Call of Duty, Dead Space veteran joins PUBG team to lead a new studio

PUBG Corporation, the developer behind the popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, is spinning up a new development studio. Helming the project is industry veteran Glen Schofield, co-founder of Sledgehammer Games. The new studio is called Striking Distance, and it’s based in San Ramon, California.

Schofield was most recently front and center for the launch of Call of Duty: WWII in 2017, which he co-directed and produced. Prior to that he filled a similar role on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. He’s also credited with leading the creation and development of Dead Space.

The addition of a new development studio is part of a pattern of change and expansion for PUBG Corporation. Previously, the company spun out of Bluehole, a South Korean developer and publisher known for its massively multiplayer games. Bluehole itself has since been reformed as Krafton Game Union. Now a multinational corporation, it’s clearly flexing its muscles by bringing on a heavy hitter like Schofield.

In a video posted today on Twitter, Schofield was shown appealing directly to fans of PUBG. But he was also clearly reaching out to potential employees eager to join his team.

“Freedom to explore the PUBG universe has me excited about the possibilities,” Schofield said, “which we view as beyond battle royale.”

“That vision is taken to the next level as our development and service portfolio expands and diversifies with Glen Schofield and Striking Distance,” said PUBG Corporation’s CEO, C.H. Kim. “We are thrilled to welcome Glen to the company. His unique blend of proven leadership and boundless creativity will help us create great synergy.”

Further evidence of PUBG’s attempts to diversify include reassigning the creator of its keystone franchise. In March, Brendan Greene, the Irish expatriate who created PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, left that game’s development team where he served as director. Since that time he’s been involved with a new internal group called PUBG Special Projects.

Source: Polygon.com

What happened to the Neon Genesis Evangelion live-action movie

Through a deconstruction of mecha anime and the threading of horrifying adult themes, Neon Genesis Evangelion changed the way global audiences thought about Japanese animation. Piloting giant mech was seen as a spectacular thrill, given the successful mecha shows from the late ’80s to early ’90s, but creator Hideaki Anno and Studio Gainax had a much more sinister idea. Children would still use mechs to battle mythical beasts, but the experience would break them mentally and physically. The way Evangelion explored weighty topics such as religion, philosophy, and psychological trauma during the course of its 26-episode run would stand the test of time.

In the ’90s, Evangelion revived the slumping anime market that was thought to have plateaued in Japan. ADV Films, led by John Ledford and Matt Greenfield, licensed the series for home video release in America and earned one of their biggest successes ever. Evangelion ushered in a new era and that came with a legion of devoted fans.

A live-action adaptation of Evangelion was a no-brainer.

The idea of adapting the series into a Hollywood blockbuster cropped up after the anime’s initial success, but the film went through years of false starts and stops, and eventually stalled in “Development Hell.” Why did this attempt to make a film fail and will we ever see a live-action Evangelion film?

Gainax, the studio behind Evangelion, and ADV Films, which licensed and distributed the series in North America, first approached Weta Workshop about Evangelion in 2002. It was a perfect confluence of two companies at the peak of their influence. ADV saw massive profits in its sector because of the monumental success of Pokemon and the boom of the Cartoon Network television block Toonami, which featured shows Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Cowboy Bebop, and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. The Japanese anime marketplace in the United States was peaking, and a bubble ready to pop, making it an urgent moment for the feature film.

Eva Unit-01 in silhouette in front of a sunset. Netflix

Weta CEO Richard Taylor had just launched their biggest success with the first entry in the Lord of the Rings franchise. After years of development, Fellowship of the Ring received multiple Academy Award nominations and its success would lead the visual effects studio to acclaim over the next two decades. At the 2003 Cannes Film Festival buyer’s market, Gainax, ADV Films and Weta Workshop made it official to the world: an Evangelion live-action film was happening.

“The three main players here represent something of a dream team for a project like this. Between the quality and significance of Gainax, Weta’s industry-leading skill in visual effects and our expertise in the marketing and promotion of anime and anime-related content, this project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Ledford at the time.

Even in those early stages excitement for a live-action Evangelion was immense. At the time, Taylor said he received more messages regarding the production of [Evangelion] than he did about Lord of the Rings. According to an article from CNN Money, Taylor took a proposed producer out for lunch, looking for extra help to jump-start production. During that meeting a fan noticed him and didn’t ask him about anything he’d already done, but wanted to talk about Evangelion. This meeting convinced Taylor that the movie had to be made.

Rumors swirled over which director would helm the project, but according to Tiffany Grant, who voiced Asuka in the original English dub of the series, and who was married to Greenfield at the time, “no one was ever approved or anything. The whole process went on for years and years.” Though rumors swirled over who’d take over, Grant tells Polygon, “All of that was bullshit. They … didn’t have a shooting script. How are you going to have a cast? That was in somebody’s fever dreams.”

The source of those rumors likely began at Tekkoshocon when Greenfield gave some insight into who Anno would like to see in the movie. Names such as Daniel Radcliffe for Shinji. Grant provided some additional background and said, “around 2002, 2003 somebody reported that Anno liked Emma Watson for Asuka. [She’s] almost thirty now. If [you try to cast] one of the children, within a couple of years, they’re already too old.”

An Evangelion movie coming together with any haste was made more difficult thanks to Japanese production companies who remained adamant on the age of the children. According to Grant, her colleague Carl Horn (editor of the Evangelion manga series for Viz Media) was asked about the ages of anime characters at a convention. “Carl looked to the sky and just as earnestly said, ‘it’s very important that the pilots are 14 years old, because 14 is the target age demographic for anime in Japan.’”

Over the years, the hurdles of making the live-action Evangelion have trickled out online. Richard Taylor did a lengthy interview about the project and Weta’s excitement.

“For us to be given that opportunity and to have the chance to reflect on where those design motifs are coming from and the culture that inspires them was a really wonderful gift from the ADV team to our group here at the workshop,” said Taylor. There was also some early concept designs that Weta contributed to the project. Artists who did designs for the project included Weta artists like Senior Designer Christian Pearce and Greg Broadmore.

“There was a group of four or five of us that did a few months of concept work, a real scatter-gun initial spread of ideas,” Pearce said. “We’d have calls with the guys at Gainax every week, it was pretty exciting but we never saw a script or heard of a director being attached […] To be honest I don’t think we were really ready for a project like that then.”

Pearce said they worked on the project until it “just gradually disappeared and we moved on to other projects, like Halo… which also never happened.” In a separate interview, Broadmore insists the team came away with tons of work to show for the illustrative exercise. “The conceptual work that ADV released was the tip of the iceberg.”

Weta wound up creating drawings that detailed character designs, concepts for the Evangelion, the control room for the military organization Nerv, and even some idea of what the antagonist, the giant mythical beasts known as Angels, would look like in the movie.

“My one contribution was when somebody at Weta asked [Greenfield] what the neural interface things are they wear on their heads,” Grant recalls. “Asuka wears hers all the time. The other pilots only wear them when they’re piloting the Eva. But I said, ‘Those are the hu hus.’ That’s in the actual Weta sketches.”

The sketches also provided a look into the decidedly Western approach to the source material. The children were given western names and designs. Whitewashing was a concern long before the movie ever began its casting, and would have added to a gluttony of similar business decisions. In a way, the live-action Evangelion may have been a crisis averted. Behind the scenes there was about to be turmoil that would turn the entire project on its head.

Anno had decided that he would make a new project for Evangelion that would come to be known as the Rebuild of Evangelion. The idea was to create four new, feature-length animated movies that would recount the Evangelion TV series, while bringing the story to a new conclusion. Anno decided that he needed to create a new studio, Studio Khara, so he could operate with complete artistic freedom. That meant taking Evangelion with him, leaving ADV and Gainax without the tools they needed to make their film. More so than anything else, Grant believes that was when the project was over. “Anno, when he got a divorce from Gainax, he took the children — the children being Asuka, Shinji, and Rei,” she says. Without Evangelion there was no movie.

Shinji, Asuka and Rei in Evangelion. Gainax/Netflix

Development of the live-action feature went from bad to worse. In 2011, ADV sued Gainax over whether they had gained specific rights, including those to the live-action Evangelion film. ADV claimed they had lost the opportunity to produce the film with a major studio. Alternatively, Gainax claimed that they had a right to veto the deal and returned any money that ADV had sent regarding the film rights.

Ownership of the motion picture rights for Evangelion have been muddled since as there has never been a resolution to the lawsuit. Following the battle between ADV and Gainax, Anno sued Gainax in 2016 for a repayment of a $100 million yen loan. According to the lawsuit, Gainax and Studio Khara signed a contract stating that Gainax would pay a set royalty to Studio Khara for the proceeds earned by Gainax in the productions that Anno had been involved in, meaning Anno was owed royalties for Evangelion and other projects. Anno ended up winning his lawsuit against his former company and due to the legal trouble, it’s unlikely that the creator, Gainax, and ADV would be excited about making an Evangelion movie together.

On November 26th 2018, Netflix announced that it had got the rights to Neon Genesis Evangelion and would launch the series on its service. The rights included the original TV series, and two feature films The End of Evangelion & Evangelion: Death (True) 2. The landmark series was a big get for Netflix.

While Evangelion on Netflix could ignite interest in a new live-action adaptation, the Evangelion live-action movie as envisioned in the early ’00s is dead. Infighting eventually undid years of pre-production and now the rights for a feature film are entangled in lawsuits. Grant added some extra context into why an Evangelion movie was a tough sell.

“We know Evangelion, but if you would poll people walking through a Walmart, if you found one out of a hundred who knew what Evangelion was, I would be impressed. It just didn’t have that mainstream public notoriety.”

Making a live-action Evangelion was never going to be easy and compared to another anime adaptation like Detective Pikachu, it would’ve been a tough sell to the masses. Fortunes could change for Evangelion as will be streaming into over 148 million holmes, and awareness is about to get a big bump.

There’s one person who may still cling to the notion: Richard Taylor. Even though the opportunity for this live-action Evangelion adaptation had seemingly passed, Taylor continued to be hopeful about Evangelion during conventions. In a 2008 video, Taylor said, “nothing would please me more than getting to make [Evangelion] into a film. It’s a sad thing that it hasn’t happened yet. Fingers crossed because wouldn’t it be fantastic to make a live-action film…” Whatever form that adaptation takes will be far different from the one from ADV, Gainax, and Weta.

Source: Polygon.com

Kotaku releases extensive report on what happened at Treyarch during Black Ops 4 development

Back in late May, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, when he dropped the bombshell report that Treyarch will be developing Call of Duty 2020, also mentioned he would be releasing a behind the scenes report on what happened at Treyarch during the development of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.

Schreier today posted the full article, which is available to read here (which we recommend doing so). We wanted to pull just some of the highlights of what this article mentions and what happened during Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s development at Treyarch.

Here’s some highlights from the article:

  • QA had to work extensive hours on the game, even told not to party during the game’s launch window in order to ensure all aspects were ready for launch. QA testers are being treated as second class in the offices
  • The contractors working at Treyarch have had to work extensive hours for limited pay and did not receive a share of the game’s bonus
  • Black Ops 4’s campaign mode was canceled in early 2018
    • Black Ops 4’s campaign was to be played alongside a friend
    • You would pick enemies to battle against and work to take down different enemies as the game progressed
    • It was almost like a 2v2 campaign. The team was working to get it to Activision for a milestone demo in late 2017, but the mood changed when Treyarch executives shifted direction to cancel the campaign of the game in early 2018
  • Black Ops 4 was originally set to launch in November 2018, but changed the date to October 12 because of Red Dead Redemption 2’s October 26 launch
  • There was an extensive crunch period for the developers at Treyarch, working long weeks and hours in order to get the game ready for the October launch
  • Kotaku says that QA testers in Treyarch found out that Black Ops is returning in 2020 as the new Call of Duty game for that year after the Kotaku article dropped, and then a few days later got an email from heads of department confirming the news
  • Staff at Treyarch received a bonus for Black Ops 4 earlier this year, and many of the higher levels had an extensive bonus to the point that parking lots were filled with Teslas at offices
  • Kotaku says that many at Treyarch are just as frustrated with Black Ops 4’s microtransactions and are struggling with Activision’s decisions to force revenue
  • Treyarch informed employees late last month that the staff would be taking on a new Black Ops project for 2020 release, after a shift in Activision’s plans resulted in SHG and Raven becoming support studios

Activision issued a non-answer response to Kotaku about the development crunch at Treyarch:

Black Ops 4 represents three years of hard work, creativity, and passion from hundreds of talented individuals across Treyarch, Activision studios and publishing teams, as well as agency partners around the world. It represents the culmination of a wide variety of development initiatives, the best of which comprise the game that our fans are playing today.

The teams who created this game are diverse and widespread. It’s important to us that everyone working on the game, or any of our projects, is treated with respect and that their contributions are appreciated. If there is ever an instance where this standard is not met, we work to remedy it immediately. We constantly strive to provide a rewarding and fun development environment for everyone.

Everyone at Treyarch is extremely proud of Black Ops 4. We love bringing games to life, and we always want to do the best work of our careers. We realize this is only made possible through the varied perspectives and contributions from every individual working on the team.

SOURCE: Kotaku

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Source: CharlieIntel.com

The Human Cost Of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Photo: Activision

One Friday afternoon a few weeks ago, the developers at Treyarch held a happy hour event to welcome the summer interns. There was pizza, beer, and jubilation for everyone at the studio behind Call of Duty: Black Ops 4—except the quality assurance testers, who had to leave shortly after they got there.

“QA was told we were only allowed down at the party for a max of 20 minutes, and we ‘really shouldn’t drink anything’ because we still had to work,” said one tester. “It sucks, but honestly we’re pretty used to getting these sort of ‘rules’ when they do any parties here.”

It was a small affront, but it felt indicative of a bigger problem: At Treyarch, many contract employees, especially the testers, say they feel like second-class citizens. Testers work on the second floor of the office, while most of the other developers are on the first. Some testers say they’re told not to speak to developers in other departments, and one told me they’ll only do so surreptitiously, out of fear of getting fired. When they get to work, testers have to park their cars in a different parking lot than other employees, one that’s further away from the office. When lunch is catered, testers are told that the food downstairs is for the development team, not for them. Sometimes, they’re allowed to scrounge for leftovers an hour later, once the non-testing staff have gotten to eat.

Put another way: When I asked a non-tester at Treyarch about the party, they responded, “Surprised they were invited at all.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, released last October, is the latest entry in Activision’s massively popular first-person shooter series. It made more than $500 million in its first three days on sale, helping ensure that Activision’s 2018 financial results were what chief executive Bobby Kotick called “the best in our history.” It was also a turbulent production, marked by a drastic reboot, the last-minute addition of a battle royale mode, and what one developer described as “perpetual crunch” that perhaps hit the QA team hardest. Many of Treyarch’s employees are not full-time staff but contractors, which means that, among other things, they don’t qualify for the bonuses that full-timers might get from all those Black Ops 4 sales.

According to Glassdoor aggregates and testimonials from employees to Kotaku, Treyarch’s QA testers are paid a base wage of around $13 an hour. For the past year or so, some say they’ve been working around 70 hours a week. So it was a gut punch to at least a few of them when, in January of this year, news broke that the video game publisher Activision had given a cash and stock bonus worth up to $15 million to its new chief financial officer, Dennis Durkin. They didn’t even qualify for a $15 bonus.

“That broke a lot of people,” said a tester who left shortly afterwards. “We’re getting paid these very minimal amounts working these ridiculous hours, yet these people are getting paid absurd amounts of money. It’s just a culture of not being cared about.”

This account of Treyarch’s studio culture, and of the development of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, is based on interviews with 11 current and former staff members, all of whom spoke anonymously in order to protect their careers. They described a company in which contractors, and particularly testers, feel like they’re perceived and treated as inferior. Throughout Black Ops 4’s rocky development, testers said they worked under unfair conditions—a theme that’s common in the video game industry, but one that remains worth scrutinizing. Those who spoke to us for this story said they did so because they hope that public pressure will lead the studio to change.

When reached by Kotaku, Activision would not make Treyarch’s management available for interviews or comment on the specifics of this story, but did offer a broad written statement, attributed to the studio:

Black Ops 4 represents three years of hard work, creativity, and passion from hundreds of talented individuals across Treyarch, Activision studios and publishing teams, as well as agency partners around the world. It represents the culmination of a wide variety of development initiatives, the best of which comprise the game that our fans are playing today.

The teams who created this game are diverse and widespread. It’s important to us that everyone working on the game, or any of our projects, is treated with respect and that their contributions are appreciated. If there is ever an instance where this standard is not met, we work to remedy it immediately. We constantly strive to provide a rewarding and fun development environment for everyone.

Everyone at Treyarch is extremely proud of Black Ops 4. We love bringing games to life, and we always want to do the best work of our careers. We realize this is only made possible through the varied perspectives and contributions from every individual working on the team.


At the beginning of 2018, about two years into development on Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Treyarch employees were called into a conference room for some bad news: The game’s campaign mode, which was to be centered on an ambitious two-versus-two multiplayer mechanic, was canceled.

For some studio veterans, it felt like history repeating itself. Treyarch’s last game, Black Ops 3, was planned to feature an open world until the team rebooted midway through production, scrapping the open-ended map in favor of a traditional linear campaign. This overhaul had led to a difficult period of crunch for many Treyarch employees, who had to make up for all the lost work with extra hours. Now they were worried they might have to do the same on Black Ops 4.

“For this to happen twice… The morale drop that happened in the studio can’t be understated,” said one former employee. “They’d been promised, ‘After Black Ops 3, we’re not going to do that again. We’re not going to scrap all this work that you’ve been putting in.’”

This time, the plan had been to do something very different from previous Call of Duty campaigns. Black Ops 4 was set after Black Ops 3’s story, but rather than play through the campaign yourself, you’d play alongside a partner, battling against a pair of human opponents. (If you wanted to play single-player, they’d all be AI-driven bots.) Each side would pick a faction, and you’d compete to gun down enemies and battle over different objectives in a post-apocalyptic world. One side might try to destroy a convoy, for example, while the other side worked to protect it. Or maybe one faction would set off to protect a journalist while the other faction tried to assassinate them. Each mission would give you chances to get into shootouts with the other team, hampering their progress if you did well. During different moments throughout the story, you’d also get the chance to defect and switch sides if you weren’t happy with the choices your faction was making.

In the waning months of 2017, the campaign team put in extra hours to finish a demo of this 2v2 campaign for an Activision milestone just before Christmas. They got a few missions working, complete with full art and voice acting, then went off to their holiday break. “Everyone crunches really hard to get that done, and we do,” said one person on the team. “We go to the holiday party in Las Vegas. The studio heads come up and say, ‘Hey guys you did a fantastic job, everyone’s really excited.’”

Photo: Activision

After that break, however, the mood started to shift. Over the first few weeks of 2018, Treyarch’s leadership began informing groups of employees that they were cutting the campaign. There were technical concerns, timing issues, and, according to one person who was there, negative feedback from playtesters, who felt like the gameplay was too repetitive. So they decided to pivot. They’d take all of the work they had put into the 2v2 campaign and morph it into a traditional single-player story. “The idea was: What if we spruce it up, put more explosions in, set pieces,” said one Treyarch staffer. “Then maybe people will get that classic Call of Duty feel from this.”

But there wasn’t much time left. They’d originally scheduled for a Black Ops 4 release in November, as was traditional for Call of Duty games, but Rockstar put a wrench in that one, bumping the highly anticipated western Red Dead Redemption 2 from spring 2018 to October 26. To try to preempt the cowboy game, Activision decided to shift Black Ops 4 forward to October 12, which meant Treyarch’s developers had one fewer month than they’d thought.

“People were saying: How can we do this, create an entirely new campaign that takes everything we’ve put in this other mode that was unsuccessful, and still tells our story,” said one person who worked there. After a few weeks, it became clear that developing a brand-new campaign wasn’t practical. “Everyone realizes at this point: This is absurd. This is impossible.”

So they made a second scope change, this time eliminating the campaign entirely, which left Black Ops 4 with two main components: traditional player-versus-player multiplayer, and the supernatural Zombies mode, in which players would gun down hordes of undead. Call of Duty fans would expect more than just those two modes, so Treyarch’s leadership had to come up with something else. As it turned out, many of the staff had been playing a lot of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the mega-popular battle royale game that had launched in 2017, and Fortnite’s free take on the game had just morphed into a cultural phenomenon. Why not do a Call of Duty-themed battle royale?

What emerged was Blackout, a 100-player death match set on a massive map that could salvage some of the campaign’s assets, but needed a whole lot of work from scratch.

“Now we have an even shorter amount of time to put in work on a new mode,” said a developer. “Actual development work on Blackout didn’t start until nine months before launch. That mode came together by the seat of its pants. It’s kind of a miracle that it did.”

It was February 2018, and the game had to be out in October. What that meant for Treyarch, as anyone who follows the video game industry can probably guess, was lots and lots of crunch—long nights and weekend hours that, while not technically “mandatory,” were expected of developers on the Black Ops 4 team.

Employees of Treyarch spent most of 2018 crunching to finish Black Ops 4, according to all of those interviewed for this story. One developer estimated that during crunch time, they’d work 12 hours from Monday through Thursday, a standard eight-hour day on Friday, and then another eight hours on Saturday, for a total of 64 hours per week. “If things got bad,” they said, “you’d do 12-hour Fridays, maybe even a Sunday.”

Those interviewed who were paid hourly worked in a range of departments and said they made anywhere from around $13 to $30 per hour. They were paid time-and-a-half when they worked past eight hours, and double time when they worked past twelve hours, so the tail end of Black Ops 4’s development led to fatter paychecks for most employees. “The way it’s presented, it’s kind of seen as a gift,” said a former Treyarch developer. “They’re doing a service for us by asking us to come in extra hours, which is I think a little twisted, but the reality is, it was more money in each paycheck.”

In fact, for those on the lower end of the salary spectrum, getting that overtime money was the only way to live in Los Angeles. Some current and former Treyarch employees shared anecdotes of themselves or colleagues running into financial difficulties once crunch had ended, despite the fact that they had helped make one of the most lucrative video game series on the planet. “Some people have extra jobs,” said one. “After their regular eight-hour shift they go work something else.”

For some on the team, even getting paid double overtime wasn’t enough to make up for the months of sustained crunch throughout 2018. Some described seeing colleagues sleep in the office, while one described a culture of “drinking to cope” with the crunch. “There were weeks straight when I was not taking weekends,” said a former Treyarch developer. They described the effects of these hours: “Panic attacks, burnout, dissociation. You feel like your boundaries are being violated. You lose all passion for what you’re doing and forget why you were doing it in the first place. It’s a nightmare.”

Treyarch has long embraced a culture of crunch to make Call of Duty games (and, before that, Spider-Man games), but for many on the Black Ops 4 team, the last year has been particularly brutal. “I was told crunch would end after we released the game,” that developer said. “Then I was told crunch would end after winter break. Then I was told crunch would end once we got into [the summer].” That developer left the company in hopes of finding a better work-life balance elsewhere.

Different departments at Treyarch faced varying levels of crunch. Toward the end of Black Ops 4’s development, and in the months after its release, the company asked its testing department to put in the most hours. “The people who I felt sorry for and really bore all that brunt were QA members,” said a former Treyarch employee. “Sometimes we were pushing updates twice in a week, which is absurd… As Black Ops 4 was live, it progressively got more broken and buggier, not because the developers didn’t know what the problem was, but because they didn’t have time to fix it.”

From Black Ops 4’s release in October 2018 until early this year, Treyarch was putting out new patches constantly. With each of these new updates came a brand-new build, and with every brand-new build, the quality assurance testers had to jump in, pushing the game’s boundaries in hopes of finding all the bugs before that update went live.

As a general rule, the video game industry does not treat testers well. QA is perceived as the bottom of the development hierarchy, with many viewing them as unskilled labor. But testers at Treyarch say that even by video game standards, they have it especially bad.


In the summer of 2018, as temperatures in Los Angeles surged to the 80s and 90s, many of the testers at Treyarch found themselves facing their own heat wave.

The QA department at Treyarch is broken up into day and night shifts. During crunch time, those two shifts would cover the full 24 hours. The day shift would come in at 10 a.m. and leave at 10 p.m., while the night shift would do the inverse, arriving at 10 p.m. and exiting at 10 a.m. One thing that added to the stress of this extended schedule, according to three people who have worked in testing at Treyarch, was that the office kept turning the air conditioning off at night once all the other developers had left. Although the night air was cooler, the rows of computers and consoles ran no less hot.

“We’re still there and have all these things running, so the temperature would basically spike to 90-something degrees,” said one tester. “A couple of jokes were made about sweatshops and all that, but it’s terrifying, because it kind of was sometimes, especially in the dead of July.”

“They told us the AC was broken, even though it worked all day and turned off at the exact same time each day,” said a second tester. “No matter how much we pressed them to do something or get it fixed, nothing would happen.”

“I had co-workers who were literally sweating through their clothing,” said a third.

It took two months of QA leads desperately emailing the office before Treyarch started leaving the air conditioning on for the night shift, the first tester said. “Even then they would forget sometimes.”

Treyarch’s office building is in Santa Monica, California, just down the street from Activision corporate headquarters. Most of the development team—the artists, the designers, the programmers—sit on the first floor, other than some members of the animation team. They park their cars in the main parking lot, get fed free meals often, and are regularly looped into company meetings, where they get updates on Treyarch’s projects and briefings about the state of the studio.

The testers operate in a different world. They all work on the second floor, crammed together as groups of 10 or 12 people in bays meant for six or seven. They are told to park in a different lot, about a 10-minute walk from the office. (“You guys have to walk a long way, so add that to your commute,” one tester recalls being told when they were hired.) Instead of getting to take breaks for lunch and dinner when they feel like eating, they have mandated (and unpaid) break hours, and although they get catered dinner during crunch, they’re told not to eat the lunch provided to non-testing developers until an hour after it’s been served. Sometimes, they’re told not to touch it at all.

When Treyarch sends out surveys about company health, testers aren’t included. When the company holds all-hands meetings, testers aren’t invited. Often, testers say they’re asked to work crunch hours with little notice or transparency, which makes it difficult for them to have lives outside of the office. “Frequently,” said one, “we wouldn’t know if we worked weekends until Friday night.”

The studio keeps so much information from its QA department that when we reported last month that Treyarch would be taking a lead role on a new Black Ops in 2020, testers say they learned it from Kotaku. “We didn’t know about the new title until your article dropped,” one tester told me. “A couple days later we received an email that wasn’t meant for us, confirming the new title… When we tried to ask about it, they said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’”

One major reason for this secrecy may be a lack of trust in the QA department, in the wake of a massive leak last fall from a fired tester. That fired tester took to Reddit to spill details on all of the Easter eggs that Treyarch had put inside Black Ops 4’s zombies mode, secrets that the team hoped it would take months if not years for players to discover. The leak left a sour taste in many developers’ mouths, and drove resentment toward the QA department from others at Treyarch. But testers say they felt isolated even before that.

There’s a perception within Treyarch, like at many other game studios, that QA testers are unskilled and easily replaceable. Even some non-tester Treyarch developers interviewed for this story said they felt that way. Throughout the development of Black Ops 4 and in the months afterward, the frequency of game updates led to lots of bugs, some of which the QA department missed during their testing. Some of those misses might have been due to mistakes or lack of skill. Others were undoubtedly due to the pace of the work. “A new update would go live, and then people would look at Reddit,” said a Treyarch developer. “Reddit would say, ‘This is broken, fucking Treyarch, do they not care about us?’ That gets passed to QA. Then a meeting is held with QA leads: ‘How did that go through?’ QA would say, ‘We didn’t get enough time.’”

It all adds up to an atmosphere in which testers feel mistreated. “You’d constantly overhear remarks and jokes about QA,” said one non-QA developer at Treyarch. “People blame them for issues in our game, not catching something… QA is the butt of everyone’s joke.”

Perhaps there would be better relations between developers and QA if they were allowed to fraternize—or if the testers could spend more than 20 minutes at company parties. But testers at Treyarch say they’re told not to talk to the developers, and vice versa.

“When I started, I was told explicitly not to interact with members of QA, but instead to go directly to the QA leads for any questions that I may have,” said one Treyarch developer. “You could look at that as a way to funnel key information to the appropriate leads for members of the QA department so there aren’t any redundancies, or different people coming to different members of the team with the same request. But the explicit phrasing was that you were not supposed to interact with or talk to them. Which was very strange to me.”

Testers shared anecdotes of only communicating with their developer colleagues through the bug-tracking software JIRA, or keeping friendships quiet so the company can’t find out and let them go.

“QA was for the most part completely removed from any interactions with the development team,” the developer said. “I think at a lot of studios you’ll have members of QA that are spread across the studio, embedded with certain teams. At Treyarch it’s just one department, sitting by themselves.”

The developers I spoke with said that this sort of isolation isn’t just bad for morale, it makes for a buggier game. Testers who feel like they’re ostracized, like they can’t communicate with the rest of the team, and like they aren’t really part of the Black Ops 4 development staff will inevitably fail to perform at a level that they might under better conditions. Treyarch staff interviewed for this story also emphasized that conditions in the QA department have also led to a great deal of turnover.

“It seemed like every other month, every other three months, there’d be members of the QA team who were leaving, and new members brought on,” said one developer. “There was a lot of churn. You’d always have these fresh faces in QA. It always felt like someone was leaving and someone was joining. I think the result is you had a lot of people who just weren’t trained, who were just expected to perform.”

Testers at Treyarch aren’t actually employed by the studio or its parent company, Activision. Like testers at many other big game studios, they technically work for an outsourcing company called Volt. And they’re not the only ones. If testers are located on the bottom of Treyarch’s hierarchy, the rest of Volt’s contractors aren’t too much higher.


Earlier this year, the staff of Treyarch received bonuses for their work on Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, as is typical at big-budget studios. For the upper echelon of directors, leads, and executives, the money could be substantial. For the contractors, it didn’t exist. Anyone who worked for Volt—a list that included not just testers but some coordinators and associates across all departments—wasn’t eligible for a bonus.

“When we see a bunch of new Teslas come in after the bonuses go out, that kinda feels bad for us,” said one Treyarch contractor. “Our company parking lot is all flat, so we can see Jaguars and Teslas and then you’ve got the beater cars around—you can tell that’s probably a contractor.”

Contractors at Treyarch get different badges than full-time staff—the full-timers are blue; the contractors are orange—and are reminded that technically, they don’t actually work for Activision. They work for Volt. “As a contract employee, I guess you could say you do feel a little different than everyone else in the studio,” said one Treyarch contractor. “It’s not outspoken, but it’s the general demeanor in how things play out.”

For example, the contractor said, during an all-hands meeting earlier this year, Treyarch HR and management went over the results of quality-of-life surveys they’d given out to the studio. The surveys were designed to address internal issues after Black Ops 4 and try to figure out how they could all improve for the next project. Problem was, they’d only given the surveys to full-time staff. Contractors weren’t included.

“We don’t even get to be part of it and talk about how we’re being treated,” the contractor said. “It’s a common theme between contract employees, feeling like their voices aren’t being heard. And then you feel like you can’t talk to a senior artist or managerial lead because you’re a contract employee. You feel like your job is at risk if you say anything. Nobody says that, but that’s just how you feel.”

Although some of these contract employees were junior-level staff, completely new to the industry, others had several years worth of experience, which made it insulting when they received, as one called it, “pretty low pay for pretty skilled labor.” Without getting too specific so as not to identify those who spoke to us, we reviewed resumes of some Treyarch contractors who had multiple years of experience but said they were paid around $20 an hour, not too far off from California’s minimum wage ($12 per hour). Some said that when they asked for more money, they were told that Volt’s restrictions made that impossible. One said that the full-time Activision equivalent of their current role would pay $6 to $7 more per hour, an especially significant difference when accounting for all the crunch.

When reached for comment, a Volt spokesperson said they would be making management available for an interview but then did not do so by publication time.

Treyarch contractors get a limited number of sick days, but no paid time off. Taking vacations means giving up a salary for those days or weeks. Contractors are offered holiday pay for six days a year including July 4th and Thanksgiving, plus either Christmas or New Year’s—not both. In December of 2018, however, they all received an email explaining a complicated new change in policy. Among other things, the email noted that in order to receive holiday pay from now on, Volt contractors “must work at least 510 straight time hours within the 13 weeks preceding the particular holiday” and “must work continuously for 13 consecutive weeks prior to the holiday week.”

The new policy left many contractors confused, but in short, “straight time” meant core hours, meaning that overtime wasn’t included. In other words, if you got sick or had to leave early one day, you were out of luck. “Even the most punctual testers would miss a day or come in late which would result in them not getting the holiday,” said one former Treyarch tester. “Once the policy change happened, I didn’t know of a single person that received holiday pay after that, even testers who had been there for well over a year.”

Contractors do get benefits, but not the same ones as Activision employees. “Our benefits suck,” said one tester who recalled signing up for health insurance only to find themselves getting charged several hundreds of dollars a month with no warning. And even these meager benefits are temporary. When the employees’ contracts expire, they’ll either leave or be asked to stick around. Developers interviewed said the promise of full-time employment is, as one described it, “the carrot they’re always dangling in front of all the contractors,” and that very occasionally, Volt employees will get hired full-time by Treyarch.

One of the biggest points of contention, something that Treyarch staff say has been brought up multiple times in company meetings over the past few months, is the lack of communication. “A lot of people felt like their voices weren’t being heard, and they had no say in how things were handled,” said one staffer. “There’s no cohesion between different departments like multiplayer, zombies, and Blackout. It’s like we’re all working on the same stuff but we’re all in different worlds. People said they felt like they couldn’t talk to leads or seniors about issues that were affecting them.”

In the months following Black Ops 4‘s release, Call of Duty players grew frustrated with the gradual implementation of microtransactions and loot boxes, and some Treyarch developers said they felt that pain. In interviews, many said they were just as frustrated with publisher Activision’s never-ending quest for increased revenue, and they were frustrated with the lack of influence they had on it. (“It makes you wonder, where does all the money go? Obviously it’s not to Volt employees.”) One of the most common complaints I heard from lower-level Treyarch staffers was that despite putting in night after night and weekend after weekend, they were rarely allowed to offer creative input on the game.

The sudden upheavals faced on both Black Ops 3 and Black Ops 4 epitomize the struggles that Treyarch’s developers say they feel. Lack of communication leads to big creative reboots leads to excessive crunch. And it all leads to an environment in which both testers and contractors feel underappreciated.

“People who are making the managerial decisions, the hiring managers, people in charge of all the departments who make the decisions day to day, they’re the ones who benefit from the bonuses, the higher pay, the benefits,” said one Treyarch contractor. “At the end of the day we’re all still there together working on the game. And yet we’re all treated differently.”

Many of the issues covered in this report are common in the video game industry. Several Treyarch staffers said that when I contacted them, they had been expecting to hear from me, as the problems detailed in our Anthem investigation earlier this year echoed what they’d been through. They said they hoped the continual exposure of these issues will help push for change, especially given the prolonged success of the series they work on. It’s not like Activision has been hurting for cash.

Last month, Treyarch informed staffers (except QA) that they would be taking a lead role on a new Black Ops game in 2020, one that takes the series back to its Cold War roots. There are concerns in the studio that returning to a two-year development cycle (after getting three years for each of the last two games) will exacerbate the crunch and worsen the issues that Treyarch has been facing. Even with sister studios Sledgehammer and Raven working on the game alongside Treyarch, will the development team be able to finish a new Black Ops in the next year and a half without killing themselves along the way? Without burning out all of their employees? Several Treyarch employees said they’ve grumbled about the long-running shooter series feeling stale, pointing to Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed as an example of how taking off a year can revitalize a franchise. There’s been a new Call of Duty every year since 2005, and so far, Activision has not shown any willingness to give the series a break.

Those are complicated problems to solve. Some at the studio, however, have a simpler desire: to feel like contractors and testers are part of Treyarch rather than a stratified lower class.

“More pay would be nice,” said one tester when I asked what they wish would change about Treyarch’s work conditions. “But I think a majority of us just want to be treated equally. All of us give a shit about this game. We give away our days to work on this game. None of us would be here if we didn’t like Black Ops and the series as a whole. Why treat us like subhuman even though we work just as hard as you guys?”

UPDATE (12:45pm): This morning, Treyarch studio heads Dan Bunting and Mark Gordon sent the following e-mail to staff, obtained by Kotaku:

Team:

Today, Kotaku published a story that explores a number of reported behind-the-scenes issues in Black Ops 4 development. The first and most important statement that we want to make to the team is that, as managers of this studio, we take the well-being of every single individual working here very seriously.

We have a vision for the future of this studio that includes significant improvements to work/life balance, and we plan to achieve that through better project planning, streamlined production processes, and rigorous decision-making timelines. It is also our intention to maintain our commitment to increased transparency.

Getting there will require time, hard work, and commitment — most of all, it will require open communication. If you ever feel like your needs aren’t being met, please do not hesitate to communicate actively with your manager. No one should ever feel like they don’t have options, can’t talk openly, or that the only choice is to take their concerns to the public. These conversations should always start with an honest dialogue with your department manager, and if that’s not working, feel free to reach out to one of us.

Game development is a wildly complex art and it requires a diverse set of people and skill sets to do it successfully. It’s important for all of us to foster a studio culture that treats all team members with respect.

We appreciate the contributions made by all parts of the team in the name of the games we make.

Sincerely,

Dan & Mark

Note: an earlier version of this update said it was co-signed to Treyarch chairman Mark Lamia, but it was actually Treyarch co-studio head Mark Gordon. Our apologies for the error.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Best iOS 13 Tricks You Haven’t Tried Yet

Photo: David Murphy

I’ve been playing around with iOS 13 since the developer beta first launched—bugs and all. Since it’s now available for public consumption, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite new tricks so you can get excited while you wait for the beta to install on your device.

Switching wifi networks without using Settings

For those who need a little more manual control over the wifi networks they connect to, I’m pleased to report that you’ll never have to open the Settings app ever again—hopefully—to connect to a wifi network. Instead, open your device’s Control Center.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Press and hold on the wifi icon to expand the view, like so:

Screenshot: David Murphy

Press and hold again on the wifi icon to pull up a list of all the wifi networks your device detects. Pick whichever one you want to use.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Deleting apps you no longer need (before you update them)

I have a lot of apps on my device, and I tend to forget about them—but still update them constantly, because that’s how the process works. You would think that seeing a giant update chug through for an app I haven’t touched in six months would prompt me to delete it, but then I’d have to go find it in my device, and that takes too long, too.

Screenshot: David Murphy

To address this, Apple is making it a lot easier to delete apps in iOS 13. Now, whenever you see a pending app update on the App Store (or have already downloaded and installed one), swipe left on the app. You’ll see the familiar red “Delete” button, which you can tap to remove the app from your iPhone or iPad. You’ll never have to spend precious minutes hunting through your folders to find and remove an app ever again.

Tell Siri to add multiple items to lists

This one is fun. Fire up Siri and tell it to add things to a list, but make sure you use the word “and” to connect them all together. When you do, iOS 13 will split each item into a separate listing instead of lumping them all together into one reminder, like so:

Screenshot: David Murphy

Share your ETA with friends

You can now share your estimated time of arrival with your friends when you’re using Apple Maps to get somewhere—an especially useful feature if you’re also connected to CarPlay. Your device will automatically message them with your current travel time, and it’ll also send them another message when you’re really close—so they can come outside and hop in the car, instead of forcing you to honk your horn or send a “where are you?” text.

Screenshot: David Murphy

If you always want to let certain people know about your ETA to a particular location—say, when you’re driving home from work each day—add it to your list of favorite locations in Apple Maps. While you’re in the Details screen, you can tap on “Add Person” under “Share ETA” to automatically notify them whenever you’ve pulled up directions to that location.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Finally, a great way to stop robocalls

I’ve saved the best for last, and it truly is one of the greatest, simplest features to ever hit iOS. With one little addition to your Settings app (technically, the Phone option within your Settings app), Apple has killed robocalls—or, at least, made it impossible for them to harass you. And this is a much better solution than paying your carrier for some kind of spam-blocking feature.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Pull up the Settings app, and then tap on Phone. Look for the “Call Silencing and Blocked Contacts” section, and enable “Silence Unknown Callers.” Any number that isn’t in your Contacts, Mail, or Messages won’t ring or appear on your device. It’ll go directly to voicemail instead.

While this poses problematic for times when you want to receive a phone call from an unknown number—say, the hospital, or a job interview, et cetera—you can always disable this feature temporarily if you know you’re expecting a call. It’s a lot less annoying than the alternative, which is having your phone ring four times an hour from some bullshit spammer.

What are your favorite iOS 13 features?

There’s plenty more to like about iOS 13—like the ability to remove any location information from photos you’re sharing with others (via the “Options” setting when you tap a picture in Photos, then tap the Share icon). What are some of your favorite features you’ve discovered? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll profile the best ones in a future post.

Source: Kotaku.com

Demo reel for canceled Mouse Guard reveals the epic fantasy that could’ve been

The Disney-Fox merger killed a lot of in-the works projects from the absorbed studio — including the much-anticipated Mouse Guard adaptation from Maze Runner director Wes Ball. Based on the Eisner-award winning comic series of the same name, Mouse Guard was going to be an epic fantasy about a world of mice inhabiting a lush forest world. The project was halted back in April after the merger, but Ball confirmed the rumors of cancelation Tuesday night on Twitter.

Along with the official word, Ball released a nine-minute demo reel, rendered using Epic’s Unreal engine. The demo isn’t meant to reflect how the movie would actually look — you can see a little glimpse of the actual mouse design in the Twitter clip above — but rather to capture the movie’s feel.

The clip opens on a lush forest setting, and eventually showcases the mice hustling about their little town, riding formidable tortoises and birds through the woods, and battling against various scary woodland creatures. There is also a somber mouse funeral and the epic flames of a heated battle.

Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster were set to voice characters in Mouse Guard. As for Ball, the director remains attached to direct The Chrysalis, described as a suburban horror film.

Source: Polygon.com

Former SHG Studio Head Glen Schofield joins PUBG Corp to lead new Striking Distance studio

PUBG Corp. has announced this morning that they have brought on Glen Schofield, former co-founder and studio head of Sledgehammer Games, to be the CEO of the newly created studio under PUBG Corp called Striking Distance.

The news was announced in a Twitter video on PUBG’s social channels this morning with a video of Glen Schofield talking about what the new Striking Distance studio is and will be.

In the video, Schofield says they are working with PUBG to build Striking Distance from the ground up as a new studio part of the PUBG Corp family.

The studio will be focused on creating a “narrative” experience in the PUBG universe.

Both of the Sledgehammer Games studio heads left Activision in 2018 as the company made changes to the studio following the launch of Call of Duty: WWII. Michael Condrey joined 2K to lead a new 2K Studio, and now Schofield has joined PUBG Corp.

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Source: CharlieIntel.com

What went into making the official Forky costume

Forky is the breakout character of Toy Story 4, and as ordained by marketing gods, is appearing in every licensed form — from plush toys to Hot Wheels to T-shirt prints — imaginable. Forky Halloween costumes are the natural next step: an easy way for parents to joke about why any of us exist while dressing up their children, or for millennials to yell, “I’m trash!”

Of course, Forky is also a spork. The costumes do their best to reflect this — some make part of the costume black in order to try to carve out the spork’s silhouette, while others just have a mask with the requisite tines and call it a day. And that’s not even beginning to touch on how they deal with Forky’s pipe cleaner arms or popsicle stick feet.

Long story short, every iteration of Halloween Forky looks a little strange, in one way or another. To get some insight on why, Polygon spoke to Bridget, a costume designer based in California (who did not want her last name used for privacy concerns), who assisted on some Toy Story 4 designs as well as working on ones for Pokémon, Fortnite, and even “sexy Mario.”

a young girl holds up a handmade toy consisting of a spork with googly eyes, red pipe cleaner arms, and popsicle stick feet
Bonnie, making her own Forky.
Pixar/Disney

The road to Forky begins with this single step

The process starts with a costume company buying the character license, which, for a big line like Disney, is a “‘the more you pay, the more you get’ situation,” according to Bridget.

“The princess line is a good example of this,” she explained. “It seems like [the princesses are] all under one branch, but if you want to make a Belle costume and a Mulan costume, you have to buy both licenses. So if you want to make a big, all-encompassing princess line for a big-box retailer, you have to start getting creative. You have to start really thinking about money and seeing, well, what are the princesses that sell best? It’s why you never see Tiana [from The Princess and the Frog]. I love Tiana, she’s my favorite princess, but I guess she never sold well, so they never make her, because the licensing is expensive. Usually, that’s when they strategically tell you, ‘This is a character that we think is going to do well. We think that this character is going to be aspirational to kids and this is where we think you should put your money.’”

In the case of Forky, the sheer amount of Forky merch speaks for itself when it comes to just how much money the spork is expected to make, though Bridget noted that the line of thinking behind Forky child costumes likely took the whims of young, millennial parents into mind.

“He’s pretty cynical,” she said. “They sold him in the meeting as suicidal; they were like, ‘This is why we picked him.’”

What does a Forky have to be?

a boy wearing a Pikachu costume.
A Pikachu costume.
Nintendo/HalloweenCostumes.com

With a license contract comes a style guide, which includes everything from specific Pantone colors to the shape of the M on Mario’s cap.

“Pokémon has a 30-page manual on how to make Pikachu ears, and Disney does the same,” Bridget said. “All of them have specifics on, ‘This is how you represent our character. This is what the contract is about.’ That’s their main thing: They want the character represented in the appropriate way.”

The photographs of the samples that were sent to Nintendo for a Pikachu costume, for instance, had to include not only the front, back, and sides of the costume, but also aerial shots of the ears “just to make sure that they were perfectly rounded.”

Designing licensed costumes almost always involves a checklist. The Forky must-haves included — among other things, shapes, and colors — the rainbow on his left foot. The checklist streamlines the process, but it can cause trouble, according to Bridget, as it did with a recent line of Fortnite products.

“One of their pajama lines that they were going to do, they were supposed to have 50 individual styles with the pajama company, and only three made it to production and into stores because they were so particular about the detailing,” the designer said. “That’s pretty common with very new licenses. […] For the very big ones where they know there’s a lot of money to go around, they’re very particular.”

Bringing Forky to life

The base for the Forky costume is a standard jumpsuit — the same that, as Bridget noted, is used for Jack Skellington costumes or toddler Power Rangers costumes. “It’s at a classic price point,” she explained. “That kind of dictates how much you’re going to do there.”

Halloween costumes fall into four price points: basic, classic, deluxe, and prestige. Basic amounts to a tunic, with classic moving a step up to jumpsuits. Deluxe adds accessories on top of the jumpsuit, and prestige ups the ante with better fabrics.

To make the delineation clearer, Bridget cited a line of costumes that had been designed for the show Vampirina. “We had the classic one, which had very basic fabrics and no glittery print. And then you get all the way up to the prestige, and there’s velvet, there’s glitter print, there’s puff print, there are accessories, there are gloves.”

A Forky mask, with the eyes behind the mouth.
A Forky mask, with the eyes behind the mouth.
Disney/Party City

Designing Forky at a classic price point meant factoring in the cost of a mask, packaging, shipping, and the actual labor required to create the costume. “The mask usually eats up a lot of the price, and it’s a big part of the character,” Bridget said, pointing out that some Forky costumes with, for example, fuzzy arms approximating the texture of pipe cleaners would fall into a higher price point. They are all, however, uniformly jumpsuits, adhering to the discovery that long tubes — which would better mimic the shape of a spork’s handle — don’t sell well for children. “Kids like to move around, so the jumpsuit was the easiest.”

As for making the mask, there’s a logic behind where the eyes go. Some Forkys have them in Forky’s eyes; others have them behind mesh in Forky’s mouth. According to Bridget, the placement is all about safety concerns. There needs to be no risk of injury as the child (or adult) wearing the mask plays around, and specifically in Forky’s case, designers gamble as to how long the wearer will have it on. A bigger Forky mask (with the eyes in Forky’s mouth) looks more like Forky, but will also be heavier to have on throughout the night, whereas a smaller mask (with the eye holes in the eyes) will be much lighter and easier to bear.

When does a Forky become “sexy”?

Though “sexy Forky” costumes have yet to hit the market, no seasoned Halloween shopper would be surprised to see them on the rack this fall. “Sexy” costumes are an entire subgenre of costume, often retaining the bare minimum from the original design in favor of revealing cuts and tight fits. But how did the trend happen?

“It’s not a very fun answer,” Bridget said, turning to The Lego Movie as a way of explaining it. When Lego began producing Halloween costumes, the standard minifigure was the main base. The costume consisted of a foam front, combined with polyester and coated to look like plastic, resulting in a boxy and appropriately Lego-esque look.

However, when it came to the female characters, a different approach was recommended. “I don’t know if this is based on real research, but they were like, ‘Ladies don’t like boxy things, they don’t like non-lady things,’” the designer recalled. “When the time came for Lego Movie 2 and they were trying to design Unikitty costumes and Wyldstyle costumes, they were like, ‘Well, we’re just going to do inspired, because ladies don’t like boxy costumes; they want to look like ladies.’ That was the sales direction in general, always, all the time.”

That said, the makers of those sexy costumes are being forced to modernize, as “bad costumes” aren’t doing as well anymore. People are making their own costumes, or hitting online shopping options like Etsy and Taobao.

“It’s so much easier to get a cheap costume that looks better than the ones in the store nowadays, and cosplay is so much bigger of a thing now,” Bridget said. “People have a more year-round relationship with costumes.” May our respective relationships with Forky be as fruitful.

Source: Polygon.com

Super Mario Maker 2 Review – Make My Day

Mario is a video game icon not only because he’s a plucky and affable dude, but because he’s the face behind some of the best platformers of all time. Nintendo has carefully guided his adventures for decades, but something happened in 2015: It gave players the keys to design and share stages in Wii U‘s Super Mario Maker, and the Mario we thought we knew took on a whole new light. He was no longer a laidback high-jumping hero; Mario became a hardened speed demon, a death-defying daredevil forced into unruly gauntlets crafted by evil geniuses who know his every hop, skip, and jump like the back of their hand.

With the Wii U and 3DS versions of Mario Maker abandoned by Nintendo at this point, Super Mario Maker 2 on Switch brings us back to that heady time from years past. The game itself is largely familiar, though the more you play and create, the more you notice all of the little additions tucked inside and appreciate how they elevate the potential for creativity in new ways. Mario Maker 2 is a robust level creation tool and a fantastic open-ended platformer that will no doubt spur a new era of competition among players and creators alike. But so far, it’s amazing what the right players can do when given the tools to craft Mario’s world.

The intuitive drag-and-drop system is back–you don’t, however, have the luxury of a built-in Switch stylus, so consider buying or devising one before getting into the game as using your finger alone can cause you to occasionally misplace objects. You can create while your Switch is docked, though ultimately that should be a last resort considering how quickly you can place objects in handheld mode, even with the lack of stylus. Picking and placing ingredients for your level, or painting wide swaths of land, is a quick and painless process, and there are intuitive means of copying, pasting, and undoing your work as needed. You are once again given access to the components of games including Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, along with their numerous enemies, objects, and mechanisms. You select a game theme and work within that toolset, but you can easily switch to another one on the fly and retain most of your work–only occasional elements aren’t transferable.

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The big exception is the newly included set based on Super Mario 3D World, which can only be used in isolation. Lest you mistake the “3D” aspect to suggest you’re breaking free from side-scrolling Mario, you aren’t–you’re just given access to unique elements from that game, such as the never-not-strange Cat Mario power-up. Far from being the only notable addition, the sum total of which are too numerous to list here, the Cat Mario suit is up there with the ability to make slopes, craft custom scrolling for stages, and set level-clear conditions as one of the most impactful additions to the Mario Maker formula. But of course, even the smallest variable can have a huge ripple effect in the hands of the right person. Time will tell what seemingly average element gets twisted into a diabolical weapon in the hands of the craftiest creators.

For new creators, there’s the chance of becoming overwhelmed with the number of options available at the start, but that’s where Yamamura’s Dojo comes in. Yamamura is a pigeon, but a very wise and insightful pigeon at that. If you need help wrapping your head around the basic concepts that go into conceiving and creating a level, Yamamura’s your bird. His catalog of 45 lessons (divided into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced sets) walk you through everything from laying tracts of land and placing Goombas to the more philosophical side of level creation, even navigating the meta side of being a creator unleashing their work for others to judge.

These lessons will help get a novice creator up to speed, and the fact that there’s nothing holding back knowledgeable designers from the start was a smart move by Nintendo, too. The pool of creators has thus far made some truly impressive stages that utilize Mario Maker 2’s robust toolset well. The overall level of logic inherent to a Mario game remains largely the same–no digging under the hood to rewrite traditional cause-and-effect rules, for example–but the spirit of Mario Maker 2 comes alive when familiar elements are combined by masterful players, often in ways that Nintendo would never employ in a traditional Mario game.

So far, that unexpected creativity often manifests itself in oddball stages packed with an unreasonable number of enemies, diabolical platforming tests that demand superhuman reflexes, or clever contraptions that move Mario and key items around an environment with calculated chain reactions. Not every stage is a winner, but because the fundamental controls and elements of the world are tried-and-true, it’s rare that you run into a custom stage worth getting upset about. Ultimately, dozens (soon to be hundreds, if not thousands) of alternative stages are seconds away, a convenience that’s easy to take for granted. It’s not an understatement to say that the speed at which you can browse, download, and play levels are key factors that make exploring Mario Maker 2 so easy and enjoyable.

Discoverability plays a part in what levels you find, and beyond basic lists such as popular, new, and trending courses, there’s a detailed search function that lets you narrow stage selection by attributes like theme and difficulty. You can also sort by tags that indicate the type of stage at hand, be it an auto-scrolling level or puzzle-centric challenge. After playing, you can leave feedback on the level for other players to consider–a simple but meaningful chance to contribute to the community and learn from your peers. This is all to say that Mario Maker 2’s online stage selection is both organized and catered to the wider player base. You don’t have to involve yourself in every aspect of it if you just want to play a bunch of random Mario levels, but it’s great to see that you can become deeply involved with your fellow makers if you desire.

One of the hotly contested elements pre-launch was online multiplayer, which comes in both co-op and competitive forms. Nintendo’s initial plans to limit these modes to random matchmaking drew the ire of some fans who quite reasonably expected to be able to play with their friends. Nintendo has since made it clear that feature will come, just not in time for launch. As it stands, the lag present in most multiplayer sessions (where matchmaking happens automatically) ruins the experience. Mario, and especially Mario Maker levels, are geared around precision platforming. When you can’t rely on the movement of your character or your controller inputs, you might as well not be playing at all. If anything stains Super Mario Maker 2, it’s the current state of online multiplayer.

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On a more positive note, the other major addition to Mario Maker 2 is a proper story mode, a campaign of 100 Nintendo-made levels. The story is typical Mario fare set in an overworld with NPCs and a few fun surprises, taking things a few steps further than The Super Mario Challenge from the 3DS Mario Maker. It’s not an amazing addition in light of the countless levels coming from other players, but it’s an enjoyable alternative if you prefer a more coordinated campaign. There’s the slight missed opportunity to give you creative tools as a means of solving purpose-built puzzles, to give you that hands-on learning in a practical scenario, but they are given to you as options to overcome stages that you repeatedly fail. It’s not as if there’s a drought of custom stages online, even before release, though Nintendo’s batch of stages are nice to have if you want to dig into stages handmade by the developers themselves.

The Mario series is worth all the admiration it gets, and Super Mario Maker 2 is an excellent tool for picking it apart by pushing its enemies, mechanisms, and Mario, to their limit. I’ve yet to make a stage of my own that I think is worthy of sending out to other players, but I’m committed to getting there. Whether exploring the full potential of a single element or throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, I’ve got the itch to join the creator’s club. Mario Maker 2 makes the learning process intuitive and enjoyable. Most importantly, it’s enabled designers amateur and professional alike to share their creativity with the world. The community is off to a great start, and thankfully, the fun has only just begun.

Source: GameSpot.com

Super Mario Maker 2 Review In Progress – Reach For The Stars

Mario is a video game icon not only because he’s a plucky and affable dude, but because he’s the face behind some of the best platformers of all time. Nintendo has carefully guided his adventures for decades, but something happened in 2015: It gave players the keys to design and share stages in Wii U‘s Super Mario Maker, and the Mario we thought we knew took on a whole new light. He was no longer a laidback high-jumping hero; Mario became a hardened speed demon, a death-defying daredevil forced into unruly gauntlets crafted by evil geniuses who know his every hop, skip, and jump like the back of their hand.

With the Wii U and 3DS versions of Mario Maker abandoned by Nintendo at this point, Super Mario Maker 2 on Switch brings us back to that heady time from years past. The game itself is largely familiar, though the more you play and create, the more you notice all of the little additions tucked inside and appreciate how they elevate the potential for creativity in new ways. Mario Maker 2 is a robust level creation tool and a fantastic open-ended platformer that will no doubt spur a new era of competition among players and creators alike.

Due to the fact that so much of Mario Maker 2’s potential success lies in the hands of its players, we are going to give the community time to acclimate and a chance to show us what it’s made of at large before weighing in with our final verdict. But so far, it’s amazing what the right players can do when given the tools to craft Mario’s world.

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The intuitive drag-and-drop system is back–you don’t, however, have the luxury of a built-in Switch stylus, so consider buying or devising one before getting into the game as using your finger alone can cause you to occasionally misplace objects. You can create while your Switch is docked, though ultimately that should be a last resort considering how quickly you can place objects in handheld mode, even with the lack of stylus. Picking and placing ingredients for your level, or painting wide swaths of land, is a quick and painless process, and there are intuitive means of copying, pasting, and undoing your work as needed. You are once again given access to the components of games including Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, along with their numerous enemies, objects, and mechanisms. You select a game theme and work within that toolset, but you can easily switch to another one on the fly and retain most of your work–only occasional elements aren’t transferable.

The big exception is the newly included set based on Super Mario 3D World, which can only be used in isolation. Lest you mistake the “3D” aspect to suggest you’re breaking free from side-scrolling Mario, you aren’t–you’re just given access to unique elements from that game, such as the never-not-strange Cat Mario power-up. Far from being the only notable addition, the sum total of which are too numerous to list here, the Cat Mario suit is up there with the ability to make slopes, craft custom scrolling for stages, and set level-clear conditions as one of the most impactful additions to the Mario Maker formula. That’s just judging by our pre-launch experience, but time will tell what seemingly average element gets twisted into a diabolical weapon in the hands of the craftiest creators. In Mario Maker 2, as in the original, even the smallest variable can have a huge ripple effect

For new creators, there’s the chance of becoming overwhelmed with the number of options available at the start, but that’s where Yamamura’s Dojo comes in. Yamamura is a pigeon, but a very wise and insightful pigeon at that. If you need help wrapping your head around the basic concepts that go into conceiving and creating a level, Yamamura’s your bird. His catalog of 45 lessons (divided into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced sets) walk you through everything from laying tracts of land and placing Goombas to the more philosophical side of level creation, even navigating the meta side of being a creator unleashing their work for others to judge.

These lessons will help get a novice creator up to speed, and the fact that there’s nothing holding back knowledgeable designers from the start was a smart move by Nintendo, too. As mentioned, the limited pool of creators has thus far made some truly impressive stages that utilize Mario Maker 2’s robust toolset well. The overall level of logic inherent to a Mario game remains largely the same–no digging under the hood to rewrite traditional cause-and-effect rules, for example–but the spirit of Mario Maker 2 comes alive when familiar elements are combined by masterful players, often in ways that Nintendo would never employ in a traditional Mario game.

So far, that unexpected creativity often manifests itself in oddball stages packed with an unreasonable number of enemies, diabolical platforming tests that demand superhuman reflexes, or clever contraptions that move Mario and key items around an environment with calculated chain reactions. Not every stage is a winner, but because the fundamental controls and elements of the world are tried-and-true, it’s rare that you run into a custom stage worth getting upset about. Ultimately, dozens (soon to be hundreds, if not thousands) of alternative stages are seconds away, a convenience that’s easy to take for granted. It’s not an understatement to say that the speed at which you can browse, download, and play levels are key factors that make exploring Mario Maker 2 so easy and enjoyable.

Discoverability plays a part in what levels you find, and beyond basic lists such as popular, new, and trending courses, there’s a detailed search function that lets you narrow stage selection by attributes like theme and difficulty. You can also sort by tags that indicate the type of stage at hand, be it an auto-scrolling level or puzzle-centric challenge. After playing, you can leave feedback on the level for other players to consider–a simple but meaningful chance to contribute to the community and learn from your peers. This is all to say that Mario Maker 2’s online stage selection is both organized and catered to the wider player base. You don’t have to involve yourself in every aspect of it if you just want to play a bunch of random Mario levels, but it’s great to see that you can become deeply involved with your fellow makers if you desire.

No Caption Provided

One of the hotly contested elements pre-launch was online multiplayer, which comes in both co-op and competitive forms. Nintendo’s initial plans to limit these modes to random matchmaking drew the ire of some fans who quite reasonably expected to be able to play with their friends. Nintendo has since made it clear that feature will come, just not in time for launch. While we’d like to weigh in on the current stage of playing alongside strangers, this is a key feature that we were unable to test as needed prior to launch. Keep an eye out for the full review after launch for our analysis of the game’s multiplayer components, including the co-op level creator mode.

The other major addition to Mario Maker 2 is a proper story mode, a campaign of 100 Nintendo-made levels ostensibly designed to show you the breadth of the game’s potential, so far as Nintendo’s creators see it, anyway. The story is typical Mario fare set in an overworld with NPCs and a few fun surprises, taking things a few steps further than The Super Mario Challenge from the 3DS Mario Maker. It’s not an amazing addition in light of the countless levels sure to come from other players, but it’s an enjoyable alternative if you prefer a more coordinated campaign. There’s the slight missed opportunity to give you creative tools as a means of solving purpose-built puzzles, to give you that hands-on learning in a practical scenario, but they are given to you as options to overcome stages that you repeatedly fail. It’s not as if there’s a drought of custom stages online, even before release, though Nintendo’s batch of stages are nice to have if you want to dig into stages handmade by the developers themselves.

With the story mode and dozens of custom-built stages under my belt, I’m anxiously waiting for the floodgates to open upon Mario Maker’s 2 release. What I’ve played so far has proven, once again, that the Mario series is worth all the admiration it gets, and Mario Maker 2 is an excellent tool for picking it apart by pushing its enemies, mechanisms, and Mario, to their limit. I’ve yet to make a stage of my own that I think is worthy of sending out to other players, but I’m committed to getting there. Whether exploring the full potential of a single element or throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, I’ve got the itch to join the creator’s club. And thankfully, even if you aren’t an instant success (like me), Mario Maker 2 makes the learning process intuitive and enjoyable.

Source: GameSpot.com

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