Veteran game developers from Bungie, EA, and Kongregate have come together to form a new video game studio, Look North World. And this new studio will be focused on making… Fortnite games?
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Since Fortnite’srelease in 2017, Epic has continually updated and expanded the game, adding new content, weapons, and modes like Creative Mode, which lets players build their own maps to share online. The most recent major evolution came this March when Epic launched Unreal Engine for Fortnite (UEFN). This lets people create, for free, more advanced maps and even different games inside Fortnite. This not only makes it easier than ever to create games and playable prototypes, but all UEFN creations can be played seamlessly in Fortnite, providing indie devs a giant audience for their creations. It’s likely this ease of access combined with the huge Fortnite audience is what’s attracted some veteran game devs.
On July 18, Alex Seropian, Jay Pecho, Patrick Moran, Kyle Marks, Aaron Marroquin, and Prashant Patil announced their new game development studio, Look North World. This team of developers is made up of vets from EA and Kongregate and will be led by Seropian, who helped found Bungie (Halo, Destiny) back in the day.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention to video game news over the last two years, a new studio formed by devs from other, bigger companies might sound like a familiar situation. That’s because we’ve seen plenty of game devs leaving big publishers and studios to create their own new outfits, as detailed in this (shockingly) long thread on Twitter. But what makes Look North World different is that these vets formed a new games studio to exclusively build projects inside Fortnite.
“Developing in UEFN opens a whole new world of opportunities, and we are in uncharted territory,” said Seropian. “Through experimentation, we will see what the players like and involve them in decisions.”
“We are jumping into it with a ‘the virtual sky is the limit’ mentality,” he continued. “As we develop creative ideas, we will learn how these platforms engage, entertain, and boost social interactions in order to iterate accordingly.”
Why make games inside Fortnite?
Look North World’s first game is already here. Outlaw Corral, live now in Fortnite, is a Wild West-themed 1v1 shooter that can be played for free inside Epic’s popular game. Look North World says this is just one of several UEFN games it currently has in development.
While it might seem wild that some devs are jumping ship to make games inside Fortnite, the reality is that UEFN games can become hugely successful.
A Fortnite-based clone of Only Uphas become one of the most popular games in the world, and has probably made its devs a lot of money, thanks to Epic’s system for paying UEFN devs. If Look North World can create a few games that are even just a fraction as big as that Only Up clone, it’s likely it could make real money in the process.
And because Fortnite handles all of the servers and infrastructure, it seems reasonable that it’s a cheaper way to create online video games, helping even small hits become profitable. If this new studio succeeds in Fortnite, don’t be surprised if others start investing more time and money into creating UEFN games, too.
Final Fantasy XVI is the latest game to spark an intense discourse, from debates around difficulty to whether it’s even a true Final Fantasy game. And producer Naoki Yoshida has grown absolutely tired of the negativity.
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In a mini-documentary aired in Japan and translated on Twitter by Audrey “aitaikimochi” Lamsam, CEO of the anime merch site Aitai Kuji and the one who found Sora’s IRL apartment, Yoshida reacted to Japanese players’ comments on the game. With his hands rubbing his cheeks in visible exhaustion, Yoshida remarked that he’s over all the negativity Final Fantasy XVI has received since launch.
“There’s a lot of people who just yell at you, people I’ve never seen, met, or talked to before,” Yoshida said. “It’s weird. What did we do to them? Perhaps they just write it from a place of negativity and malice. It’s tiresome.”
It’s hard to know exactly what Yoshida is referencing here, but there have been plenty of examples of people raising concerns about the game which may, at times, have crossed the line from criticism into toxicity or personal attacks. Folks have argued that the game is far too easy even without activating its “insane amount of accessibility options.” Others have claimed it’s not a real Final Fantasy game but one that “uses the Final Fantasy branding” for marketing. And then, of course, the game’s hard pivot to straight-up-action à la Devil May Cry has left folks wondering where the “Golden Era” of turn-based Final Fantasy games has gone, one that prompted us at Kotaku to discuss what makes the series what it is. While the game’s gone on to receive generally favorable reviews, garnering a score of 87 on Metacritic and 88 on Open Critic, it’s been divisive all the same.
Kotaku reached out to Lamsam and Square Enix for comment.
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While critique and debate should be welcome and can push the medium forward, resulting to personal attacks because you don’t like a game ain’t it.
In a recent interview with the BBC, an actor in the upcoming fantasy role-playing game Baldur’s Gate 3 revealed that developer Larian Studios used intimacy coordinators to help actors feel safe and comfortable when depicting the game’s more intimate moments.
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An intimacy coordinator, according to SAG-AFTRA, is “an advocate, a liaison between actors and production, and a movement coach and/or choreographer in regards to nudity and simulated sex and other intimate and hyper-exposed scenes.” Essentially, intimacy coordinators coach actors and production companies about consent and boundaries when intimate scenes “involving nudity or simulated sex” are being shot. Their presence and input has become more common on film and TV productions in recent years, but this may be among the earliest examples of them being employed in the gaming space. (As the BBC story notes, intimacy coordinators were also on hand for the filming of certain scenes in last year’s game Immortality.)
During the interview, actors Jennifer English (Shadowheart) and Devora Wilde (Lae’zel) revealed that developer Larian Studios utilized professional intimacy coordinators to aid Baldur’s Gate 3’s cast in feeling safe while motion capturing the game’s many steamy and sometimes awkward romance scenes between male, female, and shape-shifting companions.
Despite conceding that acting out the fantasy RPG’s narrative had its odd moments, English told the BBC that she “never felt ‘yuck’ in a recording session at all.”
Developer Larian told the BBC that it believes it’s among the first studios to use intimacy coordinators while working on a fully rendered video game, and it hopes other studios will do the same in the future.
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11 Minutes With Baldur’s Gate 3’s Character Creator
While Baldur’s Gate 3 promises plenty of opportunities for romance of all kinds, the one example that’s gotten the most attention so far is a clip of a love scene between vampire Astarion and shape-shifting druid Halsin, in bear form. Larian founder Swen Vincke has said that the steamy clip got the studio briefly banned from TikTok. Since the clip’s release on July 7, BG3’s Google search results exploded, with the “bear-mance” scene apparently piquing folks’ curiosity about what else the Dungeons & Dragons game might have in store.
Gamescom’s Opening Night Live kicked off Tuesday, August 22 with a smattering of trailers for Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Black Myth: Wukong, and Little Nightmares 3, among others. Tucked into the presentation was a trailer for Black Desert developer Pearl Abyss’ next game and, y’all, it looks pretty cool.
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Crimson Desert was announced in November 2019 and has since had a handful of details spill out, with a big reveal landing in December 2020 at The Game Awards. Billed as an open-world action RPG, Crimson Desert’s ONL appearance featured a new gameplay trailer showing tons of cool stuff.
It looks like an interesting amalgam of Assassin’s Creed and Devil May Cry with brutal combat, transformations, and horse drifting. Yes, horse drifting. At one point during the trailer, the character gets a horse to make a sharp left turn that’s almost giving racing sim or maybe something closer to the 2022 indie online co-op racing battle royale game Knightfall: A Daring Journey. It’s over-the-top in a very video game sort of way, and I’m absolutely here for it.
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Interestingly, according to PC Gamer, Crimson Desert was originally planned as a prequel to Black Desert. However, the project outgrew that property to the point where Pearl Abyss saw fit to treat Crimson Desert as a separate IP. While it’s unclear just how connected the two games are, Crimson Desert is built using an upgraded version of the engine that powers Black Desert.
Crimson Desert doesn’t have a release date, but it is expected to come to consoles and PC.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2, a game that’s had a troubled development rife with multiple delays, now has new developers and is eyeing a 2024 release date.
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In a new announcement trailer, publisher Paradox Interactive revealed that The Chinese Room, the devs behind Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, will finish developing Bloodlines 2 and introduce new gameplay mechanics in the process. Speaking with PC Gamer, creative director Alex Skidmore revealed that The Chinese Room, known for atmospheric, narrative-focused first-person games, will rebuild Bloodlines 2 using “a new code base with different gameplay mechanics and RPG systems.” You can check out Bloodlines 2’s new reveal trailer below.
World of Darkness
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Along with the introduction of new RPG systems, Paradox Interactive VP Sean Greaney told PC Gamer that The Chinese Room will be changing the age of players’ vampires. Originally, Bloodlines 2’s player-controlled vampire was meant to be a recently-turned “thin blood,” which is considerably weaker than, say, an aged vampire in the game’s universe. Now, the game stars a more seasoned and powerful vampire, according to PC Gamer.
“We don’t want it to be just a sort of poor homage or pastiche of Bloodlines 1. We want it to be its own thing. We’re not doing what Bloodlines 1 did, which is a traditional RPG game start: the very first day you’re a vampire. The actual character you are has been a vampire for quite a while. And that was to create something different from Bloodlines to give a different experience,” Skidmore told PC Gamer.
Despite playing as an older, more established vampire, Skidmore told PC Gamer players will still be able to “fill in the character a bit” as they roleplay.
The Chinese Room
Not everything is changing now that The Chinese Room is behind the helm of Bloodlines 2. According to PC Gamer, the developer will “reuse a significant amount of art and level design” from previous dev Hardsuit Labs’ version of the game and its Seattle setting. Hopefully, the next stretch of Bloodlines2 news won’t center on yet another delay like it has in the past.
A successor to Nintendo’s massively popular Switch gaming console has been rumored for years, but actual Switch 2 hardware now appears to be out in the wild. Eurogamer reports that Nintendo used a special version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to demo the new console for developers at Gamescom 2023 last month.
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Nintendo had a booth on the show floor in Cologne, Germany promoting Pikmin 4 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but behind closed doors it was secretly showcasing the Switch 2. While one of the demos consisted of the 2017 open world Zelda game running at higher specs, little else is known about what developers saw during the meetings or what their impressions were.
VGC has corroborated Eurogamer’s report, with additional info about a second test that had the Switch 2 hardware running the Unreal Engine 5 Matrix Awakens tech demo originally used to show off the capabilities of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. It apparently even ran Nvidia’s DLSS upscaling technology with some version of ray-tracing enabled.
Switch owners have been wondering for a while when a successor would arrive and just how powerful it would be. Nintendo gave up competing on cutting-edge tech specs back with the launch of the Wii, and the Switch has sold 125 million units despite running games at lower framerates and resolutions than rival hardware. With the arrival of the Steam Deck and Asus ROG Ally, however, PC gaming handhelds have shown that portability doesn’t always have to come at the expense of performance.
Nintendo announced earlier this year that it would have no news to share about a Switch 2 or any other gaming hardware refresh prior to the end of its fiscal year in March 2024. VGC recently reported that while the Switch 2 is expected to release sometime next year, Nintendo might not bring it out until closer to the holiday season in order to avoid console shortages at launch.
Unity, the cross-platform game engine that powers games like Rust, Hollow Knight, and Pokémon Go, has introduced a new, controversial fee for developers, set to take effect next year. Indie developers quickly responded to the announcement, with many suggesting the costs of this policy would kill smaller games, while confusion spread as devs wondered how it would affect their bottom line. Unity’s attempts to provide clarity have only fueled devs’ frustration and spawned more questions from those with both currently active and in-development games using the engine.
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The new Runtime Fee, announced in a September 12 Unity blog, is based on the number of installations a game built with the Unity engine receives, as well as the revenue it generates. Though it won’t start until January 1, 2024, the Runtime Fee will apply to any game that has reached both a previously established annual revenue threshold and a lifetime install count. Games developed with the lower-cost Unity Personal and Unity Plus plans reach that threshold at $200,000 of revenue in one year and 200,000 lifetime installs, while Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise accounts must reach $1 million in revenue and 1 million lifetime installs for the fee to kick in.
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Unity Personal and Unity Plus devs will have to pay $.20 for every game installed past their subscription-specific thresholds, Unity Pro devs will have to fork over between $.02 and $.15 for every install past theirs, and Unity Enterprise devs’ costs range from $.01 to $.125. Developers in emerging markets will have lower costs per install past their threshold. The announcement was met with widespread confusion, as devs of free-to-play games scrambled to figure out if they’d end up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars, charity bundle creators became concerned about potentially being punished for supporting a good cause, and more.
Developers react to Unity Runtime Fee
Shortly after the policy was announced, Rust developer Garry Newman wondered if “Unity [wants] us to start paying them $200k a month” before doing the math and realizing that Facepunch Studios would owe the game engine company about $410,000 total.
“While this isn’t much, here’s some stuff I don’t like,” Newman shared to X (formerly Twitter). “Unity can just start charging us a tax per install? They can do this unilaterally? They can charge whatever they want? They can add install tracking to our game? We have to trust their tracking?”
Though many devs initially thought this new fee would apply to all games made in Unity (including free ones), and reacted accordingly, it soon became clear that the fee will only apply to monetized titles. Axios’ Stephen Totilo shared some clarification he’d received from Unity a few hours after the initial announcement, including that charity games and bundles are excluded from fees. But some of Unity’s clarifications only served to further suggest the notion that it didn’t really think this initiative through.
“If a player deletes a game and re-installs it, that’s 2 installs, 2 charges,” Totilo posted. “Same if they install on 2 devices.” This means that developers could be “vulnerable to abuse” from bad actors who repeatedly uninstall and reinstall their games. “Unity says it would use fraud detection tools and allow developers to report possible instances of fraud to a compliance team.” So, if you get a massive bill from Unity, you’ll just have to wait on their customer support line. Shouldn’t be an issue, right?
Xalavier Nelson Jr., head of Strange Scaffold, the indie studio behind games like El Paso, Elsewhere and An Airport For Aliens Currently Run By Dogs, expressed concerns about the entire situation. “This is the danger of modern games and game development cycles becoming exponentially more complicated, lengthy, and prone to immense dependency,” he told Kotaku via DM. “When a decision like this gets announced, and you’re three years into a five-year journey, you have little to no choice. You’re stuck with a partner who may be actively working against your interest, and who you increasingly cannot trust.”
Tiani Pixel, indie developer and co-founder of Studio Pixel Punk, the studio behind the 2021 Metroidvania Unsighted, told Kotaku via DM that “there’s a lot of things in Unity’s statement that aren’t clear and are very worrying.” She brought up not only how complicated it is to measure actual installs, but the privacy issues inherent with such a policy.
“There are some certifications you need for having such service in your game and releasing it on consoles and other platforms. You need an end-user license agreement (EULA), because you’ll be sending info from the player’s device to an external server. So, will indies be forced to add such DRMs on their games so they can track the installs? Again, Unity does not make it clear. Forcing DRM on games has a long (and bad) history in gaming. Many tools used for this are literally indistinguishable from malwares…There’s no benefit to the devs or the user here.”
She also pointed out how these new fees could affect indie developers. “Small indie games, like our game Unsighted, which had the chance to appear on services like Xbox Game Pass, (in which the game isn’t sold directly to the consumer), might be penalized for becoming popular there, because we will be charged for every install,” she said.
Brandon Sheffield, creative director at Necrosoft Games, warned game developers off the engine in a scathing op-ed for Insert Credit. “But now I can say, unequivocally, if you’re starting a new game project, do not use Unity,” he wrote. “If you started a project 4 months ago, it’s worth switching to something else. Unity is quite simply not a company to be trusted.”
The op-ed ends by stating that Unity is “digging its own grave in search for gold.”
Unity continues to court controversy
Shortly after Unity’s blog post went live, game developer John Draisey posted that Unity had “eliminated Unity Plus subscriptions” and that the company was automatically switching members to its Pro subscription next month. Draisey shared an image showing the price difference between the two subs, which are billed annually, and it was nearly $3,300. “Be careful not to have auto-renew on your account if you can’t afford the price. And this is with just 2 people on my team with project access,” he warned.
It’s unclear how the potential change in subscription options will translate to the newly minted Runtime Fee, as the thresholds are different for each sub. Kotaku reached out for clarification, and a Unity spokesperson pointed us to their FAQ page. When asked for further clarification, the spokesperson sent this statement: “Unity Plus is being retired for new subscribers effective today, September 12, 2023, to simplify the number of plans we offer. Existing subscribers do not need to take immediate action and will receive an email mid-October with an offer to upgrade to Unity Pro, for one year, at the current Unity Plus price.”
The bigwigs at Unity have been making some, uh, interesting decisions as of late. In June, the company announced two new machine-learning platforms that would be integrated into its engine: Unity Muse (essentially ChatGPT for using Unity, a service that would allow devs to ask questions about coding and get answers from a bot) and Unity Sentis, which “enables you to embed an AI model in the Unity Runtime for your game or application, enhancing gameplay and other functionality directly on end-user platforms.” As former Kotaku writer Luke Plunkett pointed out at the time of the announcement, AI technology heavily relies on “work stolen from artists without consent or compensation,” so Unity Sentis raised a ton of eyebrows.
And as Rust’s Newman shared shortly after the latest Unity announcement, it seems these changes are having a negative impact on the company at large: their market shares tanked as of 11:17 a.m. EST. Let’s see if Unity sticks with these changes, or makes adjustments based on feedback from developers.
Unity responds to negative feedback
At 6:38 p.m. EST, the official Unity X account shared a post on the game engine’s official forums titled “Unity plan pricing and packaging updates.” The post contains a series of frequently asked questions that cropped up shortly after the announcement of the Runtime Fee, many of which were focused on game installations.
As many devs worried on social media before these FAQs were released, under Unity’s new policy, multiple reinstalls or redownloads of games will have to be paid for by creators—and the definition of “install” also includes a user making changes to their hardware. Further, any “early access, beta, or a demo of the full game” will induce install charges, according to the FAQs, as can even streamed or web-based games. And Unity won’t reveal how it’s counting these installs, posting that “We leverage our own proprietary data model, so you can appreciate that we won’t go into a lot of detail, but we believe it gives an accurate determination of the number of times the runtime is distributed for a given project.”
The FAQ does not clarify how Unity will ensure it does not count installations of charity games or bundled games with its “proprietary software.”
The Verge’s Ash Parrish was quick to point out that the multiple install charges could give right-wing reactionaries a new way to damage a game and/or studio: revenue bombing. If certain groups are angered by, say, a queer character in a game or a Black woman lead (both of which have whipped gamers into a frenzy before), then they could repeatedly install said game over and over again, racking up Unity’s Runtime Fee for the studio.
“I can tell you right now that the folks at risk of this are women devs, queer devs, trans devs, devs of color, devs pushing for accessibility, devs pushing for inclusion—we’ve seen countless malicious actors work together to tank their game scores or ratings,” developer Rami Ismail wrote on X.
Nelson confirmed to Kotaku via DM on the evening of September 12that “concrete talks are happening among some of the most significant developers in the space” regarding a class-action lawsuit against Unity.
After its announcement was met with an almost universally negative response, and the FAQ forum post did not seem to allay concerns, Unity “regrouped” in the evening of September 12 to discuss the terms of its Runtime Fee, Axios reports. Despite initially confirming that the fee would apply multiple times “if a player deletes a game and re-installs it,” Unity is now saying that it will “only charge for an initial installation.”
Unity executive Marc Whitten “hoped [that this policy clarification] would allay fears of ‘install-bombing,’” a concern many devs expressed not long after the initial Unity blog post announcing the new revenue scheme.
The company also reassured Axios that “games offered for charity or included in charities will be exempt from the fees” as there will be a way for devs to inform the company of their charity status. Whitten also said that, in regards to things like Xbox Game Pass, “developers like Aggro Crab would not be on the hook, as the fees are charged to distributors, which in the Game Pass example would be Microsoft.”
Finally, Whitten suggested only about about 10% of developers who use Unity will have to pay fees because of the thresholds the company has established.
Update 09/12/2023 7:35 p.m. ET: Updated to include information from an official Unity forum post, more reactions from devs, and the confirmation of a potential class-action lawsuit.
Payday 3‘s matchmaking servers were a mess in its first week. What went wrong? The maker of the game, Starbreeze Studios, blames an “unforeseen error” for the issues, and says it’s looking at ways to make the “always online” multiplayer shooter “less dependent on online services.”
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The bank-robbing sim is the latest game to take over Steam alongside console releases, including a day-and-date launch on Xbox Game Pass. The sequel hit almost 90,000 concurrent players on Valve’s digital storefront on September 21, but things have been rocky ever since due to bugs, crashes, and constant server disconnects. Screenshots of the game’s now infamous “matchmaking error matchmaking error” screen began flooding social media. Starbreeze CEO Tobias Sjögren immediately apologized, but problems still persist.
On September 25, the studio put out an official press release to try and explain why the servers for a game that requires players to be connected to the internet at all times in order to play have been such a disaster. It turns out that while a technical issue made things bad right out of the gate, a faulty update on September 24 by a third-party online services partner broke things all over again.
“Matchmaking software encountered an unforeseen error, which made it unable to handle the massive influx of players,” Starbreeze wrote in an announcement today. “The issue caused an unrecoverable situation for Starbreeze’ third-party matchmaking partner. A new version of the matchmaking server software was gradually deployed across all regions leading to improved performance. However, a software update made by the partner during late Sunday again introduced instability to the matchmaking infrastructure. The partner continues to work to improve and stabilize Payday 3‘s online systems.”
The studio said that the matchmaking problems never manifested during the game’s technical betas or “early access” period, and it’s currently working on both short- and long-term fixes. That includes looking at ways to make Payday 3 “less dependent on online services.” It’s not exactly clear what that means, but players have been begging Starbreeze for an offline mode like those offered in past Payday games since the matchmaking issues began. Who knows how feasible that is post-launch, but Sjögren tweeted on Sunday that the team is currently “looking at [the] possibility.”
In the meantime, Payday 3 isn’t out of the woods yet, and it’s already getting slammed in the Steam reviews as you might expect. It currently has a rating of “mostly negative” with just 33 percent positive reviews out of nearly 25,000. “Starbreeze has created an incredible successor to their beloved Payday 2,” reads one. “Too bad you cant play it.”