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How do you make Fortnite fair?

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Sometime in the next few weeks, Fortnite will begin a new season, the third since its Chapter 2 overhaul debuted last October. I’ve been playing since the second season — which began way back in December 2017 — and over the years I’ve seen the game and its players change and evolve. The game shifted, the players adapted, and then the game would shift again. The metas were constantly in flux, and casual players were mostly happy. The world of competitive Fortnite had its disagreements with the developer’s adjustments, like any other competitive video game scene, but lately it seems like things have gotten untenable. Professionals like Turner “Tfue” Tenney have seemingly given up on the game after a bad run in the Fortnite Champion Series qualifiers; there were recently a flurry of posts on the game’s competitive subreddit about an issue that seemed to be ruining the experience of playing the game itself.

The culprit? Aim assist.

For the uninitiated, aim assist is exactly what it sounds like. In many shooters, especially on console, the computer actually helps you aim. In single-player games, it helps with immersion; would you really feel like a heroic super soldier if you couldn’t hit your shots? But in games that have player versus player modes, it can make the experience of playing feel unfair. (I should pause here to note that aim assist is traditionally something that’s used for people gaming on controllers — it’s hard to aim accurately with a thumbstick without loads of practice and / or talent.)

Aim assist ruined Fortnite for M&K players looks like we need to find a new game unlucky

— Tfue (@TTfue) May 17, 2020

Traditionally, Fortnite has always had aim assist. The reason players in the competitive scene are upset, however, is because the game’s aim assist changed. A year ago, at the Fortnite World Cup, there were between four and six controller players who qualified in the solos and the duos tournaments, which means that around 90 percent of players were using a mouse and keyboard. “And even around that time those tournaments that were being held, very few controller players were making it to the top 100,” says Ali “SypherPK” Hassan, a professional Fortnite streamer who’s one of the most popular players on Twitch. “And then a year later, we now have tournaments, like the weekly cash cups or the FNCS [Fortnite Champion Series] on NA East [North America East servers] where the lobbies now have more than half of the players on controller.” According to Hassan, on the NA East servers, the majority of the top 100 FNCS qualifiers were on controller — 55 to 44 or 45 on mouse and keyboard.

And at the highest levels of Fortnite competitive play, there’s a lot of money on the line, not to mention glory. At last year’s World Cup, Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf took home the top prize in solos, which netted him $3 million in prize money and a virtual trophy in the game itself.

The trouble started last September, when Epic Games addressed competitive player complaints and began sunsetting what they called legacy aim assist in favor of a new system with linear and exponential modes. In legacy, if you aimed down your sight, your crosshair would either snap onto a target or move in their direction, depending on how close you were.

“They used to constantly have to aim down sight, and then let go of the aim down sight [ADS] button, and then aim down sight again, and it would just constantly keep snapping onto the target,” says Hassan. But constantly doing that motion introduced some inaccuracy. “It also was kind of a skill set that a lot of the casual players and semi competitive players weren’t really that good at,” Hassan says. “For some people it seemed pretty easy to spam the L2 button or the ADS button. But it was kind of an art that only really a lot of the top players knew how to use properly.” Legacy was phased out permanently this March in favor of linear and exponential, which work very differently.

In linear and exponential aim assist, aiming down your sights doesn’t snap to targets. But if you’re on target, the assist feels stickier — linear and exponential seems to stick to what you’re aiming at, which means it’s harder to lose your targets. The difference between linear and exponential is also pretty simple: the names refer to the input curves. “So if you’re moving your analog stick on exponential, it’s initially going to move slower. And then the more you’re pushing [your] analog stick, it’s going to exponentially go faster,” says Hassan. “So it allows you to have better, more precise, minor movements, especially when you’re shooting long range. Exponential seems to be the better option when you’re shooting long range.”

“While linear has a linear input curve where it doesn’t matter if you’re barely moving the stick or you’re pushing all the way, the speed at which your process is moving is consistent,” he continues. Essentially, one is better for precision in long-range fights, and the other is better suited for short-range flicks and spraying.

I should pause here for a bit to note two things. First, the aim assist controversy is happening mostly in professional spheres — it’s not casual players who are very affected by this. Second, all of this only applies to people playing on PC because the aim assist strength appears to be tied directly to frame rates. Which is to say you’ll have much stronger aim assist playing on 240fps than you would at 30fps. And at this point in the game’s life cycle, it’s basically only PCs that can run Fortnite at more than 60 frames per second.

The other thing that’s worth mentioning is how the meta — the metagame, which refers to the dominant gameplay strategies players use to win — has changed, because it’s incentivized the kind of close-range combat at which linear aim assist excels. Submachine guns, which are used at close range, are very powerful now; the other thing that’s important is Epic’s removal of traps from the game, which you could stick to walls to instantly deal 150 damage to an opposing player. (Health maxes out at 200 points.) All this matters because a lot of high-level Fortnite gameplay happens at very close range, in what’s known as box fights — players build boxes around themselves and edit the shape of the walls around them to attack their opponents. At full speed, it looks beautifully chaotic.

“When you jump into another player’s box, tight combat becomes a little bit problematic because a lot of times builds are breaking around you and the camera angle can get skewed in a way where it’s hard to see your opponent,” says Hassan. If you can’t see your opponent, it’s easy to make mistakes. “But on controller, a lot of times your aim assist might compensate for the lack of visuals on your screen, whether that’s builds breaking or whatnot,” he continues. “I’ve shown footage of, you know, players tracking opponents through like explosions and debris of builds on controller, where that’s kind of impossible to a mouse and keyboard unless you’re just kind of guessing.” And because traps are gone now, there’s really no way to punish players who jump into your boxes. “The players that like to jump into boxes the most are controller players,” he says. “So the meta definitely kind of shifted back into a more controller friendly play style.”

As Hassan points out, it used to be rare for someone to play with a controller on a PC — it was weird, he says, when the high-profile streamers Aydan Conrad and Nick “NickMercs” Kolcheff switched to PC back in the day. “It was kind of a controversial move,” he says. But now a lot of people have made the switch, and it shows. In the platform cash cups, which are held regularly, Hassan says there are more players in the PC lobbies playing on controllers than on mice and keyboards. “Some of the top players, like Scope for example, used to be on console — you know, five, six months ago swapped to PC, started dominating on PC.”

It has also frustrated a lot of top players, like Tenney (who hates the state of aim assist), Josef “Liquid Stretch” Liepshutz (who placed third in the FNCS week 2 qualifiers), and even some longtime controller players like Co1azo. “So there’s a lot of frustration, but then there’s also a lot of pushback from some of the controller players. “And unfortunately, the way this works usually is a lot of the people who defend controller or defend the current state of aim assist are on console,” Hassan says. “But in reality console controller aim assist really doesn’t work the same way as PC. It doesn’t have the same stickiness and tracking that PC does.”

The real problem here is balance. It’s very hard to balance a cross-platform game because each platform has its own advantages and limitations — playing Fortnite on mobile is not the same as playing the game on mouse and keyboard, even if it is superficially the same experience. Hassan thinks that Epic Games should do some testing where they have separate controller tournaments and mouse and keyboard tournaments. “I think it’s going to be nearly impossible to have a perfect balance between controller and mouse and keyboard,” he says. “Either controller is going to be too weak like it was a year ago without all the settings that they have now, and they weren’t even, you know, qualifying for the finals, or it’s going to be a situation like nowadays,” he says, referring to the fact that there wasn’t a single mouse and keyboard player in the solo FNCS qualifiers top 10.

“When you try to make controller competitive, you’re going to have these frustrating fights, or people are getting just absolutely lasered at the expense of them not maybe not being able to edit or build as precisely as mouse and keyboard,” says Hassan. “Then if you don’t give them that opportunity, they’ll never qualify for these tournaments.” Which is to say: the state of the game is complicated. Epic, however, seems to have caught on. In the last game update, the developer silently nerfed controller aim assist on PCs — they weakened its effect without explicitly telling players. Epic declined to comment for this story, but I have no doubt that Fortnite’s creators are thinking about their next move.

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HBO Max is getting a Batman spinoff show based on the upcoming Robert Pattinson movie

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HBO Max has announced a new TV series focused on the Gotham City Police Department, which will be a spinoff of Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman film (which is set to star Robert Pattinson at Bruce Wayne / Batman).

The new series will be set in the same world as Reeves’ film and will be produced by Reeves and Dylan Clark (who’s also producing The Batman). Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter is set to write the series.

The series promises to “build upon the motion picture’s examination of the anatomy of corruption in Gotham City” and “further explore the myriad of compelling and complex characters of Gotham,” with the goal of launching a “new Batman universe across multiple platforms.”

The new TV series emphasizes how important DC properties are to the overall HBO Max strategy. By tying a TV series to its next big Batman film, Warner Bros. is hoping to leverage the popularity of its DC characters to help drive subscribers to the new streaming service. It’s a similar motivation that’s fueling the slate of already-announced DC series coming to the platform and the upcoming release of the Snyder Cut of Justice League that’s planned for next year.

The Batman isn’t the only property that WarnerMedia is looking to expand to HBO Max. The company is also set to try a similar experiment with its upcoming Dune adaptation. It’s already announced a spinoff for HBO Max, Dune: The Sisterhood, which will explore the larger world of Dune and the characters in it. It will be produced by Dune director Denis Villeneuve.

WarnerMedia isn’t the only company trying to tie its blockbusters to streaming: it’s a cornerstone of Disney’s strategy for Disney Plus, too, which has emphasized its Star Wars series (like The Mandalorian) and the upcoming Marvel shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or Loki as ways to drive subscriptions.

There’s no release date yet for the upcoming Gotham PD HBO Max series; The Batman is scheduled to release on October 1st, 2021.

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The world is finally coming around to Starship Troopers

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The Verge is a place where you can consider the future. So are movies. In Yesterday’s Future, we revisit a movie about the future and consider the things it tells us about today, tomorrow, and yesterday.

The movie: Starship Troopers (1997)

The future: Two hundred years from now, Earth is governed by the United Citizen Federation, a new world order where people are defined as either citizens or civilians. To be a citizen, you must enlist in the UCF marines, which will earn you the respect of your peers and the right to vote. Not much is divulged about the lives of those not enlisted; it’s implied they don’t really matter much. Everyone wants to be a good citizen, everyone wants to enlist.

The UCF needs a steady stream of recruits, too: they’re in a seemingly endless war against the Bugs. If they have a proper name, no one is told. They’re just hostile, overwhelming, and need killing. If they were provoked, the UCF does not care.

Starship Troopers follows a group of new recruits from the end of their compulsory schooling to their enlisting in various branches of the military. All-American jock Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) becomes an infantryman, his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) becomes a pilot, and his weirdo pal Carl (Neil Patrick Harris), who seems to have psychic powers, joins the military’s Intelligence division.

Viewers see the future through their eyes, and it’s one forged on the equitable distribution of violence. Voting is violence, and those who use actual force are the only ones qualified to exercise that privilege. Women and men are equals in this militaristic future: they bleed the same, play on the same arena football teams, and buy into the jingoistic propaganda with equal enthusiasm. They don’t question their roles, the war they fight in, or the fascistic nature of their government, their uniforms, their attitudes. All that matters is that they fight, and they’ll gladly die in a war that doesn’t make sense.

The past: Upon its release in November 1997, Starship Troopers almost immediately flopped. Audiences and critics hated it. Roger Ebert called it “the most violent kiddie movie ever made” in his two-star review. Ebert conceded director Paul Verhoeven seemed to be angling for a satire of fascism but argued the film lacked humanity, considering its action soulless spectacle.

It didn’t help that the movie arrived in a tremendous year for film. Titanic would steamroll box offices a month later, and the preceding months saw more successful genre fare like The Fifth Element and The Lost World: Jurassic Park rake in millions. Perhaps Star Wars didn’t help, either: in 1997, the Special Editions had been released both theatrically and on home video, and the mean contrast of Verhoeven’s film might have been difficult to swallow.

Starship Troopers seems to be an obvious satire now, but the movie and its marketing mostly played things straight. It was an unpretentious sci-fi action film with a $100 million budget and great special effects. Why shouldn’t it be fun? And in the heady glow of late-’90s American prosperity, it wasn’t particularly obvious that the people Starship Troopers was critiquing might have been us.

The present: As Atlantic writer Calum Marsh noted in 2013, the tide has been slowly turning on Starship Troopers. Like a lot of prescient satire, the times changed until the movie’s point was made for it, and its targets became obvious — even though its story in retrospect could not have been more plain.

Revisiting the film in 2018, Verhoeven stressed how Starship Troopers consciously evoked the iconography of fascism on every level, from the casting of blond and square-jawed Casper Van Dien in the lead over known names like Matt Damon to the uniforms they wore.

“I decided to make a movie about fascists who aren’t aware of their fascism,” Verhoeven said, citing the United States’ refusal to limit firearms and the escalating number of executions in Texas under then-governor George W. Bush as aspects of American policy that could easily give way to fascism.

In a recent piece for The New Yorker, David Roth argues that the movie is especially potent in 2020, as American institutions have all but failed, with fascism the only avenue for them to persist.

“For most of Starship Troopers, humanity, in every possible facet, gets its ass kicked. A culture that reveres and communicates exclusively through violence—a culture very much like one that responds to peaceful protests with indiscriminate police brutality, or whose pandemic strategy is to “dominate” an unreasoning virus—keeps running up against its own self-imposed limitations,” Roth writes. “It’s not a realization that anyone in the film can articulate, or seemingly even process, but the failure is plain: society has left itself a single solution to every problem, and it doesn’t work.”

It’s worth noting that it’s still easy to misinterpret Starship Troopers if you’re not necessarily expecting satire. There is nothing to compare the fascistic UCF against other than the bugs — aliens shaped like things we already abhor, who don’t speak or seem to want anything other than to be left alone. It’s full of long, corny action, characters who don’t seem to think about much, and very little growth.

On this level, it’s a mindless blockbuster that’s easy to ignore, which is precisely the problem. It’s been easy to ignore our society’s very obvious ills. The atrocities of 2020 are not abnormalities or acts of God; they’re the logical conclusion to decades of careful work on the part of some and negligence on the part of others. The rot is slow, like the online propaganda videos that Starship Troopers uses for exposition that all end with a link asking “would you like to know more?” It’s a shadow of the way algorithms would serve as accelerant for radicalization nearly a decade before YouTube.

Starship Troopers asserts that the spectacle is the point. Its final act, a last, desperate push to clear out a bug stronghold, is exceedingly dull and senseless, violence made mundane. It plays it straight with no clever asides for the audience to pick up on, no character to channel the experience through, no one to ask the viewer why they have this urge to find this violence meaningful, for having the temerity to think that violence would have a meaning. I’m here to see the fireworks, and rare is the blockbuster that is interested in forcing me to question that.

Besides, would people even care? If we gave the Avengers an S.S. paint job, would people love them any less? We don’t just cheer for the “good guys” with guns anymore, but the ones with literal superpowers, and they’ve taken over the world.

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Deadly Premonition 2 leans into the best and worst parts of the original cult classic

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An unexpected sequel

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is almost as awkward to review as Deadly Premonition must have been to follow up. So let me just get this part out of the way: Deadly Premonition fans, by which I mean people who genuinely, unironically liked Deadly Premonition, may well dig this game. It is delirious in most of the same ways as its predecessor, from the surreal writing to the endlessly twisting plot.

Should anyone else play it? Well, no.

One reason is simple. Another is more complex. The simple reason is that anyone who didn’t play Deadly Premonition will have no idea what is going on in this game, which serves as both a sequel and prequel while making no attempt to explain itself to newcomers. But the thornier problem is that Deadly Premonition 2 is, by any reasonable standard, a deeply flawed game to an even greater degree than its predecessor, and uninitiated players are unlikely to be as forgiving a decade on.

The original Deadly Premonition found an unusual path to Western fandom. While it was a full-priced release in Japan under the name Red Seeds Profile, the US version got a new title and a $20 price point that reflected its low budget and less than impressive production values. The critical response was mixed, to say the least — IGN famously gave it a 2/10 — but word soon spread about this bizarre Twin Peaks-influenced survival horror game from Japan. It’s now considered a true cult classic.

I often hear the phrase “so bad it’s good” or comparisons to The Room thrown around in reference to Deadly Premonition, and I think that’s way off. The Room is a terrible movie made by someone who had too much money and no self-awareness, which is what ultimately makes it watchable. Deadly Premonition, however, is a great game at its core. It had terrible graphics, awful voice acting, and clumsy combat, sure, but most of its flaws were a consequence of its budget. The writer and director, Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro, knew exactly what he was going for. There is nothing like Deadly Premonition’s unhinged blend of horror, comedy, and pop-culture references, and for many, the technical flaws only added to the B-movie charm.

Deadly Premonition 2 doesn’t get let off so easily. This is a Switch-exclusive release, and no one ever expected a sequel to happen, so it is fair to say that Nintendo’s backing for the project probably exceeds whatever collection of shoestrings was used to fund the original. Despite this, Deadly Premonition 2 is a technical disaster. It adopts a new semi-cel-shaded art style reminiscent of Swery’s Xbox One game D4, and it does look relatively sharp on the Switch’s screen. But the overall aesthetic is a visual mess, and the performance often drops well below 20 frames per second.

Judging by reactions I’ve seen to previews of Deadly Premonition 2, fans of the original may well argue that this is exactly what they’d expect or even hope for. Swery himself has publicly dismissed concerns about the frame rate. And I admit it would have been a little weird to see a Deadly Premonition sequel out of nowhere with photorealistic graphics at 4K / 60fps. But I would argue that it’s even weirder to see a console-exclusive game in 2020 that looks and runs like this. It made me nauseous at times. The total lack of an invert-look option did not help matters.

I’m reminded of my time reporting a Polygon feature on the history of the low-budget Earth Defense Force series, which is notorious for its inversely proportional relationship between frames per second and giant alien bugs on-screen. “From my perspective, if I asked the player if they want a very stable and conservative gameplay experience, or something extraordinary with some technical issues, which game would they prefer?” director Takehiro Homma asked me. “I think the latter is more appealing.”

Deadly Premonition 2 is not showing me anything extraordinary. Often, it’s just showing a dude talking to himself at a dinner table with admittedly witty dialogue, and the frame rate still somehow suffers. Things get even worse when he steps outside on his skateboard. If anything, the original Deadly Premonition had better performance.

Deadly Premonition 2’s core conceit is essentially a direct lift from the first season of True Detective, where you follow a young sleuth in the past and catch up with his ragged, world-weary form in the present for another perspective on the main story. (The past scenes are also set in Louisiana, just to drive the reference home.)

The game plays out in an open world of sorts, letting you explore a small town and gather information on a murder — although the detective elements are more about finding things on the map than using any actual brainwork. There is also combat, as with the first game, and unsurprisingly, it isn’t very good here either.

I could tell you more about how Deadly Premonition 2 plays, but really the answer is just “badly,” and that won’t — and shouldn’t — put off anyone who wants to play it anyway. I do enjoy the characters and the world and the overwhelming sense that everything has been scooped directly out of Swery’s id with a shovel. I don’t think any of that is an excuse for releasing a game that feels like it’s running on a PS2 emulator, but I know there are people who won’t mind. As some guy once said, time is a flat circle. This game repeats what came before it — for better and worse.

Deadly Premonition 2 reminds me of last year’s Shenmue III. That was a similarly unlikely sequel that played on nostalgia; the overall visuals were updated, but the simple character models and knowingly cheesy voice acting felt of a part with the decades-old predecessors. Deadly Premonition 2, in turn, certainly does what it can to re-create the experience of playing the original game.

But the difference with Shenmue is that those games were technical marvels at the time, so deliberately evoking that Dreamcast-era vibe makes a certain degree of sense today. Deadly Premonition was great despite its technical issues, not because of them. I’m not asking for a AAA-standard sequel, but it would have been nice if Deadly Premonition 2 felt fit for purpose as a Switch game.

Still, as a Deadly Premonition game, I have to say that A Blessing In Disguise hits the spot. If you liked what was actually good about the predecessor — the writing, the sense of humor, and the multilayered plot — this is a reasonable sequel. I just wish it had improved on the things that weren’t so great instead of leaning into them.

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise is available now on the Nintendo Switch.

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