Fans’ insatiable appetite for news on their favorite games has created a market that Photoshop-skilled fakers are exploiting. For every verifiable leak, there are dozens of hoaxes spreading false information. Sometimes they are revealed quickly by their creators and their motivations are relatively benign. There are others who want their constructions to fool viewers, and they bask in the glory of tricking the unsuspecting. While most are easy to spot, these are the leaks that went the extra mile to try to fool us.

The Grinch Leak (Super Smash Bros. Ultimate)

The recently discredited “Grinch Leak” made its first appearance in a Snapchat video on October 24. It appeared to reveal artwork with the entire roster of fighters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Seven characters were supposedly unveiled, including Shadow the Hedgehog, Banjo-Kazooie, and Ken from Street Fighter.

The characters where just believable enough that the debate quickly split viewers into two opposing teams: those who trusted the rumor, and those who denounced it. “Team real” pointed to a promotional image of The Grinch movie in the background, which gave the rumor its name as proof of the leak’s veracity. The image seemed to corroborate the leaker worked in advertising, and so would have access to privileged information. The skeptics were ultimately victorious when, during the Nintendo Direct on November 1, Incineroar was revealed as the last unique character in the base game, with Ken from Street Fighter introduced as an echo fighter.

Spring Man (Super Smash Bros. Ultimate)

Super Smash Bros. attracts a dedicated fake leak crowd. It is a long-running series that reuses a lot of stages and characters – making it easy to get a hold of plausible artwork – and fans spend years speculating wildly about the game’s characters. Which is why an anonymous post got so much attention on 4Chan back in April. It had several screen shots and a short video that allegedly exposed unannounced characters coming to Nintendo’s fighting game.

Unlike many easy-to-dismiss fakes, these pictures were presented in resolution and included mundane unconfirmed – but anticipated – elements. The leak played on people’s expectations that the Ice Climbers, who haven’t been in Smash Bros. since Brawl, might return; that this generation Mario would have Cappy from Super Mario Odyssey; and that Nintendo would introduce a character from their new IP, Arms. Even though wary fans seemed to take these images with a grain of salt, they were so well done, few were willing to confidently denounce them.

Nintendo E3 2018 Schedule

E3 is like Christmas for gamers and leakers alike. The frenzy of excitement surrounding the tightly guarded presentations creates a perfect environment for leaks to go viral. This year, it was especially easy to pass off fake information due to the unusually high number of real leaks. For instance, Walmart Canada’s online store accidentally went live too soon and, though it was hurriedly taken down, screenshots made the rounds. Though it was riddled with questionable content, the online inventory nonetheless garnered intense attention because it appeared to show games from almost every major E3 presenter. When, in the aftermath, Bethesda hurriedly announced Rage 2 – one of the most out of the blue games on Walmart’s list – they inadvertently confirmed legitimacy on the entire leak.  

Taking advantage of the hectic atmosphere, a list popped up that purported to detail Nintendo’s full presentation and Treehouse schedule. The list went viral and got plastered in every corner of the internet. It promised gameplay footage of several anticipated titles like the new Metroid and the rumored Star Fox racing game. The schedule, however, didn’t stand up to scrutiny. The formatting was inconsistent throughout the document, some of the game titles – like Yoshi’s Flipping Island – were too bizarre, even for Nintendo, and the page was peppered with typos. But again, because the Walmart list had many of the same problems, this leak couldn’t be entirely debunked until after Nintendo’s E3 video presentation.

Multiple Sony E3 Presentation Schedules Leak

At the same time the fake Nintendo itinerary was making the rounds, several people wanted us to believe they had gotten their hands on the Sony conference schedule. It is surprising how many people believed the information despite there being two dissimilar Sony documents, but the E3 hype was at a crescendo.

Like many other rumors on this list, these leaks were able to gain momentum because they played on fans’ wishes and built a valid foundation with already confirmed information. The documents promised long desired announcements from PS4 backward compatibility to Bloodborne 2. Sony quashed the rumors quickly when they broke from tradition and openly announced they would only be focusing on four Sony exclusives during the conference: Death Stranding, The Last of Us: Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Spider-Man.

Animal Crossing for Nintendo Switch

Fans have been desperately waiting for a new Animal Crossing, so leaks regarding the game were popular this year. Once again, the hoax debuted on 4Chan and it showed a title screen of Animal Crossing: Globetrotter alongside a second image of a character.

This leak and others like it prompted an unusual PSA from Tristan Cooper, editing manager at Dorkly. He presented his own fake leak that began believably, and then over a series of screenshot unmasked itself as a Photoshopped fiction. He made it as a humorous warning urging people not believe unverified internet leaks. One fake screenshot even points out that an earlier picture had inserted pictures of Shrek in the background. The responses to his piece demonstrate how easily some had been fooled. While some appreciated the joke, others vehemently resented being tricked.

Borderlands 3 Footage

A post on reddit from ShineRise1 back in March claimed that, after six years of waiting, the next Borderlands was coming out within the year. A slew of speculation followed in the announcement’s wake. True to form for a fake leak, the camera work and resolution left a lot to be desired. A shaky video of planets ended in a single screenshot that showcased a completely made-up logo and protagonist standing in the rain. In the post, ShineRise1 describes the game’s progression from linear to open world gameplay and also indicated the game had a September release date.

It wasn’t a secret that Borderlands 3 was in development at the time, a developer’s recent Twitter post that he was working on the “next Borderlands” supported the leak’s plausibility. The hoax unraveled when someone superimposed the image of the “new protagonist” on top of an image of a character in a Dark Soul II’s trailer. The mask and rain in the background matched exactly, proving that the leaker had simply cropped an image.

The Survivor 2299 Website

When a much-loved franchise is left alone for too long, fans begin to get antsy and leakers smell opportunity. This was the case back in 2013 when an enigmatic website with the URL thesurvivor2299.com, seemed to promise the official reveal of Fallout 4.

This leaker went all-out in the attempt, as he later explained, to force Bethesda into sharing real details about their plans for the game. The website hosted a countdown clock that ended on December 11, the same day as the VGX awards, which could have made a great venue for a big announcement. That ZeniMax Media, Bethesda’s parent company, owned the domain, added fuel to the fire. The site had secret messages that referenced game characters, it had cryptic codes that sent fans on wild goose chases – it even featured some Morse code for good measure. To everyone’s chagrin, the hoaxer came clean and Fallout 4 wouldn’t come out for another 2 years.

Nintendo Switch 5.0 Update

In January, a video emerged claiming to demonstrate firmware update 5.0 for the Nintendo Switch. The video presented a YouTube app coming to the Switch which excited many people because fans’ have been asking for YouTube on their Switch since the console launched. A few short days later, the leaker proudly took credit for his handiwork with a brief apology and a hope that Nintendo would take notice.

The power of this leak is that, even after being revealed as a hoax, everyone still wanted it to be true. Many outlets covering the story touched on this sentiment and suggested that Nintendo might be wise to consider the fan reaction. It may have taken the better half of a year, but Nintendo did introduce the long-awaited YouTube app earlier this month.

Game Informer Superman Cover

Many of the leaks on this list pretend their fake information came from an official source to seem more legitimate. Back in the end of May, that’s just what happened when Game Informer got dragged into a hoax. A 4Chan poster falsely insisted that they had early access to our cover, which would break the news of Rocksteady’s upcoming Superman title.

The claim wasn’t outrageous, because Rocksteady was already closely tied to the superhero genre. The studio made the Batman: Arkham games into one of the most successful superhero video game franchises of all time. Though the claim might have seemed plausible at face value, anyone would have been able to see that almost the exact same debunked story made the rounds back in November 2017. The whispers became more frenzied after Twitter post from Andrew Reiner didn’t deny the rumor. Game informer’s real July cover released soon after – with Anthem on the on the cover rather than the man of steel – and the jig was up.

NX controller

Nothing gets fans’ imaginations going like the announcement of a new game system followed by years of silence. Back when the Wii U was still cloaked under working title project NX, people couldn’t keep from speculating about the impending Nintendo console. Enter the two-part hoax of the NX controller.

Multiple pictures from different leakers surfaced of an unusual looking controller with two joysticks on opposing ends of an elongated disk that seemed to replicate an earlier hardware patent. One poster, Idriss2Dev on Reddit, even showed the supposed controller alongside a sticky note that referenced a quote from the Wii’s reveal.  The internet tore the images apart looking for clues and under the pressure, David Louis-Marie revealed his hoax that he put together with a 3D printer and Photoshop. Soon after, the second poster, Frank Sandqvist, stepped forward and explained his motivation for carrying on the hoax. He was interested to see how easily he could recreate the leak just for laughs but then regretted getting peoples’ hopes up. 

Rayman (Super Smash Bros. for Wii U)

This is the example par excellence of a fake leak that had everyone going. The video showed a Super Smash Bros. menu depicting Rayman as one of the fighters. The internet went crazy with the footage, and Omni Jacala came forward himself after only a few days.

We spoke with him back when the story first broke to understand what motivated him and other leakers to do what they did. In an interview with Kyle Hilliard, Omni explained that he was just a fan that wanted to display his artistic skills and love of the game. He said that he didn’t mean any harm and didn’t really think of the consequences. He created a video educating people on how he made the fake, and he now uses his YouTube Channel to analyze other questionable leak videos, many of which have appeared on this list.

As technology gets better, fake leaks will become harder to spot. So, no matter how much you want to believe that screenshot of your favorite character in Super Smash Bros. or that footage claiming the game you’ve been waiting for forever is just around the corner, take every leak with a grain of salt. Or don’t. We can make another list next year. 

Look, you know the drill – every year, a billion amazing and awful games come out, and every year, my well-intentioned co-workers totally blow their opportunity to write horrifically punny headlines for their reviews. I honestly don’t know what their problem is – it’s like they don’t even know how headlines work! If you aren’t eliciting an audible groan from your reader, you simply aren’t doing your job!

Lucky for them, I’ve got a metric buttload of experience writing terrible headlines, and I’m always willing to help a co-worker in need – whether they’re humble enough to ask for it or not! As such, I went back through this year’s reviews and selected 30 review headlines to analyze and improve. Let the edification begin!

Detective Pikachu

Actual Headline: A Bit Too Elementary, My Dear Pikachu
Awesome Headline: More Like “Defective Pikachu”
Ben Reeves turned in an admirable headline for his Detective Pikachu review, opting for a Sherlock Holmes reference to convey that the game is too simple for its own good. Unfortunately, Holmes never actually said that line, so Reeves’ headline is wildly misleading, and may even qualify as Fake News®! Way to wage a war on the truth, Reeves – I guess we have to change the name of the magazine to Game Misinformer now. Anyway, my headline gets straight to the point while also busting out a sophisticated pun. Oh, it’s also not a dirty lie. Case closed!

God Of War

Actual Headline: Reaching A Higher Summit
Awesome Headline: Kratos Is Still Greatos – BOYYYYYY!
Another decent try, Joe’s thoughtful God of War headline alludes to the fact that Santa Monica Studio successfully created a new and more meaningful take on the classic God of War franchise, while evoking the imagery of Kratos climbing up to wherever the hell gods live so he can slaughter them all again. That’s pretty good – but way too subtle for all the old-school God of War fans who just want to rip dudes’ heads off and knock over ceramic ware while doing the nasty. There’s no ambiguity in my headline, which not only rhymes, but also references the game’s biggest meme – and as we all know, a meme is worth a thousand original ideas!

Vampyr

Actual Headline: Dripping With Unrealized Potential
Awesome Headline: The “y” Was A Big Tip-Off, TBH
Once again, Joe’s headline is respectable, which I guess shouldn’t be too surprising seeing as he’s the reviews editor. “Dripping With Unrealized Potential” works on its own as a saying and accurately encapsulates Vampyr’s botched ambitions. However, it’s also a clever reference to the fact that vampires bite people, and then their blood drips out. Well, maybe “clever” is overselling it, but still a solid, multilayered headline.

My headline is more straightforward, and says what everyone was thinking – there’s no way a vampire game that purposely misspells “vampire” was going to be as good as fans hoped it would be. Oh well, at least they don’t sparkle!

Funny To A Point – My Big Fat Greek Assassin's Creed Odyssey Photo Tour

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Actual Headline: Fighting For Glory
Awesome Headline: So Good You’ll O.D., See?
I’d love to give Joe crap for his boring-ass A.C. Odyssey headline, but mine’s a horrendous dud too. However, it’s not my fault! Given the series’ dubious track record, all of my A.C. headline puns have been honed to play off the double asses in “Assassin.” I’m like one of those Galapagos Islands birds that’s so specialized it can’t survive on the mainland anymore! That must be what happened to Joe here, too.

Funny To A Point - Spider-Man Screen

Spider-Man

Actual Headline: Spinning An Amazing Web
Awesome Headline: Our Spidey Sense Isn’t The Only Thing That’s Tingling!
Spider-Man turned out to be a great game, and Reiner’s headline captures that on multiple levels. The “spinning a web” reference speaks to the game’s quality narrative and, ya know, Spider-Man, while the “Amazing” is both an indicator of quality and a reference to – you guessed it – Spider-Man again! We get it, Reiner! Spider-Man is great!

My headline conveys the same information and contains a Spider-Man reference as well – but it also serves as a titillating double entendre! It wasn’t an easy one to brainstorm either; I tried for 20 minutes to make the same joke about webbing, but there’s just no classy way to pull it off…

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze For Switch

Actual Headline: Don’t Miss It This Time
Awesome Headline: Not Even Global Warming Can Stop This Great Ape
Well, you certainly can’t accuse Kyle of being too subtle. I mean, I get that Tropical Freeze was originally overlooked and that people shouldn’t miss it this time, but you shouldn’t LITERALLY SAY THAT as your headline. Hopefully Kyle learns a thing or two from my replacement, which plays off another overlooked aspect of the game – that its title is clearly another brazen political message from Nintendo about the dangers of climate change. Not only does my headline convey that DKC is a great game via a hilarious and informative monkey pun, it also amplifies Nintendo’s environmental message to HELP SAVE THE WORLD. Time to step your game up, Kyle!

Fe

Actual Headline: Prickly Platforming
Awesome Headline: Fe-get It
This actually is an improvement for Kyle, though given how low he set the bar with the last entry, that’s not saying much. To his credit, Kyle’s headline has some alliteration going on, and also tells you that it’s a platformer. The only problem? It doesn’t actually tell you if it’s good or bad – just prickly. My headline doesn’t just clue you in to the game’s quality, it tells you straight-up not to play it, which is the point of all reviews. In fact, mine doesn’t even need actual body text – the headline says it all!

Sea Of Thieves

Actual Headline: Fun In A Shallow Pool
Awesome Headline: Hello, 911? I’d Like To Report A Robbery: Rare Just Stole $60 From Me
Here’s another swing-and-a-miss from Kyle. The “Shallow Pool” reference in his headline is a solid, aquatic-themed way of conveying Sea of Thieves’ limitations, but unfortunately, Kyle doesn’t build on it with a reference to peeing or any other bodily excrements. Even worse, he seems to have erroneously included the word “fun” instead! Maybe he meant “funk?” Either way, it’s quite the embarrassing mistake that somehow made it all the way to print.

My headline makes no such mistake, and also helpfully provides a script for anyone who somehow buys it anyway – you should’ve listened to me in the first place, but you’re welcome regardless!

[Warning: Do not actually call 911 to request a refund for Sea of Thieves. They are not pirate fans.]

Crawl

Actual Headline: Teach Your Friends To Kill Each Other (WTF, Kyle?)
Awesome Headline: Better Than Krull…Probably?
I don’t even know what Kyle was going for with his amicicidal headline. Then again, I don’t know what I was thinking either – Crawl kind of sounds like Krull, so…good enough? Let’s just move on.

Moss

Actual Headline: If You Give A Mouse A Mission
Awesome Headline: Change The “O” To An “I” And That’s What This Game Is
Dammit Kyle, you’re not even trying anymore! Kyle’s reference to the beloved children’s book is even more clumsy and out of place than it was in Air Force One. And again, it doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of the game! My review headline, on the other hand, turns my objective assessment into a fun little puzzle game for readers to figure out – even more fun than playing Moss!  

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

Actual Headline: A Love Letter To The Past
Awesome Headline: Psst…Wake Up And Play This Game
Moving on from Kyle’s headline embarrassments, clearly Shea isn’t doing much better. First of all, one glimpse at a screenshot for Blossom Tales will tell you that it’s a “love letter to the past,” so the headline basically isn’t saying anything the reader doesn’t already know. But more importantly, can we just stop calling things love letters already? Has anyone actually written a love letter in the past hundred years? People don’t write even normal, non-horny letters anymore! Most gamers nowadays probably won’t even get the reference – Shea should’ve gone with a headline like “A Sext To The Past,” and thrown in some eggplant emojis or something. God, I hate millennials.

Anywho, my headline plays off the “Sleeping King” subtitle to let readers know they should pay attention to this game, but without jolting them awake because that’s not good for the body. It’s informative and polite!

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu & Eevee

Actual Headline: A Classic Evolved
Awesome Headline: For Sale: Nostalgia
Dammit, Shea, stop stating the obvious! Of course it’s a classic evolved – our readers have eyes! One look tells you it’s not the vomit pool of pixels that the first-gen Pokémon games were. My headline cuts through all the crap and labels these games as what they are: pure nostalgia cash grabs. Quit selling fans the same damn Pokémon games, Nintendo! Now let’s see how Shea is going to screw up his next headline.

The Swords Of Ditto

Actual Headline: Rise, Fall, And Repeat
Awesome Headline: Like That Clay Pot Sex Scene?
What the hell? That title is WAY too clever for Shea – Cork must’ve helped him out or something. Anyway, Shea’s headline cleverly plays off the fact that players continually die and respawn into Swords of Ditto’s world, while suggesting that it’s a little too repetitive for its own good. I’m not sure what that has to do with shampoo directions, but all in all it works.

My headline, on the other hand, goes all in on “Ditto” being a famous line from the 1990 supernatural romance hit, Ghost. Specifically, the headline references one the film’s most iconic scene, where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore incorporate a pottery wheel into their love-making. The scene is certainly steamy, which might suggest a high score, but they also ruined a perfectly good pot in the process, so that averages out to 7.25. I guess. Can we just pretend this entry never happened?

Where The Water Tastes Like Wine

Actual Headline: A Soulful Journey Through America
Awesome Headline: Move Over, Jesus!
Elise’s headline for Where The Water Tastes Like Wine gets across the basic premise of this narrative-focused indie game, and suggests it’s a journey worth taking. However, it doesn’t really scream “9 out of 10,” which is the score she gave the game. That’s a big deal! My incredibly concise headline gets that message across loud and clear, while also playing up the whole water/wine angle. When it comes to headline competitions, you can’t beat biblical!

The Room: Old Sins

Actual Headline: Exploring Every Old Nook And Cranny
Awesome Headline: I’m Not Even Looking For The Exit Cuz I’m Having So Much Fun In Here!
Reeves can come up with some pretty bonkers headlines, but I’m not a fan of this one. Mainly it’s because I’ve never liked the term “nook and cranny” – it sounds like something an old British baker would say. Even worse, Reeves’ headline as a whole sounds like something you’d DO to an old British baker. It’s just a gross, albeit honorable, attempt at conveying that you spend a lot of time in the game searching rooms for puzzle elements.

My headline plays off the same mechanics and, while wordy, does a much clearer job of telling you that it’s a good thing. Now, can someone lend me one of those MIB memory erasers? I’ve got some mental images of Mary Berry in my head that I would desperately like to forget…

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Actual Headline: A Noble Quest In Need Of Divine Intervention
Awesome Headline: King-Dumb, C’mon – Deliver Me From This Game!
Here’s proof that even I’m capable of flubbing a headline – or rather, that I’m capable of improving upon perfection! My original headline plays off of Kingdom Come’s religious themes to convey that, while it has some great moments, the overall experience suffers from inexcusable bugs and design issues. However, my replacement headline is just objectively better thanks to not one, but THREE world-class puns. Talk about the holy trinity!

Hitman 2 Review Screens

Hitman 2

Actual Headline: A Worthy Investment For Expert Executioners
Awesome Headline: It’s A Hit, Man!
Here’s another one of my own headlines that could’ve been better. Sure, it gets across that the demanding learning curve is worth it, and it contains a little bit of alliteration on the assassin theme – but that’s no excuse for missing such an obvious Hitman pun. Shame on me! On the bright side, at least the game is good enough to put the Sh-tman pun to rest. R.I.P. Sh-tman!

Funny To A Point – My First 10 Call Of Duty Blackout Matches, Analyzed

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4

Actual Headline: Treyarch’s Gambit Yields Big Rewards
Awesome Headline: Black Oops, They Actually Made A Good Game This Year!
Tack turned in a serviceable headline for his BLOPS 4 review, calling out that the developer’s risky decision to forgo a story campaign for a new battle-royale mode really paid off. Unfortunately, it contains a big fat goose egg for puns. My ingeniously playful headline doesn’t just let readers know that the game is good – it speaks directly to the haters out there who believe that a good Call of Duty game could only be the product of a mistake. I don’t share that opinion, mind you – I just go where the puns lead me.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

Actual Headline: A Champion Welcoming All Challengers
Awesome Headline: No One’s Super Sayin’ “Buu” To This Game – It’s Krillin the Competition! Trunks!
Poor Suriel didn’t stand a chance in this head-to-headline competition (GET IT?!). His headline points out that, despite the name, license, and general concept, Dragon Ball FighterZ is somehow good – and newcomer-friendly to boot. My headline, in contrast, attacks with a flurry of killer Dragon Ball puns that I only know because of one of my other ill-conceived columns. Granted, the Trunks reference isn’t my best work, but it’s a funny enough name to stand on its own.

Owlboy

Actual Headline: Taking The High Road
Awesome Headline: Well Owlboy Damned, This Game Is Great!
Suriel’s Owlboy headline certainly seems fine – as long as you don’t actually think about it for more than five seconds. If you do, you’ll realize that “taking the high road” isn’t actually an indicator of quality – it merely means not being a jerk. And most of the time people who claim to take the high road are only doing it to be condescending to whatever low-roader they’re lording it over, which is basically just being a jerk in a different way. What the hell is that headline even supposed to mean? Wait a minute – did Suriel mean “high road” literally, because you play as a flying bird creature?! Talk about high alright!

Regardless, I went with another hilarious pun that conveys the surprise and elation of how great the game is – and I didn’t even need to stoop to making a hooter joke! I think we all know “who” won this round. I can do this all day, guys!

Rust

Actual Headline: More Rough Than Diamond
Awesome Headline: In Need Of A Tetanus Shot. In The Butt.
Javy’s headline for Rust is just confusing. I mean, I get that it’s a play on “diamond in the rough,” obviously, but if it’s more “rough” than “diamond,” then isn’t it just bad? Actually, now that I think about it, isn’t it always more rough than diamond? It’s not like you’re ever going to have a giant-ass diamond that’s bigger than whatever crap it’s surrounded by.

My headline builds on what Javy should’ve used as his foundation – the word “rust.” And unlike Javy’s headline, there’s no philosophical confusion about how bad it is – and even if there is, the “In The Butt” certainly clears things up.

Civilization VI: Rise And Fall

Actual Headline: Shining A Polished Gem
Awesome Headline: Your Heartbeat Will Rise When You Fall In Love With Civ VI All Over Again
Here’s another confusing play on words, this time courtesy of Ben Reeves: You can’t shine something that’s already polished! It’s already shiny! What kind of monster goes around shining already-shiny gems? He’s only got four words in his headline, and two of them are redundant!

My replacement is admittedly wordy, but it offer a one-two “pun”ch on the name of the expansion, let’s you know it’s great, and establishes that the game was already a hit to begin with. You know, in case you live in a cave and don’t know what Civilization is – hey, that was its own organic play on words too! I couldn’t stop being clever even if I wanted to. Which I do! Seriously, this is becoming a real problem!

Super Mario Party

Actual Headline: Same Party, New Decorations
Awesome Headline: Spooper More-io Potty
Oh look, another blown headline from Shea. In this case the play on party decorations is fine and all, but it doesn’t convey that Mario Party is a horrendous piece of crap. In fact, you might even read that and come away thinking the game is alright! That just won’t do!

My headline has no such ambiguity about the quality – though I loaded in so many toilet-themed puns that it’s kind of unintelligible. Oh well, you can’t let legibility shut down a pun party!

Red Dead Redemption II

Actual Headline: An Open-World Western For The Ages
Awesome Headline: Rad Dude Re-daaaaaaamn!-ption, TOO GOOD!
What, you thought I was joking? I would never joke about a pun party! Look, if you want to be a good writer, you’ve got to learn how to cram as many puns into a single sentence as possible. Don’t worry if it makes sense – your readers will be laughing too hard to care!

Tetris Effect

Actual Headline: A Dazzling Reimagining
Awesome Headline: Yes, That Is An “I” Piece In Our Pants, But We’re Happy Playing The Game Too!
Wow, talk about a rare miss from Cork – “A Dazzling Reimagining” is about as blah as it gets! Granted, my reworking of the banana pants joke is a bit clumsy, but I think it gets all the relevant information across, so I’m giving myself a pass. I can do that, you know.

Far Cry 5

Actual Headline: Big Sigh Country
Awesome Headline: More Like Fart, Cry
Ahh, now here’s a classic Jeff Cork headline – that’s some A+ punnery that’s both relevant to the setting of the game, and also conveys its inferior quality. In fact, it’s almost good enough to forgive the fact that he overlooked an easy fart joke. Always go for the fart joke!

Fear Effect Sedna

Actual Headline: Dead On Revival
Awesome Headline: Fart Effect, Said “Nah”
See what I’m talking about? A fart pun trumps every other pun! Always!

Way Of The Passive Fist

Actual Headline: Straying From The Path
Awesome Headline: Wiff Of The Passing Fart
I’m really beginning to feel like people aren’t taking me seriously when I say that fart jokes are 100-percent ALWAYS THE ANSWER.

Fortnite

Actual Headline: An Epic Epoch
Awesome Headline: Fart – Not!
It even works for good games too! You can’t beat it!

Detroit: Become Human

Actual Headline: An Intriguing, But Flawed, Future
Awesome Headline: http://bit.ly/2rhZq6I
For whatever reason, Joe still remains resistant to us using URLs as headlines for some reason. Come on, Joe, it’s the 21st century! If any game deserves an avant-garde insult headline, it’s this one!

Top Of The Table – Everdell

Easy to learn but hard to master is a turn of phrase that gets bandied about a lot when speaking about games. It’s usually a way of praising a project that offers great depth but simultaneously welcomes newcomers through strong onboarding. In the case of Starling Games’ Everdell, it’s a caution as much as it is a compliment. Everdell’s breathtaking components and art are a sight to behold, and happily welcome new players with a charming woodland aesthetic that’s soft, colorful, and detailed. A brisk turn order starts the game going with little in the way of delay between opportunities to act. But behind the childlike sylvan setting is a complex strategic affair with multitudinous paths to achieving victory – much too complex for most younger or inexperienced players to enjoy.

Understanding what you can do in a given turn isn’t hard, but understanding what you should do is far more involved, and pulling back the layers takes time. It’s likely Everdell won’t fully click in the first hour, or even the first full game session. But dedicated players who stick with it will find something quite magical.

Clearly inspired by classic tales like The Wind in the Willows and the Redwall novels, Everdell transports one to four players to an idyllic woodland valley where bespectacled bats hang from clock towers, hares keep shop at the general store, and postal pigeons dutifully haul letter bags between communities. Much of the charm is captured by the plentiful card illustrations by artist Andrew Bosley, which deserve a callout as some of the most evocative and imaginative of any game in my recent memory.

Everdell features gorgeous card art that helps bring its world to life (click the image to see bigger versions)

That rich table presence is further enhanced by a stunning custom board that represents the valley of Everdell, and which includes a cardboard standee (the Ever Tree) that towers over the back of the board. The branches of the tree house game components come into play throughout the game, and it acts as a physical representation of the passing seasons of the ongoing session. The combined effect is a table tableau that is unlike anything I’ve played, and it really captures the eye. The massive tree undoubtedly adds something special to the game, but comes at a cost. It means that all players should really be able to view the display from the front in order to fully enjoy the experience, and that may be a challenge for some groups who use a playspace that normally lets everyone spread out around the table. Also, fair warning: The cardboard pieces must be dismantled and reassembled for each game; it’s a bit of a nuisance, but really doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

Table display is stunning, but it’s important to find a seating relationship where everyone can enjoy the view

Everdell’s gameplay is a mix of worker placement mechanics and engine building. Each player is working to establish their own new community in the valley by playing cards from a shared pool (the meadow) or from a private hand. Each card represents a constructed building (like the school, inn, or palace) or a critter (like the teacher, innkeeper, or queen), and is played in front of you in a growing grid layout. Each card has a cost in resources like twigs and berries, and you’ll need to send out your workers to gather those resources at various spots across the board. In a given turn, you have to choose one or the other – play a card or place a worker – so you must think carefully about what you need and how to reach your goals, even as other players weigh the same risks. Do you snag the spot to pick up some extra twigs, but at the cost of that card in the meadow that you and your opponent are both eyeing?

The game unfolds over four seasons, and as winter (the first season) begins, you have only two workers to employ. As the game begins for the first time, I’m sure you’ll feel as I did; how is this so simplistic? Those first couple of turns feel as if nothing meaningful is happening, like a tiny snowball at the top of the hill, with too few actions available, and resource build-up that seems slow. Of course, the snowball grows in momentum as it rolls forward, and the game’s tension and available options rise with each passing turn. On your turn, you may also prepare for the next season, reclaiming all your workers, gaining new workers who have been waiting in the Ever Tree, and triggering production card effects. Oddly, you can move ahead into summer, even as your opponents are still in springtime. You risk reaching the endgame ahead of them, but you have increased workers to use in the meantime, which might pay dividends.

The game can be purchased as a collector’s edition with some beautiful extra cards and components, but the standard edition still features top-notch production values

Further complexity arises through the many interconnected chains, combos, and synergies on the cards you’ve played, building up an engine that runs in part on its own. Play one card that triggers another already in play, which in turn lets you gain more resources, and draw yet more cards into your hand. Already have the inn card? Play the innkeeper for free, if you can manage to snag it from the meadow before your buddy. Maybe you planned ahead and put a crane into place two turns ago? Now you can build that theater for three fewer resources. The challenge here is perceiving all the ways to capitalize on your build order, and even noticing opportunities to snag point tokens as they arise through cards and events on the board can be a challenge. This is a game in which experienced players have a profound advantage over new players; that’s not a bad thing, but it’s something to account for in your approach to play.

The other standout feature of Everdell is its replayability, accomplished chiefly through board elements that change each session. In any given playthrough, a series of special events and additional worker placement forest spaces are dealt onto the board. Together, those add up to several new ways to gain resources, and an equal number of new ways to gain victory points, but they’re different in each game. When paired with the manifold chains inherent to cards, I found that every game setup and outcome was very different from the last. And with each one of those setups, I was more impressed with the elegant balance dynamics that hold everything together and keep players from running away with the win.

Everdell isn’t what it might first appear. Its whimsical tone belies a deep strategy experience. It offers a simple turn structure that should play quickly, yet I found it’s easy to get caught up in deciding what single action you should take on a turn; in this case, I don’t think it’s out-of-line to suggest a reasonable house-ruled time limit on player decisions in the name of keeping playtime under a couple of hours. The seemingly player-independent decision-making by each player seems at first like there wouldn’t be much interaction, but opportunities arise in the late game where you can profoundly screw over an opponent’s carefully laid plans. To be clear, none of these factors are criticisms, but simply a caution to players that Everdell might not be what you expect. If you’re brand new to tabletop play, it might not be the user-friendly first game you were hoping for. Conversely, experienced gamer groups should strongly consider checking this out before dismissing it on the basis of the seemingly cutesy theme; there’s much more depth here than you think.

The “Ever Tree” is mostly an aesthetic object on the board, but it does house the workers you’ll gain later in the game, and it helps to reinforce the seasonal structure of a given playthrough

Happily, designer James A. Wilson has also included an entertaining solo mode, which acts as an ideal way to learn the game for new owners, populated by an entertaining NPC villain to confront in the form of a conniving rat named Rugwort. Whether tackled solo or with your friends at your side, Everdell isn’t a game that reveals its secrets without effort. But it is a project of tremendous sophistication in its melding of mechanics and theme into an engaging and momentum-driven affair. Embrace its soft-spoken enchanted forest theme, and you’ll discover with time that there’s much more hiding in the tree’s shadow.

As we come up on the end of the year, it’s a great time to dive back through the backlog of Top of the Table, and begin to pick out the games you might want to snag for the holidays and take home to share with friends and family. Click on the banner below to explore all past recommendations. And if you’d like some personalized help finding the right game for your holiday get-together, drop me a line via email from the link at the bottom of this article; I’d love to hear what you’re looking for, and hopefully guide you to something that will bring folks together around the table this season.  

We’ve wrapped up the month of coverage coinciding with our cover story on Warcraft III: Reforged, but we had one more bonus video to share with Blizzard fans. While visiting the studio, we spoke with composer Derek Duke about how he was originally brought on to the team to write the music for the zerg race in the original Starcraft. Watch the video interview above to learn how the zerg’s music was influenced by both Quake and Command & Conquer.

Click on our banner below to enter our constantly updating hub of exclusive features on Warcraft III: Reforged.

Darlene and Stella got shifted into two different security lines on the way into the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival, prompting the fourteen-year-old Stella to call out “I’ll see you on the other side, mom!” to the parallel line. The two were excited to attend an annual meeting of Final Fantasy XIV players and fans in Las Vegas, but found themselves waylaid by security at the ten-yard line. Stella emptied her pockets into a bin while her mother patiently waited in front of the metal detector, chatting with me.

“She has a wallet chain,” Darlene told me in a noticeable Canadian accent. “I told her it would set off the alarm, but she didn’t listen.” Darlene was decked out in a black robe split with red splashes, which she informed me was the Diabolic Healing Set, the clothes her character wears in the game when she plays. Speaking with all the force of a proud parent, she described the Ninja set that her daughter wears when they go on quests together. “I tried to convince her to wear it here, but you know teenagers,” Darlene told me as Stella slowly approached behind her, mortified at the subject of conversation.

Darlene and Stella had been involved with Final Fantasy XIV since it originally launched in 2010, when now-punk rock teen was still a small child. She sat on either her mother or stepfather’s lap as they played the game and watched them explore the vast Eorzean plains while they explained the intricacies of the game to her. Final Fantasy XIV was such a core part of their household that, when the game relaunched as A Realm Reborn in 2013 on a date happened to coincide with the same week as Darlene’s birthday, the family held a party celebrating both.

“Those were good…important, I guess, memories to me,” Stella said as her mother placed a hand on her shoulder and gripped it.

Soon after the game’s relaunch, Darlene’s husband passed away from a heart attack. It was sudden and Darlene described the feeling of returning home and seeing her husband’s computer still on as “watching someone pop out of existence and only his clothes are left.” They eventually shut the computer down and threw a blanket over the desk to stop thinking about it, presuming that out of sight meant out of mind. For her, it mostly worked, and she had much more on her mind than the computer desk sitting in the corner of the room.

“That’s why I was surprised when the little one over here crawled into my lap when I was watching TV and asked when we were going to play again,” Darlene says, fighting to get out the words. “She didn’t say ‘oh mom, let’s remember dad this way’ or anything like that. I think that’s what she meant, but she just said we should start playing again.”

While this was their first fan festival, the two have been playing the game almost nightly for nearly three years. Using the wall behind us, Stella described their setup as two monitors with two separate computers at a large table in the living room, so they could be next to each other as they played together.

“I asked her for a PlayStation 4 one year and she got really quiet,” Stella explains. “A few days later, she texts me saying she’ll buy one, but I can’t play [Final Fantasy] XIV on it in my room. I said okay, that’s fine, and didn’t think anything else about it. Then later I talk to my grandma who tells me mom called her crying that I might stop playing the game in the same room with her and she had to talk her down.”

Darlene smiled. “Yeah, that happened.”

For the most part, finding stories about Final Fantasy XIV at a fan festival is easy. It’s an already bought-in audience, people who came to Las Vegas to immerse themselves in the community they already enjoy and talk about why they enjoy it. While riding the elevator, I met a group of people all wearing the same custom-made powder blue t-shirt. The group, which was a diverse set of people in terms of ages, gender, and ethnicities, and all a part of the same static (a consistent group that plays together) and have known each other online for years. Fan Fests are their time to cut loose with people they have been talking to for years.

“I started playing the game with this guy around 2013,” streamer Michael ‘Ethys’ Asher said pointing to a friend next to him, “and it kind of changed the trajectory of our lives. Like a lot of MMORPGs out there but I think more so than most other MMORPGs on the market, Final Fantasy XIV facilitates the creation and consolidation of these fruitful relationships.”

The friend Ethys pointed to is another streamer that goes by the name Healme Harry, who pointed out to me that the community in the game is unique. “It’s an extremely diverse community,” Harry explained. “There’s a really, really strong LBGT community within Final Fantasy that most games don’t have. It creates a real space of safety for a lot of people. There’s so many communities in Final Fantasy XIV that create safe spaces for people – I believe there’s linkshells and free companies for women specifically, for LBGT people, for trans people specifically, as well. There’s a lot of really diverse communities within the game.”

It’s certainly no exaggeration to say the FFXIV community is inclusive. In a room marked for Gaming, dozens of PCs were lined up to play a new event ahead of time with a line stretching up and down the ballroom. Walking around the room were strangers who just had the good fortune of being next to each other happily discussing the game, gathering recommendations on where to eat, and enjoying each other’s company. As one person in the back of the line described it, “We’re all friends here, even if we haven’t met yet.”

At a table in the cafeteria, I asked a group why they played Final Fantasy XIV. One user, who goes by the in-game name Fieren, talked about how he got hooked during a trial and met so many wonderful people that he kept playing for the last two years. Another player going by Zash mentioned that he watched his friends play and joined in to spend quality time with his friends, who were also sitting at the table. As each person went around and listed their reasons, the last to speak up was a woman who goes by the name Serianna in the game.

“I started dating him,” she said, pointing to Zash. The two are now engaged to be married, though Zash admits he has had to make the hard sell for FFXIV over World of Warcraft. The table joked that, since Zash is paying for Serianna’s account, she has to play the way he tells her. After noting the awkwardness on my face, they quickly explained that this is a joke within the game and is not as weird as it sounds out of that context.

Zash, Serianna, Valarr, Fieren, Drai

When I asked the group about the community’s relationship with Naoki Yoshida, the producer of Final Fantasy XIV affectionately known as Yoshi-P, everyone erupted in excitement. Yoshida was brought in when the original game failed at the market and he pioneered the entire A Realm Reborn relaunch. During the keynote address, Yoshida had the crowd eating out of his hand with jokes and news being delivered with a level of showmanship you usually don’t see. With that degree of push, however, also comes very important pull. When mentioning the server outages that the game suffered alongside the latest expansion, Yoshida bowed his head to the floor and sincerely apologized. The crowd was quick to forgive him.

“Yoshida’s very in touch with the fans,” a person with the in-game name of Drai explained. “The live letters, the letters from the producer, people tune into these streams, people send questions on the official forums; he’s very much a beloved, revered figure in the community and people trust him. He shows up in-game in a server and people flood to him so hard that they lag him down. All they’re doing is emoting toward him, they’re trying to trade him stuff so he can’t leave.”

I met Yoshida at a Blackjack table at the hotel’s casino. After days and days of fans approaching him, shaking his hand, telling him what they loved about the game, and a few definitely telling him what they didn’t love about it, he seemed more than happy to talk to a person he thought was another fan. Like me, Yoshida had been spending time during the convention listening to people’s stories, finding out how people play his game, and what he can do to make that experience a little bit better. It’s easy to believe the hype when the frontman is that personable.

I told Yoshida about some friends of mine that play the game named Kim and Gerry. As the dealer got impatient with our slowness, I explained to Yoshida in simple and slow English that these friends fell in love through the game and got engaged just down the street last year. Yoshida kind of laughed and I wasn’t entirely sure if he understood me, but I think he got the gist of it. “Stories are very powerful,” he replied before shaking my hand as I rushed to make my flight.

Toward the end of the festival, I sat down with a woman named Anya. A mother of two, Anya’s entire family plays the game together. She brought her kids with her so that they could celebrate the game together and was more than happy to explain how important Final Fantasy XIV was to them. Her youngest son, Colin, was happy to tell me about the friends he made playing the game and how he feels like he’s there with them when hearing the friends recount their tales. The daughter, Celes (who was named after the Final Fantasy VI heroine), was quick to answer “All the time!” when I asked them if the game ever comes up outside the context of actually playing it.

“Absolutely,” Anya said. “When new patches come out, I send them to bed early so we can get up early in the morning to check out the new stuff. When the last patch came out, my son and I were up early doing fights before he had to go to school. We were up at 4:00 in the morning running new content before he had to go to school for the day.”

The modern idea of a video game being a family endeavor rather than just a one-hour activity with a game like Mario Kart still feels like an alien concept to me, but Anya managed to break it down in simpler terms. Playing Final Fantasy XIV isn’t just about being in the same space for her and her family, it’s about raising her children to understand the world in a less abstract sense.

“It’s been good as far as dealing with drama and conflict, actually,” she said. “As with any kind of social interaction or family unit, and we kind of think of our free company as a family, and sometimes you do have conflict. When you have a group of people together, you also often have conflicting personality. There’s been times where you have people that don’t get along, so it’s important to have to deal with those situations. Or you get into a dungeon and you have someone that’s not being very nice or you’re dealing with toxic situations, learning how to manage is good to teach them.”

Her son nodded along while she talked. Whatever lesson it is she wanted to teach him, it most certainly got through.

Collin, Anya, Ethys, HealMe Harry, Celes, xFelice, Thad

As someone who does not play Final Fantasy XIV but owns an account I’ve been sitting on, I went into the Fan Fest trying to understand what it is that draws people to this game specifically over any of the other MMORPG, or even non-MMORPG, options out there. I’m still not sure, but that’s not for a lack of reasons given to me. I’m not sure because it sounds like it’s something you gain through the act of playing the game and meeting people and going on adventures yourself, or bringing the people important in your life into the fantasy world with you. It’s about the right community at the right time, which isn’t something you can put as a bullet point on the back of a box. Or, as someone once told me, it’s about stories being very powerful.

Note: This article contains spoilers for up until the end of Chapter 3 in Red Dead Redemption II.

“That is a young boy. That is not the way you do things.” With a few simple words, Dutch Van Der Linde delivers a menacing ultimatum to the wretched Braithwaites, who have kidnapped John Martson’s son to get back at the Van Der Linde gang for interfering in a regional feud. It’s all pretense. For all his eloquent speech, Dutch has made up his mind before the gang has rolled into the gates of Braithwaite plantation. He’s not looking for a solution. Jack’s kidnapping is a problem that needs to be solved, sure, but it’s also an excuse to vent his frustrations in that old familiar way: through bloodshed.

The ensuing battle is only a battle in the sense that both sides have guns. Arthur, Dutch, and the rest of the group rip the Braithwaites to pieces in the span of five minutes and set the plantation house ablaze. The entirety of the “Blood Feuds, Ancient and Modern” mission is a grisly, gripping scene that’s not only fun to play through but also showcases the best of Red Dead Redemption II’s story, which is about entropy, a gradual descent into chaos and disorder. Everything here works. The voice of an operatic singer chillingly married to a crescendo of violence, with bloody bodies falling over balconies and going still in the dirt, Dutch’s explosive rage as he growls at Catherine Braithwaite before putting a bullet in her last living son, and the final shot of Catherine running into the burning vestiges of her legacy as the gang walks away in the night, their questions answered and their lust of violence quenched. Out of all the classic moments to emerge from Red Dead Redemption II, “Blood Feuds, Ancient and Modern” might be the best one, and it wouldn’t work without everything that came before it.

Red Dead Redemption II is a game that’s value is rooted in payoff. A lot of video games, the vast majority of them I’d wager, are about the immediacy of rewarding progression systems. It’s something that gamers have had trained into them from the early arcade days, from watching your high score eclipse your rival in Pac Man 2 to unlocking characters in Smash Brothers and acquiring new skills in RPGs like The Witcher III or even acquiring new cosmetic options and loadouts in shooters with RPG-lite progression systems like Call of Duty or Titanfall. Similarly, stories have had to adapt to keep up alongside the rhythm of games. Rarely in even some of the most renowned narrative-driven experiences do you have long lulls in action. Both Mass Effect and The Last Of Us, considered watershed moments in how to tell a story in games, throw enemy encounters your way and reward you with upgrades at a steady pace to keep you engaged on multiple levels.

Red Dead Redemption II isn’t interested in constantly courting your engagement and that’s one of the game’s greatest assets. The entirety of Chapter 3, which finds Dutch’s gang trying to play both sides of a violent feud between two Southern rich families (the Grays and the Braithwaites in the small town of Rhodes), is the best example of this. A lengthy campaign of missions has players doing various tasks that further the feud, like stealing horses from the Grays to selling Braithewaite moonshine in a Gray bar. It goes on for a while, with several mundane tasks that probably don’t match up to the excitement of gunning down legions of bandits or lawmen. However, they do an important thematic job in cementing just how in over their head the entire gang is.

From the outset of Red Dead Redemption II, Dutch and Hosea see themselves as charismatic leaders and grifters. Maybe at one point they were, years ago, before technology and society started bearing down on the wild west, with rich tycoons pouring funding into private law armies like the Pinkertons to wipe out outlaws. More than anything, the Van Der Linde gang is living on borrowed time and refuses to see the writing on the wall. Early on Arthur, like us, gets a sense that the noose is tightening during this excursion into Rhodes and that the families probably aren’t as dumb as Dutch thinks they are. “You don’t think they remember us from when we burned their fields?” he hisses at his fellow members during one mission, only for his point to be brushed aside. In its desperation for survival, the gang has gotten clumsy, its leaders descending into ruin and insanity. For a large part of the Chapter 3, you feel that unease and desperation, with Dutch and Hosea throwing caution to the wind – until the danger becomes boring.

Part of why the shocking moment of Sean’s death, which is when the finale of the chapter kicks off in earnest, works as well as it does is because of the seductive safety that emerges during  the onslaught of the mundane. The succession of missions going off without a hitch lures you into feeling safe in the moment because, well, if neither family has done anything yet, maybe the gang really is safe. Maybe they have gotten away with the ultimate con. That arrogance comes with a steep price, the slow burn chapter erupting in an explosion of hate and anxiety as the gang continues to ride full on toward its destruction, no salvation in sight.

So much of Chapter 3 is pure buildup to two missions that lasts less than 10 minutes together but every single one of these minutes is amazing and more than worth the ticket price of some patience. I’ve replayed the mansion fight five times since completing the game and continue to find new details that I love but mostly I’m in awe of how pitch perfect the sequence is in capturing who the gang (which the game has gone out of its way hitherto to present as at least partially noble) is deep down: desperate people capable of becoming monsters when pushed into a corner. The juxtaposition of Dutch’s noble sentiments about recovering Jack Marston with the awful display of him dragging the vile but defenseless Catherine down the stairs by her hair and forcing her to watch as they butcher her children is chilling in how it presents the duality of people pushed to the edge.

Red Dead Redemption II is a divisive game and one that is not for everyone. I adore it to pieces but acknowledge that many of its quirks and flaws are valid annoyances. However, I do not think its pacing is a flaw. Instead, I think that the expectation of games to offer experiences that constantly reward you by making you feel powerful or by never testing your patience is the issue here and I’m relieved to see something as big as Red Dead Redemption II push back against that setup. In the years to come, I hope Red Dead’s success spurs publishers and developers to take a new approach to progression, sacrificing the immediacy of pleasing the player for narrative or systemic beats that have massive payoff.

For more on Red Dead Redemption II, be sure to check out our Virtual Life on why Arthur Morgan is a better protagonist than John Marston as well as 101 things you an do in the game.

Goichi Suda has long been the face of Grasshopper Manufacture, and for good reason. Not only is Suda founder of the studio behind cult favorites like Killer7, No More Heroes, and Shadows of the Damned, but most of those games also bear the kind of idiosyncratic style many attribute to a singular vision. For Grasshopper, that vision usually comes from Suda.

“In Japan, they call my games ‘Suda games.’” Suda says. “People say ‘That’s a Suda game,’ and that means something to a lot of people.” That definition can be flexible, however. Grasshopper has released over two dozen games throughout its 20-year history, and while some clearly bear the mark of one of Japan’s most notable developers, some games are more “Suda” than others.

To find out what it means to be a “Suda game,” how that concept has evolved, and how Suda plans to have “Suda games” outlive him, we delved into the history of Grasshopper, straight from its founder and chief eccentric.

Young Grasshopper

The first real “Suda game,” Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special, wasn’t made at Grasshopper Manufacture. Although Suda had already cut his teeth for game development at Human Entertainment with Fire Pro Wrestling 3: Final Bout in 1993, Special, released the following year, is the first game in which you can see his influence seeping through.

Those influences include a sea of rock bands, art cinema, and more. In conversation, aesthetic references come pouring out of Suda: Derek Jarman, who directed a number of music videos for The Smiths; Alejandro Jodorowsky, who directed the surrealist film El Topo; Wim Wenders. Leos Carax. Jean-Jacques Beineix.

In Special, they manifested in various ways. The music was more outlandish. The main character, Morio Smith, was the first of many characters named after his favorite band. The plot features surprise deaths caused by the player character, 
who ultimately commits suicide after winning his championship match. Suda never showed the higher-ups at Human the ending that ultimately shipped – and it almost didn’t. “Originally, I had made two endings; there was a good ending and a bad ending,” he explains. “Right before we delivered the master [copy], I ended up switching the endings and putting in what’s now the actual ending.”

At Human, Suda had a large degree of freedom to mold the series he worked on, but he’d frequently step into projects and series that were already established, limiting his direction. This was especially true for the horror series Twilight Syndrome. “It was about three months before the game was supposed to come out, and the then-director threw his hands up and said 
‘I can’t do this anymore. I give up. I can’t take this anymore.’” he tells me. “And so I was called in to do it.”

He had much more say in Moonlight Syndrome, which pivoted the series away from the horrors of ghosts and toward the horrors of man. The game involved several gruesome murders players eventually learn are been committed by a young boy, and once again ends with the gory death of its protagonist. This coincided with a string of vicious murders that occurred in Japan in the late ’90s, most notably the Kobe child murders, in which a teenage boy brutally murdered two children.

Though Suda was given lease to do what he wanted with established series, he wasn’t able build something from the ground up at Human. It also seem didn’t seem like Human, which had amassed enormous debt, would be around much longer in 1997 (the company went defunct in 2000). Suda began reaching out to some of the people who comprised the Twilight Syndrome team, many of whom Suda had developed close bonds with during his short time working on the game and had already departed the company. “Gradually, as people would finish the projects they were working on at the studios they were at, they would come and join me,” Suda says. “About 10 people, and they became the core of Grasshopper [Manufacture].”

Going Full Punk

With the founding of Grasshopper in 1998, Suda could finally let loose his disparate threads and influences into whatever he pleased under the mantra “punk’s not dead,” starting with The Silver Case. “Everything that had been fermenting in my mind, I kind of put into that game,” he says. “I feel like there were five game ideas that I had that found their way in there, so that’s exactly what I wanted to do as a game.”

It remains one of the most intensely “Suda games” to this day. A visual novel with some light interactive elements, The Silver Case experimented heavily with presentation. Character art and scene imagery were interspersed across the screen at various locations throughout the story, giving the simple act of reading text a more active feel. Each chapter also has a different look, with some chapters using FMV, anime, and cyberpunk videos and imagery to highlight their stories.

In many ways, it continued the nihilist violent streak of Moonlight Syndrome; in the wake of Kobe child murders, the government began to crack down on violent media, including video games. The Silver Case is a response to that, challenging the idea of reactionary, overbearing media control. “The Silver Case is an exploration of that, an answer to that, and a big reaction against what I was feeling when I created Moonlight Syndrome,” Suda says.

For Grasshopper’s next title, Flower, Sun, and Rain, Suda shifted gears. As a way to escape the dreariness of his previous work, he opted for a more tropical, light-hearted setting. “When I was a kid, actually, there was a lot of these movies being made in Japan that had a south-eastern island setting for the movie,” he explains. “Umitsubame Jyo No Kiseki was one in particular that kind of stands out in my mind.”

Although Flower, Sun, and Rain had a much more whimsical tone, there’s little doubt it’s still a “Suda game.” As Sumio Mondo, you must get through several Groundhog Day-like loops by solving a string of numbers-based puzzles while you explore a mystical island to try to stop a plane with a bomb on it from taking off. Its quirky tone is frequently punctured by somber and wistful moments, leading up to the reveal that each loop has a more sinister significance than players might have expected.

The shift from The Silver Case to Flower, Sun, and Rain also marked Grasshopper’s first attempt at making a game with a fully-controllable character. “The truth is that we didn’t internally have the know-how to make a game with a playable character, so we knew that we had to approach things step-by-step,” Suda says. Even at this early stage, however, Suda saw Flower, Sun, and Rain as part of a longer learning process to eventually create the kinds of games he’d always wanted to make, ones with less writing and more action.

The action games Suda wanted to make required more manpower than one director could handle. Grasshopper soon developed a second line of production, focusing on small projects not headed by Suda himself. The first of these was the Shining Soul series, spearheaded by a new hire from Squaresoft (now Square Enix) named Akira Ueda, whose clear vision and drive helped fuel more projects at Grasshopper. Although all of Grasshopper’s games had carried Suda’s unique stamp and influence on them, Suda was happy to let other directors at the company branch out on their own. It gave him license to work more intensely on the “Suda games” he was most passionate about.

A Killer Entrance

As Grasshopper continued to grow and release cult titles, Suda’s reputation in the Japanese development scene grew as well, eventually catching the eye of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. According to Suda, Mikami first heard about him through a fellow Human alumni Hifumi Kono, director of the Clock Tower series. “Mr. Mikami really respected the work that Human did overall as a company,” Suda says. “They were always making these really new, cutting-edge games, so much so that [Mikami] would tell his development staff, ‘I want you guys to reference what was made by Human when we make games.’”

Mikami was then overseeing the Capcom Five (a group of five planned exclusive games for GameCube), and when Kono spoke well about Suda, Mikami arranged to discuss a new project with him. Among the 20 or so game pitches Suda had prepared for Mikami, one stood out. “It wasn’t Killer7, but it used the same visual style as Killer7,” Suda says. “It was kind of the continuation of Moonlight, almost. The idea at the time was pitched with kind of, in my mind at least, was an action-adventure game, but maybe more on the adventure side… and when I took it to Mikami, he said, ‘That’s the one we should do.’”

Cel-shaded graphics were popular at the time, and not only did this prototype use cel-shading, but took inspiration from comic books, abstract art, and more to create an aesthetic that looked unlike anything else at the time. The control scheme was also unique, using the kind of stop-and-shoot mechanic that would later be seen in Resident Evil 4 (another of the Capcom Five), and forcing players onto rail-guided paths rather than giving them complete control of their characters. “Honestly it really came from the design of the GameCube controller,” Suda says. “Searching with the left trigger and aiming with the right trigger. Just holding that controller, the kind of game it should be all came together.”

It was unlike any other third-person shooter or adventure game at the time, and there was some pushback about the direction. “At one point someone had said, ‘you know if you make movement in this game more of a conventional style, it’d probably sell three times as much,’” Suda says. “Then Mikami-san actually approached me and said, ‘What do you want to do? Do you want it to be how you’ve been making it, with that gameplay style, or do you want it to be this more typical, orthodox way of controlling it?’” Suda decided to stick to his original vision and make the “Suda game” he wanted.

Killer7’s release in 2005 was the first time Western audiences had received a real “Suda game,” and the reception was mixed. While many took to its noir, surrealist, and geopolitical trappings, many criticized the incoherent story and strange controls. Others saw it as a cult masterpiece. “I remember getting repeated contacts from Capcom saying ‘Hey, the game got this award.’ ‘Hey the game got this award, and this award.’” Suda tells me. It turned out the West was more receptive to his games than he thought.

Suda wasn’t really aware of much other reception to Killer7 until he began promoting No More Heroes, the next major original project he helmed. “I did tours and things like that, and fans were like ‘Ah, I can finally meet the guy who made Killer7!’ So that’s when it finally dawned me like, ‘Okay, people kind of know who I am.’”

No More Heroes was a proper action game, building off the experience with the genre the studio had gotten with Blood+: One Night Kiss and Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, two licensed games Grasshopper agreed to make for Bandai Namco. “In my mind, those three games are kind of like the Grasshopper Action Set, in terms of how they deal with the action gameplay,” Suda says. No More Heroes was seen as the next “Suda game,” and had many of his trademarks: Like Killer7, it showed an appreciation for pro wrestling, and the assassin ranking system was based on El Topo’s. It had a pulpier, more irreverent edge to it that mixed with its appreciation for American west coast architecture, but most fans recognized it clearly is another “Suda game,” though what that meant would soon get murky.

Executive Privilege

By the time No More Heroes released in 2008, Grasshopper was larger than it had ever been. The “second line” had spawned multiple others, making it harder for Suda to give every Grasshopper title he worked on his full attention. He took a step back, choosing to oversee multiple projects outside of the director role and let others take the reins. “I still handled the creative side of things as well as overall executive producing,” Suda says. “I wasn’t able to realistically put myself into the team as a director.”

The next group of major titles from the studio include various degrees of involvement from Suda. While he wrote the scenario for No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, for example, Nobutaka Ichiki (assistant director on the first No More Heroes) stepped into the director role. “I probably ended up having maybe direct impact over like half of what came out,” Suda says.

Although he still contributed to major parts of the next few Grasshopper titles, his overall influence is scattershot. He served as a writer on Shadows of the Damned while Massimo Guarini directed, despite the words “A Suda51 Trip” being printed on the Western box art. He co-directed Lollipop Chainsaw with Tomo Ikeda. He created the concept for and helped write Killer is Dead while Hideyuki Shin directed. He also contributed to Let it Die, though his involvement with it was more removed. “[It] was actually interesting, because I participated as like a normal-level worker,” he says. “I wasn’t in a directorial role or anything, and it was a very collaborative project, so it was really cool.”

Despite his different degrees of involvement, he still sees all of these as “Suda games.” “The games that get associated with me are rightfully associated with me,” he says. “I might not have directed them, but Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Killer is Dead are all titles that I specifically came up with the concept for, and so in a way they are my games.”

The change in style was hard to deny, however. Where The Silver Case, Flower, Sun, and Rain, were more methodical and focused on non-standard gameplay, his later games adapt a more cohesive framework which, while making them more accessible, made them seem less in keeping with Suda’s original, more surreal stylings, a fact fans of his earlier works have lamented.

Suda, for his part, doesn’t see himself going back. “I think it’s important that as many people can play these games as possible,” he says, citing the relative lack of interest in visual novels and adventure games. That said, he thinks he can strike a balance between the two styles in the future. “I’m convinced that there’s still a way to make a game that can be narrative-focused, text-heavy, and yet still be more than clicking and reading,” he says.

Back In The Hopper

Grasshopper’s next game, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, is in part pitched as the first game Suda has fully directed in over 10 years. The circumstances that lead to that involve a series of events that converged to let Suda once again sit in the director’s chair.

The first is the release of the popular indie game Hotline Miami. Suda quickly fell in love with its aesthetic and action, and saw it as a game very much in his vein. “When I found out it was by two people, Dennis [Wedin] and Jonathan [Söderström], it just blew my mind,” Suda tells me. “They had jobs they normally worked and then at nights or whenever they had spare time they’d work on making that… In a way it reminded me of when I first started Grasshopper Manufacture.” This work ethic inspired Suda to return to his roots, when he was working directly as the lead of a small team making a small game.

In January of 2013, Grasshopper was acquired by GungHo Online Entertainment, the Japanese developer and publisher responsible for Puzzle & Dragons. This eased some of the executive-level planning and decision-making Suda had to contend with as CEO of Grasshopper. “Because I have these strong people we’re relying on within the GungHo group, the amount of time I need to necessarily devote to this kind of stuff is greatly reduced,” he says. This freed up some time for him to work on more personal projects.

Finally, Grasshopper began revisiting its older games, starting with The Silver Case, which allowed Suda to remember a time when he was far more involved with the creative process. “Literally every frame of that game I touched and looked at,” Suda says. That’s something he hasn’t had time to do in a while, and revisiting The Silver Case and Killer7 (which is also getting remastered this year), Suda realized he missed having that kind of control over a game.

This all led to him returning to direct Travis Strikes Again, which Suda plans to make the first part of his return in the director’s chair at the studio he created.

The Shape Of Suda To Come

It’s hard to know what, at this point, defines a “Suda game,” aside from an overall feeling that they aren’t quite like anything else. But as that definition continues to evolve, Suda has big plans for the future of Grasshopper. If Travis Strikes Again is successful, it would allow him to make No More Heroes 3, for example. Long-term, however, he’d like to return to something more in keeping with the studio’s knack for creating original games instead of sequels. “I definitely want to create new IP that’s well-received,” he says. “I definitely want to get something that no one’s ever seen before, with characters no one’s ever seen before, out there.”

He’s also interested in further defining the idea of what a “Suda game” is in the first place, and continuing the process of passing that down to the many promising staff members at Grasshopper. “I think my core fans know when they pick up a [Grasshopper] game, probably just how much I participated, whether it be directorially, or some part of the process, they know,” he says. “So I want to make every one of Grasshopper’s games have my stamp on it, as it were, to be a ’Suda game.’ So even if other people have directed it internally, I still think it’s important that if it comes from Grasshopper, that it has this seal of mine on it.”

Suda hopes to continue making games for as long as he lives, but also that the studio outlives him – he wants the company to continue for at least 100 years. “That obviously means kind of raising directors and nurturing them so they can do that and still maintain that Grasshopper stamp,” he says. “It’s important that I kind of transmit that to the staff, so that they can understand what a ‘Suda game’ is, and what makes it that, and give them that DNA so they can learn to do that too.”

Now that your stomach’s full and Thanksgiving is coming to a close, it’s time to gear up your holiday shopping with one of the biggest deal days of the year: Black Friday.

Everybody loves a good sale, with some sitting for hours upon hours in lines and rushing through the doors in hopes of snagging a deep discount, highly desired item. The sales often include big-ticket electronics, extending to video games. It’s definitely a day for some great console bundles.

Black Friday can be overwhelming; we don’t blame you if you stay out of the stores or stick to online shopping, but for some the crowds and wait times are worth it. We’re curious when it was worth it for you. What do you consider your best Black Friday get? Did you have to do anything over-the-top to obtain it? Let us know in the comments below, and enjoy the deals coming your way!

As 2018 winds down, discussions about the best games of 2018 are winding up. This can be a contentious time of year, pitting friend against friend in debates about what single title deserves to be called “game of the year.” On one hand, you can be a loser and say that we were all fortunate to have so many amazing interactive experiences in 2018, blah, blah, blah. On the other hand, you can be a winner and fight relentlessly for your personal favorite, burning bridges and alienating people in the process. For those who choose to stand up for their principles, this infallible list of tips will help you emerge victorious from any debate about this year’s best games.

1. All other games except your favorite are terrible
You don’t win arguments by acknowledging that the other side has some good points. This is the most important rule of any game-of-the-year debate. Instead, you need to mercilessly tear down the competition with gross exaggerations and misrepresentations, making their flaws appear obvious and hilarious. After your artful ridicule demonstrates that only a fool could love any of the alternatives (and everyone agrees), you present your personal pick – the knight in shining armor that rides in as the champion. You can’t gain any ground simply by singing the praises of your favorite and hoping other people are moved by your passion.

2. Fandom is bad!
This is a crucial fact that will help you discredit any console-exclusive games you might find yourself arguing against. Any advocates for God of War are drooling PlayStation fans. People pushing for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are brainless Nintendo drones. If Xbox One had any decent exclusives, the people who liked them would also be biased. Here’s the trick: If you’re going to use this line of attack, you must do it first (preferably with a well-rehearsed eye-roll). You need the dismissive superiority that comes from this initial gesture. It loses all of its power if you accuse someone of being a loyalist only after you yourself have been accused. No one ever won an argument saying “No, YOU’RE an Xbot!”

3. Fortnite doesn’t count
Just take this one off the table right away. Yes, by many metrics, Fortnite was probably more successful than traditional game-of-the-year contenders. However, teenagers really seemed to like it, which casts serious doubt on its quality and longevity. Thankfully, there’s a loophole that lets you guiltlessly dismiss a game enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people: It technically released in 2017. Disqualified!

4. People who like popular things are sheep (not you though)
Red Dead Redemption II. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. These games were hugely popular, and as such, they can’t possibly be good. The people who like them are just mindless followers who eat what Big Video Games wants to feed them. Of course, you are too smart for that. You are wise and discerning, and have given each game careful thought and due consideration. But what if you like something that is mainstream? If this comes up as a counterpoint in your discussions, your response should be that it’s basically just a coincidence that your good taste happens to coincide with the whims of the dumb masses.

5. “What about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?!”
You need to pick your moment, but sometimes shouting this when you’re cornered (instead of formulating a real response) can help your case – or at least confuse your opponent. However, if you’re smart and actually followed the first four tips on this list, you will never be cornered. Enjoy the sweet taste of victory.

With Hitman 2’s release, many of us have picked up the fiber wire once again and resumed dunking heads in toilet bowls as Agent 47. But for the less squeamish of us, there are also other, more colorful ways to dispatch your targets. In gaming there is no shortage of brutal contract killings. So, to honor the bald guy with the barcode on the back of his head, here are our picks for the most ruthless assassinations in gaming.

** This list contains spoilers for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Grand Theft Auto V, God of War 3, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 **

An Unfortunate Accident (Dishonored)

If you’ve ever been scalded, you’ll know how painful this one is. In Dishonored, players take on the role of supernatural agent of vengeance, Corvo Attano – a man determined to return the princess to the throne, taking out anyone who gets in his way. So, when players encounter one of the princess’s kidnappers at a bathhouse, slave-owning aristocrat Morgan Pendleton, players can turn up the pressure to burst the pipes and burn Morgan to death with hot steam. As Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, “Let off some steam, Morgan.”

Bound Until Death (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)

As an assassin in the notorious Dark Brotherhood, you, the Dragonborn, are contracted to kill a young woman at her own wedding. As you sneak into the ceremony, you’re presented with a variety of ways to slay the blushing bride. You can pick her off with a well-placed arrow, walk right up to her and give her the Dark Brotherhood’s sincerest regards, or dispatch her with a quick fireball. Of course, you can always opt for the environmental route and loosen the stone gargoyle hanging directly over the bride’s flower-wreathed head, dropping it on her with a sickening crunch to whiten every face in the audience. It really gives a new meaning to “head over heels.”

Ghost in the Machine (Hitman)

In the final mission of Hitman (2016) you can conduct one of the most gruesome kills in the game by turning a HAL-like artificial intelligence into a rampant killing machine. This is because your target is receiving a heart transplant from the A.I. Sabotage the core console, and the whirring, scalpel and drill-laden robotic arms will cease their delicate operating and suddenly start stabbing your target mercilessly throughout the chest and abdomen until the floor is slick with blood. It’s not a route for the faint of heart.  

Albert Hall (Sniper Elite 4)

This one is a low blow. Sniper Elite 4 is bursting with cringe-inducing kill shots thanks to its X-ray feature, but when it comes to Hitler, a bullet to the brain is too easy. No, when it comes to the Führer, you need to make it special, and nothing screams special like a one-way shot to the family… jewel? In Sniper Elite 4, Hitler only has one testicle, which is allegedly either true or just war propaganda. Either way, you shatter Hitler’s testicle with a fast-moving bullet and it’s gnarly.    

Retribution (God of War 3)

Before Kratos was a dad, he had a lot of anger issues, mostly because of his own dad. When the God-killer finally gets his hands on Zeus, one punch is not enough, nor two, nor three. No, as Kratos, you pummel Zeus’ face into a bloody pulp and don’t stop until the screen is completely red. While there have been plenty of other jaw-dropping kills at the hands of the Spartan Ghost, this one is without a doubt the most personal, which puts it above all the other eye-gouging and decapitating kills that have helped make the series so special.  

Something Sensible (Grand Theft Auto V)

At the end of GTA V, playing as Franklin, players are posited with a choice: to betray a friend, or take on the world. Should players choose to off Trevor, the ending of this otherwise light-hearted GTA gets dark. Really dark. What begins as a car chase ends when Trevor finally crashes his truck into an oil tanker. As the psychotic Canadian meth-dealer crawls out, screaming Judas and bloody murder, you take aim to put him down quick-and-clean, but unfortunately, it doesn’t go down like that. Instead of killing him, the bullet ignites the gasoline pooling all around his body and Trevor is immediately engulfed in flames. As your former friend screams and writhes in agony, you can only watch, sickened, before the tanker finally explodes, ensuring that Trevor isn’t getting back up again. Say what you will about the pipe-hitting degenerate, even he didn’t deserve to go out like that.

Medunamun (Assassin’s Creed Origins)

In Assassin’s Creed Origins, the main protagonist Bayek is a bit more, shall we say, “impassioned” than his past brethren. It’s reasonable though, considering that his targets are partially responsible for the death of his only son. When it comes to Medunamun, the first target that players whack, Medunamun mocks Bayek, and Bayek responds by smashing the murderer’s face in with the iconic Apple of Eden orb. When life gives you apples…

Dust to Dust (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3)

While Modern Warfare 2 does tell the better story, Modern Warfare 3 serves up the more over-the-top kill. The level description says it all: Kill Makarov. After pounding the terrorist’s face in, you tie a cord around his throat and deliver a haymaker that sends you both hurtling through the glass ceiling where you land safely, and Makarov promptly hangs to death. As he chokes, dangling like a macabre Christmas tree ornament, you light up a cigar. It’s cold-hearted and ridiculous, and easily the most savage kill in the series.  

Tesshu Fujioka (Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven)

Tesshu Fujioka is a doctor by day and a hyper-lethal ninja by night, using his hands and acupuncture needles for precise, devastating assassinations. But his most spectacular kill is also his most bloodthirsty. When you sneak up on an enemy from the front, Tesshu reaches his hand into the victim’s chest and removes their still-beating heart with a spray of blood Indiana Jones-style. Can anyone say Kali Ma?  

Epilogue (Wolfenstein II: Shadow of the Colossus)

The personal ones are always the most gratuitous, and the most satisfying. When you finally corner the deranged Frau Engel on a live talk show of all places, you plant your hatchet square into the Frau’s trembling face, whispering to her ever so gently while she struggles to breathe. When you wrench it out, you cleave her skull in two and pop her eye out of its socket. It’s savage, and disgusting, and pretty much exactly what everyone loves about this series. It’s excessive Nazi-killing fun, and with Frau Engel, it’s more than deserved.   

That concludes the list. Did your favorite assassination make the cut? Let us know about it in the comments section below. And for more colorful and ruthless kills, be sure to check out our review for Hitman 2 where we cover all you need to know about Agent 47’s latest blood-spattered mission.