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Red Dead Redemption 2 sets the bar high for the next generation of open world games – TechCrunch

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It’s been nearly a decade since Rockstar Games introduced Red Dead Redemption, a massive open world game with a story about as reflective of American culture as the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

Tomorrow, Red Dead Redemption II goes live after months of breathless speculation. And yes, it’s as good as you dreamed it. That’s not to say that the layers of interactivity, which are a huge step forward for the next generation of open world games, are not without their faults. But the level of attention to detail, the way that the various components of the game work in conjunction, and the intricacy of even the most mundane activities makes playing Red Dead Redemption 2 feel as authentic as being Arthur Morgan yourself.

But before we dive into the review, it’s worth noting that Devin and I each spent less than a dozen hours playing this game before sitting down to write. In fact, according to the progress bar in my game, I’m less than 20 percent of the way through the story, with even less completed of the challenges and the Compendium (index of items discovered/found). This game is so massive, it would be impossible to bring you thoughtful analysis of the story. We haven’t finished it yet.

We do, however, have some early impressions of the game below. For those looking to avoid spoilers, don’t worry — everything we talk about takes place in the first couple hours of the game and we’ve shied away from naming places, characters, and missions.

A world of details

For a game this big, it kind of makes sense to start with the details. It’s evident that this is an environment not just crafted with care, but presented with directorial intent. That’s important to say right off the bat — this isn’t just a big chunk of land for you to wander, but the stage for a story, and a stage that has been dressed with more care than perhaps any game to date.

It’s easy to talk about square mileage, about how many buildings can be entered, about the hours of dialogue you may encounter. But those are quantitative measures when what matter are the qualitative ones.

The details are what set RDR2 apart. Everywhere you look there are details, from the seams and rips on the dozens of coats you’ll see and wear, to the fact that you have to clean and oil your gun regularly, to how the items you buy are actually on the walls of the general store you visit. The dialogue too is remarkably consistent and well acted, and largely free from anachronism while retaining personality and a sense of humor.

Look at that SNOW.

Although it’s difficult to forget that you’re playing a game, these details make it very easy to fool yourself that the world in which you’re playing is a real place. Nearly everything you do, and how you do it, retains the conceit of the Old West.

I can’t even begin to wonder how much work it took to put this together. I had similar thoughts when I was playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, but while the scale and visual grandeur of that game impressed me, RDR2 hits those same notes while also hitting home in the much more difficult areas of authenticity, believability, and consistent direction.

From RDR to L2

One of the loveliest characteristics of RDR2 is how reminiscent it is of the original Red Dead. Riding my horse along a beaten path, normally near a railway, takes me back to 2010. All the things players have done before — shooting, riding, walking through the world — feel similar to the last game, albeit slightly smoother. The cinematic camera (a page out of the GTA playbook) is particularly delightful, especially in autopilot alongside NPCs leading the way.

The world itself is far more alive and full of detail, and this time around, there is something deeper behind each item, NPC, and animal in the game. Red Dead Redemption taught us that our left trigger button was about aim, and aim only. In the next iteration of the game, L2 opens the door to everything else that this immersive world has to offer.

And it’s this untethering of every single object and character in the game that pushes RDR2 steps toward reality, and leaps forward for gaming.

During Story missions, Arthur can use L2 to make real-time decisions about how to ambush a camp. If he focuses on an item on a shelf in the store, the player can open up a menu through L2 to buy or inspect that item. Focus on an NPC walking around camp, and L2 opens up the options to greet or antagonize them. Approach Arthur’s horse, and L2 opens up a larger menu to feed the horse, brush the horse, or pat the horse. But these aren’t just empty actions. Feeding and cleaning the horse fill her health and stamina cores, and patting the horse increases her bond with Arthur, all of which affect the quality of the horse as a tool.

It’s important to note that, if Arthur gun is equipped, L2 defaults to aiming down sights, which sure can frighten a horse or an innocent NPC.

Like a crow bar, L2 cracked open the whole world of Red Dead Redemption. If you can inspect a letter on a nightstand, flip it over and read the back, and put it down again, what should stop you from inspecting a live animal to see if it’s worth hunting. L2 brings up information about the animal like its name, its quality, and what you can get from it.

Intuitive until it isn’t

You can look up from a treasure map (handy) but have to dig through menus to pull it out in the first place.

Not all of the game’s interfaces are so fluid and convenient. Trotting along through town in my horse, I tap L2 to see if I can sketch a bird flying by, or study a farm dog, or hail a passerby (“hey, pardner!”). But then I see my horse is tired and I want to feed it an apple.

To do this I have to hold L1 to open the radial menu, then simultaneously hit R1 twice to get to the horse menu. Then I hold the right stick down in the direction of the item category I want to use, then (while holding L1 and the stick direction) pull the right and left triggers to find the item I want, and let go of L1 (but still hold the stick!) to use it (X and other normal “OK” buttons don’t do it). Are you kidding me?

Meanwhile time continues to pass in the background, albeit slowly, so you’re doing all this under pressure. Hell, someone might even be shooting at you and you’re trying to quaff a health tonic before returning to the weapon menu to pull out the rifle from your horse storage before you get gunned down.

It seems to me that although much of the world and your interactions with it are smoothed and interpreted from context, whenever that wasn’t possible the developers crammed it into this overworked radial menu system. I’ve gotten more used to it as I’ve played, but it still feels like something that started simple and quickly lost its elegance as it turned into a catch-all bucket for “video game stuff.”

There are also systems that are inadequately explained even when there’s opportunity for it. An early mission has you traveling with one of your bandit companions to hunt a big bear he saw a day’s ride away.

I happened to succeed in killing the bear, and loaded my ‘legendary bear pelt’ on the back of my horse. What was I supposed to do with it? Make a rug? I’d heard a little about pelts but precious little. Then I saw on my map that there was a trapper nearby — surely he would provide the tutorial I needed! But although the item’s description specifically said a trapper could turn it into a talisman, the trapper seemed to be able to do no such thing

Did I need to park my horse closer and hail him with it nearby? Did I “have” the pelt, or did it need to be there? Did I need to sell it to him first? Did I have to craft something on my own? Did I need to talk to my mission guy, or the cook who handles pelts in the camp? I had no clue and the game gave me no indication either. I couldn’t just keep it, since it took up valuable space on my horse — I had to turn down giving a lady a ride home because I’d have had to leave the pelt behind.

Ultimately I brought it back to camp, but couldn’t make anything out of it there either. Carts and boxes were everywhere but I couldn’t store the pelt in any of them. I dropped it on the ground and found myself and it teleported to the edge of camp; a message told me that “items dropped in camp will appear in a convenient place” or something. Oh, so the whole camp is a storage area! Nope. As soon as I rode away I was told I’d “abandoned” the pelt and some of its parts would go to the nearest trapper. What?

I don’t envy the developers and the info dumps they have to place like mines throughout this enormous world and story, but it felt like this was just one stumble after another, with relatively core gameplay elements that were almost completely unexplained. It’s an unexpected and forgivable failure given how much goes right, but the contrast is all the more jarring when it happens.

Nothing mundane about it

Eating stew with a beautiful view

RDR2 sets the bar high in a number of ways, but the overarching achievement is how closely this game tries to mimic reality. In some ways, this opens the world up, and in others, it limits you.

Arthur can’t carry around seven guns at once, so his horse stores the guns he can’t carry. If he forgets to equip his guns before running into a shootout on foot, he’s probably in trouble. Likewise, if Arthur goes hunting and loads a bear skin on the back of his horse, there isn’t any room to bring back a bounty target.

But Arthur isn’t just hunting for sport, or even for food. Whereas the last Red Dead focused on hunting as a way to make money, eat, or simply collect animals in the index, hunting now comes with its own system similar to Dead Eye and is paired together with crafting (which I’ll get to shortly).

The hunting system is called Eagle Eye, and it’s slightly reminiscent of the Instinct mode in Hitman. This system lets Arthur track animal trails, paw prints, animal dung, etc. to find his desired prey. Clicking L3 and R3 simultaneously activates Eagle Eye, and then pressing R1 lets you follow the track without remaining in the slow-mo world of Eagle Eye.

Tracking doesn’t work so well for aquatic animals like fish and alligators, but fishing is an easy, laid-back way to gather food or turn a small profit.

Inspecting animals, via L2, ensures Arthur is targeting the right size and quality of animal, and the method by which Arthur hunts affects the quality of the skins. This seems unimportant, but in the exotic world of crafting, you might find yourself caring a lot.

Crafting allows Arthur or other NPCs (like the Trapper, or the camp cook Pearson) to create new items from stuff they’ve gathered in the wilderness. That could mean mixing up some meat with an herb to create a specific dish, which would have its own specific effect on health and stamina, or bringing back a few pelts to have more comfortable and colorful accommodations around camp.

Again, this method of hunting and crafting is more in line with how an outlaw might actually live off of the land in 1899. And in adding Eagle Eye and the ability to craft, the more mundane parts of Red Dead Redemption have come alive. In the last game, hunting was something you stumbled upon. The most interactive piece of it was buying and setting bait. In RDR2, hunting big game like bears and buffalo is nearly as enjoyable an activity as the story missions.

Stone cold or heart of gold?

The honor system from Red Dead Redemption is alive and well in RDR2, but with some added flare. Because the game tries to mimic real life, with all its opportunities and limitations, the honor system is even more consequential now.

Deeper interactivity through L2 allows you to interact with almost every NPC, even those that aren’t involved in challenges or side missions or story missions. What’s more, those NPCs remember you.

In one instance, a man had been bit by a snake and was screaming out nearby a road. I stopped to help him, sucked the poison out, and went on my way. Later, when I rode into town, he was sitting on a bench outside the gunsmith and he called out to me. He said thanks and offered to pay for any gun I’d like to buy inside the gunsmith. My decision to save him, instead of killing him and looting his body, not only gave me honor points but resulted in a reward.

In another instance, I accidentally pulled out my knife when I got in a bar fight. Instead of innocently beating a dude up, I killed him. The townspeople mentioned the murder the next time I came into town, and the only way to get rid of the bounty on my head was to pay it off at the Post Office.

These decisions and their respective results are pretty straight forward. More nuanced, however, is the effect that Arthur’s honor has on the atmosphere of the game. Honor level changes the way that the story plays out, affects the kill cams, alters the music in the game, and changes the way Arthur dreams and writes in his journal.

In the short time we’ve been able to play the game, it’s hard to tell how extremely this affects the game. I did notice, however, when my honor was at its highest level that one of the shootouts was accompanied by up-tempo (almost celebratory) banjo music, and that kill cams had a goldish tint to them. It’s unclear if that was directly related to my honor or not, but it felt like a subtle dynamic change.

This game offers no shortage of customization options, from your horse to your gun to your clothes to your camp. But there is perhaps no more influential factor that separates one player’s experience of the game from another than Honor.

Dear diary

I want to give an especial callout to the detail lavished on the catalogs and books in the game, as well as Arthur’s journal. The tongue-in-cheek period-style descriptions of equipment and clothing items sometimes run to multiple paragraphs, and as there’s no particular hurry for much of the game, why not take the time to read them?

Arthur’s journal is a treat as well. Although it is in some ways just a way to recap the story for you, it’s a pleasure to read the hand-written entries and the main character’s thoughts on events as they played out; missions will be described differently depending on how they ended or choices you made. And meanwhile every place you visit, and every critter you “study” will be sketched in the book in the order you see them.

This isn’t explained or anything, and I was tickled when I figured it out. I had made a long trek back from a mission and stopped by a few places, scoped out a squirrel, some chickens, a deer and some other things in passing. When I went to my journal a few game days later, there they all were in order, as if (as is the intent) Arthur had in fact been jotting them down while I wasn’t looking.

It’s a shame the journal and books aren’t more prominently presented — the journal is in your horse’s pack, or that’s where it ended up for me (or you can hold left on the d-pad — that’s one of the shortcuts briefly mentioned and never brought up again). Take the time to read it and anything else you come across; as much effort was put into the writing here as it was everywhere else in the game.

Not-so-final word

Needless to say RDR2 gets a hearty recommendation from us despite some nitpicks and even a couple serious cracks in the carefully-constructed facade. It’s a landmark game in the open world genre and an artistic achievement in its own right. It’s worth your money.

That said, our limited time with the game, and choice to play it as though we were regular players and not blast through to the end, means we’re unable to evaluate the entirety of the game. I find it exceedingly unlikely that the game gets worse — if anything, it likely gets better as the story and gameplay concepts progress.

Still, there are a few specifics we should mention that we plan to look at over the next few weeks.

Online isn’t live yet and won’t be for a while. This isn’t core to the main game but will surely be a huge draw as the game ages and its quality will affect whether it’s worth picking up again or recommending to a friend a year or two from now.

The honor system, though we touched on it, is pretty hard to test thoroughly even with two people playing in parallel. We haven’t been able to experience how the game changes significantly to accommodate your choice of amorality or virtue.

The story is in many ways just beginning, not to mention the side stories of your camp members and other figures you encounter. Did Rockstar frontload all the good acting and setpieces? Does it fizzle out at the end? Doubtful but we can’t say one way or the other. Once we’ve both finished the game or gotten far enough to feel confident in our opinions we’ll issue a followup review and link it here.

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Review: More remix than adaptation, Foundation is top-notch storytelling

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Isaac Asimov’s hugely influential Foundation series of science fiction novels is notoriously difficult to adapt to the screen. The author himself admitted that he wrote strictly for the printed page, and he always refused invitations to adapt his work for film or TV. But Asimov was more than happy to let others adapt his work to a new medium, and he was wise enough to expect that there would—and should—be significant departures from the print version.

That’s just what showrunner David S. Goyer (Dark Knight trilogy, Da Vinci’s Demons) has done with Foundation, Apple TV+’s visually stunning, eminently bingeable new series. Goyer describes it as more of a remix than a direct adaptation, and to my taste, it is a smashing success in storytelling. This series respects Asimov’s sweeping visionary ideas without lapsing into slavish reverence and over-pontification. That said, how much you like Goyer’s vision might depend on how much of a stickler you are about remaining faithful to the source material.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

The fundamental narrative arc of the series remains intact. It’s a story that takes place across multiple planets over 1,000 years, with a huge cast of characters. Mathematician Hari Seldon (Jared Harris, Chernobyl, Carnival Row) has developed a controversial theory of “psychohistory” that essentially applies math to sociology to make predictions about the future of the Galactic Empire, which rules every living person in the Milky Way. Seldon’s calculations predict the fall of the empire, ushering in a Dark Ages that will last 30,000 years, after which a second empire will emerge.

The collapse of the empire is inevitable, but Seldon has a plan to reduce the Dark Ages to a mere 1,000 years through the establishment of a Foundation to preserve all human knowledge so that civilization need not rebuild itself entirely from scratch. He is aided by his adoptive son and right-hand man, Raych Foss (Alfred Enoch, who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter franchise) and his new protege, Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell, Voyagers), a math prodigy who travels to the capital to work with Seldon.

Seldon’s predictions make him a dangerous traitor in the eyes of the empire’s rulers. As he himself notes, those in power fear and despise change, and yet change is constant—and inevitable. Instead of executing him and creating a martyr, the rulers exile Seldon to the remote planet of Terminus at the edge of the galaxy, along with the members of the new Foundation, where they begin compiling the Encyclopedia Galactica.

Eventually, there is a threat from a neighboring outer planet, ultimately resolved by the warden of Terminus, Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey, Fighting with my Family). And the Foundation members learn that Seldon’s plan was far more ambitious and complex than they realized. He told them just enough to set events in motion, since the tenets of psychohistory include an uncertainty principle of sociology, whereby if the collective population learns too much about its predicted fateful actions, those actions will soon become unpredictable. The clash between Seldon and the empire has often been described as a thousand-year game of chess, but there’s an element of rolling the dice and trusting in probabilities for the long game as well.

Perhaps the biggest change from the books is the replacement of the Empire’s ruling committee with a trio of clones called the Cleons. Brother Day (Lee Pace, Halt and Catch Fire, Pushing Daisies) is the primary ruler, with Brother Dusk (Terrance Mann, Sense8) serving in an advisory/legacy role. Meanwhile, Brother Dawn (played as a child by Cooper Carter and as a teenager by Cassian Bilton) is being groomed to take over as the new Brother Day. This gives more of a human face to the rulers, with complex emotions and interpersonal relationships, and all the actors are perfectly cast. I personally would watch Lee Pace read the phone book, and he has much meatier fare to work with here. Technically, they are all perfect incarnations of the same man, at different ages, and this is both the source of their strength as a team and of their conflicts. (Dusk has gained valuable wisdom, if the younger, strong-willed Day could bring himself to listen.)

We knew from the trailers that Salvor Hardin, warden of Terminus, had been gender-swapped, but the character has also been completely reimagined. The Salvor of the books is a shrewd politician (the latest in a long line) who deftly navigates a fraught political environment as the Foundation plants roots on Terminus. In the series, Salvor is a young woman who is still figuring out who she is and what role she’s meant to play in Seldon’s great plan. She shares many of the same traits as Book Salvor, but they are not yet fully developed. She also has a love interest in intergalactic space junker Hugo Krast (Daniel MacPherson, A Wrinkle in Time), and a secret connection in the grand scheme of things that we shall refrain from revealing here.

Asimov’s original trilogy was (to my college self) an enjoyably brisk read, even if the prose got a bit dry and cerebral at times. Goyer has preserved that same tight pacing in the TV series, deftly weaving in character backstories to flesh them out, setting up relationships and the inevitable conflicts between those characters, and inventing some pretty big dramatic moments out of whole cloth to keep the story humming along and viewers hooked. The story jumps between settings and time periods quite a lot, but the writers have done an excellent job sign-posting those jumps, especially in the earlier episodes, to ensure viewers are sufficiently oriented to follow along. (No need for elaborate timeline charts here, as with The Witcher and Dark, although that may change with subsequent seasons.)

The actors all deliver strong, powerful performances from the aforementioned leads on down, and the cinematography and costume and production design are exceptional. Apple TV+ is deeply invested in this series, and it shows. If I had one tiny quibble, it would be that Goyer had so much ground to cover to set up this first season that the big ideas sometimes feel more ornamental than central. I’d love to see the ensuing seasons (assuming they transpire) take a few more breaths here and there to bring those elements front and center more often. I’m confident this writing team could do so without bogging down everything else that works so well.

In short, this is a terrific first ten episodes—Goyer envisions some 80 episodes, should Apple TV+ give him the chance—with no maddening cliffhanger. The finale resolves several plot lines and sets up a few others, leaving viewers both satisfied and eager for more. I think Asimov himself would be pleased with Foundation, particularly since his daughter Robyn is an executive producer on the series and signed off on Goyer’s vision.

The first two episodes of Foundation are now available for streaming on Apple TV+. New episodes will drop every Friday until the S1 finale on November 19, 2021.

Listing image by YouTube/Apple TV+

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Death Stranding Director’s Cut review: More fun, just as divisive

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Death Stranding‘s release in 2019 was probably the most anticipated game of Hideo Kojima’s career.

The Metal Gear director had arguably become the premiere auteur in video games. He had a reputation for convention-bucking design, meta-humor, and unapologetic cinematic influences. But this project was the first child of his acrimonious divorce with Konami, and no one had a clue what he might do next.

Death Stranding was appropriately weird, whatever it was. The first teaser showed crab exoskeletons crawling over a lifeless beach, tar handprints imprinted on the sand, a naked, weeping Norman Reedus (Senior Gaming Editor Kyle Orland noted in our original review on PS4, Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima unleashed. So what could possibly be left for a Death Stranding Director’s Cut? It turns out, quite a lot—just maybe not by that name.

Death Stranding Director’s Cut [PS5]

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A Hideo Kojima game, still

Yes, Death Stranding has finally hit PS5, and it’s as uncompromising now as it was two years ago—even if it doesn’t much resemble a director’s cut in the typical film sense. Unlike Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut (Sony’s other recent PS5 re-release buoyed by extended content), Death Stranding‘s doesn’t have a full-blown expansion bolted on to its older foundations to help flesh out its story.

Kojima doesn’t agree with its naming convention, either, which won’t faze anyone who follows his daily film, book, and music recommendations on social media. In a recent tweet, he offered a more fitting name for this release (“Director’s Plus”), confirming that there wasn’t a collection of cutting-room-floor scenes inserted back into the original’s ambitious, unwieldy script.

If you skipped Death Stranding when it was on PS4 or PC, Director’s Cut is the one to play. It offers fresh goodies for players to mess around with and a couple of fun, if bite-sized, new mission areas which blatantly call back to Metal Gear, among other things. As a bells-and-whistles port, Director’s Cut does a good job of expanding on its delivery-man-in-the-post-apocalypse-simulator premise, bolstered by the exclusive DLC of its release and tweaked further to take full advantage of the PS5’s suite of exclusive features.

These extras don’t necessarily push things far outside the grueling moment-to-moment revolutions of the game’s underlying systems—and in some instances, they even intensify the game. But what stands out more to me than the advertised toys is how KojiPro has gone back and seemingly re-finessed what was previously there, going so far as to smooth out some of the prickly rough edges that divided players on release. Though subtle, these revisions offer the best argument for playing (or replaying) this version. That said, I’ve loved Kojima’s work since 1998, so if you weren’t already on board for Death Stranding‘s wild ride, my digging into what’s new here may not change your mind.

For everyone else, you’ll find plenty of Kojima goodness. Director’s Cut leans into Metal Gear‘s inclination to turn on a dime from theatrical gravitas to left-field absurdity, something that was curbed a bit in the original Death Stranding. Now you’re free to run for your life past umbilical-corded monsters to building ramps for daredevil jumping over chasms, or you can use a cargo catapult as a remote-controlled mortar to bombard terrorists in POV with a load of parcels—y’know, normal stuff for any software carrying the “A Hideo Kojima Game” label.

There’s more here for diligent players, too. You can uncover additional equipment types designed for more efficient hauls across Death Stranding‘s desolate landscape, a genuinely unexpected shift that goes a long way toward making Director’s Cut as inviting for newcomers as it ever will be. There are also actual changes to the game world itself, though you’d likely never notice them without comparing this version with the PS4’s. Regardless of whatever you choose to do, though, you’re playing in Kojima’s sandbox. Hope you like his pitch.

Reconnecting the world?

If you’ve never touched Death Stranding, it’s a good example of what happens with a celebrity creative calls up all his buddies to make something crazy. Joining Reedus, several of its characters are played by actors or directors Kojima deeply admires, including Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Casino Royale), Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water), and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives), and Wonder Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner, though she was mostly let off the hook for voice work alongside Del Toro and Refn. A number of other friends appear as survivors in the world: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kong: Skull Island), Geoff Keighley, Junji Ito, Famitsu Weekly editor Hirokazu Hamamura, Remedy head and Max Payne face model Sam Lake—the list goes on.

Its plot sounds equally insane. After a future America is devastated by a mysterious cataclysm, invisible ghosts from a post-limbo otherworld permeate the land of the living. These ghosts (BTs, an abbreviation for “Beached Things”) cause voidouts (massive explosions that annihilate entire cities) when they come into contact with a human. Meanwhile, any corpse will transform into a BT itself if not incinerated. Following the disaster, the country is in shambles, and survivors from sea to shining sea to permanently hunker down in underground shelters. They want to avoid BTs and the storms of instant-aging “timefall” the monsters bring in their wake.

Sam Porter Bridges (Reedus), a porter from the organization Bridges (one of Kojima’s tamer name choices) is different. He can come back from the dead, for one. He also has an affliction that allows him to sense nearby BTs, and he is partnered with the baby from the game’s first teaser, BB, who lives in a pod on Sam’s chest and operates as a living spectral radar to make BTs visible. With these gifts, Sam is tasked by Bridges with the unenviable job of saving what’s left of America and reintegrating the now-disparate “strands” of society through an interconnected successor to the internet.

As such, you deliver cargo to people in need on a coast-to-coast journey while also bringing more nodes into the so-called Chiral Network. In a clever touch, outposts throughout the country indirectly connect you with other players on their own expeditions, allowing anyone “in-network” to share items, traversal equipment, vehicles, and (if they feel like lending a hand) lost deliveries, transported asynchronously in from others’ games.

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Apple turns post-lawsuit tables on Epic, will block Fortnite on iOS

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Enlarge / A Fortnite loading screen displayed on an iPhone in 2018, when Apple and Epic weren’t at each other’s legal throats.

Weeks after Epic’s apparent “win” against Apple in the Epic Games v. Apple case, Apple issued a letter denying Epic’s request to have its developer license agreement reinstated until all legal options are exhausted. This effectively bans Fortnite and any other software from the game maker from returning to Apple’s App Store for years.

Epic was handed an initial victory when the US District Court for Northern California issued an injunction on September 10 ordering Apple to open up in-game payment options for all developers. At the time, the injunction was something of a moral victory for Epic—allowing the developer to keep its in-game payment systems in its free-to-play Fortnite intact while avoiding paying Apple a 30 percent fee that had previously covered all in-app transactions.

But now Epic has faced a significant reversal of fortune.

In a letter sent on September 21 to Epic’s legal counsel, Apple’s lawyers said the company refused to reinstate Epic’s account until the courts issue a final, non-appealable verdict. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney revealed Apple’s decision in series of tweets posted on September 22. Sweeney claims the appeals process for the case could take as long as five years.

Apple’s revocation of Epic’s developer license—required to develop and distribute games to the App Store—was “valid, lawful, and enforceable,” Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said in her ruling. This leaves the decision whether to allow Epic back into the App Store up to Apple.

Apple’s legal team also cited Epic’s alleged “duplicitous” conduct. Apple is referring to the move that sparked the case—Epic adding code into iOS’s version of Fortnite that enable users to buy items directly from the company.

The letter pointed to a tweet Sweeney had posted earlier this month. In the tweet, Sweeney said he “wouldn’t trade an alternative payment system away to get Fortnite back on iOS.” Sweeney said his words were taken out of context.

Sweeney tweeted an email he wrote to Apple’s legal counsel on September 16, stating that, while Epic was appealing the court’s decision, the developer had paid Apple the court-ordered $6 million in damages required by the September 10 ruling. He said that his company had disabled the server-side software required for in-game payments for players who still had Fortnite installed on their iOS devices. He also alleged that Apple lied about its intentions to work with Epic to bring the developer back to the App Store.

“Apple lied,” Sweeney said. “Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they’d ‘welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else.’ Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users.”

While the September 10 ruling went in Apple’s favor, the company was not granted everything it sought in its legal defense. Judge Gonzalez Rogers gave Apple a victory in ruling it had not violated antitrust law, though the company lost the ability to prevent developers from including and advertising their own in-game app purchase payment systems. That ruling could lead to greater repercussions for Apple from other game makers or subscription service providers in the future.

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