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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 year was an amazing year for games, made all the more amazing by the people who make and play them. Over the course of nearly the entire year, Polygon and its staff investigated, interviewed and wrote more than 200 reports.

Reports are the sort of stories that usually involve a bit more leg work, a few more interviews, to get to the story that counts.

Below you'll find a sampling of some of those works, more than 30, arranged by the month in which they were published. Take a moment over the holidays to sit down and read them. I think you'll enjoy what you find.



The 50 gaming newsmakers who shaped 2013

Festooned with the launches of two major consoles from Sony and Microsoft, 2013 was always going to be a memorable year for gaming. But it wasn't just the machinations of massive corporations that shaped the last 12 months.

Much of the news last year was drafted on social media, around creative individuals who have managed to make wondrous things that have become popular by force of public will, rather than via marketing might.


The bitter end to a desperate eSports gamble

It began beautifully. Quantic won the first two games in a five-match round-robin, and looked to be cruising. After the first day of the qualifiers, they were favorites to clear the round-robin and face a relegation team from the league, likely one they had beaten repeatedly in practice sessions.

Quantic's backroom personnel, many of whom were owed back-pay and were worried about Boudreault's competence as a team-leader, were beginning to believe that the 24-year-old from Quebec might just have pulled it off.

On the second day, everything went wrong. The team needed one win from three games. They played badly. They lost them all.



2014's most innovative games by the people making them

"We're working on some of the most ambitious content I've ever had the pleasure to think about," said Destiny design lead Lars Bakken. "We're taking a lot of cues from other genres and combining them in ways that make players rethink how deep an action-oriented first person game can be. A kick-ass shooter that has RPG elements, character customization, menacing alien combatants, a killer story, matchmade co-op activities, challenging end-game content, competitive multiplayer, and is tied together in a persistent world where I run across other real players as part of my daily routine."


Breathing lessons: How Adam Orth turned social disaster into triumph

Adam Orth is making a game about his experiences last year in the eye of a social hurricane, about the time he sent a tweet about always-online technology which sparked a fury on the Internet, led to death threats against himself and his family and tore apart his sense of privacy and security. It is an easy metaphor, a game that opens on a scene of confused destruction in space, that drops its player into the space suit of a man struggling to make sense of an unseen powerful force that has destroyed everything he holds dear.


Ukrainian game devs in the thick of violent protests

Arteym Luxenburg, one of Excalibur's four developers, provided pictures of the scene as it was the night of Feb. 20. Piles of shipping pallets and old tires formed a layer of defense against what he calls "government bandits." He and other citizens were bracing for a counterattack when he says that the Ukrainian army and the local police came to their aid.



The Art of Atari: A celebration of game packaging's golden age

"I felt fundamentally that this was a consumer product that needed all the care and attention that a record album did," Atari founder Nolan Bushnell told Polygon. "At the same time, I wanted to have something that was beautiful and instructive and I wanted the artwork to have a consistency to it, so that immediately, when you glanced at our packaging, you knew it came from Atari and you knew it was beautiful."


The final years of Irrational Games, according to those who were there

When the studio's co-founder and president, Ken Levine, invited the team of nearly 100 employees into a meeting about the company's history last month, many were surprised to realize, as the presentation progressed, that this very history was coming to an end.


Back to work: The story of the Hello Games flood

On Christmas Eve 2013, Sean Murray stood in Hello Games' office, ankle-deep in water. On the other side of the room was a MacBook he'd left on the floor when he departed for the Christmas break. Only now, it wasn't on the floor. It was floating across the room.


Abraham game makers believe they are in a fight with Satan

"I need to be clear on this point: Are you telling me that Satan is literally working to confound your plans to release this game? You're saying that the actual Devil is scheming against you?"


Meet the million-point man of Xbox Live

It took more than eight years to build: a one, followed by six pristine zeroes. It lasted only three days. Ray Cox, at least, let the perfect million sit there next to his Xbox Live gamertag for a weekend, an unusual pause for someone who, on average, racked up more than 300 points' worth of achievements a day — for more than 3,000 days.



What is Bruce Lee doing in a UFC video game?

"We understand that the UFC has fans of that sport, and Bruce Lee fans are fans of Bruce Lee, and people are protective of Bruce Lee, and people are protective of the UFC," Shannon Lee, the daughter of the martial arts icon, told Polygon. "But when this opportunity came about, I thought, you know, it's a video game, and it's an opportunity to live out a fight fantasy. People are always saying, 'How would Bruce Lee have done in the octagon?' Well, they can find out."


How pinball and boardwalk amusements gave rise to video games

"The whole roots of games is back in pinball and the penny arcades, back to the late 1800s and the fortune telling games," said Eugene Jarvis, creator of Defender and now head of a coin-op company Raw Thrills. "You just have to look at pinball and its influence on basic video game structures like having three lives and earning an extra life."


The people who stare at video games

Jon Bailey, the tournament's director, could not see either of the the participants, the crowd was so thick around the main competition screen at Badger Bowl, Tecmo Madison's home. "As I'm looking out over a sea of people, my job is to make sure James and Matt are at the TV. And I can't pick them out of the crowd.



Escape from Woomera still highlights Australia's shame 11 years on

Escape from Woomera, a first-person point-and-click game in which players tried to break out of the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Center (better known as the Woomera Detention Center), made its way around the world, and the Australian government — despite its best efforts at limiting information and imposing a media blackout — couldn't stop it. The news media had covered Woomera extensively. Many people had read or heard about it. Now they could play it. Here was a first-world country that was locking up asylum seekers for indefinite periods of time, keeping them in conditions so harsh it led to suicide attempts, hunger strikes, lip sewing protests and desperate attempts at escape, and word was traveling through a video game.


How GT Academy's growing legacy is legitimizing the Gran Turismo program

In the long history of simulation sports video games, the Gran Turismo series stands alone: It's the only one that offers a path from playing the game to partaking in the sport professionally.


How gaming in wartime connected soldiers, a father and a son

Every son yearns to connect with his dad and every father wants a meaningful relationship with his son. It's not always easy; life's responsibilities can put obstacles in the way.

As a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army — the service's highest enlisted rank — Chris Fields has a mountain of those responsibilities.



Why E.T. wasn't the worst game in history

Howard Scott Warshaw is a man with many achievements to his name: licensed psychotherapist, published author, award-winning documentarian, former real-estate broker and developer of the supposedly worst video game ever made: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600.


Why frame rate and resolution matter: A graphics primer

Graphics has always been the foremost battleground in the console wars. The participants in those never-ending debates try to bring in objectivity by quoting numbers — and in the case of visual prowess, resolution and frame rate are the two figures most commonly cited.

But what do they even mean? What's the difference between 720p and 1080p, or between 30 frames per second and 60 frames per second — and is it an academic distinction, or a meaningful one? In other words, why should you care?


Meet the Kickstarter whales, the people who spend $10,000, $100,000 to launch dreams

There's a part of every Kickstarter page where giant, leaping whales cavort among their merry waves of moolah.

This is the place where the $10,000 backer level lives, for those with the wealth and the commitment to drop that sort of cash. If you're an average American, $10,000 is about three months worth of post-tax household income, but if you're a Kickstarter whale, it's a top-level treat tied to the project or producer you really care about.


What is The Pokémon Company?

Pokémon is a series about friendship, competition and jamming fearsome creatures into tiny little balls.

It's a quirky, lovable franchise that over the last 18 years or so has won the hearts — and wallets — of millions worldwide. The brand makes up a highly watched kids's show, more than a dozen animated films, a trading card game, merchandise and a video game series that continues to pump out one addictive title after another.

But the breakdown of who does what for the mega brand isn't always clear, especially in relation to the generally named apparatus The Pokémon Company.



How chess shows that gender segregation in eSports might encourage more female leagues

Chess historically has featured gender-segregated tournaments; This has nothing to do with differences in skill levels between the genders, however, MindSports International development manager and chess coach Eduardo Sajgalik tells us. Rather it's the best method of helping smaller demographics grow.


The Warsaw Uprising: How a forgotten chapter of WWII is inspiring Polish game devs

I have been to many war memorials around the world, but only one has ever moved me to tears.

It has stood on a corner of Bonifraterska Street, next to Poland's Supreme Court, since 1989. The imposing, 30 ft. tall black bronze sculpture takes up a city block. It is dedicated to a battle I'd never heard of before visiting Poland — the Warsaw Uprising.

On August 1, 1944 the remnants of Poland's Home Army, with the support of hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Warsaw, launched the single largest civilian insurrection of World War II. And they failed.


Dwarf Fortress will crush your CPU because creating history is hard

Like much of the collection at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Dwarf Fortress is a baffling, inscrutable mess. But with proper interpretation, even the most intimidating forms can provide for moments of admiration.

Polygon sat down with one of the creators of Dwarf Fortress, Tarn Adams, to talk about his work. We wanted to take just a piece of the whole — world creation — and unpack it. To make it digestible.



Game dev harassment remains as bad as it was a year ago

"As long as we people have opinions and a way to voice them consequence-free on the internet, I don't think there is much that can be done," he said. "Kind of makes you wish for simpler times."


tolkien books

There and back again: A history of the Lord of the Rings in video games

"As far as I am concerned personally, I should welcome the idea of an animated motion picture, with all the risk of vulgarization," J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in a letter to a friend, taken from Humphrey Carpenter's collection The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, "though on the brink of retirement that is not an unpleasant possibility."

In subsequent letters to his family and friends, Tolkien expressed both hesitance and excitement at the prospect of Hollywood adopting his Hobbits and magical rings for the silver screen. He passed away in 1973 — before the release of the now-famous Rankin/Bass Productions and Ralph Bakshi adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, respectively — and left his youngest son, Christopher Tolkien, to surmount the next big media mountain: making his father's works into interactive experiences.

Less than 10 years later, video games began their bumbling trek through Middle-earth.


FBI working with game developer association to combat online harassment

The International Game Developers Association is working with the FBI and bullying experts to help game developers deal with what they see as an increase in online harassment, Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, told Polygon.


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?


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

People claim these "ghosts" have successfully manipulated the Xbox system into making their presence known, while others have dismissed the odd occurrence as glitches. But just how reliable is this piece of hardware in picking up spirits?



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, to which it bears a striking resemblance, but to a complete opposite: the white-knuckled gunplay of virtual war.


Battlefield Hardline is shaping up to be more than just another gung-ho shooter

A few weeks ago I visited EA again, to take another look at Hardline. Now the company is trying a new approach, showing the game in its single-player form, as a cop procedural with real characters and a gameplay focus that differs from Battlefield's high-testosterone warzone iterations.



Human Rights Watch would prefer we not have to go back in time to stop killer robots

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 Robots.

Laugh all you like. It's a subject that even Stephen Hawking is thinking about.

Mary Wareham, advocacy director of HRW's arms division, is deadly serious about stopping killer robots before it's too late.


Hatred, free speech and one developer's connections with Poland's far right

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 violent.

This piece is part of Polygon's 2014 in Review series. Throughout December we'll be exploring the games, people and events that shaped gaming in the past year. You can check out more 2014 in Review stories in our StoryStream.

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