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Randy Pitchford: Creating LGBTQ+ understanding through games

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Randy Pitchford: Creating LGBTQ+ understanding through games

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Representation in media matters and video games are the new frontier for the push for diversifying our entertainment. Gearbox Software reinforced that as its writers crafted an expansion pack for its popular Borderlands 3 video game.

The expansion featured two gay characters, and it was nominated for “outstanding video game” earlier this year by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for its annual GLAAD Media Awards. IT was also nominated for two Gayming Awards.

Borderlands 3: Guns, Love, and Tentacles was an expansion pack that came out in March 2020. The second expansion pack for the hit game featured The Marriage of Wainright and Hammerlock, which takes place on a cult-controlled planet with the wedding of two gay characters Wainright Jakobs and Sir Hammerlock. It included queer, nonbinary, and pansexual characters.

It’s part of the action role-playing first-person shooter Borderlands series that has sold more than 60 million copies and $1 billion in revenues. It’s as mainstream as a video game can get, and GLAAD praised the game for normalizing LGBTQ+ behavior and providing a storyline that shed light on such backgrounds during a politically and culturally divisive moment.

Gearbox is based in Frisco, Texas, and the state has had a history of tangling with the LGBTQ community. In 2017, Governor Greg Abbott supported a “bathroom bill” that would have prevented transgender Texans from using bathrooms that matched their gender identity. Randy Pitchford, the founder of Gearbox, wrote a letter to the governor that opposed the bill, which did not pass. I spoke with Pitchford about why Gearbox promotes inclusivity in video games, how it deals with political issues that affect its employees, and creative freedom for its artists. Gearbox has since been acquired by Embracer Group for up to $1.3 billion, and the company maintains that it has creative freedom.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Above: Randy Pitchford is CEO of Gearbox Software.

Image Credit: Gearbox

An unusual expansion

GamesBeat: You had this DLC with the marriage of LGBTQ characters. I wondered if you could set the stage.

Randy Pitchford: What’s interesting about that–we first introduced this character, Sir Hammerlock, in Borderlands 2. There was a moment when you’re interacting with him at the beginning of the game. You have to go talk to him about something or ask him for help on something. He just says, “Yeah, one of my old boyfriends…” And that was it. We didn’t make a big deal out of it.

I think at the time there were a bunch of reasons why we thought that would be something to do. The simplest one is just that Gearbox is a diverse environment of creatives. There are all kinds of different people from different ethnicities and different genders and different orientations and identities. It’s no big deal at Gearbox. That’s the fun thing. Let’s just throw something in there as if it’s no big deal. I have to give a lot of credit to–I believe that was a line written by Anthony Burch in that environment.

What’s interesting is that it got noticed by a lot of people. We started getting invited to LGBT-friendly game events and other kinds of things. Some other things came from that, where I started getting enlisted here in Texas to help be an advocate for LGBT people. It’s always been something that’s important to me for a lot of different reasons, but it became this cascading thing.

Then we were doing Borderlands 3. Hammerlock is in there. He has a new partner, Wainwright Jakobs, who in the lore of the game is tied to one of the weapons manufacturers in the Borderlands world. After the game finishes, we had some fun in the credits where we had little almost concept art follow-ups to show–like in the movies. I think American Graffiti first did this. They show what happened to them years later in life. We were using these little pieces of art to show what was happening with the characters after the events of the story. One of the pictures depicted Sir Hammerlock and Wainwright Jakobs, and it was a proposal. Will you marry me?

After we finished the game, when we were thinking about what kind of campaign storylines we could do for the DLC pieces–we do these massive campaign storylines in the DLC that we offer. We had a bunch of stuff written on a whiteboard, and one was, “Cthulhu and Nightmare.” Another was, “Hammerlock and Wainwright’s wedding.” Because we had like 20 things on the board, we decided to start jamming some of this stuff together and seeing if we could come up with something. That’s where the Cthulhu concept and the Wainwright/Hammerlock marriage got jammed together. We called it “Guns, Love, and Tentacles.” We made this horror story around the wedding. It was a lot of fun to make. One of our great designers up at the Quebec studio first came up with that amalgamation and started to imagine that storyline.

The reaction

GamesBeat: Did you have to deal with any kind of hate or backlash around that? If so, what was the reaction like?

Pitchford: It’s really interesting when you take a stand on something. Honestly, we didn’t do it to take a stand, though. We did it because that was the natural progression for these characters. That happens a lot to us in storytelling. There’s a certain point when we’re creating the characters, creating the situations, and then there’s a point where they take on a life of their own. As storytellers, what we need to do is respect where these characters would lead themselves and let that happen.

It is seen, though, because of that storyline, as if Gearbox was trying to take a stand. Astonishingly, there’s still a lot of the world that thinks these kinds of ideas are of a political nature, which completely boggles my brain, that there could be anything political about the nature of personal relationships. But here we are.

borderlands

Above: Borderlands 3 expansion features The Marriage of Wainwright & Hammerlock.

Image Credit: Gearbox

You get some interesting responses. It’s always on the edges, you know? Our games reach lots of people. Because of that, if you can think of 1,000 random people, imagine the one percent edge cases on the love side of the equation, and then the one percent edge cases on the hate or disgust side. If you imagine a bell curve of how people respond to any given idea, most people are in the middle. But then you have that one percent that is the edge cases. Even if you’re only reaching 1,000 people, there are still 10 people on those endpoints.

Now imagine that you’re reaching millions of people. One percent is tens of thousands of people. Some of those people on the edges can be pretty engaged! They have a lot of strong feelings. We want strong feelings because that’s engagement. That’s evidence that we’ve reached people and affected them. But sometimes–there’s a lot of people in the world that don’t know how to manifest their strong feelings when they’re trying to express them to creators. Some of that stuff gets pretty weird. We’ll see everything from the most strange kind of love, people trying to get close to us in almost creepy ways, to really kind of disconcerting–what appears to be hate.

I tend to parse that for what it is. It’s a deep level of engagement. The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. It’s apathy. People that aren’t engaged with the content don’t send hate mail. They don’t threaten us. They just don’t care. They don’t even think about it. I take all of that as almost a blessing, that we’re affecting and reaching people. But our mission is to entertain people, to try and create joy and happiness. It’s weird that some people–I don’t think they see it that way when we make a video game for them. We have to constantly be re-evaluating our relationship.

Made in Texas

GamesBeat: Did you feel like you got more heat because you’re in Texas, given that it’s not the most liberal state?

Pitchford: You know what, Texas is a weird place. When I first moved out here Ann Richards was governor. It was a blue state. I live outside of Dallas, and it’s weird to think about. I came from California, and I had a view of what Texas was. But living here, it’s hard to get bluer than Dallas, frankly. If you look at the map you can see that. There are a few spots where all the dense populations live, and they’re as blue as the metropolitan areas in California. But there’s a lot of rural Texas. On a political level, because of the way the counties are drawn and the way representation works, where it checks both population and territory, there’s a lot of power in some populations and some individuals that have very different world views on this kind of thing.

While it hasn’t manifested in neighborly conflict, where it has manifested is–it has been a political thing. Because of our interests, because of our love of our own talent, we’ve become a bit political here in Texas. I got deeply involved in an effort that ultimately led to the defeat of what was known as “bathroom bills” in Texas, in the state legislature. It was strange to find myself in a position where I could do something about that.

We had a case where the chair of the committee was going to surface the bill for a vote–check out these criteria. The Republican representative in an area where I’m a constituent had a background 25 years ago in game development, as part of a company that ported old-school arcade games. As people were trying to maneuver to help find ways in to create common ground and allow a conversation to happen and maybe help better ideas prevail, I found myself saying, “Holy shit, am I the guy?”

I developed a relationship with this man, and it became clear that he was super reasonable. All it took for him was meeting transgender people. Once he knew what the right answer was, then the challenge was how to navigate it politically. He found a way because he knew what the right answer was, and he had the will to do it. He found a way to make that push, pushed by the governor and the lieutenant governor swinging together–he just made it all go away. Kept it just below the surface where it was going to be addressed until it didn’t matter anymore.

Of course, like all things, with a lot of these kinds of issues, they’re on the table and everyone’s focused on it, and then once it drifts away it’s just gone. It goes away for a while and everyone forgets about it. Nobody in Texas talks about bathroom bills now. They’ve moved on to other strategies.

borderlands 4

Above: Borderlands 3 is a sci-fi shooter game.

Image Credit: Gearbox

Creative freedom

GamesBeat: Did you have discussions inside Gearbox at that time?

Pitchford: Yeah, but mostly the attitude is about–everyone’s in different places. You don’t know where everybody’s at. We don’t walk around constantly screaming, “Hey, it’s okay to be you here and we’re all going to be cool with that.” That’s the case, but how do you make that clear, especially to new people joining up? One of the neat side effects of this kind of work is that in an indirect, but very real way, it signals what the attitude and the philosophy are like at the studio level around these kinds of issues.

We know that, as a consequence, it creates a different degree of comfort and trust with people that might have something about themselves that isn’t exactly the center of normal. I count myself among them. I have a number of traits, from being kind of neuroatypical–well, not kind of, I’m very neuroatypical. I have a bunch of other different things. I’ve never managed to find a way to be convinced to believe in a God. Almost everybody around me does. I’ve never tasted alcohol in my life. I’m this weirdo when I’m socializing, where everyone takes that for granted. I’ve never smoked anything in my life.

There’s a lot of ways where I feel like kind of an outsider. I’ve always cared about that. I’ve always been the weirdo. In high school, I was the class clown. I’ve always been that odd man out. So I want us to always be careful to be a safe place for people that are a little different.

One thing–I don’t know if it’s a consequence of any particular thing other than maybe it’s more a consequence of our scale. But now we have groups and task forces and people that bind together around issues. There’s a diversity group. There’s a specifically LGBT group. There’s a diversity group for people of color. I don’t think that signals a cultural shift so much as a scale shift at Gearbox, though. We’re not all in the same room together anymore. It makes sense for these kinds of structures to emerge. That’s where those conversations can take place, and then conclusions can be made–if a change needs to be made, they can bring that to the company as a whole and find that change is welcome.

GamesBeat: It’s interesting that to create a safe space and a good environment for your people, you have to sometimes take some sort of political stand. If they know that you’re working against the bathroom bills, that sends a clear signal about what kind of workplace you have.

Pitchford: It does. But I’ll tell you, it goes back to what I was saying before about edge cases. In my experience in the world, when I interact with real people, rather than the internet and social media, where we tend to only see the edge cases–most people, if we’re going to be honest, don’t have the time to post comments. The people that look like they’re doing most of the work on social media, they’re the edge cases. When I interact with real people in the real world, I have to go pretty far to find someone who wants to impose on the comfort and liberty of someone who might be transgender or any other LGBT identity.

borderlands 6

Above: Gearbox Software is now owned by Embracer Group.

Image Credit: Gearbox

Most people are just trying to live their lives, and we’re cool with everyone else doing their thing. I’ve never encountered anyone at Gearbox, and we have all kinds of diverse opinions and political positions, who would suggest that you can’t use the bathroom you want to use. “Use whatever bathroom you want!” That’s the attitude in the real world. You have to get to pretty gnarly extremes to find someone who’ll take a stand like that when they’re in the face of someone who would be affected by that policy.

We’re up in Frisco, Texas, which is a suburb north of Dallas. It’s a pretty hip, happening place. But there are still traces of rural Texas there. Not that we’re trying to stomp that out by any means. But you can feel a bit of a culture gap here and there. There was an old ordinance on the books where if you have a certain number of square footage or something, you have to have at least two bathrooms, one for men and one for women. That was obviously trying to say you should make enough bathrooms for everyone. But it was done at a time where there wasn’t awareness. I imagine this was written in the sixties or something when you just didn’t have the awareness that transgender people are a thing.

Anyway, fast forward, my wife opened a restaurant called Nerdvana, which is on the ground floor of our headquarters at Gearbox. It’s a cool place, a video game-themed bar and restaurant. She said, “Why do I even need gendered bathrooms? Why don’t I just have a bunch of full bathrooms where you can lock the door and it has everything you need?” Technically that violated this ordinance. She marched herself down to City Hall, had a conversation, and found herself not in a political debate, but asking, “What is this ordinance for?” “Well, if you want to change it, call the city council.” All right! Called the city manager, called the mayor, got the council together, and at the next meeting they said, “Sure, let’s change this.” And every single person on that council votes Republican. It’s interesting.

Local politics

GamesBeat: I wonder if you always have to be aware, or hyper-aware, of these things in your area, your state, or your town. Do you feel like that affects your writers’ room? Does your team have to be aware of decisions they make about characters and things like that in your games?

Pitchford: When we’re trying to entertain people, and we’re also trying to be artists, it’s just a consequence. You get literal artists in a room together, artists are going to art. Some of what art is about is challenging us or showing us something about ourselves. Things come into it. You feel a lot of that in Borderlands.

We’re kind of flatland when it comes to how we approach the creative process at Gearbox. Talent has a lot of autonomy for whatever it is they’re working on. Sometimes we do get in trouble a bit. Also, we can get things wrong. We are just human beings. There have been things that have come up that, even within Gearbox, it’ll create a discussion and an argument about it.

I remember when we got, for example–there was a time you probably remember when 3D Realms finally threw their hands up and shut their doors and laid off their employees. Take-Two sued them. Those guys called me and said, “Can you bail us out? You have a great relationship with Take-Two. You started your career with Duke Nukem.” We ended up in the deal where they gave us the franchise and I paid down their debt and got them out of their difficulties.

One of the stipulations on that was we had to ship Duke Nukem Forever. Here’s a game that we didn’t develop. We didn’t have any creative interest in it. But we’re now the producers of it. I remember that there was a build I was playing and there was this really uncomfortable moment for me–I worked on Duke Nukem back in 1996. I’m not going to get into the moment. But it was a difficult thought for me. On the one hand, I wouldn’t do this. On the other hand, these artists are doing what they’re going to do, so I guess I should defend them.

I felt so much empathy for these guys, who’d worked on this project for literally 15 years and then got laid off. They got a second chance, so I’m going to let them do what they want to do. But that happens sometimes in the room. We’ll have debates. We’ll challenge each other. But we respect each other’s artistic license, so to speak. It’s not always clear where the right answer is.

borderlands 5

Above: Borderlands has sold more than 60 million copies as a series.

Image Credit: Gearbox

Related to this, it says something about Gearbox that might explain or speak to this. We have a few values that we’ve declared and that we repeat. It’s almost a religion at Gearbox. One value we’ve declared is happiness. It’s not merely about the happiness of the customers we’re trying to entertain. It’s also about the happiness of all of us in the process.

Every once in a while we think about these values and re-evaluate them. There was a moment not too long ago where we thought, maybe we should change the value of happiness to the word “harmony.” We ultimately didn’t go that way, because we realized that harmony might reduce our willingness to challenge each other as artists. Our willingness to challenge each other in our creative and technical efforts. That conflict is not synonymous with harmony. But that conflict that can happen in the creative process is necessary, I think, to get something that has what I like to call “the real shit” in it.

Some things that have raised the most eyebrows may be the closest stuff we’ve done to have that real shit. I want us to do more real shit, you know? I wish we’d do more. That’s what art is for.

Staying involved

GamesBeat: On projects like this DLC, do you yourself have to make a ruling on things sometimes?

Pitchford: There are times, yeah.

GamesBeat: Are you in there with the writers discussing this?

Pitchford: Yeah. I’m in the room. And I’m in the room for a lot of it. There’s a lot of people that, because I founded the company and I manage the thing, they think that means certain things. But I’m a coder and a game designer and a storyteller. I’ve never been a suit. Most of my work at Gearbox is about more of a chief creative officer role these days. So yeah, I’m in there. There are times when it’s a tough one. It’s a coin flip. I have to make the call. It’s not always easy and it’s not always comfortable.

I had this stand I took on Borderlands 3. You’ve heard me curse a lot in this conversation. I have no problem with using those words. But there’s something about the Borderlands games, especially in North America, where a lot of parents are comfortable with children even as young as 13 playing the games. Or in some cases even younger. Even though it’s an M-rated game. And the reason is they don’t necessarily have a problem with simulated gun violence if the targets don’t really have constituents. They’re not people we have to worry about in the real world. In Borderlands you shoot aliens and green blood pops out. The art style is cartoonish. It’s a silly game, so a lot of parents are comfortable with it…except for the language.

Some people, especially in North America, have a huge issue–you say a word like “shit” or “fuck” and you’re going to hell. So I said, “Let’s take a stand on this. Let’s see if we can do this.” We don’t need to use those words. We can entertain people without them. We almost got through it. We almost got through it. And then there was one time. There was an ad-lib in the booth with Ice-T, who played a character, this AI. There’s one line, and it was just so funny. “It’s a big fucking dinosaur!” It was an innocent way to use the word. But the way he delivered it and the way it felt in the moment it happened–I guess I’ll have to do the PG-13 thing, where we get one “fuck.” I had to make the ruling on that. I kind of broke my own rule.

The entertainment value was so good, and it was three-quarters of the way through the game. If there was a parent in the room they might be a little shocked by that. But then they might appreciate the choice and laugh it off. Who knows?

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

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Tech

Coromon will bring its Pokémon-plus-puzzles game to Nintendo Switch in Q1 2022

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Coromon will bring its Pokémon-plus-puzzles game to Nintendo Switch in Q1 2022

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


Coromon twists the Pokémon formula with how it approaches dungeons, customization, and puzzles for its monster-taming gameplay. It’s already been announced for PC and mobile, and during the Freedom Games 2021 Showcase at the digital Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) today, developer TRAGsoft said Coromon is coming to another platform: the Nintendo Switch.

This feels like a good fit, as Coromon sports visuals similar to the early Pokémon games and is also about, you know, catching monsters. TRAGsoft has added a puzzle layer; as you explore maps, you find yourself dealing with these little brainteasers. And when your monsters level up, you can play with their statistics, giving it more RPG depth and other monster-taming games.

Your character works for a high-tech company, and your goal is to extract Titan Essences from the world. As the name implies, Titans are larger beasts you find in dungeons, and you and your monster teams must defeat them to get the essences and learn more about these “cornerstones” of the world.

“And this journey will lead you into a story of full plot twists that are full of interesting events and side quests to do,” TRAGsoft’s Marcel van der Made said. He’s the CEO and story writer for the studio, along with being the “Second Ridiculously Ambitious Guy.” (TRAGsoft stands for “Two Ridiculously Ambitious Guys.” Van der Made is the second, and fellow CEO and programmer Jochem Pouwels is the first).

TRAGsoft has been working on Coromon for over seven years, and the project is the result in part for their fondness for the Game Boy, Pokémon, and grand adventures with puzzles like Zelda.

“We love games and spent thousands of hours playing those games,” Marcel van der Made said. “Why not make a game with every the aspect we love and put that together for the ultimate RPG experience. That’s how Coromon came to life.”

And, of course, leads to the studio name “Two Ridiculously Ambitious Guys.”

Full of potential

Above: You can tweak your Coromon’s stats.

Image Credit: TARGsoft

Colors show how strong your Coromon can be. Two may be of the same species, but one may be brown, and the other is purple. This is part of TRAGsoft’s potential system. Coromon gain XP as they fight, and you can use those points to customize their stats. Van der Made says you can do that to make one a glass cannon (meaning with powerful attacks but weak health and defense), or make one that soaks up enemy damage.

It also has a shiny system (this reminds me of foils in Pokémon card packs), which plays into how you allocate a Coromon’s stats. They come in three versions as well: normal, potent, and perfect (think of these as the evolutions in Pokémon).

Nice work if you can get it

final 60b8fc88992b5a00293fad5a 655395

Above: You’d better not say, “I choose you, Pikachu” in Coromon.

Image Credit: TARGsoft

In games like Pokémon or Monster Rancher, you’re goal is to be the best trainer or collector you can be. And while that’s an important aspect of Coromon as well, you’re also working for a big company. You get paid for your endeavors, and along the way, you encounter other employees who are there to help you.

“They actually pay you to battle,” van der Made said. I dig this, as one of my few gripes with Pokémon is starting every adventure at home and getting a goodbye from your mom. “There’s even an outer space aspect to it, you’ll find out from the story itself.”

Puzzles and traps

As we explored a sandy dungeon, we encountered some dart traps. This is all about timing, avoiding the darts as you make your way through that part of the maze. Some of these dart traps have patterns you must watch for. Other traps include trapdoors, and some of these combine to make for some nasty tests. You also have buttons to move walls. None of them are difficult, but they do require you to pay attention to your surroundings and break the gameplay loop of finding and fighting monsters.

Coromon

Above: As you explore dungeons, you’ll find some traps.

Image Credit: TARGsoft

“[The puzzles” should be accessible enough so that you can find out [the solution] yourself. And some have people who are there to explain the mechanics,” van der Made said. “Some of the puzzles are really rewarding. You get a special item to solve puzzles that aren’t really required to progress any further. We’re really trying to make it accessible, but also complex enough for those who like exploring.”

The name game

Coromon has more than 120 creatures. Coming up for names for that many monsters could be tough, especially when you want to avoid using any that sound like names from Pokémon.

Turns out the TRAGsoft team enjoyed it.

“That’s really fun process, actually. We have brainstorms with about three people working on it. Sometimes you just get a beer and have a long brainstorm session on it,” van der Made said.

They’d look at monster designs and come up with ideas (some funny) until they found those that worked for them. One aspect of the localizations of Coromon is that you don’t need names that translate well from one language to another; you just use a good name from that language for the monster. They do try to stay away from certain pronunciations, as that can make it harder for naming three varieties of the same creature.

The studio also did some naming contests with its community.

Correction, 1:30 p.m.: Fixed the studio name to TRAGsoft throughout. I apologize for the error.

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

  • Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
  • Chatting with community members, GamesBeat staff, and other guests in our Discord
  • And maybe even a fun prize or two
  • Introductions to like-minded parties

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Continue Reading

Tech

Mythical Games launches early access for Blankos Block Party

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Mythical Games launches early access for Blankos Block Party

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


Mythical Games has launched early access on the PC for its Blankos Block Party open-world multiplayer game, which offers unique game characters authenticated with nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

The Los Angeles-based Mythical Games is pioneering the idea of “playable NFTs,” using that technology to uniquely identify game characters so players can truly own them. NFTs use blockchain, the secure and transparent digital ledger, to authenticate unique digital items. Just last week, Mythical raised $75 million from WestCap and others to pursue the larger opportunity to license its NFT technology to other game companies.

CEO John Linden made the announcement today in a talk at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) event, which is an all-online trade show. The company revealed some major fashion, music, and art collaborations for Blankos Block Party. It has deals with Burberry, DeadMau5, Quiccs, and El Grand Chamaco. The E3 talk included numerous artists talking about the potential they see in the blending of NFTs, art, and games.

“We’re moving the game into early access, which is exciting, and adding a lot of new features in the game itself,” said Linde, in an interview with GamesBeat. “The MMO hub has been redesigned. Deadmau5 is going to be involved. Burberry is going to be announcing their first NFT. And we have a lot of great artists involved too.”

Rob Manley, chief marketing officer at Burberry, said in the E3 talk that being a part of the gaming community is a big opportunity and it represents the company’s first move into NFTs.

Above: Burberry and Blankos have teamed up.

Image Credit: Mythical Games

Blankos Block Party has vinyl-style game characters who you earn (through gameplay), buy, or sell. It has begun testing its marketplace where players can buy and sell their characters, which can be customized or decorated with various things earned in the game.

The NFT craze

John Linden is CEO of Mythical Games.

Above: John Linden is CEO of Mythical Games.

Image Credit: Mythical

Mythical is one of many game companies offering a “play-to-earn” opportunity for gamers, enabling them to earn money from the time and investments they put into the game. NFTs have exploded in other applications, such as art, sports collectibles, and music. NBA Top Shot (a digital take on collectible basketball cards) is one example. Built by Dapper Labs, NBA Top Shot has surpassed $500 million in sales, five months after going public. And an NFT digital collage by the artist Beeple sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million. But more recently NFTs have seen price declines as some say that the hype is running out of steam.

While many NFT projects have been dismissed as overhyped schemes to get rich quick, Linden said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company wants to drive mass adoption of ownership in games through playable NFTs.

The playable NFTS in Blankos Block Party have the same utility as any character or accessory you might buy or earn in another game, but because of the blockchain technology behind them, players actually own what they buy and can sell them in real-money transactions when they no longer want or need them, unlocking the value of their time and money spent.

NFT marketplace

blankos 7

Above: Blankos Block Party’s marketplace.

Image Credit: Mythical Games

Pre-blockchain, players invested billions of dollars into digital items in other online games without a tangible way to benefit from it beyond gameplay advantages (or just showing off their bling); content remains locked behind their account because their purchase is really just a lease or licensing agreement, with no capability to transfer or sell, Mythical said. And while other secondary marketplaces have existed in the form of gray markets and black markets, players who participate are exposed to unsafe transactions, scams, and even the threat of losing their accounts for terms of service violations, the company said.

“The marketplace is where they can sell things,” he said. “Our accessories are still curated. But what the players can do then is, with most of the characters, players can now customize so they can level them up. We’ll keep adding things into this world. ”

Linden said that the various brands will have a lot of options for their NFT characters. They can limit the number of them or the time period in which they’re sold to create scarcity. They can also offer them at different prices. What’s different about this game is that blockchain enables provenance, or the capability to trace the history of an NFT. That means that brands can get paid a percentage of the sale price every time one of their NFT characters changes hands. And so they can benefit from a rise in price for an object over time.

You can buy Mythical's blockchain-based limited items for $25 to $150.

Above: You can buy Mythical’s blockchain-based limited items for $25 to $150.

Image Credit: Mythical Games

But the tech isn’t really easy to create. Mythical Games has more than 100 employees, and it has been working on its tech and game for three years, Linden said. Adding NFTs to a game means that a company has to create a digital wallet for players to securely hold their digital property. It sits on top of a blockchain platform, and that platform often has to be modified to reduce transaction costs, speed up transactions, and use less energy than the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum. All of that takes engineering work, and Mythical is still hiring.

On top of that, Mythical Games is talking to other game companies to license its platform to them so that those game companies can create their own games with playable NFT characters.

Mythical wants to drive mass adoption of ownership in games through playable NFTs with the growth of its first game, Blankos Block Party; expansion to other gaming platforms; and new projects launching later this year and in 2022. Via its Mythical Economic Engine and Mythical Marketplace, the company says it is providing a platform for game developers to create their own player-owned economies, as well as new tools for content creators and brands to facilitate ownership of in-game assets.

Through the Mythical Marketplace, players can unlock the value of monetary, rarity, and time-based efforts by selling their NFTs to other players for real money, in safe and secure transactions with proof of authenticity.

Early access and influencer events

blankos 6

Above: Blankos Block Party has a marketplace for NFT characters.

Image Credit: Mythical

In the open beta for Blankos Block Party, Mythical has enabled player-designed levels. Players hold more than 100,000 NFTs; as the game’s audience continues to grow, earlier assets and specialized releases will become more scarce and likely more valuable in the secondary market, creating rarity on a mass-market scale and providing new sources of income for players.

Mythical streamers include KarlNetwork, Captain Sparklez, and KaraCorvus. Folks can tune in on Friday, June 18 to watch and even join some of their favorite streamers in Blankos and they can get a chance to get a playable NFT Twitch Drop.

Mythical's marketplace for the Blankos Block Party game.

Above: Mythical’s marketplace for the Blankos Block Party game.

Image Credit: Mythical

Mythical will work together with Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) on a Blanko and accessory package modeled after his beloved cat, Professor Meowingtons, and the infamous deadmau5 helmet. This will drop in summer 2021.

Burberry will do a Blankos NFT drop, releasing this summer as a way to reach gamers. And Mythical is also working with Marathon Clothing, a brand owned by the late rapper Nipsey Hussle. They will work together on Blankos-related gear later this year.

And Mythical is working with El Grand Chamaco, an illustrator based in the small village of Los Ramones. El Grand Chamaco’s artworks are inspired by his Mexican roots, adopting the colorful vibrant palette of the culture into his 3D graphics. After years of perfecting his style, he gained his fame as a prominent illustrator and character designer—reimagining pop culture characters into his own depiction. And Mythical is working with Hackatao, an artist duo born in Milan in 2007. Hackatoo has pioneered crypto art since 2018.

alex pardee

Above: Alex Pardee is an artist who hopes to benefit from the NFT art craze.

Image Credit: Mythical Games

Blankos Block Party and the Mythical Marketplace are built on a private EOSIO blockchain using a proof of authority model that is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than the proof of work model (neither the game nor Blankos NFTs require any crypto mining). With Blankos Block Party and its Marketplace, Mythical aims to drive mass adoption of ownership in games through NFTs and blockchain technology, opening the door to a new kind of global game economy where creators are owners and players are asset holders. Mythical has raised $120 million to date and it has more than 100 employees.

Players can sign up now to join Blankos Block Party in early access on PC. The Mythical Marketplace, where players can buy and sell Blankos in peer-to-peer transactions for real money, is in its alpha phase and will continue rolling out to players this summer.

Linden said the game has had very good key performance indicators (KPIs) during its beta testing.

“We’re really taking the wraps off of all the fun stuff you can do in the game,” he said.

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Tech

Intellivision Entertainment wants to own retro couch gaming

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The Intellivision Amico has a wood-paneled VIP model.

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Intellivision Entertainment CEO Tommy Tallarico made his pitch to gamers today to own the couch when it comes to retro console gaming, talking about the Intellivision Amico console in a speech at the online-only Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) today.

Intellivision has had to postpone its launch twice now, and its latest plan is to launch the Amico on October 10, about a year after it originally planned. Tallarico said the pandemic forced the company to postpone its launch, but it also gave the company an opportunity to get more games in place for its launch.

The focus is “that friendship, that multiplayer, that couch co-op experience,” he said.

The Amico has a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and its focus will be to enable multiplayer games that you can play with your friends in the same room, on the couch, like Tallarico used to do when he was young. The curvy, wedge-like console’s design is supposed to be friendly and accessible. They intend for the console to be something you can use right off the bat, and it isn’t aimed at the more limited audience of hardcore gamers. He thinks this is complementary to other consoles, and so he doesn’t view others as competition.

It’s not about screaming graphics, but having a good time with fun, simple, casual games that you can play with your friends.

A time machine

Above: The Intellivision Amico has a wood-paneled VIP model.

Image Credit: Intellivision

The original Intellivision is a game console from Mattel that gave Atari a run for its money in the early 1980s. It was more advanced than the Atari 2600, with better graphics, and it even had simple voices in some games.

Tallarico has been in the video game industry for 32 years, and he created the “oof” sound that became the signature sound for Roblox games. Tallarico, who created the Video Games Live concert series, announced in 2018 that he had acquired the rights to the console and its original games and planned to relaunch Intellivision as a retro brand.

He has rounded up many of the original Intellivision’s game creators. They’re remaking some of the original games for the old Intellivision, such as Breakout, but with modern designs.

Amico is the Italian word for “friend,” and October 10 is the birthday of Tallarico’s sister. “My mother is very proud,” Tallarico said.

A crafted console

Intellivision has a network of retailers who will sell the Amico.

Above: Intellivision has a network of retailers who will sell the Amico.

Image Credit: Intellivision

The machine has 40 independently controlled LEDs on the console base and 12 LEDs on each console controller, for a total of 64, product development director Todd Linthicum said. That provides for an endless amount of expression through lighting.

Some games will correlate colors on the controller’s lights with gameplay. The console’s wedge shape enables you to see the lights from all angles, and you can adjust the brightness of the LEDs or turn them off. The controllers can charge in 2 hours, and batteries last 4-6 hours.

The controllers have color capacitive touchscreens, gyroscopes, force feedback, speakers, microphones, and wireless contact charging. Two controllers nest inside the console base, which enables them to charge. You can also charge a controller with a USB-C cable. The controllers have four shoulder buttons and a touch wheel with a button. A Home button lets you pause or exit a game easily. The controller can be moved in 64 directions and the controller screen has touch sensitivity. If you take a controller to a friend’s house, you can play all the games that you own on your console on your friend’s machine.

The Amico has an HDMI out port, a USB-C connector, a power connection, and a microSD expansion slot for more memory. You can store up to 50 games on the device. Radio frequency identification (RFID) connectivity offers a new way to unlock features in games or to interact with the console. You can simply take an object like a gift card and tap it on the console to unlock something. Intellivision will talk more about boxed games later. There are no loot boxes or in-app ads. But there are online leaderboards where you can check your score against others.

Game lineup

Intellivision is targeting the Amico at families for couch play.

Above: Intellivision is targeting the Amico at families for couch play.

Image Credit: Intellivision

Tallarico mentioned some of the games that will be coming for the Amico.

The list includes:

  • Earthworm Jim
  • Night Stalker
  • Incan Gold
  • Shark Shark
  • Spades
  • Cornhole
  • Astro Smash
  • Retro Reimagined
  • Breakout
  • Asteroids
  • Tempest
  • Missile Command
  • Burger Time
  • Bump and Jump
  • Cloudy Mountain
  • Sesame Street
  • Care Bears
  • Finnegan Fox
  • Bomb Squad
  • Space Strikers
  • Rigid Force Redux Enhanced
  • Dyno Blaster
  • Major League Baseball
  • Blank Slate
  • Telestrations
  • Flying Tigers

The brands making games for the Amico include Hot Wheels and the Harlem Globetrotters, and there will be games based on charades, soccer, pool, card games, skiing, and more.

And he said the original Ecco the Dolphin team to create a new game called Dolphin Quest.

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How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

  • Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
  • Chatting with community members, GamesBeat staff, and other guests in our Discord
  • And maybe even a fun prize or two
  • Introductions to like-minded parties

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