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Today is the first press day for this year’s Tokyo Game Show (the four-day expo won’t be open to the public until Saturday). Let’s have a look inside.
Neither Nintendo nor Microsoft attends the show. Traditionally, Sony has dominated, but this year, Sega (and Atlus), Konami, and Square Enix all have booths of roughly equal size—or even, a smidge larger.
Interestingly, while Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t playable, it does have an enormous booth, with people lining up to watch a promotional clip.
Death Stranding is not playable, either, but while its presence is large, it doesn’t have the massive floor space that Cyberpunk 2077 does. No other single game does in the entire show.
As expected, the Square Enix booth is dominated by Final Fantasy VII Remake. Lines are long already on the press day. Expect them to be even longer—and the booth to be even more crowded—on the public ones.
Welcome back to Gaming Shelf, io9’s column all about tabletop and roleplaying games. Gen Con 2019 brought us a bunch of exciting announcements for new and upcoming releases. We couldn’t possibly get through all of them, but here are some highlights!
News and Releases
Marvel Champions: The Card Game
Fantasy Flight Games is entering the Marvel Universe with Marvel Champions: The Card Game, a cooperative card game where players work together as Marvel heroes to stop some of the franchise’s most dangerous villains. The Core Set has over 350 cards and starts with five heroes: Captain Marvel, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Spider-Man, and Black Panther. And since it’s a Fantasy Flight game, many, many more cards are on the horizon. In fact, the company says there will be new expansions every month. The core set is available for preorder at about $60, and comes out later this fall.
The Adventure Zone
The McElroys’ Dungeons & Dragons podcast-turned-graphic novel and nerdy phenomenon is now heading to the tabletop. Twogether Studios has announced it’s working with the McElroys on a tabletop game based on The Adventure Zone, a podcast that features the three brothers and their dad venturing through different D&D games, and has also inspired some fan-favorite characters and cosplay. No information or expected release date have been announced yet.
Star Trek Chrono-Trek
Star Trek and time travel—they’re kind of a package deal. So, it only makes sense that Looney Labs has taken on Star Trek in its latest version of Chrononauts, called Star Trek Chrono-Trek. In this card game, players are trapped in an alternate reality and have to work to ensure certain events happen in the timeline…or maybe you have to prevent them! Either way, Tribbles are bound to show up. Star Trek Chrono-Trek is currently available for $25.
Green Ronin Publishing has signed a licensing agreement with N.K. Jemisin to build a roleplaying game set in the world of the Broken Earth trilogy. The roleplaying game series will start in fall 2020 with The Fifth Season RPG—makes sense, since not only is it the first book in the trilogy, but it’s also the one TNT announced back in 2017 was being adapted into a TV show. In a statement, the three-time Hugo winner said she’ll be working with Green Ronin to “make sure the spirit and feel of the books is rendered successfully.”
Unmatched: Jurassic Park
Mondo Games and Restoration Games have announced that Jurassic Park is being added to the Unmatched head-to-head series of battle board games. The game’s first deck will feature “InGen vs. Raptors,” due later this year, with plans for a “Dr. Ellie Sattler vs. T-Rex” face-off and a solo expansion for Dr. Alan Grant coming out next year. According to Dice Tower News, Unmatched: Jurassic Park is replacing Jurassic Park: The Chaos Gene, which is no longer in development.
Cyberpunk 2077—Afterlife: The Card Game
Cyberpunk 2077 has been a video game several years in the making, and that’s an understatement. Now, it’s getting not just one, but at least two versions. CMON and CD Projekt Red have revealed Cyberpunk 2077—Afterlife, a card game based on the upcoming cyberpunk video game. In the card game, players take on the role of Fixers working in Night City to recruit cyberpunks and send them out on missions. Afterlife is set to come out sometime in 2020, presumably around the video game’s release date of April 16, 2020.
The little figurines based on nerddom’s biggest characters are now getting a board game world of their own. Funko has announced Funkoverse, a series of board games based on its versions of characters from DC Comics, Harry Potter, Rick & Morty, and The Golden Girls (what?). The competitive, light-strategy games are designed to be family-friendly, and expansions are already available for some of them. The basic games run around $40, with expansions costing around $25, and are currently available on <a rel="nofollow" data-amazonasin data-amazonsubtag="[t|link[p|1836672341[au|5876237249235885598[b|gizmodo[lt|text" onclick="window.ga('send', 'event', 'Commerce', 'gizmodo – Playing Cool Games with Funko, The Adventure Zone, and More in Tabletop News’, ”);window.ga(‘unique.send’, ‘event’, ‘Commerce’, ‘gizmodo – Playing Cool Games with Funko, The Adventure Zone, and More in Tabletop News’, ”);” data-amazontag=”gizmodoamzn-20″ href=”https://www.amazon.com/stores/page/58E59F84-64FA-4387-9006-A88070BDE441?ingress=2&visitId=bf8a1571-7b74-4d4c-895c-0c0b2255b259&ref_=bl_dp_s_web_2592291011&tag=gizmodoamzn-20&ascsubtag=5406e92173b8030e382a4664cd321e2f8fba27a0″>Amazon.
Bloodsoaked Fjord Domain Pack and more (Sorcerer)
White Wizard Games’ Sorcerer, a dueling mages game, is getting three new expansions that range from $5 to $10. As reported by The Gaming Gang, there’s the Character Pack featuring Virgiliu, a pyromancer; the Sylvanei Lineage Pack that focuses on druids; and the Bloodsoaked Fjord Domain Pack, centering around the trolls of the north. The expansions come out August 13.
Fiasco, a light GM-less roleplaying game that plays like a series of fun catastrophe films, is getting a version that’s more accessible to those who aren’t experienced with roleplaying games. The new card-based edition replaces the dice and index cards with playing cards, enabling players to create characters and change scenarios much easier. There are plans to roll out “old favorites and new surprises” in the future, ensuring a lot of variety and repeated gameplay. They’re also looking into developing tools for players to develop their own cards and future scenarios.
Fiasco is on Kickstarter through September 4. The minimum pledge for a digital copy is $10 and a box set is $30, and the physical version is set to ship by December.
What if evil corporations were, like, actually evil? That’s the plot of Techlandia, a new 1-4 player tabletop game where players are undercover reporters attending a press conference at Techlandia Corporation, the world’s biggest smartphone company. You’re not there to learn about phones, you’re trying to uncover a secret cult that’s hell-bent on global domination. I’ve had a chance to play it myself, and it’s a fun mix of quirky social commentary and Lovecraftian horror. Techlandia will be on Kickstarter through September 5. The minimum pledge for a copy is $39, and it’s set to ship in April 2020.
HEXplore It: The Sands of Shurax
The Sands of Shurax is the third game in the HEXplore It series. The cooperative game centers around heroes working together to battle the Ravager of Shurax, which is causing havoc throughout the land. Players battle, trade, explore, excavate, and do all kinds of cool shit. The Sands of Shurax is on Kickstarter through September 1. The minimum pledge for a copy is $64, and it’s set to come out August 2020.
Paws & Claws
Paws & Claws is a tabletop roleplaying game inspired by the animal worlds of Watership Down, The Builders, and the Redwall series. Taking place in the fictional realm of Wudlind, Paws & Claws has players take on roles within a thriving animal kingdom as you all work together to keep the balance…or perhaps you choose to seize power for yourself. The game will be on Kickstarter through September 1. The minimum pledge for a digital copy is $20, and it’s set to come out September 2020. There’s also a free Quickstart Guide on DriveThruRPG for those who want to try it out before funding the campaign.
For a hot second, I thought this was a roleplaying game set in the universe of Disney Pixar’s Cars franchise, and I was both terrified and excited. Instead, The Carniverse is a campaign skirmish system for two players that takes place in a Jurassic World 3-style realm where dinosaurs rule the Earth. Governments have fallen and humanity struggles to survive the new Age of Dinosaurs. There are no branded models for the game—instead, it’s designed to be played with your own 28mm miniatures. If you don’t have any, you can probably use whatever toys you have lying around the house. LEGO Dr. Malcolm, anyone?
The Carniverse will be on Kickstarter through August 29. The minimum pledge for a digital copy is $12, which will be released in October. A physical copy requires a $23 pledge, and comes out January 2020.
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Comic artist Josan Gonzalez, whose The Future is Now we featured last year, has a new entry in the series up on Kickstarter. He’s also done some work recently for CD Projekt Red, illustrating the steelbook cover art for Cyberpunk 2077’s collector’s editions.
A few weeks ago, CD Projekt Red had reached out to talk about their “non-mandatory” crunch policies on Cyberpunk, promising that they wanted to avoid the brutal periods of overtime that staff had to face at the end of development on The Witcher 3. This week, they wanted to follow up. So a couple of days after watching Cyberpunk’s impressive new hourlong demo, in which the company showed off the different ways in which one mission can be tackled, I met with Iwiński for a 25-minute interview about many different topics. He again said some interesting things about crunch, and I again said that we’d be keeping an eye out to hold him to these promises.
Here’s a brief excerpt from our conversation:
Jason: If I’m a designer at CD Projekt Red and I say you know what I have kids, I have a family, I’m going to work from 10am to 6pm every day, and that’s it. Even until the very end. Am I going to be okay with that?
Iwiński: Yes. Yes.
Jason: No matter what.
Jason: So you can commit to that?
Iwiński: We’ve committed to that already.
Jason: That’s good to hear, because oftentimes it feels like there’s these social pressures and subtle pressures—
Iwiński: We can never be 200% sure that there won’t be some pressure, but it’s actually our management’s work to make sure people are OK with that, and I think I’d like people to tell other people within the company that that’s OK, because that’s when we are successful when introducing it. But so far so good.
Jason: I was actually glad to see that you guys announced the game for April 2020, because I had heard from some people, ‘Oh, we’re going for 2019, it’s unrealistic, what are we going to have to do to ourselves?’ Is that one of the reasons you guys delayed it?
Iwiński: (laughs) You’re digging way too deep, Jason.
Jason: (laughs) That’s my job.
Iwiński: The production plans are discussed with people, and of course we had to set a certain date, because as you know, we could develop every single game we’ve been developing endlessly because there’s always something you can tweak, make it better. So a set date is important. But it is lots of planning and we take into account a lot of variables, first and foremost the production capabilities, the time we think is needed, the stage at which we are, but also the market environment. We are trying to hit a certain good window. And I think it’s a good window. And it aligns with our production plans.
Jason: Is it fair to say that you guys wanted to hit that target to make sure people didn’t have to kill themselves to make this?
Iwiński: (laughs) It’s a direct result of our production planning and we’re trying to make it realistic, and not make it a ginormous burden on the team. Why we’ve been making this public commitment is because we really care about the people that are making this game. It’s not me coding personally or painting something, it’s the super-talented folks that decided to join us, and I want to make sure they feel taken care of and respected.
For much more, listen to the entire episode. As always, you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play to get every episode as it happens. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at [email protected] with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.
E3 2019It’s time for the biggest gaming show of the year. We’ve got articles, videos, podcasts and maybe even a GIF or two.
A screenshot from Cyberpunk 2077 featuring a hypersexualized advertisement depicting a trans woman drew skepticism today on social media. The artist responsible has spoken up claiming no offense was meant and that the art is a commentary on corporate marketing.
The image in question comes from an in-game advertisement for a product called Chromanticure, which appears to be a soft drink with multiple flavors that are meant to be mixed and matched. The screenshot containing the ad comes from an Nvidia announcement about ray-tracing in Cyberpunk 2077. The advertisement features a sexualized female model with a large penis visible underneath her clothes. The slogan reads “mix it up.” The somewhat-teasing slogan and prominent genitalia drew a reaction on Twitter, with some users expressing skepticism or confusion about the advertisement’s context and purpose. In an interview with Polygon, CD Projekt Red arist Kasia Redesiuk spoke about artwork.
“Personally, for me, this person is sexy,” Redesiuk said to Polygon. “I like how this person looks. However, this model is used — their beautiful body is used — for corporate reasons. They are displayed there just as a thing, and that’s the terrible part of it.”
Redesiuk added, “Cyberpunk 2077 is a dystopian future where megacorporations dictate everything. They try to, and successfully, influence people’s lives. They shove products down their throats. They create those very aggressive advertisements that use, and abuse, a lot of people’s needs and instincts. So, hypersexualization is apparent everywhere, and in our ads there are many examples of hypersexualized women, hypersexualized men, and hypersexualized people in between.”
CD Projekt Red and associated CD Projekt entities like GOG have previously come under fire for social media faux-pas involving trans people. Last August, the official Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter account made an “attack helicopter” joke, a joke that has historically been used to mock gender identity and presentation. The studio later apologized. In October, the GOG Twitter account appropriated the hashtag #WontBeErased to talk about their catalogue of computer games. The hashtag’ originated as a way to raise awareness of a Trump administration memo about narrowing the legal definition of “sex” in federal law.
While the cyberpunk genre does focus on corporate manipulation, it’s also a genre colored by the anxieties of the time it was created. In Cyberpunk as a tabletop roleplaying game, a mechanic called Humanity denotes someone’s fundamental connection to their body and their human nature. This value can be reduced to dangerous levels with too many cyber-modifications. Sex changes lower a player’s Humanity score in some rulebooks for Cyberpunk 2020. Players with a low enough Humanity enter into a violent state called cyberpsychosis. In real life, trans people don’t need to worry about going cyber-psychotic. (Shocking, I know!) I just take my hormones every day and enjoy fantastic benefits like softer skin. We’ll have to wait until Cyberpunk 2077 comes out to see how much humanity, sex changes, or cyberpsychosis will be incorporated. Redesiuk offered an apology to those who were troubled by the in-game advertisement.
“I would say it was never the intention to offend anyone,” Redesiuk said. “However, with this image of an oversexualized person, we did want to show how oversexualization of people is bad. And that’s it.”
E3 2019It’s time for the biggest gaming show of the year. We’ve got articles, videos, podcasts and maybe even a GIF or two.
We’ve only just started the parade of E3 announcements, and one thing is exceedingly clear: Early 2020 is going to bring an overwhelming rush of exciting new games.
We are but halfway through the scheduled press conferences and well before the show proper begins, with all of the livestreams and surprises it might bring. And yet the list of games is already impressive. Final Fantasy VII Remake on March 3. Cyberpunk 2077, which Keanu Reeves told us to expect April 16, 2020. Phantasy Star Online 2, which will finally make its way to the U.S. (for free!) in the spring. There are also smaller titles like Minecraft Dungeons (Spring 2020) and Ori and the Will of the Wisps (February 2020And one of the tidbits tucked into Microsoft’s press conference Sunday night was a delay that bumped another big game, Dying Light 2, out of 2019 and into Spring 2020.
Add to that the games that we already know about, like Vampire: The Masquerade —Bloodlines 2, which is currently slotted for March 2020. Or the games we have reason to believe will arrive early next year, like The Last of Us Part II. Also, Capcom has sure made a habit of releasingsomethingbig in January, hasn’t it?
Of course, the usual caveats apply: Any of these games could be delayed at any time, and anything that looks promising could very quickly prove to be a letdown. Right now, these games are all just sheer potential, and that’s exciting.
It’s a pretty sure bet that we’ll soon find out that the first few months of next year are going to be even more crowded as the week—heck, the day—goes on. Ubisoft and Square Enix will make their announcements today, with Nintendo finishing it out tomorrow morning.
Don’t, however, expect anyone to announce some miraculous way to find the time to play all of these games. Sure can hope, though.
Footage of the upcoming role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077 has blown away fans so far, but coupled with that hype is a burning question: Are workers at CD Projekt Red, the Polish studio behind the game, ruining their lives to make it? The developer best known for The Witcher series has cultivated a reputation for crunch—asking its employees to work nights and weekends for weeks or months at a time—but studio management now tells Kotaku they want to improve their work-life balance, even if they continue to feel that crunch is a necessity.
“We’re known—let me be humble for a moment here—we are known for treating gamers with respect,” said Marcin Iwiński, the company’s co-founder, in an interview with Kotaku this week. “This is what we’ve been working hard toward. And I actually would [like] for us to also be known for treating developers with respect.”
One of the ways the company plans to do that, Iwiński said, is through a “non-obligatory crunch policy” that isn’t brand new but that the Warsaw-based CD Projekt Red plans to push harder. He wants to make it clear to Cyberpunk 2077’s developers that even when the studio asks them to work on nights and weekends, it’s not “mandatory.”
“We’ve been working toward it for some time already,” Iwiński said. “We’ve been communicating clearly to people that of course there are certain moments where we need to work harder—like I think the E3 demo is a pretty good example—but we want to be more humane and treat people with respect. If they need to take time off, they can take time off. Nobody will be frowned upon if this will be requested.”
Of course, anyone who’s worked anywhere knows that a request from the boss doesn’t need to be “mandatory” for it to be something you have to do. When probed, Iwiński wouldn’t promise to limit crunch to certain periods or offer specific numbers, other than to say that he hoped making this public statement would help CD Projekt Red employees feel more comfortable telling their managers when they don’t want to put in extra hours. “I think this is the commitment we’re ready to make today, and we’ll be listening to people,” he said. “We definitely open a lot of lines of dialogue here, and we’d like to start with that.”
I had been booking an E3 appointment for Cyberpunk 2077 when a representative for CD Projekt Red offered to put me in touch with Iwiński and Adam Badowski, the studio head and director of Cyberpunk, to talk about work conditions at their company. They said they had been following the conversations happening today in the video game industry and reading recent investigations by Kotaku and other outlets into labor practices at companies like Rockstar and BioWare. Crunch is ubiquitous in the video game industry, and CD Projekt Red wanted to take at least some sort of stance on it. They said they wanted to show that they were listening, improving, and working to ensure that Cyberpunk 2077’s development would be less painful than The Witcher 3’s, which forced most of the company to put in extensive hours.
Perhaps they also wanted to preempt a potential story. After the publication of our Anthem investigation last month, which documented a turbulent development marked by mismanagement, crunch, and anxiety, four former CD Projekt Red employees reached out to tell me that they had seen similar problems in Warsaw. “I’ve felt that there are hundreds of parallels that could be drawn between the story of the rocky development of Anthem and the story of the rocky and even-more-rocky-to-become development of Cyberpunk 2077,” said one former CDPR employee in an e-mail. “At times, I’ve felt I could just replace the studio name and the game title, and it would all look so similar, almost identical.”
There have been rumors of financial trouble swirling within CD Projekt Red following the disappointing performance of last year’s Thronebreaker campaign for the studio’s virtual card game Gwent. Iwiński and Badowski denied the rumors. “We have a big war chest,” Iwiński said. There have also been signs that development on Cyberpunk 2077 might not be going smoothly. For example, as the employees who reached out told me, this year the company has told staff to work through Polish holidays, and that there will be mandated periods for vacation. Rather than take off whenever they’d like, CD Projekt Red’s developers have to limit their vacation to specific times in 2019. One period will be this summer, right after E3, while another will be in the winter.
The managers confirmed as much when I asked. “We are trying to organize the vacations better, and to streamline the effort,” said Adam Badowski. “It’s a general rule for the studio, but if there are special occasions, we will obviously take care of those kind of people. And this is our take on this this year. And we will see—maybe it’s good, maybe it’s wrong. We will do a survey after that and take care of people… When the production takes five years, for four years it’s super normal, and then it’s the last year, and we have some special rules just for this period.”
Although CD Projekt Red first announced Cyberpunk 2077 in 2013, development of the game didn’t really start until 2015, after the launch of The Witcher 3. Then followed a difficult period of preproduction (including at least one major directional shift), and the studio made the very-common mistake of moving their entire development team to Cyberpunk before the project could support that many people. Add major technological overhauls and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. “It’s always the same story across the entire industry,” said Badowski. “If you’re changing the technology and at the same time you’re producing the game, it’s a nightmare for most of the companies.”
It led to a difficult period for the company, one marked by turnover and unclear direction. “The transition from The Witcher 3 to Cyberpunk, initially that was the hardest part, because a lot of these things have to be defined,” said Iwiński. “We have a demo which is sort of crystallizing the vision, to prove that it’s there.”
That demo, a gorgeous 45-minute deep dive into the seedy streets and flashy combat of Cyberpunk 2077, stole the show at E3 2018. It also felt, to those of us who have heard countless stories from overworked developers, like the product of intense crunch. That hypothesis was confirmed by several people who worked on the game, some of whom had reached out after our Rockstar reporting last year to tell me that CD Projekt Red also embraced a “culture of crunch” in which employees felt pressure to work extensive overtime.
Perhaps it depends on the department. In conversations with Kotaku, some people who work or have worked on Cyberpunk 2077 said they’re not working much overtime just yet. One told me this week that this was the best period they’ve ever had at the company. Others have said the opposite. Stories suggest that some departments, like the QA (testing), audio, and tech teams, have had to put in particularly long hours in the lead-up to important milestones like the game’s two E3 demos.
Unlike many other game studios, which avoid paying overtime to employees on annual salaries, CD Projekt Red pays all of its staff for overtime—150% for nights, and 200% for weekends. For many, that isn’t enough to make up for lost family time and other mental and physical issues that can result from overwork. (It’s also not massively lucrative; the cost of living is lower in Poland, so salaries can range lower than they are in western Europe or the United States.)
This is an issue that CD Projekt Red is acknowledging, although at the same time, studio management continues to argue that crunch is a necessary part of making games like The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 as good as possible. (The Witcher 3 is widely considered to be one of the greatest RPGs of the decade.)
“From a wider perspective, we need to remember that the whole production takes, say, four years, sometimes five years, and most of the time, like three years, there’s no crunch,” said Badowski. “There’s no additional hours. Sometimes before E3 [we crunch], but most of the time the production is super normal. We are talking about the very last round towards the release. And it’s always difficult to manage, but you know that there are some complications. It’s really difficult not to use all the forces at the very end. Plus there’s another factor—sometimes we have unique specialties, very unique people, and you cannot clone them. We need them to work on highly specific things. And we need to ask them to spend more time on something highly specific because there’s no other way to do it. It’s mostly R&D or very special requests, like tools.”
Iwiński and Badowski said they put buffer periods into their schedules to account for the unknown variables that can come up during development. When I asked if they planned for overtime in their schedules for games like Cyberpunk 2077, they demurred. “We’re trying not to plan it,” said Iwiński. “However, sometimes it results in that, yes, so we need additional time. Internal planning in games is really hard.”
They were also noncommittal on the idea of unionization. “It’s very country-specific, we don’t have a clear answer about it,” Iwiński said when I asked how he’d react if CD Projekt Red’s employees decided to organize. “We don’t know; we haven’t been thinking about it. If it happens, we’ll consider it.”
CD Projekt Red approached me because they wanted to make a public commitment to their employees’ health. It’s a pledge that they say they want to be public so that employees can hold them to it. If a developer wants to opt out of crunch or take time off, and their manager is resistant, perhaps they can say that they read on Kotaku that it was okay. Maybe that’ll work. Or maybe it won’t.
“We’ve created a lot of force functions for us to improve,” said Iwiński. “Making this commitment, I hope it shows that we are treating this matter very seriously.”
“We do have private lives as well,” said Badowski. “We are getting older, and most of the people who are responsible for crunch, they have families, little kids, and they feel exactly the same.”
When pressed, the one specific promise they’d make was that Cyberpunk 2077‘s final hours will be less crunchy than the last game’s. “I think we can promise that it’ll be better than The Witcher’s finishing period,” Badowski said.
CD Projekt Red hasn’t yet said when Cyberpunk 2077 will be out, but 2020 is a safe guess, which means that the next year will be pivotal not just for the quality of the game but for the quality of employees’ lives. It’s clear that not everything has gone smoothly, based on the testimonies I’ve heard from former employees and CD Projekt Red’s new vacation policy. We’ll see. By this time next year, we’ll have a better idea of just how serious Iwiński and Badowski were about wanting to be known for treating their developers humanely.