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. 

Game Informer’s Ben Hanson, Kyle Hilliard, Brian Shea, Suriel Vazquez, and Imran Khan share new gameplay impressions of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate before diving in and discussing the full career of its creator Masahiro Sakurai. After some great community emails, Ben Hanson, Jeff Cork, Jeff Marchiafava, and Leo Vader look back at gaming in 2018 by listing all of the things they’re thankful for in games like Red Dead Redemption II, God of War, Insomniac’s Spider-Man, and much more.

You can watch the video below, subscribe and listen to the audio on iTunes or Google Playlisten to episode 425 on SoundCloud, or download the MP3 by clicking here. Also, be sure to send your questions to podcast@gameinformer.com for a chance to have them answered on the show.

Our thanks to the talented Super Marcato Bros. for The Game Informer Show’s intro song. You can hear more of their original tunes and awesome video game music podcast at their website.

To jump to a particular point in the discussion, check out the time stamps below…

2:35 –  Super Smash Bros. Ultimate impressions
15:35 – Unpacking Masahiro Sakurai’s career
47:50 – Community emails/PlayStation skipping E3
1:14:15 – 100 jokes about gaming in 2018

With several promising blockbuster games on the horizon, from Anthem to Darksiders III, it can be easy to get caught up in the bigger releases from large publishers. However, this doesn’t mean you should ignore some of the smaller gems. We’ve gathered a handful of under-the-radar games that we think deserve your attention.

From drinking your way through the depths of Hell to an alternate history where the Berlin Wall never fell, these six upcoming indie games have interesting premises and gameplay hooks that look promising.

Mosaic
Release: Summer 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Krillbite Studio, the creators of horror game Among The Sleep, have something quite different in the works. Whereas Among The Sleep was told from the perspective of a toddler, this time you play as a tall, lanky man in a mundane world who is making his daily commute to work. While it’s not a horror game, there is something unsettling nonetheless about Mosaic’s world, with its dimly lit, blue-hued environments and dream-like state. This adventure game puts emphasis on atmosphere and story where you begin to notice strange happenings. Its visual style resembles the likes of Playdead’s Inside, with a lot of clever lighting and a world that resembles a dull corporate dystopia.

Afterparty
Release: 2019
Platform: PC, Mac

What would you do if you unexpectedly died, found yourself in Hell with your best friend, and realized the only way to escape eternal damnation would be to out-party the devil? In Afterparty, you get a chance to find out. Playing as Milo And Lola, you roam through the underworld in an effort to find out how to take down Satan in the ultimate drinking game. It’s a bizarre but curious premise, which intrigued me right away when I first heard of it. Plus, it’s made by the creators of Oxenfree, so expect natural dialogue and hopefully compelling characters to bring this world to life.

Felix The Reaper
Release: 2019
Platform: PC, Mac

Felix the Reaper is a puzzle-adventure game with a playful twist on death. You play as Felix, a love-stricken Minister of Death employee who dances his way through obstacles. Although Felix looks like a giant marshmallow wearing headphones, he’s surprisingly swift on his feet. You have to guide him through different levels and avoid light, which is lethal to him. Thanks to powers granted to you by the Ministry of Death, you can control the sun so that he can dance safely through. With upbeat music reminiscent of the Persona series and all of Felix’s comedic-but-rhythmic twirls and flips, this title looks like a fun and lighthearted experience.

ITTA
Release: 
Platform:

With visuals similar to Hyper Light Drifter and Swords & Sworcery, ITTA is about a young girl and her cat who venture on an otherworldly journey. It features twin-stick shooter combat as you fight foes with your father’s old revolver as well as melee weapons. ITTA looks to be a minimalist experience and some mysteries may require a keen eye to uncover.

Griftlands
Release:
Platform:

Griftlands is a sci-fi RPG described as a “pirate/mercenary sandbox,” where you attempt to make a fortune for yourself in a post-apocalyptic world. You control a group of mercenaries who have several different quest lines, and the world will mold and dynamically change depending on your good or bad actions. As for battles, these are played out in a turn-based fashion with a focus on subduing your enemies rather than outright killing them. Although it’s not exactly clear how this will manifest in the game, Griftland’s Steam page says that “everything is negotiable,” from money to even morality. 

For more indie gems, read our top picks from shows like GDC, E3, and PAX West.

Sensational Sports Sales

All the major sports title may have already been released, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re late to the game. In fact, with many of them on sale for Black Friday and having updated since launch (oftentimes addressing maddening bugs, etc.) and some added content, now’s a great time to pick up some of these titles.

Many of these can be found on the digital storefronts for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as well as regular retailers*, but check before clicking or heading out. Some of these also might be console-specific, only be digital, have different start/end times for their sales, have different sale pricing, etc.

Furthermore, some are offering deals on titles’ special editions and in-game currency, so if you’re interested in playing a game’s fantasy collection mode like Ultimate Team, for instance, and want to pay for some premium currency, it can pay to get those too.

*Full Disclosure – Game Informer is owned by Gamestop.

F1 2018

FIFA 19
A new update is coming for the title addressing issues like A.I. defending, and an interesting addition in general this year is the different exhibition modes – including playing without any cards or rules.

Forza Horizon 4

The changing seasons is a big feature for this iteration, and since these change for all players in the world, developer Playground Games has added seasonal events as well as free cars for everyone.

The Golf Club 2019
This year the game features the PGA Tour license, and it’s already added a free DLC course – Atlantic Beach Country Club. This brings the number of official courses to seven. Of course the course creator lets you make and play an unlimited amount.

Laser League

Madden NFL 19
Madden didn’t have the best start, but developer EA Tiburon has been releasing more and more updates trying to get a handle on the bugs and tune gameplay (here’s the latest update). Along the way Ultimate Team – this year with a new power-up system – has been getting regular content.

MLB the Show 18

NASCAR Heat 3

NBA 2K19 (on sale for both home consoles)
NBA City Edition uniforms have been added as well as the new NBA rule that the shot clock resets to 14 seconds after offensive rebounds. A slew of other fixes have also been included in the game’s updates, as well as MyTeam content.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (on sale for both home consoles)

NBA Live 19

Like last year, NBA Live 19 is holding Livestrikes which let you complete challenges for exclusive in-game content, including apparel from BAPE and Mitchell & Ness. The game has also been updating its player likenesses.

NHL 19

OOTP Baseball 19
The simulation game is adding a free fantasy card mode called Perfect Team which is currently in beta (click here for our impressions) and is hopefully out before the end of the year.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2019
A post-launch update fixed annoying tendencies from the A.I. attackers, and the MyClub fantasy mode has been adding Featured players doing well in real-life, ways to get other players, and challenges.

Rocket League GOTY Edition

UFC 3