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.

 

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.

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.

Join The Church in the Darkness on August 2nd

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After several years in development, I’m pleased to announce that The Church in the Darkness will be launching simultaneously on PC/Mac, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 next Friday. What’s more, the news has finally broken that the game will also arrive on Nintendo Switch the same day.

I’ll be honest: I have a strong bias toward this project, and have helped with its development as well as with showing it off at expos (which I’ve written about before). Its creator, Richard Rouse III, is a good friend and former colleague of mine.

But more than that, it’s an experience about a time and place in our history — one of intense civil disruption — that few other games even attempt to seriously explore. Its narrative permutations mean the characters aren’t always a group of fanatics or maniacs, but average people with wants and desires, either optimistic or cynical about the state of the world and their place in it. I believe these attitudes and contrasts are well reflected in the trailer embedded below.

Combined with the action-infiltration gameplay, player choice, and multiple objectives, each session can result in a variety of different outcomes. Unlike the popular conception of separatist socialist utopias in the 1970s, things don’t always have to end in tragedy.

I encourage you to check it out, and there are many ways you can do that:

During launch week all platforms will be 20% off, meaning you can get the game for $15.99 (regular $19.99). Or pick up the True Believer special edition on Steam, which includes the 28-song soundtrack and behind-the-scenes videos.

For more, visit the game’s official website — http://paranoidproductions.com/church/index.html — or watch the launch trailer below.

Get cookin’ with Breaking Bad: Criminal Elements

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It’s hard to deny there are a lot of great shows on TV these days, whether we’re talking traditional cable or the various streaming services. But every so often there’s a series that’s so captivating it transcends the medium and becomes part of the very fabric of pop culture.

Breaking Bad was… is one of these.

Over five seasons, people watched as Walter White transformed “from Mr. Chips to Scarface”. He grew from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to hardened criminal entrepreneur; he encountered all manner of friends and foes… some members of his own family; he rose to power and then, well, spoilers. It was riveting drama.

But at the time all we could do was observe. Now there’s a chance to become an active participant. FTX Games, in collaboration with Sony Pictures and developer Plamee, has launched the official tie-in game, Breaking Bad: Criminal Elements.

Players take on the role of a newcomer in Heisenberg’s operation, and will work with Jesse, Mike, and Saul, as well as some new characters, to cook product, expand their territory, and navigate some difficult ethical decisions in the course of building an empire. As a necessary evil, they’ll work with and against the antagonists from the show… but how those situations resolve may be different from what fans remember.

This was an exciting project for us to help with, and a chance to expand on an iconic piece of entertainment. We worked alongside the creative director, Amir Lotan, as well as advisors from the show, to map out the modified plot, define the story missions, write the dialogue, and create the new NPCs.

If you think you have what it takes to become the one who knocks, Breaking Bad: Criminal Elements is available to download on mobile devices for free on both Google Play and the App Store. For more info, head over to the official website — https://ftxgames.com/breaking-bad — or watch the trailer below.

Unheard available for your listening pleasure

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When it comes to modern mainstream video games it seems like there’s a trend to use as much processing power as possible to pursue higher graphical fidelity and faster frame rates… and the results are often spectacular.

But there’s another kind, usually independent productions, on the opposite end of the spectrum that utilize simple, abstract, or occasionally no visuals… and instead rely on the power of the player’s imagination.

These experiences primarily use audio, like dialogue, sound effects, and music, to set the scene in what’s sometimes called “the theatre of the mind”. With just the sense of hearing, they can paint vivid pictures, bring to life a host of characters, and create gripping situations.

If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of this type of storytelling. So when the developers at Shanghai-based NEXT Studios explained they were developing something that leveraged not only classic radio drama, but immersive theatre and adventure games — two of my other favorite pasttimes — I was eager to help however I could.

The end result is Unheard, which casts the player as an “Acoustic Detective” in a series of cases. By listening to recordings multiple times, they will navigate different floor plans in an attempt to identify who’s who and figure out whodunnit.

For my part, I worked with the creative director, Nick Zhang, to revise the English-language translation of the script and, later, remotely assist with voice-over recording sessions. I say remotely, because these took place in Los Angeles but with Nick and I phoning in from Shanghai and New York respectively; thanks to modern telecomm technology, it really is a small world after all.

Unheard is out today on Steam for Windows (OS X version coming soon) — and it’s 27% off during its first week. If you’re curious to hear more, visit the official website — www.nextstudios.com/unheard — or watch the trailer below.

P.S. If you’re at PAX East 2019, Unheard is playable at NEXT Studios’ booth — #10023 on this gigantic expo hall floor plan.

Magic: The Gathering Arena enters open beta

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There’s something, well… magic about Magic: The Gathering.

For the past 25 years (!) it’s brought together players of all ages, casual and competitive, to tap the power from picturesque lands and to duel with cards depicting fantastic creatures, steampunk-ish artifacts, and the occasional gothic horror. It’s a game that encourages the skills of careful deck construction, knowing your opponent, and forming a strategy yet being able to adjust tactics on the fly.

I played it frequently when I was younger but drifted away around the time I went to college. Fast forward a decade-and-a-half to an invitation from Wizards of the Coast to contribute dialogue for new Planeswalker characters set to appear in Magic: The Gathering Arena, as well as help out on other forthcoming narrative features. Of course I said yes…

And then immediately had to look up what a “planeswalker” was.

While the core game remained largely the same, a lot of the details had changed — rules were expanded, robust lore was added with each expansion, and fierce competition emerged as other games tried to provide a similar experience. After I got thoroughly caught up, I worked closely with the team at Wizards Digital Games Studio, as well as a few former colleagues, to write and refine the dynamic voice-overs that would come from the virtual versions of these physical cards.

It was a fresh challenge from an old pastime, a chance to re-join the community, collect and build a deck, get beaten repeatedly by some really adept eleven-year-olds… and in the end it was a lot of fun.

Magic: The Gathering Arena is now in open beta for Windows PCs. Want to know more? Watch the trailer below or head over to the official website — magic.wizards.com/mtgarena — where you can download the game.

NBA Live 19 goes live

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I grew up in Chicago in the late 80s/early 90s, during the golden age of the Bulls. I wasn’t a die-hard fan, but I remember I pasted the front page of the Tribune on my bedroom wall after they won their first champsionship 3-peat. It was a singular era, and it seemed like those players had the power to electrify not just the nation but the world with their super-human athletic prowess.

The world of professional sports is full of compelling stories and over the past few years EA Sports has been integrating more narrative into their games. Individuals who rise from obscurity, train hard to become the best they can be, and build a personal brand that potentially benefits the community at large. Players and teams form friendships and rivalries. There are obvious financial elements as well, with fortunes to be won and lost, and fierce competition for top-tier sponsorships. At their core, sports can glorify the same values as an epic or saga; they can transcend nationality, ethnicity, class, and gender; they can inspire an entire generation.

So when the opportunity arose to contribute to NBA Live 19 — developed by EA Tiburon — I jumped at it.

I was fortunate to collaborate with Ross Berger (Senior Narrative Designer) and Anne Toole, as well as the rest of the dev team, on “The One,” a story that follows the journey of a player-created basketballer as they strive to become a legend. Together, we wrote interactive branching text conversations, broadcasts for both professional and enthusiast commentators, social media posts, and introductions for various Pro-Am venues (my favorite part).

Over the course of “The One” players will match up against current and former superstars of the WNBA and NBA, and take a tour around the world’s most vibrant street courts. They’ll be drafted into the League proper. They’ll interact with mentors, journalists, agents, fans, and their fellow players.

They’ll play. They’ll rise. They’ll become The One.

The game is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For more information, check out the official website — https://www.easports.com/nba-live — or watch the trailer below.

Forgotton Anne released today

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Despite our superior mental capacity, we humans tend to forget a lot of stuff. Like where we left our keys…

But what if the things we’ve forgotten weren’t simply lost; what if they were actually transported to a realm FULL of other forgotten objects, which can now think and move and speak?

That’s the premise of Forgotton Anne, a gorgeous cinematic adventure, developed by Danish indie studio ThroughLine Games, published by the Square Enix Collective, and released today for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

We first met the ThroughLine team when they arrived in Montréal to be a part of Execution Labs‘ incubator program at GamePlay Space. Over the course of six months, they developed the concept into a playable prototype, and even at that early stage we knew it was going to be something special.

So we were thrilled when they invited us to spend a month in Copenhagen to help with the writing and editing process. We worked alongside creative director Alfred Nguyen, lead writer Morten Brunbjerg, and the rest of the talented team there to deliver what you can now download and enjoy for yourself.

Forgive the obvious bias, but Forgotton Anne has the makings of a masterpiece. It seamlessly merges a touching, complex story with compelling puzzles and platforming, brought to life by stunning, anime-inspired visuals, strong voice acting, and a sweeping orchestral score (composed by Peter Due and performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic).

We could not be more proud of the dedicated individuals who made this, or of small part we played in its production.

Visit the game’s official website — www.forgottonanne.com — to learn more and check out the launch trailer below.