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The next great indie game is about the dragon apocalypse

There’s no such thing as an “overnight success.” Sure, some folks get lucky with a snappy catchphrase or a $30 Chewbacca mask and they experience a wave of sudden, unplanned popularity, but generally, people don’t achieve their dreams over the course of a single evening.

Rich Siegel is living proof of this myth. He’s an independent game developer who’s been quietly working on his dream title, EarthNight, for years. It’s a beautiful, hand-painted platformer about the dragon apocalypse. Players careen across the backs of massive, snake-like dragons as they soar high above the planet, all while an original chiptune soundtrack pounds away in the background.

EarthNight has received some scattered press, but it’s not a household name. When it finally lands on PlayStation 4 and PC, it will probably be a surprise to most people, another indie game in a sea of new releases.

However, there’s something special about EarthNight. It has all the trappings of a sleeper hit: It’s gorgeous, unique and whimsical, and it feels fresh even as it embodies the nostalgia of classic platformers. It has built-in Twitch streaming capabilities, it’s a blast to watch and it features permadeath, which means once players die, they have to start the entire game over. EarthNight inherently caters to competitive people and repeat plays. If any indie game is going to be an “overnight success” in 2017, this is it.

“I’m just a total unknown,” Siegel says. “In a lot of ways I feel like we’ve gotten a lot of press, and in a lot of ways I feel like we haven’t broken through. …I’m a guy who works out of his house making a video game. I’m not a big company.”

However, Siegel does have experience with fairly big companies. He’s 31 and for the past eight years, he owned his own business in Philadelphia, Main Line Delivery, which brought food from high-end restaurants straight to people’s doors. In 2014, when he was still in his 20s, Siegel employed about 90 people.

Four years ago, he started working on EarthNight in the evenings and on weekends. It became his passion. So, in December, he sold Main Line Delivery to Caviar.

“Now I’m going to be funded to finish EarthNight, and actually have the time to truly focus and finish it right,” he says.

This is important to Siegel — getting EarthNight right. It’s not only for himself and his own vision; Siegel is working with renowned chiptune musician Paul Weinstein, who goes by the moniker Chipocrite, and accomplished artist Paul Davey, otherwise known as Mattahan.

Siegel started following Davey on DeviantArt 15 years ago, when Davey was creating custom icon packs for PC and Mac, including the massively popular Buuf theme for iOS.

“I didn’t know at the time that he was 11 when I started following him,” Siegel recalls.

Over the years, Davey and Siegel teamed up on a few smaller projects, such as the BeardWars and PuppyWars apps. When Weinstein (the other, more musical Paul) and Siegel sat down four years ago to dream up their ideal game, they knew which artist they wanted to use.

“He was born with it,” Siegel says. “He grew up in Jamaica, in the middle of nowhere. I have a canvas painting in my house he did when he was 14 — it’s better than I’ll ever be able to do in my whole life, than any of us will be able to do in our whole lives.”

“The Only Providers” by Mattahan

Siegel is in awe of Davey’s art. He thinks Davey is a genius, and his work certainly speaks for itself: his portraits are infused with a glowing, soft light and fantastical settings. Giants, trolls, dragons and vicious bears surround images of women and families as they navigate cities, forests and the cosmos.

“The style of the game is just his art style,” he says. “It’s just how he paints.”

Siegel compares Davey to Johannes Vermeer, one of the greatest painters of the 1600s and the artist behind Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer is known for the way he depicted light, though it’s recently been suggested that he used a camera obscura — a primitive kind of projection technique — to frame his paintings. Essentially, he traced projected images onto a canvas, according to a handful of academics and entrepreneurs.

Siegel argues that Davey captures light in a way that Vermeer only wished he could.

“Betta Listen” by Mattahan

“Obviously he’s worked at his skill,” he says. “He works real hard, he’s cultivated it. But he can do what the most famous artist in the world was trying to do.”

EarthNight takes full advantage of Davey’s talent: It’s a hand-painted game, meaning its creatures and settings are detailed and decadent. However, there’s a reason most games aren’t hand-painted — it takes an immense amount of work. There are two main characters in EarthNight and each one is about 350 frames alone, and then there are hordes of enemies, the dragons themselves and all of the backgrounds to configure.

The game itself uses a technique that Siegel calls “hand-designed procedural generation.” Every dragon (meaning, every level) has 125 ways of playing out. As Siegel explains it, the second dragon has 125^2 possible variations to pull from, and the third has 125^3 variations, and so on. The final game features 360 pieces that Siegel programmed himself, but they can be combined in about 18 quadrillion ways — all of them hand-painted.

“I’m really hoping that we can break through and he can really get the recognition that he deserves, because I have seen a lot of artists and I have never been so impressed,” he says.

Sydney and Stanley hang out in zero gravity. (Image credit: Mattahan)

Davey helped infuse the game with effortlessly unique art in a few ways. Not only is EarthNight hand-painted, but it stars two black characters, Sydney and Stanley. It’s still uncommon to find video games with a non-white, non-male protagonist, despite a few years of public discussion about the realities of industry diversity.

Davey is Jamaican, though he lives in Philadelphia now. Sydney, EarthNight’s young female character, is based on his little sister, and Stanley is a tweaked version of one of the BeardWars icons. Both protagonists are natural extensions of Davey’s own life and experiences.

When Siegel, Weinstein and Davey were building the game in obscurity, they didn’t give the character designs a second thought. But now that EarthNight has been featured at a few conventions and on the PlayStation Blog, Siegel says he’s had to think about issues of race and diversity in video games — and he’s happy with EarthNight’s place in the conversation.

“Especially where the country is right now, it’s like what can we do except express diversity in art? I think that’s important,” he says. “And, honestly, it wasn’t an intentional decision. It was just like, these are the characters. But now that it’s happening, I’m super proud to say, yes, our game stars a female black protagonist — and she’s the cooler one.”

Siegel hopes that as many people as possible play EarthNight once it comes out. Indeed,that’s one reason he’s building Twitch streaming into the PS4 version, and he plans to release it for PC, Mac, Vita, iOS and Android eventually. He wants people to play, watch and dissect EarthNight just like they do to any popular game. Spelunky, for example, became a massive hit (some might even be tempted to call it an overnight success) in 2012, and fans ended up combing through its code in order to uncover all of its hidden treasures. EarthNight, Siegel says, is similarly brimming with secrets.

Sydney takes on some adorable foes. (Image credit: Mattahan)

“There’s a lot that I’m never going to talk about,” he says. However, Siegel hopes that he’ll have a fanbase so dedicated that he won’t have to actively spoil anything: “Collectively, the world’s going to find everything. I just can’t wait for that.”

Siegel hasn’t locked down a release date for EarthNight, but without a company to run, he plans to have it on PlayStation 4 and Vita by late 2017, with PC and Mac versions soon after. That means he’s just one more year away from achieving his dream; it means he’ll be five years into the creation of his overnight success.

“If I could go back and tell my five-year-old self that I’m making a video game that’s going to be on a console, he wouldn’t believe me,” he says. “And there’s so much love that comes from people who play it. … That joy is certainly worth it. And that’s part of why I guess I’m not done yet. I’ve come so far. I feel like I’m on the verge of being able to create a timeless piece of art. My first thing that will outlive me and be here forever.”


‘Elite: Dangerous’ finally beams onto PS4 in Q2 2017

Space adventure Elite: Dangerous is coming to the Playstation 4 in the second quarter next year, completing its gaming platform sweep. The trading and combat sim will have all the latest Horizon expansions, letting you tear around the surface of planets at up to 100mph using a Surface Recon Vehicle. The game is available on VR for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but the Elite team unfortunately didn’t mention Playstation VR support for the PS4 version — at least, not yet.

The trading, combat and exploration sim offers multi- and single-player modes, and lets you explore the Milky Way galaxy at your own speed, either as a sandbox or part of a mission. The team has also accurately recreated our solar system and parts of the galaxy, letting you see “familiar constellations” and visit “white dwarfs, neutron stars and even black holes that exist in our real night sky.”

The team did leave the door open a crack for Playstation VR support, saying “we’re looking forward to telling you more about how we’re supporting PS4 in the coming months.” There’s no specific date other than Q2 2017, or a price, but the Xbox One version starts at $29.99.

Source: Playstation Blog


Sony revives its $50 PS4 price drop for two weeks

Disheartened that you missed out on a price-cut PlayStation 4 around Black Friday? You’re about to get a second chance. In a near-repeat of what happened last year, Sony is resurrecting its $50 discount on the Uncharted 4 slim PS4 bundle between December 11th and December 24th. Yes, you’ll still get the console for $250 in the US if you’re a last-minute shopper. And Canadians get an extra break — while the PS4 costs $330 in local currency, they have until December 29th to go shopping. You’re stuck if you’d rather buy a PS4 Pro, but this remains a solid deal if you’re not interested in 4K and just want to see what all the fuss is about.

Via: Polygon

Source: PlayStation Blog


Comcast finally allows HBO, ESPN streaming via PlayStation 4

For those who maintain a cable subscription, one of the (many) annoying aspects is that sometimes channels have streaming apps you can’t use, despite being a paying customer. Over the years, Comcast has decided that it’s not going to allow customers to use whatever channel’s app on one platform or another, but now the PlayStation 4 is off of that list. According to a tweet, owners with Comcast subscriptions can finally log in and use the WatchESPN and HBO Go apps on their game console.

Good news: Xfinity TV customers can now log-in and access HBO Go and WatchESPN on PS4.

— PlayStation (@PlayStation) December 6, 2016

As usual, there’s no explanation as to why it took so long (HBO Go launched on the PS4 in May 2015, WatchESPN just arrived in September). Even Roku scored Comcast support for HBO streaming back in 2014. Now, Comcast is one of the notable holdouts from the Apple TV single sign-on scheme. Whatever the reason, it’s resolved in this case, so it’s time to catch up on that Westworld finale.

Source: PlayStation (Twitter)


Sony has sold 50 million PlayStation 4s

After surpassing 40 million sales back in May, Sony has now sold 50 million PlayStation 4s. That figure includes PS4, PS4 Pro and the new slim version of the console, and represents sales to customers, rather than shipments to stores.

The 50 million milestone took just over three years for Sony to reach. For comparison, the PlayStation 3 was on sale for four and a half years before Sony had shipped the same number.

Software sales have also been fairly strong. Sony says that, as of December 4th, it’s sold 369.6 million games across retail and digital downloads. That means that roughly seven games have been purchased for every one console.

As Sony’s announcement gives only a grouped figure for console sales, it’s impossible to know exactly how many of the 10 million PS4s sold since May were the “Pro” edition. Similarly, there have been absolutely no firm figures for PlayStation VR sales. The headset came out back in October, and at the time SCEE president Jim Ryan said launch sales were expected to be “many hundreds of thousands.” Analytics firm SuperData projects that total sales of the headset in 2016 will be less than 750,000.

Microsoft stopped reporting figures some time ago. The launch of the smaller Xbox One S has revitalized sales somewhat, with the Xbox One outselling Sony’s console for several months in a row this year. Third-party estimates suggest that Microsoft has sold between 25-30 million Xbox Ones, giving Sony close to a two-to-one sales lead.


This is why ‘Destiny’ studio Bungie stopped making ‘Halo’ games

Destiny is a self-contained example of 21st-century video games: It’s online, ever changing and beautifully built by a team of practiced veterans. Destiny represents the evolution of Bungie, the studio that created Halo, and it also encapsulates the shifting nature of video games as a whole. Modern AAA experiences take advantage of online functionality more than ever before, but this connected gaming ecosystem is still new for the industry as a whole. Destiny helped normalize the idea in 2014, when players weren’t yet convinced they wanted an MMO-like experience on a living room console.

Bungie stepped away from Halo and its publisher, Microsoft, in 2007, in order to push forward in the industry rather than be tied to a franchise that had found success at the start of the century, according to community manager David “DeeJ” Dague. Today, Destiny has millions of active unique players per month, which Bungie keeps entertained via steady online updates and sprawling seasonal events.

“This has been the dream state that Bungie has envisioned for themselves for a long time,” Dague says. Bungie developers wanted to create a game they could consistently update, and they wanted to be able to respond to players’ desires in real time. Sparrow racing is a good example of this adaptability: Players naturally began racing their floating speedsters around Destiny’s worlds, so Bungie took the hint and added races to the game itself.

“We actually took it and turned it into a six-player death race through enemy territory, but we draw a lot of inspiration from the players,” Dague says. “Because Destiny is always online, always connected, we can reach out to where they thrive and we can give them new things to do. This is why we stopped making Halo games, this is why we wanted to envision a brand-new world that would enable us to do these sorts of things.”

Sparrow racing is back in The Dawning, the latest seasonal event for Destiny: Rise of Iron, which will be live from Dec. 13th to Jan. 3rd. The Dawning also features scoring for Strike events, new quests and, of course, new weapons, goodies and gear.

Rise of Iron is the latest expansion for Destiny, landing on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this past September. This is another benefit of building an online game: Bungie not only gets to release a constant stream of new content but also charge players for every expansion. Rise of Iron, for example, costs $30, and that’s on top of the base game plus its three previous expansions. This ensures that a steady stream of cash flows into Bungie and publisher Activision throughout the year.

However, Rise of Iron marked a shift in Bungie’s approach to Destiny. The September expansion did not come out for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Destiny, and it’s not going to. Until this point, Destiny had been the same game across modern- and last-generation consoles.

“We actually reached the point where, in order to add on to the world of Destiny, we were going to have to start to take away,” Dague says. “So it was PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 that we sort of froze the state of the game where it was at that time. It’s not receiving any updates.”

Destiny will continue to live and evolve on Xbox One and PS4, but last-generation players are frozen in a pre-Rise of Iron galaxy. Roughly 5 percent of Destiny players are on Xbox 360 and PS3, Dague says.

“They’re still important to us, we still sustain the game on those platforms, but instead of degrading the player experience and starting to remove missions or destinations, we decided to keep it the way it was and continued to add to it on the modern decks,” he explains.

The definition of a modern gaming console is changing as rapidly as Destiny itself: Sony just launched the PS4 Pro, a 4K-capable console, and Microsoft is poised to drop its own beefed-up version of the Xbox One, codenamed Project Scorpio, next year. Dague didn’t comment on a potential 4K version of Destiny, though upgrading for these platforms would make sense for a franchise that’s all about taking advantage of the latest and greatest console gaming specs.

Destiny is a living game. It’s a far cry from a series like Halo, which still conforms to a traditional release model — the same one Bungie used when it created the franchise in 2001. Destiny evolves with players and with the industry, giving Bungie ample opportunity to constantly improve the experience.

“This is us living the dream,” Dague says.


Survival smash ‘The Flame in the Flood’ comes to PS4 in January

The Flame in the Flood’s distinctive approach to wilderness survival gaming was well-received when it reached PCs and the Xbox One earlier this year, so it’s only natural that the game come to PlayStation gamers, right? Right. The Molasses Flood and Curve Digital have revealed that the game will reach the PS4 sometime in January. The dystopic title will arrive with a director’s commentary offering a peek into the creative process, a “host of gameplay enhancements” and PS4-specific perks like avatars and a dynamic theme. More info about the updated mechanics should come soon.

The game drew initial attention due to the pedigree behind it: The Molasses Flood was founded by a key member of the BioShock Infinite team (Forrest Dowling), and other members are responsible for classics like Guitar Hero, Halo and Rock Band. However, the setting and gameplay are noteworthy in themselves. It’s set in a post-calamity version of the American South with the audiovisual atmosphere to match (alt-country singer Chuck Ragan wrote the soundtrack), and its version of survival emphasizes a nomadic life instead of Don’t Starve-like base camps. In short: while industry veterans are behind The Flame, it’s not a me-too clone in an already crowded genre.

Source: Curve Digital (YouTube)


All the reveals from PlayStation Experience 2016

It definitely feels like Sony showed off more games during the PlayStation Experience keynote today than it did at E3. Which is pretty impressive, when you think about it. The show started out with a glimpse at the next chapter of the Uncharted saga and ended with, well, the next chapter in the The Last of Us.

Both were extremely unexpected treats from developer Naughty Dog, but in between those bookends were a ton of other teases and announcements from the company’s 20-plus years of gaming history. If you wanted fresh versions of Parappa the Rapper and WipeOut, or even an updated take on the obscure Windjammers, you’re all set. Oh, and how about the next game from Housemarque, the Robotron-esque Nex Machina? Now, let’s get to the videos.


Ellie is all grown up in ‘The Last of Us: Part II’

Sony closed out its PlayStation Experience keynote with the first trailer for The Last of Us: Part II, the sequel to Naughty Dog’s breakout 2013 shooter. The stars of the original game, Joel and Ellie, return in Part II, older and apparently filled with a desire for vengeance. In the trailer, after strumming a guitar and singing for a while, Ellie tells Joel, “I’m gonna find, and I’m gonna kill, every last one of them.” And it looks like she means it.

There’s no word on an expected release date or any more details for the new game, but fans have been clamoring for a sequel since The Last of Us debuted three years ago and won all of the awards.


‘Wipeout’ comes to the PS4 through the ‘Omega Collection’

Have you been suffering from Wipeout withdrawal symptoms since getting a PS4? You can relax. Sony has revealed that Wipeout Omega Collection is coming to the PS4 with remastered versions of three games (or two, depending on your point of view): Wipeout HD, Wipeout HD Fury and Wipeout 2048. It’s not saying a whole lot about what’s new, but it’s safe to say that a graphical upgrade is on order — especially for 2048, which was meant for the PS Vita. They’re all getting 4K support, high dynamic range graphics and a “targeted” performance of 60 frames per second. You should see an “all-new” soundtrack, too. It’s not a true sequel, and you’ll have to wait until summer 2017 to get it, but it should at least end a years-long drought for people who have fond memories of racing hoverships to a thumping beat.

The crowd goes wild! Wipeout Omega Collection is coming to PS4, includes three classic games. #PSX16

— PlayStation (@PlayStation) December 3, 2016

Source: PlayStation (Twitter), PlayStation Blog

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