokemon, especially legendaries; a mysterious hill carving in the trailer showed what might be a legendary Pokemon.

Lastly, we’re hoping we get answers to some burning questions. Are there any special surprises in store (like travel to another existing region)? Will Sword and Shield be compatible with Pokemon Bank? How will online work? The Direct presentation and any potential follow-up streams could answer the big gameplay questions and provide smaller details fans are looking for. Regardless, with the games’ launch fast approaching, it’s likely we’ll get answers to some of our questions at E3.


Where Is Xur Today? Destiny 2 Location & Exotics Guide (May 24-28)

The Season of the Drifter is drawing to a close in Destiny 2, and the Season of Opulence is hot on its heels. Everyone’s favorite weekend vendor with a weird face, Xur, is back in the solar system, and if you’re still working on Invitations of the Nine, now is an excellent chance to wrap them up and push yourself up to the season’s Power level cap of 700 before it rises on June 4. Xur is also offering a Year Two Titan Exotic he’s never carried before, so you’re going to want to seek him out. Here’s where to find him and the Exotic weapon and armor he’s selling.

Xur is located in the EDZ this week. Head to Earth’s Winding Cove spawn point, and then go north toward the wall of the area, just past the road. Climb up the cliff to where a Fallen dropship has crashed, and you’ll find Xur standing to the right of the ship, on the cliff edge.

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Your Xur weapon this week is an oldie but a goodie: Sweet Business. This minigun-like auto rifle packs an enormous magazine and sprays bullets like a firehose, with increased accuracy when firing from the hip. Holding down the trigger increases its rate of fire and accuracy, and ammo you pick up will automatically be deposited in the magazine while you’re firing–so do your best Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 impression and mow down some enemies.

For armor, Titans get One-Eyed Mask, a Year Two Exotic helmet that Xur has never carried before. It marks enemies who damage you, and if you hunt them down and kill them, you get an overshield and increased damage for a short time. Warlocks can also claim a Year Two Exotic in Chromatic Fire, a chest armor piece that creates elemental explosions on enemies when you get kinetic damage precision kills. Hunters can pick up the Raiden Flux chest armor, which increases the duration and damage of your Arc Staff Super when you get quick successive kills.

Xur Exotics For May 24-28

  • Sweet Business (Exotic auto rifle) — 29 Legendary Shards
  • One-Eyed Mask (Exotic Titan helmet) — 23 Legendary Shards
  • Raiden Flux (Exotic Hunter chest armor) — 23 Legendary Shards
  • Chromatic Fire (Exotic Warlock chest armor) — 23 Legendary Shards

You can also buy a Fated Engram, if you can afford it. Dropping 97 Legendary Shards on the item will grant you one Year One Exotic you don’t already have for that character. Xur also offers the Five of Swords challenge card for free, which allows you to add difficulty modifiers that increase your score in Nightfall runs.

And if you haven’t finished all nine of Xur’s Invitations of the Nine, you can snag one of those as well. The bounty was new in Season of the Drifter, dispensing Powerful gear rewards, a bit of story about the Nine and the Drifter, and a lore drop.


Destiny 2 Xur location and items, May 24-27

If you played Destiny, you may be familiar with Xur, the weekly Exotic item merchant. In Destiny 2, he’s back, and he now appears all over the map. This week, he’s in the EDZ. You can find Xur to the northwest of Winding Cove, standing on a bluff next to a Fallen Ketch.

Bungie via Polygon

Xur’s inventory this week consists of the following:

  • Sweet Business, Exotic auto rifle: 29 Legendary Shards
  • Raiden Flux, Hunter chest: 23 Legendary Shards
  • One-Eyed Mask, Titan helmet: 23 Legendary Shards
  • Chromatic Fire, Warlock chest: 23 Legendary Shards
  • Isochronal Engram: 97 Legendary Shards
  • Invitation quest: 9 Legendary Shards

Xur’s inventory caps out at 681 if you’re 700. He also offers specific rolls on each armor piece each week, giving out different perks for the same pieces. We’ve highlighted any great rolls below.

Sweet Business

Sweet Business is a beautiful exotic minigun that you can use in your Kinetic slot. Its exotic perk, Payday, causes the gun to hold 99 bullets and features great accuracy when fired from the hip.

But what makes this gun really special is the Business Time perk, which increases the weapon’s range and rate of fire when holding down the trigger. As a bonus, any Kinetic ammo you walk over will be instantly loaded into the clip if Business Time is active.

This gun is excellent in almost any PvE scenario and, while it may have low reload speed and limited uses in PvP, Sweet Business chews through Cabal, Fallen, Vex and Hive alike. If you’re a Titan able to pair it with Actium War Rig, you can fire for an extremely long time without having to reload. Pick this gun up while you have the chance if you play PvE content of any flavor.

Raiden Flux

The Hunter exotic this week is Raiden Flux. The main perk this chest piece is Synapse Junction, which causes subsequent hits from the Arcstrider staff to deal more damage and extend the duration of the Super. There are specific times in raids or Nightfalls where this chest piece can help clear out multiple enemies at once. Used well, it can even be powerful against bosses. It’s worth your Legendary Shards if you don’t already have one.

This week’s roll:

Slot 1: Unflinching bow aim, unflinching fusion rifle aim, unflinching Kinetic aim

Slot 2: Scout rifle reserves, special ammo finder

One-Eyed Mask

One-Eyed Mask is a Titan helmet from Forsaken, and it’s one of the best PvP Exotics in the game. Its Exotic perk is Vengeance. When enemies deal damage to you, you’ll mark them, allowing you to track them through walls. Killing marked targets gives you an Overshield and increases damage for a short time. This helmet is incredible; you need to have it if you have or will ever have a Titan.

This week’s roll:

Slot 1: Fusion rifle targeting, hand cannon targeting, Hands-On (melee kills give Super energy)

Slot 2: Sniper rifle reserves, machine gun reserves

Chromatic Fire

Chromatic Fire is a new Warlock exotic added in Forsaken. Its exotic perk is Crystalline Transistor. Getting precision kills with your Kinetic weapon creates an elemental explosion — like the Dragonfly perk — based on your current subclass. This perk is useful if you’re fighting large groups of enemies at once, or need extra elemental help against enemies.

This week’s roll:

Slot 1: Unflinching bow aim, unflinching fusion rifle aim, unflinching Kinetic aim

Slot 2: Scout rifle reserves, special ammo finder


If you haven’t completed the Invitation quest yet, Xur is still offering it for nine Legendary Shards.


Valve reveals Steam’s top-selling games for April, an eclectic mix

Valve this week offered the 20 best-selling games on Steam that were released in April, a new insight from the company itself into how games perform in the PC’s dominant marketplace. In the past, such analyses were often left to third-party examinations of Steam’s API data.

Sales figures are not provided, and the list is ordered by launch date, not sales rank, so Valve is being careful not to alienate any developers and publishers if their titles underperform or are outperformed by something else.

The rundown Valve offered is an eclectic bunch. Mortal Kombat 11 is probably the biggest name in a field that includes Weedcraft Inc., Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, Imperator: Rome, and Totally Accurate Battle Simulator.

Other highlights include Pathway, which we called “a mix of Indiana Jones and XCOM,” and the 64-player medieval combat game Mordhau, which Steam said “hovers around the No. 11 position for most simultaneous players.”

Valve said it started with a list of all the games that launched between April 1 and April 30, then examined the revenue they earned within the first two weeks of launch. So this is not launch-to-date sales data, and it sort of explains why the list trails by a month. The May roundup will probably publish sometime in mid-June.

Valve has played close to the vest with official data on a game’s sales performance or popularity over the years, leaving it more to sites like Steam Charts (which measures concurrent player figures) or Steam Spy, whose accuracy in tracking game ownership suffered a big blow a year ago when Steam changed its API. Steam Spy’s creator, Sergey Galyonkin, later joined Epic Games as its director of publishing strategy, and has been responsible for developing the Epic Games Store, which launched in December.

And while Valve didn’t say why it was sharing this list now, that may be what this is all about: showing those who do business on the Steam marketplace that their games do perform. Epic Games burst on the scene with a competing storefront that has fewer features, but several high-profile exclusive PC launches and a slate of free offerings to sweeten the deal.

Significantly, earlier this week THQ Nordic’s chief executive said that a majority of Metro Exodus’ sales came from consoles as the title, overall, outperformed the publisher’s expectations for digital sales. Metro Exodus was a last-minute switch to exclusive availability on the Epic Games Store, generating a wave of gamer anger against Epic and the publisher.

THQ Nordic didn’t share specific sales figures for PC, but it’s helpful to remember the case of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, which sold poorly when it originally launched exclusively on (which is owned by the game’s publisher, CD Projekt Red). Despite the Epic Games Store’s insurgency, Steam remains by far the dominant online marketplace for PC games.

The 20 top-selling games that launched on Steam in April 2019 are (in chronological order of release date):

  • Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
  • Super Dragon Ball Heroes World Mission
  • Islanders
  • Marz: Tactical Base Defense
  • Supraland
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
  • Vacation Simulator
  • Zanki Zero: Last Beginning
  • Pathway
  • Weedcraft Inc.
  • Staxel
  • One Finger Death Punch 2
  • Forager
  • Pagan Online
  • Katana Zero
  • Driftland: The Magic Revival
  • Paper Dolls Original
  • Mortal Kombat 11
  • Imperator Rome
  • Mordhau


Look at these Bloodborne monsters and tell me they’re not Muppets

Bloodborne is a game full of eldritch horrors and mean dudes that want nothing more than to chop you into ragged chunks with busted, rusty old meat cleavers. Its bestiary is huge and diverse: witches, werewolves, flightless birds, ogres, fungal aliens, walking brains, magic centipedes, fish people, sentient coffins, and more.

Apart from being nasty, the one thing that these monsters have in common is that they absolutely look like Muppets. Tufts of fur. Long, lanky limbs. Wildly exaggerated body language.

I’m not accusing FromSoftware of copying Jim Henson’s homework here, but the overlap was enough to make me wonder if Bloodborne and Muppets were actually being guided by some common design principles. Check out the video above, where we dive into how character designers use shape, movement, and texture to bring horrible monsters and furry friends to life.

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How Detective Pikachu Built Its Adorable Star

For visual effects house MPC, Pikachu stood as the ultimate thesis for its approach to designing the world of Pokémon for Detective Pikachu. io9 recently spoke to MPC VFX Supervisor Pete Dionne about his work on Detective Pikachu, and the particular challenges behind bringing the most vital Pokémon to life.

Detective Pikachu’s adorably weird approach to the world of Pokémon was a risky gamble—but it would’ve fallen apart if its titular hero didn’t work. For MPC, that meant one of the biggest tasks of the whole movie was making one of the most iconic characters of all time come to life in a whole new way.

“Being the most recognizable and iconic Pokémon, and character designs, in the last few decades, he was probably the most difficult character [to get right] from the point of, ‘How much do we bend his design before he no longer looks like Pikachu?’,” Dionne told us. “Other characters, there’s a little more leeway poking through than with Pikachu—the slightest deviation from the original TV design and he stopped looking like Pikachu. Knowing that we’re throwing fur on him and putting Ryan Reynolds’ snarky personality in him, how were we going to find the balance?”

MPC started with a mandate it never wavered from while breaking down Pikachu’s design. “It became really clear that we needed to embrace every single aspect of that design, the original 2D design, as possible,” Dionne revealed. “So, as we were designing him, we started with just the silhouette of Pikachu, and fundamentally, we chose no matter what we come up with, we’re not going to change the silhouette. From the very beginning of our process, building him out, we were always comparing him against that original design.”

Once MPC established that Pikachu’s silhouette couldn’t change, Dionne and his team turned to the animal kingdom for inspiration from the ground up—right down to his musculature and bones.

“We did research into animal anatomy—I think it was a bushbaby, or a lemur. We took their skeletal system and stuck it into the body of Pikachu and started changing proportions. Along with the muscle system inside, as well,” Dionne said of the early process. “We just started looking at all these different animals. “What kind of animal could exist within this [silhouette]?” Like, physically, within this form. And then we came up with something we were happy with, like, ‘This could exist, this could make it through the night in the real world as an animal.’”

Once Pikachu had a body that made sense in the world of Detective Pikachu, the team faced another tough question that arose from familiarity with his design as a flat, 2D creature for the best part of two decades. “In surfacing, there was a debate whether Pikachu had fur or not,” Dionne said, once again turning to real-world animals as a source of inspiration. “We went back and forth, trying versions with him, starting with the process of, ‘What is the cutest furred animal we can come up with?’ So we started referencing that—fluffy bunnies and kittens—and we started adding the fur on top of Pikachu.”

It wasn’t just a case of whether Pikachu had fur or not though—the exact nature of the fur in order to properly emphasize his trademark cuteness was a major factor. “[We started] paying really close attention to, ‘What makes this kitten look so fluffy and cute and adorable, compared to this other kitten that looks coarse and rugged?’,” Dionne continued. “And [we] built little fine details into the quality of the fur and flow and distribution in certain regions of its body. We really tried to pay special attention to that.”

And that attention applied everywhere—even when it brushed up against the rest of Detective Pikachu’s approach to realistic design. “[The] anatomy on the inside of ears, you know, there’s no way to make that look adorable,” Dionne joked. “So, we embraced Pikachu’s lack of an ear cavity and groomed it with a fuzzy fur you’d expect to come out of a bunny’s ear, where a cavity would be—so it still implies, without having any details that break the adorableness of it.”

Those debates continued throughout the process, not just for how Pikachu would look, but how he’d walk the walk and talk the, uh, Pokétalk. “We’re going through this process, as well as motion studies about how well he moves through the environment,” Dionne said of the other side of designing Pikachu’s model. Once again, real animals that had first inspired Pikachu’s underlying skeletal structure provided a reference point. “We went through and looked at upright quadrupeds navigating on two feet and how steady and unsteady they are,” Dionne continued. “What are their physical limitations? So we started talking about how to make Pikachu move around his environment upright throughout the majority of the film, but still make him feel like a quadruped. [When] we got to that place we felt pretty confident.”

For all MPC could pour into making its Pikachu move and look like a realistic version of the classic design, the team still had another issue to contend with: They were designing a motion-capture creature for a star that had yet to be cast. “The biggest challenge, though, was getting Ryan Reynolds’ facial performance in the Pikachu,” Dionne said of the design process. “Interestingly, one of the things that was great was, early on in the process before Ryan was cast, when we were initially building our Pikachu, we were at the point where we built an additional facial rig, and we wanted to start exploring this against an actor and see what we could learn from it,” Dionne said. “So, we got the list of all the actors being considered and grabbed clips of them on YouTube and started animating our Pikachu to all those different actors.”

It’s a good thing Reynolds eventually agreed to the role, according to Dionne—because tests with his footage provided the perfect canvas for Pikachu. “Amazingly, Ryan Reynolds stood out among the bunch because a lot of the other actors had big, gestural performances in their face and body, and Ryan—he’s so dry,” Dionne revealed. “It’s that little cock of the eyebrow or that little smirk as his lip rolls up, that conveys so much expression and character. And so, what was great about Ryan from a facial performance point of view—we were really able to have a constrained performance and not contend with anything that was too big and over the top, which becomes cartoony very quickly. It was a gift having Ryan as Pikachu because right from the get-go, his face translated quite well.”

As good as Reynolds was to work from, however, another problem arose when trying to incorporate human facial capture animations and Pikachu’s finalized design. “To actually capture what’s fun about Ryan’s performance and have the face still look like Pikachu—that’s another problem,” Dionne said. The team at MCP found very quickly that too much of Reynolds’ performance broke Pikachu’s “feel” as a working design. “Any time we started articulating the face like a human’s—with human anatomy and expressions—it didn’t look like Pikachu at all,” Dionne noted.

There was an unconventional solution however, according to Dionne, to act as a bridge between Reynolds and Pikachu. “What we did was build Pikachu’s facial rig with underlying anatomy and muscle structure as a feline, like a cat,” Dionne told us. “Using that as our base, we mounted a headcam on Ryan, and ran him through an entire facial expression workout. There are pretty much 80 different facial expressions—we’d just get him to do [those] poses, and from them, we’d have a library of all his individual expressions. Then we did the same thing for Pikachu, using 2D animation.”

Pikachu might be incredibly expressive, but in the games and anime he doesn’t have anywhere near as many facial expressions as a human does. “We kind of came up with the equivalent, which is funny, because with Ryan, every one of 80 poses is different from the next. Pikachu, he only has six or seven poses,” Dionne said of Pikachu’s time in the expression workout. “If he’s happy, his mouth is a ‘W’ and if he’s sad, it’s an upside-down ‘V’. Even beyond his mouth, his upper brow tucks into his eyes, which does all the heavy lifting. There’s not a lot to work with. But that’s what Pikachu is, and that’s what we needed to embrace. So, we just kind of built up an equivalent library of Pikachu doing all these different expressions. Then we were able to kind of cross reference and build our library of CG Pikachu [expressions].”

Then came the toughest part of the whole endeavor, according to Dionne. “How do we find a really calculated compromise between the two,” the VFX supervisor pondered, “so that we can capture the nuance in Ryan, but never break the design of Pikachu’s face?”

The answer, in the end, was actually a more hands-on approach to animating the Pokémon, instead of solely relying on motion capture. “As Ryan was performing for the film, every time he’s performing, he would have that head-mounted camera capturing his performance,” Dionne said. “For technical reasons, it wasn’t that beneficial to use that technical data explicitly to draw out that performance. We found we got more out of it if we just took that captured performance, and an animator would use that side-by-side as a footpath with the facial performance, driven by Ryan’s face.”

A little less Ryan Reynolds, and a little more Pikachu—but 100 percent adorable.

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