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  1. How An Online Game Community Is Helping Each Other Through Hard Times

    Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to), a game that encourages people to write nice things about each other over the internet, seems like a recipe for disaster. Every time I boot up the game, I wonder if this is going to be it, if this is going to be the moment when its formula backfires and pairs me up with a sadistic troll. Surprisingly, it hasn't, even as the game has garnered increased attention and users since its official launch. The folks behind Kind Words aren't worried about the attention though--not yet anyway--as they're confident that the game will not become so popular that it evolves into something too difficult to control.

    If you're unfamiliar, Kind Words is a writing game developed by Popcannibal, a studio also responsible for Elegy for a Dead World--a game that encourages players to explore the worlds of long-dead civilizations and compile their own thoughts and stories for what happened. Instead of crafting fictional stories, Kind Words hits a bit closer to home and pushes players to write about their own life. You sit in a room while chill beats play over the radio, and you can write a letter about how you're feeling that's sent out into the world for others to respond to. In turn, you can also look through a pile of letters that other people have written and reply to them. To thank people for their words, you can gift them with a sticker from your collection.

    No Caption Provided

    It's a simple gameplay loop that can lead to some emotional moments. You can talk about virtually anything--whether that's a troubling coworker, a crumbling relationship, quiet doubts, or a challenging level on a video game that seems impossible to get past--and get advice or encouraging words from other people. "Kind Words is an experiment in letting people exercise their empathy," designer Ziba Scott said in an interview with GameSpot. "It actually plays out that it's more about being empathetic than [sympathetic]."

    Kind Words was made in response to the current American political climate and the hateful online speech it's inspired--Scott hoped to create a place for people to support one another instead of tearing them down. "This particular type of game, it didn't exist as far as I know," Scott said. "And a lot of the interest I have in making games is making games that don't exist… that I want to exist."

    Most likely anyone who's spent even an hour on the internet can probably guess as to how Kind Words could be a very, very bad idea. Posting your innermost, troubling thoughts online to be anonymously responded to seems like it's almost asking to be bullied by a troll who's looking to stir up trouble just because they can. And even without trolls, someone with the best intentions can still accidentally post something potentially triggering for others. Kind Words could also be misunderstood as a way for someone to seek help for suicidal or troubling thoughts--which would be a mistake because no trained professionals are tied to the game. To assist people in this last group, Kind Words has a list of sources that people can reach out to if they want professional help, although--because it's all anonymous--there's no way for moderators to be proactive and directly connect users to sources they might need. As of this interview, Scott reports Kind Words is up to 15,000 users, all of whom have contributed a total of over 150,000 letters. That's a lot of text to monitor and moderate to make sure Kind Words remains inclusive and, currently, Scott and artist Luigi Guatieri are the only two doing so. "It's just me and Luigi," he said. "I'm absolutely exhausted."

    To Scott's credit, he's willing to admit when something related to the reporting system is wrong and he's actively working to implement better systems so Kind Words remains a safe space. For example, he's noticed that many users seemingly don't want to use the report button to point out specific writers because of the implication that such a button is only used in online games to get someone in trouble. "I may need a word other than report," Scott admitted. "I don't know. Something between report and feedback, because I do want people to respond when they think, 'This person looks suicidal' or 'I think this person might hurt somebody.' Because we get a lot of those [letters]."

    He's been making indie games for a long time and he figures, like most of his previous games, Kind Words will just eventually fizzle out before it becomes too much of a problem to manage.

    Currently, reporting someone in Kind Words allows you to detail what type of problem you've noticed--ranging from outright trolling to simply being worried about a letter's content--but you do have to report the person first before the game presents you with the options of whether you want to help or hinder them. That's not great (ideally reporting for bad behavior and pointing out worrying behavior would be two different buttons from the outset), but at least including the distinction ensures problems are being correctly labeled for when the moderators look them over.

    "I've removed ass from the filters cause it turns out everybody was just saying bad-ass, half-ass, or kickass, and no one was calling someone an ass," Scott said, when talking about ways he's tried to automate the process so moderating the game is more manageable. "And it was just causing a lot of work for me. I've also removed bitch cause they were just talking about 'bitchin' sweaters' or 'cancer's a bitch.' Fuck? That's not worth filtering at all. Only in combination with other things do I filter that."

    No Caption Provided

    But Scott did go on to point out that he knows it's important the entire process is never fully automated. There will always be trolls out there, and they can learn to trick machines. "[I learn] from trolls, learn the language," he said. "I've learned a lot of coded language stuff I didn't know about before. Coded racial language, things like that." Players point things out to Scott and he, in turn, starts looking out for those patterns. As such, the exact rules of what's okay and what's not are constantly evolving as Scott amends the filters to account for lingo he never would have thought of. "Every time someone posts a random string of emojis, I just stop and wonder, 'Is this just garbage or is this some really deep cut racism?' I don't know," Scott said. "I'm just very glad I don't and will never allow pictures 'cause I can't handle that."

    Even with the implication of new writers potentially bringing in harmful content that he's not aware of, Scott isn't worried about Kind Words spirling out of his control. He's been making indie games for a long time and he figures, like most of his previous games, Kind Words will just eventually fizzle out before it becomes too much of a problem to manage. "Maybe I'm being optimistic in my pessimism, but in my 10 years of making indie games, having a game be too popular for too long is just not something I've experienced," he said, laughing. "Right now, at this point, we're still on the front page, just barely, of Steam and that's keeping [players] coming. And we're going to be going to some festivals and I'm prepared to put a lot of time into this for a while. But I've got six, seven-year-old games on Steam that I maybe hear a peep from once a year." And if Kind Words does actually continue to grow, he points out, then he'll ideally be making enough money to be able to focus on moderating the game full-time. "There are much worse fates than that," he said," Either way, I think it's a win-win. I'm not too worried. Maybe I should be and I'm just too tired to see my future right now. But I'm not too worried about it. I'm mostly enjoying this."

    No Caption Provided

    With his game in a safe place, Scott is instead focusing on creating additional in-game content for Kind Words' players. "We've got a bunch of stickers in the works," he said, excited. "I haven't really talked about it yet. I don't know if it's a spoiler or anything to tell you, but we're going to sell the stickers as DLC packs for just a couple bucks." Like the stickers currently in-game, you'll be able to earn these new stickers when people trade them to you. The DLC sticker packs aren't meant to be exploitative, they're more of a "donate to the developer type thing," as Scott puts it. Scott didn't comment on what the new stickers might be, but he did confirm that the ones currently in Kind Words are references to his previous games, so it's possible these new ones could be too.

    I like Kind Words, I really do want more people to play it. Composer Clark Aboud's lo-fi chill beats add a relaxing tone to the charmingly dream-like setting created by Guatieri. It's an ideal backdrop for writing and I've started booting up the game and running it in the background whenever I encounter writer's block at work. The supportive anonymous responses to my own troubles have helped alleviate many of the concerns I desperately want to tell someone but are also too much of a bother to confide in a family member, friend, or coworker and not enough of an issue to devote to an entire therapy session. And knowing there's a possibility of earning a sticker--and thus its corresponding decoration to put up in my in-game room--scratches enough of my Animal Crossing itch to motivate me to contribute to the pile of letters from other people looking for responses. For anyone just looking to vent, and hoping for some friendly support, it's a wonderful outlet. I'm just wary of what the game could devolve into if its player base grows too large.

    Though maybe Scott and his team's decision to keep the game limited in scope will ultimately prove to be the game's biggest perk: a smaller title has an easier time remaining outside of a troll's radar. "We put a fair amount of thought into [Kind Words] during development and I think it's just within the scope of what I feel we're able to safely moderate," Scott said. "I hope for what I'm perceiving: that the game is doing far more good than harm." Me too Scott, me too.

    Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) is currently available on PC.

  2. Ni No Kuni Remastered Is Your Gateway To Relive A Truly Wondrous RPG

    Whimsical, heartfelt, and visually comforting--these are the ways in which I describe my first experience with the then-PS3 exclusive Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It has the RPG sensibilities of developer Level-5, but with the deft touch of storied anime producers from Studio Ghibli, Ni no Kuni came to life in the same way many Ghibli films have. Now with a remaster, anyone with a Switch, PS4, or PC can jump into this imaginative journey, faults and all.

    The title roughly translates to "The Second Country," which alludes to the world beyond the one which our youthful protagonist Oliver lives in. Motorville is a peaceful town with friendly neighbors, but not much in the way of excitement. Thus, Oliver and his friend Phil (think Tombo from Kiki's Delivery Service) get into some tomfoolery, whipping around a makeshift car Phil constructed himself. However, things get dark when the looming evil, otherworldly forces attempt to kill off Oliver, who they refer to as the boy who'll save the world. Tragedy strikes in this opening, but hope lies in a parallel universe. The truth about Oliver's mom, Allie, drives him to journey through this magical second world.

    Danger lies beyond Ding Dong Dell, but Oliver and company will save the day.
    Danger lies beyond Ding Dong Dell, but Oliver and company will save the day.

    Oliver's exclamations "Neato!" and "Jeepers!" will make you feel like a kid again, but it's your stumpy Fairie sidekick, Mr. Drippy, that brings fiery glee to it all. His energy, wisdom, and Welsh-isms make him a character for the ages and he always has Oliver's back. Ni no Kuni is but a wholesome story of a boy who is always virtuous and always growing. Charm lies around every corner in as it's brought to life by the wondrous stylings and animation of Ghibli, and uplifted by the majestic orchestral scores of composer Joe Hisaishi that effortlessly fit every moment. It's these timeless qualities that make the long adventure worth the effort.

    That said, this remaster is very much the original game; there are no quality-of-life changes, resulting in what feels more like a port than a remaster. The PC version (via Steam) comes with a few graphics options and controller support, and the PS4 version offers 4K/30 fps on a Pro and 1080p/60 fps on either console model. Note that the Switch version is a straight port of the PS3 game, and not designated as "remastered." Aside from packing all the DLC, and the inherent visual improvement from higher resolution on PC and PS4, the core game remains untouched, for better or worse.

    If you're unaware, the original Ni no Kuni uses a combat system that has you moving and making decisions in real-time while you execute actions in a turn-based fashion. Core to the game is its system of Familiars, which function very much like Pokemon--they level up separately from party members and bring different elemental types and movesets to the table. You'll capture many, train some of them for battle, and evolve a few to their final forms along the way. Each party member carries three at once and carefully swapping between them (and party members themselves) in battle is the key to overcoming the game's tough fights. It's an inventive system that brings about a surprising level of depth, but one that feels more clunky now than it did back when it first launched.

    Tidy! A Ghibli reference en'it?
    Tidy! A Ghibli reference en'it?

    Wrapping your head around its combat system is going to take a few hours as you're introduced to its several layers. Even then, much of it will feel out of your control. Since you can only command one combatant at any given moment, you have to rely on AI to handle many aspects of fights. Telegraphing enemy attacks is a challenge, too, and the system doesn't exactly put you in the best situation for reacting. Until you get a groove with a lineup of Familiars, you'll find yourself frantically fumbling through menus of actions more often than not.

    Combat isn't as tight as you'd expect from an RPG, but that's not to say it's a deal-breaker. For all the faults I see gameplay-wise, its RPG trappings deliver the satisfaction of growing stronger and smarter in combat. Other fundamentals are quite basic and hardly stray from RPG conventions, like the simplistic dungeon layouts or the sometimes tedious traversal from one area to another for side quests or between save points. At the very least, its foundation provides a good vehicle for taking you through Ni no Kuni's world that bursts with boundless charm.

    Former GameSpot reviews editor Kevin VanOrd awarded the original release a 9/10 back in 2013 and said, "This is a wonderful world that you will be eager to lose countless hours in as you adventure through its enticing realms." Six years later, that remains true. It speaks to the joy of unraveling Ni no Kuni, because there are so many smaller moments that are emblematic of the imagination put into the game. From the so-bad-it's-good comedy show put on by the Fairies to the terrifying monsters Oliver and friends conquer, Ni no Kuni stands out in how it gives an earnest tale of whimsy and youthful determination.

    Yer a wizard, Ollie!
    Yer a wizard, Ollie!

    If you're willing to overlook or account for some of its rougher spots, there's a world of wonder waiting for you in Ni no Kuni. In many ways, it transcends those shortcomings. While this new version doesn't streamline anything, you're still getting one of last generation's standout RPGs with its DLC, nothing more, nothing less.

    Having been through the original release once, there isn't a specific incentive unless you're drawn to revisiting its spirited world, and newcomers are at least given the opportunity to experience something mostly delightful and unique that may have flown under their radar. After about 10 hours with the remaster on PC, memories are flooding back and I'm starting to hit a stride where I want to see it all unfold again. Your gateway to Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch opens on September 20 when it hits the PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

  3. Borderlands 3 DLC Plans To Be Detailed In Livestream Tomorrow

    If you're clamoring for more Borderlands 3 news, Gearbox has you covered with a new livestream. The Borderlands Show debuts on September 20 and with it will come a bevy of announcements, including DLC updates and TwitchCon plans.

    The Borderlands Show, hosted by Kinda Funny's Greg Miller and Fran Mirabella, is a monthly web series that will cover everything Borderlands 3--from conversations with the dev team to early glimpses of incoming content and more. You can watch tomorrow's livestream right here or on the Borderlands Twitch channel.

    The Borderlands Show Livestream Start Time

    • 10 AM PT
    • 12 PM CST
    • 1 PM ET
    • 6 PM BST

    Friday's inaugural episode is said to feature an interview with creative director Paul Sage, responses to community questions, additional news and announcements, a preview of the upcoming Halloween-themed Bloody Harvest event that'll include a new setting and rewards, and more. Gearbox is also expected to provide more information about Borderlands 3 post-launch plans, including Maliwan Takedown and campaign DLC, on tomorrow's episode of The Borderlands Show.

    Borderlands 3 recently received a series of hotfixes that address various issues. Alongside the update comes an adjustment to the "loot cave." Though an Epic Games Store exclusive on PCuntil April 2020, Borderlands 3 did set a massive record for the franchise.

  4. Fortnite Hilltop With A Circle Of Trees Location Guide (Season 10 Week 8)

    A new set of Season 10 challenges has arrived in Fortnite: Battle Royale. Week 8's batch is called Storm Racers, and while most of the tasks are fairly self-explanatory, one that may throw you for a loop is to land on Polar Peak, a Volcano, and a hilltop with a circle of trees. The first two areas are easy to find, but the third is vague enough that you may have trouble figuring out where to go, which is why we've put together this map and guide to help you out.

    Where Is The Hilltop With A Circle Of Trees?

    Both Polar Peak and the volcano are obvious--each area is very clearly marked on the game's map--so you'll have no problem landing on those, but the hilltop with a circle of trees is a bit trickier to find as there are many different hills dotting the island. The one in question, however, is commonly known as "stunt mountain," which is located south of Pleasant Park. You can see where all three areas are on the map below.

    No Caption Provided

    How To Complete The Challenge

    As the challenge states, you'll need to land on each of the three areas for your progress to count; you can't simply work your way up to them. The easiest way to get this done will be to dive out of the Battle Bus, land at one, get yourself eliminated, then hop into another match and repeat the process until you've landed at all three areas.

    Fortnite Season 10 is scheduled to end on October 6, according to developer Epic's website, so you have until then to complete any remaining challenges from this season. If you need help mopping up any tasks, we've rounded up all of our maps and guides for this season's trickiest missions in our Fortnite Season 10 challenges hub.

    Fortnite's Week 8 challenges arrive on the heels of the 10.31 update. This patch didn't add any new items or weapons to the game, but it did make some adjustments to Storm Circles and introduced the new Party Hub feature on mobile. You can find the full patch notes for the update on Epic's website.

  5. Get 6 Free Batman Games, Including Arkham Collection, From The Epic Store

    Another week, another round of free games at the Epic Games Store. This week, two collections of Batman games are up for grabs: the Batman Arkham Collection and the Lego Batman Trilogy. That's a total of six free games for Epic Store users, and they're free to claim now until September 26. If you're unfamiliar with Epic's weekly freebies, all you need is a free Epic account to claim them, and they'll be yours to keep forever--no subscription of any kind needed.

    The Batman Arkham Collection includes Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, and Batman: Arkham Knight, the latter of which is also a PS Plus free game this month. The first two games are fully remastered with updated visuals as part of the collection, and all post-launch content is included. The Batman Arkham series is critically acclaimed, with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City both earning a 9/10 and Arkham Knight receiving a 7/10 from GameSpot.

    The Batman Lego Trilogy is also free for the next week. The Trilogy Pack includes Lego Batman: The Videogame, Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. Similar to the other Lego video games, the Batman games allow for both single-player and two-player co-op, and you'll play as iconic Batman characters while fighting enemies and solving puzzles.

    You can claim the Batman Arkham Collection and Batman Lego Trilogy free for the next week. They'll be replaced by the next round of free games, Everythingand Metro: 2033 Redux, on September 26.

    Get this week's free Batman games at Epic


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