Tag Archives: polygon

Fortnite removes map area with apparent suicide scene

At the end of 2018, Fortnite developer Epic Games revealed a new initiative that would allow player creations to be featured on a small area of the official island map. Called The Block, this section would rotate every so often with the aim of showing off fan creativity. On April 2, The Block updated to showcase a mansion — but that locale was replaced recently with an older submission, Tropical Treetops. The change comes on the heels of player concern that the Mysterious Mansion area appeared to depict a suicide scene.

The Mysterious Mansion was the creation of Fortnite player FuryLeaks, and it provided players with an abandoned and overgrown house to explore. In FuryLeak’s tour of the map, the creator walks through the spooky mansion only to arrive at a room where a character hangs from the ceiling, with a chair tipped off to the side. It appears to depict a suicide scene.

However, the actual submission to Epic Games doesn’t feature a character model hanging from the ceiling, instead only depicting the chair and the rope as seen in this screenshot taken by Reddit user u/req-q.

Reddit via u/req-q

“Epic should really check the map before putting it on the block, someone [hung] themselves here,” req-q wrote in the thread. After its publication, Fortnite was quietly updated and Epic removed the mansion area, reverting it back to a previous Block submission. Since The Block’s debut, it has never featured a submission more than once before. While The Block area is no longer accessible, Polygon used a map code to see the area in Creative Mode, confirming the chair and rope scene.

According to FuryLeaks, it’s all a misunderstanding — the Fortnite fan told Polygon that, despite his showcase video where a character hangs from the ceiling, the house was supposed to depict the aftermath of an earthquake that destroyed the interior.

“The chair was supposed to hang on the rope, but it fell down,” FuryLeaks said. “I made a joke on a little cinematic with someone hanging their self… but… yeah. Actually it wasn’t supposed to look like that.”

Despite this claim, FuryLeak’s Twitter account also has updates that appear to be subtweets about the situation.

Welcome to fortnite. A game where you can kill people. But we also hate it when you kill people.

I mean Fortnite can kill llamas. Hang up people in happy hamlet. Make suicide jokes with Noskins But sure.

Epic Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but FuryLeaks shared a screenshot with Polygon that purported to show an exchange between them and an Epic Games producer where the developer admits that it did not catch the scene before including it in the game. While Polygon cannot verify the veracity of the screenshot, the Epic Games code of conduct, which governs submissions to The Block, states that players should be friendly and have fun.

“Be kind when creating and editing with others,” the rules state. “Discriminatory language, hate speech, threats, spam, and other forms of harassment or illegal behavior will not be tolerated.”

Source: Polygon.com

Fortnite removes map area with apparent suicide scene

At the end of 2018, Fortnite developer Epic Games revealed a new initiative that would allow player creations to be featured on a small area of the official island map. Called The Block, this section would rotate every so often with the aim of showing off fan creativity. On April 2, The Block updated to showcase a mansion — but that locale was replaced recently with an older submission, Tropical Treetops. The change comes on the heels of player concern that the Mysterious Mansion area appeared to depict a suicide scene.

The Mysterious Mansion was the creation of Fortnite player FuryLeaks, and it provided players with an abandoned and overgrown house to explore. In FuryLeak’s tour of the map, the creator walks through the spooky mansion only to arrive at a room where a character hangs from the ceiling, with a chair tipped off to the side. It appears to depict a suicide scene.

However, the actual submission to Epic Games doesn’t feature a character model hanging from the ceiling, instead only depicting the chair and the rope as seen in this screenshot taken by Reddit user u/req-q.

Reddit via u/req-q

“Epic should really check the map before putting it on the block, someone [hung] themselves here,” req-q wrote in the thread. After its publication, Fortnite was quietly updated and Epic removed the mansion area, reverting it back to a previous Block submission. Since The Block’s debut, it has never featured a submission more than once before. While The Block area is no longer accessible, Polygon used a map code to see the area in Creative Mode, confirming the chair and rope scene.

According to FuryLeaks, it’s all a misunderstanding — the Fortnite fan told Polygon that, despite his showcase video where a character hangs from the ceiling, the house was supposed to depict the aftermath of an earthquake that destroyed the interior.

“The chair was supposed to hang on the rope, but it fell down,” FuryLeaks said. “I made a joke on a little cinematic with someone hanging their self… but… yeah. Actually it wasn’t supposed to look like that.”

Despite this claim, FuryLeak’s Twitter account also has updates that appear to be subtweets about the situation.

Welcome to fortnite. A game where you can kill people. But we also hate it when you kill people.

I mean Fortnite can kill llamas. Hang up people in happy hamlet. Make suicide jokes with Noskins But sure.

Epic Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but FuryLeaks shared a screenshot with Polygon that purported to show an exchange between them and an Epic Games producer where the developer admits that it did not catch the scene before including it in the game. While Polygon cannot verify the veracity of the screenshot, the Epic Games code of conduct, which governs submissions to The Block, states that players should be friendly and have fun.

“Be kind when creating and editing with others,” the rules state. “Discriminatory language, hate speech, threats, spam, and other forms of harassment or illegal behavior will not be tolerated.”

Source: Polygon.com

How Earth Defense Force went from bargain bin to blockbuster

There is perhaps no more decadent sight in gaming than a well-executed Earth Defense Force attack. Maybe you’ll fire your jetpack northwest, maybe you’ll fire your rocket launcher southeast, and maybe you’ll detach 10 giant alien ant thoraxes from their abdomens all in one move. Maybe you’ll destroy a skyscraper in the background at the same time.

Sure, none of this will look particularly pretty. It might well be happening at single-digit framerates. But that’s all part of the fun.

The Earth Defense Force series is now five core games deep, and this week sees the release of its most advanced entry yet. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a second attempt at adapting the series’ esoteric charms for a Western audience. But Earth Defense Force has perhaps the most humble origin story of any long-running game series around today.

I recently spent time with developers who were there at the start, as well as those who’ve been working on Iron Rain, and all were happy to speak candidly about how Earth Defense Force became an improbable global hit.

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

A simple start

The Earth Defense Force series is often compared to B movies, which isn’t surprising given the age-old story it tells about flying saucers attacking humanity. But the comparison is even more apt when you look into the series’ origins. The entire franchise owes its existence to a range of ultra-budget releases called The Simple Series from D3 Publisher.

The Simple Series was a fixture of Japanese game stores from the late ‘90s until the early ‘10s. Each platform had its own numbered line and fixed price point, so while the range started at 1,500 yen (~$15) on the original PlayStation as The Simple 1500 Series, the price went up 500 yen for The Simple 2000 Series on PS2, and then again for the PSP Simple 2500 Series.

Early Simple Series releases tended to be rudimentary adaptations of classic games like shogi, chess, or billiards. But by the end of the original PlayStation’s life, the Simple 1500 series had expanded to cover dating sims, RPGs, and side-scrolling shooters. Some of the games managed to pick up cult followings, but the goal of the series was very much about releasing games as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

“Believe it or not, we had to release 30 to 40 Simple titles every year back then,” says Nobuyuki Okajima, Earth Defense Force’s series producer from the first entry. Okajima started working in PR at D3 but became the lead Simple Series producer around the 20th release, which was creatively called “THE Puzzle.” He cites “THE Sniper,” the 56th game in the series, as a personal favorite from this time.

The idea for the first Earth Defense Force game came from Sandlot, a small developer based in Tokyo. “Since we were making so many Simple Series games, we knew at some point we’d be out of ideas, so it was good timing,” says Okajima. “We had successful games like [action game] Oneechanbara, and other companies like Sandlot started pitching and giving us new ideas from outside of D3P, and Earth Defense Force was one of them, so we felt lucky.”

Sandlot is one of many companies started by former employees of Human Entertainment, which closed around the turn of the millennium and was best known for the Fire Pro Wrestling series. Spike, the later custodian of those games, formed around the same time and eventually merged with visual novel studio Chunsoft. Another notable alumnus from Human is Goichi ‘Suda51’ Suda, who founded Killer7 and No More Heroes studio Grasshopper Manufacture after working on Fire Pro Wrestling.

Sandlot’s initial speciality was games inspired by tokusatsu, the Japanese genre of films and TV that uses a distinctive style of practical effects to bring giant mechs and monsters to life. Before Earth Defense Force, the developer’s biggest release was Robot Alchemic Drive, known as Gigantic Drive in Japan. The game’s unusual design saw you remotely control a huge robot from the ground, switching between perspectives.

“As a team at Sandlot, we used to make a lot of mech and robot games,” says director and planner Takehiro Homma. “A lot of fans recognized this and saw us as a maker of mech games, which we didn’t like much — we wanted to explore more, and we wanted to try more interesting game designs utilizing what we’d done. So we presented the Earth Defense Force concept to Okajima-san because we wanted to try something different.”

Earth Defense Force nearly ended up becoming a mech game anyway, though. Sandlot’s original pitch included ideas for both the Earth Defense Force formula that has survived ever since, as well as the robot action that the company had previously been known for. Homma says Sandlot wanted to show that it could come up with something new. But D3P wasn’t so sure.

“Back then at D3P, we used to vote in the office on which new titles to pick,” says Okajima. “The main point of contention was that the Simple Series has to be very simple, but the concept wasn’t that simple — it was both a shooting game and a mech game. It was a 50/50 split — half of the team turned it down, so we ended up asking Sandlot just to make the game that became Earth Defense Force.”

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

No time, but no notes

THE Chikyuu Boeigun, which translates as “The Earth Defence Force,” was released in the summer of 2003 as volume 31 of the Simple 2000 Series for PS2, following an intensely accelerated development period of just six months. With two months set aside for testing and debugging, the actual game itself was made in just four, with no more than 12 people working on the entire project.

“We couldn’t add any features or extras — instead, we had to think about what we could cut from the original concept and what would be the main focus of the game design that we could polish,” Homma says. “That was the most challenging part about making the first Earth Defense Force.”

“However, one good thing about that project was that we had full creative control in those four months,” Homma continues. “When you look at regular game development, you’ll probably have regular weekly or monthly meetings with producers and other people to talk about what to fix based on feedback, but for this project we never even had a meeting with Okajima-san on the publisher side. We could do anything we wanted for this game back then, which was amazing.”

Sandlot’s developers describe a tough but rewarding work environment, where restrictions on time and budget demanded creative solutions. For example, the giant ants that remain the series’ iconic cannon fodder to this day were chosen simply because nature had already done most of the work. “Basically within four months there’s no time to design original characters, so you take something that exists around you everywhere,” says art director Masatsugu Igarashi. “We picked up reference images from books and used them to create the enemies.”

“We couldn’t approach development in a traditional way, with a separate programming team and game design team and art team and so on,” says programmer and director Toshio Noguchi. “So we had to change our process to doing everything at the same time, with everyone overlapping and helping each other to minimize the working process. That’s one of the best ways to come up with good ideas.”

“I want you to know that we really enjoyed it,” Homma says. “It wasn’t painful; it was really fun to work on this. With a lot of people and money, of course you can make good games more easily, but the restrictions and creative freedom gave us a challenging situation that we could enjoy over the four months, and it came out pretty well.”

While Sandlot was happy with its final product, Homma said the company wasn’t sure whether Simple Series customers would appreciate its qualities. Ultimately, though, THE Chikyuu Boeigun sold more than 150,000 copies after Okajima convinced D3P to spend the whole marketing budget for all four Simple Series releases that month on this game alone. Okajima says the performance ended up well above average for the series.

Due to THE Chikyuu Boeigun’s success, D3P and Okajima wanted Sandlot to work on a sequel right away and attempt to create a Simple sub-series. Sandlot was initially tied up with a return to the world of giant robots, however, making a game for Bandai Namco based on the Tetsujin 28-go manga franchise. Once Sandlot’s schedule freed up, though, the company returned to start work on THE Chikyuu Boeigun 2.

With a slightly longer development time and the fundamental framework for the game already in place, Sandlot was able to focus on adding features and content to the sequel. “It was a little easier because it was the same hardware and we had the engine and game design already, so we were able to jump in right away,” Homma says. THE Chikyuu Boeigun 2 featured almost three times as many missions, added spiders, and perhaps most notably marked the debut of the jetpack-equipped playable female soldiers.

THE Chikyuu Boeigun 2 turned out well, and D3P got behind it with a bigger push than its predecessor. “We actually spent a lot on the marketing and PR budget just because the marketing person at that time liked this franchise,” Okajima says. The effort paid off with sales of more than 320,000.

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

Courting North American players

D3P had a hit on its hands, but it also faced a problem: it wasn’t able to sell the games in North America. The first game did get a little-heralded PAL release called Monster Attack, and the second game saw some belated minor success in Europe as Global Defence Force, but Sony’s North American arm was less forgiving. “They didn’t want cheap games, or games with bad graphics, or games with unstable framerates, and so on,” Okajima says. Even in the PAL releases, D3P was forced to remove Japanese dialogue due to platform restrictions, a situation that Okajima described as “almost unacceptable.”

This predicament was what led Sandlot and D3P to take a surprising turn for the next game in the series, 2006’s Xbox 360-exclusive Earth Defense Force 2017. (It was called Chikyuu Boeigun 3 in Japan and released at full price, no longer part of The Simple Series.) The Xbox brand’s struggles in Japan are well-documented, but back then D3P saw it as the best chance to make a go of Earth Defense Force in the West.

“It’s actually a simple story — we couldn’t sell this game internationally on PlayStation, so that’s why we decided to develop it exclusively for the Xbox 360,” Okajima says. “Back then, Microsoft used to tell everyone that they weren’t going to give up on making the Xbox a success in Japan, so many companies including us hoped that the sales would increase and help our sales of Earth Defense Force overall.”

The bet paid off. Earth Defense Force 2017 sold more than 200,000 copies between North America and Europe, as well as 130,000 more in Japan. While that latter figure represented a decline in sales for D3P’s domestic market, Okajima says the performance was amazing given the active install base of just 200,000 consoles at the time — more than three in five Japanese Xbox 360 owners bought the game.

On top of that, Earth Defense Force 2017 brought in far more revenue for D3P because it was no longer sold as a budget title. “As a producer, it was a huge moment for myself when we released a full-priced game,” Okajima says. “A lot of people already had their expectations set at 2,000 yen … so how could we justify the higher pricing with the same game?” The producer felt the best moment would be Earth Defense Force 2017’s jump to HD. “That was the only reason we could ask for higher pricing to most of the fans. and I think people were mostly OK with that.”

With Earth Defense Force 2017 selling more in the West than back home, D3P attempted to capitalize on the situation. At that time the publisher had a North American sister company called D3PA, which owned the studio Vicious Cycle, and Okajima started talks about a new take on Earth Defense Force. “Vicious Cycle really liked the franchise to start with, and they told me that they wanted to create the first Western version of Earth Defense Force. I really liked the idea because I wanted to see how Americans would create Earth Defense Force with their resources and crew, so I approved it.”

Sandlot’s developers don’t appear to have been jilted by the situation, though Okajima admits that he was nervous when he had to break the news. “We actually wanted to see how other people would develop this game, so I was curious how it would turn out,” says Noguchi.

Around the same time, Sandlot was developing a Wii-exclusive project for Nintendo called Zangeki no Reginleiv, a motion-controlled action game based on Norse mythology but with notable similarities to Earth Defense Force. “There’s a very strong core game design to Earth Defense Force, with a list of bullet points that we can’t miss even one of,” Noguchi says. “So using that core framework, we thought about how we could come up with a new game for a different client using swords, not guns. We applied what we learned to this game for Nintendo.” The game was fairly well received, but didn’t sell particularly well and never made it out of Japan.

Over in North Carolina, Vicious Cycle was working on what would become Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, which came out for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2011, with a first PC release for the series later in the year. The response from fans was mixed. “Honestly, it wasn’t the best game,” Okajima says. “But it was fine. I didn’t think there was enough content.”

In Japan, Insect Armageddon wasn’t even considered an Earth Defense Force game — or rather, it wasn’t considered a Chikyuu Boeigun game, because the name was a phonetic Japanese transliteration of the English title. “We intentionally separated Insect Armageddon in Japan and everyone thought it was a completely different game,” Okajima says. “A lot of people posted complaints saying it was very short, but it wasn’t like ‘this isn’t Chikyuu Boeigun!’ or anything like that, so it was OK.”

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

Sandlot returned to the series in 2013 with Chikyuu Boeigun 4, which was released in the West as Earth Defense Force 2025 the following year. Around this point, Sony allowed the series back on its platform, and an expanded PlayStation 4 version called Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair followed in 2015.

The most recent game in the series is Earth Defense Force 5 for the PS4, which came out last December in the West and a year earlier in Japan. It’s the first Earth Defense Force game to have been built exclusively for current-generation hardware, and you’ll occasionally see the odd flashy lighting effect to set it apart from previous titles, but the overall presentation is similar to how it’s always been. The graphics are rudimentary, the framerate is unstable, but hell if there isn’t a lot happening on the screen.

“We always try to push the hardware to capacity, just so that we can give the player the best experience with more enemies and so on,” Noguchi says. “Of course sometimes we get a bunch of feedback from first-party that this isn’t ideal — the framerate is too slow, or there are other technical issues, so we have to deal with that. But we don’t set the bar low; we set it pretty high. We try to add more and go beyond what people expect.”

“From my perspective, if I asked the player if they want a very stable and conservative gameplay experience, or something extraordinary with some technical issues, which game would they prefer?” asks Homma. “I think the latter is more appealing.”

Nevertheless, Sandlot does imagine a future in which console hardware is able to keep up with its visions for ant-induced apocalypse. “One thing I want to clear up is that pushing the hardware is not the ultimate goal — we want to make the experience better and better for every EDF game,” says Noguchi. “If somebody tells me that showing 200 ants on the battlefield is better than showing 100, we have to try hard to show 200 ants. That’ll probably end up pushing the hardware pretty hard. But I personally think that showing 200 ants probably makes no difference, and if it’s unnecessary then we won’t have to push the hardware, which means we’ll probably have more stable Earth Defense Force games in the future on better platforms.”

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

Courting North American players, again

Earth Defense Force has come a long way — the last game sold for about four times as much as the early Simple Series titles, which brings us to this week’s launch of what appears to be the most polished game in the franchise yet. With a darker tone and a San Francisco setting, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is another explicit attempt to target the Western market. Unlike Insect Armageddon, however, it’s being handled by a Japanese developer, and Okajima is confident that things will work out better this time.

“For Insect Armageddon, the initial business vision of creating an Earth Defense Force game targeting a Western audience was a great idea, and for Iron Rain I still have the same vision — this is my second attempt,” the producer says. “What’s different is that because I don’t speak English, I sometimes don’t understand the working processes of Western companies, so this time I picked a company in Japan so that I have more control over the creative process and game design — but again, targeting an international audience. If I asked Sandlot to create an international version of Earth Defense Force I’d be afraid that we’d lose everything, so instead I prefer going outside of Sandlot to look for someone who can create a completely different version.”

D3P tapped Yuke’s, best known for its long history developing WWE games for THQ and now 2K Sports, because of its experience with the Western market. Sandlot isn’t advising on Iron Rain’s development, but Okajima says the new team has a lot of respect for the people behind the original series. “Not only because Sandlot is [made up of] the original creators but also they’re legends — they have way more experience. The people at Yuke’s are a lot younger so they respect Sandlot. I heard from the younger creators at Yuke’s that the more they worked on this game, the more they understood why Sandlot is great.”

“The ultimate goal for this project is to deliver Earth Defense Force gameplay to the Western audience. We really wanted to keep the original game concept from Sandlot,” says Naoto Ueno, senior creative director at Yuke’s’ Yokohama studio. (The company is based in Osaka, but sent several developers to Yokohama to work on Iron Rain.) “We also wanted to add realism to this Earth Defense Force. For instance, when you see a Hollywood superhero movie, you can see the source of the power and the details of the suit and so on. We took that idea and applied it to this Earth Defense Force to make the action more believable.”

How Iron Rain is received by series veterans and newcomers alike remains to be seen, though Okajima says he’d like Yuke’s to continue developing Western-focused Earth Defense Force games on a parallel track. Sandlot, too, also expects to make further games in the original series.

“A lot of people and fans internationally ask the same question of why Earth Defense Force is good,” Noguchi says. “But we know why — we have a formula and science for that, and it’s something we believe we can stick with to keep developing console games. We think Earth Defense Force 5 is a pretty good game, and we are confident that we can create the future Earth Defense Force for whatever platforms come next using our magic.”

Source: Polygon.com

How Earth Defense Force went from bargain bin to blockbuster

There is perhaps no more decadent sight in gaming than a well-executed Earth Defense Force attack. Maybe you’ll fire your jetpack northwest, maybe you’ll fire your rocket launcher southeast, and maybe you’ll detach 10 giant alien ant thoraxes from their abdomens all in one move. Maybe you’ll destroy a skyscraper in the background at the same time.

Sure, none of this will look particularly pretty. It might well be happening at single-digit framerates. But that’s all part of the fun.

The Earth Defense Force series is now five core games deep, and this week sees the release of its most advanced entry yet. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a second attempt at adapting the series’ esoteric charms for a Western audience. But Earth Defense Force has perhaps the most humble origin story of any long-running game series around today.

I recently spent time with developers who were there at the start, as well as those who’ve been working on Iron Rain, and all were happy to speak candidly about how Earth Defense Force became an improbable global hit.

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

A simple start

The Earth Defense Force series is often compared to B movies, which isn’t surprising given the age-old story it tells about flying saucers attacking humanity. But the comparison is even more apt when you look into the series’ origins. The entire franchise owes its existence to a range of ultra-budget releases called The Simple Series from D3 Publisher.

The Simple Series was a fixture of Japanese game stores from the late ‘90s until the early ‘10s. Each platform had its own numbered line and fixed price point, so while the range started at 1,500 yen (~$15) on the original PlayStation as The Simple 1500 Series, the price went up 500 yen for The Simple 2000 Series on PS2, and then again for the PSP Simple 2500 Series.

Early Simple Series releases tended to be rudimentary adaptations of classic games like shogi, chess, or billiards. But by the end of the original PlayStation’s life, the Simple 1500 series had expanded to cover dating sims, RPGs, and side-scrolling shooters. Some of the games managed to pick up cult followings, but the goal of the series was very much about releasing games as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

“Believe it or not, we had to release 30 to 40 Simple titles every year back then,” says Nobuyuki Okajima, Earth Defense Force’s series producer from the first entry. Okajima started working in PR at D3 but became the lead Simple Series producer around the 20th release, which was creatively called “THE Puzzle.” He cites “THE Sniper,” the 56th game in the series, as a personal favorite from this time.

The idea for the first Earth Defense Force game came from Sandlot, a small developer based in Tokyo. “Since we were making so many Simple Series games, we knew at some point we’d be out of ideas, so it was good timing,” says Okajima. “We had successful games like [action game] Oneechanbara, and other companies like Sandlot started pitching and giving us new ideas from outside of D3P, and Earth Defense Force was one of them, so we felt lucky.”

Sandlot is one of many companies started by former employees of Human Entertainment, which closed around the turn of the millennium and was best known for the Fire Pro Wrestling series. Spike, the later custodian of those games, formed around the same time and eventually merged with visual novel studio Chunsoft. Another notable alumnus from Human is Goichi ‘Suda51’ Suda, who founded Killer7 and No More Heroes studio Grasshopper Manufacture after working on Fire Pro Wrestling.

Sandlot’s initial speciality was games inspired by tokusatsu, the Japanese genre of films and TV that uses a distinctive style of practical effects to bring giant mechs and monsters to life. Before Earth Defense Force, the developer’s biggest release was Robot Alchemic Drive, known as Gigantic Drive in Japan. The game’s unusual design saw you remotely control a huge robot from the ground, switching between perspectives.

“As a team at Sandlot, we used to make a lot of mech and robot games,” says director and planner Takehiro Homma. “A lot of fans recognized this and saw us as a maker of mech games, which we didn’t like much — we wanted to explore more, and we wanted to try more interesting game designs utilizing what we’d done. So we presented the Earth Defense Force concept to Okajima-san because we wanted to try something different.”

Earth Defense Force nearly ended up becoming a mech game anyway, though. Sandlot’s original pitch included ideas for both the Earth Defense Force formula that has survived ever since, as well as the robot action that the company had previously been known for. Homma says Sandlot wanted to show that it could come up with something new. But D3P wasn’t so sure.

“Back then at D3P, we used to vote in the office on which new titles to pick,” says Okajima. “The main point of contention was that the Simple Series has to be very simple, but the concept wasn’t that simple — it was both a shooting game and a mech game. It was a 50/50 split — half of the team turned it down, so we ended up asking Sandlot just to make the game that became Earth Defense Force.”

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

No time, but no notes

THE Chikyuu Boeigun, which translates as “The Earth Defence Force,” was released in the summer of 2003 as volume 31 of the Simple 2000 Series for PS2, following an intensely accelerated development period of just six months. With two months set aside for testing and debugging, the actual game itself was made in just four, with no more than 12 people working on the entire project.

“We couldn’t add any features or extras — instead, we had to think about what we could cut from the original concept and what would be the main focus of the game design that we could polish,” Homma says. “That was the most challenging part about making the first Earth Defense Force.”

“However, one good thing about that project was that we had full creative control in those four months,” Homma continues. “When you look at regular game development, you’ll probably have regular weekly or monthly meetings with producers and other people to talk about what to fix based on feedback, but for this project we never even had a meeting with Okajima-san on the publisher side. We could do anything we wanted for this game back then, which was amazing.”

Sandlot’s developers describe a tough but rewarding work environment, where restrictions on time and budget demanded creative solutions. For example, the giant ants that remain the series’ iconic cannon fodder to this day were chosen simply because nature had already done most of the work. “Basically within four months there’s no time to design original characters, so you take something that exists around you everywhere,” says art director Masatsugu Igarashi. “We picked up reference images from books and used them to create the enemies.”

“We couldn’t approach development in a traditional way, with a separate programming team and game design team and art team and so on,” says programmer and director Toshio Noguchi. “So we had to change our process to doing everything at the same time, with everyone overlapping and helping each other to minimize the working process. That’s one of the best ways to come up with good ideas.”

“I want you to know that we really enjoyed it,” Homma says. “It wasn’t painful; it was really fun to work on this. With a lot of people and money, of course you can make good games more easily, but the restrictions and creative freedom gave us a challenging situation that we could enjoy over the four months, and it came out pretty well.”

While Sandlot was happy with its final product, Homma said the company wasn’t sure whether Simple Series customers would appreciate its qualities. Ultimately, though, THE Chikyuu Boeigun sold more than 150,000 copies after Okajima convinced D3P to spend the whole marketing budget for all four Simple Series releases that month on this game alone. Okajima says the performance ended up well above average for the series.

Due to THE Chikyuu Boeigun’s success, D3P and Okajima wanted Sandlot to work on a sequel right away and attempt to create a Simple sub-series. Sandlot was initially tied up with a return to the world of giant robots, however, making a game for Bandai Namco based on the Tetsujin 28-go manga franchise. Once Sandlot’s schedule freed up, though, the company returned to start work on THE Chikyuu Boeigun 2.

With a slightly longer development time and the fundamental framework for the game already in place, Sandlot was able to focus on adding features and content to the sequel. “It was a little easier because it was the same hardware and we had the engine and game design already, so we were able to jump in right away,” Homma says. THE Chikyuu Boeigun 2 featured almost three times as many missions, added spiders, and perhaps most notably marked the debut of the jetpack-equipped playable female soldiers.

THE Chikyuu Boeigun 2 turned out well, and D3P got behind it with a bigger push than its predecessor. “We actually spent a lot on the marketing and PR budget just because the marketing person at that time liked this franchise,” Okajima says. The effort paid off with sales of more than 320,000.

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

Courting North American players

D3P had a hit on its hands, but it also faced a problem: it wasn’t able to sell the games in North America. The first game did get a little-heralded PAL release called Monster Attack, and the second game saw some belated minor success in Europe as Global Defence Force, but Sony’s North American arm was less forgiving. “They didn’t want cheap games, or games with bad graphics, or games with unstable framerates, and so on,” Okajima says. Even in the PAL releases, D3P was forced to remove Japanese dialogue due to platform restrictions, a situation that Okajima described as “almost unacceptable.”

This predicament was what led Sandlot and D3P to take a surprising turn for the next game in the series, 2006’s Xbox 360-exclusive Earth Defense Force 2017. (It was called Chikyuu Boeigun 3 in Japan and released at full price, no longer part of The Simple Series.) The Xbox brand’s struggles in Japan are well-documented, but back then D3P saw it as the best chance to make a go of Earth Defense Force in the West.

“It’s actually a simple story — we couldn’t sell this game internationally on PlayStation, so that’s why we decided to develop it exclusively for the Xbox 360,” Okajima says. “Back then, Microsoft used to tell everyone that they weren’t going to give up on making the Xbox a success in Japan, so many companies including us hoped that the sales would increase and help our sales of Earth Defense Force overall.”

The bet paid off. Earth Defense Force 2017 sold more than 200,000 copies between North America and Europe, as well as 130,000 more in Japan. While that latter figure represented a decline in sales for D3P’s domestic market, Okajima says the performance was amazing given the active install base of just 200,000 consoles at the time — more than three in five Japanese Xbox 360 owners bought the game.

On top of that, Earth Defense Force 2017 brought in far more revenue for D3P because it was no longer sold as a budget title. “As a producer, it was a huge moment for myself when we released a full-priced game,” Okajima says. “A lot of people already had their expectations set at 2,000 yen … so how could we justify the higher pricing with the same game?” The producer felt the best moment would be Earth Defense Force 2017’s jump to HD. “That was the only reason we could ask for higher pricing to most of the fans. and I think people were mostly OK with that.”

With Earth Defense Force 2017 selling more in the West than back home, D3P attempted to capitalize on the situation. At that time the publisher had a North American sister company called D3PA, which owned the studio Vicious Cycle, and Okajima started talks about a new take on Earth Defense Force. “Vicious Cycle really liked the franchise to start with, and they told me that they wanted to create the first Western version of Earth Defense Force. I really liked the idea because I wanted to see how Americans would create Earth Defense Force with their resources and crew, so I approved it.”

Sandlot’s developers don’t appear to have been jilted by the situation, though Okajima admits that he was nervous when he had to break the news. “We actually wanted to see how other people would develop this game, so I was curious how it would turn out,” says Noguchi.

Around the same time, Sandlot was developing a Wii-exclusive project for Nintendo called Zangeki no Reginleiv, a motion-controlled action game based on Norse mythology but with notable similarities to Earth Defense Force. “There’s a very strong core game design to Earth Defense Force, with a list of bullet points that we can’t miss even one of,” Noguchi says. “So using that core framework, we thought about how we could come up with a new game for a different client using swords, not guns. We applied what we learned to this game for Nintendo.” The game was fairly well received, but didn’t sell particularly well and never made it out of Japan.

Over in North Carolina, Vicious Cycle was working on what would become Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, which came out for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2011, with a first PC release for the series later in the year. The response from fans was mixed. “Honestly, it wasn’t the best game,” Okajima says. “But it was fine. I didn’t think there was enough content.”

In Japan, Insect Armageddon wasn’t even considered an Earth Defense Force game — or rather, it wasn’t considered a Chikyuu Boeigun game, because the name was a phonetic Japanese transliteration of the English title. “We intentionally separated Insect Armageddon in Japan and everyone thought it was a completely different game,” Okajima says. “A lot of people posted complaints saying it was very short, but it wasn’t like ‘this isn’t Chikyuu Boeigun!’ or anything like that, so it was OK.”

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

Sandlot returned to the series in 2013 with Chikyuu Boeigun 4, which was released in the West as Earth Defense Force 2025 the following year. Around this point, Sony allowed the series back on its platform, and an expanded PlayStation 4 version called Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair followed in 2015.

The most recent game in the series is Earth Defense Force 5 for the PS4, which came out last December in the West and a year earlier in Japan. It’s the first Earth Defense Force game to have been built exclusively for current-generation hardware, and you’ll occasionally see the odd flashy lighting effect to set it apart from previous titles, but the overall presentation is similar to how it’s always been. The graphics are rudimentary, the framerate is unstable, but hell if there isn’t a lot happening on the screen.

“We always try to push the hardware to capacity, just so that we can give the player the best experience with more enemies and so on,” Noguchi says. “Of course sometimes we get a bunch of feedback from first-party that this isn’t ideal — the framerate is too slow, or there are other technical issues, so we have to deal with that. But we don’t set the bar low; we set it pretty high. We try to add more and go beyond what people expect.”

“From my perspective, if I asked the player if they want a very stable and conservative gameplay experience, or something extraordinary with some technical issues, which game would they prefer?” asks Homma. “I think the latter is more appealing.”

Nevertheless, Sandlot does imagine a future in which console hardware is able to keep up with its visions for ant-induced apocalypse. “One thing I want to clear up is that pushing the hardware is not the ultimate goal — we want to make the experience better and better for every EDF game,” says Noguchi. “If somebody tells me that showing 200 ants on the battlefield is better than showing 100, we have to try hard to show 200 ants. That’ll probably end up pushing the hardware pretty hard. But I personally think that showing 200 ants probably makes no difference, and if it’s unnecessary then we won’t have to push the hardware, which means we’ll probably have more stable Earth Defense Force games in the future on better platforms.”

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
D3 Publisher

Courting North American players, again

Earth Defense Force has come a long way — the last game sold for about four times as much as the early Simple Series titles, which brings us to this week’s launch of what appears to be the most polished game in the franchise yet. With a darker tone and a San Francisco setting, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is another explicit attempt to target the Western market. Unlike Insect Armageddon, however, it’s being handled by a Japanese developer, and Okajima is confident that things will work out better this time.

“For Insect Armageddon, the initial business vision of creating an Earth Defense Force game targeting a Western audience was a great idea, and for Iron Rain I still have the same vision — this is my second attempt,” the producer says. “What’s different is that because I don’t speak English, I sometimes don’t understand the working processes of Western companies, so this time I picked a company in Japan so that I have more control over the creative process and game design — but again, targeting an international audience. If I asked Sandlot to create an international version of Earth Defense Force I’d be afraid that we’d lose everything, so instead I prefer going outside of Sandlot to look for someone who can create a completely different version.”

D3P tapped Yuke’s, best known for its long history developing WWE games for THQ and now 2K Sports, because of its experience with the Western market. Sandlot isn’t advising on Iron Rain’s development, but Okajima says the new team has a lot of respect for the people behind the original series. “Not only because Sandlot is [made up of] the original creators but also they’re legends — they have way more experience. The people at Yuke’s are a lot younger so they respect Sandlot. I heard from the younger creators at Yuke’s that the more they worked on this game, the more they understood why Sandlot is great.”

“The ultimate goal for this project is to deliver Earth Defense Force gameplay to the Western audience. We really wanted to keep the original game concept from Sandlot,” says Naoto Ueno, senior creative director at Yuke’s’ Yokohama studio. (The company is based in Osaka, but sent several developers to Yokohama to work on Iron Rain.) “We also wanted to add realism to this Earth Defense Force. For instance, when you see a Hollywood superhero movie, you can see the source of the power and the details of the suit and so on. We took that idea and applied it to this Earth Defense Force to make the action more believable.”

How Iron Rain is received by series veterans and newcomers alike remains to be seen, though Okajima says he’d like Yuke’s to continue developing Western-focused Earth Defense Force games on a parallel track. Sandlot, too, also expects to make further games in the original series.

“A lot of people and fans internationally ask the same question of why Earth Defense Force is good,” Noguchi says. “But we know why — we have a formula and science for that, and it’s something we believe we can stick with to keep developing console games. We think Earth Defense Force 5 is a pretty good game, and we are confident that we can create the future Earth Defense Force for whatever platforms come next using our magic.”

Source: Polygon.com

Watch the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order reveal here

Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment will unveil their new Star Wars action-adventure game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, at Star Wars Celebration this Saturday, April 13. The reveal will be livestreamed on EA’s Star Wars Twitch channel at 1:30 p.m. CDT, according to a tweet from the official Star Wars Twitter account.

EA and Respawn started teasing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on Tuesday, tweeting out a piece of artwork that included what appears to be a visibly damaged lightsaber resting upon a stone surface. A pair of circular runes are carved into the rock beneath that lightsaber. That tease also includes a warning: “Don’t stand out.”

That phrase likely ties into the story of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order which follows a Jedi student, known as a Padawan, who survived the massacre known as Order 66. As seen in Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, Order 66 decreed all Jedi traitors to the Galactic Republic and subjected them to execution by the Republic’s army of Clone Troopers. The Padawan at the center of Fallen Order will likely have to keep their identity secret in order to survive.

EA and Respawn announced their Star Wars action game in 2016, revealing that former God of War director Stig Asmussen was helming the third-person action-adventure project. The game is part of EA’s longterm exclusive arrangement with Disney and Lucasfilm to developer Star Wars games.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is slated for release during the holiday quarter of 2019.

Source: Polygon.com

Watch the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order reveal here

Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment will unveil their new Star Wars action-adventure game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, at Star Wars Celebration this Saturday, April 13. The reveal will be livestreamed on EA’s Star Wars Twitch channel at 1:30 p.m. CDT, according to a tweet from the official Star Wars Twitter account.

EA and Respawn started teasing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on Tuesday, tweeting out a piece of artwork that included what appears to be a visibly damaged lightsaber resting upon a stone surface. A pair of circular runes are carved into the rock beneath that lightsaber. That tease also includes a warning: “Don’t stand out.”

That phrase likely ties into the story of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order which follows a Jedi student, known as a Padawan, who survived the massacre known as Order 66. As seen in Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, Order 66 decreed all Jedi traitors to the Galactic Republic and subjected them to execution by the Republic’s army of Clone Troopers. The Padawan at the center of Fallen Order will likely have to keep their identity secret in order to survive.

EA and Respawn announced their Star Wars action game in 2016, revealing that former God of War director Stig Asmussen was helming the third-person action-adventure project. The game is part of EA’s longterm exclusive arrangement with Disney and Lucasfilm to developer Star Wars games.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is slated for release during the holiday quarter of 2019.

Source: Polygon.com

No One Left to Fight gives shounen anime a midlife crisis

What happens to heroes when the world doesn’t need them anymore? Aubrey Sitterson and Fico Ossio will answer that question in No One Left to Fight, a new miniseries from Dark Horse Comics.

It’s the first time that Sitterson (The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling, G.I. Joe) and Ossio (IDW’s Marvel Action Spider-Man, Skylanders, too many Transformers comics to name) have worked together, but it’s a long-awaited mashup.

“Ever since I met Aubrey, I was drawn to his over the top and creative storytelling,” Ossio said in a statement. “For No One Left To Fight, we tapped into all our love and fandom for series like Dragon Ball Z, My Hero Academia and One Punch Man and created something new.”

No One Left To Fight takes everything we love about the greatest fighting series of all time, Dragon Ball, and puts it into the service of something new,” Sitterson said, “a story about growing older, coming to grips with the choices you’ve made, and learning to appreciate what all your trials and tribulations have afforded you. With lots of explosive, earth-shattering action, obviously.”

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics, Polygon can exclusively share a whole bunch of Ossio’s vivid art for the series, complete with character introductions, right here:

Here’s the full cover of No One Left To Fight and a promo image for the series:

Cover of No One Left to Fight #1, Dark Horse Comics (2019). Fico Ossio/Dark Horse Comics

Promo image for No One Left To Fight, Dark Horse Comics (2019). Fico Ossio/Dark Horse Comics

No One Left To Fight #1 (of five) will hit shelves on July 3, 2019, and is available for pre-order now.

Source: Polygon.com

Eve Online developer bans real-world politician from in-game office

A veteran Eve Online player who ran for a seat on the game’s officially recognized representative council — and won, based in part on his own real-world political career in Washington — has been removed from that position and permanently banned from the game. Developer CCP Games announced the move on Monday, saying that it had received evidence he breached a non-disclosure agreement.

Eve is the famously complex spacefaring game launched in 2003. The massively multiplayer game is unique for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it maintains its own democratically elected council, a volunteer group of players who “advise and assist” the game’s developers on behalf of its global community. Called the Council of Stellar Management, or CSM, members are elected to a one-year term, and charged with hashing out some of the game’s biggest issues behind closed doors.

Brisc Rubal made headlines last year when he decided to run for a seat on the CSM. Not because of his platform, but because of his real-world identity. Rubal is the online persona of Brian Shoeneman, a lawyer and a professional lobbyist for the United States’ largest maritime workers union. He has also run for public office multiple times as a Republican. It’s this lifetime of experience in politics that Shoeneman leveraged in an elaborate CSM campaign video, shot on location in our nation’s capital. In June 2018 he won, earning a seat alongside nine other player representatives.

Once in place, Shoeneman was bound by a non-disclosure agreement. In a statement issued Monday, CCP Games says he broke that agreement.

The Icelandic developer alleges that Shoeneman was caught “sharing confidential information with a member of his [in-game] alliance that was later used by another alliance member to conduct illicit in-game transactions.” The incident was severe enough that other elected members of the CSM came together to turn him in.

“This misconduct was brought to us by the CSM themselves,” CCP said, “as an immediate threat to the integrity of the CSM as an institution.”

As a result, Shoeneman’s in-game accounts have been permanently banned. All in-game assets and currency have been confiscated. Two other players who were involved have also received a one-year ban.

Reached for comment, CCP declined to discuss the issue further.

“For privacy reasons, CCP does not engage discussion regarding action taken against a player’s game accounts,” a spokesperson told Polygon. “In this instance, given that the player in question was a member of the Council of Stellar Management, it is in the interests of the wider community that we confirm action was taken.”

“I categorically deny any wrongdoing,” Schoeneman said in a statement on Twitter, “and look forward to clearing my name and having my reputation restored.”

On Reddit, Shoeneman went further, calling out CCP for a lack of transparency and communication about its actions. Furthermore, he doubled down on his background in politics, putting forth what he says is his sterling record of public service.

“As an attorney and a public figure in the United States, my ethics and reputation are regulated by a code of professional responsibility and statutory law, unlike CCP’s opaque community team,” Shoeneman said. “As a licensed attorney for nearly a decade, I have never had a complaint filed against me. I have served in positions of public trust in the United States Government and have never had a complaint filed against me. The claims that I would risk my reputation by providing proprietary or otherwise confidential information to members of my own alliance for personal gain are false.

“These baseless charges have had an immediate and negative impact on not only my in-game reputation but my out of game reputation. I have spent the last year working hard on behalf of the community that elected me to represent their interests to CCP. I have done so diligently, attending more than 95% of all of the meetings and conference calls that have taken place. There is no reason why I would jeopardize all of that by violating my word, putting my reputation on the line, and risking all of this to provide a fellow player with an unfair advantage in the game.”

Shoeneman said he would fight the allegations “and seek all avenues of recourse available to me.”

Polygon has reached out to Shoeneman for comment. His term was set to expire in June, and a CCP representative said he would not be replaced before the next round of elections.

Source: Polygon.com

The long, hard road of creating Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

The following excerpt comes from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, available on Amazon from Boss Fight Books. Featuring all-new interviews, the book chronicles the history-making partnership between BioWare and LucasArts that led to one of the greatest Star Wars video games ever made.

When LucasArts first announced Knights of the Old Republic in a July 2000 press release, the publisher described the project as “the first Star Wars role-playing game (RPG) for PC and next-generation video game systems.” This was just four months after Microsoft had unveiled its plans to enter the console arena with the first Xbox. The game’s release window was slated for 2002.

But between Interplay going bankrupt during development on Neverwinter Nights and KotOR’s massive scope, the Xbox version of BioWare’s big Star Wars game was ultimately delayed to July 2003; the PC edition would land in November. That was assuming, of course, everything went as planned.

There’s a sequence in Revenge of the Sith where Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi have just slain the Sith Lord Count Dooku and rescued Chancellor Palpatine (yet another Sith, unbeknownst to them). The galaxy-spanning conflict known as the Clone Wars is coming to an end, and all that’s left is to bring the Jedi-hunting cyborg General Grievous to justice. The warship they’re on, the Invisible Hand, is in freefall above the planet Coruscant. Its droid crew have either abandoned ship or been destroyed. A barrage of turbolaser fire has breached the ship’s hull, and gravity’s beginning to pull the Separatist flagship apart.

“Can you fly a cruiser like this?” Kenobi asks.

Anakin says, “You mean, ‘Do I know how to land what’s left of this thing?’”

Re-entry rattles the vessel as they burn their way through the atmosphere, leaving a trail of scattered fragments in their wake. Like the Titanic, the ship splits crosswise, and its aft section breaks loose completely.

“Not to worry,” Kenobi says. “We are still flying half a ship.”

Game development’s a lot like that scene, unfortunately, and titles are often shipped half broken or incomplete due to the pressures and constraints placed on studios. Knights of the Old Republic had the benefit of a generous production timeline, but BioWare still had to jettison some of its content before launch.

“We did cut an entire planet that we’d actually developed and built part of,” says lead designer James Ohlen. “That was a difficult decision because the art for it was being built by one of my best friends, Dean Andersen. Having to cut his world was particularly painful. But it was simply a time thing. It was a gladiatorial world where the player was going through sort of a Planet Hulk–style plot. The player would get stuck fighting their way up through the ranks until they won the tournament and escaped off-world. But that was too much to do in the time we had, so it got cut.”

Over the years, data miners have tried to glean as much info as possible about the lost planet, which was called Sleheyron. The modding community has also made several efforts to restore some of it — you can see video of one of the attempts above — but there’s really not much left to recover; it’s mostly fan-fiction fodder at this point. However, Sleheyron is still mentioned briefly in the game.

According to a November 2003 forum post by writer David Gaider, Sleheyron’s quest lines were mostly finished when the decision to cut the planet was made. Like Tatooine, Taris, or Nar Shaddaa, Sleheyron was under the influence of the slug-like gangsters known as the Hutts. (“One of them was named Suuda the Hutt,” Gaider wrote. “He was very catty.”) Fans can still see an approximation of this scenario in Marvel’s Star Wars #10 (2015), by Jason Aaron.

In that comic, Luke Skywalker is placed in a gladiatorial event on Nar Shaddaa to die for the amusement of a Hutt who’s obsessed with Jedi artifacts. Mention of Sleheyron itself can also be found in Fantasy Flight Games’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens Beginner Game, a stand-alone tabletop RPG released in 2016. Early screenshots published in 2002 by IGN offer a rudimentary glimpse of the lost world, which most closely resembles The Last Jedi’s casino planet, Cantonica.

“Those decisions are not too difficult,” former LucasArts producer Mike Gallo explains. “It’s like, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re gonna do. This planet, this environment — we can’t afford to build it. But there’s some quests here that we’re gonna move to this planet.’”

“Generally, that kind of shit is gonna get cut in design before we ever start digging in,” says concept-art lead John Gallagher. “That happened on every game; there were plenty of areas that got smoked out in Baldur’s Gate. And [usually] that happens in design, where it’s cheapest to have it get killed. By the time it gets to [the artists], it’s pretty much decided that it’s locked. So there’s an advantage to that process. Some studios are a little more organic and fluid, and you can get burned pretty good, but we were pretty structured even back then. Ray [Muzyka]’s a big believer in heavy, heavy front-load on design. You make all your decisions there. Once you have your design doc locked, then it’s a death march, and you get the damn game done.”

KotOR’s development closely followed Muzyka’s plan-then-create strategy. “I don’t think there were any real tough decisions we had to make in terms of what was gonna be part of the game and what wasn’t,” Gallagher said. “We were all pretty dialed in on what we wanted, and we had the density of a dying star in there. The vast majority did end up in the game, because it’s quite a dense experience in terms of visual beats. We pushed the engine to the edge of its efficiency. I think we were at a hundred and five percent overclocked, probably pushing more than it should have rightly handled, but we lucked out and got a lot of stuff working.”

With deadlines looming, though, other pressures began to mount.

“I kind of moved up to Edmonton in February of 2003,” Gallo recalls. “Basically, I lived up in Edmonton from February until about mid-June. I came back for a couple weeks, but spent about four months up there. Essentially, it was just making sure that we were getting stuff delivered if there was anything that the team needed. Getting into arguments, getting into fights about bugs, and all this other stuff. And we were all — you’re so close to it, you’re terrified. We were terrified! Because we knew that so much was riding on it.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - stone pillars concept art

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - landing pad concept art

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - cockpit concept art BioWare/LucasArts

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - ship interior concept art

“The day we first submitted to Microsoft, I also found a major crash bug in the opening tutorial, and we had to pull the submission. So, I mean, there’s always those moments of terror, right?”

“It was a nightmare,” BioWare cofounder Ray Muzyka told an interviewer. “I think we found 39,000 bugs. That’s the most bugs we’ve ever had in a game.”

In April or May of 2003, as the team neared the home stretch, Gallo sat down with Casey Hudson and some of the other project leads to discuss a final timetable for testing the Xbox version of the game and readying it for launch. BioWare was prepping a build to deliver to Microsoft’s Xbox lab for intensive focus testing, LucasArts was expecting a report on the team’s progress, and July 2003 was right around the corner. During the meeting, Gallo presented Hudson with a schedule intended to ensure the game shipped when LucasArts needed it to, while also leaving sufficient time to test the final product. To BioWare, the timeline sounded impossible. Hudson was not pleased.

“So we had a little bit of intense negotiations around that the next day,” Gallo says. “I wasn’t confident that we were gonna be able to fix all the bugs that we had in the time remaining, and the team really had to kind of go into super-crunch mode to make it happen.”

Despite that argument, Gallo developed a deep admiration for Hudson, noting that the young project director went above and beyond the responsibilities of his role as a creative lead. “He is one of the most talented people that I think I’ve ever worked with in this industry,” Gallo says. “Casey was the guy. He was the glue that held it together. He knew the ins and outs of the characters, the story, the music, the art direction, the art, the tech. He was truly the creative visionary of that project, along with James [Ohlen].

“James was primarily responsible for story and story structure. He’s one of those guys who’s very much on top of things. I mean, he is an expert in his field. It was always a positive experience talking to him. He’s a pretty quiet guy, in a lot of ways, but he was always smiling and trying to think of cool things to do, and how they were gonna structure it and build it.”

Gallo was also awed by Karpyshyn’s output as a writer. “When I spent all that time up there, we used to laugh about Drew, because he would go off and write a four-hundred-page book over a weekend. ‘Oh, I’ve got a book I’ve got to write.’

“For me, those are the things that are amazing. To see a team working like that — I will never forget it. We worked overtime, but BioWare had a pretty strict schedule toward the end to protect the team [from burnout] as much as possible.”

Still, the final week was a blur of nonstop playtesting and bug-fixing. “Everyone on that team was in the office playing the game until the sun came up,” Gallo remembers. “I was walking around at like 4:30 one morning, and there was an artist who had been finished with his work for weeks. And he was just playing through it to find bugs. I’ve certainly worked on teams that were great, before and since that, but it was something special.”

It was an enormous relief when the team officially turned the game in to Microsoft, but there was still a lot of work to be done to deliver the PC version.

“The PC edition was a crazy finish,” says Gallo. “Back in the day, we actually used to have to put people on an airplane and then fly them out. We had to have one of our localization guys take the German masters and fly the replicator into Germany because there was no way to get the discs there in time, and it was too big to send over the internet. Now you can transfer fifty gigs in thirty minutes, and I’m sure that most developers have fantastic upload and download speeds. But back then, we literally were like: ‘Okay, if we start to transfer this, it’s gonna take like forty-eight hours. If we can put you on a plane and have you there in twelve, we’re puttin’ you on a plane.’”

Crunch only worsened as the PC release got closer. “Towards the end of the PC version, we were working several all-nighters,” Gallo says. “I was in a meeting with all of our ops people at LucasArts, and at one point one of the guys whispered to me: ‘Mike. You were talking, but you would fade out for five or ten seconds and then pick up again.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I haven’t slept in forty-eight hours.’ He’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, you know, that’s what we do.’”

It’s easy to imagine how, under such stressful conditions, creative differences and interpersonal tensions might have come to a head. Needless to say, not everyone at BioWare saw eye-to-eye all the time. “But regardless of that,” says John Gallagher, “what we ended up with in that dialectic was some phenomenal work.”

This creativity was enabled, in part, by the team’s after-work hangouts. Throughout production, the team often left work together after dark, exhausted, hungry, and looking to blow off steam.

“The area that BioWare was in was Whyte Avenue, and they were in the upper floors of a building that was right in the middle of all this, you know, night life,” Gallo says. “At the end of that street was the Alberta hospital, and then the University of Alberta, so there were tons of clubs and bars and places to eat. Usually, it was myself and the QA team that was down there with me from Lucas, but a few times we went out with some of the guys from the [KotOR] team and hung out, and just had food or drinks. And we pretty much did that almost every night after work.”

“We got paid once a month, and the following Saturday after payday — because we got paid on Friday, usually towards the end of the month — we would all go out drinking and dancing,” Gallagher says. Dozens of artists, designers, producers, programmers, and testers would trudge through the snow to the Whyte Avenue pubs, get a buzz going, then wind up at the nightclubs. Dizzy and drowning in bass, their vision blurred, they’d form a circle on the dance floor. And, one by one, they’d take turns busting out their best moves.

“The fuckin’ funniest shit. Just dynamite,” says Gallagher. “And the bonding that happened during these bizarre exercises lasts a lifetime. People never forget that. You know, you’re in the war. And it’s not until much later — I’m a regular featured guest at comic-book cons now, and comic culture obviously flows back and forth fluidly with video games. And it’s not until people tell me that Knights of the Old Republic changed their life, that it was the game that inspired them to go into the games industry, or to pick up a pencil and start drawing …

“You never find that out, of course, when you’re cloistered away in your bunker. Or when you’re dancing.”

Source: Polygon.com

The first look at the new Addams Family is creepy and kooky

The Addams Family goes back to its animated roots in the upcoming movie. The first trailer for October’s The Addams Family is fittingly creepy and kooky — and has a pretty heartfelt message of inclusivity.

The animated comedy is seperate from the three live-action Addams family films made in the 1990s, starring Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, and Christopher Lloyd. This movie stars Oscar Isaac as the voice of Gomez Addams, Charlize Theron as Morticia, Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard as Pugsley, and Chloë Grace Moretz as Wednesday.

The Addams Family will follow the off-beat, “spoopy” family as they try to plan a family reunion, while dealing with a scheming reality-TV host played by Allison Janney. Previously, a poster revealed the character designs.

This will be the family’s first animated theatrical feature — but certainly not their first animated appearance or theatrical one. The Addams Family began as a single-panel New Yorker cartoon by Charles Addams in the 1930s, before becoming a live-action television show in the 1960s, two separate animated shows (one in the ’70s and one in the ’90s), three live-action movies in the ’90s, and a Broadway musical.

The new animated movie comes out on Oct. 11.

Source: Polygon.com