Tagged: details

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Georgia police release 911 calls from deadly military plane crash

Police released 911 calls on Monday made by frightened onlookers as a WC-130 military plane crashed in Georgia last week and took the lives of nine airmen with the Puerto Rico National Guard.

The calls, some taken just seconds after the crash, offered details of the chaotic scene in Savannah, Georgia, last Wednesday when the WC-130 nose-dived onto a highway, covering the roadway with debris, and filling the surrounding area with thick clouds of black smoke.

There were no survivors.

“Yes, a plane just crashed. I’m looking at it right now and it’s up in flames,” one nearby witness said, giving authorities early details about the intense situation unfolding on the ground.

“I’ve got flames and smoke everywhere and stuff coming out of the sky,” another eyewitness said.

“It just literally nose-dived into the road,” another said.

The first call came in at 11:27 a.m. and it wasn’t long before dozens more followed, according to Savannah ABC affiliate WJCL[1], which obtained copies of the calls on Monday.

The Savannah Police Department released nearly four hours worth of 911 recordings from the morning of May 2, when the military cargo plane suffered an apparent malfunction just after takeoff.

“Yes, baby, it’s black smoke,” one frantic caller told a 911 operator. “The plane like incinerated whenever it hit the concrete.”

The plane, which took off from the Savannah airport, was en route to a so-called “boneyard” in Arizona, authorities said. All of the victims were members of the 156th Air Wing of Puerto Rico’s Air National Guard.

“I saw it take off from the airport and I noticed that one of the propellers wasn’t turning,” one female caller said. “And he banked like he was going toward [Interstate] 95, and then all of a sudden he lost altitude and just took a nose dive into the ground.”

“He did a barrel roll and went straight into the ground,” another caller added.

An Air Force official told ABC News that five of the victims were traveling as crew members on the flight and the other four were traveling as passengers. Some of victims had been with the Puerto Rico National Guard for decades.

The U.S. military, which is investigating the crash, has not released any details on what may have caused the crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ according to Savannah ABC affiliate WJCL (www.wjcl.com)
0

Georgia police release 911 calls from deadly military plane crash

Police released 911 calls on Monday made by frightened onlookers as a WC-130 military plane crashed in Georgia last week and took the lives of nine airmen with the Puerto Rico National Guard.

The calls, some taken just seconds after the crash, offered details of the chaotic scene in Savannah, Georgia, last Wednesday when the WC-130 nose-dived onto a highway, covering the roadway with debris, and filling the surrounding area with thick clouds of black smoke.

There were no survivors.

“Yes, a plane just crashed. I’m looking at it right now and it’s up in flames,” one nearby witness said, giving authorities early details about the intense situation unfolding on the ground.

“I’ve got flames and smoke everywhere and stuff coming out of the sky,” another eyewitness said.

“It just literally nose-dived into the road,” another said.

The first call came in at 11:27 a.m. and it wasn’t long before dozens more followed, according to Savannah ABC affiliate WJCL[1], which obtained copies of the calls on Monday.

The Savannah Police Department released nearly four hours worth of 911 recordings from the morning of May 2, when the military cargo plane suffered an apparent malfunction just after takeoff.

“Yes, baby, it’s black smoke,” one frantic caller told a 911 operator. “The plane like incinerated whenever it hit the concrete.”

The plane, which took off from the Savannah airport, was en route to a so-called “boneyard” in Arizona, authorities said. All of the victims were members of the 156th Air Wing of Puerto Rico’s Air National Guard.

“I saw it take off from the airport and I noticed that one of the propellers wasn’t turning,” one female caller said. “And he banked like he was going toward [Interstate] 95, and then all of a sudden he lost altitude and just took a nose dive into the ground.”

“He did a barrel roll and went straight into the ground,” another caller added.

An Air Force official told ABC News that five of the victims were traveling as crew members on the flight and the other four were traveling as passengers. Some of victims had been with the Puerto Rico National Guard for decades.

The U.S. military, which is investigating the crash, has not released any details on what may have caused the crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ according to Savannah ABC affiliate WJCL (www.wjcl.com)
0

Military Consumers and Sentinel: A deeper dive

Last week, we gave you an overview of the latest Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book[1]. Today, let’s look a bit more closely at the data from military consumers. We got more than 113,000 reports from military consumers in 2017. Although not all of them gave details about their military status,more than 28,000 are servicemembers, their family members, and inactive Reserve or National Guard, and more than 78,000 are military retirees or veterans. Here are a few interesting take-aways.

Identity theft[2] and imposter scams[3] were among the top reports for both the general population and the military community. Imposter scammers pretend to be someone you trust, to convince you to send them money or personal information. There are many variations on the scheme. People may pretend to be from the government or from a business with technical support expertise. Others lie about being your online love or say there’s an emergency with your family member. These kinds of scams cost military consumers more money than any other type of scam, with $25 million reported lost. Military median losses were $699. For other consumers, the median loss was $500.

We’re not sure why, but military folks reported median losses much greater than civilians did for other frauds, too. For instance, the median loss from the general population for all types of fraud was $429, but for military consumers, it was $619. That’s more than 44% higher. On the other hand, military consumers also told us they lost money in just 15% of the frauds they reported, versus 21% in the general population. That tells us that military consumers are doing a great job reporting consumer fraud to the FTC, even if they didn’t lose money to it. More reports yield more data, tell a more detailed story, and help law enforcement go after unlawful practices.

References

  1. ^ Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book (www.ftc.gov)
  2. ^ Identity theft (www.militaryconsumer.gov)
  3. ^ imposter scams (www.militaryconsumer.gov)
0

God of War Combat Team Talk Versatile Encounters & Throwable Axe

God of War Combat

While there are definite similarities to previous games in the series, God of War has substantial changes when it comes to combat. From the throwable axe to Kratos’ son, Atreus, who is valuable as both a distraction and a weapon, there’s plenty of nuance that players will have to get used to.

I had the pleasure of talking to three members of the action game’s combat team: Lead Gameplay Designer Jason McDonald, Combat Designer Kate Salsman, and Lead Systems Designer Vince Napoli. Check out my interview below to learn more about God of War‘s combat system.

Tyler Treese: With my hands-on time with the game, what really impressed me was how every encounter felt unique in that it never felt like filler content. What went into designing the combat exchanges, and making sure they never felt cookie cutter in design?

Jason McDonald, Lead Gameplay Designer: Yeah, I mean a big part of this game was trying to make sure that the enemies had nuance. That you could play the same character multiple times and have fun depending on how many respawn or where they are. So for example, like for the Draugr in a roof pass area, you’ll see some up high, which kind of emphasize the ranged abilities. You’ll see guys spawn near pits where you can knock them out the arena, you’ll see the heavy guys come in and that kind of forces your strategy to change. There are ones that have the kind of arm fire power that throw the fireballs at you, that’ll change everything up. So, what we try to do is just make sure that encounter to encounter we do something that kind of puts an emphasis on a different set of Kratos’ abilities so you can have that variety you’re talking about.

You talked about the range of abilities, which is certainly something the series has had in the past, but it feels like there’s more of a focus on it here and there’s more dimensions to the range of attacks like the axe. Can you discuss designing those and what it took to come up with that the axe?

Jason McDonald: Throwable axe, you say? Well, this is the guy that came up with idea and kind of iterated upon.

Vince Napoli, Lead Systems Designer: I mean we knew that we wanted a closer camera, so we knew that was going to kind of really change everything. We went how do we integrate sort of that camera feel into the gameplay and sort of how do we modernize action games and kind of combine a little bit of shooter elements? I think right from the get go it was like, “Okay, we want ranged and melee to kind of be hand in hand,” and that’s when we started having the ability to just kind like recall [the axe]. The fact that you can trip enemies and then bring it back and hit them on the way back, or if enemies have shields you can hit them from behind. Combining that with the punching, we basically sort of found our niche where it’s basically a ranged melee game, which is usually really tough to do.

God of War Combat

I felt like there was a lot of freedom in combat because even a mistake can be advantageous. Since you can recall the axe. Were all the mechanics designed with that in mind of letting the player have that sort of freedom?

Vince Napoli: Yeah. I mean that’s why we wanted to really emphasize the ability to throw the axe and leave it. Basically be able to, not only impale enemies but leave it stuck in the world. You can line up enemies and kind of recall it through all of them. Even objects or breakables that you can hit with it. That was the idea. If we can make the axe fully sandbox playable then the amount of stuff that you kind of come up with. I mean, early on [director] Cory [Barlog] kind of fell in love with the recalling through enemies, and once we knew that was in there we’re like, “OK, well this has to stay and we have to even create like the witch and other characters to kind of deal with it in really clever ways too.”

Jason McDonald: And that close camera perspective helps us too because the fact that you can’t see enemies behind you and there’s that nuance to it. Wherever you’re evading, wherever you’re moving around and you end up in different places and environment almost every single time you play. So, even if you’re playing the same counter over and over, it usually doesn’t act in the same way because the way of the enemy’s moving. Where you move changes all of your opportunities, whether they’re going to take a pit or a wall or anything else like range or your melee. It keeps changing enough which feels good,

The series is definitely known for its boss encounters. We’re still seeing that huge scale and size here, but it’s very different due to the perspective change. How difficult was it implementing such dangerous enemies while still staying true to the new style of combat?

Jason McDonald: Yeah, it was a challenge. Like this game is definitely a fresh start for us to kind of just start from the beginning and go “OK, you know, with Cory’s new narrative and new kind of overall direction of the game, like what can we do to just make everything feel different and make everything still retain the same God of War feel before but from this new perspective?” So because of that, it’s like a tuning how large an enemy could even be before it gets too annoying to look up at him, or how many enemies can attack you from all directions, or what you should be targeting. We’ve made significant effort to kind of apply that to every new design.

God of War Combat

Cory stated that it took awhile for the combat to really come together, and really feel satisfying. Can you talk about the challenges of development and how far it’s come?

Jason McDonald: Well, he’s wrong. Like it was perfect [whole team laughs] right down to everything. Yeah. I mean I think the first thing was just trying to figure out what was going to be the details of this game. You know, we knew that we’re going to try to bring the camera close. We did that right away and the first instinct was well we shouldn’t do this, you know, because we had the same old behavior pattern that we have for the enemies and things like that. So we were playing with that, with that close camera perspective and just seeing that OK this isn’t really working too well, maybe we should just go back to what we did before and we actually started doing that, like three iterations of like little internal play tests. We would start bringing the camera back and start changing things and then then it got so far back that were like, OK, now this is looking exactly like the older games.

So, what can we do now? So what we did is we actually brought [the camera] way in and we brought it in closer than we even started to try to not do this hybrid thing, which is kind of far. We just went in close and we got a lot of people to play it and try to see like, “OK, from this perspective, like what do you think?” And like he was saying, once we added the axe throw capability that really worked really well for that perspective. It allowed Kratos to handle enemies at distance and close ranges like he used to do in the past. It just started to take off from there once we started just actually battling the problem of, “OK, what do you need to do?” That’s when all this stuff started to become more important because now that you’re right down in there, you can kind of really get the depth perception of those. I would just do this is right next to the wall and take advantage of that, and all that decision making started to take off.

Vince Napoli: It also turned the corner to you when the son became [a part of gameplay]. I don’t know how much you use him in combat, but he’s actually like a massive tool that you have. He’s got a lot of abilities and a lot of behaviors that aren’t really accustomed to a lot of the enemies. Once we realized that with this limited camera perspective, having another character that can draw agro, protect you, call things out, or on command interrupted people and stun them was huge. So like once that tool came online, all of a sudden the cameras and stuff didn’t really become a hindrance. It became part of the gameplay of using him correctly. Like how well can you manipulate him just as well as your own character? I think that was like a big step.

God of War Combat

Atreus is definitely helpful dealing with the witch, which was one of the more difficult encounters I had. Tell me a bit about designing that fight because it’s such a different encounter compared to what you face early on?

Kate Salsman, Combat Designer: Well, we tried to design her as more of an enforcer character who enforces a certain mechanic in the game. And so up to that point you’re mostly spent fighting Draugr s and you’re using your light and heavy attacks and axes, but to actually encounter an enemy where, “OK, that doesn’t work now, now I have to use another mechanic to fight her.” It’s kind of interesting and trains you to start considering other strategies and combat.

So, we had a lot of iteration time early on because initially we were like, “OK, she dodges most of the time but not all the time.” And that could be confusing. So, we ended up going more towards the route of “OK, she’s an on/off type, a tight mechanic where unless you use the son to break her armor with his command arrows, then you just can’t hit her. So that becomes really interesting once you start seeing her with the Draugr in the other fight because it just forces you to change up your strategy.

Can you talk about the design because it kind of teaches the player without going into an in your face tutorial because you’re organically teaching that player to use that mechanic. How important that is to the overall game design?

Kate Salsman: I will say that, she’s kind of the first creature that teaches you, “Okay, I really do need to use the son arrows.” I mean before, he’s helpful in distracting enemies, but with her it kind of teaches you, “OK, this mechanic really is important,” and I will say that. We can only speak about what’s [in the demo] at this time, but using the son is important.

Jason McDonald: Right at the beginning of the game we do kind of throw lots of tutorials at you because we want to make sure that you understand how this new God of War plays. So throughout the game we try to do things like that revenant where you know, naturally the son becomes more important, sometimes more of a forced importance and it kind of reminds you that he’s there. What we find is when people play the game and they fight her, it’s like if they maybe stopped using Atreus for awhile, they remember it right when you fight her and then after that they’re using it. And again it kind of creates this pacing where sometimes you might just be enjoying what he’s doing in the background and not really engaging with them as much, but then once you encounter characters like that, you start engaging with them and more, and then you start naturally engaging even more after that.

God of War is such a popular franchise and it has a very passionate fan base. And since you’re rocking the boat a lot with this sequel, some of the fans have been displeased. Do you feel like once they get their hands on it, they’ll feel that like there is still that God of War DNA in it and that the combat feels familiar? Because I definitely felt that when I was playing that like there were moments where it was like, “Oh yeah, this is totally God of War.” Like there’s a new wrapping and I think it plays better than past games but a sense of familiarity is definitely there.

Jason McDonald: That’s fantastic, and that’s exactly what I expect everybody to feel now. When you see the trailers and you see the kind of perspective, it’s understandable that you would look at that and go “Well no other games look like that. So how is this game going and be like, what is this game?” So I think that through four plus years of effort, we’ve been trying to make sure that with this new storytelling, with this new narrative, new mythology, like everything that’s new in this game, that it still has that God of War DNA. As the game continues, you’ll just see more and more of that.

Were there any other action games that had an influence on the design, and figuring out the new camera?

Jason McDonald: I don’t think so. The main thing that drew us to make decisions in this game, was just really getting to this new direction that Cory was bringing to the series. Like you really wanted to get up close and personal and you really wanted to get close to Atreus. So like he wanted all of these things in order to do that. Like I was saying, when we started playing with the camera distances and having a far back and close and whatever, and then we just ended up kind of gravitating to decisions that just helped with the core design philosophy of just like right up there, up and close brutality. Atreus right nearby at all times and always going with that.


We’d like to give a major thank you to Jason, Vince, Kate and the team at Santa Monica Studio for letting us see God of War early. For even more coverage, check out our hands-on preview[1] of the opening hours, and read our interview with director Cory Barlog[2].

Disclosure: Travel and accommodation was provided by Sony for the trip.

References

  1. ^ hands-on preview (www.playstationlifestyle.net)
  2. ^ our interview with director Cory Barlog (www.playstationlifestyle.net)
0

God of War Combat Team Talk Versatile Encounters & Throwable Axe

God of War Combat

While there are definite similarities to previous games in the series, God of War has substantial changes when it comes to combat. From the throwable axe to Kratos’ son, Atreus, who is valuable as both a distraction and a weapon, there’s plenty of nuance that players will have to get used to.

I had the pleasure of talking to three members of the action game’s combat team: Lead Gameplay Designer Jason McDonald, Combat Designer Kate Salsman, and Lead Systems Designer Vince Napoli. Check out my interview below to learn more about God of War‘s combat system.

Tyler Treese: With my hands-on time with the game, what really impressed me was how every encounter felt unique in that it never felt like filler content. What went into designing the combat exchanges, and making sure they never felt cookie cutter in design?

Jason McDonald, Lead Gameplay Designer: Yeah, I mean a big part of this game was trying to make sure that the enemies had nuance. That you could play the same character multiple times and have fun depending on how many respawn or where they are. So for example, like for the Draugr in a roof pass area, you’ll see some up high, which kind of emphasize the ranged abilities. You’ll see guys spawn near pits where you can knock them out the arena, you’ll see the heavy guys come in and that kind of forces your strategy to change. There are ones that have the kind of arm fire power that throw the fireballs at you, that’ll change everything up. So, what we try to do is just make sure that encounter to encounter we do something that kind of puts an emphasis on a different set of Kratos’ abilities so you can have that variety you’re talking about.

You talked about the range of abilities, which is certainly something the series has had in the past, but it feels like there’s more of a focus on it here and there’s more dimensions to the range of attacks like the axe. Can you discuss designing those and what it took to come up with that the axe?

Jason McDonald: Throwable axe, you say? Well, this is the guy that came up with idea and kind of iterated upon.

Vince Napoli, Lead Systems Designer: I mean we knew that we wanted a closer camera, so we knew that was going to kind of really change everything. We went how do we integrate sort of that camera feel into the gameplay and sort of how do we modernize action games and kind of combine a little bit of shooter elements? I think right from the get go it was like, “Okay, we want ranged and melee to kind of be hand in hand,” and that’s when we started having the ability to just kind like recall [the axe]. The fact that you can trip enemies and then bring it back and hit them on the way back, or if enemies have shields you can hit them from behind. Combining that with the punching, we basically sort of found our niche where it’s basically a ranged melee game, which is usually really tough to do.

God of War Combat

I felt like there was a lot of freedom in combat because even a mistake can be advantageous. Since you can recall the axe. Were all the mechanics designed with that in mind of letting the player have that sort of freedom?

Vince Napoli: Yeah. I mean that’s why we wanted to really emphasize the ability to throw the axe and leave it. Basically be able to, not only impale enemies but leave it stuck in the world. You can line up enemies and kind of recall it through all of them. Even objects or breakables that you can hit with it. That was the idea. If we can make the axe fully sandbox playable then the amount of stuff that you kind of come up with. I mean, early on [director] Cory [Barlog] kind of fell in love with the recalling through enemies, and once we knew that was in there we’re like, “OK, well this has to stay and we have to even create like the witch and other characters to kind of deal with it in really clever ways too.”

Jason McDonald: And that close camera perspective helps us too because the fact that you can’t see enemies behind you and there’s that nuance to it. Wherever you’re evading, wherever you’re moving around and you end up in different places and environment almost every single time you play. So, even if you’re playing the same counter over and over, it usually doesn’t act in the same way because the way of the enemy’s moving. Where you move changes all of your opportunities, whether they’re going to take a pit or a wall or anything else like range or your melee. It keeps changing enough which feels good,

The series is definitely known for its boss encounters. We’re still seeing that huge scale and size here, but it’s very different due to the perspective change. How difficult was it implementing such dangerous enemies while still staying true to the new style of combat?

Jason McDonald: Yeah, it was a challenge. Like this game is definitely a fresh start for us to kind of just start from the beginning and go “OK, you know, with Cory’s new narrative and new kind of overall direction of the game, like what can we do to just make everything feel different and make everything still retain the same God of War feel before but from this new perspective?” So because of that, it’s like a tuning how large an enenmy could even be before it gets too annoying to look up at him, or how many enemies can attack you from all directions, or what you should be targeting. We’ve made significant effort to kind of apply that to every new design.

God of War Combat

Cory stated that it took awhile for the combat to really come together, and really feel satisfying. Can you talk about the challenges of development and how far it’s come?

Jason McDonald: Well, he’s wrong. Like it was perfect [whole team laughs] right down to everything. Yeah. I mean I think the first thing was just trying to figure out what was going to be the details of this game. You know, we knew that we’re going to try to bring the camera close. We did that right away and the first instinct was well we shouldn’t do this, you know, because we had the same old behavior pattern that we have for the enemies and things like that. So we were playing with that, with that close camera perspective and just seeing that OK this isn’t really working too well, maybe we should just go back to what we did before and we actually started doing that, like three iterations of like little internal play tests. We would start bringing the camera back and start changing things and then then it got so far back that were like, OK, now this is looking exactly like the older games.

So, what can we do now? So what we did is we actually brought [the camera] way in and we brought it in closer than we even started to try to not do this hybrid thing, which is kind of far. We just went in close and we got a lot of people to play it and try to see like, “OK, from this perspective, like what do you think?” And like he was saying, once we added the axe throw capability that really worked really well for that perspective. It allowed Kratos to handle enemies at distance and close ranges like he used to do in the past. It just started to take off from there once we started just actually battling the problem of, “OK, what do you need to do?” That’s when all this stuff started to become more important because now that you’re right down in there, you can kind of really get the depth perception of those. I would just do this is right next to the wall and take advantage of that, and all that decision making started to take off.

Vince Napoli: It also turned the corner to you when the son became [a part of gameplay]. I don’t know how much you use him in combat, but he’s actually like a massive tool that you have. He’s got a lot of abilities and a lot of behaviors that aren’t really accustomed to a lot of the enemies. Once we realized that with this limited camera perspective, having another character that can draw agro, protect you, call things out, or on command interrupted people and stun them was huge. So like once that tool came online, all of a sudden the cameras and stuff didn’t really become a hindrance. It became part of the gameplay of using him correctly. Like how well can you manipulate him just as well as your own character? I think that was like a big step.

God of War Combat

Atreus is definitely helpful dealing with the witch, which was one of the more difficult encounters I had. Tell me a bit about designing that fight because it’s such a different encounter compared to what you face early on?

Kate Salsman, Combat Designer: Well, we tried to design her as more of an enforcer character who enforces a certain mechanic in the game. And so up to that point you’re mostly spent fighting Draugr s and you’re using your light and heavy attacks and axes, but to actually encounter an enemy where, “OK, that doesn’t work now, now I have to use another mechanic to fight her.” It’s kind of interesting and trains you to start considering other strategies and combat.

So, we had a lot of iteration time early on because initially we were like, “OK, she dodges most of the time but not all the time.” And that could be confusing. So, we ended up going more towards the route of “OK, she’s an on/off type, a tight mechanic where unless you use the son to break her armor with his command arrows, then you just can’t hit her. So that becomes really interesting once you start seeing her with the Draugr in the other fight because it just forces you to change up your strategy.

Can you talk about the design because it kind of teaches the player without going into an in your face tutorial because you’re organically teaching that player to use that mechanic. How important that is to the overall game design?

Kate Salsman: I will say that, she’s kind of the first creature that teaches you, “Okay, I really do need to use the son arrows.” I mean before, he’s helpful in distracting enemies, but with her it kind of teaches you, “OK, this mechanic really is important,” and I will say that. We can only speak about what’s [in the demo] at this time, but using the son is important.

Jason McDonald: Right at the beginning of the game we do kind of throw lots of tutorials at you because we want to make sure that you understand how this new God of War plays. So throughout the game we try to do things like that revenant where you know, naturally the son becomes more important, sometimes more of a forced importance and it kind of reminds you that he’s there. What we find is when people play the game and they fight her, it’s like if they maybe stopped using Atreus for awhile, they remember it right when you fight her and then after that they’re using it. And again it kind of creates this pacing where sometimes you might just be enjoying what he’s doing in the background and not really engaging with them as much, but then once you encounter characters like that, you start engaging with them and more, and then you start naturally engaging even more after that.

God of War is such a popular franchise and it has a very passionate fan base. And since you’re rocking the boat a lot with this sequel, some of the fans have been displeased. Do you feel like once they get their hands on it, they’ll feel that like there is still that God of War DNA in it and that the combat feels familiar? Because I definitely felt that when I was playing that like there were moments where it was like, “Oh yeah, this is totally God of War.” Like there’s a new wrapping and I think it plays better than past games but a sense of familiarity is definitely there.

Jason McDonald: That’s fantastic, and that’s exactly what I expect everybody to feel now. When you see the trailers and you see the kind of perspective, it’s understandable that you would look at that and go “Well no other games look like that. So how is this game going and be like, what is this game?” So I think that through four plus years of effort, we’ve been trying to make sure that with this new storytelling, with this new narrative, new mythology, like everything that’s new in this game, that it still has that God of War DNA. As the game continues, you’ll just see more and more of that.

Were there any other action games that had an influence on the design, and figuring out the new camera?

Jason McDonald: I don’t think so. The main thing that drew us to make decisions in this game, was just really getting to this new direction that Cory was bringing to the series. Like you really wanted to get up close and personal and you really wanted to get close to Atreus. So like he wanted all of these things in order to do that. Like I was saying, when we started playing with the camera distances and having a far back and close and whatever, and then we just ended up kind of gravitating to decisions that just helped with the core design philosophy of just like right up there, up and close brutality. Atreus right nearby at all times and always going with that.


We’d like to give a major thank you to Jason, Vince, Kate and the team at Santa Monica Studio for letting us see God of War early. For even more coverage, check out our hands-on preview[1] of the opening hours, and read our interview with director Cory Barlog[2].

Disclosure: Travel and accommodation was provided by Sony for the trip.

References

  1. ^ hands-on preview (www.playstationlifestyle.net)
  2. ^ our interview with director Cory Barlog (www.playstationlifestyle.net)
0

God of War Combat Team Talk Versatile Encounters & Throwable Axe

God of War Combat

While there are definite similarities to previous games in the series, God of War has substantial changes when it comes to combat. From the throwable axe to Kratos’ son, Atreus, who is valuable as both a distraction and a weapon, there’s plenty of nuance that players will have to get used to.

I had the pleasure of talking to three members of the action game’s combat team: Lead Gameplay Designer Jason McDonald, Combat Designer Kate Salsman, and Lead Systems Designer Vince Napoli. Check out my interview below to learn more about God of War‘s combat system.

Tyler Treese: With my hands-on time with the game, what really impressed me was how every encounter felt unique in that it never felt like filler content. What went into designing the combat exchanges, and making sure they never felt cookie cutter in design?

Jason McDonald, Lead Gameplay Designer: Yeah, I mean a big part of this game was trying to make sure that the enemies had nuance. That you could play the same character multiple times and have fun depending on how many respawn or where they are. So for example, like for the Draugr in a roof pass area, you’ll see some up high, which kind of emphasize the ranged abilities. You’ll see guys spawn near pits where you can knock them out the arena, you’ll see the heavy guys come in and that kind of forces your strategy to change. There are ones that have the kind of arm fire power that throw the fireballs at you, that’ll change everything up. So, what we try to do is just make sure that encounter to encounter we do something that kind of puts an emphasis on a different set of Kratos’ abilities so you can have that variety you’re talking about.

You talked about the range of abilities, which is certainly something the series has had in the past, but it feels like there’s more of a focus on it here and there’s more dimensions to the range of attacks like the axe. Can you discuss designing those and what it took to come up with that the axe?

Jason McDonald: Throwable axe, you say? Well, this is the guy that came up with idea and kind of iterated upon.

Vince Napoli, Lead Systems Designer: I mean we knew that we wanted a closer camera, so we knew that was going to kind of really change everything. We went how do we integrate sort of that camera feel into the gameplay and sort of how do we modernize action games and kind of combine a little bit of shooter elements? I think right from the get go it was like, “Okay, we want ranged and melee to kind of be hand in hand,” and that’s when we started having the ability to just kind like recall [the axe]. The fact that you can trip enemies and then bring it back and hit them on the way back, or if enemies have shields you can hit them from behind. Combining that with the punching, we basically sort of found our niche where it’s basically a ranged melee game, which is usually really tough to do.

God of War Combat

I felt like there was a lot of freedom in combat because even a mistake can be advantageous. Since you can recall the axe. Were all the mechanics designed with that in mind of letting the player have that sort of freedom?

Vince Napoli: Yeah. I mean that’s why we wanted to really emphasize the ability to throw the axe and leave it. Basically be able to, not only impale enemies but leave it stuck in the world. You can line up enemies and kind of recall it through all of them. Even objects or breakables that you can hit with it. That was the idea. If we can make the axe fully sandbox playable then the amount of stuff that you kind of come up with. I mean, early on [director] Cory [Barlog] kind of fell in love with the recalling through enemies, and once we knew that was in there we’re like, “OK, well this has to stay and we have to even create like the witch and other characters to kind of deal with it in really clever ways too.”

Jason McDonald: And that close camera perspective helps us too because the fact that you can’t see enemies behind you and there’s that nuance to it. Wherever you’re evading, wherever you’re moving around and you end up in different places and environment almost every single time you play. So, even if you’re playing the same counter over and over, it usually doesn’t act in the same way because the way of the enemy’s moving. Where you move changes all of your opportunities, whether they’re going to take a pit or a wall or anything else like range or your melee. It keeps changing enough which feels good,

The series is definitely known for its boss encounters. We’re still seeing that huge scale and size here, but it’s very different due to the perspective change. How difficult was it implementing such dangerous enemies while still staying true to the new style of combat?

Jason McDonald: Yeah, it was a challenge. Like this game is definitely a fresh start for us to kind of just start from the beginning and go “OK, you know, with Cory’s new narrative and new kind of overall direction of the game, like what can we do to just make everything feel different and make everything still retain the same God of War feel before but from this new perspective?” So because of that, it’s like a tuning how large an enemy could even be before it gets too annoying to look up at him, or how many enemies can attack you from all directions, or what you should be targeting. We’ve made significant effort to kind of apply that to every new design.

God of War Combat

Cory stated that it took awhile for the combat to really come together, and really feel satisfying. Can you talk about the challenges of development and how far it’s come?

Jason McDonald: Well, he’s wrong. Like it was perfect [whole team laughs] right down to everything. Yeah. I mean I think the first thing was just trying to figure out what was going to be the details of this game. You know, we knew that we’re going to try to bring the camera close. We did that right away and the first instinct was well we shouldn’t do this, you know, because we had the same old behavior pattern that we have for the enemies and things like that. So we were playing with that, with that close camera perspective and just seeing that OK this isn’t really working too well, maybe we should just go back to what we did before and we actually started doing that, like three iterations of like little internal play tests. We would start bringing the camera back and start changing things and then then it got so far back that were like, OK, now this is looking exactly like the older games.

So, what can we do now? So what we did is we actually brought [the camera] way in and we brought it in closer than we even started to try to not do this hybrid thing, which is kind of far. We just went in close and we got a lot of people to play it and try to see like, “OK, from this perspective, like what do you think?” And like he was saying, once we added the axe throw capability that really worked really well for that perspective. It allowed Kratos to handle enemies at distance and close ranges like he used to do in the past. It just started to take off from there once we started just actually battling the problem of, “OK, what do you need to do?” That’s when all this stuff started to become more important because now that you’re right down in there, you can kind of really get the depth perception of those. I would just do this is right next to the wall and take advantage of that, and all that decision making started to take off.

Vince Napoli: It also turned the corner to you when the son became [a part of gameplay]. I don’t know how much you use him in combat, but he’s actually like a massive tool that you have. He’s got a lot of abilities and a lot of behaviors that aren’t really accustomed to a lot of the enemies. Once we realized that with this limited camera perspective, having another character that can draw agro, protect you, call things out, or on command interrupted people and stun them was huge. So like once that tool came online, all of a sudden the cameras and stuff didn’t really become a hindrance. It became part of the gameplay of using him correctly. Like how well can you manipulate him just as well as your own character? I think that was like a big step.

God of War Combat

Atreus is definitely helpful dealing with the witch, which was one of the more difficult encounters I had. Tell me a bit about designing that fight because it’s such a different encounter compared to what you face early on?

Kate Salsman, Combat Designer: Well, we tried to design her as more of an enforcer character who enforces a certain mechanic in the game. And so up to that point you’re mostly spent fighting Draugr s and you’re using your light and heavy attacks and axes, but to actually encounter an enemy where, “OK, that doesn’t work now, now I have to use another mechanic to fight her.” It’s kind of interesting and trains you to start considering other strategies and combat.

So, we had a lot of iteration time early on because initially we were like, “OK, she dodges most of the time but not all the time.” And that could be confusing. So, we ended up going more towards the route of “OK, she’s an on/off type, a tight mechanic where unless you use the son to break her armor with his command arrows, then you just can’t hit her. So that becomes really interesting once you start seeing her with the Draugr in the other fight because it just forces you to change up your strategy.

Can you talk about the design because it kind of teaches the player without going into an in your face tutorial because you’re organically teaching that player to use that mechanic. How important that is to the overall game design?

Kate Salsman: I will say that, she’s kind of the first creature that teaches you, “Okay, I really do need to use the son arrows.” I mean before, he’s helpful in distracting enemies, but with her it kind of teaches you, “OK, this mechanic really is important,” and I will say that. We can only speak about what’s [in the demo] at this time, but using the son is important.

Jason McDonald: Right at the beginning of the game we do kind of throw lots of tutorials at you because we want to make sure that you understand how this new God of War plays. So throughout the game we try to do things like that revenant where you know, naturally the son becomes more important, sometimes more of a forced importance and it kind of reminds you that he’s there. What we find is when people play the game and they fight her, it’s like if they maybe stopped using Atreus for awhile, they remember it right when you fight her and then after that they’re using it. And again it kind of creates this pacing where sometimes you might just be enjoying what he’s doing in the background and not really engaging with them as much, but then once you encounter characters like that, you start engaging with them and more, and then you start naturally engaging even more after that.

God of War is such a popular franchise and it has a very passionate fan base. And since you’re rocking the boat a lot with this sequel, some of the fans have been displeased. Do you feel like once they get their hands on it, they’ll feel that like there is still that God of War DNA in it and that the combat feels familiar? Because I definitely felt that when I was playing that like there were moments where it was like, “Oh yeah, this is totally God of War.” Like there’s a new wrapping and I think it plays better than past games but a sense of familiarity is definitely there.

Jason McDonald: That’s fantastic, and that’s exactly what I expect everybody to feel now. When you see the trailers and you see the kind of perspective, it’s understandable that you would look at that and go “Well no other games look like that. So how is this game going and be like, what is this game?” So I think that through four plus years of effort, we’ve been trying to make sure that with this new storytelling, with this new narrative, new mythology, like everything that’s new in this game, that it still has that God of War DNA. As the game continues, you’ll just see more and more of that.

Were there any other action games that had an influence on the design, and figuring out the new camera?

Jason McDonald: I don’t think so. The main thing that drew us to make decisions in this game, was just really getting to this new direction that Cory was bringing to the series. Like you really wanted to get up close and personal and you really wanted to get close to Atreus. So like he wanted all of these things in order to do that. Like I was saying, when we started playing with the camera distances and having a far back and close and whatever, and then we just ended up kind of gravitating to decisions that just helped with the core design philosophy of just like right up there, up and close brutality. Atreus right nearby at all times and always going with that.


We’d like to give a major thank you to Jason, Vince, Kate and the team at Santa Monica Studio for letting us see God of War early. For even more coverage, check out our hands-on preview[1] of the opening hours, and read our interview with director Cory Barlog[2].

Disclosure: Travel and accommodation was provided by Sony for the trip.

References

  1. ^ hands-on preview (www.playstationlifestyle.net)
  2. ^ our interview with director Cory Barlog (www.playstationlifestyle.net)
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Poisoning of Russian ex-spy puts spotlight on Moscow's secret military labs

During his last run for the presidency, in 2012, Russian leader Vladimir Putin startled U.S. military experts with a mysterious pledge to develop novel kinds of weapons to counter the West’s technological edge. Armies of the future, he said, would need weapons “based on new physical principles” including “genetic” and “psychophysical” science.

“Such high-tech weapons systems will be comparable in effect to nuclear weapons,” Putin said in an essay published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s newspaper of record, “but will be more ‘acceptable’ in terms of ­political and military ideology.”

Exactly what Putin meant — and how any “genetic” weapon could square with international treaties outlawing chemical and biological warfare — remains uncertain. But what is now clear is that Putin’s words unleashed a wave of activity across a complex of heavily guarded military and civilian laboratories in Russia.

Since the start of Putin’s second term, a construction boom has been underway at more than two dozen institutes that were once part of the Soviet Union’s biological and chemical weapons establishment, according to Russian documents and photos compiled by independent researchers. That expansion, which includes multiple new or refurbished testing facilities, is particularly apparent at secret Defense Ministry laboratories that have long drawn the suspicions of U.S. officials over possible arms-treaty violations.

[Putin: Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses[1]]

Russian officials insist that the research in government-run labs is purely defensive and perfectly legal. But the effort has come under increased scrutiny in the wake of allegations of Moscow’s involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. Both were sickened by exposure to Novichok[2], a kind of highly lethal nerve agent uniquely developed by Russian military scientists years ago.

“The big question is, why are they doing this?” said Raymond Zilinskas, a chemical and biological weapons expert with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. In a newly released book[3], “Biosecurity in Putin’s Russia[4],” ­Zilinskas and co-author Philippe Mauger analyze hundreds of contract documents and other records that show a surge in Russian research interest in subjects ranging from genetically modified pathogens to nonlethal chemical weapons used for crowd control.

The analysis also tracks a simultaneous rise in sensationalist Russian claims that the United States is itself pursuing offensive biological weapons. Reports posted on state-sponsored news sites and amplified over social media have accused U.S. scientists of being behind recent outbreaks of the Zika virus as well as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that began in 2014. In each instance, U.S. federal agencies marshaled a sizable response to counter or contain the outbreaks.

Such baseless claims could be viewed as part of a deliberate effort to “explain to their own people why they need to do this research,” Zilinskas said in an interview.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to answer written questions but forwarded a March 13 statement by Vassily A. Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations. Nebenzia denied any involvement by the Kremlin in the March 4 nerve-agent attack and suggested that it was the United States and Britain, not Russia, that were continuing to conduct illegal research to create “new toxic substances.”

[Britain’s top diplomat accuses Putin of being behind nerve-agent attack[5]]

The research by Zilinskas and Mauger appears to bear out long-held concerns by the State Department, which has sharply criticized Russia in recent years over a lack of transparency in its military-related biological and chemical research. Since 2012, State Department officials have issued a series of reports faulting Moscow for refusing to open its military research laboratories to outside inspectors, and for failing to provide proof that it destroyed the highly lethal arsenals created by Red Army scientists in the years before the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Thomas Countryman, an assistant secretary of state for international security and arms control during the Obama administration, said that even before Putin, U.S. officials questioned whether the Kremlin had owned up to its past “fully and transparently.” But over the past six years, official distrust has grown as Moscow has embraced a more aggressive foreign policy that includes intimidation of Russia’s neighbors and an unabashed support for a Syrian dictator who uses nerve agents to kill his own people.

“Moscow’s full-throated defense of Syrian use of chemical weapons[6] — and, especially, its apparent use of chemical agents in targeted assassinations — only add to the concerns,” Countryman said.

Cold War pathogens

When the Soviet Union was dismantled in 1991, the Russian Federation became the heir to history’s most dangerous arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.

During the Cold War, Soviet leaders spent vast sums to create weaponized versions of 11 different pathogens — including the microbes that cause anthrax, smallpox and the plague — while also experimenting with genetically altered strains. They created new classes of chemical toxins, such as Novichok, reportedly used in the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England.

[What is Novichok? Russia’s nerve agent has Soviet roots[7]]

A fourth-generation nerve agent more deadly than VX, Novichok is the stuff of legend. Russia denies that it ever researched or manufactured such nerve agents, but it arrested a former Soviet weapons scientist[8] on charges of divulging state secrets after he published details about Soviet Novichok production in newspaper articles and a memoir.

The Soviet program was motivated in part by competition with the United States. Washington maintained its own stockpile of nerve agents during the Cold War and manufactured biological weapons until 1969, when President Richard M. Nixon dismantled the program. But the Kremlin pressed ahead, convinced that the Pentagon was continuing bioweapons research in secret. Finally, in 1992, newly installed Russian President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged the existence of the secret program to U.S. officials and reported that all Soviet bioweapons had been destroyed.

In the years immediately following the Cold War, securing and dismantling Soviet weapons of mass destruction united Americans and Russians in a common cause[9]. The United States helped Russia build incinerators for destroying its chemical weapons, and it sponsored programs that paired former Soviet bioweapons scientists with Western companies to keep them employed during the country’s economic transition.

[Key allies back Britain in blaming Moscow for chemical attack[10]]

Such U.S.-Russian technical cooperation began to wane after Putin’s election as president, and it collapsed after the Russian strongman won a second term in 2012. Yet, even during the Yeltsin years, Russia refused to grant ­access to key weapons sites, including four biodefense laboratories run by the Russian military and perpetually sealed off from outside visitors, former U.S. officials said.

“We were always curious: Were they embarrassed to let us in because of the shape of their labs? Or were they hiding something?” said Laura Holgate, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama on preventing biological, chemical and nuclear terrorism.

Holgate allowed that Russia’s reluctance also may have reflected a “paranoia about what the U.S. might be learning” about the country’s military capabilities. In any case, she said, it became clear over time that Putin intended to preserve some Soviet-era capabilities for use in very specific situations. One of these was assassination — the killing of the Kremlin’s opponents using methods that were dramatic, yet allowed Moscow to plausibly deny culpability. Another was crowd control: the use of controversial “knockout” chemicals to incapacitate individuals involved in hostage standoffs and other mass disturbances.

Officials familiar with Russia’s program said the expanded activity at military labs may be partly aimed at honing those capabilities, giving Putin a variety of tools for dealing with adversaries while seeking to avoid the most flagrant violations of Russia’s treaty obligations.

“That would be in line with behavior that we’ve been seeing for years,” Holgate said.

Satellite evidence

Whatever the explanation, the buildup is striking. Data collected by Zilinskas and Mauger includes contract documents, ­Russian-language reports and aerial imagery that shed light on a dramatic expansion at the four secret Defense Ministry laboratories and numerous government-run civilian research centers across the country.

At one military complex at Yekaterinburg — the scene of an accidental release[11] of anthrax spores in 1979 that is said to have killed 100 workers and townspeople — satellite images show clusters of newly built, warehouse-size industrial buildings dotting a walled campus. Renovations can be observed in older buildings that in Soviet times were factories for mass-producing bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax.

At the 33rd Central Research Test Institute at Shikhany — formerly a “closed” Russian military city on the Volga River in southwest Russia — records point to a recent spending spree for specialized equipment such as freeze-drying machines used in microbial production. Lab officials are shown soliciting bids for repairs to a wind tunnel, the type used in testing aerosolized bacteria and viruses, as well as upgrades to an area of bermed storage pens that the researchers say are probably intended for open-air testing involving explosives.

Wind tunnels and outdoor testing facilities can be used legitimately to develop defenses against biological and chemical attacks. Indeed, the Pentagon employs similar equipment at its biodefense research facilities in Maryland and Utah. But Zilinskas and Mauger say the Russian expansion invites a higher level of scrutiny in light of the explicit calls by Russian leaders for work on novel kinds of weapons, including “genetic” ones.

After Putin’s essay in 2012, several senior military officials, including the defense minister at the time, Anatoly Serdyukov, publicly endorsed Putin’s appeal for new kinds of weapons and promised to start building them, the researchers note. Serdyukov specifically pledged to incorporate “genetic” research in creating Russia’s next-generation arsenals.

“We noted the numerous high-level calls for the development of biotechnology-based weapons in Russia, without further specification,” Zilinskas and Mauger write. At minimum, the vagueness of such statements potentially opens the door for any military official or “ambitious scientist” to lobby for a chance to develop a new kind of weapon — with the implicit blessing of top Russian officials, they write.

“When taken in conjunction with the [military’s] apparent support for the development of ‘genetic’ weapons, these statements erode normative barriers toward biological weapons in Russia,” the authors say.

Anton Troianovski in Moscow contributed to this report.

Read more:

With Putin’s reelection, expect rising tensions with the West[12]

The long, terrifying history of Russian dissidents being poisoned abroad[13]

Putin vows retaliation for British sanctions over poisoning case[14]

References

  1. ^ Putin: Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses (www.washingtonpost.com)
  2. ^ exposure to Novichok (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ book (www.rienner.com)
  4. ^ Biosecurity in Putin’s Russia (www.amazon.com)
  5. ^ Britain’s top diplomat accuses Putin of being behind nerve-agent attack (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ Syrian use of chemical weapons (www.washingtonpost.com)
  7. ^ What is Novichok? Russia’s nerve agent has Soviet roots (www.washingtonpost.com)
  8. ^ former Soviet weapons scientist (www.voanews.com)
  9. ^ a common cause (armscontrolcenter.org)
  10. ^ Key allies back Britain in blaming Moscow for chemical attack (www.washingtonpost.com)
  11. ^ accidental release (nsarchive2.gwu.edu)
  12. ^ With Putin’s reelection, expect rising tensions with the West (www.washingtonpost.com)
  13. ^ The long, terrifying history of Russian dissidents being poisoned abroad (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ Putin vows retaliation for British sanctions over poisoning case (www.washingtonpost.com)