Patrick Söderlund Leaving EA

Electronic Arts chief design officer Patrick Söderlund is leaving the company later this year after a transition period of three months.

Söderlund was CEO of Battlefield developer DICE when EA acquired it in 2006, and since then he has moved up the ladder at EA. In 2016 he went from EA studios vice president to being the executive VP in charge of the newly created EA Worldwide Studios. In April, Söderlund was given his current position, making his last appointment a relatively short one.

While at EA one of Söderlund’s achievements was spreading DICE’s technology to the rest of the company. Currently DICE’s Frostbite engine is the anchor for a range of titles, including the Battlefield series, BioWare’s RPGs, Need For Speed, and the company’s sports games.

On the flip side, Söderlund was front and center for EA’s controversial attempts to monetize Star Wars: Battlefront II at the game’s launch, as well as the closing of Visceral Games and subsequent re-design of that internal studio’s story-based Star Wars title.

EA is making some changes because of Söderlund’s departure, including merging the EA Originals and EA Partners teams into the company’s Strategic Growth Group.

EA has not announced a successor for Söderlund at the time of this writing.

[Source: Electronic Arts]

Beta Test Patrick Söderlund Leaving EA

New Gameplay Today – Phantom Doctrine

Do you like turn-based strategy games? Do you like SPIES? Then boy oh boy, are you in luck today! We’ve got some recently declassified footage of Phantom Doctrine for your eyes only, which are all phrases that spies will recognize and appreciate. The ’80s-era strategy title from CreativeForge Games tasks players with managing their own international spy agency, from leading squads of spies on dangerous infiltration missions to balancing the organization’s budget. One of those things is a lot more exciting than the other.

Leo Vader and Ben Hanson join me for what turns out to be a truly impossible mission: To discuss Phantom Doctrine’s extremely deep and interlocking gameplay systems while also playing the game. Suffice it to say our attempt at taking down a Beholder terrorist cell doesn’t go very well (though Agent Burger totally had it coming!), but it will hopefully give you a decent idea of some of the options available to you during missions, and some of the base management you’ll be undertaking when you’re not out in the field. You can expect my official review of Phantom Doctrine sometime in the next few days, but it’s safe to say I’m enjoying my time with the game, so if you like turn-based strategy games, you’ll want to check this one out.

Phantom Doctrine hits PC and PlayStation 4 tomorrow, followed by Xbox One on August 24.

Beta Test New Gameplay Today – Phantom Doctrine

Team Sonic Racing Developer Acquires The Chinese Room

The Chinese Room, the developer behind Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, had to lay off its staff last year after “financial pressures and health issues.” While Co-founder Dan Pincheback didn’t come out and call it a studio closure, it sure seemed like one. However, it looks like The Chinese Room has returned.

Sumo Digital, the developer behind Team Sonic Racing and Little Big Planet 3, have acquired the studio. Sumo Digital told GameIndustry.biz, that the reason behind the acquisition was so that The Chinese Room could “continue to create the unique, innovative games they are known and loved for.”

Pincheback wrote up a new blog on The Chinese Room’s site, commenting on the acuqisition, urging readers to “watch this space” for news in the future:

And finally, but perhaps most importantly: yes, we are talking to a range of potential partners about a new title. Something bigger, something that joining Sumo enables us to pursue because all of a sudden, we’re part of a family of developers with a decade and a half of experience in making all kinds of games, and making them really well. Something that takes a more traditional game genre – no, you don’t get to know what just yet – and lets us spin our worlds and stories on top of that. It’s going to be very, very exciting.
So watch this space. We’re going to start gently adding new faces to the team as we push through prototyping, and I’m so happy to know we’ll be joining the amazing talent of both Sumo and our local network of studios in Brighton – where so many cool things are happening right now

For more on The Chinese Room, you can check out our review of Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture.

Beta Test Team Sonic Racing Developer Acquires The Chinese Room

A Look Inside How Blizzard Maintains World Of Warcraft's Lore

BlizzCon 2010 lives in infamy inside the walls of Blizzard. It’s the moment Ian Bates – “Red Shirt Guy” in World of Warcraft circles – sent the development team back to school.

Taking the microphone in a packed hall, Bates asked a question so unexpected, so specific that it stumped the assembled experts on the convention’s lore panel. His stilted, monotone delivery (which he later attributed to both nerves and a mild case of Asperger’s) led to the video of his cross-examination going viral.

“Hello, I have I just finished reading The Shattering [a 2010 Warcraft novel] yesterday, and I noticed something,” he began. “It said that Falstad Wildhammer was going to be on the Council of Three Hammers. But in the beta it’s Kurdran Wildhammer, and Falstad is not in the game at all. What happened to him?”

Chris Metzen, Blizzard’s story director, a man who had been writing Warcraft lore for 16 years at that point, responded: “Isn’t Falstad dead? From, uh, Day of the Dragon,” referring to the 2001 novel. Without missing a beat, Bates corrected him. “No, he survived, and, in fact, he was the leader of Aerie Peak in vanilla WoW and through Wrath of the Lich King.”

The crowd cheered. Alex Afrasiabi, World of Warcraft’s creative director, thanked Bates for pointing out the discrepancy and, somewhat sheepishly, promised that the team would “get that fixed.” They did.

By the time the Cataclysm expansion launched, Falstad, not Kurdran, was a member of the Council of Three Hammers. What’s more, a new character, Wildhammer Fact Checker, wearing a red shirt like the one that became synonymous with Bates, was added into the game.

 

To a certain degree it was a comical moment – shades of Homer Simpson fielding questions about escaping the dungeon without the Wizard Key in the Itchy & Scratchy CD-ROM. But when treated with the gravity with which Blizzard ultimately did, it highlights a difficulty facing many creators in 2018: this is an age of connected cinematic universes and weaponised nostalgia, of decades-old franchises and endless debates about what is and isn’t considered canon. No developer faces this problem to the same degree as Blizzard.

 

Bound By The Past

Ion Hazzikostas is World of Warcraft’s game director. He’s in charge of a video game that is itself 14 years old, but contains lore that dates back even further. The Warcraft universe’s narrative seeds were planted in “the RTS games and literally the instruction manuals written by Chris Metzen in the mid-’90s,” he says.

That sprawling tale now stretches across 23 novels, 10 comic book series (the most successful running for 25 issues), three real-time strategy titles (and their two expansions), World of Warcraft and its expansions (of which Battle for Azeroth will be the seventh), a Hollywood movie (with two of its own spinoff novels), and oddities like Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone (with its nine expansions and four adventures).

Given that Blizzard has, for the most part, refused to jettison canon and wipe the slate selectively clean (à la Disney when it purchased LucasFilm), Warcraft’s lore dwarfs that of even Star Wars. It’s a complicated web of orcs and humans, magic and madness, dragons and druids, spread over generations of conflict.

So how do you make sense of such a long, confusing past? Naturally, you hire historians…

Ion Hazzikostas, World of Warcraft’s game director

 

The Lorewalkers

Within Blizzard, a team of three lore scholars handle the all-important (but admittedly bizarre) task of knowing where the keys to the kingdom were left all those years ago.

Sean Copeland, the historian supervisor of the team, sits atop the backstory throne – a role he describes as a “dream gig.”

“On any given day, our group is likely fielding lore and research requests made by our internal [dev] teams, reviewing publications and lore content for our publishing teams, hosting lore seminars for on-boarding and educational needs, and participating in story rooms and creative sessions,” he explains.

When a developer working on World of Warcraft has a query related to an in-development storyline, they turn to Copeland and his team. These questions can range from the intricacies of familial relations and the timeline of key historical events, to lists of foods that are known to exist canonically within a universe. Occasionally, they’re even weirder.

“One moment I’ll never forget comes from our time supporting the development of Wrath of the Lich King,” Copeland says.

“One of the resources we historians maintain is a language and pronunciation database for specific phrases and terms. Our Warcraft section covers numerous languages such as Eredun, Taur-ahe, Zandali, and even the language of the Old Gods, Shath’yar. While some of those languages are easy to teach, Shath’yar is one of the most difficult to not only read, but to speak aloud.

“So, when one of our writers called me up requesting the pronunciation for the phrase, ‘Ak’agthshi ma uhnish, ak’uq shg’cul vwahuhn,’ providing the answer left an impact.”

(In case you’re wondering that’s: “Our numbers are endless, our power beyond reckoning!”) 

“I’m pretty sure that my cubicle neighbours either thought I’d become possessed or had a minor stroke.”

 

Playing With Fire

With walking encyclopaedias like Ian Bates, fans who will notice even minor continuity errors, Copeland’s historians are a crucial part of the development team, especially when writing new quests.

“Alleria Windrunner made a return in patch 7.3,” Hazzikostas says. “The people who are the definitive authority track down every place we have mentioned her – references to her throughout older games, short stories, novels – to ensure that we don’t do anything inconsistent.”

Occasionally their research reveals an irreconcilable conflict between the past and the planned future, and the new storyline needs to be altered. “It’s most often small things – things where we realise we’d be setting ourselves up for that Red Shirt Guy moment,” Hazzikostas explains.

“Going back to the Cataclysm expansion, at the end of the first raid tier, the final boss was the black dragon Sinestra. We wanted a red dragon to come and join players in the fight and ultimately sacrifice himself in order to enable their victory.

“There was a well known red dragon named Krasus, who was the male companion of Alexstrasza, leader of the red dragons, and he would have had a real bone to pick with Sinestra. It would have made a lot of sense for him to be there. He was an important figure that people would definitely recognise, and his sacrifice would have been meaningful.

“We were going down that road but realised he actually died in a book! So we had to invent a new red dragon.”

Bound by the lore, the logical – possibly even the best – scenario had to be jettisoned to adhere to the story told thus far. Time, eventually, makes fools of us all.

 

Revisionist History

Blizzard, on rare occasions, does decide that an inconvenient fact is simply more trouble than it’s worth. In these instances, there’s no choice but to face the wrath of the forums and alter the past. 

“We’re trying to build epic worlds, epic experiences,” Hazzikostas explains. “And yes, we do find ourselves fettered by something that was a small piece of a campaign in an RTS game when no one ever imagined for a moment this was going to be taken and built into a world of this scale – and it gets in the way of telling the story we need to tell.” When that happens, things are “flexible.”

“It’s something that we do very sparingly and only as a last resort,” he adds. “It’s almost always possible to make the facts fit or write in between the lines. Like, ‘Well yes, this was said, but there’s this whole other piece of the story that’s never been covered. Let us tell it to you!’”

There’s also an established pecking order that limits the need for the dreaded retcon.

“Hearthstone definitely doesn’t count. Heroes of the Storm definitely doesn’t count. World of Warcraft is the anchor, and then it’s expanded upon by related books and other pieces,” Hazzikostas explains.

Every now and then, however, something from lower in the hierarchy necessitates changes up top. It’s easier to patch an online game than it is to reprint a novel, after all.

“Khadgar, who was prominent during the Hollywood movie, was much younger in the film than we had imagined him being at that point in time,” Hazzikostas says.

“When we depicted him in The Burning Crusade expansion he was actually much older and had a long grey beard. So we went back, and made a new [younger] Khadgar model in WoW, which initially perplexed people because they hadn’t seen the movie yet… [Now] the Khadgar that you see, you are to assume, feels like a continuation of the one from the movie.”

 

 

Book worms

 

The Alliance

Just as historians celebrate humanity’s achievements and shine a light on our darkest moments, Blizzard’s historians make sense of a complicated world. Without an understanding of Azeroth’s past, finding meaning in the future is impossible amid the chaos. 

“My team believes that continuity exists to enhance a story, not to tie the hands of creators,” says Copeland. “That really keeps me going, the simple fact that there might be someone each day that’s struggling with a piece of history that I can help with, and my support can help them overcome their challenge and inspire them to create something amazing.”

For Hazzikostas, the weight of history is both blessing and burden. He was in the hall the day Ian “Red Shirt Guy” Bates made Blizzard lore of his own, and he reflects on the moment fondly (perhaps, in part, because he wasn’t sitting on the panel).

That passion for the past, a history he helped create, makes shaping Warcraft’s future all the more worthwhile, he says.   

“It’s a game that has brought people together and touched lives in a way I don’t think any other game has. At BlizzCon every year, tens of thousands of Blizzard fans from all around the world converge. You see couples, you see families, children. Someone will come up and say, ‘This is my seven-year-old son. He just started looking over my shoulder and showing curiosity in the game, and my wife and I met in our guilds 10 years ago. Thank you so much for everything.’

“What can I even say to that? It’s humbling, and I think I see it as a challenge and a burden and a joy to continue that legacy going forward. I think we’re under a bit of pressure there, but it’s something that I relish. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Beta Test A Look Inside How Blizzard Maintains World Of Warcraft’s Lore

What We Want From The Future Of Diablo

When Diablo III launched in 2012, it was plagued with issues, including server problems, an in-game auction house, a stingy legendary drop-rate, and no real endgame other than repeating the same short campaign. Fans were unhappy, despite the game receiving critical acclaim.

It wasn’t until 2014, with the release of the first and only expansion, Reaper of Souls, that Blizzard made major changes to Diablo III. The loot and paragon system was completely reworked, the endgame was improved, and a fifth act was added as well as the new crusader class. Game Informer said it was “one of the most significant turnarounds in gaming” and praised the myriad changes Blizzard brought. They have been dedicated to updating Diablo frequently since the expansion and the developer has delivered a steady stream of seasonal updates that add new challenges and loot. On top of this the popular Necromancer class from Diablo II returned and Blizzard rebuilt the first 16 levels of the original game within Diablo III for a limited time anniversary event.

Recently, Blizzard announced it has multiple Diablo projects in the works. One is likely to be a Nintendo Switch port of Diablo III, but a Diablo IV or some kind of living sequel seems like an inevitability. With Gamescom coming up and Blizzcon happening in early November, we have compiled what we want to see in the next iteration of Blizzard’s next dungeon crawler, whatever form it may take.


Enhanced Co-op Features

One of the areas where Diablo III excels is in its co-op functionality. The ability to drop in and out, the freedom to play with up to four players locally on console, and the speed at which characters catch up in level if there is disparity keeps it satisfying and smooth as an experience. Despite this great feature set, the game could use some quality of life tweaks. The menus are still somewhat cumbersome and the fact that two players cannot interact with vendors or open their menus at the same time on console feels dated. It adheres to the games avoidance of splitting the screen but making an exception for menus feels like a no brainer.

While the game plays best in Co-op, the actual experience and options for the more social players are relatively limited. You can clear harder content more easily, but there really aren’t any co-op only dungeons or any challenging endgame content based around having a squad of endgame dungeon delvers. Events focusing on new areas or co-op challenges would spice up the seasons, and having rewards feels more curated based on your level of play as opposed to random for everyone would be a satisfying reward for skilled players. Large, challenging, and instanced dungeons for events that mirror raids with a Diablo sheen would go a long way toward keeping co-op enthusiasts happy and satiated. These events could contain specific loot, cosmetics, and items for those with a willing team.

To make co-op even easier, Blizzard could introduce cross-play features, with players teaming up over consoles and PC. There would have to be some changes, like either removing or adding the dodge from console over to PC, but ultimately a cross-play feature would make building and maintaining a raid ready crew much easier. On top of that, the ability to transfer characters with your account through cross-play would provide incentive to main PC and play on Switch on the go or on console with friends for local, all while maintaining your build and making progress.


Better Single-Player Endgame

Blizzard shouldn’t leave single-player enthusiasts in the dust. For every person who loves to raid and play with friends, there are also those who prefer to turn on a podcast and grind in peace. With the solo players, we have many ideas on how to make life easier, more satisfying, and more profitable for the misanthrope in us.

Followers could use an overhaul, with more varied and useful options. The ability to fully create and customize a follower, from choosing a class to their appearance and gear, would help endear solo players to their A.I. partner and offer more ways to play. Followers could have more classes, weapon options, and builds, effectively doubling the ways solo players could mix up their play style.

Pets could benefit from a revamp as well. As they currently stand, they are relatively useless. If pets picked up and sold loot that was useless, had more attack options, and could provide more buffs, they would be much more useful and exciting.

Another way to battle endgame grind is to have more rift variety, more objectives, boss-types, and curated content within the randomly generated rifts. Curation could make them more satisfying and engaging alongside giving players new goals to overcome. Rifts are fun and satisfying, but a rush to the finish is the main way to engage with them. Adding other challenging objectives or a boss rush could also alleviate the grind.


More Customization

So much of the grind in loot-based games revolves around killing better and looking good doing it. Diablo III has some seriously intense gear sets, but the fashion and character customization is lacking compared to its more recent contemporaries. Offering the ability to create your character after picking your class would go a long way, on top of having more varied sets leading up the endgame.

Transmogrifying gear was a great addition to the home base, but there are still only so many options to choose from, and the art of Diablo can be a bit maximalist. Not every level 70 hero needs bloody spikes and a dozen skulls hanging from their armor.

Having more cosmetic options in a game full of them is a nitpick, but one that would help players find something to grind for outside of just faster ways to smash. Having a system in place telling players where they could find sets or a way to have a collection would be a great step towards providing a carrot for those fashion-forward players.


Allow For Community Creation

Blizzard will most likely never support mods, so in place of that, it could provide a level editor or creation suite. Players could design high-level dungeons or quest lines, allowing them to infinitely expand the games curated content. These handmade community dungeons could be ranked and highlighted based on popularity and quality, and the same loot could apply. Players could create horde modes, or Blizzard could have a director system that allows players to make a level and the enemies would be automatically populated within it.

Allowing progress and loot to carry over would be a boon to those who use multiple consoles, especially since Diablo is both a co-op and single-player experience. These players aren’t breaking the game by getting great gear or making arenas to grind in.


Introduce Class Creation

With the next Diablo, offering more classes is an obvious choice, and hopefully Blizzard revamps and keeps the current slate while also adding new ones. On top of this, incorporating a system from something like Dragon’s Dogma or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, where the players style of play affected which classes they had access to or wanted to partake in, would offer more agency. Players could mix and match two classes, choosing to be a battle mage as opposed to just a wizard or barbarian.

Not only could a player select the classic classes and go all in with a glass-canon wizard build, but they could also split skills, making themselves a melee focused character who slung spells at opportunistic times. Blizzard dabbled with this when they allowed players to constantly change skills and runes with their class at any time, but it made everyone feel similar. Locking a player to choosing a full class or a hybrid and then letting them manipulate skills within that parameter could allow for more varied builds that feel personal.

Tying stats to classes, like dexterity to monks or strength to barbarians, makes builds feel limited. Blizzard could allow players the option to mix their stats more freely, with dexterous demon hunters and strength-based monks who hit like freight trains. To make classes feel even more different, a ton more class-specific gear and weapons would add variety and more significance to your class choice. Playing with friends and knowing you have some incredible tools at your disposal specific to your class makes you feel specialized and worthwhile, and knowing your friend has exclusive gear makes you envious and more likely to start another character.


More Story Or Less, Just Make It Better

Blizzard tends to underplay its stories and leave much of it to be discovered by players, but Diablo III was mired by bad dialogue, odd twists, and undeserved character deaths. Telling their story through isometric scenes and in tiny dialogue windows didn’t help, with the only major cutscenes gracing us between acts.

For the next entry, Blizzard’s efforts on making the campaign have a fulfilling and interesting story should either be the focus, or it should take a complete backseat to looting and grinding through dungeons. Having a half measure of a campaign that ended up being thrown away with the inclusion of the post-game shouldn’t be the fate of the next game’s story. Diablo III’s story is a barrier to entry, a mandatory rite of passage to level up a character to start the good stuff. While it only takes a day or two to get through, Emperor Hakan II is always as annoying, the boss fights are almost always tedious and simple, and the loot feels pointless. Making the campaign fun, replayable, and narratively fulfilling would alleviate the slog of starting a new character.

If you are new to Diablo, check out our look at the necromancer. For more more from Blizzard, here are eight reasons to be excited for the Battle for Azeroth World of Warcraft expansion.

Beta Test What We Want From The Future Of Diablo

One-Punch Man Season 2 Teaser Revealed, New Season In April

One-Punch Man, the anime about a superhero who defeats his enemies in or around a single punch, is getting its second season next April.

The trailer, which you can see below, starts off with footage covering the first season of the anime by showing pivotal characters and action scenes from its 2015 airing. The teaser also confirms the April 2019 target date.

The anime is based on a manga by writer ONE, who writes and illustrates the comic. It was noticed by Yusuke Murata, the artist behind manga like Eyeshield 21, who convinced ONE to let him redraw it because he loved the story so much. Murata took the idea to magazine Shonen Jump, which ran the redrawn series in their web version. It took off and the anime became especially successful overseas for its high-octane action scenes.

As a small piece of trivia, Murata also won two contests at the age of 12 for designing Mega Man robot masters, submitting Dust Man from Mega Man 4 and Crystal Man from Mega Man 5.

Viz Media has acquired the license for the second season in America, meaning that an eventual western release is inevitable.

Beta Test One-Punch Man Season 2 Teaser Revealed, New Season In April

Crystal Dynamics Opening New Studio In Washington

Crystal Dynamics, developers of the past two major Tomb Raider titles, is opening a satellite location in Bellevue, Washington. 

Although the studio is not leading work on Shadow of the Tomb Raider (that game is helmed by Eidos Montreal), the upcoming Avengers Project and other unannounced projects are labor-intensive enough that Crystal Dynamics has decided to aggressively scale up. 

In both the new location and the team’s base in Redwood Shores, California, Crystal Dynamics are gathering industry veterans. Among their new hires are Vincent Napoli (combat designer for God of War), and Ben Wanat (co-founder of Dead Space). 

Our Take
We’ve only seen a brief teaser for Crystal Dynamic’s Avengers Project, and it sounds like that’s only one of the many games being worked on there. Obviously, the studio feels that it can afford to plan for future success; I hope it’ll be proven right. 

Beta Test Crystal Dynamics Opening New Studio In Washington

The Sports Desk – The Madden 19 Ultimate Team Guide

Madden Ultimate Team is back, boasting new solos, ways to play, and an upgrade mechanic that helps both first-timers as well as those in it for the long haul. This guide also has something for everyone during the mode’s early life, from how to make coins to Solo Battles.

Note: Madden Ultimate Team evolves all the time, from what players are available to what they’re worth, so be aware that while some of the larger principles are constant, details will change. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Where/How Do I Start?

If you’ve already played Ultimate Team, the game skips you forward to MUT Level 10 while giving you a bundle that covers all you would have missed. Conversely, if you’re a new player, it won’t take long to go through the pre-season solos and level up – with rewards along the way.

No matter the rating of your team, single-player Solo Challenges are the easiest way to both make coins (for the auction house/buy packs), get collectible items you can later redeem in sets, accrue training points (see below), and earn packs and/or specific players.

For instance, The Campaign Solo program is specifically designed to upgrade your ratty, starting bronze team to a gold one while giving you coins, tokens for the Campaign set, and even elite players. This is a good place to start.

In the early going in particular, you won’t find these hard to beat, but if you want to make your life at least more comfortable, don’t ignore the settings menu before each solo. When you start a solo, toggle the Event Type to “Quick Presentation” and turn on the Accelerated Clock. This speeds the presentation up, which is useful – unless, of course, you need more time to complete an objective. Speaking of objectives, do the bonus objectives for extra coins.

Also, do your Daily Objectives for coins (this can be accessed from the main MUT menu). Even having to buy the cheapest pack in the store (500 coins) and possibly go to the auction house for another silver for the Daily’s set requirement, after you complete the requisite three solos/games – which give you coins for completing as well – at worst you should break even after redeeming the Daily Objective’s quicksell reward, which can give you as many as 50,000 coins.


Should I Spend Real Money?

mut, madden ultimate team,

Real money can be spent to buy points in MUT. Points are, in turn, spent on packs in the MUT store – including some packs that can only be purchased with points. Packs odds, however (which you can now see this year by going into a store pack and selecting “View Info”) are never good. Most of the time you’re not going to hit anything close to the jackpot.

If you want to buy points and spend them in the store, however, I would take a look at the MUT Level Packs (which you unlock once you hit the appropriate level) and other packs in the Special Offers tab, which you can only buy a limited number of times. For instance, currently there’s an Elite Fantasy Pack (150 points/$1.50), which in these early stages of the mode could deliver some decent players that you could keep or sell in the auction house. Higher up the chain, the Kickoff Bundle (2,200 points/$19.99) comes with four packs and 150 training points.

Speaking of the auction house, before you buy any pack in the store, check to see if its contents can be sold in the auction house or not (those that cannot are called NAT – Non-Auction/Trade), which can influence whether it’s worth spending the points or coins in the first place.


Should I Spend Coins on Packs?

Apart from the MUT Level packs you unlock as you play the mode, I don’t purchase many packs via coins in the store. I prefer to spend my coins on specific players in the auction house or to buy cards in the auction house and then sell them for profit (see below). I buy packs on occasion, mainly just for fun, and sometimes am surprised by what I get, whether that’s to go into my lineup or to sell via auction.

However, a reminder: The pack odds are not in your favor.


What’s An Easy Way To Make Coins?

Polishing off Solo challenges is the easiest way to make coins, but if you want to take a break from playing or just want to augment your stack, go to the auction house. But first, a disclaimer – DO NOT QUICKSELL YOUR CARDS FOR COINS. Yes, there are special cards with high quicksell values, but your average card isn’t worth quickselling. It has exponentially more worth either in the auction house or in a set.

Making coins in the auction house is easy and reliable. All it requires is a relatively small amount of coins for startup capital and patience. Playing the auction house is based upon using the game’s sorting tools so you can see the best deals at the moment.

Here’s the simplest way to make coins in the auction house: 

1. Go into the auction house. Along the lefthand side of the screen are various ways to sort all the cards currently on sale (Type, Quality, Team, etc.).

2. Go into the Quality filter, and pick a rating range (70-74, 80-81, etc.). In here you’ll see cards pre-sorted by the cheapest Buy Now Price (at the top of the page).

  • E.g. Pick Quality 70-74

3. The next step is to further filter these cards down so you’re seeing the newest and cheapest ones available so you can get the best deal and buy it before everyone else does. The cards shown to you in the auction house at any given time only show you 100 cards at a time. So often you have to use multiple filters to further refine your search, that way you know you’re seeing all the cards within that filter.

  • E.g. Add two more filters: Type – All Offense + Team – Broncos. You’ll know there are less than 100 cards showing by counting them, but the easier way is by looking at the light grey slider bar on the right-hand side. The bigger it is the fewer cards there are.

4. Now you’re seeing all of the Broncos’ offensive players with an OVR of 70-74 for sale. These are automatically listed in ascending order by the lowest Buy Now price. Take a look at the top rows of cards. They should all have roughly the same price. Make a mental note of this general range. Now change just the Team filter and see what the offensive, 70-74-rated cards are going for on other teams to verify this range. The majority of these should be in the same range, no matter the team, player, or position (with exceptions, of course).

  • E.g. The majority of Core Gold 70-74 offense cards on multiple teams are going for about 1,000 coins.

Which ones should you buy? Since we’ve just established the current going rate for these cards, you’re looking for cards that can make you a profit AFTER TAX. When you sell a card, EA takes a 10 percent cut of what you sold it for. So selling a card for 1,000 coins actually nets you 900 coins when someone buys it. Therefore, I buy cards that are about 20 percent lower than the average going rate in order to both account for tax and to bake in my profit.

  • E.g. Buy a card that’s normally going for 1,000 coins when you see a Buy Now price at 800 or lower (1,000 x .2 = 200. 1,000 – 200 = 800). But first, take a quick look around the page and make sure that the identical cards for that player are all priced at 1,000 or so. That way you know that 800 or less is actually a deal for that card, and not just the natural rate for a card that might happen to be selling for less than average.

5. Now, you’re going to immediately turn around and sell that card for a profit. This method works at any card quality level, and you don’t really have to memorize prices of individual cards; you’re simply pricing off of the current market.

  • E.g. Selling that card for 1,000 Buy Now gets you 100 coins after tax.

It’s not much, but if you do this several times, you’ll have coins to reinvest for higher cards. Sometimes I might sell the card for slightly less to see if I can move it quickly or sell it for more than the average rate to see if I can get someone to bite. You can also check to see what it’s worth at MUThead.com. Sell your cards for a duration of one hour. If it doesn’t sell, don’t worry, throw it up again.

Of course, this is just the simplest method. You can also sort cards by pressing the right trigger and selecting Newest from the drop-down menu. This is helpful because by sorting by the newest and not just the cheapest cards on the page, you see more relative deals, not just the lowest prices. Overall, you want to see the newest cards (listed as 59 min) because it helps you gauge prices based on the assumption that a card that’s even a few minutes old probably would have already been bought by now if it really was a deal.

Play around with the sorting menus to find your own filters. Switch teams, investigate the different programs, sort by position or cap value, or whatever. You’re simply trying to find the newest cards that are selling below market value so you can flip them for market price or more. I highly suggest you check out MUThead.com for more info on cards. Here you can get a better sense of cards’ worth if you want to stalk individual cards, get a sense of the market for higher priced, more prestigious cards is (which is where you snipe the most lucrative deals), and a host of other tools to make you a better MUT auction house player.

There are other more complex ways of using the auction house such as timing when to buy/sell cards based on new card drops or weekend competitive play, buying/selling via bidding, anticipating card value based on their value for sets, targeting specific positions, and more.


What Cards Should I Get Early On?

mut, madden ultimate team,

Per usual, speed is always nice to have, so I’d lean that way for some of your skill position players. One in particular – Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill (Core Elite) is at the time of this guide the fastest wide receiver in the game (faster than even the Legend, 91-rated Randy Moss). This will, of course, change as the season goes on, but Hill is a card you can get via a MUT Level pack (level 12) that is, interestingly given what I’ve said about spending money in the store, only available for points (150 points/$1.50).

Elsewhere, wide receiver Brandin Cooks (Core Elite) combines 87 speed with 83 catching. Legends like Michael Vick, Sean Taylor, and Randy Moss are available by doing their solo missions. In addition, Campaign tokens can be redeemed for 87-rated offensive and defensive heroes like LeSean McCoy (RB) and Telvin Smith (ROLB).

Madden 19 also features numerous Power Up cards (more below) depending on your needs you can get for cheap in the auction house and upgrade to a decent level. Matthew Stafford’s Throw Power on his Power Up card goes up to 89 just by upgrading him up to 81 OVR (103 training points), and Ben Roethlisberger is an option if you have four Campaign tokens.

Be sure to check out MUThead.com’s player database feature where you can search and sort all of the mode’s players according to whatever metric you want – including being able to see how many training points it’s going to take to upgrade appropriate players to their various levels.

If you want more ideas of how you can construct your team, you can also check out the mode’s Solo Battle teams (see below). Head over to the sub-mode’s menu screen and hit triangle/Y to see those teams’ lineups.


Is It Worth Investing In The New Power Up Cards?

Last year the card power up system cost too much to be worth it, but this year developer EA Tiburon made the upgrade system more viable. In the early stages of MUT, you get multiple cards that you can upgrade by spending training points to increase players’ OVR and unlock choosable chemistries along the way.

The points themselves come as rewards while playing or by quick-selling other cards for training points, such as the ones you get from playing the Longshot: Homecoming story mode and its solo challenges. Cards of different tiers are worth various amounts of training points, so be careful before you buy a bunch of cards in the auction house in order to melt them down for training points.

Even early in the mode, you should be able to take a player or two up to 80 with little fuss. In the long run, it’s hard to tell how aggressive you should go towards quick-selling for training and pumping them into these cards because we simply don’t know when EA is going to release new cards that could put these to shame.

I’m not worried about that right now, and I’m concentrating on maxing out a couple of cards just for fun. For example, try picking a few Power Up players from your favorite team and commit to upgrading them. Because they’re from your favorite team you’ll probably be less inclined to toss them aside when a newer and better player comes out at that position. You can downgrade a Power Up card of its training points, but since you only get half of them back as a penalty, I’m not going to do this.

Cards other than those specifically part of the Power Up program can be upgraded, including Legends and Team Captains. Furthermore, many cards can be assigned one or more chemistries in order to give an attribute boost to all the cards in your lineup using that chemistry. In the long run – and especially if you’re going to be playing competitively – you’re going to want to spend training points to unlock the right chems (like Secure Tackler and Gunslinger), so keep plugging away on those Solos and sets that award training points, and keep handy a few Elite cards or higher to sacrifice.


What Are Solo Battles?

Solo Battles are new this year, and they are games against the CPU A.I. based on real players’ MUT teams. You can play a total of 13 games in a week, with each win bestowing more points based on the result, what you did in the game (TDs, INTs, etc.), a difficulty bonus, etc. The more points you tally in those games, the better your rewards at the end of the week.

Doing well in this sub-mode and getting good prizes isn’t just about winning, it’s about getting the most points possible while doing so. This means having a good enough team to beat the CPU on the higher difficulty levels while running up the score, racking up the sacks, and other in-game feats. At the moment speed feels more sluggish in solo battles in particular, so you’re going to need a fast team to compete.


Can I Cut It In Competitive Play?

Competitive play in Seasons and MUT Champions can be tough, but also yield some great rewards. At the moment, unless you’ve been raging through the solos, making money in the auction house and picking up good players, and crushing Solo Battles, you’ll probably be going up against competition that’s too stiff. This is simply because of the various early access periods across the systems there are already plenty of players who’ve maxed out their teams at this point. But by all means, have a go if you think you have the stick skills to hang.


What Else Can I Do In MUT?

If you want a slightly different MUT experience and you have some friends who want to play, you can get together and play the MUT Squads co-op mode either versus the CPU or other teams of three players. Playing gets you rewards that you can turn in for various set prizes like players, coach Madden himself, classic unis, or the current ultimate prize of a 90 OVR David Johnson.

Playing the mode itself can be a little rough, as it requires all of the players to be on the same page to run routes and get positional responsibilities right, but it can be fun simply being on the same team as well.

MUT offers some long-term goals to plug away at, including improving the MUT Master Ryan Shazier card up to a 95 OVR. This is done by hitting larger objectives through normal play in the mode as well as specific objectives tied to Shazier himself.


Beta Test The Sports Desk – The Madden 19 Ultimate Team Guide

Update: The 26 Dumbest Official Screenshots For Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

UPDATE: With Nintendo’s latest Smash-focused Direct, we got plenty of new goofy screenshots to talk about. Oh, and Luigi died. We’ve added 11 screenshots to the gallery below. Enjoy!

There are some genuinely cool and impressive screenshots on the official Super Smash Bros. Ultimate website, so we decided to caption some of our favorites. Let’s-a-go!

For some actually good Super Smash Bros. Ultimate content, check out this episode of New Gameplay Today, our gameplay impressions, or Brian Shea’s argument for a battle royale mode in SSBU.

 

Beta Test Update: The 26 Dumbest Official Screenshots For Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Five Ways To Spend Your Time In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

The Assassin’s Creed series is famous for its rich worlds with various activities to pursue. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is continuing that tradition, but the team at Ubisoft Quebec is also expanding on it by layering in a variety of new, interconnected systems. The story of Alexios or Kassandra searching for their family is still the central pillar of Odyssey, but the content supporting that arc has grown more intricate and interesting.

“There’s still a main narrative that you’re going to want to follow, but there are a lot of other things for you to do,” says game director Scott Phillips. “You’re going to follow the main path for a couple of hours and then at some point you’re going to go, ‘I need to level up’ or ‘I need to get a new weapon’ or ‘I need to go do something else,’ and we give you a huge buffet of things to do.”

This is one of the major ways Odyssey is evolving beyond the previous installment, since Origins relied primarily on basic sidequests to get players to the recommended level for the next story mission. In Odyssey, you spend your time with a broader and more varied array of tasks. These are the diversions that grab your attention and entice you to stray from the critical path with promises of treasure, allies, and more.

1. The War

Odyssey is set during the time of the Peloponnesian War, which means that Athens and Sparta are constantly fighting for control over many nation-states. Your intervention can change the tides of an individual conflict, but it won’t win the war. That isn’t the kind of progress you’re making here. Instead, you’re working for the rewards you get along the way as you’re flipping or defending a nation-state. “The world is a moving chessboard, with 28 city-states,” says creative director Jonathan Dumont. “Some are owned by Athens, some are owned by Sparta. We wanted you to be able to pick a side at any point, since you’re a mercenary in the game.”

You don’t have any particular loyalty to Athens or Sparta, so which side you choose is purely practical. You can look at the potential rewards for siding with one power or another, and then work toward the outcome you prefer. That’s a multi-step process, not just a single mission. “Each nation, their resources, their power, their ability to wage war is shown to the player represented as a nation power gauge,” Phillips says. “The player will have in-game actions that they can perform that will weaken the state – killing soldiers, destroying their war supplies, stealing their national treasure and then ultimately killing their leader, which will make them the most vulnerable.”

Once you are victorious and your reward is in the bank, the nation-state will eventually fall into jeopardy again and you can continue the cycle. Except maybe that next time, the other side has a more tempting offer.

2. Sailing

Your ship is more than a means of transportation. It’s your base of operations, and a formidable weapon. The vessel’s baseline power levels up with you automatically, so you won’t be outgunned in regular encounters if you don’t want to fuss over upkeep. On the other hand, for players that enjoy the naval element, you can invest additional time and resources to upgrade your ship’s hull and weapons to become a greater threat.

Another way to improve your ship is through passive boosts you get from characters you recruit. These can be drawn from multiple categories, including friends you help, mercenaries you defeat, or even regular soldiers on patrol. “They have bonuses for you ship,” Dumont says. “These are called our lieutenants, and you can have four that are active at the same time on your ship, but you can have a roster and collect them like Pokémon.”

The naval elements don’t appeal to every player, so diving deep on these features isn’t a requirement. But it offers a satisfying way to tie various activities together for those who are interested. “It makes it feel like there’s a connection between the land and the sea, which was always we knew could be a challenge,” Phillips says.

3. Contracts And Bounties

Though technically part of the war effort, contracts are quests that run in the background. They usually involve targeting particular groups or units, like killing a set number of Athenian soldiers, or Berserker Spartans. “These are long-term quests,” Phillips says. “These are things you’re going to pick up from the message board. Some you might complete within 30 minutes, and some you might not complete for five hours.”

Contracts are put out through war leaders, so your success ultimately contributes to strengthening or weakening your chosen side in a conflict. But message boards also allow you to pick up a more neutral quest: Bounties. Just like when other mercenaries come hunting for you when you step out of line, you can bring justice to people who break the law. Bounties might even set you against other mercenaries, posted by people who want to get revenge. While these may be more straightforward quests, they can have some narrative significance. “They’re real stories that we retouched so it fits our game, but a lot of these things are part of the research we’ve done,” Dumont says.

4. Collecting And Upgrading Gear

The cycle of collecting loot to help you defeat stronger foes and get even better loot is a staple of the RPG genre. This was one of the things propelling you forward in Assassin’s Creed Origins, but the concept has been expanded even more in Odyssey.

One sign that your gear is even more important is that your armor now occupies specific body slots: head, chest, waist, arms, and legs. What you’re wearing isn’t just cosmetic like in Origins; five armor slots mean you have five opportunities to improve your stats and create stacking bonuses. But you also aren’t stuck with your equipment’s innate properties, since you can engrave items with a special bonus, like improved defense, or boosts to certain kinds of damage.

“Engraving is good for enhancing what you want to focus on or making up for areas where you’re weak,” Phillips says. “If your armor is really low because you’re an assassin player, and you’re wearing more cloth gear, you’re not going to be wearing the super helmeted stuff, you’re going to be weaker in fight, so maybe you want to engrave things that are going to make you a little more balanced in that way.”

As you progress, you can expect a steady stream of new gear to replace your old stuff. While that is usually a good idea, the team at Ubisoft Quebec isn’t forcing you to leave your favorite pieces behind. Like Origins, you have the option to bring a lower-level piece of equipment up to your current level. This process costs obsidian, so you won’t be upgrading every piece of equipment this way, but if you have a weapon that you love with just the right enhancements for your playstyle, you can keep it relevant until something better comes along.

5. Mercenaries

The mercenary system allows you to fight challenging enemies and reap rare rewards. Plus, it lets you recruit powerful lieutenants to accompany you on your journey. Imagine the Phylakes from Origins crossed with a hint of Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system. If that combination sounds fun to you, read more about it with our in-depth feature about how mercenaries work.

Bonus Entry: Traditional Sidequests

Not every part of your progression is new or reimagined. Fans of previous games can expect plenty of the activities that have helped define the series through the years; all of the stuff you’re accustomed to doing in Assassin’s Creed still feeds into your progress. “You assassinate, you complete points of interests,” Phillips says. “So forts, camps, tombs, ruins, sunken shipwrecks, and things like that will give you XP.” Some of these might contain threads that lead you toward other optional quests, or send you to areas of the map that you may not have explored otherwise.

That isn’t a comprehensive list of everything you can do in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey; these are just the primary loops that tie into your progression. While it may seem straightforward, the intricacy of these systems becomes apparent when you see how they all interact. To get a sense for how the elements can affect each other, take a look at this arrow-filled diagram from Ubisoft:

Players may not always think of their exploits in terms of a flow chart, but the image showcases the borderline-ridiculous degree to which a single act can have consequences in other areas of the world’s gameplay ecosystem. Don’t be overwhelmed, though; the goal isn’t to drown players in mandatory busywork. Instead, the team wants to provide different activities (and worthwhile rewards) to ensure that players can engage with the things that interest them.

“We don’t want you to just blow through the main story,” Phillips says. “We’ve built this game and the experience that we’ve tried to craft is for you to take time and go off and try other things. That’s the way it should be played.”

 

Click the image below to visit our coverage hub, where new features about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will be posted throughout the month!

Beta Test Five Ways To Spend Your Time In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey