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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...
Good Game
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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 tomb 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
22 Comments

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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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
18 Comments

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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Molten Games shuttered last week, former employees say

Molten Games, the developer founded last year by ex-Blizzard, Relic Entertainment and Sony Online Entertainment veterans, has been closed, former employees of the studio say.March 24, 2014 was the last day for employees of Molten Games, a former employee told Polygon. At a companywide meeting last Monday morning, the studio of around 60 people learned from executives "near in tears" that Molten Games was closing and that they were all being let go. They received severance checks and were told that they had to be out of the San Diego offices by noon. According to our source, last week's news "appeared rather abrupt" because the feedback developers received was typically positive. Several sources say that Molten Games was working on a title known as Project Blunderbuss. Last week, art...
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How pinball and boardwalk amusements gave rise to video games

The generally accepted history of video games is that they sprang into existence in the 1970s, the brainchild of ambitious entrepreneurs taking advantage of quasi-military technology developed in the previous decades.But this story fails to take into account a huge history of boardwalk and pinball games that exerted immense cultural influence on the early days of video games, most especially in arcades, which is still being felt today. This summer a new exhibit at The Strong's National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, will seek to connect today's games with the mechanical amusements of the past, stretching back to the early years of the 20th Century. The exhibit, called The Boardwalk Arcade and Pinball Playfields, will feature a disparate selection of machines including some of the...
Good Game
29 Comments

Amazon's Fire TV plays games, but it's no console contender, at least not yet

Amazon's Fire TV is a bold step into the hardware business by a company defined by its ability to deliver content to customers quickly and efficiently. The diminutive device streams movies, music, pictures and even video games to a television.But it's not a device designed by the company to go up against video game consoles, which can do much of the same. Where the PlayStation 4, Wii U and Xbox One all have the ability to stream media to a TV, they are gaming devices first. Not so for the Fire TV, Amazon officials tell Polygon. The Fire TV is a streaming media device with its sights set clearly on other similar products like Apple TV, Google's Chromecast or Roku, they said. Video games are, as Amazon vice president Peter Larson said during the event, a "bonus." "On top of the core...
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How Grey Goo hopes to revolutionize real-time strategy

It's all about the goo.Grey Goo, the recently announced real-time-strategy game coming from Grey Box, has a lot going for it. The game looks like a smart return to a beloved PC genre conceptualized by Weta Workshop, the design studio behind the likes of District 9, Lord of the Rings and Avatar, and developed by Petroglyph Games, the team formed out of the husk of Westwood Studios and responsible for titles like Star Wars: Empire at War and End of Nations. In a nutshell: This is a game imagined by Weta and empowered by Petroglyph. Despite that impressive pedigree though, the most memorable thing about my time with the team responsible for Grey Goo was the grey goo. Nightmare scenario The idea of grey goo has been around since the mid-80s when nanotech pioneer Eric Drexler first...
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How 'Game Jam,' an indie game dev reality show, collapsed on its first day of filming

Game_Jam, a TV-style reality show focused on the efforts of indie game developers, has collapsed in the most publicly acrimonious way imaginable, participants say.Touted by its makers as a contest to show off the skills and personalities of indie game developers, the Mountain Dew-sponsored production was brought to a halt after just one day's filming, as participants walked off the set, en masse. In a story first reported by Indie Statik, developers accuse the show's makers of grossly misunderstanding the nature of game developers, of attempting to manipulate them for ratings and of crass sexism. Respected developers like Zoe Quinn (Depression Quest), Davey Wreden (The Stanley Parable), Robin Arnott (SoundSelf) and Adriel Wallick (Candescent) all quit the show along with all other...
Roster File
15 Comments

A thousand details create a uniform appearance in sports video games

To go ahead and answer the question, no, MLB 14 The Show will not have the insane bacon pants that a minor league team revealed a few weeks ago. When the game arrives on Tuesday and your virtual minor leaguer is playing for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in the Philadelphia Phillies' system, he won't be served with a couple hickory-smoked strips. Why? It's not because The Show's artists were caught, heh, pants down by the new look. They saw it and loved it and know the IronPigs are in their game. The answer is in the details, almost literally. You wouldn't think it, but the uniform files in MLB The Show are really quite large, said Jody Kelsey, the game's senior producer. "It's technically possible to patch them in," after the game releases, "but the size of them deters us from doing...
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Lichdom: Battlemage gave the male and female heroes a life, a writer and a voice

Lichdom: Battlemage wants to introduce the idea of a mage as the ultimate magical badass, and the game’s combat works well based on our time with the game. The game’s story, and the team’s approach to character, is just as fascinating, although we have yet to see much of in action.The game’s writing duties were split down the center, a male writer was in charge of the male character, and a female writer was given control of the female character. "You can choose to play as a male protagonist or a female protagonist," Josh Van Veld, the game’s producer, told Polygon. "If you choose the male, then that character has a certain personality. Your companion, the Gryphon, who is a scout, she has a certain personality. If you choose the other way, the personalities remain intact. Each...
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