Minimum offers multiplayer shooting without the frills

Minimum has the look of a shooting prototype; boxy, skinless models leaping about in a plain, undecorated world.But it's actually a work of intense design. Getting something simple to look sophisticated is the magic trick of minimalism. In Minimum, various shades of gray and beige work with stark, straight lines and tiny splashes of color to produce that rare thing, a combat world that looks fresh and interesting. The game itself borrows from classic multiplayer team-shooters of the 1990s as well as more modern MOBAs, creating frenetic but tactical gunplay along barrier-dotted lanes. There is a heavy emphasis on power progression inside individual games. Minimum is due to be released for Windows PC on Steam Early Access in the next few weeks. Published by Atari, it's been developed by...

Is Watch Dogs doing anything original?

Watch Dogs begins with a tutorial mission that heavily accentuates the game's aspirations as a thriller about modern surveillance. Set in a sports stadium, this sequence forces the player to make use of cameras and security servers in order to demonstrate power over the world. It is an overlay of semi-transparent lines, criss-crossing the physical realm, bending and warping reality; a conspiracy-theorist's fantasy user interface. The in-game goons who would harm me can be rendered impotent by the flick of a switch. Reaching that switch is a matter of following simple sequential puzzles and holding down a button on the joypad. It is a secondary weapon, a smart bomb that the designers have placed in the world in order to add an extra dimension to the combat and to give the game a gleam...

Educational games are competing with Angry Birds says co.lab director

Making a game that is both fun and educational is one of the biggest challenges for developers in the educational tech space, according to co.lab executive director Esteban Sosnik. If the game is educational, then it's often dry and not engaging. If it's fun, then it's often lacking in educational components. Cue co.lab, an ed-tech accelerator formed by and NewSchools Venture Fund that is helping socially aware developers find a balance between fun game design and effective learning mechanics. "It's extremely hard to make a game that is both entertaining and educational," Sosnik told Polygon. "Making commercial games is tough enough, but on top of that you have to think about educational outcomes, maybe how to fit it into a class curriculum, how to market it to kids and all...

Meet the gay soldier you didn't know was in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

Crispin Jettingham, the leader of the U.S. special Forces team of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, is gay, says writer and creative director Adam Bullied. "I know," he tells us, "because I created him." Earlier this year, Ubisoft writer Lucien Soulban spoke out against the current sales and marketing systems presenting a barrier to entry for new types of characters in AAA games. According to Soulban, developers aren't likely to introduce gay AAA characters any time soon for fear of the impact on sales. Don't ask, don't tell While game makers are only beginning to discuss the potential for gay and lesbian protagonists, Bullied has already introduced a character whose sexual orientation was cemented during early script development for Operation Raccoon City in 2011. Jettingham is...

Three indies discuss the future of free-to-play games

The phrase itself conjures up emotions.The free-to-play model as it's been used in the last few years is divisive. Some see it as a way to lower the barrier to entry, to invite players into games without an upfront financial burden. Others see it used as a crass business model designed to get players to pay to win. It's not only players who wrestle with the revenue model. Developers we've spoken to are aware of its less than stellar reputation, even as they see its potential benefits. And some of them, particularly independent developers, are looking for ways to invoke the free-to-play model without the baggage associated with it. The free-to-play model is evolving, and the developers at Carbon Games, FrogDice and RobotLovesKitty showed us how. CARBON GAMES: AIRMECH ARENA Only a...

What is Bruce Lee doing in a UFC video game?

Bruce Lee died in 1973. Twenty years later, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was founded. And 21 years after that, both are appearing in a video game together, EA Sports UFC.The team-up is not without some controversy. Bruce Lee's brand of fighting, distinct though it is, isn't what you see in the UFC. Hardcore MMA fans may dispute his background in jiu-jitsu, a core fighting style in modern MMA. Hardcore Bruce Lee fans might point out modern MMA isn't the kind of street fighting for which Lee was known as a competitor. "They go, 'He'd poke you in the eyes, kick you in the knee and then do something to take you out,'" mused Brian Hayes, the creative director for EA Sports UFC. "We know there are going to be people like that on both ends." Hayes brought all this up when his studio...

Toys for Bob and the story behind Skylanders

Beasts are peeking out of every nook and cranny in the office, a crazy infestation of plastic chaos.The figurines sit on shelves, hang on walls, tumble on desks in states of unpainted nakedness, dismantled and incoherent. They gurn, snarl and claw in an infinity of static poses. This is the place where the little plastic creatures of Activision's breakout monster hit Skylanders are conceived and birthed, the headquarters of Toys for Bob, a tiki-pirate-ship-themed ex-aircraft hanger in Marin County, California. Since its introduction back in 2011, the Skylanders video game and toy series has generated upwards of $2 billion in lifetime sales. It is one of the top 20 game franchises of all time, with 175 million toy sales. The Skylanders monsters have captured the imaginations of...

From gatekeepers to guns for hire: The new role of indie game publishers

The role of a publisher used to be simple, although the business itself is complex. They would fund your game, they would make sure it was released on consoles or the PC and in exchange they would often own the intellectual property behind the game and take a cut of profits. You needed a publisher to get on consoles and to make sure your game found an audience. They held the keys to the kingdom. This is no longer the case, and the idea of what a publisher does or doesn't do, or whether they're ever needed for smaller developers, is rapidly evolving. "We are a publisher for developers that don’t need one, and I think that’s the first thing everyone needs to know: You don’t need one," Nigel Lowrie, of Devolver Digital, told Polygon. "Once you’ve established that, I think everything else...
Good Game

How gaming is reshaping the way museums teach

The success of most video games are measured by how fun they are, not so the games of New York's American Museum of Natural History.Here if a game is too fun, too engaging, it can create problems. Gaming has slowly become an important part of museum exhibit design, right alongside artifacts, fossils, movies, music and other forms of interaction. And not surprisingly, the American Museum of Natural History continues to push the envelope on how gaming can be used to engage and educate. Past exhibits with game-like elements include the museum's poison display, which features challenges that ask patrons to figure out how animals died and a massive tome placed on a pedestal that animates when the pages are flipped to tell a moving, interactive story. But the latest games to invade the...
Roster File

The latest must be the greatest in sports video games

Ask a fan for his favorite sports video game and you'll rarely get a current one. You may not even get one for a console still in production. Warhorses like NHL '94, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball and the venerated NFL 2K5 come up a lot. Among mine are NCAA Football 2004, MVP Baseball 2005 and College Hoops 2K8, and none of those series even exist anymore. Nostalgia may have a lot to do with it. In present day, however, there still is the deep, demanding expectation that the latest edition be better than anything preceding it, if not everything ever attempted in that sport before. One might think an audience that cherishes old and long-since outdated titles might be more forgiving if the latest version of FIFA or NBA 2K isn't as compelling as a landmark entry earlier in the series. I share...

How the NBA 2K14 'Space Jam' mod came together

If you're in the business of analyzing what makes a video go viral, the Space Jam mod for NBA 2K14 that became a YouTube hit in mid-February could serve as an interesting case study. At a running time of more than 11 minutes, it's much longer than a typical viral clip, but it has a few important things going for it. NBA 2K14 itself had become a tremendously popular game by then, and searching the title on YouTube yields dozens of fan-created videos before official trailers come up. And the subject of the mod itself, the 1996 film Space Jam, is one that awakens a powerful coefficient of virality: the collective childhood nostalgia of the Millennial generation. "The funny thing is, I didn't expect it," said Jermaine Gill, a co-creator of the Space Jam mod, in a phone interview with...

On eve of PAX East, organizers promise to start the rebuilding of trust in Penny Arcade

Penny Arcade Expo, once a place where people could go to revel in the shared interests of board games, table-top games and video games, doesn't feel as welcoming as it once did.The show and the brand was tarnished last year by a series of social media storms sparked by insensitive and transphobic remarks by a founder of the more-than-a-webcomic brand. Penny Arcade's fifth east coast expo, tickets for which sold out the day they were made available, kicks off tomorrow in Boston. The show is their first chance to publicly start trying to repair the damage they caused to their brand and community. "I really do believe we're done with these incidents," says Robert Khoo, the business manager for Penny Arcade, whose expositions are a uniquely populist force in video gaming. "These...

Meet the people improving video games one line at a time

In a game like Mass Effect 3, more than 600 variables are tracked. Every line of dialog the player chooses to speak, every character the player romances, every character the player doesn't romance, every encounter they have, every encounter they don't have — these details are carefully noted so the game can respond to the player's actions accordingly. Players of the Mass Effect series will often refer to their avatar Commander Shepard as "My Shepard," a testament to the care the developers put into making players feel invested in their character. But it takes more than care to pull together an elaborate story that draws players into the game and keeps them there. Video games are often made by teams of writers, designers, programmers, artists and producers, but there's an important role...

Why Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a last-gen game developed outside of Gearbox

There's a new big Borderlands game coming this year, but it's not Borderlands 3 and franchise creator Gearbox Software isn't in the driver's seat.Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is coming to the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC this fall and is in development by 2K Australia. Randy Pitchford, head of Gearbox, met with journalists in New York this week to walk them through the upcoming game and explain why it won't be on next-gen platforms or made by the people who created the first two. Gearbox, Pitchford said, is a studio right now that very much wants to concentrate on building entirely new properties and creating "technology for the future." But the studio also still sees an unmet demand for more Borderlands by its most passionate fans. "The last quarterly report that Take-Two...

The billion-dollar game dev trading post

David Helgason believes his Unity Asset Store has saved game developers a total of $1 billion in the last year.The store allows game makers to share tools, editors, art, audio, anything really; sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee. "My calculation is that we unlocked a billion dollars worth of savings," the Unity co-founder and CEO told Polygon. "Half a million assets downloaded per month. That is six million assets in a year. That is six million work days assuming one work day per asset, per year." You can do the rest of the math. Unity is the hot game development tool right now, used in the making of Polygon's 2013 game of the year Gone Home, and other major hits like Kerbal Space Program, Rust, Krautscape, Shroud of the Avatar, Rain... the list goes on. At DICE earlier this...
Roster File

The people who stare at video games

Matthew Vogt did not play professional football. He didn't get the chance to play college football. He didn't even play high school football. When he turned 14, the legal age to begin working in Ohio, his father needed help in the family business, so he spent 30 hours a week in a meat market instead."I went to one team meeting. I went to work the next day," said Vogt. With a physique born for the duty of left tackle, he could have played for the state's winningest coach at Hamilton Badin High. "I really think I would have gone on to play at least at a small college." Vogt, 29, directs trucks to a loading dock today. He looks very much like a guy who went to high school cutting meat and graduated to a steelyard. But where his classmates ended their days of playing before a large,...
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