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Hotel Mumbai is a riveting, based-on-true-events action movie that maybe shouldn’t have been made

Last summer, David Byrne ended his American Utopia concert at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York, with an encore cover of Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout,” a song which lists African-Americans who died from police encounters (Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo) or racially motivated attacks (Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till). The lyrics couldn’t be simpler: the name of the deceased, and the demand to say their name. Standing in the front row, it was powerful, cathartic stuff. I remembered the stories of the people who died and, to my embarrassment, learned some new ones. This felt to me a respectful and righteous way to remember a tragedy.

Watching Hotel Mumbai, a new film dramatizing the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, had a quite different effect. Instead of being part of something proactive, I felt pummeled and abused. Or, as a colleague said to me as the film concluded, “Christ, I need an Advil.”

Hotel Mumbai, like United 93 before it, takes a real incident of recent terrorism and dramatizes it for maximum uncomfortableness. The film stars Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Jason Isaacs, and Anupam Kher, and all but Kher, as celebrated chef Hemant Oberoi, play composite characters. Over the course of the film you grow to care deeply for each of them (and others) as they cower in fear, realize the reality of their situation, and strategize how to stay alive during an attack. As in classic disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure, some survive and some don’t — and you’ll never be able to guess who. Unlike in classic disaster movies, what we’re watching actually happened.

Nazanin Boniadi and Jason Isaacs in Hotel Mumbai
Nazanin Boniadi as Zahra and Jason Isaacs as Vasili in Hotel Mumbai.
Mark Rogers/Bleecker Street

On Nov. 26, 2008, a team of terrorists raided Mumbai in targeted attacks. Over 160 people were killed, with hundreds more injured. The armed men hit a train station, a hospital, a movie theater, a Jewish community center, a college, and a café. They also attacked luxury hotels, the most famous of which was the Taj Mahal Palace.

The goal was a centralized siege ready-made for television broadcast, with hundreds of hostages, many of them Western. The story of the random cruelty of the killings, and how some survived — through their wits, through bravery, through dumb luck — is extraordinary. The locale is perfectly suited for a movie: a gorgeous hotel (“it’s paradise!” one of the young terrorists, who comes from an impoverished background, says upon entering) with easily understood geography. This is part of what makes Die Hard so rewatchable. But this isn’t Die Hard. This is ripped from the headlines.

It is important to know the story. It is important to honor the dead. (“Say their name!”) But the filmmaking style in Hotel Mumbai raises difficult questions. The movie is well-made. The action sequences, as directed by Anthony Maras, would click in a Bond film if they went easier on the blood squibs. In a handful of scenes, we see gorgeous men and women scurry about the handsomely decorated rooms of the overtaken hotel. Over and over, our characters try to break free; a gunman leaps out; brains splash on the marble floor; the survivors retreat and look for a new approach.

The violence in Hotel Mumbai must be brutal to be true, but Maras hammers action-adventure movie beats with a shoot-’em-up visual grammar (e.g., lots of strafing moves). French filmmaker François Truffaut famously said there was no such thing as an anti-war film. Most interpret this to mean that the inherent voyeuristic nature of cinema carries a vicarious thrill that can’t be erased. Even though Hotel Mumbai grossed me the hell out, I was, as the cliché goes, at the edge of my seat, entertained.

The gun brutality is unobscured. Bodies flop all over the place. People weep and beg for their lives. The scene that struck me most saw the terrorists holding receptionists at gunpoint, forcing them to call up to terrified room occupants who are aware of the siege and in hiding. They are told that the police are coming, and to open the door when they hear a knock. Of course, this is someone with a machine gun systematically mowing down survivors. When one receptionist refuses to make more calls, a gunman callously blows her away and the next weeping woman is dragged over.

The scene is dramatic, but … holy shit. What are the ethical implications of sitting in a darkened theater and watching this? It is one thing to read a detailed newspaper account, but can there be a way to tell this story in a manner that doesn’t toy with these people? Can there be a movie that “works” that doesn’t make entertainment out of the dead?

Making things worse, it’s unlikely that anyone can watch Hotel Mumbai without a recent incident looming over the screening, considering how much brutal gun violence there is in the world. The studio could delay the release in the wake of the Christchurch, New Zealand, attack (and a much smaller one in Utrecht, Netherlands), but the chances are just as good that something dreadful will happen a few weeks from now.

Censorship of the arts is one of the surest routes to destroying a free society. (It is, to dig up a hackneyed-but-apt phrase, “what the terrorists want.”) There’s not a bone in my body that wants to be schoolmarmish and tsk-tsk the makers of Hotel Mumbai. I’d never make demands of them. But there’s something I will ask: What exactly does a movie like this hope I’ll feel after two hours of nerve-wracking viciousness?

Hotel Mumbai shatters the shell of decency with its undoubtedly well-meaning attempt to find protein-rich sustenance. (That’s the most belabored metaphor you’ll ever read, but I’m still somewhat rattled by the violence in this movie — cut me some slack.) When you get to the scenes of the police chief flying in like a hero before the reinforcements arrive, Maras leans hard on Hollywood movie tropes. Though I never saw Paul Greengrass’ United 93 or 22 July, I saw his early film Bloody Sunday, and the extreme cinema verité style offers a counterargument to some accusations of exploitation. It’s very hard to make that case with Hotel Mumbai, even as it entertains.

Hotel Mumbai is out now in limited release, before expanding nationwide on March 29.

Jordan Hoffman is a writer and member of the New York Film Critics Circle. His work can be read in The Guardian, New York Daily News, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, and elsewhere.

Source: Polygon.com

Destiny 2’s Iron Banner evens the playing field in Season of the Drifter

Destiny 2’s monthly Crucible event, Iron Banner, is getting a few new items this season. Bungie announced in its weekly blog post on Thursday that Iron Banner will return March 26, and detailed the new changes.

Starting in Season of the Drifter, Lord Saladin will offer players a new item in his inventory. For five Iron Banner tokens, players can buy something called the Iron Burden. Consuming this item will lower their Power by 100. Iron Banner is currently the only multiplayer mode that takes gear into account for the entire activity. Players who use the Iron Burden will have to work harder and play smarter to get kills.

But this new difficulty isn’t without reward. If players manage to kill 500 enemy Guardians while under the effects of the Iron Burden, they’ll unlock a new Triumph. The Triumph grants a Masterworked Wizened Rebuke fusion rifle, with a curated perk roll from Bungie. Progress on this Triumph will carry over to next month’s Iron Banner.

For non-PvP players who are behind the curve, Bungie is adding an item called Wolf’s Favor. These consumables have a small chance to drop from daily and weekly challenges, and increase Power by 100. This effect can’t go above 700 and only lasts 30 minutes. But it should help players not at max Power compete in Iron Banner.

According to Bungie, Wolf’s Favor can drop from:

  • Daily Heroic story mission
  • Vanguard strikes
  • Nightfall
  • Flashpoints
  • Gambit (for Forsaken owners only)
  • Weekly milestones from Ikora and Hawthorne

These changes are part of next week’s Iron banner, which runs from March 26 to April 2. Players will also earn double Valor from all Crucible matches next week.

Source: Polygon.com

Mike Mignola shares an exclusive preview of Hellboy: 25 Years of Covers

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, which introduced fans to a hero who was technically the Antichrist, but was also the world’s greatest paranormal adventurer.

This weekend, Dark Horse Comics is celebrating the occasion with Hellboy Day, with various goodies and gifts for participating comic shops to hand out, and even signings with the talent behind Hellboy, if you’re lucky enough to live close enough.

For our own part, Polygon is happy to offer an exclusive look at Dark Horse’s upcoming art book Hellboy: 25 Years of Covers. The compendium won’t hit shelves until July 3, but you can read its foreword by Mike Mignola, in which the Hellboy creator reflects on his history of cover art, and his process in crafting it — alongside 10 covers from the artbook itself — below.

So, 25 years.

Of course when I created this silly thing called Hellboy I never really expected him to be around for 25 years, but I’ve written about all that before and hopefully will again when he turns 30. But here I’ve been asked to write something about covers — Not as easy to do, as I’ve never given the subject a lot of thought. They’re just something you do, right? But the fact that I’ve been doing covers for almost 35 years … That’s something.

Hellboy in Hell #1 variant cover, Dark Horse Comics (2012).
Hellboy in Hell #1 Year of Monsters variant cover.
Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

Going way back … In 1982 when I first moved to New York to try and get work at Marvel Comics, my portfolio was all single-page illustrations, the kinds of things that might be used for pin-ups (or covers?). I had no sample pages, as I wasn’t looking for work drawing actual comics. I was trying to get work as an inker. I had some vague idea about someday drawing a ten-page backup feature somewhere, just so on my deathbed I’d be able to gasp out “Yes, once I drew a comic,” but that was really it for real comics. I did have a slightly less vague idea about doing pin-ups or some kind of filler illustrations, the kind of stuff they would use to fill out an issue of Savage Sword of Conan (I was really into Conan at the time). I had done some illustrations for game magazines and fanzines, I’d majored in illustration in school, so I thought I might someday be able to do some of that kind of stuff once I snuck into comics as an inker. Well, I’ve told the story of my failed inking career a bunch of times so we can skip over that — I ended up as a not-so-great comic book artist, stumbled through a couple very forgettable short stories, then onto my first four-issue mini-series, Rocket Raccoon. And I did my own covers. Never thought about it until asked to write this piece, but looking back it seems odd that they would let this unknown kid do his own covers. Maybe they figured it was just some odd raccoon comic so who cares. I don’t know, but I would have thought conventional wisdom would have been to put some established pro on the cover to try and sell the book. But no, it was me. And while doing Rocket Raccoon, I started doing covers for The Hulk. Now that seems really crazy to me as I look back — They might not have cared about a raccoon comic but they sure as hell must have cared about The Hulk. I suppose all that comes down to Carl Potts, a very good editor who had a whole lot more faith in me than I did myself. So hey, Carl, this book’s for you.

Bill Mantlo, the writer I worked with on all my early comics at Marvel, once told me that I needed to put more character into my people — more naturalistic acting — and not “try so hard to make every panel look like a Frazetta painting.” And I guess that’s it right there. I think like a poster or book cover artist. That’s the stuff that influenced me more than comics. Eventually I figured out a way to make comic storytelling work for me, but my stuff is still more graphic, more focused on overall page design, than on the naturalistic acting of the characters in the panels. I could go on and on about that but I’d need to draw diagrams. And I’m here to talk about covers.

Hellboy: The Corpse, Dark Horse Comics (2004).
Hellboy: The Corpse.
Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy: Almost Colossus #2, Dark Horse Comics (1997).
Hellboy: Almost Colossus #2.
Mike Mignola, James Sinclair/Dark Horse Comics

My editor has suggested I say something about my approach to designing covers, but to a large extent that’s like asking about my approach to writing or laying out a page — I just bang away at it till I get something I like. No one way of doing it — I just do it, and sometimes it’s easy and other times (too often) it’s not. I do tend to do more symbolic covers rather than action covers. Usually I’m trying to give a suggestion of the story — or maybe a hint or tease as to what the story is about, rather than show some very specific scene from the story. I’m almost always drawing the cover long before the interior of a comic is drawn, so most times I don’t even know what the actual comic is going to look like. Very often I rely on what I call the “Doc Savage Formula” (based on those great James Bama book covers) — Throw the main character into the lower center of the cover, half crouched, ready for trouble, and fill in the background with whatever weird thing he’s up against that issue. The trick after twenty-five is to keep coming up with different stuff to throw into the background. It’s a great day when a rhinoceros shows up — That’s not going to happen too often and he’s a lot of fun to draw. Or the severed head of Blackbeard the pirate — You know that’s probably only going to happen once. Or a bunch of Goya paintings, a giant worm, a demonic Mexican wrestler … Those are the easy ones. When all else fails it’s statues and bones — a lot of statues and bones over the years. They have served me well.

Also one of the great pleasures of this whole Hellboy thing has been getting to work with so many other terrific (sometimes legendary) artists. I’m happy to include some of their covers here along with my own. As I’ve said many times, there is no way I could have kept this machine running this long all by myself.

I am very, very lucky, and believe me, I know it. And I try to never forget it. Hellboy is mine and his world is my odd little box of toys. For 25 years I’ve been mostly left alone to do whatever I want, and I don’t know too many people who can say that. Some days it does feel like work, but it’s a job I am very lucky to have. I’ve gotten to create a body of work that I’m pretty proud of, so I’m going to get out of the way now so you can look it.

Enjoy eight more covers from Hellboy: 25 Years of Covers below.

Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch, Dark Horse Comics (2008).
Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch.
Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy in Hell #1 variant cover, Dark Horse Comics (2012).
Hellboy in Hell #1, variant cover.
Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy: The Fire Wolves, Dark Horse Comics (2009).
Cover of the Hellboy: The Fire Wolves prose novel.
Duncan Fegredo/Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy: Oddest Jobs, Dark Horse Comics (2008).
Hellboy: Oddest Jobs.
Mike Mignola/Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1, Dark Horse Comics (2008).
Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1.
Richard Corben, Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy: The Wolves of St. August, Dark Horse Comics (1995).
Hellboy: The Wolves of St. August.
Mike Mignola/Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #1, Dark Horse Comics (2007).
Hellboy: Darkness Calls #1, unused cover.
Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy Winter Special 2016 30th Anniversary, Dark Horse Comics (2016).
Hellboy Winter Special 2016, Dark Horse Comics 30th anniversary variant.
Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

Source: Polygon.com

Monster Hunter: World is getting a high-resolution upgrade on PC

Fans of Monster Hunter: World on Windows PC are in for a treat April 4. That’s when Capcom is releasing a free update that includes a high-resolution texture pack. The enhanced game assets will require at least 40 GB of additional free space and 8 GB of dedicated graphics memory (VRAM).

Monster Hunter: World arrived on Steam in August 2018 and has since been a lock among the platform’s most-played titles, judging from Valve’s own public data on concurrent users. Samples of the textures, posted in a developer update, show much cleaner edges on player armor. Exactly how the upgrade will impact the game’s framerate is unknown, but the hefty VRAM requirements alone should give pause to users with middling PC hardware.

The update will also add additional graphics options, including temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) and fast approximate anti-aliasing (FXAA), and several small quality-of-life improvements.

Monster Hunter: World is the long-awaited modernized version of the popular cooperative action adventure series, published in 2004. It’s the first main series, non-spinoff title in the franchise to come to PC. The critically acclaimed game was ranked No. 8 on Polygon’s list of 2018’s Games of the Year.

Monster Hunter: World - high-resolution texture pack comparison for suit of armor Capcom

Source: Polygon.com

Bungie is reworking Destiny 2’s Enhancement Cores again next season

Destiny 2’s Enhancement Cores have gone through several changes since they were first introduced in Destiny 2: Warmind. In this summer’s Season of Opulence expansion, Bungie is reworking the currency again. Bungie announced some upcoming changes to Enhancement Cores in its weekly blog post on Thursday.

First, Bungie is removing Scrapper bounties. These bounties previously dropped Enhancement Cores, but were random drops. Scrapper bounties were rewarding but inconsistent.

Banshee-44, the Gunsmith in the Tower, will start selling his own bounties next season. Players will be able to purchase daily and weekly bounties for Gunsmith Materials. The rewards will vary, but players will get a guaranteed Enhancement Core with each bounty.

Bungie said that it wants Enhancement Cores to be more accessible. In the Forsaken expansion, the studio added Enhancement Cores to the Infusion process. (Infusion is how players level up old gear.) It’s an essential part of the way Destiny players customize their loadouts.

But Enhancement Cores remained the key component for Masterworks, a system where players can upgrade their favorite weapons. With Enhancement Core’s inherent rarity, players aren’t able to customize as much as they want. By making it possible to farm them, Bungie hopes to shift that balance in Season 7.

These changes will come with Destiny 2’s Season of Opulence, which is scheduled to go live in June.

Source: Polygon.com

The Division 2’s best encounters happen underground, and often without warning

I’ve been sinking a lot of my free time into the open world of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, but a few days back I had an encounter so bizarre that I swore it must be a glitch. But then it happened again. And again. Now, I’m actively seeking them out.

Each time I’ve run across them, I was deep below the streets of Washington. Each time the attack left me shaken. It’s almost as if, once underground, The Division 2 from a meaty third-person shooter into a solid little horror game. But they’re no accident. The way these encounters are designed speaks to the elegance of the entire game’s design.

It all begins with sound.

Audio plays a huge part in the experience of The Division 2. Ubisoft’s version of our nation’s capital is alive with sound, most of it ambient natural noise from birds and other animals that have started to move in. But sound also lets me know when enemies are nearby.

Most encounters in the game begin with the tiny orange computer worn on my shoulder, which sends out a ping or a stinger when enemies are nearby. Then my radar will light up with dotted lines giving me a bearing. As I move closer, I’ll begin to hear gunfire and the barks of enemies and allies engaged in combat. That’s when I can decide if I want to step in and help to turn the tide.

It’s the game’s sound that makes sure that I never feel like I’m getting ambushed. Flanking is a different story. That happens quietly and often. But I never really feel surprised by an unfolding gun battle.

Once I head underground, however, that all changes.

Two encounters with the bizarre underground faction in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2.

Every so often, as I’m exploring the map, I’ll come across a yellow circle with a black arrow pointing down. That’s an indication that access to D.C.’s underground is nearby. Usually it’s a manhole cover, but sometimes it’s the entrance to a subway or a parking garage. Once I step over the threshold, The Division 2 becomes eerily quiet.

The lighting changes as well. Tripod-mounted halogen lamps are all over, blinding me as I round corners. Fluorescent fixtures have toppled from the ceilings and blue and purple emergency lighting casts weird shadows on the walls. Simple sewer tunnels are transformed into something completely foreign. Foreign … but also terribly quiet. Often the only sound is the splashing of my own boots in the muck.

There’s always tons of loot down here, including long ruggedized boxes — the community calls them guitar cases — that hold higher-tier weapons. Sometimes they’re locked behind cyclone fencing, so I’ll pull out my sidearm to break open a few yellow U-locks. Otherwise, the work is quick and efficient. It’s easy to overlook that all the sounds of nature have faded away. Even the soundtrack is absent.

Usually I’m down and up with a few new bits of gear in just minutes. But … sometimes I hear footsteps.

Before I know it they’re on top of me, rushing at me in ranks. Each one of them is dressed in black, with bright headlamps obscuring their faces. Many are dragging links of chain around their legs. Some lob grenades or fire shotguns, but up close all of them seem to prefer melee weapons. And, unlike virtually every other enemy in the game, each time they attack they’re perfectly silent.

If I can survive the initial wave, that’s when the nameless yellow boss rushes at me. Clad in armor made of scavenged metal plates, he’s swinging a chainsaw. It’s always a hard-won battle, with hundreds of rounds expended to knock off his plates and bring him down. He’s often carrying the best loot of all, usually a purple item or better.

I have no idea who they are or where they come from. These encounters with the bizarre underground mad men of The Division 2 appear to be totally random. Even returning to the same spot again and again, I can’t ever seem to trigger them reliably. I’m still not positive that they aren’t glitched. Once I found them standing alone in a dark corner, arranged in a circle and just staring at the walls.

But, even if they are glitched in some way, they’re fascinating.

I’ve begun hunting them, seeking out the underground areas not for the loot but for these wild, frantic encounters. Sometimes I can even hear the yellow bosses underground while walking above them on the surface, their chains rattling along in the tunnel floors below. But, when I find the entrance to the underground and make my way over, they’re not there. It’s both maddening and thrilling.

Tonight I’ll probably forego the storyline of The Division 2 in favor of more urban exploration. You can bet that I’ll be on the lookout for more entrances to the underground, more long boxes filled with loot. Maybe burning through all these caches at such a low level is a bad idea. I’m still not certain that they’ll actually spawn weapons again at higher levels. But I don’t care. I’m fascinated with this mysterious underground faction, and I’m more than a little hooked on bringing them down.

Even if they are glitched, they’re one of my favorite things about the game so far.

Source: Polygon.com

Sony announces livestream for PlayStation news

Sony joins Nintendo and Microsoft in the “holding your own news event” department with the announcement of State of Play, a live broadcast that will be held next week. Tune in on Monday, March 25, at 2 p.m. PDT for updates on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR games.

According to Sony, you can expect “new trailers, new game announcements and new gameplay footage.” But, more curiously, this isn’t a one-time thing: State of Play will return throughout the year with more news announcements for fans. Incidentally, Sony also pulled out of E3 2019, making State of Play something of a necessity for the company. At the time, a representative told Polygon that Sony was “exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019.”

Really, it’s about time. Microsoft has its own semi-regular live show, Inside Xbox, and Nintendo holds Nintendo Direct presentations every so often to inform consumers about the latest software and hardware developments. It’s a good information delivery format, and in Nintendo’s case, also a good excuse for fans to come up with new memes. Hopefully State of Play has some charm to it, too.

You’ll be able to catch State of Play via Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook, and of course, we’ll be covering the biggest announcements from the show as well.

Source: Polygon.com

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 has the original’s lead writer and vibe

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines never had a chance. Released in 2004 in the same window as Halo 2, Half-Life 2, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, it sold fewer than 100,000 copies at launch. Most of its development team was laid off shortly afterward. But over the past 15 years, the PC role-playing game based on the popular White Wolf tabletop franchise has become something of a cult classic. Fans and critics hold up its ambitious story and emphasis on player freedom as evidence that Bloodlines arrived ahead of its time.

Now, under a new publisher and developer, Bloodlines is getting a second chance with an official sequel, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2. Judging from a meaty demo showing during the 2019 Game Developers Conference, the original’s many fans have reason to be hopeful.

Paradox Interactive acquired White Wolf and the rights to the Vampire universe from CCP in 2015. Now the publisher and developer, best known for its collection of high-concept strategy games, has tapped a relatively new Seattle-based studio to build a sequel. Called Hardsuit Labs, the team is best known for its free-to-play shooter Blacklight: Retribution. It has brought on Bloodline’s lead writer, Brian Mitsoda, along with game writer and critic Cara Ellison.

During our demo, Mitsoda underscored that Bloodlines 2 will capture the tone of the original: a mix of noir, personal drama, political intrigue, and humor. The latter features heavily in the demo with a young hermit named Dale Talley, who introduces our character to the game’s world and the life of a vampire. His lighthearted pragmatism elevates the usual exposition dump that starts most games into a fun, surprising conversation — and a helpful primer for somebody new to the franchise.

Bloodlines 2 is set, fittingly, in Seattle. (The game’s internal code name was Project Frasier.) Our character — whom we can identify and specialize however we see fit — is a Thin-blood, a human with new or relatively weak vampire powers. The character is one of many “bloods” to be “born” from an incident called a mass Embrace. A band of rogue vampires converted a crowd of humans in public (including our character), breaking the Masquerade and igniting feuds among the city’s many vampire factions.

The Masquerade, for folks new to the series’ lore, is the first and most important rule of vampire life: to not reveal one’s true powers, strength, and vampiric habits to humans. In the fiction and in the game, breaking the Masquerade gets the attention of rival vampires and faction leaders, who will do their best to cut off our character’s head.

Of course, the rules are a good deal more complicated and fluid than that, which is why our pal Dale has opted to stay safe with the confines of his apartment, living off blood bags and obscure ’90s television reruns. While he stays out of the power struggle, our character won’t take that approach.

In the Bloodlines 2 demo, we learn to be a human-slaying vampire in a jiffy. At the beginning of the game, we choose our first power from a trio of options, each emphasizing traversal and combat. One lets us glide over big gaps and conjure bats that attack enemies. Another ability turns us into mist that can travel through vents and choke people. The last ability is a traditional take on telekinesis, allowing us to manipulate objects from afar and snatch weapons from the hands of attackers. The game generously lets us try each power in order to solve a small puzzle before having us select our favorite. This is just one of many choices and abilities that unlock as our blood adapts to their new vampire life.

After gaining this skill, we meet some poor humans who don’t know they’re about to get absolutely wrecked. Our character can wield any of the game’s weapons, but the demo emphasizes physical strength and acrobatics. We punch with the force of a sledgehammer. We leap with the grace of a dancer. We suck blood because we are a vampire and that’s sort of our thing.

Though most of the game takes place in the first person, the camera briefly zips to third-person for particularly fast and elaborate maneuvers, like vaulting over an enemy and delivering a blow to their side.

These early scrimmages transpire beneath Seattle. Mitsoda notes that in the late 1800s, the original Seattle downtown area burned down, leaving the community to rebuild the city atop the old one. In Bloodlines 2, this means that a literal scorched city awaits just beneath the streets, a sort of American Pompeii full of abandoned storefronts and grimy street signs.

a pier at night with a glowing Ferris wheel in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 Hardsuit Labs/Paradox Interactive

When we finally make our way to the surface, we’re met with the bright, colorful glow of the Ferris wheel on one of Seattle’s commercial piers. It’s impressive just how beautiful a video game of this scope can be, despite coming from a team that, compared to the mega-studios producing franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, is modestly sized. Sure, developers like Hardsuit Labs now have access to more and easier tools than they would have in the past, but I suspect that what truly elevates this game is its art direction.

Bloodlines 2’s story blends horror and noir, like its predecessor did, but its visual style doesn’t rely exclusively on the expressionistic shadows of classic noir or the neon signs of its contemporaries. Instead, it’s full of a variety of lighting techniques, each suffusing rooms and outdoor spaces with different moods. An urban square central to the story has the soft glow of retro lampposts. A Brutalist parking garage exterior is softened by pink neon. The apartment of a recluse has the harsh fluorescent lighting that reveals every stain and fleck of dust that has accumulated over the years. And throughout the world sit Christmas trees and holiday lights, giving scenes an almost trippy splash of color.

To be clear, though, this game is deeply pulling from noir storytelling. As a blood, we don’t know much of anything about the world of vampires, while most characters we meet seem to know a good deal about us. So it’s up to our character to set into the night, leaving behind poor Dale, to get some answers.

As in the original Bloodlines, personal choice is the core of the game. We can kill our enemies, or sneak about using our powers. Ellison explains that we can maximize our seduction abilities and seduce our way through much of the game. We must feed on blood to survive, but even then, we can nibble, leaving our victims alive, albeit drained.

Blood has flavors depending on the emotion of the victim. They might feel rage, joy, delirium, or some other sensation, and by tapping into their veins, we get a bit of that emotion, getting a passive buff. We can even develop a taste for specific flavors of blood, which unlock additional perks that can be equipped like loadouts.

facing a group of enemies with your fists in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 Hardsuit Labs/Paradox Interactive

We didn’t get to learn too much about our character in the demo, or from conversations with the game’s creators. Understandably, they’re keeping story specifics hush for now. But Mitsoda and Ellison did expand on the macro and micro directions in which they’re taking the narrative. On a top level, our character’s journey will take them across Seattle, a city once known for its music culture and progressive ideals that’s been overtaken in recent years by big tech companies and billionaires.

Mitsoda said the game’s factions will capture the conflicting wants and needs of the city’s community, both new and old. And Ellison spoke about the more personal level of the story, focusing on the many other Thin-bloods we will meet, people who are struggling to align their new life as a vampire with the domestic challenges and responsibilities of their recent time as humans. These people may still have spouses, kids, and obligations, and the city’s rapid change may affect them both directly and indirectly in unexpected ways. Ellison said it’s the creators’ chance to “explore the space of vampire puberty.” Our character enters vampirehood with the help of Dale and a place to live, but other Thin-bloods aren’t so lucky.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 is set for release in the first quarter of 2020, so it’s early to make any real judgments. But the short demo we were shown has tremendous promise, and while it looks like a game from the present, it echoes its ambitious predecessor from the mid-2000s. Asked if the team had considered designing any elements of the game for Twitch and streamers, the project’s creative director, Ka’ai Cluney, stated with confidence that “at no point was Twitch considered in the design.” It’s totally fine, he continued, if players stream the game, and great if they share their unique experiences. But Bloodlines 2 is a game about players making their own choices, imagining their own backstory, and taking their own path.

Maybe this time, the audience will be ready and eager for such an idea.

We’ll have more info on Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 in the coming months, including an interview between team members and our resident Vampire: The Masquerade expert, Charlie Hall.

Source: Polygon.com

Valve redesigns Steam game library, adding Steam Events

Valve is making some big changes to Steam in the coming months with the addition of new features like Steam Events and a redesigned look for your game library. At the 2019 Game Developers Conference on Thursday, Valve’s Alden Kroll revealed a new, information-dense design for Steam libraries that will emphasize recently played and recently updated games.

Each user’s Steam library will now have its own homepage. Kroll showed an example page that displayed a user’s most recently played games at the top of that homepage, with the intention that a Steam user would be able to easily jump into one of their most played games. The redesign also made it clearer which Steam games a user’s friends were playing at the time, and which games had recently been updated.

Game updates — things like new characters or game modes — will be highlighted as well. Just below the section of the Steam library page that listed recently played games was a section titled “Your game updates.” As examples, Valve showed a new character update for Don’t Starve Together, a new hero for Dota 2, and the new Danger Zone game mode for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

The rest of the redesigned Steam library page listed friends activity and a user’s complete collection of games, with filters to help sort and display them.

Individual game pages are also getting a visual overhaul. An example page for CS:GO elevated information like recent events and updates, friend activity, and available downloadable content for the game.

Steam 2019 redesign - new game page
Steam’s new game page.

Valve’s redesign of the Steam library is coming in beta form sometime this summer.

Prior to that, Valve plans to release a new feature called Steam Events. Kroll said Valve is adding Steam Events so that developers will be able to communicate to customers “when there’s something interesting happening in a game.” Examples of Steam Events include in-game events tied to holidays, developer livestreams, bonus weekends that offer double XP, and tournaments.

Events will be shown throughout Steam, Kroll said, including current events that players can join now and future events that they can receive reminders for. Players will be able to opt in to reminders for upcoming events via external calendars (iCal, Google Calendar, etc.), email, mobile app notifications, text messages, and Steam itself.

Steam 2019 redesign - Steam Events Valve

Steam Events will enter open beta in the coming months.

Check out the gallery below for a look at more mockups of Steam Events and Steam’s updated game and library pages.

Source: Polygon.com

Marvel Strike Force hopes Alliance Wars keeps you playing forever

The Disney acquisition of Fox is still underway, but there’s one place where you can find Doctor Doom rubbing shoulders with Wolverine, Captain America, and Jessica Jones. Marvel Strike Force, the mobile title by FoxNext Game’s Lost Angeles branch, made $3 million in February, and earned 200k new downloads. While Marvel Strike Force is successful, the game has courted controversy with microtransaction strategies and random unlock bonuses. The developers are set to roll out the game’s biggest addition yet, one centered around in-game battles around other groups of players. Polygon spoke with FoxNext Games’ vice president and general manager Amir Rahimi about alliance wars, in-game rewards in an ongoing service, community sentiment, and more.

Polygon: You mentioned that there will be a focus on community projects in the future. Tell me about that.

Amir Rahimi: The big one is Alliance Wars. It’s hard to overstate how big this mode is. In fact, we began working on this mode at the same time that we began working on the game itself.

Polygon: In a previous interview, we talked about how it was such a huge mode that it had to be staggered due to being too big for launch, and then a January launch was planned. Now, it’s March.

Amir Rahimi: Yeah. That was, I think, because of our commitment to making sure the mode is really good. There are things we really deeply value polishing, and making sure that what we call the toy, the thing that you’re actually playing with, feels good. So we have these helicarriers you can interact with. We have twelve different rooms, and you can move the rooms around, upgrade them to make them more powerful, and each room provides a different bonus to the alliance, and they must be defended.

So your Alliance has to put multiple teams into each of these rooms, and then you battle another alliance in their helicarrier in sort of real time. What’s cool is it’s just an extra layer of depth. The strategy is that you don’t know how the other team has laid out their helicarrier, so they may have moved the rooms around. You don’t know where the rooms are, and you have to destroy the rooms on top to unlock the next layer below them. So there’s a layer of user generated content that deepens the whole thing.

To take a step back, the way that we view our game and our community is that we want players to play our game forever. That’s what we value the most. We know the best way to do that is to add deep, meaningful social features that lets players form a community around the game. That’s the overall intent of Alliance Wars.

Polygon: Would you say this mode plays more like Blitz, where there’s a continually ramping, accessible challenge and working with a limited pool of resources, or is it more like Arena, which is limited in the times you can play with each match having more significant value?

Amir Rahimi: On that spectrum, it’s much more on the Arena side, where each player in the Alliance has a limited number of attacks they can do against the enemy Alliance, and so they have to be very careful and coordinated in which moves they make.

Polygon: You have to be very careful.

Amir Rahimi: Yeah, we don’t want this to be a war of attrition. We want this to be a war of coordination and strategy. For example, there’ll be a ton of coordination around how you lay out your med bay that gives health benefits to everyone in the Alliance. Other rooms give offensive bonuses when you’re attacking. If the enemy takes those rooms out, you lose that ability. You’ll need to coordinate where to put the med bay, who defends the med bay.

Polygon: A follow up question to that is how much power each individual member has. Let’s say I have my Alliance and my friends and I are officers, with a bunch of other members. Do me and the other officers have to coordinate to decide where we want things? Does everyone get a vote? How collaborative would you say it is?

Amir Rahimi: There’s a ton of collaboration that’s necessary, and in the current version of War, the players themselves choose which rooms to occupy. There has to be a lot of coordination. Alliances that have good leadership can direct other members to which rooms and see which, ultimately, will be the ones that are the most successful.

Marvel Strike Force - An Alliance’s helicarrier FoxNext Games

Polygon: Alliance Wars is the biggest gameplay addition since the Dark Dimension, an entirely single player experience. Alliance Wars is very social. Do you think you’ll be offering both types of content in the future?

Amir Rahimi: I think having a good balance between the two is really important. With Dark Dimension, we love games that offer long term goals. So for me, Dark Dimension was really fun because it’s such a high wall to climb that it forces me to think differently about how i approach that particular challenge, and it gave me something to chip away at over a long period of time. With features like Dark Dimension, the goal is 100% to keep players coming back for the long haul. Dark Dimension does that on the single player side, and War is intended to do that on the multiplayer side.

Polygon: Whenever there’s a new feature, something we’ll want to talk about is rewards. What do you think the reward structure might look like for Alliance Wars, and will there be a strong incentive to consistently participate?

Amir Rahimi: We’re still balancing this and working through things to figure out what the reward structure is going to look like, but our intention is to make the rewards that come out of Alliance Wars the best in the game or among the best in the game, at the very least. Alliance Wars will have its own shop, just like raids and Blitz and Arena. We expect some of the top gear in the game, like orange gear, to be readily available and easier to get. There’ll be great characters in the shop as well.

FoxNext Games

Polygon: Speaking of end game, while many players are using purples and oranges, they also have a sea of blue and green materials. Are there any plans to allow players to consolidate those into higher end materials?

Amir Rahimi: That’s a great idea. I’m not aware of that particular feature on our roadmap, but I’m in that exact same boat. That’s something other games have done and I totally see us doing that, so I’m going to take a note on that and take that back to the team and see if we can fit that somewhere in our roadmap.

Players have long term goals, but there are also weeks or months where players feel like their advancement is minimal. I’m wondering how the team feels about that.

Our goal is to have all sorts of different modes, modes that you can make quick progress on — milestone events, or special campaigns — and then longer term cases. Our goal is to provide rewards on a daily basis so players feel like they’re always making progress, then things like Dark Dimension that dangle a carrot and gives you something to chase in the long run.

That’s a tricky thing to balance, and we’re constantly learning ourselves and trying to balance our systems so players feel rewarded every day for multiple years. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that, but I think we can always get better at that.

FoxNext Games

Polygon: Red Stars have been a really controversial subject. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the community reaction to them.

Amir Rahimi: We’re very well aware of the controversy around Red Stars. For us, it’s been interesting to see the actual metrics that have come out of Red Stars. What we’ve seen is that our engagement from players who don’t spend money increased after the launch of Red Stars. We see a lot of players who are not spenders really appreciate the feature. There’s a login calendar dedicated to it, there’s the Blitz that features Red Stars, and we don’t sell Red Stars in an uncapped way. We dole them out.

We’ve found that a lot of players who don’t spend, or spend very little money, have benefited greatly from that feature because it gives them the chance of getting a high Red Star character. What we’ve seen is, overall, the retention and engagement across all different kinds of characters has increased. So there’s a very vocal contingent on some of the different platforms that have expressed frustration about Red Stars, but a huge population of players enjoy them.

Polygon: Have those metrics shown a lot of team variety change? For a while, it was all Defenders or all SHIELD, but has Red Stars actively changed the way people are building teams?

Amir Rahimi: What we’ve seen is more variety. That makes a lot of sense, right? If I’m a player who loves SHIELD and I pull a four or five star Luke Cage, I’m gonna really start thinking about leveling up my Defenders. That’s not a good example, because the Defenders were so dominant in the meta [laughs], but take another team. The principle applies. What you see at the competitive levels is more variety, which was another intention behind the feature, because no one wants to play a game where everyone is using the same two or three teams.

FoxNext Games

Polygon: There’s a lot of legacy content in the game, stuff that was debuted for a limited time, with dialogue and stories attached. Is there a plan to reintroduce campaigns into the game for players who missed it the first time?

Amir Rahimi: We haven’t done a lot of that. We haven’t been great at reusing content. The reason behind that is we look at this game as a show we’re putting on for our players and we strive to put on an incredible show every single night. Because the audience is largely the same every night, we want to mix things up for our players and keep things fresh.

So the priority has been, and I think it will be for at least the short and medium term, is generate a lot of new things and new experiences. At some point, we will start to reintroduce some of these events that we’ve done in the past, but for now I like the fact that we are so focused on introducing new stuff all the time.

Polygon: Following up on that, there are a lot of older campaigns, but also a lot of characters that are a little outdated now. The AIM minions, for instance, could use a little love like the Defenders. Are there plans to go back to these characters and bring them in line with recent reworks?

Amir Rahimi: Yes, I’m 100% on board with you. I was a big advocate for buffing the Kree for a very long time and I’m so glad we finally got around to that. If I have anything to do with it, AIM will one day have their day in the sun.

Polygon: Will we see more minions in the future? What role do you see them taking?

Amir Rahimi: I don’t imagine we’ll have any sort of disproportionate focus on minions moving forward, simply because there are so many great, headline characters left in the Marvel Universe. I think what you’ll see is a lot of cool new characters and then an effort over time to get the minions that aren’t great, like the mercenaries.

FoxNext Games

Polygon: The next question I have is that, like you mentioned, you want to have a reason to log in every day. At certain parts of progression, it feels like you’re operating with the systems around the game more than the game itself. Arena credits, dailies, auto wins for materials. I’m wondering where the perfect balance is for you guys between meta gaming, managing your roster, and upgrades versus actually being in the game and playing matches.

Amir Rahimi: That’s a great question, and one we constantly debate because it’s a tricky balance. We want to be really respectful of our audiences’ time, and we understand you can reach a threshold where we’re asking too much of our players on a daily basis. So we know that every time we introduce systems that require you to play the game more, to do more battles, we’re going to hit a point where we’re asking too much of our player base and we do want to be respectful about that. Where you draw the line on that is tough.

In Alliance War, I think players are going to want to actually play the battles, right? It’s going to be competitive because you’re actually going up against another Alliance and every battle matters. I think with that mode you’re going to see a resurgence of actually playing the game, but also you’re going to see lots of different teams and compositions. So you’ll be doing more battles, and battles against teams you’ve never seen before.

Polygon: Following up on that, we have different teams and characters that have different synergies and counters. How do you manage the challenge of maintaining a large roster and having these iconic power sets while still providing challenges for the player? How do you build puzzle solving skills, roster building, and challenge with the power fantasy of having these heroes?

Amir Rahimi: With a mode like War, the way it works out is that your entire roster matters. I think in a way our game has, maybe, over relied on Arena, for example, where you just really care about your top team. With a feature like War, you’re going to need everyone, so you’re going to be more creative with compositions and different teams that you bring to the table.

On top of that, what we tried to do is create a system where it’s not just your top five characters that matter, but niche picks become important, and that’s fun because it makes you rethink your whole approach to the game.

Polygon: Will we see further expansions to the stores and more characters to buy through in-game currencies and the daily game modes?

Amir Rahimi: Yes, absolutely. I think, you know, our, our goal is to be very mindful of the fact that players like yourself are very dedicated and playing for a long time. Have, you know, probably gotten all the characters that they want out of some of those stores. And so our plan is to, is to update those stores over time.

Polygon: We spoke earlier about the passionate community out there, and sometimes that community gets sour on Marvel STRIKE Force. I’m wondering if you have anything you’d like to say to players who are wondering if FoxNext have a gameplan, or if FoxNext’s top priority is money.

Amir Rahimi: We love the game, we love our community, and we often share a lot of the same frustrations that our community shares.One of the things I would want people to know is that, to a large extent, we’re all kind of in this together. We will make mistakes and operating this game and we will learn from them.

Our goal, 100%, is to create a game that is worthy of devotion over a long period of time. Right? We want, we want players to form a community where they play together forever and ever and ever. Every decision we make is through that filter. We want this game to be around 10 years from now. Our intention is not to try to make as much money as we can as quickly as possible, but we want to keep millions of players entertained for years to come.

We appreciate the feedback, we appreciate the dialogue, and we care about our players deeply. We try to create systems, like War, that our players will thank us for. That really is our intention, and we don’t get it right every time. We understand that, but we learned and we’re trying to get better on every single release that we do.

Source: Polygon.com