FoxNext VP On Marvel Strike Force's First Year, The Disney Acquisition, And The Road Ahead

Marvel Strike Force, the mobile character-collection title from FoxNext, is coming up on its one-year anniversary. While the community has criticized various aspects of the game’s live-service approach, such as the implementation of the random nature of its supercharging Red Stars system, reception has been overall positive on the experience and the player base has spent more than $150 million on the game in its first 12 months. 

I sat down with FoxNext vice president and general manager Amir Rahimi to talk about the first year of Marvel Strike Force, what the Disney acquisition means for the game, and what players can expect in Year Two and beyond. To learn more about the massive Alliance War update coming near the game’s first anniversary, head here.

GI: You’re celebrating a year of Marvel Strike Force with the new Alliance War mode. This has been in the menu as a placeholder since launch last year.

Rahimi: This is a feature that we actually came up with at the same time that we concepted the entire game. For games that are live services, you need them to evolve and grow, and you need an almost endless supply of cool, new features to entertain your fan base with. The first generation of games-as-service, you’d launch a game, see how it did, and then you would just start adding stuff. Often times, a lot of big systems you’d see added onto games would feel bolted on and not quite natural.

As live-service games mature – and certainly this is what we’re trying to do in this case – you kind of think about it the way you might concept a pilot for a TV show; you don’t just think about what will happen in the pilot, you think about what will happen over the entire course of the show, hopefully running many, many seasons. That was the approach here. We wanted to not launch with Alliance War because the game was going to be a big enough challenge to get out there, but really design the game for Alliance War and design them hand-in-hand. We started working on this feature literally the day we started working on the project, and we’ve, kind of in the background, been slowly working with it and noodling with it and thinking about it this entire time.

What took so long to implement Alliance War?

By the time we launched the game, the foundation for the feature had already been implemented. We prototyped it and we actually felt it, but the closer we got to launch, the more resources we needed to finish up the game. It was more about having every available person on the team to make sure the core game is great for launch. Then, post-launch, for the first couple of months, ‘Let’s make sure the game is stable, let’s make sure the systems are working well, and let’s plug any holes we see in terms of fun, new features.’ It was more a matter of focus right around a launch, then we turned our attention in a big way towards this.

Now, for the past several months, a huge number of people on the team have been working on this feature, and it’s been the focus. The reason it’s taken so long – distractions aside – is this really is a game within a game. The complexity here is enormous. The amount of agency that players have compared to other systems in these types of games is enormous. There are so many edge cases and so many ways to play this mode, it takes an incredibly long time not just to build, but then playtest. You’ve got to live with the mode. We need to play it as much as we can to get a sense of what’s working and what’s not working an iterate on that.

With the game doing well and being healthy, and our fans sticking around and supporting us, we felt less pressure to just rush something out there. We wanted to make sure it was great. So we took a couple of months and we invited some of the Alliances in the game to come try it out and got their feedback.

You say you had this massive mode concepted before Marvel Strike Force was even close to launch. Does that mean you have the next big Alliance War-size mode thought up already?

We do, but it’s a little too early to talk about it because it might change. We also have just a ton of systems that we really, really like and are trying to prioritize at the moment. There are so many different ways we can extend this game that it’s almost an embarrassment of riches because there are so many things that we want to do, and only a limited number of people to do them. What we try to do is balance giant systems like [Alliance War] with smaller systems players will appreciate.

Another trap that teams that run live games like this one fall into is that it’s really easy to always do small systems that clutter up your pipe and your roadmap, so sometimes it’s hard to dedicate the time and resources to do big things. We have a commitment to prioritize big systems, which the downside of that is you slow down your general cadence. It’s a really tricky balance.

With so much new emphasis being put on Alliances with this mode, are there any plans to improve the invite system? Finding new members or even inviting specific players to your Alliance can be a nightmare.

What you’re talking about is one of the most underdeveloped parts of the game, and we’re acutely aware of that and we’re working on better tools for exactly that.

What has the team learned from the first year of Marvel Strike Force?

We’ve run live games before, but the running of a live game constantly evolves, and the touchpoint with players generally increases, as does the level of sophistication of our player base. When we launched Marvel Strike Force, our cadence of communication with our player base was poor; we weren’t doing a great job of communicating enough, and we heard that feedback and we responded. I think we’ve become better at that. That’s an area we want to continue to improve on.

More and more, we realized we’re all sort of in this together. We love having a good relationship with our player base. We love the feedback. We want the feedback. We want to build games in concert and hand in hand with our players. I think it’s a really difficult thing to do, because with a player base as big as the one in Strike Force, you have a lot of different opinions, and pretty extreme different ones. We’ve learned a lot about figuring out the true signal from our player base versus a lot of the noise that we hear. That’s an area we want to get better at.

With so much noise and yelling online, how do you take the feedback that you find online and turn it into something constructive and actionable?

We have a lot of very passionate employees in the company that are really listening. We have dedicated community managers and customer service who’s job 100 percent is to read all these things and filter out what we consider to be noise. It’s clear, right? You go on some of these channels and you see people ranting and raving, a lot of times it’s hard to take something meaningful away when there’s so much passion there.

With every game and every service, you have a lot of haters who just want to come and make snarky comments. We try to pay less attention to those people, but there are a lot of people on these channels who are just enormous fans of our game and deeply passionate about it. And very articulate! They give us incredible feedback! When people say something that rings true, even if it’s not something we want to hear, it’s great because it’s a new perspective that we take very seriously. It’s not just the customer service people and it’s not just the community managers; we have people on our dev team – really talented people who are actually building things – on these channels all the time, reading and listening.

Give me an overall assessment of Year One of Marvel Strike Force.

This team and studio has been together since 2002. In many ways, this is the most successful game we’ve ever launched. I think the assessment is that the game is doing incredibly well. We announced that the game has done about $150 million in its first year, but what’s more impressive than that is the retention numbers. We’re seeing players who installed the game the day that it came… we’re seeing the size of that cohort actually increasing in the past few months, which means people installed it the day the game came out, played it a bunch, and now a lot of the ones who stopped playing it are now coming back to the game. It’s a lot stickier than I anticipated it to be, and we thought it would be a very sticky game. We’re seeing engagement increase, and we’re seeing a game that has the potential to be around for a decade. And that’s, far more than the revenue numbers, the thing that makes us the most proud about what we built. That’s ultimately what we’re in it for: to keep a really great community of players happy and entertained for a very, very long time. I think the indications that we’re seeing is that Strike Force is one of those games that is going to last hopefully forever.

One of the biggest deterrents for a lot of people with free-to-play games is that they often either feel exploitative or unfairly tilted toward premium players or designed to push players into spending money. Obviously, there are systems in Marvel Strike Force meant to encourage players to spend money, but how do you balance microtransactions so that a free-to-play player doesn’t feel cheated when compared to premium players?

That’s a really difficult thing to do. The way that we look at it is we 100 percent, genuinely want to allow players to play this game for free forever and have a really great time. It’s not our mission to make every single player in the game spend money. We look at our Arenas, and there are a lot of players in the top 50, top 20, even the top 10, who have not spent any money at all. That’s something we’re incredibly proud of. Like any hobby, if a player wants to spend money in our game, we obviously want to empower that and have that be an incredible experience as well.

Last year, shortly after Marvel Strike Force launched, I wrote a piece calling the game “one of the most addictive game I’ve played all year.” However, one of my sole criticisms in that piece is that the game had some of the least appetizing microtransactions I’ve ever seen. How has the team tweaked those to make them more enticing for players?

What we try to optimize for is to not gouge players for as much money as possible. We’ve learned that, in a lot of cases, that’s a very negative thing. A lot of times if someone spends too much money up front, there’s things like buyer’s remorse, or the equivalent of eating too much or having too much candy at once and feeling sick. We don’t try to create systems that encourage that. We want players to play for a very, very long time. Obviously we want them to spend money – we’re a business and we need to make money – but we want that to be a very measured spend.

If you think about it, say Starbucks; a lot of people spend $15 or $20 a week on Starbucks on coffee and snacks and stuff and that’s a great value for them and they’ll do that forever. What I try to do is build a games business like that, where you can play it for free and you don’t have to spend any money, but if you do and decide to spend $15 or $20 a week or so, you’ll have a really satisfying experience with that spend.

One way you’ve made players feel good about playing Marvel Strike Force is by compensating them for mistakes or outages. We don’t often see that with other mobile games. What is the line of thinking in being so generous with these make-goods?

One of our core tenants is we do things that players thank us for. We want to provide the best possible experience, so if we mess up, we want to make good on that mess up. If you couldn’t get into a mode for a certain number of days, you just lost out on a certain amount of progress, and we take that very seriously. We take it on our shoulders for the players who experienced those, and for everyone else in the game, to benefit from that builds a lot more goodwill than the cost of what we’re giving out.

We’re not trying to hide the fact that we mess up. We make mistakes all the time. We launch bugs and we make bad decisions on our live operations sometimes. We want our players to know that we’re figuring this out as well, and we’re trying our best and we’re trying to provide the best experience possible. We’re going to mess up sometimes and hopefully we’re going to learn from it and get better.

An example of listening to players and fixing mistakes seems to be with the Dark Dimension tweaks you’ve announced. Can you talk about that a little?

We wanted that mode to be incredibly difficult. We like having big challenges that are sort of aspirations for players to overcome one day, like a long-term goal to have. What we found was players feel like the entry to that mode is beyond challenging. The first few missions are so incredibly difficult that the mode turns players off. We’re either adding missions or tweaking the existing missions, but we’re going to create a more gentle ramp into the experience, so you can get in and immediately make some progress and feel good about the mode.

With such a challenging mode giving players a hard time, do you know when the level-cap increase might come to give characters a small boost?

Soon! I don’t know exactly when, but it’s something that we’ve already been working on and we’re queuing it up to go out very soon. I know if we do it too quickly, players get upset, but if we take too long, players get upset. It’s hard to know what the sweet spot is. We got a lot of feedback that we went a little too fast up to 70, so we want to be respectful of the player base. Like I said before, you have so many varying opinions, so sometimes it’s hard to know what the right call is. But I do think there are a lot of players who have been at 70 for a while now who are probably looking forward to that cap increase.

Despite Dark Dimension being incredibly hard, some players have already beaten the hardest “Fear the Darkness” mode, which FoxNext set as a challenge to the community. What was your reaction when Widowmaker seemed to breeze right through that mode?

That surprised the hell out of us! We did not expect someone to get through it that quickly! We expected it to be at least a year, but we thought what he did was super cool and super classy. When he beat it, he had his entire roster at seven stars except for The Hulk, so we were sure that’s the character he was going to pick as the character we gave out 100 free shards for, but for him to do what he did and hook up the entire player base [with Captain Marvel] was really, really cool.

Was there any part of you that was disappointed he chose to give everyone Captain Marvel for free when you had just implemented all those milestones to unlock her?

We knew that players would still want to power her up, and stories like this one with Widowmaker do so much good for the community. Giving that many free shards of [Captain Marvel] to everyone. And we have so many characters in the game; we have a packed roadmap. We love doing things like this that just make players happy and do things that players will thank us for. Also, with this login calendar that’s going on now with those milestones to power her up, we’re seeing some of the best engagement in the game that we’ve ever seen. We just look at it as an opportunity to do things that players will thank us for. We know we’ve done things that weren’t great for the community in the past, and we’re learning from those things, but the intent is to create the most entertaining game possible.

Speaking of Captain Marvel, she was an obvious choice to add to the roster of collectable heroes since her movie just came out. Some choices are obvious, like when Venom came out and he was added or Infinity War brought Thanos to the game, but what is the overall process for determining which characters are added?

It’s largely driven by what you just said. We know that when Captain Marvel comes out, players are going to be so excited for that character that they’ll want to pull up the game and interact with that character; that’s the primary driver. I would say that the secondary driver is our design team taking a step back and thinking about what the game and what the meta needs. For example, when we were designing Nick Fury, we knew he was going to be one of the most powerful [characters] in the game. We want the game to always be balanced, so when he comes out and he’s as dominant as he is, we start thinking about, “What’s a team that can challenge that SHIELD team, but not in a way that obsoletes them, but in a way that creates some fun and healthy competition within the player base?” When we approach it from that way, plus doing right by the Marvel Universe, it puts the right types of constraints on us to figure out which characters to focus on.

How many new characters will we see in 2019?

I think the cadence at which we’ve been going is something we’ll probably continue. I don’t think we’ll dramatically increase or decrease our cadence of new heroes.

We’ve seen Doctor Doom appear as a non-playable character for special event raids. Are the Fantastic Four on the horizon? You told me last year that while you could get the X-Men, Marvel wasn’t giving the Fantastic Four to anyone.

That has changed. We managed to secure the Fantastic Four. We’re incredibly excited about that, so expect some really cool stuff to come out.

Did that have to do with the recent Disney acquisition of Fox?

Not at all, actually. It was completely separate from that.

How does the acquisition affect Marvel Strike Force and FoxNext?

It’s 100-percent business as usual. We just became a part of Disney, so before the deal is closed, there are some very strict legal reasons why the buyer can’t really interact much with the company they’re buying, so it’s been 100-percent business as usual since. Now that we’re a part of Disney, we’ve been assured that nothing is going to change with the way that we develop and operate Marvel Strike Force. Marvel Strike Force is incredibly important to Disney and it’s a very successful game. We don’t expect to change at all now that we’re a part of Disney.

I know it’s very recent, but has anyone at Disney assured you that things will continue as they’ve been to this point or indicated that they’re happy with the game’s performance?

Oh they totally have. We’ve talked to them and they’re very, very pleased with how it’s going. They’ve already assured us that there’s no plans to mess with a machine that is doing really well, and a game that is healthy and entertaining millions of people. They have no intentions in messing with that at all.

Can you give any teases for the roadmap ahead?

We love the Alliance War feature and we’re really excited about it. What I will tease and hint is that it in a way sort of scratches the surface with that feature, with how you can interact with the helicarrier, with how you can use that helicarrier to interact with other Alliances, how you can collaborate in building up a helicarrier. We’re just getting started with this release and I think you’ll see some really great improvements and even big, giant, new systems that will take Alliance War to another level.

Do you have any plans for an event celebrating Avengers: Endgame?

We try to do as many cool events related to what’s going on in the MCU as possible, so I would not be surprised if we did.

Has the team explored bringing Marvel Strike Force to other platforms like consoles or PC?

We haven’t because we’ve been so focused on creating the best possible experience on mobile. That said, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work really well on other platforms. It’s not really something we’ve contemplated, but now that you mention it, I could see it working on PC and console. What I will say is that if you think about the future of the industry, I think lines between PC, console, and mobile are just going to continue to get blurrier and blurrier and the screen that you play on is not really going to matter. You’re just going to be bringing your experience across every single different type of screen. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there for Strike Force, but I do know that’s where the industry is all headed.

 

For more on Marvel Strike Force, check out our in-depth preview of the upcoming new mode, Alliance War.

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Weekend Warrior – The Way Of The Ninja

Last weekend was all about shootin’ and lootin’ in The Division 2. And while that game will still be gracing our television screens, we now have From Software’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to sink our teeth into. For those of you who will also be roaming the frustratingly difficult landscapes of Sengoku Japan, we wish you the best of luck. Trust us: you’re gonna need it.

Brian Shea (@BrianPShea) – I’m going to attempt to play Sekiro this weekend, but chances are I won’t last long and will want to go do something relaxing. Overwatch and Marvel Strike Force are always my go-tos, but I may fire up something like Anthem. 

Kyle Hilliard (@KyleMHilliard) – Sekiro has made a strong first impression, so I plan on still going strong on that. I am also still dabbling with Crackdown 3 and Kingdom Hearts 3. Otherwise I need to watch the new episodes of Arrested Development and I have been making my way through One Piece. I might grill something, too. It’s still cold in Minnesota, but waaaaay less cold than it has been. It might be time.

Suriel Vazquez (@SurielVazquez) – Banking motes and dying twice on the streets of D.C. while I think about Her.

Nathan Anstadt (@NathanAnstadt) – I finally finished Final Fantasy Tactics (which was amazing!), so now I’m onto the brave new world of Persona 5. Otherwise I’m going to try and find some good retro video game stores around Minneapolis, which is always fun.

Andrew Reiner (@Andrew_Reiner) – I am now into The Division 2’s endgame and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. I also want to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse again on UHD with my family. Now that the weather is warming up, I may even go outside to exercise with a nice little run. As I think about the pain that will likely put me in, I’ll probably just play more Division 2 instead.

Ben Hanson (@yozetty) – This weekend I’ll still be in San Francisco after GDC 2019, so I’ll be seeing some old friends and hopefully playing some fun board games! Other than that, on the flight home I’m sure I’ll continue to stare at and be stumped by Baba is You on my Nintendo Switch. I like it a looooot. Have a good weekend!

Hunter Wolfe (@Hunter_Wolfe) – Jay and I will be starting The Division 2 together. It’s my first loot shooter, so I’m really excited to try something new. Play games outside your comfort genre – I promise you’ll find love you weren’t looking for!

Jay Guisao (@GuisaoJason) – The Division 2 for sure. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, if I have the patience for it, of course. 

Daniel Tack (@dantack) – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice!

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The Best Indie Games of GDC 2019

Every year, many of the best and brightest minds in video games converge in San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference. Many of them bring along brand new games ready for their moment in the spotlight. From the large GDC Play area and the Indie Megabooth to specially curated showcases hosted by Nintendo and Microsoft, there is no shortage of exciting titles.

Here is an evolving list of the coolest and most interesting indie games the Game Informer crew saw at the conference. Come back each day, as we plan to continually update this list with more promising titles throughout the show.

Games are listed alphabetically.

Afterparty

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Night School Studio
Release: 2019

Night School Studio, the creators of Oxenfree, has a knack for creating unique premises and interesting dialogue. Afterparty is no exception, placing you right in hell. Your only way out? Outdrink satan himself. Apparently, hell is all about alcohol and what you drink impacts your personality, such as making you more aggressive or flirty. This gives you different dialogue options and opens up various paths to completing your objective. 

Our demo had us trying to get into a VIP room. While there are a few different ways to do this, we chose to impress our way in with our beer pong skills. The intense match had us taunting our opponent to get them to fumble and trying our best to aim the ball to reach the cup. All the bars you visit have their own theme, one plays off the bustling Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya, while another puts you in a Nebraska wasteland. The game obviously takes a more comical tone, but also explores the nature of friendship by having your swap between BFFs Milo and Lola, who just graduated from college and end up in hell due to an accident.  Thankfully, you’ll have your chance to drink with the devil and discover more soon enough as Afterparty launches later this year. –Kimberley Wallace

Airborne Kingdom

Platform: PC
Developer: The Wandering Band
Release: 2020

Take a city builder like SimCity and put it in the sky and you have a bit of an idea what Airborne Kingdom is like. In this creative sim from The Wandering Band, you manage and build a massive airship that slowly grows into a city. I started with a small town hall and only a dozen people, but as I built new houses, gathered food, and satisfied the needs of my population, I attracted more people to my utopia in the sky. However, you need to maintain balance; if you build too much on one side of the city, the whole thing can actually tip over. After building sky oars, I was able to move my city through the atmosphere, so I could meet other land-based nations. Some of these cities give you quests – like building specific districts or reaching new population limits – and when you complete these small tasks you earn new building blueprints and other technology. Airborne Kingdom is still in the early stages, but I’m already planning my own version of Columbia. –Ben Reeves

Barotrauma

Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: FakeFish, Undertow Games
Release: Spring

We’ve encountered hundreds of different types of games since Game Informer was formed in 1991, but we’ve never played a 2D cooperative online drowning simulator in space before. That’s the descriptor developers FakeFish and Undertow use to explain Barotrauma. In this game, a team of up to 16 players works together to navigate the treacherous waters under the frozen surface of Jupiter’s Europa moon. Each person takes assumes a particular role aboard the ship, from the captain and security officer to the electrical engineers and mechanics needed to keep the sub running. Along the journey, anything that can go wrong will. Monsters attack the ship, forcing players to man the turrets and repair hull breaches before the flooding disrupts vital operations. Crew members get sick, systems fail, fires break out, and when these hazards pop off simultaneously it makes for some frantic play sessions. –Matt Bertz 

Dead End Job

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Developer: Ant Workshop
Release: 2019

With a great sense humor, a cool Ren and Stimpy-inspired art style, and an engaging gameplay loop of working your way up the ranks, Dead End Job is a game to keep your eye on. You may be an “everyday Joe” who cleans up after others, but instead of clearing areas of trash you’re actually a ghostbuster, working at Ghoul-B-Gone. As the name implies, you eliminate various apparitions by blasting and vacuuming them up. You start at the bottom of the totem pole as an intern, but the better you get, the more glamorous your job title becomes. Your score rises with every baddie you defeat and citizen you rescue, allowing you to rack up the bill for your clients.

The game has procedurally generated areas that take place in offices, restaurants, parks, and more. Each stage has power-ups and health items that pop up as you defeat baddies and complete simple objectives, like find and rescue a certain amount of people. Ant Workshop wanted to find humor in the mundane, and I enjoyed what I played, giggling at every promotion title and ridiculous-looking enemy. Dead End Job will also have couch drop in/drop out co-op, so you can bring a friend along for this crazy journey.  –Kimberley Wallace

Katana Zero 

Platform: Switch, PC
Developer: Askiisoft
Release: April 18

Imagine the perfect run through any one screen in a game: not a single wasted movement, kicking open doors to knock one enemy into another, hitting enemy bullets back at them, generally laying waste to whatever stands in your way in seconds. That is the idea behind Katana Zero, a fantastic 2D action game coming soon to Switch and PC. Players make their way room-by-room through hordes of enemies in a Hotline Miami-style single run. The rooms get longer and longer as you proceed and one mistake means starting the whole room over. Katana Zero also has an interesting dialogue choice system where jumping the gun can save your life or ruin your mission, so you have to think carefully before acting. –Imran Khan

Metamorphosis

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Developer: Ovid Works
Release: Fall 

Polish studio Ovid Works is using the absurdist classic Franz Kafka short story as inspiration for a brand new puzzle platformer. You take the role of salesman Gregor Samsa, who awakens surprised to find himself transformed into a bug. You must traverse through both mundane and fantastical settings while Samsa wrestles with his existential crisis. The game focuses deliberately on the humor and absurdity of the situation, and the gorgeous, hand-drawn textures make it a treat to explore this microcosmos. Should you get stuck, you can pull up a handy overview camera that changes your perspective and reveals new paths. This five-to-six hour experience drops later this year.  –Matt Bertz

Overland

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Developer: Finji
Release: 2019

From the creators of Canabalt comes this new squad-based strategy game that challenges players to survive a journey across a post-apocalyptic United States. Each level is procedurally generated, so every journey is completely new. Unlike a lot of turn-based strategy games, combat in Overland is generally the last resort. Instead, you try to avoid enemy movement as you scavenge for supplies. The early levels I played featured a big focus on siphoning gas out of cars so I could fuel my car and reach my next destination. Along the way, you meet other survivors who can join your party. At night, you use flares to light your way or power generators to light up larger areas. However, generators make a lot of noise and will attract unwanted attention from flesh-hungry monsters. I was intrigued by my first hands-on with Overland and I’m eager to play more as we get closer to its launch later this year. –Ben Reeves

The Siege and the Sandfox

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: Cardboard Sword
Release: TBD

These days, there is no shortage of games inspired by Metroid and Castlevania, but Cardboard Sword’s The Siege and the Sandfox puts a unique spin on the genre by adding stealth mechanics. You are a notorious assassin who has been falsely accused of murdering a king and then thrown into a labyrinthine network of dungeons beneath the city. You must escape your prison and find a way to clear your name, but you are clearly outmatched and need to sneak through these lushly-detailed pixel environments. As you parkour through the environment and avoid traps, you make noise, which can attract a variety of dangerous guards. This level of noise is represented by visually onscreen, so you know how much chaos you’re creating. But, if you manage to sneak through dangerous areas, you can knock out guards from behind. Cardboard Sword hasn’t announced a projected release (the team was originally hoping for 2018), but The Siege and the Sandfox looks like it should appeal to fans of games like Mark of the Ninja. –Ben Reeves

Sloppy Forgeries 

Platform: PC, Mac, iOS
Developer: Playful Systems
Release: Summer

Fans of Drawful and Draw Something have a new party game to look forward to in Sloppy Forgeries. This two-player competitive local multiplayer pits wannabe artists against one another to try and recreate famous paintings like the Mona Lisa, Starry Night, The Scream, La Danse, and The Whistler’s Mother using a mouse or touchpad. Their forgeries are made all the more hilarious considering they must work under the constraints of a timer to replicate the masterpieces. Watching players rush to mimic these works of art is hilarious, and the game uses a pixel comparison to see who gets closest.  –Matt Bertz

The Sojourn 

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Steam
Developer: Shifting Tides
Release: 2019

Described by its developers as a cross between games like Portal and Journey, The Sojourn is a first-person puzzler that puts players in a series of instanced puzzle rooms that play with time and space to bend your mind in ways that only magic can. In puzzle rooms, a dark magic portal gives you abilities like reassembling broken bridges or exchanging places with a statue, but the magic runs out as you take steps. So to cross a bridge, you have to take the most efficient path. To put a statue in the correct place, you have to do a lot of clever warping and inching to the correct place. The art in The Sojourn is absolutely lovely and seeing the ruins assemble from strewn about bricks in the environment is a wonder to behold. It will be interesting to see if the game keeps up its creativity throughout the entire game when it releases later this year. –Imran Khan

Star Renegades

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Developer: Massive Damage, Inc.
Release: 2020

Pixel games are almost ubiquitous with indie gaming, so it takes a lot for one 16-bit inspired game to stand out these days. Star Renegades is one of those gems. Not only does Massive Damage’s stunning pixel work stand out on a crowded floor, the tactical rogue-lite RPG looks to offer a rewarding challenge. You lead a ragtag squad of rebels on a quest to push back against an imperious empire. Combat plays out in a series of turn-based RPG battles. At the bottom of the screen, you always have a clear view of the enemy’s next attack and how much damage they will deliver, so you can better plan your teams counter attacks and combos and know when to defend yourself. Each run is procedurally generated, but players unlock dozens of new characters during their playthroughs, which will better augment your team’s survival strategy. The developer says that they were inspired by games like Dead Cells and Into The Breach, so we’ll see if Star Renegades lives up to that high-quality bar when it releases early next year. –Ben Reeves

Supermarket Shriek

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Developer: Billy Goat Entertainment Ltd
Release: 2019

After a hapless shopper runs into a goat on a shopping cart, the odd duo is thrust into a series of oddball races and obstacle challenges. Navigating these challenges is easier said than done, however. If it wasn’t obvious, Supermarket Shriek is a goofy game; your shopping cart is actually propelled by the screams of the goat and the man inside it. This odd propulsion system is also a little unwieldy because Supermarket Shriek features traditional tank controls, so when players hold down the right bumper they will turn right and when they hold down the left bumper they turn left. Naturally, holding down both buttons pushes you forward. Billy Goat Entertainment intentionally designed Supermarket Shriek’s controls to be a little loose, which is where the game’s challenge comes from. Obstacles within each supermarket include fire pits, swinging axes, and giant towers of baked beans. Supermarket Shriek can be played single player, but it plays better as a party game where two players each control either the right or left side of the cart. An alternative mode allows players to scream into microphones in order to control the direction of the cart, but either way you play you’ll probably be screaming at your friends. –Ben Reeves

The Wild At Heart

Platform: Xbox One, PC
Developer: Moonlight Kids
Release: 2020

The Wild At Heart immediately catches your eye due to its beautiful, vibrant art style that is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli and Saloon films (Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells). The game has you playing as a boy named Wake, who has a troubled home life and ends up discovering a fantastical place with magical creatures when exploring the woods. It’s up to you to discover the truth of this forgotten world and its inhabitants. To help the critters and survive, Wake has his trusty Gutbuster to vacuum up objects for crafting, which lets you create everything from costumes to new tools. Similar to Pikmin, the magical beings also help him through the journey. You can chuck them at enemies, send them to collect resources, or have them break down barriers to get further into the forest. There’s a childlike wonder to discovering this world and befriending its strange creatures, and we can’t wait to step in it when it launches next year. –Kimberley Wallace

Wintermoor Tactics Club

Platform: PC
Developer: EVC
Release: 2019

Inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics and Steven Universe, Wintermoor Tactics Club is a lighthearted turn-based tactics game set in an elite boarding school during the 1980s. Players control a group of friends who form a tabletop gaming club at the Wintermoor Academy. However, the survival of their group is threatened when every association at the school is challenged to a giant snowball tournament. These nerdy nobodies are transformed into magical heroes in a series of grid-based snowball battles. EVC is looking to deliver an experience that is very approachable bit still offers some depth for strategy fans. Each hero has only two attacks, but many of their skills combo well with others, which encourages teamwork. For example, Alicia is a warrior mage who unleashes area attack spells and can set the ground on fire, and this works really well with her teammates who can push and pull enemies into the blaze. The snowball tournament kicks off later this year when Wintermoor Tactics Club releases on PC. –Ben Reeves

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The VR Job Hub: Varjo, ILMxLAB, ImmotionVR

Welcome to another Sunday afternoon VR Job Hub (if you’re in the UK at least). Today, VRFocus has a veritable selection of awesome jobs from around the world, whether you live in Europe or the US. So if you’ve been looking for a change of pace in your career then have a gander at the positions below.

Location Company Role Link
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Senior Unreal Engine Developer, Computing Platform Click Here to Apply
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Tooling and Automation Engineer, Gaze Tracking Click Here to Apply
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Mixed Reality, Software Lead Click Here to Apply
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Software Engineer, Mixed Reality System Click Here to Apply
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Unity Developer Click Here to Apply
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Video Processing Algorithm Engineer Click Here to Apply
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Principal Optical Engineer Click Here to Apply
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Marketing Analytics Lead Click Here to Apply
Helsinki, Finland Varjo Test Automation Engineer, Virtual Reality Click Here to Apply
San Francisco, CA ILMxLAB Environment Artist Click Here to Apply
San Francisco, CA ILMxLAB Technical Artist – Shaders/Look Development Click Here to Apply
San Francisco, CA ILMxLAB Experience Designer Click Here to Apply
San Francisco, CA ILMxLAB Production Manager Click Here to Apply
Manchester, UK ImmotionVR 3D Generalist Click Here to Apply
Manchester, UK ImmotionVR Project Engineer Click Here to Apply

Don’t forget, if there wasn’t anything that took your fancy this week there’s always last week’s listings on The VR Job Hub to check as well.

If you are an employer looking for someone to fill an immersive technology related role – regardless of the industry – don’t forget you can send us the lowdown on the position and we’ll be sure to feature it in that following week’s feature. Details should be sent to Peter Graham ([email protected]).

We’ll see you next week on VRFocus at the usual time of 3PM (UK) for another selection of jobs from around the world.

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Review: ViSP – Virtual Space Port

So there you are, toiling away on some floating megastructure in space, galaxies and giant gas nebulas in the distance looking suitably epic. As you’re building, trying to collect enough resources to continue construction a bright red laser catches the corner of your eye. It’s an enemy, barrelling towards a weak point in the Space Port. Unfortunately, the pesky vessel wasn’t spotted in time and has not only hit but ripped the entire structure in two, creating all sorts of problems. This is ViSP – Virtual Space Port, get ready for some ambitious puzzle building.

After first coming across German developer Visper Games and its puzzle title ViSP – Virtual Space Port at the Indie Arena Booth during Gamescom 2018, the experience looked to have all the hallmarks of a simple yet engaging virtual reality (VR) title.

Almost like Lego in Space, ViSP – Virtual Space Port is all about building and protecting your own little space station, having to expand its structure via the collection of resources to gain more blocks. The end goal is to reach several blue cubed structures (called monuments) located around the level all at the same time. Once achieved a 30 second counter begins, resetting should any part of the port become disconnected from the monuments.

The beauty of ViSP – Virtual Space Port is in its simplicity. The general premise is remarkably easy to pick up, if there are cubes available – the amount is denoted on the controller – then you can build more cubes from the original structure in horizontal and vertical directions. There are only two cube types available, the main ‘form’ blocks and the ‘wall’ blocks which are solely used to protect the base.

It’s the building of both that must be carefully balanced. Expand too quickly and should an enemy present themselves you might not be able to build any defences. Likewise, if the structure becomes overly complicated and blocks are wasted then trying to accrue more can take time.

ViSP – Virtual Space Port isn’t just about building in straight lines. Certain modules can be created by building patterns out of the Form blocks. The most important being the resource dock that these little flying drones land on to deposit more cubes. Then as the levels progress, gun shapes can be unlocked for extra defence.

And defence is needed. The enemies in ViSP – Virtual Space Port don’t swoop in guns a blazing. You’re generally given ample warning by a bright red laser pinpointing where the vessel will crash into. To begin with these are few and far between, easily manageable, yet by the later stages, Visper Games seem to have managed the perfect timing where there’s almost a constant deluge of enemies, continually halting progress.

It’s these moments that really showcase ViSP – Virtual Space Port to be a truly entertaining experience. Spinning what can be massive, hulking, structures that almost develop a life of their own, to find the next impact point. And this is where some building savvy skills are useful. Do you expand quickly from one single point, or create lots of intertwining columns? If its the former then see the first paragraph, chaos will ensue.

ViSP – Virtual Space Port is made up of four main stages, each with four levels, plus a couple of additional timed levels. What’s nice to see is a manual save option for each level, so should you get stuck or need to stop halfway through you can, recommencing later. The only real issue with ViSP – Virtual Space Port is the same that usually afflict most puzzle titles – last month’s A Fisherman’s Tale is a good example – is that there isn’t enough, with most of the experience completed in a few hours depending on if you really get stuck. It would have been great to see a mode where the player could select options like the number of monuments and which types of enemies spawn.

That’s only a minor grumble, mainly due to the fact that ViSP – Virtual Space Port is still a highly enjoyable puzzle experience that really makes use of VR’s roomscale to give you complete freedom to build. Set against a gorgeous interstellar backdrop, ViSP – Virtual Space Port is almost the perfect example of a well designed indie VR title, delicately balancing content and gameplay.

  • Verdict
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    Cyberpunk 2077 Seemingly Won’t Be an Epic Games Store Exclusive

    Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red has suggested that its much-anticipated RPG will not launch as an Epic Games Store exclusive on PC.

    Talking on Twitter, CD Projekt Red’s global community lead, Marcin Momot, said that “Our goal is to make Cyberpunk 2077 available to as many gamers as possible on their platform of choice.”

    — Marcin Momot (@Marcin360) March 21, 2019

    The tweet was written in response to a fan who asked the official Cyberpunk 2077 account if the game would be an Epic Games Store exclusive, possibly in response to the recent announcement that Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store and Microsoft Store when it initially launches on PC.

    While Momot points out that the intentions for Cyberpunk 2077 are a “goal” rather than an arrangement set in stone, it makes clear that the studio intends for the game to be available on several storefronts. Almost without doubt this will include GOG Galaxy, the Good Old Games client developed by CD Projekt themselves. With any luck, Steam will be one of the platforms, too.

    Matt Purslow is IGN UK’s News and Entertainment Writer, and is exclusive to this platform. You can follow him on Twitter. 

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    Sekiro Guide: How Death Impacts Your Journey

    Death is an old friend to fans of From Software’s Bloodborne and Dark Souls games, as the Soulsborne titles all implement mechanics and features that relate to dying. From Software’s newest game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, is no different. However, death works a little bit differently in Sekiro.

    In the following guide, we go over all the ways that death impacts your journey in Sekiro. Whether you want to know when the best time to use the revive mechanic is or how to deal with the effects of Dragonrot, read ahead to learn more.

    Sekiro is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. If you’re still on the fence about whether you want to buy the game, read our review-in-progress. In it, Tamoor Hussain gives the game a 9/10, writing, “Sekiro marries From Software’s unique brand of gameplay with stealth action to deliver an experience that is as challenging as it is gratifying.”

    In Comparison To Dark Souls And Bloodborne

    First and foremost, you need to treat death in Sekiro differently than what you may have experienced playing Darks Souls or Bloodborne. When it comes to death, the only similarity Sekiro shares with From Software’s previous titles is that its world is filled with innumerable ways to kill your character.

    Upon death, your character, Wolf, loses some of his experience and half of the in-game currency in his possession. The former is used to upgrade Wolf’s abilities and unlock new moves, while the latter allows you to purchase items. You cannot recover what you’ve lost upon death, so it’s in your best interest to flee from fights you think you can’t win. To counter this, Wolf has the ability to receive Unseen Aid–providing a chance to keep your experience and coin upon death. You can see your probability of receiving Unseen Aid–which will decrease if Dragonrot has begun to spread–by either pausing the game or resting at an idol.

    Dragonrot — What It Does And How To Cure It

    Speaking of Dragonrot, this deadly disease is also closely tied to death in Sekiro. Pretty much anyone Wolf meets and interacts with has the potential of contracting Dragonrot, which causes them to suffer violent coughing fits. The game will inform you whenever someone contracts the disease.

    The more you die in Sekiro, the more the Dragonrot disease spreads. Die only a few times in your playthrough and only a couple of individuals will catch it. However, if Wolf falls in battle many times–which is much more likely as Sekiro is a very difficult game–then eventually everyone he knows will begin coughing. As stated before, you do not want this. With every character that contracts Dragonrot, Wolf’s possibility of receiving Unseen Aid diminishes. That’s not all, though. You won’t be able to complete questlines for characters who’ve caught the disease, as their coughing fits don’t allow them to properly answer you when you try to talk to them. Some of these questlines unlock new skills and prosthetic upgrades that help with the minibosses and bosses in the main story, so doing them is in your best interest.

    Thankfully, Dragonrot isn’t fatal (or at least as far as we can tell), and there’s a cure. So you shouldn’t lose anyone and their respective side quests to the disease while you’re busy collecting the ingredients to make medicine.

    In order to first discover the cure, you’ll need The Sculptor to fall ill to the Dragonrot. You’ll know when it happens because you’ll get a cutscene that highlights how sick he’s becoming. Go outside and talk to Emma about it and she’ll give you a quest for a cure. You just need to bring her the blood of someone else who has Dragonrot. When you get the notification that someone else is sick, go and talk to them. They’ll cough up some blood that you can take back to Emma. She’ll use the blood to synthesize a cure, called a Dragon Tear. Using the tear at an idol cures everyone plagued by the Dragonrot. However, if you die enough times, the disease will begin to spread once again. You’ll need to buy more Dragon Tears from specific merchants in order to cure the rot again. As far as we can tell, there isn’t an infinite amount to purchase, so save those tears for when you really need them.

    In Sekiro, Shadows Can Actually Die Thrice

    Despite Sekiro’s title, you can actually die up to three times on one life. In the bottom left corner of the screen, you’ll notice two pinkish red orbs. They represent how many times you can revive. The first orb is filled by resting at an idol, and the second is filled by executing enemies with death blows.

    When you die, you’ll have the choice of accepting death or reviving yourself. Choosing to revive uses your first orb and puts a black smear through the second. You’ll need to land a deathblow to remove the smear. Doing so allows you to revive a second time upon dying again.

    You’ll need to be strategic about reviving a second time though. Remember, your second orb is filled through landing deathblows on enemies. So if you use your second orb during a boss fight and then die a third time, you’ll have to go out and farm enemies to recover a second revive for fighting the boss again. If you don’t think you have the necessary upgrades to beat the boss you’re currently fighting, you might want to just let the Wolf die and save your second revive for another run at the boss.

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    Preview: Dick Wilde 2 – Big and Bolder, but is it Better?

    In 2017 Bolverk Games released its second virtual reality (VR) title in the form of first-person shooter (FPS) Dick Wilde. Placing you in the American Deep South with good old Mr Wilde coming out with some comedy one-liners and a bunch of handmade weapons to shoot some out of control critters, the first instalment was an amusing, yet slightly shallow experience. Now the studio is bringing Dick back for another round of gun slinging, just will it be enough?

    The VR FPS space is very different now to what it was a couple of years ago. Wave-based stationary shooters are almost all but long gone, replaced by titles such as Borderlands 2 VR or In Death, where you have movement that can cater for all users and more dynamic enemies. Dick Wilde 2 on the other hand almost feels like a nostalgic look back at what VR once was, whilst at the same time expanding upon the originals gameplay design.

    As mentioned Bolverk Games is certainly going bigger and better in a number of ways regarding Dick Wilde 2. Firstly levels and movement. You’re still fixed to a wooden raft stuck on a river, just this time it is moving, meaning all the enemies you need to kill don’t always have to come to you, you’ll float to them. And to make this aquatic journey that bit more troublesome the waterways are filled with cars, barrels, wooden panels and other junk which needs to be blasted out the way or else you’ll take damage.

    There are six main levels, each featuring multiple routes. So depending on the guns you’ve acquired as well as the cash to buy upgrades, one route will be harder than the other, with the greater difficulty offering more rewards. Before choosing a path, another big inclusion is Dick Wilde’s store, full of weapons, and items to increase your health, critical shot chance and raft durability.

    Gun wise the selection must be at least double the originals, with a selection of pistols, shotguns, automatics and energy weapons. They still retain that authentic Dick Wilde charm of looking like they were made in a barn, but they no longer have a secondary function. This means careful selection before you go into each stage, although they can be swapped if the stage is completed.

    As for the action, things are relatively on par with before. Fish jump out the water at you or try to spitballs of nasty noxious gas. There are a few new enemy types such as rats on the backs of crocodiles and squid looking things which can protect themselves with energy shields. There certainly seems to be enough variety in the main levels that Dick Wilde 2 should provide a few decent hours of gameplay.

    The studio hasn’t stopped there, however. To unlock some of the better guns there are four challenge levels to complete, each one offering a much more difficult and intense task than the main stages. These are much more confined shooting galleries on water, designed to not be easily completed on the first attempt.

    Additionally, Dick Wilde 2 will also include an online co-op multiplayer, so you can bring a mate along to team up with on the more difficult levels. At this stage of the build, this option wasn’t available for VRFocus to try, when we do we’ll let you know.

    Bolverk Games certainly seem to be cramming as much content as possible into this sequel, aiming to give fans of the first videogame that same core essence, just with more of everything. It’s a good tactic to go for, and most players should find the gameplay very comfortable. The real difficulty lays in tempting those who love their free-roaming shooters to go for a far more restricted style of FPS.

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    Review: Creed: Rise to Glory

    LA-based developer Survios has been prolific in its virtual reality (VR) releases in 2018, with the launch of Sprint Vector at the start of the year and Electronauts this summer. That would usually be enough for any team but that’s not stopped them rolling out quite possibly their biggest title yet, movie tie-in Creed: Rise to Glory.

    From past experiences most gamers will know that videogames based on movies tend to have a troubled history, trying to mimic and usually failing at capturing the wow factor of the silver screen. So can Creed: Rise to Glory break that mould and provide an exhilarating experience that puts you in the shoes of Adonis Creed? It sure can.

    There are a wealth of options to choose from right at the start but it’s the career mode that forms the core of Creed: Rise to Glory. Here you play Creed, still a young upstart who’s trying to make a name for himself and leave the shadow of his famous father – hopefully you’ve seen the Rocky films. To do this you need to train and fight through underground matches, learning not only how to punch but to defend as well.

    Creed: Rise to Glory is very much a mix of arcade and simulation gameplay, you can go in all guns a blazing and probably win, taking a more methodical approach however will reap greater rewards. Before you step anywhere near a ring you’ll need to train, with punching bags, speed balls and all the other boxing equipment you’ll need. Depending on how well you train will then denote your stamina for the upcoming fight.

    A number of controls schemes work in unison in Creed: Rise to Glory aside from purely punching. On Oculus Rift (reviewed) you hold down A and X then swing your arms to walk forward, and then spin them left and right to walk in that direction when fighting. It’s a system that takes a moment to get used to whilst dodging and punching, working perfectly well after a few tries. What’s great about it is fact that fights aren’t stationary you can move around the ring for a more natural experience – just make sure your play area is clear or something will get punched.

    Like any boxing videogame the punching mechanic has to work flawlessly or the whole experience becomes a chore. This is thankfully something Survios has quite clearly mastered, offering virtually any noticeable latency so that the actual power put into punches has an effect. What this also means is Creed: Rise to Glory is a solid workout that’s going to make you sweat, soon upping that heart rate after a few rounds.

    Adding to the realism is Virtual Stamina, where your character starts to tire, so you’ll need to block and properly dodge to avoid those incoming blows as it regenerates. Get hit too many times and you’ll of course go down, at which point Survios has introduced a novel out of body experience where you have to run back to the ring. The more often you go down the longer the distance becomes, further adding to that energy expenditure.

    The career mode offers a reasonably decent amount of gameplay, if maybe a little short. But to keep you coming back for more there’s the Freeplay and PvP options. Freeplay is still single-player, this time letting you choose all the various facets of Creed: Rise to Glory. Whether that’s more training, redoing past fights or selecting the different fighters you previously faced to see how they stack up.

    And then there’s PvP mode, where you can go online and fight anyone around the world with any character. Up until this point Creed: Rise to Glory has been pretty much flawless in its gameplay mechanics and visual design. However did suffer several hick ups for this review, with a couple of matches suffering so badly from lag they had to be abandoned. When it did work PvP wasn’t quite up to the career 1:1 standard but not too far off. With Survios’ previous online record with the likes of Sprint Vector being good hopefully this is quickly ironed out for all those fighting fans.

    Survios has once again done an outstanding job, with Creed: Rise to Glory helping cement the studio as one of VR’s premium content developers. You don’t have to be into boxing to enjoy this title, and for those who enjoy VR fitness it certainly ticks all the boxes. You may lose interest in the story but there’s enough to keep most players involved for quite some time.

  • Verdict
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    Streamer pulls off five-game, no-hit ‘Soulsborne’ run, right before Sekiro launch

    Twitch streamer The Happy Hob has been trying to complete a no-hit, back-to-back run of all five “Soulsborne” games — Bloodborne, Dark Souls 13, and Demon’s Souls — for months.He finally pulled it off this week after a nearly 18-hour playthrough of those five games, a feat he’s been calling the “God Run.”

    According to Hob’s self-imposed rules for the God Run, if he was hit by an enemy or trap at any point during his playthrough, he would start the whole five-game run from scratch. (He could take self-imposed damage from falling in order to intentionally lower his health, however.) Hob came heartbreakingly close to completing the God Run in February, when he was infamously thwarted by the Demon’s Souls tutorial boss, Vanguard.

    Early Thursday morning, Hob completed the five-game run by beating the Soulsborne games in this order: Bloodborne, Dark Souls 2, Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 3. After beating the final game’s last boss, Soul of Cinder, Hob screamed, “Soulsborne no-hit run! We did it!” He then burst into tears, hugged his dog, and thanked his viewers and his girlfriend for supporting his monthslong, controller-breaking quest to overcome the God Run.

    You can watch the completed run on The Happy Hob’s Twitch channel in two parts (1, 2).

    During the first part of the final run, Hob admitted to being stressed out about his impending deadline to complete the God Run. Dark Souls and Bloodborne developer FromSoftware is about to release its new game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, on Friday, March 22, and Hob planned to stream it on launch day. Lucky for him, he pulled the masochistic playthrough on the eve of its release.

    Of course, Sekiro’s launch now affords Hob the opportunity to focus on an expanded, six-game God Run.

    Beating Dark Souls games without getting hit has been The Happy Hob’s area of expertise for a few years now. Back in 2016, when he was going by The Happy Hobbit, he beat the original Dark Souls without taking a single hit. He then took on the challenge of beating the entire Dark Souls trilogy without being hit, a feat he overcame in March 2018 in a 10-hour, back-to-back run.

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