Define your legacy in Madden NFL 21

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I got my love of football from my mother.

Our family was never the sort to make big public displays of this affection – bumper stickers, porch banners, or Bowl parties – but the weekend double-header was a ritual in our house.

A lifelong Giants fan, she’d knit while the athletes collided on the field and homemade pizza cooked in the kitchen; young-me was happy stuff my face and watch whoever was playing on any given Sunday.

I carried on this tradition (minus the yarn) after I moved away for university and work, and we continued it when I moved back to start this company and take care of her following her second cancer diagnosis.

Always encouraging, she was just as thrilled as I was when the call came from EA Tiburon to visit Orlando and contribute to this year’s Face of the Franchise career story mode, Rise to Fame.

Following the player’s cinematic journey through high school and college, their custom-made character will be drafted by an NFL team and begin a series of branching, choice- and performance-based narrative scenarios that will take them from rookie year up to potential induction into the Hall of Fame.

I worked alongside a team of unbelievably talented, driven, and funny directors, producers, designers, tech programmers, and writers as we brainstormed, prototyped, and tested what felt more like an adventure game than a football sim.

But that’s the thing: football is ripe for drama. It’s fertile ground for stories about rises, rivalries, and redemptions that can span anywhere from a single game to multiple seasons, a player’s career, or even decades of a team’s history. Before every snap is a reservoir of potential energy – a mix of positions, practice, and personalities, of in-the-moment on-field tactics and carefully-planned off-field strategies – just waiting for its brief, explosive transformation into movement and contact.

There are championships to claim and records to break. There may not be any dragons to slay, but stat-wise football can go head-to-head with any high-fantasy RPG… and in this case the characters are real-life super-humans. Of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, and body types.

And alignments. Because, c’mon, when was the last time you saw a knight trash-talk their vanquished opponent at a post-siege press conference?

Madden’s annual release schedule meant a tight production timeline. Creating a quality game in a few years is an amazing feat; doing it in mere months is a miracle. We relied on fast iteration and frequent reviews; flexibility was essential, since we were writing and designing while the systems and assets were still in development.

Then the pandemic hit.

It threw a new challenge into the development as a massive, multi-hundred-person effort pivoted from tight collaboration in an enormous office to working from home in a matter of weeks. The team rose to meet it.

Mom’s health deteriorated.

It was a struggle to deliver while also providing the necessary care. I could not be more grateful to my colleagues for their support and understanding.

I wrapped on the project at the end of March.

She died at the beginning of April.

This has been a hard post to write without crying (and I have… a lot). It’s about the game’s release, sure, but it’s difficult not to also remember the past few months, recount everything that’s happened, and relive the stratospheric joys and abyssal sorrows.

I don’t know what the future holds.

I don’t know what my life will be like now that both of my parents are gone.

I don’t know what shape the upcoming NFL season (if there is one) will take.

I don’t even know how the game ultimately turned out; it’s installing now, but I’ve only previously played it as spreadsheet scripts and UX flowcharts.

But I believe in the power of these stories. I believe in the necessity of storytelling in difficult times.

This may be the only opportunity fans and players get to hear the crash of the pads and the roar of the crowds for the next year or more. I’m incredibly proud of what we made. I hope she would be, too.

This one’s for you, Mom.

Madden NFL 21 is out today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It will be available for next-gen consoles when the hardware is launched later this year; those who purchase it on current systems are entitled to a free upgrade. For more info, check out the official site – https://www.ea.com/games/madden-nfl/madden-nfl-21 – and watch the trailer below.

 

Forgotton Anne wins at IMGA Global

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We mentioned a while back that Forgotton Anne was available on mobile platforms like iOS and Android, and now we’re pleased to announce the game won the Best Storytelling category at the Global edition of the 16th International Mobile Gaming Awards.

The original ceremony, to be held in San Francisco, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the complete winners list is now available on the IMGA YouTube channel.

We’re re-sharing the acceptance video from Alfred Nguyen (creative director) below because we feel it beautifully expresses why we do what we do. Cheers to the entire ThroughLine team!

P.S. Even though this award recognizes the game’s excellence on mobile, if you’re interested in picking up a copy for Windows/Mac the game is 60% off on Steam until 7 August.

Polyhedron Turns 5

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Hey everyone, C.J. here. Five years ago today I embarked on an adventure to build an independent storytelling and development studio, after nearly a decade working as a staff writer at bigger companies.

I mean “embarked” figuratively and literally; the morning after I quit my job I was on a flight to our first collaboration.

It’s hard to believe the time has passed so quickly, and yet much has changed since then — in the world, in our industry and culture, and in myself. Every day has been a learning experience — how to speak publicly, run a business, nuture relationships, manage time, set up infrastructure, negotiate contracts, and adapt to local languages and customs — and every project has presented an opportunity to grow.

I’m beyond grateful to be able to do what I love, and to befriend and work alongside incredible people and teams on experiences I’m fiercely proud of.

Given everything that’s going on, now isn’t the time to throw a party, but there’s still a strong desire to celebrate this anniversary. So instead I’ve put together an infographic that showcases just a few of the highlights.

If I were a more savvy streamer, we’d play through some of the past hits (and we may try to do this at a later date, after a bit more experimentation).

As fun as it was to recall all the fond memories and extraordinary events, I’m looking forward to the future even more. We’re currently working on some amazing games, there will be exciting news to share in the coming weeks, and we’ve been developing some intriguing initiatives that are almost ready to reveal.

It’s been a wild ride so far… I can’t wait for whatever comes next.

Mondo Museum @ DemoNight 2020

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Hey all, quick news flash: Mondo Museum will have its first public showing at Montréal DemoNight 2020 on 28 January at 19:30/7:30 PM Eastern.

This annual event is a high-energy exposition of many of the indie and more mainstream games being developed in the city, as well as a great get-together for friends and industry colleagues.

But for those who can’t attend in-person, the entire evening will be streamed live on Loto-Québec’s Twitch channel (en français).

The team at Viewport Games has been working hard to prep for this, and we’re really excited to give everyone a look at what we’ve been up to.

Complete details are available at demonight.ca — hope to see you then/there!

Polyhedron Productions 2019 Retrospective

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Hey everyone — It’s my pleasure to wish all who follow the Gregorian calendar a Happy New Year! Can you believe it’s 2020? The future is now.

If this is your first time here, welcome! I’m C.J. Kershner, head of Polyhedron Productions. We’re a narrative consultancy and independent studio, primarily focused on video games but interested in a wide variety of art forms, and it’s my job to take care of the business and creative operations, as well as write up the site’s news.

We’ve conducted these annual reviews internally since we started in 2015, and while the blog serves as a good public record of what’s going on with the company, we felt it was time for a proper end-of-year recap (last year’s website security and privacy update doesn’t count). This is a chance to reflect on the work we’ve done, places we’ve been, people we’ve met, and the challenges and triumphs along the way.

Looking Back

2019 was one of our most prolific years so far — we contributed to four titles, plus a major downloadable expansion, that released over the past twelve months. These projects were very different from one another, across a spectrum of genres, and we continue to be fortunate to work with talented teams all over the world on creative endeavors that spark our imaginations and push us to expand our knowledge.

And though lighter on conventions and conferences than years past, we still managed to get out of the office a couple of times.

It was also a year of unexpected health complications, for myself and those close to me. During the summer, I underwent brain surgery to remove a large — thankfully benign — tumor that had been lurking in my skull, and more recently I’ve been assisting a family member who’s dealing with a debilitating condition. It’s been difficult at times to balance being a good caregiver/patient/storyteller/service provider, and I’m indebted to my friends, family, and teammates for their understanding and support. Overall, the experience has revealed much and reinforced many of my beliefs about life in general and the work I do here in particular; I hope to be able to speak more about it soon.

So with all that said, let’s revisit the seasonal highlights…

Winter

This was a quiet, yet highly productive, period at the office. We were heads down with client work, while planning for the coming months and organizing our affairs (like renewing professional insurance and getting ready for tax season).

Spring

Unheard, by NEXT Studios, came out at the end of March and tested freshly deputized “acoustic detectives” with a series of increasingly complicated audio-based mysteries.

At the start of April, I went to PAX East disguised as photojournalist “Chip” James to help demo The Church in the Darkness; just a few weeks later, I was at the East Coast Game Conference as part of a narrative workshop and to co-present a talk on freelance life.

Summer

Breaking Bad: Criminal Elements, by FTX Games, launched at the beginning of June and invited players into the world of the hit TV show to build their own illicit empire.

Then in July, two of our collaborations, Forgotton Anne (ThroughLine Games, 2018) and Unheard (NEXT Studios, 2019), won awards at the Brazil Independent Games Festival.

August opened with release of The Church in the Darkness, by Paranoid Productions, in which players snuck deep into 1970s South America to discover the truth about an ever-changing cult and its charismatic leaders; mid-way through the month, “The Lethal Script” let players listen in on a new location and cast of characters in a free additional case for Unheard.

Fall

In September, we ordered custom hats with the studio name and logo from a local embroidery shop. After accumulating a closet’s worth of apparel from former employers and expos, it feels really empowering to finally have something that’s distinctly ours.

Early in November, Need for Speed Heat, by EA Ghost Games, gave players the keys to a neon-drenched Miami-like city where they could spend their days street racing and their nights being chased by a cadre of corrupt cops.

Looking Ahead

It’s sometimes hard to believe Polyhedron will be entering its fifth year of existence in 2020 — the time has passed so quickly, and practically every minute has been packed with unbelievable adventures.

We’ve got a great lineup of games in development, some of which have already been announced — like SYNCED: Off-World and Mondo Museum — and some of which are still under wraps.

In the near-term, we’re in the midst of improving day-to-day operations and wrapping up an extensive IT upgrade. Adieu, Windows 7, parting is such sweet sorr– oh wait, we actually still need you! (Thank goodness for virtual machines.)

And we’re going to try to be more active and engaged on our social media accounts, like LinkedIn and Twitter. We’d been holding off on posting anything until we had Polyhedron-exclusive info (same with the newsletter), but realized it came at the cost of sharing updates from friends and collaborators. It will likely start as relevant rebroadcasts, but we hope to post some of our own stuff soon.

If you’ve read this far, thank you — thank you — for being interested and invested in what we do. Your time and attention are valuable, and we strive to always entertain and inspire.

So, here’s to the future and another trip ’round the Sun — stay curious, stay playful, and stay tuned!

Burn some rubber in NFS Heat

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The open road is a call to adventure, one I am always happy to answer.

My daily drive, a 2005 Jeep Wrangler Sport, isn’t a highly-tuned street racer, but its six-speed manual transmission and lack of sound insulation turn every journey into a mechanical waltz — a full-body dance of stepping on the clutch and rowing through the gears set to the music of the engine revving and the wind whipping past. Beyond casual errands, I’ve been fortunate to road trip through some phenomenal locations around the U.S., rides that have taken me over rolling mountains, across starkly beautiful deserts, along perilous cliffs, and around tropical islands.

While driving games lack some of the sensory stimulation of a real-world excursion, they offer many benefits: a greatly decreased carbon footprint, garages full of outrageously expensive and highly customizable sports cars, colorfully rendered versions of far-off locations, and the ability to simply reload after a high speed crash into a highway divider. (Note: we encourage you to always drive safely and responsibly.)

I’ve enjoyed Need for Speed since the first, with a lot of time spent on 1998’s NFS III: Hot Pursuit in particular. So when Ghost Games reached out about contributing to NFS Heat, it was an opportunity to give back to the series and hopefully entertain others in the process.

I worked alongside the audio team on the dynamic dialogue system that powers Palm City’s new night cops; we defined their corrupt tone — a sharp contrast to the strictly professional attitude of the daytime troopers — built personalities for each officer and wrote them thousands of lines based on their pursuit of the player.

Getting it right required a lot of research — films, TV, news articles, and hours spent listening to actual police band radio — but I’m very pleased with the results. Once the sun goes down and the streets light up like a neon fever dream, racers will face off against a downright dirty, occasionally comical, police force that will stop at nothing to take their cash and strip them of their rep.

The roads of Palm City are calling.

NFS Heat is out today for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Learn more at the official website — https://www.ea.com/games/need-for-speed/need-for-speed-heat/ — or watch the official launch trailer below.

P.S. While Palm City is a fictional place, it was heavily inspired by the culture and climate of Miami, according to the developers. And in addition to the street art, stylish clothes, and changing weather, the team has also managed to capture the utter insanity of trying to drive in South Florida.

Mondo Museum opening 2020

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When it comes to museums, I’m a hardcore devotee.

It doesn’t matter whether they’re about natural history (my favorite), art, or some other subject, every time I step into one it feels like I’m entering a temple to creativity and understanding, and every time I leave my mind is opened and filled with wonder. For me, museums are more than just giant buildings packed with old paintings and skeletons; they’re places that reveal the true magic of our universe.

That might sound pompous, but I wanted to provide some context for why I’m over the moon to announce our collaboration with independent developer Viewport Games and publisher Kitfox Games on the upcoming management sim, Mondo Museum.

Players will get to construct and decorate their own unique halls, curate exhibits with items from a variety of cool collections — like Ancient Egypt, Space Exploration, and Dinosaurs (just to name a few!) — hire staff to keep things running, and grow their prestige (and profits) to gain access to newer and rarer artifacts. Institutional administration has never been this bright, colorful, or fun before!

We’re going to have a lot more to share in the coming months, but for now you can wishlist the game on Steam, find more info at the official site — www.mondomuseum.com — or check out the reveal teaser below.

SYNCED: Off-Planet revealed at Gamescom 2019

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As Gamescom kicked off last night, NEXT Studios unveiled their next initiative, a player-versus-player-versus-environment (PvPvE for short) sci-fi shooter called SYNCED: Off-Planet.

The game features teams of survivors fighting against each other and thousands (!) of AI-controlled, cybernetically-corrupted humans, known as Nanos, for a seat on the Ark Shuttle and the chance to escape from a post-apocalyptic Earth.

We’re excited to be collaborating with the dev team, as well as with Studio GOBO, to bring this dangerous new world to players. And what’s being shown this week is just a taste of what’s to come.

An open beta is scheduled for early 2020, but if you’re interested in learning more, visit the game’s site — https://www.nextstudios.com/sop — or watch the cinematic trailer below.

And for even more footage, including a six minute gameplay demo, head over to the official YouTube page.

Eavesdrop on rehearsals of “The Lethal Script”

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Sixteen individuals meet in an isolated hotel to revisit a deal gone wrong that ended in murder. Betrayal and revenge ensue, yet nothing is quite as it seems. Do they know they’re being watched? Do they know every word they say can be overheard?

The first DLC for NEXT Studios‘ acclaimed audio-detective adventure Unheard, ominously titled “The Lethal Script”, is out today. And not only is this case a doozy of a head-scratcher, it’s FREE.

I was really lucky to once again collaborate with the team in Shanghai — working closely with writer/designer Xiaoliang Shen and creative director Nick Zhang — and the voice talent in LA to help bring the English language version of this new chapter to players.

If you don’t yet have Unheard, it’s 30% off until 28 August, so head over to its Steam page to grab it at a great price. Then turn down the lights, slip on some headphones, and get ready to listen to a killer mystery.

The Church in the Darkness now available

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Today’s the day the church bells ring and the doors open to welcome the congregation. The Church in the Darkness is out now for PC/Mac, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Switch!

Last week I wrote about the impending release and the reviews have already started to trickle in. Adam Rosenberg at Mashable says…

The Church in the Darkness does a great job of delivering a sticky stealth and exploration experience that also gets your brain moving.

And KC Nwosu of The Escapist echoes my own sentiments on the period and setting…

The Church in the Darkness almost serves as a history lesson, making one of the most shocking headlines of the ‘70s into a noteworthy interactive experience.

When you’re ready to hear the Walkers’ message and decide whether they preach the truth or are leading the flock astray, head over to the game’s official site — http://paranoidproductions.com/church — to learn more or get your copy.

And don’t forget, there’s a 20% discount on all platforms during launch week.