Tag Archives: polygon

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne DLC on console and PC will sync up in April

Now that Monster Hunter: World’s excellent Iceborne expansion has been released on Windows PC, Capcom is looking to get all its ducks in a row for the future. Major updates for Iceborne will go live simultaneously for all three versions of the game — PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One — starting in April, the publisher announced Sunday.

In the meantime, Capcom will begin rolling out updates for Iceborne on PC in February to catch up with the console versions. The first patch is set to be released on Feb. 6, and it will add Rajang and a new Volcanic Region to the game. It will also bring the Resident Evil crossover event to PC; console players experienced that limited-time event in November. In late February, the Holiday Joy Fest will arrive on PC. Title Update 2, scheduled for March 12, will focus on Stygian Zinogre and introduce a new Tundra Region.

Title Update 3, which will be released on consoles in March, will bring “two additional variant monsters” to Iceborne, Capcom said in a news release. PS4 and Xbox One players will also get more limited-time events in February and March. And finally, at some point “later in April,” Title Update 3 will debut on PC — and from then on, all three versions will get major content updates at the same time. In April, a patch will introduce Arch-Tempered and Master Rank versions of certain monsters, and in May, a “fan-favorite monster” will return. Capcom also said it is planning further updates for “June and beyond.”

For now, Monster Hunter: World players on all platforms can mark the second anniversary of the game’s debut in an event that runs from Jan. 23 through Feb. 13. All players can check out the Appreciation Fest in the Astera Gathering Hub, and those who own the Iceborne expansion can enjoy a special “cosmic” version called the Grand Appreciation Fest. Additional details are available in Capcom’s Iceborne DLC roadmap below.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne title update roadmap from January through June 2020 Click to enlarge Image: Capcom
Source: Polygon.com

How I use video games to lose weight and feel fit

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve tried just about every way there is to lose weight.

I’ve put my palate through the wringer, trying out dozens of fad diets that were a chore to commit to. I’ve kept inconsistent schedules at the gym and with work-out-from-home infomercial programs. Despite my best efforts to stick to a cohesive plan, I’ve ended up finding the best success through an unconventional method: video games.

In the heyday of Dance Dance Revolution at arcades and at home, I spent untold hours stomping flashing arrows. The mix of music, community, and faux-dancing was irresistible. The combination helped me hit all my fitness goals. I felt and looked great.

But as arcades began falling out of favor, and I became older and busier, I stopped being as active. I tried exploring other ways to stay fit, like weightlifting, rock climbing, and yoga apps on my phone, but I could never stay engaged with them. So in recent weeks, I decided to go back to the method of being active that worked for me before: playing video games.

I’ve been experimenting with several games and platforms that have helped me get moving every day. My goal has been to find games that are physically demanding, but not so much that playing them feels like “working out.” Between the Oculus Quest, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One, I now have a library of tools at my disposal that I look forward to when it’s time to get active.

If you’re looking for games to help you get up and move, here are some recommendations based on what I’m currently playing, how they encourage me to be more active, and why you should try them.

Oculus Quest

I’m not alone in discovering how fun it is to use virtual reality to get your butt out of a chair. I love the engulfing nature of VR, as it makes it easy to focus on one thing at a time, instead of how easily distracted I get at the gym. Having sound, music, and gameplay work together to monopolize my attention is a great way to keep me engaged. With my headset on, I get so focused I don’t realize I’m sweating until I stop to grab a sip of water.

There are a lot of choices for VR headsets, but I was immediately drawn to the Oculus Quest. Since it doesn’t require being tethered to a PC, I was able to enjoy more freedom of movement while playing one of my favorite games, Beat Saber.

In the past, I’ve mentioned how Beat Saber is one of the best games of the last decade because all it takes is less than three minutes to show off what VR gaming is capable of. The title incorporates exciting music tracks — from future bass to, most recently, Green Day — and has me slashing at colored blocks like a disco Jedi.

Beat Saber - a still from gameplay depicts a player slashing blocks with their sabers Image: Beat Games

As songs play, blocks marked with directions fly at me, and I have to swipe at them in the proper orientation to the beat of the music. The result can feel like a wild mix of cheerleading, vogueing, and raving. The dancelike gameplay and precision execution are so pleasantly distracting, it doesn’t feel like working out.

Beat Saber can feel like an intense upper body workout when the game is cranked up to its Expert difficulties, however. To make my experience more fun, I exclusively play on the Hard setting instead. In that mode, songs aren’t too complex to play along to, which lets me dance around more and incorporate more of my body into the game.

You should try Beat Saber if:

  • Music naturally makes you get up and move
  • You want something that has different difficulty levels you can grow with
  • You like the idea of buying new music packs to keep the experience fresh
Two boxing gloves float in space, ready to hit targets in BoxVR Image: FitXR

When I want to challenge myself in VR, I load up BoxVR, which is more of an interactive fitness app than a game. It shares similarities with Dance Dance Revolution, but instead of stepping on arrows to the beat, I’m shadowboxing preset punching routines to a playlist of songs.

Each set of activities has me throwing jabs, hooks, and uppercuts at a series of colored orbs that fly at me in a set pattern based on the music. There are also bits of bobbing, weaving, and squats thrown in to help the workout target the whole body. Every so often, I’m even asked to switch my footing to balance the experience further. The structure is a bit more rigid than a traditional rhythm game, but sometimes I like that.

I can set the length of the session I want to participate in, and BoxVR offers up a range of premade training programs based on how much time you want to put in. Each routine is designed by different trainers and offers unique soundtracks to punch to. I can even track fitness essentials like an estimate of calories burned right inside the game, which is helpful if I forget to put on my fitness tracker.

I’d never shadowboxed before playing BoxVR, and after my first session, I gained a very healthy respect for how intense it can be. However, because of how challenging it is, I can never do sessions longer than 30 minutes as my Quest becomes soaked in sweat. Even with my VR Cover, which does a better job at wicking sweat than the default cover, I still cut sessions to around half an hour.

Check out BoxVR if:

  • You want an experience that’s more like a fitness class
  • You want to work up a sweat
  • You want something that tracks your fitness activity natively

Other Oculus Quest games

While Beat Saber and BoxVR are my go-to games for working up a sweat, there are two titles I like to switch to if I want to play something that feels more like a game and less like a dedicated workout.

Image: Crytek

I used to rock-climb regularly, and I’ve been enjoying how The Climb pares down the experience into something more casual. It does a great job of simulating the experience of bouldering, the form of rock climbing where you scale walls without the aid of ropes. Real-life bouldering is challenging and, when done properly, is a full-body workout. The Climb’s simplified gameplay offers up the same experience, without the intensity.

Since the Quest has no way to track my feet, I spend my time focusing on where to place my hands while climbing in the game. It doesn’t replicate the activity perfectly, but I found that it still manages to deliver the same slow, considered, and enjoyable challenge of rock climbing without all the effort (or the fear of falling).

A floating gun aims at a large number of enemies standing in a red landscape Image: Cloudhead Games

When I want to amp things up, I play Pistol Whip. It’s is a rhythm-based shooter, and playing it feels like blasting your way through a music video. Each stage is on rails and moves you through abstract locales where enemies pop up and try to take shots at you.

This disco hayride through a shooting gallery even gives you a better score if you hit your enemies on the beat. It’s a wonderful design that always gets me dancing and shooting to its hard electronic soundtrack like John Wick at a nightclub. There’s also a lot of ducking, dodging, and — true to its name — pistol-whipping to boost the amount of physical effort you put in.

Ring Fit Adventure

One of the fitness games I was most excited to try out was Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure. When I first saw it, it appeared to be something that would disguise the monotony of working out in the form of a compelling RPG.

Years ago, I’d tried Nintendo’s previous workout-adjacent title, Wii Fit, but the game’s futuristic balance board ended up gathering more dust than I hoped. While I rushed to get Wii Fit on its release date, I quickly grew disenchanted with it. It felt more like an in-home fitness class than something cheery and fun, like I would expect from Nintendo.

The company’s latest fitness game yet again combines a funky accessory to sweat along with, but this time, it partners its approach with an RPG-like package that has clicked with me. In Ring Fit Adventure, I take on the role of a fit hero who travels throughout a workout-focused world where I need to stop a ripped dragon. To defeat it, I have to bust out squats, chest presses, yoga moves, and more. It sounds a lot like a traditional workout, but there’s so much going on that it ends up being more fun than it seems in writing.

Screen image of woman running through a landscape from Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

To track my workout, I make use of the Switch’s unique motion controllers and Ring Fit Adventure’s key accessory, the Ring-Con. By inserting one of my system’s Joy-Cons into the rubbery ring controller — and another in a leg strap that gets wrapped around my left thigh — I can control the entire game and have it track my movements.

The Ring-Con’s flexible body is designed to be pushed and pulled for resistance training. It looks flimsy, but generates a surprising amount of resistance. The Joy-Con attached to your thigh tracks more cardio-focused activities like jogging in place and squats, and even when you get down for planks. In tandem, both Joy-Cons can track dozens of different workouts that defy expectations.

As I travel across the game’s world, which can take weeks or months to complete, I use the moves my Joy-Con tracks to defeat enemies and complete minigames. Ring Fit Adventure is set up to encourage me to use a whole array of movements when playing, by turning each session a decent full-body workout. Most sessions take about half an hour to complete, and the game always asks me if I’m up for playing longer or want to call it quits for the day. It also encourages pre- and post-workout stretching, which no other game I’ve played has done.

While Ring Fit Adventure is the most workout-centric thing I’ve been playing recently, it doesn’t feel like a chore. Coming back to it day after day is just like returning to an RPG. There’s the main quest I’m eager to learn more about, side quests that offer up rewards, and hours of the game yet to play. It just so happens that enjoying my time with it requires a bit of sweat on my end.

You might enjoy Ring Fit Adventure if:

  • You like the idea of gamification to help form a workout habit
  • You’re interested in building a bit of muscle instead of just cardio
  • You want an experience that won’t feel the same each time you play it

Just Dance 2020 on Xbox One

Dancing has always been one of the most reliable ways I’ve gotten physical activity. But now my days of faux-dancing on a Dance Dance Revolution machine and going to nightclubs are behind me. Instead, I’m learning how to dance again with Just Dance 2020 on the Xbox One with a Kinect.

Just Dance 2017 Image: Ubisoft

The Just Dance series has been around since 2009, and while I tried playing it on the Wii and the PlayStation 4, holding a Wiimote or Move controller while dancing always felt strange to me. It wasn’t until I started playing it on an Xbox One with a Kinect last year that I finally fell in love with the series.

Using the Kinect camera, Just Dance 2020 tracks my movements precisely. It checks to make sure I’m doing the proper choreography for each of its dozens of songs. I follow along to the moves I see the dancers doing on screen, and I do my best to match them perfectly. Since I’m watching real dancers, and not digital avatars, it’s much easier to mimic their moves. I’m scored on how well I replicate their performance, and Just Dance tallies my score and ranks me against every other player throughout the world.

It’s been years since I’ve shown off my dance moves, but Just Dance 2020 rekindles a lot of the muscle memory I built up over the years. I love that the time spent playing Just Dance and working up a sweat can be transferred to a real dance floor if I’m so inclined.

Just Dance 2020 is great if:

  • You want to work up a sweat while learning how to dance
  • You like competing indirectly with others
  • You want to take the skills you learn in-game into the real world

What’s right for you?

I’m not a fitness professional, but I do have one piece of advice that will help you make a smart choice: Do whatever you can stick to.

What you do to stay active isn’t as crucial as how consistently you stay active. Getting up and moving should be a good habit you engage in for yourself. If you struggle to find a routine that works for you, experiment with several until you find one you can do regularly.

If the idea of working out feels like a chore, approach getting active in a more casual way. I’m exploring options that I find fun and can’t wait to play at the end of a long day of work. I look forward to working up a sweat with these games, which is a far cry from how I felt waking up at 6 a.m. to go to the gym.

These games, even in tandem, may not be enough to be the equivalent of having a consistent gym schedule and a healthy diet. For now, though, I’m enjoying myself and rediscovering how fun it is to be active.

Source: Polygon.com

Dying Light 2 delayed indefinitely

Dying Light 2, Techland’s follow-up to its open-world zombie action game from 2015, has been pushed back. The Polish publisher announced on Monday that the sequel will not make its originally scheduled release window of spring 2020.

“We were initially aiming for a Spring 2020 release with Dying Light 2, but unfortunately we need more development time to fulfill our vision,” said Techland CEO Pawel Marchewka in a note posted to the franchise’s Twitter account. He added, “Our priority is to deliver an experience that lives up to our own high standards and to the expectations of you, our fans.”

The statement from Techland did not offer a new time frame for Dying Light 2’s launch, with Marchewka saying instead that the company “will have more details to share in the coming months.” The studio previously said that it has always planned to make Dying Light 2 a cross-generation game; it is currently in development on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

It’s been a rough January for delays, although all four of the games that were pushed back last week — Square Enix’s Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Marvel’s Avengers, as well as CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk 2077 and Sony’s Marvel’s Iron Man VR — were far enough along that their respective publishers were able to give concrete revised release dates.

Techland announced Dying Light 2’s spring 2020 release window back in June, at E3 2019. The studio revealed the project one year prior, at Microsoft’s E3 2018 press conference, with renowned RPG writer Chris Avellone introducing the title as something that would expand on the original game’s first-person parkour gameplay with a new focus on story. For more on Techland’s plans, read our impressions piece from E3 2019.

Source: Polygon.com

Venom made an army of babies to save the universe

I’ll level with you: While Venom did make an intergalactic army of human babies, seeding “thousands of worlds with billions of new human(oid) hosts recreated from its genetic codex,” “Living-Planet Venoms” that teemed “with reconstituted biolife born into Venomized symbiosis” in “the era of Venom the Meatgardener” — Venom didn’t do all that in the main Marvel Comics universe.

All this month, Marvel Comics is releasing one-shot issues that each try to imagine the final story of one of the company’s biggest heroes. Some of them, like Miles Morales: The End, only venture into the next few decades of time. But Venom: The End shows us the end of everyone’s favorite goo monster on a trillion-year scale, when the symbiote becomes the last creature in the universe and decides to wage war on the singularity of machine minds set on devouring all matter.

Venom: The End is high-concept, deeply weird, and extremely funny, despite how complicated and dense its storytelling is. Writer Adam Warren and artist Jeffrey Cruz really strut all kinds of stuff in the issue. There’s a part where — well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

What else is happening in the pages of our favorite comics? We’ll tell you. Welcome to Polygon’s weekly list of the books that our comics editor enjoyed this past week. It’s part society pages of superhero lives, part reading recommendations, part “look at this cool art.” There may be some spoilers. There may not be enough context. Let’s get started!


Venom: The End

Venom stands proudly with arms crossed, as text boxes explain “Did the symbiote bond with everyone in the universe? Why, yes. Yes, he did,” in Venom: The End, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Adam Warren, Jeffrey Cruz/Marvel Comics

There’s a part in Venom: The End where Venom uses mutant genomes to unlock the secret of time travel and deploys Jamie Madrox’s multiplying powers to go back in time and merge with every being who has ever lived. Look how proud he is of this achievement.

A strangely attired henchman groans as Batman dispatches two other enhanced guards, and then emphatically drives his elbow into the back of the first henchman’s head in The Batman’s Grave #4, DC Comics (2020). Image: Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch/DC Comics

Ellis and Hitch are providing some really top-notch Alfred characterization in The Batman’s Grave, but let it not be said that they aren’t delivering in other ways as well. This past issue was nearly all a single fight scene, and the two kept it totally comprehensible and engaging all the way through with barely any dialogue.

Dragon Age: Blue Wraith #1

Fenris, an elvhen warrior from BioWare’s Dragon Age franchise, hefts a massive, bloody sword across his back as he ominously says “You’ve made a mistake coming here,” in Dragon Age: Blue Wraith #1, Dark Horse Comics (2020). Image: Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Fernando Heinz Furukawa/Dark Horse Comics

As noted Dragon Age Trash myself, I thought you might like to know that there’s a new Dragon Age comic miniseries, and ya boy Fenris is in it, and he has a new haircut.

The Red Mother #2

Daisy’s eyes go wide in fear. In her reddened vision, she sees a dark humanoid figure with clawed hands and a white rictus grin, the more digital style to it’s shape giving it an unsettling contrast with the rest of the art, in The Red Mother #2, Boom Studios (2020). Image: Jeremy Haun, Danny Luckert/Boom Studios

The Red Mother is a Boom Studios series about a woman who starts wearing a glass eye after a terrible accident and begins to see strange visions through it. Like this monster who, I, a giant wimp, absolutely hate.

Legion of Super-Heroes #3

A 6-hero team from the Legion of Super-Heroes attempts to diffuse a diplomatic mission gone wrong. Some sample dialogue: “What the grot was that?” “According to Rimbor law Mon-El is now the ruler of Rimbor” “Ugh. That’s ALL I need.” in Legion of Super-Heroes #3, DC Comics (2020). Image: Brian Michael Bendis, Ryan Sook, Travis Moore/DC Comics

It took me a few issues to figure out the tone of Legion of Super-Heroes, but with #3, I think I’ve got it: It’s a bunch of teens from the future who heard about superheroes and are trying to bring the whole thing back. The problem, of course, is that they’re teens, and therefore absolutely useless.

Steeple #5

Billie Baker, runs from hallucinatory flames. After she escapes, she stares at her uninjured hands and exclaims “Christ alive. Satan is a very beefy boy,” in Steeple #5, Dark Horse Comics (2020). Image: John Allison/Dark Horse Comics

I will stop putting Steeple in the roundup when it stops giving me at least one good guffaw per issue.

Source: Polygon.com

Ian McKellen’s unearthed Lord of the Rings set diaries will take you there and back again

Earlier this month, on the 20th anniversary of his arrival in New Zealand to begin working on The Lord of the Rings, Sir Ian McKellen shared a link to the diaries he’d kept during production. After blowing off the web 1.0 dust, the entries are a charming look into how movies get made, as well as a fascinating peek behind the curtain of Peter Jackson’s hit trilogy (which is still very, very good).

Below, we’ve compiled some of the highlights, ranging from funny stories from the set to broader philosophical musings.


In one of the earliest entries, McKellen compares early iterations of Gandalf’s beard to none other than Rasputin’s. He also describes being burdened with props — a staff, toffees, a pipe — before writing about his experience at the beginning of the shoot.

They had been filming without me for three months and I felt like the new boy at school as they re-grouped two weeks into the year. Term started with a rough cut of the action so far – those that didn’t need major special effects added. A videotape was projected onto the screen of the cinema near the WETA workshops where the dailies are viewed. The soundtrack was uneven. The music was from other movies. And so the audience began by cheering their hard work like a home movie until the story took over and through the silence they watched Boromir die and the hobbits weep as they lose Gandalf to the Balrog. Peter had provided beer and wine but I’m off the alcohol and had two candy floss (cotton candy) and popcorn. Then a party at the house of Barrie Osborne (Producer) and his partner Carol Kim (Production Manager.) At the end of the evening Billy Boyd (“Pippin”) persuaded me to follow him down the fireman’s pole that falls twenty feet to the hall. And I wasn’t even drunk.

—25 January 2000

McKellen also reveals himself to be a theme park enthusiast — who knew?

I am a sucker for movie theme parks. Last year I spent a night at Disneyland Paris where, as on previous trips to Universal Studios Los Angeles, I was struck by an irony. Their rides try and create the experience of somehow partaking in famous films. Some use actual film for their effects, of which the 3D Honey I Shrunk the Kids in Paris is the latest riotous example. But most of the time the older rides just sit the audience down for a journey past a variety of dramatic scenery, working models, and visual deceptions. So when you “fly” at Anaheim over London in Peter Pan’s chariot or in Burbank across the moon in ET’s bicycle, you are closer to theatre than to cinema. Again, in the stage shows, parades, and fireworks displays, the subject matter may be cinematic but the experience is of the theatre. Mickey and Minnie et al are live performers, not 2D animation or actors’ shadows on a screen. Disneyland and Universal thrive because their customers enjoy live theatre just as much as going to the movies. Long live theme parks!

Way back, there was a scheme in London to turn the disused Battersea power station into a theme park. There in 1995, we filmed the climactic battle scenes for our Richard III movie. I should love to go on a “Tricky Dicky Ride.”

In the same entry, he tells a very sweet story about working with the late Sir Christopher Lee, and making him laugh.

Last week, the day after Gandalf packed Frodo and Sam off to Bree, promising to meet them at The Inn of the Prancing Pony, I worked with Christopher Lee for the first time. Gandalf visits his fellow Istar at the Orthanc Tower, where Saruman consults his seeing stone, the palantir. I don’t feel face to face with Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Fu Man Chu all at once because Christopher looks saintly in his robes. And there is work to be done.

[…]

Christopher Lee proves that a distinctive voice is an asset in the movies. Stars are not just pretty faces, so to speak, they must sound good too. His 200 (or is it 300?) films have robbed theatre audiences of a resounding Shakespearian. Spread across the black throne under Orthanc’s vasty roof, he looked like King Lear in age and authority. He is 78 years old, handsome and powerful. When he speaks, all I see and hear is Saruman, my old associate gone wrong. Except once when he rounded off a speech, at Peter Jackson’s suggestion, with a snarl. To be within four feet of a Lee snarl is unsettling. I was glad he wasn’t wearing his fangs.

He loves stories about actors and I amused him last week with one he didn’t know, which I was told by Brian Bedford:

“Noël Coward reads a poster: Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them! ‘I don’t see why not — everyone else has.’”

I like making Saruman laugh.

—12 March 2000

frodo and gandalf ride on a car in fellowship of the rings the lord of the rings Image: New Line Cinema

One of McKellen’s other stories about making friends on set features a (jet-lagged) grumpy Sir Ian Holm. More importantly, however, the entry also features what McKellen calls “the first critical review of Lord of the Rings.”

When the other Sir Ian (Holm that is) arrived from London in March, he was of course jet-lagged but that didn’t stop his schedule of costume fittings and make-up tests from taking over straightaway. He was wandering round the workshops in Hobbit feet and a curly wig. I was filming in the Wellington studio next door and took him to the lunch tent. “What’s it like here?” he asked me, dolefully. I told him he was in for a treat and within 24 hours he agreed. A month later, he couldn’t bear to leave, swearing he would be back in New Zealand before the movie was complete. This was not that he expected the part of Bilbo to be extended. Ian had discovered the South Island.

[…]

I have now been shown the first Bilbo/Gandalf scene at Bag End roughly cut awaiting some revoicing that will remove extraneous noises and the enhanced soundtrack of effects and music perhaps. So here is the first critical review of Lord of the Rings. “Bilbo lives and if the rest of the cast matches Ian Holm’s performance, you are in for the treat of a lifetime”.

—8 August 2000

That said, McKellen’s favorite co-stars aren’t all human. He goes on at some length about the horses on the production, going so far as to say that he thinks they would have done just fine in the mines of Moria.

Not all of Tolkien’s creatures are as outlandish as Gollum or Treebeard or the cave troll. Horses are dear to his heart – even the Ringwraith steeds, which may be evil-looking, snorting like devils, their hooves cloven with nails but, like all nags, are only obeying orders. They have been pressed into service and are furious. I’m glad I didn’t have to work with them.

More my style is the chestnut Rastus who plays Bill the pony and is adorable. The compliant, ever-licking Rastus is 11 years old, an American quarter horse crossed with Shetland. Led by Samwise (Sean Astin) he reliably carried the Fellowship’s baggage and endured the uncomfortable snowstorm of polystyrene and rice flakes when Saruman’s agents attacked the nine of us in the Wellington studio en route for Moria. He was less fazed by the tempest than the rest of the cast, even though he didn’t have blinkers on. He didn’t complain of dust in the eyes or polysterene balls in every bodily crevice. Between takes, as I called for bottled water and a make-up check, Rastus calmly helped himself to the layer of salt which added glitter to the surface of the snow. I wish he had made it into the mines of Moria. He would not have been daunted by all those steps and passageways nor by the rowdy goblins. Indeed I would have trusted him with the ring itself.

—3 October 2000

Though not as amusing as some of the other entries, McKellen also gets into the ins and outs of completing a film, including the fact that changes are de rigueur. In less business-based news, he also writes about souvenirs from the set.

At the beginning of this month I was back in New Zealand for six days completing my contribution to The Fellowship of the Ring. Shock? Horror? Some observers earlier in the year over-reacted to the Grey Book’s news that Peter Jackson was making minimal adjustments to the beginning of that film. They assumed that something had gone badly wrong — in part, perhaps, a cynical reaction to the unanimous approval of the “Cannes footage” where journalists and distributors raved over 20 minutes of completed film.

For a film director to adjust things between the completion of principal photography and the movie’s release is, of course, commonplace, akin to a chef’s last-minute seasoning or an author’s spellcheck.

[…]

Whilst Saruman and I were facing off once more, I asked Dan Hennah (art director) if I could one day take home a couple of the fake-metal lizards which served as door handles in Orthanc. He smiled quizzically as he often does and as I left for Wellington Airport last week, Peter and Fran presented me with a hefty wooden box containing the lizards, which are now settled in at their new home in London. Among a few further precious mementoes are an Alan Lee original pencil drawing of Gandalf (another gift from the Jacksons) plus I confess hanging in my study the large keys to Bag End’s round front door which, if anyone asks, I shall swear were given me by Bilbo Baggins before he left Hobbiton forever.

I also have a sizeable collection of prototypes for merchandising curiosities, which have been sent on approval. My favourite, although I don’t eat meat, is Burger King’s goblet with a convincing likeness of Gandalf in cameo relief on its bowl. Perhaps this should only be available for consumers of veggieburgers!

—24 July 2001

Gandalf stares down the balrog in lord of the rings: fellowship of the ring Image: New Line Cinema

In his first entry following the release of The Fellowship of the Ring, McKellen writes a little about the press tour, specifically about being upstaged by Lee and sent into hysterics by Holm.

Chris was unfailingly gallant and magnificently fluent in not only half a dozen European languages (well, Mrs Lee is Danish and he is half-Italian) but also a smattering of small talk from the other four continents. Agog the two Ians were introduced to Afrikaans, Zulu, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Swahili and more. I couldn’t manage anything more foreign than “Bon Jour” and “Ciao”. We were amused to be so eruditely upstaged.

Perhaps to prove that he too was capable of more than the routine answers with which we responded to the repetitious questions, toward the end of the afternoon, without warning Ian Holm launched into a reply which he’d never given before and as I listened, the ludicrous side of the day impinged on my funny bone. It was like hearing a colleague on stage deliberately diverting from the text he has repeated night after night during a long run. And so I started to laugh. First I just smiled and then giggled to myself, just in control, biting my lip so as not to be noticed — after all how to explain that the sun had finally started to turn my brain? Then exhaustion released my self-control and I began to laugh. And laugh out loud. Ian continued talking. So I laughed some more, carefree and enjoying it now. I stood up and rocked on my feet roaring by this time, until all I could was to run away, laughing across the lawn in search of a drink. Chris told me later that he feared for my sanity. He was right to.

—28 August 2001

In the lead-up to The Two Towers’ release, McKellen writes about a surprise at the screening held for the cast, as well as providing a quick look at the crew’s priorities.

Arriving early for the screening – well wouldn’t you? – I helped pop some corn and arrange a display of candy-bars in the drafty lobby guarded over by a full-size Gandalf cut-out and, for me much more alarming, by two Saruman figures. What chance would a grey wizard have against two whites?

[…]

A tentative schedule for the release is being organised. The European premiere will be in Paris and Dan Hennah has already scouted out the terrain for the post-show party.

—16 September 2002

Finally, there are McKellen’s recollections of his last day of shooting as Gandalf, battling who-knows-what and receiving Gandalf’s sword as his parting gift.

I finished mid-afternoon standing in front of a green screen close to the camera, filming a close-up of Gandalf as he battled with unseen (indeed non-existent) forces – orcs probably, although I confess I’m never too sure.

[…]

Barrie Osborne, with his widest grin, presented me with Gandalf’s magnificent sword and then, screened on a white sheet, a four minute video presentation of the Grey and the White, high spots from the movies and low spots too, me forgetting my lines, me swearing, me peacocking at Gandalf’s original screen test to see how the costume and make-up would work onscreen. By this time, I felt it. Still there was no need for tears. I would be back for the world premiere on 1 December. I couldn’t say goodbye to everyone; I had a plane to catch. Up before dawn next day I settled into my seat and tried to catch sight of the studios as we took off and then I realised – I’d forgotten to bring Gandalf’s sword with me!

—16 September 2003

In his final Lord of the Rings journal entry, McKellen leaves us with a touching thought on “the real Gandalf,” and his significance to us all.

When I’m asked to sign Gandalf as well as my own name by importunate autograph hunters, I explain that Gandalf doesn’t give autographs and I remember how Alistair Sim always refused, often really upsetting the juvenile with her album. If anyone persists I also explain that Gandalf isn’t here with us. Last week I went on to say that Gandalf doesn’t exist! Although of course he does.

I like him for his sense of humour and sense of occasion. I like his independence and need for company. Kids, some as young as five, look wonderingly up as their grandparents introduce us, searching for Gandalf in my face. I hope they feel as I did aged three sitting on Father Christmas’s knee in the grotto of our local store in Wigan. I could see it was a cotton-wool beard and it didn’t fit. This wasn’t the real Santa Claus. He was elsewhere preparing my stocking. The real Gandalf is elsewhere and I bet those kids know it because they trust him and love him like their grandad.

—12 November 2003

If you’re in need of a Lord of the Rings fix, The Two Towers and Return of the King are currently available to stream on Netflix.

Source: Polygon.com

What Kevin Feige has actually said about the next Avengers movie

After half a year without a new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the campaign for Black Widow. Natasha Romanoff’s prequel movie, is revving up. The stand-alone movie kicks off Marvel’s Phase 4 plan for the MCU, which will include returning characters, Disney Plus shows, and sequels for some of our favorite MCU characters. But the one thing that Phase 4 doesn’t include, at least right now, is a new Avengers movie.

Despite official announcements, president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige hasn’t been completely silent on what’s next for the world’s most famous superhero team. During an interview at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, just a few weeks after Avengers: Endgame hit theaters, MTV News asked Feige if Phase 4 would begin to plan the seeds for the next Avengers movies and their villain.

“Yes. We debated what we should announce today,” said Feige. “‘Should we announce four and five, we’ve got five years down the road.’ And I was like, ‘I think 11 projects in two years is plenty.”

While nothing’s official yet, Feige has implied that there are more Avengers movies on the horizon. And, since Endgame became the highest-grossing movie of all time last year, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. What we don’t know is who exactly might be on the team that Feige envisions assembling this time around.

Feige told MTV News that “it will be a very different team than we’ve seen before […] with some people you’ve already met and some people you haven’t met yet.”

Avengers: Endgame - Hawkeye watching a young woman practice archery Image: Marvel Studios/Disney

Who might that include? With Kate Bishop’s Hawkeye on the way, it’s been widely speculated that she’d jump to the movies to join the team. But Kate Bishop’s Avengers history is complicated. She was a member of the Young Avengers, which could certainly be an influence on the next MCU team, but she also led the West Coast Avengers in some recent comics.

If Kevin Feige and the Marvel Cinematic Universe team decide to keep their teams to comic books only, we’re still looking at a nearly infinite list of combinations. As it turns out, with four or five different Avengers teams, and the group’s 50-plus-year history, a lot of people have had a crack at saving the universe.

While the various iterations of the Avengers are way too numerous to list, it is worth exploring which characters connect to Marvel’s upcoming movies. Shang Chi, who will be introduced in 2021 with Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, has been part of the main Avengers team in the past. Shang-Chi’s most recent stint on the Avengers’ roster was in 2013 with Avengers Vol. 5, but he was also on the Secret Avengers before that. Blade, the vampire hunter who is also getting his own movie sometime in the future, has also a member of various Avengers teams. Blade recently joined the Avengers’ main team in last January’s Avengers Vol. 8 and he continues to be on the team in that series.

Actor Wesley Snipes raises a gun in a scene from the film Blade Wesley Snipes as the pre-MCU Blade Image: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo via Polygon

Perhaps the most interesting and complicated addition will arrive in Marvel’s The Eternals, which is set to come out on Nov. 6. While the Eternals aren’t generally part of the Avengers, they do sometimes help them when threats to the universe get particularly dire. While we don’t know anything just yet, it isn’t hard to imagine Feige and the Marvel team setting up the Eternals in much the same way they used the Guardians of the Galaxy in the lead up to the battle against Thanos. Perhaps the Eternals will remain their own separate group for a couple of movies, before they eventually join the more Earth-focused Avengers.

One thing we can say with near certainty is that the characters that died in Avengers: Endgame, and permanently died in Avengers: Infinity War won’t be joining up with the new iteration of the Avengers. Kevin Feige has said multiple times that he feels Endgame really was the end of something, and that ending is an important idea.

“We had a movie this year called Avengers: Endgame and it is very much an ending,” Feige told IGN during an interview at Comic-Con. “Phase 4 is about beginnings, and Phase 4 is about learning new things about characters you already think you know like Black Widow.”

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow looks cool posing in front of some smoke in a field, in a teaser trailer for Marvel Studios’ Black Widow. Image: Marvel Studios/Disney

So whatever happens next, expect Avengers 5 to feel more like a new creation than reviving the energy of Joss Whedon’s opening salvo. That doesn’t mean that old favorites won’t be part of the team at all; since Feige mentioned people we’ve seen before, it seems likely that we could get heroes like Doctor Strange or even Thor stepping into a more mentor-like role for a younger team of Avengers that might feature the likes of Kate Bishop and a returning Peter Parker.

For now though, our wild speculation about the next Avengers movie will have to do. In just a few months, Disney will release the first Marvel movie of 2020 with Black Widow — which comes out on May 1. Later this year, we’ll return to the MCU with The Eternals, which should shed a little more light on the fantastical cosmetic elements of the Marvel universe.

Beyond that, we know Marvel’s schedule for the next several years including movies like Thor: Love and Thunder, Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, and even Blade. So with the next monumental team up at least three years away, it seems that Marvel will have plenty of time to build up a new group of heroes and we’ll have plenty of time to guess which ones will be next to take on the mantle of earth’s mightiest protectors.

Source: Polygon.com

Studio Ghibli films will hit Netflix globally next month — just not in North America

Netflix is the new home of the Studio Ghibli collection, the company announced out of Singapore on Monday. But if you live in North America, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Beginning on Feb. 1, 21 films from the Studio Ghibli collection will begin rolling out on the streaming service globally — excluding the U.S., Canada, and Japan. The specific titles and the launch dates are as follows:

Feb. 1, 2020

Castle in the Sky (1986)
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Only Yesterday (1991)
Porco Rosso (1992)
Ocean Waves (1993)
Tales from Earthsea (2006)

March 1, 2020

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Princess Mononoke (1997)
My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)
Spirited Away (2001)
The Cat Returns (2002)
Arrietty (2010)
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)

April 1, 2020

Pom Poko (1994)
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008)
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
The Wind Rises (2013)
When Marnie Was There (2014)

“This is a dream come true for Netflix and millions of our members,” Aram Yacoubian, director of original animation at Netflix, said in a statement. “Studio Ghibli’s animated films are legendary and have enthralled fans around the world for over 35 years. We’re excited to make them available in more languages across Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia — so that more people can enjoy this whimsical and wonderful world of animation.”

North American fans wondering when they’ll get a chance to watch the films of Hayao Miyazaki and his collaborators with the click of a button might recall that, last October, WarnerMedia announced a deal to bring the animated classics to its new HBO Max platform. The streaming service is expected to launch in May.

In 2014, Studio Ghibli shut down following the announcement of Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement. But with a Ghibli theme park under construction with plans to open in 2022, and a new Miyazaki film in the works, there’s a reason why Ghibli might finally back down from its strict theatrical-only distribution model to reinvigorate its business. With well over 150 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix becomes the obvious partner to cultivate a new generation of Ghibli fans. Except for Americans: They’ll have to sign up for a brand-new service. Welcome to the streaming wars.

Source: Polygon.com

How World of Warcraft was born from chaos

When John Staats landed his first job in the game industry, he was surprised to learn he’d be working — in a central role — on one of the biggest games ever made. His new employer was Blizzard Entertainment, and this was early 2001.

The project was a top-secret MMO based on fantasy real-time strategy series WarCraft. Staats was hired to create the game’s dungeons. He understood, immediately, that the internally named World of Warcraft was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As it turned out, his new education would be about more than texture-mapping and asset-placement. He was about to learn the value of creative chaos.

John Staats sitting at his desk The Wow Diary author John Staats Photo courtesy of John Staats

A shabby office

Coming from a glitzy media career in Manhattan, Staats was initially disconcerted to find that World of Warcraft was being created in a shabby office where junk lay on the floors and line managers sat at hallway desks. He soon found out that the office’s motley collection of office chairs was both insufficient and variably functional. To avoid the constant peril of having his chair “filched” by a co-workers, he bought his own, distinctive executive chair.

But he was happy with his new, dream job. Staats had been a suit-wearing Madison Avenue mid-level advertising executive, earning a decent salary of $80,000. But he loved video games. In his spare time, he created highly detailed mods and levels for first-person shooters.

Back in New York, when he’d spotted that Blizzard, one of his favorite developers, was looking for designers, he’d applied. His portfolio of highly polished Quake levels impressed Blizzard’s creative leads — keenly so, it turned out, because they were struggling to find experienced talent — and so they hired him. He started on $50,000 a year, a significant cut in pay. He moved from the metropolitan expense of New York City life to the snowbird-fueled expense of Orange County, and began work.

Extremely informal

In his new book, based on personal diaries written at the time, Staats recalls his time at Blizzard, from the earliest days of WoW’s development, right up to the game’s launch in 2004. The WoW Diary is a good read, full of human, creative, and technical details of the game’s difficult gestation.

Certainly, there’s a sizable audience for Staats’ story. In 2018, The WoW Diary attracted almost $600,000 from 8,379 backers on Kickstarter. Video game books rarely sell more than a few hundred copies.

One of its main themes is how the early development effort was extremely informal. “The [development] area was a dump,” he writes in the book’s first chapter. “It was decorated like someone’s basement … Half the lights were burnt out. The closest thing to a kitchen was a tiny microwave next to a sink full of dishes. Food stains were ground into the carpet.”

This is a far cry from Blizzard’s modern offices which are stylish, spacious, well-lit, and festooned with expensive statues and artifacts. Blizzard’s modern success, its sumptuous riches, are paid for by World of Warcraft’s success, a game that has attracted more than 140 million players during its lifetime to date, grossed billions of dollars, and is currently enjoying a renaissance following the release of World of Warcraft Classic.

pages from The WoW Diary, a book about the making of World of Warcraft A selection of pages from The WoW Diary. Image: John Staats

Experimental mode

The original World of Warcraft was created by a team of 40 people, which eventually doubled in size as the launch drew close. By contrast, the current World of Warcraft development team numbers in the hundreds.

In 2001, Blizzard was already 10 years old, and a major player in the game industry. Blizzard enjoyed success through the ’90s with franchises like Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft. Inspired by the successes of Ultima Online, Lineage, and most especially the 3D MMO EverQuest, the company’s leaders decided to create a massively multiplayer game, in which players would adventure together and socialize.

A central theme in Staats’ book is how Blizzard’s leadership, led by Allen Adham, Frank Pierce, and Mike Morhaime, believed strongly in decentralized decision making, most especially when the company was in experimental mode.

“The structure was very flat,” Staats recalled, in a phone interview with Polygon. “Other companies are and were very hierarchical with lots of levels reporting to each other, and someone at the top with a driving vision, like an orchestra conductor. But there was no vision at Blizzard and very little structure. It had a jazz band kind of feel where everyone was just figuring stuff out together.”

In his book, Staats writes that Blizzard workers were “actually proud of the company’s founders.” He adds: “Hearing my teammates talk about [the founders] with enthusiasm was strange to me, coming from the politically charged atmosphere of Madison Avenue.”

From 2D to 3D

The WoW Diary is a story of how the team worked its way through World of Warcraft’s fraught development, together, making it all up as they went along. As Staats points out at the start of his book, the company had no experience in making MMOs, and “zero experience” making 3D games.

In 2001, many game companies were struggling to manage the transition from 2D to 3D. They were desperately hiring people with 3D experience, and shedding developers who couldn’t make the leap. Most companies paid higher wages than Blizzard.

“We used to joke that they were just so cheap with everything,” said Staats. But he also acknowledges that the company was severely restricted. “Blizzard was owned by Vivendi at the time, which was a house of cards. There was no investment coming from Vivendi. Blizzard’s money went to Vivendi. We had to take out bank loans to pay for our own servers.”

Once he was fully integrated into the team, Staats learned that some of the situations that he’d initially viewed as being cheap, were actually smart. Seating the game’s producers in the hallway, rather than in their own offices, was a deliberate attempt to ease the flow of information among team members.

“By repeatedly inviting employees to give comments and suggestions, Blizzard’s leadership created an atmosphere where people felt comfortable giving opinions,” he writes. “This wasn’t easy to do because many in the company were introverted and reticent by nature. It took a proactive effort by management to foster a collaborative environment.”

Blizzard’s reliance on communal problem solving came with its own costs though. Decision making took a long time, which translated into wasted expense and effort. The team often found themselves following blind alleys. “We made a lot of mistakes, and they all cost a lot of money,” he says.

Tools and Engines

World of Warcraft was especially vulnerable to problems with well-worn tools and engines, which turned out to be flawed for MMO development.

“Technology was always a headache,” he writes, “which wasn’t surprising with something as complicated as an MMO.” Originally, the team worked on the same engine as its sister team, developing Warcraft 3, mainly as a matter of convenience and cost. But these were very different games. “It became apparent that re-using the Warcraft 3 engine wasn’t going to work.”

Blizzard made the decision to write a whole new engine. The solution turned out to be the right one, but at the time it was viewed as expensive and time-consuming. Thousands of labor hours were also lost when the team switched from creating art assets in Radion to 3D Studio Max. “There aren’t many developers, then or now, who were prepared to walk away from so much work that had already been done,” says Staats. “But that was always the Blizzard way. It was always about iteration, learning from mistakes and moving forward.”

Morale issues

The free-roaming nature of the project was not popular with everyone on the team, which led to severe morale issues. “A lot of people wanted structure,” recalled Staats in our interview. “They just wanted to be pointed in the right directions, and work 9 to 5.”

From the earliest days of development, long hours were the norm. Although Blizzard later enforced an anti-crunch policy, in which developers’ hours were limited, WoW’s designers and programmers regularly worked 60-hour weeks. After three years, the wear and tear started to show, particularly on the art team, who were required to churn out assets.

“When your routine is to come in and work on tree stumps, bushes, fences, and houses and you’re just doing this, day after day, year after year, it becomes really old, especially when there’s just no end in sight,” Staats said.

Despite grumbling and tiredness, he said that most of the team were fully committed to the game. “I didn’t have a life outside Blizzard,” he recalled. “It felt natural to come in on the weekends and to work late nights. A lot of us just loved the game, and the work we were doing.”

Staats believes that World of Warcraft’s success wasn’t based on the intellectual property (its main rival, in the early days, was Star Wars Galaxies), nor on any grand vision, and certainly not on generous funding. He said a company-wide disdain for marketing-led processes and the vision thing, allowed for free creativity. “Game designers should build from solid moment-to-moment gameplay,” he writes, “discovering where it leads them, instead of working backwards and forcing a vision to happen. The wrong approach is starting with a cool concept, and shoehorning it into the game.”

Blizzard’s free-for-all approach had its downsides, but it certainly achieved its goals. The team was allowed and encouraged to individually solve hundreds of tiny little problems over a period of years, until the game came to fruition.

In his book’s conclusion, Staats writes that World of Warcraft was “never a game with innovative technology or unique features,” but a gestalt of “meaningful and elegant systems” that were painfully attained, but that allowed players to enjoy an MMO of extraordinary depth and longevity.

Source: Polygon.com

Dolittle is looking like a box office bomb

It may have beaten analysts’ meager box office expectations but, true to its name, Dolittle didn’t do much this weekend.

Dolittle took in $30 million over its four-day domestic debut, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but it faces a tough hike to make back its $175 million budget if that’s its best weekend. The film is only 19% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning only 19% of critics gave it a thumbs up. Internationally, THR notes that Dolittle drew another $30.3 million from Australia and South Korea, its only two overseas markets so far.

Dolittle, the adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s 100-year-old series of childrens books, stars Robert Downey, Jr. in his first post-Avengers role. Our review found Dolittle’s vaporous story bothered by “fart jokes, burp jokes, dick jokes, ‘bro’ jokes [and] a full minute of a duck mistaking various vegetables for forceps.” Downey himself falls “halfway between Jack Sparrow and Tony Stark, and he fails to land either.”

Last October, a person claiming to be a set worker for the picture hauled off on director Stephen Gaghan, and spooled out a profanity-laced story of a movie that Universal was barely able to save. Reports earlier in 2019 said Universal grabbed Jonathan Liebesman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) for a series of emergency reshoots; the Wall Street Journal on Friday said the shoots were intended to give the film a wider appeal in international markets. That may account for the rapid-fire pacing of the film’s lowbrow humor.

Universal went down this road before three years ago with The Mummy. Although it was bad enough stateside to kill the company’s aspirations of a cinematic universe based on its stable of old-timey monster flicks, it still made money thanks to a very strong international release. Domestically, The Mummy only did $31 million worth of business against its $125 million budget. Universal was also the distributor for the comically execrable Cats, which after a month has grossed $60 million worldwide against a $95 million budget.

Despite these high-profile faceplants, Universal is not altogether hitless; it still has the Fast & Furious and Jurassic Park franchises, and it also released Us last year, whose $175 million gross was the distributor’s highest domestic earner for 2019. And, of course, it has 1917, whose 10 Oscar nominations earlier this week are second only to Joker’s 11.

Elsewhere, Bad Boys for Life (Sony Pictures) took in $68 million in the U.S., good for second place among films debuting over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. The record holder is 2014’s American Sniper, which grossed $107 million.

Source: Polygon.com

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary begins beta testing on PC next month

Beta testing for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary on PC will begin next month, 343 Industries said in a forum message on Friday. The beta test comes a little later than anticipated, and requires an invitation to participate.

Though there is no formal sign-up, 343 developers gave out the steps for players interested in participating: Have an up-to-date Halo Insider profile with a verified email; opt-in for 343 to contact you; opt-in for PC flighting (343’s term for a beta) and have your latest DXDIAG uploaded to your profile.

This “flighting” will be a limited content run involving multiple areas of the game, 343 said. The studio is looking to test out peer-to-peer connections cross-play among Steam and Windows 10 players, a new user interface for customization, and dedicated server validation.

For PC, 343 Industries is rolling out all the games of Halo: The Master Chief Collection piecemeal. It’s proceeding in chronological narrative order, beginning with Halo: Reach in December. Next up is Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, with no announced release date yet. The Xbox One already has all six games — the four numbered Halos, plus Reach and Halo 3: ODST — in remastered form.

Source: Polygon.com