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2014 in review: Polygon's best reports cover war, flood, The Hobbit and Satan's schemings

Looking back over a year's worth of news, a lot happened in 2014.Studios fell apart, others rose from the ashes. Game makers worked through war, floods, even — according to one team — the schemings of Satan. Gamers celebrated the history of games in art, in museums; we even dug some of it up and sold it on eBay. But most noticeable among the many trends in video game culture this year was the rise of the gamer themselves. We watched as eSports continued to blossom, tracked down the first million-point Xbox Live achiever, celebrated with the fans of Tecmo Bowl and the Gran Turismo players turned professional racers. Ghost stories of Kinect as spirit tracker intrigued us and, I'll be the first to admit, the tale of a soldier who grew closer to his son through games made us cry. This...
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Hatred, free speech and one developer's connections with Poland's far right

When Hatred was revealed to the world in October the team behind it, Poland's Destructive Creations, called it a "genocide crusade." In the announcement trailer a nameless man in a black trench coat murders every living person he can find, violently and indiscriminately. While the game itself was troubling to many, more concerning to some were the political affiliations of key members of the team including the CEO Jaroslaw Zielinski.In an effort to learn more about the social landscape in Poland, and to properly understand the political leanings of several members of the Hatred development team, Polygon reached out to Never Again, an organization that monitors Polish hate groups. They describe the groups which members of the Hatred team "like" on Facebook as racist, neo-fascist and...
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Human Rights Watch would prefer we not have to go back in time to stop killer robots

It’s a trope as old as video games themselves — the sentry gun, an unfeeling mechanical contrivance that fires on unsuspecting players as soon as they come within range. These enemies have been a staple in thousands of games, causing gamers of every stripe to throw down their controllers in frustration. Science fiction as well is full of robotic killers like the Terminator who wantonly disregards the first of law of robotics, as enshrined by author Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot - that a robot "may not injure a human being."But with today’s technology, with our electro-optical devices, advanced computers and robotic systems it is possible to bring these kinds of autonomous weapons systems into reality. And for that reason a team at Human Rights Watch has launched the Campaign to Stop Killer...
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AbleGamers' weird weekend of porn stars, charity and a worries over a DDoS attack (correction)

AbleGamers believe they became the target of a DDoS attack over the weekend after the charity founders declined to accept funds from porn star Mercedes Carrera because of her connection to the GamerGate movement, according to the gaming and disability charity. But Carrera tells Polygon she had nothing to do with the issues the site ran into over the weekend and that while she is a GamerGate supporter the live stream adult cam show is not connected to GamerGate. "In fact, I was unaware any of this was happening until checking my social media on Sunday," she said. The disagreement started out as an offer by Carrera to help raise funds for AbleGamers, a website dedicated to gaming and disability. "I chose AbleGamers as I have become friendly with some disabled gamers and wanted to...
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Elite: Dangerous explores the limitless depths of space, and of human cruelty (correction)

Nearly 1,300 years into our future the human race is divided, and not merely along philosophical lines. There are those who have stayed close to home, in and around the core systems of our sun, Sol. Then there are those who live their lives hundreds of light years away, separated from their brethren not merely by distance but by generations of time. Those pioneers are pushing deeper into uncharted areas to seek their fortunes. This is the universe of Elite: Dangerous, the spacefaring simulation from the team at Frontier Developments, led by CEO David Braben. It is here, on the edge of known space, where the bulk of Elite’s gameplay will take place. For more than a year, early backers of the project have been fighting and trading among the stars that make up Earth’s constellations and...
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How first-person shooter fatigue led to the serene beauty of Adrift

Serene, thought-provoking, almost meditative at times — the first video game from fledgling studio ThreeOneZero owes its impetus not to the lingering space drama Gravity, of which it bears a striking resemblance, but to a complete opposite: the white-knuckled gunplay of virtual war.Medal of Honor and its slow descent from the historically-driven, Steven Spielberg-penned originator of the series, to a vague knock-off of Call of Duty helped forge a lasting friendship among a half-dozen of its developers. During those endless reboots and long days of development, they would meet in secret to commiserate and sound off about what was wrong, and how they'd do things differently if they had their own studio, their own game. It wasn't until nearly ten years later that a social storm of...
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One man's journey from LucasArts to a bicycle to Telltale Games to interactive radio drama

In the early 90's, after several years at LucasArts working on now-legendary adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, Dave Grossman traded his desk job for a bike."I was burning out both kind of personally and professionally in about 1994," Grossman told Polygon. "And I went on a bicycle ride from here to Canada, which is probably about 1,500 miles, I would say. It was kind of like a, 'Let's figure out what's really important to me about what I do and how I actually want to do it.' By the time he rode back home, he'd found his path. No matter where he was going, the tug of narrative would guide him. "And then I came back and quit my job and took a lot more writing gigs and that kind of thing. I was mostly interested in this whole area of...
Opinion
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There's no way any game is wackier than GAME OF THE YEAR: 420BLAZEIT

Warning: GAME OF THE YEAR: 420BLAZEIT contains oodles of offensive internet memes, so the gameplay video comes with a strong content warning. Made in 7 days, for the 7DFPS game jam — where creators are encouraged to make interesting, introspective and/or outrageous games using (or subverting) first person shooter mechanics — GAME OF THE YEAR: 420BLAZEIT is a sort of postmodern parody shooter. Its full name: GAME OF THE YEAR: 420BLAZEIT vs xxXilluminatiXxx [wow/10 #rekt edition] - Montage Parody The Game, sort of says it all. Created by Melbourne-based developer Andy Sum, it's a giant parody of FPS culture, consumerism, gamer culture, and ridiculous internet memes. It combines bro-shooter, hyper masculine empowerment tropes with weed and memes, and its stages are littered, literally,...
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Super Mario, minus the jump: the making of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an experiment for Nintendo. It's an upcoming 3D puzzle game for Wii U, spun off of the "Captain Toad" levels from last year's acclaimed Super Mario 3D World. It's essentially a puzzle-platformer in the Mario vein, with one radical change: There's no jumping in the game. It's a new approach for Nintendo EAD, the developer of acclaimed main-series Mario titles Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World. When you think about how central Mario's jump is to this kind of game, and to a Mario universe title specifically, you begin to get an idea of just how different this is. From Super Mario 64 to Captain Toad Recently, Polygon had the opportunity to speak with the game's producer, Koichi Hayashida, and director, Shinya Hiratake,...
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Playing That Dragon, Cancer is an intensely emotional experience

I am not entirely clear, in my mind, if playing That Dragon, Cancer upset me as a result of its game-ness, especially. Perhaps it was the poetry of love and loss that is threaded through the experience. Maybe it's the heart-breaking sound-files of a child playing with his family. Or it's the mere knowledge that this is a true story about a little boy, Joel Green, who died of cancer and left behind people who love him very much. That Dragon, Cancer is an intense game-world, an experience, a narrative and a poem. It was originally envisioned as a game about hope. When development began, Joel was still fighting the cancer that had blighted his short life. His father Ryan, mother Amy and family friend Josh Larson decided to make a game about this fight, about how it changed their lives,...
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Battlefield Hardline is shaping up to be more than just another gung-ho shooter

Back in the spring, I visited Electronic Arts to look at Battlefield Hardline, the newest iteration of the company's first-person combat franchise.EA showed me a forgettable multiplayer map, set in an American city, in which cops and robbers chased one another and shot lots of people to death. Battlefield Hardline was basically Battlefield, the high-tech war movie, re-imagined as Battlefield the overblown cop fantasy. It was all vaguely unimpressive. Following negative reaction to that reveal, Battlefield Hardline was delayed so developer Visceral could work on addressing some of the concerns raised by the media and the public. "Maybe we underestimated the audience appetite for something different," says creative director Ian Milham. "We were worried about pissing off Battlefield...
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Halo gets serious about eSports with the Halo Championship Series

343 Industries and Microsoft are serious about making Halo a legitimate player in a growing eSports landscape. So serious, in fact, that they're forming an official eSports league for it. Dubbed the Halo Championship Series, it will see 343i partner with Twitch, the ESL and other entities to form an advisory body to tournament organizers in a quest to add structure, tension and momentum to the shooter's multiplayer community moving forward. The HCS is intended to see its full form when Halo 5: Guardians releases in 2015, but competitors will see its effects much sooner. 343i is launching their new league with Halo: The Master Chief Collection and the Halo 2: Anniversary multiplayer maps it contains. The HCS's inaugural season will run from this month through March 2015, and will allow...
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Brianna Wu is confident a death threat harasser will be caught and jailed

Since she announced a plan to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of any of the people sending her death threats, including tweeting a picture of a jail cell (above), one thing has changed in Brianna Wu's life.The death threats have stopped. At least for now. Wu is the founder of Boston-based developer Giant Spacekat, best known for its sci-fi adventure Revolution 60. A vocal critic of GamerGate, she has been the target of online harassment and death threats from people using the GamerGate hashtag. Other women in the game industry, such as developer Zoe Quinn and critic Anita Sarkeesian have faced similar harassment. She forwards all threats to her local police officers, who have visited Wu's house to investigate the harassment. Now she's offering $11,000 for...
Halloween
39 Comments

Ghosts in the machine? Using the Kinect to hunt for spirits

The room is completely dark, save for the soft light of a computer monitor. A solitary man stands in the middle of the old, musty foyer, surrounded by an audience of several ancient pieces of furniture. The silence is oppressive. Through the computer monitor, another man — another paranormal investigator — watches a stick-figure representation of his colleague. At first it's just the one body, a fluorescent green collection of sticks meant to represent human legs and arms. Then without warning, a second, smaller figure pops into view. The man in the room is still alone, but this second tiny figure moves across the screen, seemingly reaching out to touch the man's own, corporeal figure. Then it blinks out of existence. If you've seen the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, you've seen...
Halloween
6 Comments

The science of fear: How to measure scares in gaming

From the lackluster scares of Resident Evil 5 to looping dread of P.T., fluctuations in the quality of horror games have made the genre a notoriously unreliable venture. But what if you could ensure your video game would feature genuine scares? As part of a preliminary push toward finding an answer to this question, British game studio Supermassive Games is experimenting with technology originally used to measure stress levels in children with epilepsy. Throughout the development of Until Dawn, the studio's first step into the horror genre, the game developer is using electrodermal sensors to test the effectiveness of its scares. Can you measure fear? "We can only really tell whether we're achieving what we set out to achieve when we put it in the hands of players for their first...
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Ebola scare drives sharp rise in Plague Inc. downloads

As 24-hour news channels devote their coverage to the Ebola outbreak, a game about infectious diseases has seen a dramatic spike in downloads.Downloads of Plague Inc., a free game which simulates the spread of a deadly worldwide virus, have risen 50 percent in the last two weeks, according to developer James Vaughan. Vaughan, who runs one-man studio Ndemic Creations, said that the game has spiked in the past, usually as a result of updates, but its recent climb up the mobile play charts is all down to interest in Ebola, which has so far killed an estimated 5,500 people. Plague Inc. is an intelligent strategy game that looks at how infectious diseases can spread. "This is the first time something in the real world has has an effect on the sales charts, especially since Ebola came over...
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