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How one developer resurrected a long-dead iPhone classic

The iOS App Store and mobile gaming in general have evolved significantly in the last decade — and many of the iPhone’s earliest classics have vanished along the way.

Developer HandCircus and publisher ngmoco released Rolando for the iPhone in late 2008, just months after the App Store first went live. Rolando was one of the rare original mobile experiences that felt designed for both the strengths and limitations of smartphones. It was an immediate favorite among players and critics.

Rolando and its sequel, Rolando 2: Quest for the Golden Orchid, have since been lost to time, like many other early iOS gems, including Flight Control and Space Invaders: Infinity Gene. The Rolando series no longer seemed to be a priority for original publisher ngmoco once it was acquired by DeNA in 2010, and an announced third game in the franchise was canceled. The first two Rolando titles disappeared from the App Store when Apple cut off access to older, non-updated 32-bit apps in 2017.

That might have been the end of the story, but developer HandCircus later regained the rights to the franchise, and has now released a fully rebuilt and remastered version of the game. Rolando: Royal Edition is a passion project for the team, as founder and CEO Simon Oliver explains, but it’s also an opportunity to fill in a missing gap in the studio’s timeline.

”It’s been really difficult that nobody’s really been able to play it for years,” Oliver tells Polygon. “It’s heartbreaking that it’s a big part of our history that hasn’t been available in the store. It’s been in the back of our minds, something that we’d really like to bring back, but it kind of got a little bit lost in the excitement of the early days of mobile.”

Rolando: Royal Edition is actually closer to the game that fans might picture in their minds, rather than a faithful re-release of the game as it existed a decade ago. That’s because, as Oliver describes it, the first game is kind of a mess today. You can watch the original trailer below:

”Nostalgia creates these rose-tinted memories. It’s a funny thing: the way you remember it doesn’t always match exactly how it used to be,” he recalls. “At first, it was quite jarring. It was like, ‘Oh my god, this looks old.’” Rolando had simple, flat-colored visuals, along with a low frame rate and no effects, and felt much slower than expected. Beyond that sensory shock, however, HandCircus quickly rediscovered why Rolando’s mix of 2D platforming and puzzle-solving elements resonated so strongly all those years ago.”

HandCircus rebuilt the game in Unity for Rolando: Royal Edition, converting the 2D components into 3D environments and redesigning everything else with modern lighting, shadows, and effects.

”We were so constricted back then in terms of what we could do, that we very much feel freed now,” Oliver says about the power of today’s iOS devices. HandCircus didn’t fuss with the original physics too much for the Royal Edition, but the overall experience is much smoother than before.

Monetization

Rolando: Royal Edition is a fully premium title, just like the original: It costs $2.99 at release, and there are no microtransactions.

Trying to find a workable free-to-play model crossed the minds of the people at HandCircus, Oliver admits, but there was no way to do so without significantly reworking the game’s design.

”Free-to-play is something that you can’t really shoehorn into an existing game design,” he says. “If you’re going to design something from the ground up that fits that model, I think that’s great. But if you end up trying to apply it to something that’s been designed as a premium experience, then you end up with a product that is good for no one. It ends up being a bit of a mess that tries to encourage certain play patterns that don’t fit what we originally designed for.”

Smartphone gaming is in a vastly different place than it was back in 2008. Oliver says that HandCircus launched Rolando into an App Store with about 500 games at the time, rather than the seemingly endless abyss we have today. Many games were also self-contained affairs back then, while the ongoing free-to-play push on mobile has resulted in service-style games that continually evolve and expand. Those games require a different kind of design mentality to do well, according to Oliver.

”You’re almost designing a theme park that you visit, or designing hobbies for people to enjoy,” he says. “It’s a very different way of thinking about things. That’s had a huge impact in terms of the types of games that people are making and the skill sets that you need as a creator to have in-house to make those games a success.”

Games as history

Game preservation is a growing topic of concern in the mobile space, as many older smartphone favorites have disappeared — most don’t get a second chance via a polished remaster. Between Apple’s continual standards revisions and software upgrades, some games are being lost forever to the ever-changing App Store.

Oliver points to the work of GameClub, an upstart publisher created to help update and relaunch older mobile games, and says that it’s critical for mobile players to have access to the formative games that first defined the platform.

”It is a really important thing, and I think on iOS and mobile in general, it’s been very difficult to have those experiences again. Those early games, those early iOS classics that disappeared — it’s been a real shame that I can’t play games like Flight Control or Incoboto, classic games that I remember being really inspired by,” he says [Ed. note: GameClub has since confirmed plans to revive Incoboto]. “With Rolando, we felt very much the same mission of hoping to restore something that is a piece of our history, but obviously is a little bit of a piece of history of the App Store, as well.”

Flight Control - jolly good
Flight Control was another early iOS game that’s no longer available.
Firemint/Namco

The goal is for HandCircus to take “calculated risks” but not “crazily overstretch” itself, Oliver suggests, as the studio did with its 2011 PlayStation 3 game, Okabu. The project was too big for the studio, and it learned a hard lesson as it tried to get the game into good enough shape for release. Mobile development is a much better fit for the indie team.

HandCircus has been largely quiet since the release of 2014’s Seabeard on iOS, but the team has other upcoming projects in the works after exploring mobile prototypes for creation games, augmented reality experiences, and real-time multiplayer affairs.

Depending on the success of Rolando: Royal Edition, we could see HandCircus dig back into the franchise again soon. It’s been a decade since the last entry hit the App Store, but given the team’s excitement to have its original baby back, there could be much more ahead.

”We’d love to do more with the world. It’s been really fun going back in and sprucing the original game up,” says Oliver. “We’d love to do the same with the second game, Rolando 2, and we’ve got ideas for totally brand-new future titles. So yeah, for us, this is very much the first step in bringing the Rolando world back. We’d like to do loads more with it.”

Source: Polygon.com

First trailer for Joker is full of smiles and nightmares

The first teaser for Todd Phillips’ upcoming standalone Joker movie brings Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the iconic villain to life.

Unlike previous iterations of the Joker, this movie carves out an origin story for the character — the Joker before he was the Joker, exploring the life of Arthur Fleck as he descends from small-time stand up comedian to the clown prince of crime. The movie is said to lean hard on Martin Scorsese influences, particularly the director’s 1982 dark comedy The King of Comedy.

The first look at Joaquin Phoenix on set was very normal-looking, though subsequent images and costume tests revealed the Joker’s more … joker looks.

This trailer, though, shows us more of Arthur Fleck and hints at his eventual descent into madness. We also see some of the supporting cast, as well as the 1980s version of Gotham City. Fleck wants to bring laughter to the world, but the world seems to be against him. Time to hide behind a happy face!

If you’re wondering where this Joker movie fits in with Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman, Jared Leto’s Joker, and the rest of the current DC line-up, wonder no more. It takes place in a separate universe and is part of DC’s push to separate itself from the MCU and explore multiple versions of the same character.

Joker is out on Oct. 4.

Source: Polygon.com

Borderlands 3 coming Sept. 13, exclusive to Epic Games Store on PC

Borderlands 3 is coming to PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One on Sept. 13, developer Gearbox Software and publisher 2K announced on Wednesday. The PC version of Borderlands 3 will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store until April 2020.

A new trailer for Borderlands 3, highlighting the four new playable Vault Hunters and the evil duo they’ll go up against, the Calypso Twins, is available above. More details about the game are promised on May 1, when Gearbox will hold a gameplay reveal event livestream.

Gearbox also offered new details on the quartet of all-new Vault Hunters coming to Borderlands 3. Here are their official descriptions:

  • Moze as The Gunner: When Moze needs backup, she digistructs her mech – Iron Bear – for a sucker punch of additional firepower.
  • Amara as The Siren: A confident, capable brawler with the ability to summon ethereal fists, Amara uses her Siren powers to smash her enemies.
  • FL4K as The Beastmaster: FL4K lives for the hunt. So do the loyal beasts that follow their master’s every command. Their preferred prey? Unsuspecting bandits, those poor suckers.
  • Zane as The Operative: Specializing in battlefield gadgetry, Zane is extremely proficient at slipping into combat, creating chaos, and sneaking back out as if he were never there.

Gearbox also teased “new worlds beyond Pandora” where players can loot for the series’ trademark “bazillions of guns,” including firearms with self-propelling bullet shields, rifles that spawn volcanoes, and guns that grow legs, hunt down targets, and verbally insult them.

A new leveling syncing system will also make playing cooperatively with friends regardless of your story of experience progression, according to a fact sheet.

2K and Gearbox have four editions of Borderlands 3 coming this fall, ranging in price from $59.99 to $249.99. Here’s a breakdown of each version:

Borderlands 3 Standard Edition ($59.99)
Includes the base game.

Borderlands 3 Deluxe Edition ($79.99)
Includes the base game, as well as bonus digital content:

  • Retro Cosmetic Pack: Vault Hunter head & skin, Echo Device skin, weapon skin
  • Neon Cosmetic Pack: Vault Hunter head & skin, Echo Device skin, weapon trinket
  • Gearbox Cosmetic Pack: weapon skin, weapon trinket
  • Toy Box Weapon Pack: 2 Toy guns, Toy grenade mod, weapon trinket
  • XP & Loot Drop Boost Mods

Borderlands 3 Super Deluxe Edition ($99.99)
Includes all the bonus digital content and pre-order bonus of the Deluxe Edition plus the Borderlands 3 season pass, which includes:

  • Four (4) campaign DLC packs featuring new stories, missions and challenges;
  • Butt Stallion weapon skin, weapon trinket, and grenade mod.

Borderlands 3 Diamond Loot Chest Collector’s Edition ($249.99)
Includes the full game, season pass, and all bonus digital content and pre-order bonus of the Super Deluxe Edition, plus:

  • Diamond Loot Chest Replica
  • Borderlands 3 character figurines (x10) including the four new Vault Hunters, the Calypso Twins, and other characters from the Borderlands universe (approximately 3 inches tall)
  • Sanctuary 3 snap model
  • Vault Key keychains (x4)
  • Cloth galaxy map
  • Character art lithographs (x5): Character prints starring the new Vault Hunters and Calypso Twins
  • Borderlands 3 Steelbook case

Source: Polygon.com

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Splatoon 2 championships return to E3 2019

While Nintendo’s E3 2019 plans are still under wraps, the game maker is officially bringing two of its big competitions — the team-based Super Smash Bros. Ultimate World Championship 2019 3v3 and the Splatoon 2 World Championship 2019 tournaments — back to Los Angeles this June.

Over the weekend, at PAX East, Nintendo crowned the winners of the Splatoon 2 North America Inkling Open 2019 and the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate North America Open 2019, a pair of events that capped weeks of qualifying tournament events. Nintendo’s Smash tournament in particular deviates from community-organized events in that its rules allowed for in-game items and Smash Balls. Some serious Smash Bros. players blanch at such allowances, saying it goes against fair competition.

Nintendo’s decision to allow semi-random gameplay elements in its official Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments is by design, not a refutation of widely used competitive tournament rules. Those decisions are a way to lure in a broader audience who may not compete in local tournaments and may favor online competition, according to Nintendo of America senior director of product marketing Bill Trinen.

“Certainly with Smash Bros., you’ve got a very clearly established competitive rule set that all of the pros are using,” Trinen said in a phone interview with Polygon. “But the game is designed in a way that there’s a lot of different ways to play. And with the number of people that play online, we know that people play with a lot of different rule sets, [with] items on and things like that.

“So one of the things we wanted to do with the North American Open was to really make this about trying to attract as many people who don’t normally play in tournaments.”

Poltergust, Wrath and Devonte of the Southeast Region tournament take home the top prize at the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate North America Open 2019 on Saturday, March 30, 2019, at PAX East in Boston.
Players Poltergust, Wrath and Devonte of the Southeast Region tournament took home the top prize at the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate North America Open 2019 at PAX East in Boston.
Nintendo

Trinen says Nintendo’s looser competitive rules make its Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competitions “a bit more approachable to a casual audience.” And as Nintendo’s competitive pool of players whittles down from thousands of people taking part in online tournaments to a smaller group fighting at on-site events, it tightens up its competitive ruleset. Nintendo hasn’t announced the ruleset for its E3 2019 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate World Championship 2019 3v3 finals, however.

“With over 10,000 people having been a part of the online tournament, we really think that that approach is drawing in new players,” Trinen said. “Some of them are people that play competitively but don’t really make it into those top tiers of at some of those larger tournaments. And so it’s both giving them an opportunity to shine. But you’re also seeing some people who are really just kind of new to the competitive scene as well.”

Nintendo also supports community-driven Smash Bros. tournaments, like Genesis, some of which have drawn in members of the Splatoon competitive scene who hold their own side events. Smash Bros. will be present at this year’s Evo tournament in August, where Ultimate will make its tournament debut (and Super Smash Bros. Melee won’t be featured for the first time in years).

“We’ve worked with Evo in the past through a partnership perspective and plan to do the same as well this year,” Trinen said. “Obviously with that being a little bit further out , we don’t have any detailed plans right now but we are going to look at what opportunities we have to work with them.

“For us, one of the main things that we want to try to do is broaden the audience as much as possible and also try to support where we can in terms of growing the number of people that are going to tournaments and growing the number of people that are watching tournaments. [We’ll] be focused a bit in those areas. But hopefully we’ll have some other opportunities to work together with Evo in a variety of different ways.”

Source: Polygon.com

Call of Duty’s Blackout battle royale mode is free to play through April 30

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s battle royale mode, called Blackout, will be free to play all month long. The promotion starts April 2 and runs through April 30, giving players everywhere access to the mode on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

Blackout launched shortly after the release of Black Ops 4, coming out in October of last year. One hundred players leap into a massive, custom-built area and scavenge for weapons, armor, and perks before going after each other in a last-man-standing war of attrition. Blackout eschews the survival game roots of the battle royale genre, replacing them instead with a fast-paced and approachable take on the formula.

In a press release, developers say that all player progress in Blackout will be saved and transferred over if players elect to purchase the full game.

The promotion coincides with the introduction of an all-new map for Blackout, based on the famous island prison Alcatraz. We’ve embedded the trailer above. Alcatraz arrives first on PS4, and is expected on other platforms at a later date.

Source: Polygon.com

The press is not your enemy, BioWare

Kotaku reporter Jason Schreier published a detailed, damning report about what went wrong with BioWare’s Anthem. The piece describes a work environment that has become so stressful, multiple developers have had to take weeks, and sometimes months off for “stress leave.”

BioWare responded before the report was published with a terse statement that doesn’t dispute the details in Kotaku’s report; however, the response does awkwardly conclude with a wag of the finger at the press for shining a light on its problems.

If the takeaway for the studio’s leadership is that the press shouldn’t hold them accountable, then they perhaps haven’t learned from the game’s tumultuous development.

What BioWare got wrong

Over the past few years, the gaming industry has been rocked with reports about toxic working environments, extended crunch hours, and unexpected studio closures. In response to these mishandled development cycles, the collective will necessary to unionize game developers may be forming. It’s a critical time in this business if we want the people who make our games to have healthy, happy lives.

As a result, BioWare’s response feels more odious than it would have even three years ago.

“As a studio and a team, we accept all criticisms that will come our way for the games we make, especially from our players,” BioWare’s statement said. “The creative process is often difficult. The struggles and challenges of making video games are very real. But the reward of putting something we created into the hands of our players is amazing. People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun. We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this paragraph. The first sentence is baffling: Why does BioWare prioritize criticisms from the players when the topic is the working conditions of its developers?

“People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun,” the statement says, and it’s here that BioWare brings in some of the standard dog whistles that are often used while defending overwork. My bullshit alarm goes off every time I see the word “passion” in one of these apologies or statements.

“[Developers] are expected to just dig deep into their passion for making games and overlook how their passion for their profession and their specific project is being exploited to cover poor management practices,” Kate Edwards, former executive director of the International Game Developers Association, said in a previous interview. “Sadly, for too long the industry has accepted a sort of fraternal ‘rite of passage’ attitude towards crunch, as if it’s necessary to prove that one is a ‘real’ game developer.”

It’s good to be passionate about your work. But passion should not be weaponized against employees to justify crunch and unhealthy work spaces.

The press aren’t the problem

BioWare is suggesting that reports on the challenges of development “tear down one another, or one another’s work.” Kotaku’s report does none of this. Considering BioWare published the response ahead of the piece, it seems they were comfortable misrepresenting the work of a reporter who did his due diligence and cultivated sources. Notably, the BioWare response doesn’t refute the piece, let alone specific claims.

Here’s an excerpt from Kotaku’s piece:

Some who have worked at BioWare’s longest-running office in Edmonton talk about depression and anxiety. Many say they or their co-workers had to take “stress leave”—a doctor-mandated period of weeks or even months worth of vacation for their mental health. One former BioWare developer told me they would frequently find a private room in the office, shut the door, and just cry. “People were so angry and sad all the time,” they said. Said another: “Depression and anxiety are an epidemic within Bioware.”

“I actually cannot count the amount of ‘stress casualties’ we had on Mass Effect: Andromeda or Anthem,” said a third former BioWare developer in an email. “A ‘stress casualty’ at BioWare means someone had such a mental breakdown from the stress they’re just gone for one to three months. Some come back, some don’t.”

If your workplace is so poorly run that your employees have doctors telling them to take weeks or months off due to stress, and it’s common practice, the problem isn’t that it’s noted in an investigated report. To put it concisely: The problem is the problem.

The benefit of a report like this is that it demands conversation. BioWare is talking about these issues, even if it’s doing so in a statement that’s so busy patting itself on the back that it never gets around to offering any concrete steps the company will take to improve the lives of its employees.

The studio needs to turn inward. BioWare is coming off the critical failures of its last two games — Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem — and the company has lost many veteran developers. And because of reports from Schreier, players know more about how BioWare makes games, and developers will know more about what they might be getting into if they apply to work at BioWare. This may be frustrating for the company, but it’s good for the people who populate it. Kotaku’s report isn’t trying to tear anyone down, it just presents the words of the people who work at BioWare as they share their experiences.

Management more or less has to do something to improve the conditions under which it makes games, or else talent will become even harder to find and retain. Who wants to work themselves to death making a game that doesn’t deliver on its original creative goals? That is met with disappointment?

Kotaku’s piece — and reporting like it — absolutely helps to make gaming a better place. It’s the reliance on crunch and dysfunctional management on the part of companies like BioWare that hinder the longterm success of the big budget games industry. And, as BioWare has shown, this development strategy doesn’t always lead to good games.

Which means everyone loses.

BioWare may try to wait out this controversy without changing much, and younger developers with more “passion” will probably still apply in hopes that they will get to work on BioWare’s well-known series. Or it can take on the problem with transparency and sincerity to make the studio a better place to work.

If BioWare doesn’t like it? The most effective retaliation would be to make real changes in how the studio is run, so that developers who share their experience will say good things about the company instead of recounting the experiences that ruined their mental or physical health.

If BioWare does so, it will be at least partially due to the reporting about these issues. Reporting that helps make gaming a better for everyone, whether they’re playing the games or creating them.

Source: Polygon.com

Destiny 2’s next patch increases rare loot drops

While Destiny 2’s Season of the Drifter is in full swing, it seems some of Destiny’s newest items are a bit too rare. In next week’s patch, Bungie will adjust drop rates for the new Gambit Prime weapons and Dreaming City items.

Bungie announced the changes in two separate blog posts. The first came in March 28’s This Week at Bungie. The studio revealed that cosmetics from the Dreaming City location and Last Wish raid will increase. Bungie claims that drop rates have doubled, tripled, or more in most cases. The One Thousand Voices raid Exotic’s drop rate is going up alongside the cosmetics — although Bungie promises it’ll still be rare.

In a post on their official forums, Bungie also revealed changes for Season of the Drifter weapons. Most weapons have been added to the end of match loot pool for Gambit Prime and Reckoning. A bad luck protection counter will tick up ever time players don’t get a piece of gear. This should prevent players from long streaks of unlucky drops. The drop chance itself, even without bad luck protection will also increase.

Players looking for these weapons can find them by completing Reckoning or Gambit Prime matches:

  • Spare Rations hand cannon
  • Night Watch scout rifle
  • Lonesome sidearm
  • Outlast pulse rifle
  • Last Man Standing shotgun
  • Sole Survivor sniper rifle

The Gnawing Hunger auto rifle, Just in Case sword, and Doomsday grenade launcher are exclusive drops from the Reckoning.

Bungie will release these changes in Update 2.2.1, coming to Destiny 2’s live servers on April 9.

Source: Polygon.com

Why Batman stopped killing people in 1940

Less than a year after Batman debuted, DC Comics made it a general rule that he would not use lethal force or guns. Despite this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder has repeatedly criticized fans who generally prefer that superheroes don’t kill, and recently said those who think lethal force is against the core of Batman are living in a “dream world.”

Now, I don’t dispute that originally Bruce Wayne was allowed to kill, or that DC Entertainment has the right to sign off on stories where he does so again. And I don’t dispute that there are entertaining Batman stories where he does kill. But let’s talk about why the no killing rule was created — and how it was done with the enthusiastic support of one of Batman’s co-creators, Bill Finger, without whom Batman as we know him would never have existed in the first place.

From Detective Comics #27, DC Comics (1938).
From Detective Comics #27, Batman’s first appearance.
Bill Finger, Bob Kane/DC Comics

Proto-Batman

In the world of comics and television, many characters aren’t fully cooked in their debut story. They are the evolving product of revisions and expansions made by many creators over the course of years. This was even truer during the American comics’ Golden Age, when publishers were not often concerned about a story’s long-term implications or internal logic.

Superman’s distinguishing power of flight was actually invented for his radio and cartoon adaptations, and didn’t make it into the comics until three years after his debut. Likewise, Batman was not a fully evolved character when introduced by co-creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger. And when I say “co-creators,” what I really mean is “Bob Kane had an idea for a character who wore a domino mask and a red bodysuit decorated with bat-like wings, and then his ghostwriter and partner, Bill Finger, wrote the stories, fleshed out the character’s personality, named him Bruce Wayne, designed a better costume for him, scripted his origin story, named Gotham City, and created or co-created many of greatest enemies, equipment, and allies while not getting public credit until after he himself died.”

Bob Kane thought of Batman as a guy like the Shadow; a pulp magazine and radio show vigilante who saw it as his mission to gun down criminals. The very first Batman story in Detective Comics #27 (cover dated May, 1939) was even a direct rip-off of a previously published Shadow story.

Finger’s Bruce Wayne was a fighter who was well-versed in science and crime detection, and less bloodthirsty than the Shadow. He wouldn’t mourn or go out of his way to prevent the death of a criminal, and he killed sometimes to protect his own life or prevent a terrorist from escaping scot free, but he wouldn’t charge in with guns blazing either.

“Wait,” you say, “I thought the original Batman regularly shot down criminals and gangsters like the Punisher.” That’s an exaggeration. From May 1939 to May 1940, the Dark Knight was depicted with a gun in only five of his sixteen stories, and only one of those stories featured him shooting people.

The first time Batman used a gun, it was to destroy a pair of vampires with silver bullets in Detective Comics #32. After that, he used his gun to set off a bomb or summon police, but put it away when he fought criminals. The only time the Golden Age Bruce used firearms against people was in Batman #1, cover dated March 1940. In the story “The Giants of Hugo Strange,” the titular terrorist-scientist permanently transforms mental patients into giant, super strong, near-mindless “Monster Men.” Strange then has his human henchmen transport the Monster Men to populated areas in trucks. Desperate to stop them before they reach and kill innocent people, Batman fires on the drivers from his plane above while lamenting, “Much as I hate to take human life, I’m afraid this time it’s necessary!”

From Batman #1, DC Comics (1940).
From “The Giants of Hugo Strange,” in Batman #1, 1940.
Bill Finger, Bob Kane/DC Comics

The new moral code

Immediately following Batman #1, DC Editor Whitney Ellsworth spoke to Bob Kane and Bill Finger. From now on, Batman would be against killing, a rule Superman’s creators had already applied to their own creation. Ellsworth added, “Never let us have Batman carry a gun again.”

Ellsworth wanted Batman to rise above his pulp vigilante roots and become a genuine superhero, someone who seemed at home in a world also inhabited by Superman and the rising number of similarly colorful champions. By this time, Finger and Kane had introduced young Dick Grayson as Batman’s new apprentice, a cheerful, acrobatic detective who provided some tonal contrast. Ellsworth liked Robin, and he thought it bad form to paint Batman as a role model to the boy and young readers if he resorted to killing when convenient rather than using his great mind, incredible technology, and formidable training to find better solutions.

From Batman #4, DC Comics (1941).
From Batman #4, 1941.
Bill Finger, Bob Kane/DC Comics

Less than a year after his debut, and only five months after he first started using a gun at all, Batman now had a rule against lethal force. The proto-Batman was fully crystalizing into the kind of character Finger felt Bruce Wayne was meant to be. In Batman #4, the Dark Knight openly acknowledges this rule to Robin. “Remember, we never kill with weapons of any kind!”

Kane has given different opinions on Batman’s no killing policy over the years. In his autobiography Batman and Me, he complained, “[Batman] wasn’t the Dark Knight anymore with all the censorship.”

But in other interviews, Kane remarked that Batman was successful because he adapted to new ideas while the Shadow and other pulp vigilantes largely fell out of the spotlight. He even sometimes argued that Batman should never be only dark and serious, as he and many Golden Age superheroes were created to be slightly campy, all-ages characters, with stories that adults and children could simultaneously enjoy for different reasons.

Finger agreed with Ellsworth from the beginning, concluding that if Batman fought villains such as the Joker, Dr. Death, and Hugo Strange, then he needed a clear moral high ground. If the villains often claimed they only killed for the sake of a greater goal, Batman couldn’t use the same excuse. He wasn’t just the protagonist; he needed to be the hero.

In a talk with artist Jack Burnley, Finger said he should have argued more with Kane about lethal force even in the earliest stories, gun or no gun, saying “Batman shouldn’t have ever had to kill people.”

He openly regretted Batman killing in “The Giants of Hugo Strange.” The truck drivers could’ve been stopped by other means and, unlike the vampires, the Monster Men were arguably human victims. Finger told comic book creator and historian Jim Steranko, “I goofed. I had Batman use a gun to shoot a villain…”

In the origin story he crafted for young Bruce Wayne, Finger showed the character traumatized by the murder of his parents by an armed mugger. The writer offered, “That sudden murder taught Bruce to cherish and respect life as much as it taught him to hate criminals.” Many creators who have followed in Finger’s footsteps certainly agree.

From Batman #47, DC Comics (1948).
From “The Origin of Batman” in Batman #47, 1948.
Bill Finger, Bob Kane/DC Comics

Finger underlined Batman’s moral code further in “The Origin of Batman” in Batman #47 (1948). The hero comes across the gangster Joe Chill, recognizing him as the killer of Martha and Thomas Wayne. Rather than kill the man, Batman wants him arrested, and, desperately hoping to prompt a confession, Bruce reveals his identity to Chill. In a panic, the killer flees and begs his henchmen for help, explaining he accidentally inspired Batman’s creation. In a rage, they shoot him down. Batman takes no pleasure in this death. He brings Chill’s killers to justice, something he couldn’t do for his own parents, and simply deems the Wayne murder case finally closed.

Bending the rules

It’s still a fact that Batman killed in early stories. It is a fact that, since 1940, there have been stories where he uses guns for non-lethal purposes, and stories where he seems to break or bend his rule against killing. He’s tricked the terrorist Ra’s al Ghul into a death trap, left the villain KGBeast in a different death trap, and (in retaliation for the murder of Jason Todd, the second Robin) left the Joker wounded on a helicopter plunging towards Manhattan’s East River. Each time, Batman immediately or later (via another writer) implied that he was sure each villain was too skilled and experienced at escaping such situations to die. He turned out to be correct.

There have also been a number of out-of-canon stories exploring versions of Bruce who kill, sometimes to illustrate a fall from grace. Perhaps the most influential non-canon Batman story is The Dark Knight Returns, presented by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson in 1986. In it, an older Bruce spends years repressing all his anger, pain and aggression. When he returns to the cowl, he’s now a self-loathing, brutal Batman who critically injures criminals. But he still doesn’t kill. When the police list his crimes, murder is not included. Throughout the story, he employs aggressive but non-lethal methods, openly criticizes lethal firearms, and still can’t bring himself to kill the Joker.

It’s fine to prefer a Batman who kills or only kills in certain circumstances. I prefer he doesn’t, but still enjoy stories like Batman (1989), where he’s a lethal counter-terrorist who also targets mobsters. It’s fine for DC to allow lethal Batman stories and say these are meant for a different audience. But arguing that only the “original” 1940 incarnation of Batman is the “true” one also means throwing out armored cars with gadgets, the Bat Signal, the Batcave, Alfred, Arkham Asylum, Harley Quinn, Batwoman, and any adventures with other superheroes — because they all came later than his no killing rule. If you prefer lethal versions, cool, but don’t say people are dumb if they prefer when Bruce doesn’t kill. One of those people was Bill Finger.

If you think it’s simply “more realistic” that Bruce Wayne would kill most criminals and not just certain extreme cases, consider what demanding that particular realism means for a superhero, even one without powers. Grounding characters in emotional realism is good, but what do you gain by forcing the most basic kinds of tangible or cynical “realism” into a world where women can control plants, men can become clay, and people in capes often dance across rooftops? The signal is gone, since no real police force calls a lethal vigilante for help. Villains don’t get second stories or evolution. That cape and cowl are out. Is he even Batman, then, or just a generic vigilante?

Batman’s code isn’t “realistic.” It’s not always pragmatic and it sometimes leads to trouble. To put it another way, it’s a great source of drama. It’s also fine for readers to disagree with some of a hero’s ideas. Bruce himself knows his beliefs aren’t perfect, he struggles with his morality and the example his parents set, and he fears to cross certain lines.

Maybe a Batman who doesn’t kill does belong in a “dream world.” But that’s where superheroes live.


Alan Kistler is a sci-fi/comic book historian and transmedia personality who moonlights as a consulting nerd, script doctor, and narrative writer. He is a contributor to Wonder Woman Psychology and author of the New York Times Best Seller Doctor Who: A History. Like Batman, his favorite tea is lapsang souchong.

Source: Polygon.com

QuakeCon 2019 will mark the ‘Year of Doom’

id Software’s annual QuakeCon will celebrate Doom in a big way this year. In fact, id and Bethesda Softworks are calling this year’s fan gathering QuakeCon: Year of Doom.

QuakeCon 2019 will commemorate the Doom series’ 25th anniversary as part of the four-day event, which will include “Doom-inspired activities, events, exclusives, developer panels, hands-on demos, new information about Doom Eternal, and a few surprises we aren’t quite ready to talk about,” organizers said. Doom Eternal is due sometime in 2019, so that game will obviously be a big focus for this year’s QuakeCon, just as the game was at last year’s show.

Given that the event is named after another id shooter, organizers assured fans that Quake will also get plenty of attention in the form of tournaments and the traditional bring-your-own-computer LAN party.

QuakeCon 2019, aka Year of Doom, will take place July 25-28 at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Dallas, Texas. The event is free and open to the public. Registration for the event will open on April 11 at QuakeCon.org.

Source: Polygon.com

Report on Anthem’s development woes draws terse response from BioWare

This morning, Kotaku published a report on the development of BioWare’s latest title, Anthem. The game is currently struggling in its post-launch period, with issues ranging from technical issues on PlayStation 4 to community frustration with the lack of content and satisfying rewards to the scaling math behind end game gear. But the Kotaku report on its development enumerates the challenges both the game and its creators faced long before release.

The report extensively quotes current and former BioWare employees who were with the company during the years-long development of Anthem. The piece should be read in full, but there are a few key takeaways.

Kotaku’s report paints a picture of dysfunction. The BioWare process, which relies on a confluence of systems coming together in a sudden success right before the launch, seems to no longer work. A steady drain of both leadership figures and talented developers has turned this formula on its head, and that can be seen in both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem. Both titles went through several years of development and iteration before critically panned launches that disappointed players.

EA’s Frostbite engine has reportedly further hampered development, forcing developers to fight their own creation tools in order to implement features. Frostbite delayed progress and caused small issues to require significantly more manpower and time than would be otherwise necessary, according to the report.

The report further alleges that this process has led to a major mental health impact across BioWare staff. According to the report, depression and anxiety are both common, with co-workers taking stress leave mandated by medical professionals to cope with the demands of development.

BioWare has since released a statement replying to Kotaku’s report. The statement reads:

We’d like to take a moment to address an article published this morning about BioWare, and Anthem’s development. First and foremost, we wholeheartedly stand behind every current and former member of our team that worked on the game, including leadership. It takes a massive amount of effort, energy and dedication to make any game, and making Anthem would not have been possible without every single one of their efforts. We chose not to comment or participate in this story because we felt there was an unfair focus on specific team members and leaders, who did their absolute best to bring this totally new idea to fans. We didn’t want to be part of something that was attempting to bring them down as individuals. We respect them all, and we built this game as a team.

We put a great emphasis on our workplace culture in our studios. The health and well-being of our team members is something we take very seriously. We have built a new leadership team over the last couple of years, starting with Casey Hudson as our GM in 2017, which has helped us make big steps to improve studio culture and our creative focus. We hear the criticisms that were raised by the people in the piece today, and we’re looking at that alongside feedback that we receive in our internal team surveys. We put a lot of focus on better planning to avoid “crunch time,” and it was not a major topic of feedback in our internal postmortems. Making games, especially new IP, will always be one of the hardest entertainment challenges. We do everything we can to try and make it healthy and stress-free, but we also know there is always room to improve.

As a studio and a team, we accept all criticisms that will come our way for the games we make, especially from our players. The creative process is often difficult. The struggles and challenges of making video games are very real. But the reward of putting something we created into the hands of our players is amazing. People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun. We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.

Our full focus is on our players and continuing to make Anthem everything it can be for our community. Thank you to our fans for your support – we do what we do for you.

BioWare ends the statement with thanking fans for their support, and reiterating earlier promises to remain committed to the ongoing development of Anthem. Despite being published moments ahead of the Kotaku report, the third paragraph takes a swing at the piece and other reports on the challenges of video game development. The statement doesn’t specifically address many of the troubling information in the report, specifically claims about mass departures and mental health challenges.

Source: Polygon.com