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Video Game Deep Cuts: E3, E3, E3 (and some Non-E3!)

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from video game industry ‘watcher’ Simon Carless (GDC, Gamasutra co-runner), rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.

This week’s roundup includes all kinds of E3 neatness from Los Angeles, including discussion of Nintendo’s announcements, the PC Gaming Show, Microsoft’s xCloud vs Google Stadia (or not!), as well as another 10+ links that aren’t about E3 at all. (Just in case you got a bit overloaded.)

Hope this helps you understand the week a little bit!

Until next time…
– Simon, curator.]

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Building a Pirate’s Paradise in Sea of Thieves (AI and Games / YouTube – VIDEO)
“In this first episode I interview three developers – Andy Bastable, Rob Masella and Stuart Holland – about the early days of the games development, the underlying AI architectures and the procedural mission generation and balancing systems.”

E3 proved that video game publishers want to become Netflix (Julia Alexander / The Verge – ARTICLE)
“With the first details coming out around the next Xbox and PlayStation, you might expect those upcoming consoles to be the buzz of this year’s E3. But instead, subscription services have become the talk of the show, as seemingly every console maker and game publisher looks to shift the way that games are sold.”

EverQuest’s long, strange 20-year trip still has no end in sight (Andy Patrizio / Ars Technica – ARTICLE)
“Twenty years ago, a company in Southern California launched an online game that would go on to serve as the model for many more titles to come in the massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) space. And unlike many games that sought to replace it over the years, this one is still going today.”

Nintendo’s off-kilter approach to the generation game just let it storm E3 (Martin Robinson / Eurogamer – ARTICLE)
“Nintendo’s always marched to its own beat – it’s what makes the company so fascinating, and just as often so frustrating. Sometimes that approach falters, sometimes it soars, and this week’s E3 was a prime example of the latter.”

The Real Life Landscapes of Fallout 1, Fallout 2, and Fallout: New Vegas (Noah Caldwell-Gervais / YouTube – VIDEO)
“This is an experimental travel project where I tried to follow in real life the maps and landscapes I’d digitally journeyed down in the original Fallout games and New Vegas. [SIMON’S NOTE: a little late on this, but it’s 90 minutes long and the landscapes are gorgeous.]”

Dota 2 Majors are not guaranteed profitable events (Michael Cohen / Torte De Lini – ARTICLE)
“With that said, the public discussion about tournament brands earning a profit on their events has been troubling in recent years. This article seeks to reveal the range of costs and revenue for tournament brands as well as the challenges they face.”

The best games, demos, and tech of E3 2019 (Sam Machkovech & Kyle Orland / Ars Technica – ARTICLE)
“This year’s E3 was the most thinly attended iteration we’ve seen in years—but that was by no means the fault of the games on offer. We left E3 2019 impressed by a variety of games old and new. While we’re still working through a backlog of hands-on impressions, the Ars gaming braintrust is already ready to name its favorite games of the show—all of which were games shown with real, live gameplay.”

For Men Who Hate Talking On The Phone, Games Keep Friendships Alive (Cecilia D’Anastasio / Kotaku – ARTICLE)
“It’s a little heartwarming, then, that the men we spoke to said they rely on online games and voice chat to achieve the interpersonal closeness that can feel contrived or heavy-handed in a prearranged phone call. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the apparent paradox—phone, bad; game, good—but the men who took a stab at answering it had some interesting explanations.”

The PC Gaming Show Is the Best E3 Press Conference (Cameron Kunzelman / VICE – ARTICLE)
“This isn’t a single company sharing its vision for the next few years through the single-minded alignment of projects from internal studios and external partners. This is hosts Sean Plott and Frankie Ward wrangling independent developers onto the stage and talking to them about their weird creations as an ad-hoc, freewheeling survey of what’s to come.”

‘Alt-Frequencies,’ a radio drama for the social media era (Todd Martens / LA Times – ARTICLE)
““Alt-Frequencies” plays with this timeless tension, having players vacillate between amplifying the drama or searching for truth. It’s a critique not just of media but of what we the people want from our news sources. Each radio station in the game — players on mobile phones will swipe rather than turn a dial — brings us to another opinionated viewpoint.”

How Top Gamers Earn Up to $15,000 an Hour (Patrick Shanley / The Hollywood Reporter – ARTICLE)
“A decade ago, Benjamin Lupo’s hobby of playing video games was just that. Today, a gamer like Lupo could earn as much as $15,000 an hour broadcasting his gaming to the nearly 3  million people who follow him on live-streaming platform Twitch. Lupo, who goes by the online avatar DrLupo, says it took him “two full years of streaming 40-plus hours a week” while working a regular job before he felt comfortable gaming “full time.””

Why Fashion in (Most) Games Sucks, and Why You Should Care (Victoria Tran / GDC / YouTube – VIDEO)
“In this 2019 GDC talk, Kitfox Games’ Victoria Tran explores the recent history of fashion in games and provides multiple tips for making your own character design runway-worthy.”

Xbox boss Phil Spencer on the future of gaming: ‘The business isn’t how many consoles you sell’ (Andrew Webster / The Verge – ARTICLE)
“The head of Xbox just unveiled a new console, but Phil Spencer isn’t too worried about selling you one. “I don’t need to sell any specific version of the console in order for us to reach our business goals,” he told me in an interview yesterday, the day after Microsoft held its annual E3 keynote. [SIMON’S NOTE: also see this Matt Booty interview via Eurogamer on Microsoft’s strategy.]”

Watch Dogs Legion is the most impressive E3 demo I’ve played in years (Samuel Roberts / PC Gamer – ARTICLE)
“Watch Dogs Legion has no default protagonist. Those rumours about being able to play as any ‘NPC’ in the game were true—while it takes a little work to recruit each individual to Dedsec, you build up a pool of swappable playable characters. [SIMON’S NOTE: here’s more on this from Kotaku – and congrats to GDC board member Clint Hocking, who looks on track to ship his first game since Far Cry 2, and in style!]”

Meet the angry gaming YouTubers who turn outrage into views (Ian Sherr / Cnet – ARTICLE)
“Starting last year, a new cadre of negative YouTube gaming commentators came to prominence. Almost in unison, they each enjoyed spikes in audience and view counts, attracting hundreds of thousands of subscribers. That translated into millions of views a week as they dissected the video game industry’s missteps, misadventures and controversies.”

The economics of making indie games are wack (Jake Birkett / Grey Alien Games / Patreon – ARTICLE)
“I’ve been doing this since 2005, so 14 years, and I’d love to continue for a long time because I enjoy the lifestyle and I love making games, but… wow, it is hard to make a living from this. So anyway, I wanted to explore some numbers so you can see why I think the economics of making indie games and selling them on Steam is wack. [SIMON’S NOTE: you can quibble elements of this, but it’s true that it’s tough out there.]”

Stardock and Star Control creators settle lawsuits—with mead and honey (Lee Hutchinson / Ars Technica – ARTICLE)
“”We solved this problem like most problems—with booze and bees,” joked Stardock’s Brad Wardell in a phone interview earlier today with Ars (he was joined by Reiche & Ford on the line, as all three are in Los Angeles for E3 at the moment). [SIMON’S NOTE: this is mainly a news story, so I wouldn’t normally include – but those settlement stipulations!]”

Stop worrying about timed exclusives and worry more about games industry consolidation (Graham Smith / RockPaperShotgun – ARTICLE)
“Microsoft might be a changed company since those days, but some of these pressures seem like the inevitable consequence of having been purchased for a lot of money by a much bigger company. Even if everything goes perfectly, what are the chances of more niche games like Pillars Of Eternity, Wasteland and Hellblade continuing to emerge from these larger structures?”

Cyberpunk 2077’s E3 demo: the good and the bad (Charlie Hall / Polygon – ARTICLE)
“This year’s demo of Cyberpunk 2077, the highly-anticipated role-playing game from CD Projekt Red, looked both better and worse than the demo shown last year. The scope and scale of the game world on display was extraordinary, but the team is clearly still finding its way with the game’s combat. [SIMON’S NOTE: more here from Eurogamer.]”

Against Gravity is building a VR world that won’t stop growing (Lucas Matney / TechCrunch – ARTICLE)
“The quest to create a social auditorium in virtual reality has eaten many VC dollars over the years. While plenty of contenders have emerged, it’s likely Against Gravity’s Rec Room has been the most creative in its approach to capturing a niche market while plotting how to build a sustainable business based on users in VR headsets talking to one another.”

The History of Roguelike Deckbuilders – From Playing Cards to CCGs and Beyond (Extra Credits / YouTube – VIDEO)
“We cover the evolution and history of cards as games! From playing cards, to trading cards, to Magic: The Gathering, to Hearthstone, and beyond…”

Developers don’t want to show gameplay at E3 anymore, and who can blame them? (Jeremy Peel / VG247 – ARTICLE)
“Game developers try to show, not tell, when teaching you about how a game works. But on the stages of E3 this year, they haven’t been showing very much either. Some conference reveals were short films… others were sizzle reels… But far rarer was the seamless gameplay footage that purported to show off exactly how a game would play, moment by moment.”

Microsoft’s xCloud can’t and shouldn’t be compared with Google Stadia right now (Nick Statt / The Verge – ARTICLE)
“I do have hands-on impressions with both Stadia and xCloud: They both work, they’re both impressive, and I’ll share more below. But you can’t properly compare xCloud with Stadia right now, and trying to do so is unfair to both Microsoft and Google. Here’s why.”

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[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at tinyletter.com/vgdeepcuts – we crosspost to Gamasutra later, but get it first via newsletter! Story tips and comments can be emailed to [email protected]. MINI-DISCLOSURE: Simon is one of the organizers of GDC and Gamasutra & an advisor to indie publisher No More Robots, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]

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Get a job: Ghost of Tsushima dev Sucker Punch seeks a Lighting Artist

The Gamasutra Job Board is the most diverse, active and established board of its kind for the video game industry!

Here is just one of the many, many positions being advertised right now.

Location: Bellevue, Washington

Sucker Punch Productions is looking for a Senior Lighting artist with a minimum 5 years of experience and a solid understanding of current run-time rendering technologies.

We have a dynamic, creative and friendly atmosphere at our studio where you can have a big impact on a project as an individual and as part of the team.  

Responsibilities

  • Lighting tasks on a significant portion of game environment.
  • Must communicate effectively.
  • Work closely with Leads and Art direction to achieve art goals.
  • Master proprietary lighting system, tools and systems.
  • Must be able to meet milestones and deadlines.
  • Troubleshooting lighting, art and tech issues, work to solve the issues with Leads, AD or engineers.

Qualifications and Skills

  • 5-years of experience in video game production with solid understanding of advanced run-time rendering technology, deferred lighting, light maps and baked lighting tech.
  • Ability to work with minimal direction and desire to take on responsibilities within team-based work environment.
  • Must have general knowledge of physical based lighting and rendering.
  • Ability to research or track down real-world reference when needed.
  • Traditional drawing, painting, photography or sculpture skills a plus.
  • Excellent Maya skills.
  • Highly developed eye for color, compostion and detail.
  • Problem solver with ability to learn new technologies and software on-the-fly.
  • Previous PlayStation game development a plus.

Portfolio and other Requirements

  • A portfolio review is required. 
  • Applicants must be able to work in the USA and willing to relocate to the Seattle, WA area.

Interested? Apply now.

Whether you’re just starting out, looking for something new, or just seeing what’s out there, the Gamasutra Job Board is the place where game developers move ahead in their careers.

Gamasutra’s Job Board is the most diverse, most active, and most established board of its kind in the video game industry, serving companies of all sizes, from indie to triple-A.

Looking for a new job? Get started here. Are you a recruiter looking for talent? Post jobs here.

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Blog: Creating the the AI of Sea of Thieves – Part 2

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[embedded content]

AI and Games is a crowdfunded series about research and applications of artificial intelligence in video games.  If you like my work please consider supporting the show over on Patreon for early-access and behind-the-scenes updates.

‘The AI of Sea of Thieves’ is released in association with the UKIE’s ’30 Years of Play’ programme: celebrating the past, present and future of the UK interactive entertainment industry. Visit their website for links to interviews, videos, podcasts and events.


In part 1 on my series looking at Rare’s Sea of Thieves, I explored the range of AI systems at play, how missions are generated for players at each of the three quest givers and how all of this is subsequently managed at server level to suit. Having been invited to Rare’s offices there was so much to talk about and in this entry, we’re going to hear first-hand from the developers themselves about the AI in the game at launch. First we’ll explore the pigs, snakes and skeletons roaming the treasure-laden islands; how they work and the surprising secret that powers the skeleton AI behaviour. Plus we dig deep into the completely distinct navigation system built into Unreal Engine 4 by Rare that allows for navigation in open waters and just how difficult it is to stop AI sharks from swimming onto land.

Land AI Architectures

So lets’ begin by examining the land-based creatures. As explained in part 1, one of the main mission types in Sea of Thieves is the Order of Souls: where you must visit one or more specific islands in the world to kill high-ranking skeletons and sell their skulls for treasure. This requires skeletons to spawn in the world when necessary, but they can also just appear throughout your time on a given island if you’re in the midst of retrieving items for a gold hoarders or merchant alliance quest.

Skeleton AI

So how do they work? Well they’re reliant on a commonly used AI paradigm called behaviour trees, which is the default AI tool built into Unreal Engine 4. As explained in my recent AI 101 episode on the topic, behaviour trees allow for branching of logic so that in certain situations, the AI will make one or more decisions that reflect the scenario. Plus they can react to changes in the world quickly and update their chosen behaviour to suit. Now as mentioned in part 1, many of the land-based AI characters such as the skeletons and the animals on the islands – which I’ll come to in a minute – are all using the original built-in AI toolchain. But there’s something special going on in the skeletons that I wanted to talk about, something unique that during my time working on AI and Games, I’ve simply never came across before.

Y’see, when an AI character in game, while you might want to ensure they’re using some of the same mechanics and features as human players – especially if they’re humanoid – when building the AI you’re thinking about the behaviour you want the character to execute often in a completely distinct way from how you would as a player. You’ll have the logic that dictates when a certain action or behaviour is going to be executed and in Unreal you’ll write specific tasks in the behaviour tree in blueprint that handle the execution on a minute level often calling existing functions in the code that players may call to do a similar thing. Say for example in Sea of Thieves you want to heal yourself after being injured, then you would open the inventory, grab a banana then hit the right-trigger or left mouse
button to eat it, which triggers the Heal() function in the codebase for human players. Typically if you want an AI character – such as a skeleton – to do the same thing, the logic would be to simply run either the same Heal() function or a similar one for that non0player character and ensure the appropriate banana-chomping animation is used to enable players to understand what is happening. Ultimately, it looks like it’s doing the same thing, but under the hood they’re completely distinct.

So imagine my surprise when – having sat down with developers Rob Massella and Sarah Noonan – that the skeletons are mimicking player input. So instead of simply triggering specific code behaviours, they’re pressing virtual equivalents of the controller/keyboard inputs and effectively ‘playing’ the game like humans are. Plus, the skeletons use the same base controller (or in UE4 terms, the same actor) as a human player, meaning they not only shares some of the players animations but also the input interface. So returning to the banana example, for a skeleton to heal itself, it’s actually pressing virtual buttons that enable it to grab a banana from its inventory and subsequently eat it.

Though it’s worth mentioning that movement on the ground isn’t using virtual representations of the sticks, they’re just using the navigation meshes baked onto the islands to walk around. What’s amazing about this is that by doing the extra legwork to parse a given interaction or behaviour for the AI into the appropriate player inputs, it ensures that skeletons can only execute actions if a player can do it as well. This kinda makes sense, given they’re… well… undead humans, but more imporantly it helps streamline testing of the skeleton AI, since if you can see them doing something that a player can not, then you know somethings gone wrong. But also, in theory it means that if new gameplay mechanics are added for the player then – once a bit of extra coding has been completed – the skeletons will be able to do it as well!

Given this can take a bit of getting used to, Andy Bastable explained to me that the gameplay team had a little ‘assignment’ that they would give to new developers to help them get to grips with the toolchain. Developers are tasked with creating a ‘Mariachi band’, whereby a group of skeletons must come together on a piece of land, pull out their instruments and start playing a song together.

Now all of the AI behaviours are managed server-side – much like what we saw in my case study on Tom Clancy’s The Division – given it ensures players on each device have the same experience as they interact with them. But there’s still the issue of balance, which as I mentioned in part 1 is addressed by having systems in place that makes sure skeletons scale in difficulty in accordance with the experience. Not only can the behaviours and base gameplay parameters such as hit points and available weapons change, but the types of skeletons are fairly broad with Overgrown, Shadow and Gold skeletons forcing players to mix up their play styles to defeat them. On starting playing for the first time, skeletons are quite slow, not particularly aggressive and can only use claws to attack or maybe a sword. As players increase their ranking in the order of souls, skeletons are given access to abilities they didn’t have before: they can strafe faster, hunt you more efficiently, back off if under attack, heal themselves with bananas and even start to use the pistol and blunderbus to attack. This is all achieved through use of data assets that can plugged into the character AI at runtime that defines how this specific skeleton will operate, with over 50 unique parameters that help diversify their attributes and behaviour.

Animal Behaviours

So while the game needs to provide threats to players on any given island, there’s also all of the ambient wildlife: the pigs, chickens and snakes. They can either prove a pain in the ass while you’re avoiding a hoard of skeletons, be a resource you need to gather for Merchant Alliance quests or just add a bit of life to the surrounding environment.

In any case, they too use behaviour trees and while their architectures is largely similar to the skeletons, it is much more reduced in scale: with snakes attacking the player if in proximity and pigs and chickens just running away from you. The architecture is consistent across each type, with the data assets assigned to them helping to dictate how that specific animal will operate with the behaviour tree.

As mentioned in part 1, these are treated in much the same way as skeletons for load management and can be disabled or despawned when necessary if they’re consuming resource on the server that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Sharks & Navigation

Now having explored all the AI characters on land, what about at sea? So let’s check out the first real threat players are faced with in the murkey depths, sharks. Lots and lots of sharks.

From a design perspective, the sharks are intended to add a new layer of challenge for players by ensuring you don’t sit idle in the water. They only operate within a short range and spawn in when necessary. Meaning you won’t just stumble into a shark swimming the seas in the open world, instead you will effectively cause a shark to teleport into the game near your position then stalk you if the game feels like you’re sitting in the water for too long.

So while the shark behaviour trees is relatively straightforward – they only really cricle their prey or attack it – there are two distinct problems that needed to be addressed. The first big problem is navigation: how do you ensure an AI shark knows how to move through a volume of water. We typically use a navigation mesh to support movement on a static surface. This works OK on land in for characters such as the skeletons given the nav mesh is a two-dimensional surface that models movement on a three-dimensional space. However, this doesn’t scale to surfaces that are constantly changing shape or for volumes of space such as water and air – meaning you need to create a custom solution to resolve it. This isn’t a unique problem for Sea of Thieves, as we saw in my recent case study on Horizon Zero Dawn, where Guerilla Games had to build a separate navigation system for the flying enemy characters.

Rare challenged the problem head-on by building a navigation system that would integrate into the existing navigation framework in Unreal Engine but catered specifically for underwater movement. But before they could do that, there was a second design problem that needed to be addressed; a shark can’t stop moving. Whilst it varies between species, the majority of real-life sharks need to maintain movement in order to breathe. So the AI equivalent needs to replicate this behaviour: making lots of small corrective changes in direction at varying speeds. So the movement systems needed to ensure not only could the AI navigation through water like a shark, it had to move actually move like a shark would too.

So first things first, unless the sharks are instructed to attack a player, they typically swim in arcs. These is achieved by effectively calculating the arc of a circle of a given diameter, this impacts the turning rate of the shark as it’s moving and the designers can tweak the speed with which it moves along it – with that speed value also being sent to the movement components such that the animation reflects the current movement speed. The navigation systems give the sharks location in either 2D or 3D space to move towards, then create a natural arc that will fit that location.

A lot of effort is put into the turning rate of the sharks. The turn rates are constrained in such a way, that it prevents sharks from turning too sharply at high speed. If a shark needs to make a tight corrective turn, given it’s about to attack the player, it will slow down – but never to the point it stops of course – and ensure it’s lined up with the player before speeding up again. But also there’s a small window of acceptable error for shark movement, they can sometimes overshoot a target they’re arcing towards, but provided they’re not going to collide with any obstacles – which I’ll come back to in a second, then that’s fine, given it makes the sharks move more naturally.

This is all largely assuming movement in 2D space, meaning that the player and the shark are at the same depth in the water. In the event they don’t line up, the shark will plot the same paths as usual, but generate a simple besier curve to allow it to swim up or down to the same depth.

Now this is pretty cool, but there’s still one big problem left to deal with: collisions. Sharks need to avoid both ships and islands and are reliant on the environmental query systems in Unreal to spot obstacles in proximity, but they also have short range whisker-like sensors just in case they’re going to swim face-first into a boat. This is pretty important given that there’s still a small chance as it swims an arc that it runs risk of beaching onto an island…. which was apparently a much bigger issue during development!

To keep the codebase maintained, the source code for shark navigation is an extension of existing navigation, movement and AI controller code built into Unreal Engine. As such, it made life easier for the developers given it was designed to behave in much the same way as land-based navigation when called to execute and streamlined it for testing purposes, which is something that you can expect to hear more about later in this series.

Closing

Even the simplest of AI characters needed for AAA titles can prove to be a challenge, and even more so once they deviate from the expected formats in games. Even having AI that swim can prove to be a problem and it was exciting to see how these water-based threats were put together. But our journey through the Sea of Thieves on AI and Games is far from over. There are still some monstrous AI enemies that threaten to drag us down to Davy Jones Locker and in part three of the AI of Sea of Thieves we’re going to tackle them face on:

  • The kraken, the mighty beast that has haunted players since launch.
  • The mighty Megalodon released during the Hungering Deep expansion.
  • And the Skeleton Ships first seen thrashing the waves in the Cursed Sails, that now more aggressively seek players to plunder!
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Amazon Game Studios lays off ‘dozens’ of staff

Amazon Game Studios has laid off an undisclosed number of developers, though a source speaking to Kotaku says that dozens of employees have been affected by the cut.

In a statement given to the publication, Amazon called the layoffs “the result of regular business planning cycles” and part of a reorganization effort to prioritize the development of New World, Crucible, and an unannounced project.

Amazon notes that it is working with affected employees to find them alternate positions within the company. Kotaku’s source elaborates, saying that those hit by the layoffs have 60 days to find new positions within Amazon, after which they’ll receive severance packages if no new employment is found.

If you or someone you know has been affected by these layoffs, you can email Gamasutra to share your story confidentially.

Amazon Games Studios was founded in 2012 and has seen a number of veteran developers join and depart the company in the years since. Those titles mentioned previously, New World and Crucible, were two of the three first projects announced by the company. The third, Breakaway, was canceled last year and Kotaku’s sources say some additional unannounced games were canceled alongside today’s layoffs.

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Video: 9 takeaways of Duelyst’s journey from tabletop to digital game

In this 2017 GDC session, Counterplay Games’ Eric Lang and Keith Lee look back at the development of Duelyst, a collectible card game and turn-based strategy hybrid.

What’s especially interesting about Duelyst​’s development is that it was initially prototyped as a board game and, over time, transformed into a competitive digital collectible tactics game.

Together the pair of speakers delved into the critical challenges the team faced during the development process, and offered up nine impactful learnings that might help you hone your next competitive game.

If you missed seeing it live back in 2017, make sure to take advantage of the fact that this talk is now available to watch for free on the official GDC YouTube channel!

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault and its accompanying YouTube channel offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent Game Developers Conference events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers.

Those who purchased All Access passes to recent events like GDC or VRDC already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription via a GDC Vault subscription page. Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company by contacting staff via the GDC Vault group subscription page. Finally, current subscribers with access issues can contac

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Brenda and John Romero’s Empire of Sin is an emergent narrative gangster flick

The latest game form industry veterans Brenda and John Romero got a surprise reveal this week during Nintendo’s E3 Direct. Titled Empire of Sin, the (slightly censored) trailer showed off a turn-based mafia strategy game that was also being demoed behind closed doors at Paradox’s booth. 

Curious about what’s got the Romeros (and their teammates) diving into the world of 1920s prohibition, we dropped by for a quick look at Empire of Sin and a brief chat with John Romero. As he explains it, Empire of Sin started off as Brenda’s passion project, combining her history of strategy game design with a love for the same historical era that inspired Scarface, The Godfather, and other classic gangster films.

What wasn’t apparent in the publicly released trailer was that Empire of Sin isn’t just an organized crime simulator, it’s also building emergent narrative beats based on the traits and relationships assigned to the player character and a band of recruitable NPCs. 

As John explained it, “Adding all of the character traits and relationships adds a whole layer that most games don’t have. The fact that it changes over time makes it more emergent. They’re not static—you can’t just say ‘this character is always like this, and they’re like that forever, and I know how these chess pieces work together.’ The chess pieces change over time.”

This means the company is attempting to play in a space where simple gameplay decisions can feed into this trait evolution and vice-versa. Romero and his team showed off one specific example that began with ordering a character to execute a downed (but still alive) enemy. According to Romero, repeatedly ordering one character to move in for these close-up executions might give them a specific bloodthirsty trait, and even put them on the path to being a serial killer. 

As that character progressed down that path, other characters would begin to fear working alongside them, influencing who the player sends on specific missions in specific contexts. This system also deals with which NPCs are in love with each other, which ones are enemies, which ones are alcoholics, and beyond.

Watching Empire of Sin at work, it was notable to see a smaller-scale version of systems also being pitched upstairs in games like Watch Dogs: Legion, Dying Light 2, and other games. Romero Games is obviously a much smaller company compared to Ubisoft or Techland, so we asked John what his thoughts were on creating these kinds of emergent systems at a smaller company. 

“You have to just have a certain number of relationships, that’s why you don’t have a million of them,” he said “It’s a number [the player] can keep in their head and think about. So there’s emergence, but it’s not off the scale where you can’t understand anymore how the game works.”

If you’re curious about other games from Brenda Romero that inspired Empire of Sin, be sure to check out her 2016 GDC Europe talk.

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The Weekender: Soft Launched Edition

Another year, another E3 down. There was a bit more mobile love than I was expecting, all things considered, but still not so much that it prevented this week from being a bit on the slow side. Hopefully things will pick up again now that the madness is over. Make sure you check up our round-up of interesting tid-bits from yesterday because, one way or another, we’ve got some exciting things coming to mobile over the rest of the year!

Meanwhile, in the world of mobile gaming…

Out Now

We appear to be in a bit of a draught right now In terms of new releases that have really grabbed our attention. For once there isn’t a new rogue-like card game hitting the market, but neither is there anything else we like to see either.

However, there have been a couple of RPG releases that warrant further inspection, which we’ll summarise below:

Knights of Tartarus (iOS & Android)

This is another Crescent Moon Games release that harks back to the nostalgic days of 8-bit consoles and classic RPGs. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but it’s supposed to feature an vast open world, challenging puzzles and boss fights.

Dark Quest 2 (iOS & Android)

A more tactical-based RPG along the lines we’re used to, this game is inspired by Hero Quest and has been out on PC and Consoles for a while. It features a vast single-player campaign, party-based gameplay and the usual trappings of a game of this nature. There’s some question as to how stable it is right now, so we’ll try and investigate as soon as we can.

As a final note, it seems Call of Duty: Mobile has soft-launched on iOS in Australia, if anyone was interested in checking it out and knows their way around a VPN (or is Australian). It’s also out on Android in certain parts of the world as well.

Updates

Nothing much to ‘headline’ this section this week, but there has been a round of updates from usual suspects. Star Traders: Frontiers continues to put all other devs to shame with a couple of minor content drops, AutoChess has made improvements to its Chess Pass along with some tweaks, and Evolution has updated again, although the description reads exactly like it did last time, so not sure what’s going on there. There’s a Reigns: Her Majesty update as well, but we don’t know what it’s done as of yet.

Deals

A few deals worth nothing this week:

Seen anything else you liked? Played any of the above? Let us know in the comments!

3DS MAX 2020.1 Released

Hot on the heels of the somewhat underwhelming 2020 release, Autodesk have just released the newest update to the seminal 3D modeling application, 3DS MAX 2020.1.  They have also updated their roadmap, showing future development priorities for the application.  The biggest and possibly most game changing new feature of this release is the ability to detach and support up to 3 different viewports, making multiple monitor configurations so much more capable.

Primary features of the 2020.1 release:

There are also several bug fixes and improvements fully detailed in the release notes.  As mentioned earlier, Autodesk also updated their development roadmap, which is available here.

Art GameDev News


Haxe 4.0.0-rc3 Released

The Haxe programming language just released Haxe 4.0.0-rc3.  With this release the versatile Haxe programming language just got an additional compilation target, the Java Virtual Machine (JVM).

Other details of the release:

On behalf of the Haxe Foundation, we are proud to announce the official release of the Haxe 4.0.0-rc.3! It is available along with the changelog at https://haxe.org/download.

The new Java Virtual Machine target is available! Generate JVM byte code directly from Haxe bypassing Java compilation step by adding -D jvm to your project targeting Java.

Unicode support was greatly improved across all targets.

Other than that, we fixed a lot of bugs and improved the quality of IDE services (compilation and completion server).

Also, we are considering different options about inline markup. The feature is subject to change in the future: https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe-evolution/issues/60

See the changelog below for further details. Please report any issues here: https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe/issues

Thank you very much for your help!

Be sure the check the link for the full change log.  With the new ability to target JVM, this means you can now create Java based Android applications.  For more details on this process, check this Github project.  If you are looking for a Haxe game engine be sure to check out our list available here.  We have also done a Haxe + HaxeFlixel and Haxe + Heaps tutorial series.

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GameDev News


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Valve’s official Dota-themed AutoChess game will hit Open Beta in the next couple of weeks

By Joe Robinson 14 Jun 2019

Yeah, yeah, I know; another AutoChess-related story. Look, it’s pretty good, ok? Just… play it. Or if you’d rather not play AutoChess itself, you won’t have long to wait for Valve’s officially sanctioned version that they’ve been developing themselves.

AutoChess began life as a DOTA 2 mod, so given how popular it became it was inevitable the Steam owners would be keen to make their own version, and last night they revealed that DOTA Underlords would be it.

It’s currently only available to anyone who owns the Battle Pass on PC, but sometime soon – we’re thinking either this time next week or early week after – it will transition into Open Beta for everyone across PC, Android and iOS. Here’s their official blurb:

Dota Underlords is a new stand-alone game that pits you against seven opponents in a battle of wits that will have you building, combining, and levelling-up a crew in a battle of dominance for the city of White Spire. In this game, victory is determined not by twitch reflexes, but by superior tactics.

At the moment, Underlords allows you to fight against seven opponents, whether they be real people online, offline play against AI (of various difficulties), or some combination of both with a pseudo-‘co-op’ mode, as the official blog post explains. When the game hits open beta additional features such as Ranked, and cross-platform play.

It feels like they’re releasing this earlier than they’d like, but then the battle for the AutoChess throne is already well underway. The Mod’s official mobile version is available on all platforms already, and they’re bringing a souped-up PC version to the Epic Play store, not to mention all of the other clones and me-toos that have already started to crop up in places. Even League of Legends is getting involved.

We will let you know more as we get it, and I’ll definitely be taking it for a spin myself when it lands.