Guillermo del Toro, Mads Mikkelsen, Lindsay Wagner, Margaret Qualley, and Norman Reedus star in a video game that doubles as one of the year’s best cinematic experiences.

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by David Ehrlich via IndieWire

Hideo Kojima’s “Death Stranding” is massive, moody, and — as usual for the video game auteur — weird as hell. The open-world experience has enough contemplative moments to make it feel like a “Grand Theft Auto” sequel directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, and it’s the greatest achievement yet from themost eccentric and forward-thinking designer of a medium in which virtually every large-scale project is created by committee.

“Death Stranding” could be described as the best “video game movie” ever made, but that doesn’t quite capture what makes it feel special. Is it a film that you play? A game that you watch? Does it invite all of the same criticisms that have been leveled at Kojima’s work since last century? Yes, yes, and yes. At a time when video games can finally look like movies as much as movies have started to look like video games — when people like Kojima and James Cameron are working towards similar ends with many of the same techniques — Kojima has created a bizarre masterpiece that doesn’t just blur the line between these mediums, but also illustrates the power of knotting them together.

“Death Stranding” begins with a quote that distills the ethos of his entire career. It’s a key excerpt from a Kōbō Abe novel called “The Rope,” and the words dangle in front of you for just a moment before they’re replaced by some cryptic narration about the Big Bang:

“The rope and the stick are two of humankind’s oldest tools. The stick to keep evil at bay, and the rope to bring that which is good closer. Both were the first friends conceived by humankind. The rope and stick were wherever humankind was to be found.”

Most video games think of a controller as the stick. Kojima, an obsessive cinephile who abandoned his filmmaking dreams in order to pursue a form of storytelling that can reach beyond the confines of a screen, has always thought of a controller as the rope. “We don’t need a game about dividing players between winners and losers,” he once wrote in his now-defunct Rolling Stone column devoted to the intersections and overlaps between digital media, “but about creating connections at a different level.”

Kojima has been trying to make that game for at least 21 years. It’s a journey that can be traced back to September 1998, and one of the most famous moments in the history of interactive entertainment. Anyone who’s played “Metal Gear Solid” already knows what I’m talking about: Psycho Mantis, the telepathically enhanced fourth boss that you encounter in Kojima’s landmark tactical espionage game, begins to read the player’s mind. He starts with some parlor tricks, as the leather-clad bad guy makes the player’s controller rumble as evidence of his power. Even back then, that part was kind of a yawn. Psycho Mantis gets a bit more personal from there, scanning the player’s memory card and citing some of their favorite recent Konami games; a fun and clever gambit, but more of an advertisement for the developer’s other products than anything else.

Then Psycho Mantis breaks your television.

The screen cuts to black, the music stops, and the controller becomes a worthless hunk of plastic in your hand. The word “HIDEO” appears in the upper-right corner of the screen, written in the blocky lime green letters the television industry once adopted as a universal symbol for “Input.” When the image eventually winks back to life, Psycho Mantis is invincible, essentially predicting the player’s every move. But, as with many of the bosses strewn across the “Metal Gear” saga, there’s a hidden secret that makes beating him a breeze: Players have to get off their butts, go over to their Playstations, and plug their controller into a different console port.

People complained that the cut-scene-heavy “Metal Gear Solid” was more of a movie than a game, but one moment was all it took for series mastermind Kojima to shatter the fourth wall that had sealed off the art form since its inception. Since then, Kojima has only grown more obsessed with bridging the gaps between fiction and reality; cinema and gaming; ropes and sticks.

Kojima’s latest is set in a post-apocalyptic world a few generations since a mysterious event known as the Death Stranding ripped civilization apart at the seams. The precise details of what happened are portioned out across the epic adventure (which this critic finished along with a decent number of sidequests in about 60 hours), but the gist of it is that something awful caused the world of the dead to be transposed over the world of the living.

When two distinct planes of existence merged together, in the blink of an eye, America — and maybe the rest of the Earth along with it — was overrun with invisible monsters called BTs. The sky began to rain a water-like substance known as “Timefall,” which rapidly ages any skin or metal that it touches. Human corpses started to melt into black pools of chiral crystals, and many of the bodies caused “voidout” explosions. The survivors, meanwhile, retreated into small underground shelters across the country where they isolated themselves out of fear and preservation. The country had been growing distrustful and remote from itself for some time, and the Death Stranding just hastened the inevitable.

You play as Sam Porter Bridges, an immortal delivery man who schleps cargo around the Eastern seaboard so that he doesn’t have to dwell on his tragic backstory (Sam is embodied by a 3D photogrammed Norman Reedus, whose moving performance never steps foot in the uncanny valley). Eventually, he’s tasked by his adopted mother — the dying President of the United States — to embark on a coast-to-coast trek to reconnect people to the chiral network and “Make America Whole Again.” In a game that grapples with how America’s failed potential curdled into an extinction-level event, this early quote will not be the most explicit reference to Donald Trump.

But the internet is not an inherently benevolent force, and the story of “Death Stranding” is framed against our current darkness, an age defined by real walls along imaginary borders, industries that are burning up the planet they were invented to power, and social networks that bring people together in order to tear them apart. There’s no telling if rebuilding the country’s bridges will be for the best; no telling if Sam is bringing people the rope or arming strangers with the stick.

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So far, so relatively normal for this kind of thing. Built on the engine used for “Horizon Zero Dawn,” the gameplay itself is par for the course as well, with fun but clumsy combat sequences interjected between long and contemplative sequences of walking between distant outposts and sneaking around whatever monsters you might find along the way. It’s a testament to the ingenious cargo mechanics and the staggering world-building that you never really stop to consider that you’re role-playing as a glorified Amazon courier.

But Kojima hasn’t gone straight. This is someone whose Brechtian instincts and John Carpenter-inspired sensibilities have combined for many of the most daring and peculiar experiments in video game history. (Just ask anyone who beat “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.”) He’s used his acrimonious split from Konami to follow his muse like never before: “Death Stranding” soon reveals itself to be the strangest thing Kojima has ever made.

The pre-title sequence alone contains some of the most arresting, unusual imagery that games have ever seen: Sam meets a Léa Seydoux character named Fragile, fends off a BT, has an Oval Office encounter with a death mask-wearing cabinet member who refers to himself as Die-Hardman (Tommie Earl Jenkins), re-enacts “The Ballad of Narayama” with his mother’s body, and finds himself outfitted with an adorable fetus “Bridge Baby” who can sense BTs when connected to Sam via a synthetic umbilical cord.

Players carry BB in a chest pod and have to soothe him when he cries out at you through the speaker embedded in the Playstation controller; maybe these are just the sentiments of an expectant father, but the emotional bond you eventually form with the little guy is deeper and more primal than anything a game has manufactured this side of “The Last of Us.” The connection between them even resonates with enough power to survive the “Irishman”-length expository monologues that suck the life out of the game’s “End of Evangelion”-inspired final chapters.

But if Kojima’s storytelling can be so convoluted and grandiose that it makes the finale of “Metal Gear Solid 4” feel like Chekhov, his vision has never been clearer. The prologue ends with Sam being roped into a rescue mission that devolves into the most spectacular and terrifying set piece I’ve seen in any medium this year. By then, there’s no doubt that Kojima has followed his own strange path to become the director he once dreamed of being.

And just when it’s starting to feel like “Death Stranding” is the greatest movie that Guillermo del Toro never made, the iconic “Pacific Rim” creator shows up in the game as a BB-obsessed NPC called Deadman. Del Toro, who previously collaborated with Kojima on the aborted “Silent Hills” and the Escher-like “P.T.” that it left behind, only lends his likeness to the character (voiced by Jesse Corti), which leads to some major cognitive dissonance for anyone who’s ever heard him talk before.

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But his appearance, and the perceptual clash that it causes, speaks to the heart of a game that’s about the schisms between and inside us; a game that treats ancient Egyptian ideas about the body and soul with peer-reviewed seriousness, uses a non-proprietary system of Facebook-esque “likes” as its currency, and leaves you with an entire language worth of Kojima’s pseudo-scientific philosophies about our own conflicting states of being (drink every time someone says the word “Beach” and you’ll be necrotizing before you know it).

Del Toro’s disembodied role indicates how giddy “Death Stranding” is about its own cinephilia, even by the standards of an auteur whose “Dune”-level dense “Metal Gear” franchise extrapolated some “Escape from New York” references into an entire alternate history of the Cold War. Nicolas Winding Refn lends his likeness to a very amusing major character named Heartman who goes into cardiac arrest every 21 minutes, two other very recognizable directors play bit parts, and the world is strewn with pre-Stranding relics such as the score to Dario Argento’s formative giallo masterpiece, “Deep Red.”

But the filmic nature of “Death Stranding” goes much deeper than nods and detritus and the presumption that the game’s primordial landscape more closely resembles contemporary Iceland than post-apocalyptic Baltimore due to Kojima’s affinity for “Prometheus” and its sequel (a fitting backdrop for a soundtrack powered by the American-Icelandic band Low Roar, whose lovely electronic post-rock ballads sound like a ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds). The most movie-like thing about it stems from the famous actors (no spoilers here) who reconcile the “ha” and “ka” of it all by voicing their own digital avatars. Kojima directed them in much the same way that Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves directed Andy Serkis in the recent “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, and the results are spectacular.

Not only does Sam Bridges so closely resemble Norman Reedus that you lose sight of the distance between them, but the fact that he’s played by such an obviously real and recognizable person makes it so much easier to believe in the porter’s humanity. “The ability to control real actors is unique to the fiction of games,” Kojima wrote while developing “Death Stranding,” “and it leads to a more realistic experience; and that is the shared aim of gains and movies alike.” In its own demented way, the verisimilitude of “Death Stranding” is off the charts.

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Margaret Qualley helps prove that point. The “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” star is so expressive that she leaps off the screen even as a hologram, but her layered performance as a tech-head named Mama becomes truly devastating once the character shows up in the flesh. The palpable weight and emotionality that Qualley brings to the role allows Mama to veer off in some wild directions that would feel silly if they weren’t so raw. Mads Mikkelsen is scary and poignant in a role that I couldn’t explain if I tried, but Kojima keeps this strand of the story from fraying apart by using a series of classic film tropes as footholds. And the Bionic Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner, carries the weight of the world as both President Strand and her twentysomething daughter Amelie, as Kojima more seamlessly de-ages the 70-year-old actress than “Gemini Man” could ever dream of doing. The strained bond between the past and the present is crucial to a story in which time causes far more wounds than it heals, and Wagner’s double-sided turn is able to trace a powerful line between them.

Some of these scenes are so drunk on their own nonsense that they leave you scratching your head. Others are so tender and well-composed that they take your breath away. All of them are so rapturously expressive that Kojima no longer has to rely on his old meta-textual trickery. And yet, in characteristic fashion, the most indelible moments of all manage to tie filmic and gaming devices into an inextricable knot that use the conventions of one medium to subvert the expectations of another.

I wouldn’t dare spoil a demented, exasperating stretch in the penultimate chapter, but suffice it to say that cinematic traditions crash into the game’s longest cut-scene with such destabilizing force that it’s hard to make sense of what you’re watching. You forget that you’re playing a mega-budget product that’s sure to sell millions of copies the world over — that you’re not the only person alive who’s bearing witness to it. Kojima uses game language to remind you how isolating a screen can be, and then in the subsequent climactic sequence (which hardly requires you to hit a single button), uses film grammar to expand the kind of stories that video games have been able to tell.

It’s BB who makes this effect most obvious, as the dramatic cut-scenes involving the big-eyed fetus make you more reactive to it during gameplay, and its various coos and cries during gameplay render you more invested in it as a character. As Deadman repeatedly observes, BB evolves from one kind of tool to another over the course of “Death Stranding.” Its nature and abilities never change, but the way that we and Sam think about it does.

As a whole, “Death Stranding” itself is the same way. The game starts by putting a stick in your hand, only for the controller to slowly become a rope as players guide Sam to unify a broken world over the course of the 60 hours that follow. Players are elated when they finally receive guns that work against the BTs, only to find that the bullets draw from your own blood — fire too many and you’ll die. Ladders, climbing lines, and 3D-printed postal boxes are some of the most rudimentary tools you’re given, but they only grow more powerful as other players on the Playstation Network begin to use them on their own quests (a brilliant riff on how the “Dark Souls” franchise twists the hostility of online gaming towards the better angels of our nature).

“Death Stranding” bends a wide array of modern tech back towards the most basic aspirations of art: It affirms that we’re alive, that we’re connected, and that humanity will always have reason to hope because our extinction and salvation are made possible by the same tools. The stick can prod us into action, and the rope can be fashioned into a noose; a movie can alienate, and a game can unify. What something does is only defined by how we use it. If we’re not careful, every new means of bringing us closer together can become a method for pulling us apart.

Like global warming and the spread of the internet, the singularity between film and video games has become inevitable; at this point, we only have the power to manage it. But “Death Stranding” finds that every cataclysm is its own opportunity, and that the end of one thing is the beginning of another. Kojima believes that the future will only destroy us if we don’t allow it to bring us together, and he’s never found a better way of delivering that message.

“Death Stranding” is available November 8 on the Playstation 4.

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by Janko Roettgers via Variety

Microsoft has teamed up with Warner Bros. to store a copy of the 1978 movie “Superman” on a small glass disc about the size of a coaster. The collaboration, which will be officially unveiled at Microsoft’s Ignite 2019 conference in Orlando, Florida Monday, is a first test case for a new storage technology that could eventually help safeguard Hollywood’s movies and TV shows, as well as many other forms of data, for centuries to come.

“Glass has a very, very long lifetime,” said Microsoft Research principal researcher Ant Rowstron in a recent conversation with Variety. “Thousands of years.”

The piece of silica glass storing the 1978 “Superman” movie, measuring 7.5 cm x 7.5 cm x 2 mm. The glass contains 75.6 GB of data plus error redundancy codes.

Microsoft began to investigate glass as a storage medium in 2016 in partnership with the University of Southampton Optoelectonics Research Centre. The goal of these efforts, dubbed “Project Silica,” is to find a new storage medium optimized for what industry insiders like to call cold data — the type of data you likely won’t need to access for months, years, or even decades. It’s data that doesn’t need to sit on a server, ready to be used 24/7, but that is kept in a vault, away from anything that could corrupt it.

Turns out that Warner Bros. has quite a bit of this kind of cold data. Founded in the 1920s, the studio has been safekeeping original celluloid film reels, audio from 1940s radio shows and much more, for decades. Think classics like “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz” or “Looney Tunes” cartoons.

Warner Bros. stores film in cold storage vaults, where temperature and humidity are tightly controlled and air sniffers look for signs of chemical decomposition that could signal problems

“Our mission is to preserve those original assets in perpetuity,” said Brad Collar, who is leading these efforts at Warner Bros. as the studio’s senior vice president of global archives and media engineering. And while the studio is deeply invested in these classics, it also keeps adding an ever-increasing number of modern assets to its archives, ranging from digitally-shot films and television episodes to newer forms of entertainment, including video games.

To date, the Warner Bros. archive contains some 20 million assets, with tens of thousands of new items being added every year. Each of them is being stored in multiple locations, explained Collar. “We want to have more than one copy.”

And to this date, Warner Bros. is storing every single movie and TV show on film, even if they’re being shot digitally. For archival purposes, the studio splits a film into its CYMK color components, resulting in three distinct copies that are then written on black-and-white film. The results are being stored away in a cold vault, which is kept between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hollywood studios have been storing films like this for decades, explained Collar. “This process is tried and true.” And it works: When Warner Bros. recently decided to reissue “The Wizard of Oz” in 4K, employees just had to go back into the studio’s vault, retrieve those 3 color-isolated copies, digitize each, and reassemble them to the color master copy. “It is an evolved process,” said Collar.

However, the process doesn’t work for all kinds of assets. Video games, for instance, need to be stored digitally. Light field video captures, holograms, or whatever else the future may hold for next-generation entertainment, will likely also require different solutions. And with recent visual improvements like 4K and HDR, there is an ever-increasing need for petabytes of storage, said Warner Bros. chief technology officer Vicky Colf. “It’s the quality of the content that we are dealing with.”

The studio has been researching novel storage solutions for some time. When Collar first heard about Microsoft’s Project Silica, he was instantly intrigued. After all, the idea to store media on glass sounded awfully familiar: Collar had stumbled across old audio recordings in Warner’s archives a while back, which were being stored on glass discs slightly larger than regular vinyl records.

His team had to first find special players to access the recordings, but was then able to digitize them, unlocking a “Superman” radio play from the 1940s. So when the Warner started talking to Microsoft about collaborating on Project Silica, it was immediately clear that “Superman” was the right film to store on glass. Said Collar: “It’s a beautiful full circle.”

Warner Bros. has been storing all of its films and TV shows, even those shot in digital formats, on 35mm film.

But Microsoft’s approach is based on very different technology than what was used by 1940s-era archivists. Project Silica relies on lasers similar to those used for Lasik eye surgeries to burn small geometrical shapes, also known as voxels, into the glass. “We can encode multiple bits in each voxel,” explained Rowstron. And unlike traditional optical media like CDs or DVDs, Project Silica actually encodes data in multiple layers. Microsoft used 74 such layers to capture “Superman” in glass, but has since advanced the technology to add many more layers.

Once data is stored this way, it can be accessed by shining light through the glass disc, and capturing it with microscope-like readers. In fact, in Project Silica’s early days, the company simply bought off-the-shelf microscopes for this process, which also benefits from machine learning to make sense of the captured light.

The process of storing and accessing data with Project Silica is still in early stages, but it works: After burning the copy of “Superman,” Collar’s team checked to make sure the data was not corrupted. “We did a bit-by-bit check,” he said. The result: The movie was there, safe for future generations. “We have that glass now here in our vaults,” he said.

Microsoft also did extensive tests to make sure that Project Silica storage media didn’t easily damage. “We baked it in very, very hot ovens,” said Rowstron. His team submerged the glass in boiling water, microwaved it, and even scratched it with steel wool — all without any damage to the stored data. Sure, it is breakable if you try hard enough, admitted Rowstron. “If you take a hammer to it, you can smash glass.” But absent of such brute force, the medium promises to be very, very safe, he argued: “I feel very confident in it.”

And while Microsoft partnered with Warner Bros. for this first proof-of-concept, the use cases for Project Silica may ultimately extend far beyond Hollywood. Other known examples for cold data include medical data and banking information, explained Rowstron, adding that many other applications may not even be known yet.

To illustrate the potential, Rowstron referenced the way consumers used to treat photos taken on their phones. A few years ago, before cloud storage became ubiquitous, a consumer may have taken a burst of photos of one motive, and then deleted all but one of those pictures. Fast forward a few years, and machine learning algorithms have gotten really good at combining these burst photo sequences, and turning them into better-looking composite images. “There is a lot of value to keep data around,” Rowstron said.

This also explains why Microsoft is interested in storage solutions like Project Silica to begin with. The company’s own Azure cloud business already safekeeps vast amounts of data for its customers, including both “hot,” frequently accessed data, as well as “cold” data. For some of its long-term storage needs, Azure still uses tape, which frequently has to be checked, and even re-copied, to maintain data integrity. Glass could one day be a more secure solution to safekeep data for the company and its customers.

Warner Bros. isn’t expected to replace its existing archival strategy entirely with glass any time soon, said Colf. “It’s just another arrow in our quiver,” she said. “We hope that film is an option for us for many years to come.”

There is also still a lot of work to be done before Project Silica can become a real product. Read- and write-operations need to be unified in a single device, and the amount of data stored on one piece of glass needs to increase. Microsoft isn’t revealing how much it has been able to squeeze onto the latest generations of the medium, but it is apparently not in the terabyte range just yet. Still, Rowstron is confident that Project Silica will lead to a break-through in storage technology. “I believe the future is glass,” he said.

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by Mike Snider via USA TODAY

Can a video game be too real? That’s a concern being raised about “Call of Duty Modern Warfare,” the latest salvo in the multibillion-dollar video game series.

The new game, out Friday, has one scene set in a London townhouse known to harbor terrorists where British special operations forces are investigating. Inside, they find several people dressed as civilians. At one point, an unarmed woman disregards the commands of the soldiers and moves. Is she going for a weapon? Should the player shoot?

Another scenario puts the player in the role of a young Middle Eastern girl and her brother, also a child, who must fight off a Russian soldier after he breaks into their modest abode, murders their father and seeks to finish them off, too.

Can a video game be too real? That’s a concern being raised about “Call of Duty Modern Warfare,” the latest salvo in the multibillion-dollar video game series.

The new game, out Friday, has one scene set in a London townhouse known to harbor terrorists where British special operations forces are investigating. Inside, they find several people dressed as civilians. At one point, an unarmed woman disregards the commands of the soldiers and moves. Is she going for a weapon? Should the player shoot?

Another scenario puts the player in the role of a young Middle Eastern girl and her brother, also a child, who must fight off a Russian soldier after he breaks into their modest abode, murders their father and seeks to finish them off, too.

These scenes in the story mode of the highly anticipated “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” ($59.99-up, for Microsoft Xbox One, Sony PlayStation 4 and Windows PCs, rated Mature for ages 17 and up) were not included for shock value, says Taylor Kurosaki, studio narrative director at Infinity Ward, the Santa Monica-based studio that created the game.

“Just because we cover some heavy subjects, we are not treating them in a flippant way,” he said in an interview with USA TODAY. “The game puts you in some tough spots.”

That’s because “Modern Warfare” – beyond delivering the fun factor of a virtual shooting gallery – is meant to live up to its name in depicting “what the modern battlefield looks like,” Kurosaki said.

Concerns over the violence

Some early scenes in the trailers and previewed to video game journalists have raised eyebrows for the brutal violence needed to progress through the story.

Video game news site Polygon, in reporting on the game’s trailer last month, declared it “violent, morally conflicted and loud.”

Dean Takahashi of tech news site VentureBeat argued that, even though the townhouse incident may reflect modern combat, it “should not be a part of a modern video game, in my opinion, given the thin line between civilians and warriors and given the impression it creates in our world, which is driven by social media sound and video bites. It looks so much like you are killing innocent civilians. And if you make a mistake, you are.”

The Guardian suggested the game treads “a moral minefield.” The U.K. newspaper recalls that an earlier game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” released in 2011, had a scene in which a bomb exploded in London – killing a young girl and her parents, all tourists – that led a politician to accuse publisher Activision of “exploiting” for profit the suicide bombings in the city in July 2005.

When the new game hits and “politicians see a scene of civilian-attired people being gunned down in a London house, they’ll be asking a lot of questions,” Keith Stuart wrote in The Guardian.

“Call of Duty” has not shied away from courting controversy. “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” released in 2009, had a player-controlled character infiltrate a Russian squad, which subsequently massacres civilians in an attack meant to falsely implicate U.S. forces.

That game sold about 4.7 million copies in its first 24 hours – touted at the time by Activision as the largest-ever launch of an entertainment release, whether movie, music or game.

This new “Modern Warfare,” which is a reimagining of 2007’s “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare,” has a lot to live up to. “COD 4: Modern Warfare” not only moved the fighting to fictional battlefields from historic ones – earlier games were set in World War II – but also ramped up the sensationalized action rivaling blockbuster movies and kicked off a trilogy of games that remain among the most beloved video game releases of all time.

“MW3” and “MW2” are the No. 4 and No. 6 top-selling video game of all time in the U.S., according to The NPD Group. In all, “Call of Duty” games hold six of the spots on the research firm’s all-time sellers list, which is topped by “Grand Theft Auto V,” released in 2013. “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” are No. 2 and No. 3.

The new “Modern Warfare” is expected to be the top-selling video game in the U.S. this year, forecasts Mat Piscatella, NPD’s executive director for games. That would continue a streak of “Call of Duty” being the top-selling console game franchise each of the last 10 years.

Attention to detail

Improved graphics make the soldiers and settings look true to life. Former Navy SEALs Mitch Hall and Steve Sanders were consultants and acted out some of the scenes in motion capture sessions, so the game’s soldiers move naturally and with purpose. Some scenarios were acted out on full-scale sets for added authenticity.

And the settings look more realistic, too, thanks to the use of thousands of real photos of buildings, tanks and objects stitched together in 3-D software in a process called photogrammetry.

In addition to seeking out combat veterans as consultants, Infinity Ward also worked with war correspondent Hollie McKay and young adult fiction author Somaiya Daud, as regional and cultural consultants on the portrayal of freedom fighters and women in the Middle East.

“We are talking about female representation in our the game, so we want to get that right as well,” said Kurosaki, who notes that most of the creative team are American males. “If we expect our players to have empathy for a character whose backstory is not like their own, then we have to do our homework.”

Players will get to play the role of a woman freedom fighter, Farah Karim, who, in addition to being the young girl pitted against a Russian in that flashback sequence mentioned earlier, becomes the commander of a faction based on the YPG, a Kurdish militia that fought in Syria. (Speaking of being ripped from the headlines, the YPG is the group being pushed from the Syria-Turkey border area after U.S. troops were pulled out of the area two weeks ago.)

“When all is said and done, Farah is going to join the iconic pantheon of Modern Warfare characters,” Kurosaki said.

Opting for realism resonates with gamers and should stoke sales, says Michael Pachter, industry analyst for Wedbush Securities. He expects “COD: Modern Warfare” to continue the franchise’s streak of $1 billion revenue per game, with sales of 25 million copies or more. Overall, Activision has sold more than 300 million “Call of Duty” games.

“The games that have performed the best are the ones that are closest to real life … (and are) something you could relate to and the weapons make sense,” Pachter said.

Controversy won’t likely hurt, either. “Yes, there will be backlash, but it’s an M-rated game,” he said. “(The game makers) assume that adults can handle that and in war that is real.”

But is it appropriate for your kids?

Many parents let their children and teenagers play “Call of Duty” games, despite its rating, which suggests the games are meant for those aged 17 and older.

Parents should take note of this game’s emphasis on realism, says Sierra Filucci, who is editorial director at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit advocacy group for kids and families. “Kids under the age of about 14 may be more vulnerable to the realistic violence in M-rated shooter games like ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ than older kids who can think in more abstract and ethical terms,” she told USA TODAY via email.

Should parents decide to let their teens play the game, “they should make an effort to play along with their kids, discuss the issues the game brings up in a curious and non-judgmental way, and address any behavioral issues that seem to stem from playing the game,” Filucci said.

Wedbush’s Pachter compared the game to “American Sniper,” an R-rated Oscar-nominated film starring Bradley Cooper as U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who at one point had to decide whether to shoot a woman as she approached fellow troops. It turned out she had a grenade. In the movie, Cooper as Kyle first had to shoot the woman’s son, who originally had the grenade, too. “I think they are going for that,” Pachter said.

Exactly, says Kurosaki of the Activision-owned Infinity Ward studio. The game “makes you think and is an unflinching, uncompromising look at war today and the psychological toll that war takes,” just like that film and others such as “The Hurt Locker,” and documentaries such as “The White Helmets” and “Restrepo.”

The older “Modern Warfare” of a dozen years ago had a bit of a Michael Bay (director on movies from “Armaggedon” to the “Transformers” franchise)  feel to it, which worked for that time. Kurosaki sees commonalities in the “Modern Warfare” evolution and the transformation in the Batman franchise from the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson to the current “Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix.

“If you went into that film thinking you were going to get Jack Nicholson’s take on Joker and Michael Keaton and that cast of characters, you would be mistaken,” Kurosaki said. “I kind of wonder if that take on that universe plays today. So this is analogous to that.”

When you load into “Modern Warfare,” he said, “assume that you are going into a relevant, thoughtful, sophisticated, yet badass story that feels like it has something to say and feels relevant to audiences in 2019.”

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by Zheping Huang and Gregor Stuart Hunter via Bloomberg

Activision Blizzard Inc. is facing a fierce backlash and calls for a boycott after a unit of the American game company punished a player for supporting Hong Kong’s protest movement, the latest cultural clash between the U.S. and China.

Blizzard Entertainment banned Ng Wai Chung, known as Blitzchung, from its Grandmasters esports competition for a year and withheld prize money he had already won after he used a slogan from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Players and fans around the world immediately responded with outrage over what they view as heavy-handed punishment and kowtowing to Chinese censorship. The topic erupted online, with #blizzardboycott trending on Twitter.

“I will never play Blizzard’s game from now on, unless they apologize to blitzchung and to HK people. Blizzard sucks,” one person wrote on a forum discussion thread called ‘Solidarity with Blitzchung, Censored by Blizzard.’

Hong Kong’s protests have sparked escalating clashes between Beijing and the rest of the world. The National Basketball Association was engulfed in controversy after the general manager of the Houston Rockets expressed support for the protesters, leading China’s broadcasters to pull NBA games and local companies to drop Rockets products. Apple Inc. was blasted by the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper for carrying an app and song embraced by the movement.

China’s Online Army Shows Foreign Brands Who’s in Charge

The Blizzard incident began when Ng — dressed in a gas mask and goggles in defiance of authorities’ ban on face masks — used the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” during a post-match interview. Blizzard, developer of games like World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, said in a statement it instituted the ban to “prevent similar incidents” in the future. On the China microblogging site Weibo, Blizzard’s statement in Chinese was: “We will, as always, resolutely safeguard the country’s dignity.”

The blowback was immediate. In South Korea, Blizzard became a top trending subject on Twitter with people saying the company “prioritizes money over human rights” and that it is “crazy” and “‘disappointing.” In the U.S., an influential former Blizzard employee, Mark Kern, rebuked the company.

“You screwed up and traded your players in for dollars,” he tweeted. “There is keeping politics out of games, then there is grand standing to appease the Chinese Communist Party.”

Contacted for comment, Activision Blizzard reiterated in a statement plans to enforce its established rules of conduct: “While we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules.”

Activision Blizzard joins a number of international companies embroiled in controversy around free speech linked to China. Luxury brands like Versace, Coach and Givenchy have all fallen foul of Beijing’s demands to refer to both Hong Kong and Taiwan as parts of its territory and not suggest they are independent nations. During the summer, China also requested more than 40 foreign airlines stop referring to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries.

“As you know, there are serious protests in my country now,” Ng said in a statement to gaming blog Inven Global. “My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention.”

Activision Blizzard has tie-ups with Chinese gaming houses Tencent Holdings Ltd. and NetEase Inc. to distribute — and in some cases co-develop — new entries in beloved franchises like Call of Duty and Diablo in the world’s biggest video game market and beyond.

One player explained how much they enjoyed playing Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, but would be stepping back from it and joining the boycott.

“I hit level 45 tonight so when I read the news I was extremely sad,” the person wrote. “I can put up with a lot, but if it’s someone’s freedom or my money, I will gladly give up my favorite game so that others can have the same freedoms I enjoy.”

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by Todd Spangler via Variety

PlayStation 5, the official name of the next generation of Sony’s game console, will launch next year ahead of the 2020 holiday-shopping season, the company announced Tuesday.

But Sony is still keeping many details of the PS5 under wraps, including pricing and new game titles queued up for the more-powerful console. Sony released the first official details for the next-gen PlayStation in April.

Jim Ryan, president and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, in a blog post announcing the 2020 target ship date, called out two new changes with the PlayStation 5 controller.

First, the PS5 controller will adopt haptic feedback to replace the “rumble” technology found in recent-generation consoles. “With haptics, you truly feel a broader range of feedback, so crashing into a wall in a race car feels much different than making a tackle on the football field,” Ryan wrote.

The second feature is what Sony calls “adaptive triggers,” which have been incorporated into the trigger buttons (L2/R2). Developers can program the resistance of the triggers so that, for example, players feel the tactile sensation of drawing a bow and arrow or accelerating an off-road vehicle through rocky terrain, according to Ryan. Sony has provided early versions of the new PS5 controller to game developers.

The PS5 will include ray-tracing support and have a high-speed solid-state drive (SSD) for improved performance. Sony provided Wired with a first look at the PlayStation 5 controllers; in the article, Sony clarified that the console will include ray-tracing acceleration in the GPU hardware and broadly described the PS5’s new real-time homescreen user interface that will show, for example, which missions and rewards are available for single-player games and active activities players can join in multiplayer games.

The PS5 will supersede the PlayStation 4, which was first released in North America six years ago. For Sony’s most recent fiscal year (ended in March) the Sony Interactive Entertainment unit generated about $20.8 billion in revenue (up 20% year over year) and $2.9 billion in operating profit — it’s the Japanese conglomerate’s biggest and most profitable business.

Sony isn’t done with the PS4, though, as Ryan pointed out. Upcoming titles for the PlayStation 4 include “Death Stranding,” “The Last of Us Part II” and “Ghost of Tsushima.”

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And yes, it’s drivable, with an LS1 V8 from a Corvette

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by Tony Markovich via Auto Blog

Sterling Backus’s son only had one question after he drove a Lamborghini Aventador in the XBOX video game Forza: Can we build one? Most dads would respond with a chuckle and some quip about winning the lottery. But not Backus, whose day job is laser physicist. Backus responded, “Sure,” and he meant it. As of this week, the replica is capable of driving under its own power.

Backus, the chief scientific officer at KMLabs in Boulder, Colorado, and his 11-year-old son dubbed the project “Interceptor,” and the build has a budget of about $20,000. Backus hand-built the steel chassis and pulled an LS1 V8 from a Corvette for power. He found the panel layouts through online design community GrabCAD, and then he modified them for 3D printing.

But he ran into a problem: The 3D-printed plastic would melt in the sun. So, he decided to incorporate carbon-fiber encapsulation (shown below), in which he wraps the parts and covers them in epoxy. Piece by piece, he assembled the shape of the supercar using a Creality CR-10 105 desktop 3D printer that he got for about $900 from Amazon. The front brake air intake alone is said to have taken 52 hours to complete. Additional cool features include a gated shifter, functioning lights, and scissor doors.

One of the fun aspects of the whole story is that Backus admits he had some learning to do when it came to the art form of additive engineering. So, he turned to the same place everybody else goes these days: YouTube. The physicist joked that he went to YouTube University and learned by watching videos.

With the end of the project in sight, Backus says he wants the final product to serve as an educational tool for Science Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) programs.

“The intent is to take the car to local schools to show kids how cool technology can be,” the project’s Facebook page says.

In the words of Jesse Pinkman, “YEAH SCIENCE!”

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