Month: July 2021

How Blizzard’s reputation collapsed in just 3 years Blizzard

Blizzard's recently publicized sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by the state of California is just the latest in a long string of controversies. Between massive layoffs, numerous reports on its toxic workplace, and highly anticipated launches reportedly sabotaged by mismanagement, the last few years have dramatically altered the perception of what used to be PC gaming's darling developer.

This timeline covers Blizzard's most notable controversies and high-profile departures since 2018. These events help paint a broad picture of Blizzard's recent turmoil over the past few years and can also give some useful context in its changing corporate culture and the recent allegations against it.


WoW players are pissed about Battle for Azeroth

The first half of 2018 was relatively quiet for Blizzard, but shortly after Battle for Azeroth launched in August, World of Warcraft players were up in arms. Early in its beta, players began complaining about new systems like Azerite Armor being too confusing and unrewarding, but it seemed like Blizzard wasn't making any positive adjustments based on that feedback. Players were upset by the non-existent communication from the development team about long standing issues. By September, things were so bad that game director Ion Hazzikostas issued an apology to the community and promised to be more communicative and fix Battle for Azeroth's many problems.

Mike Morhaime steps down after 27 years 

Morhaime had been with Blizzard since he co-founded the studio in 1991. Replacing him as president was J. Allen Brack, who had previously served as World of Warcraft's executive producer. 

Diablo Immortal's surprise announcement outrages fans 

It was an enormous misstep to position the Diablo Immortal reveal as the big finale to BlizzCon.

There was a lot of pressure on Blizzard to wow audiences at BlizzCon 2018. World of Warcraft fans were still upset about the state of Battle for Azeroth, and its developers rolled out an ambitious roadmap of updates in an attempt to right its course. But as the keynote presentation came to a close, players thought they were about to witness the reveal of the much-anticipated Diablo 4. But as soon as principal designer Wyatt Cheng mentioned “mobile,” you could feel the excitement evaporate.

It was an enormous misstep to position the Diablo Immortal reveal as the big finale to BlizzCon. Players who had been eagerly awaiting a proper Diablo PC game felt tricked. It seemed like Blizzard was more interested in chasing trends rather than giving its audience what it wanted. Things only got worse when Cheng later asked a booing audience “What, do you guys not have phones?” after clarifying that Immortal would not release on PC. That would later become an enormous meme wielded by bitter fans.

Blizzard unexpectedly kills Heroes of the Storm's pro scene 

In the month following BlizzCon 2018, things were beginning to quiet down until December 14 when Blizzard announced that it was trimming Heroes of the Storm's development team and outright killing its esports league just before its 2019 season. With no prior warning, entire teams, commentators, and support staff were suddenly left jobless.

Though it wasn't surprising that Heroes of the Storm was underperforming, fans and pros were infuriated that Blizzard would wait so late in the year to break the news. Even worse, teams and insiders weren't even given advance notice—they found out that their Heroes of the Storm careers were over at the same time as everyone else.

Below: A tweet from former Tempo Storm head coach lamenting Blizzard cancelling its HotS esports league.

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Former Blizzard employee says HR did nothing to stop racist bullying

In early January, former Blizzard employee Julian Murillo-Cuellar posted a lengthy statement on Twitter detailing the bullying and discrimination he faced while working on the Hearthstone esports team starting in 2016. Murillo-Cuellar alleged that another employee repeatedly made racist comments and harassed him, and any attempts to resolve the issue with HR and management were largely ignored. Murillo-Cuellar also claimed that he was retaliated against for speaking out and even received negative performance reviews that described him as “not a team player” and “difficult to work with.” Shortly later, Murillo-Cuellar says he began suffering from anxiety attacks and major depression and was placed on medical leave in 2017. When he was later placed on unpaid leave in 2018, Murillo-Cuellar handed in his resignation.

Following the controversy, Blizzard issued a statement that didn't specifically comment on Murillo-Cuellar's accusations but reiterated its commitment to “inclusive and respectful work environment.”

Blizzard employees protest in 2021 after it was accused of fostering a toxic, sexist workplace. (Image credit: Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Activision Blizzard lays off over 800 employees 

Activision Blizzard set financial records in 2018. Despite this, CEO Bobby Kotick announced in a February 2019 earnings call that his company would be laying off around 8% of its employees. This amounted to an estimated 800 people across Activision, Blizzard, and King losing their jobs.

The contrast of significant layoffs against a backdrop of record financial performance drew widespread condemnation from all corners of the industry. In a Kotaku report, employees expressed outrage at Kotick's comments and the chaotic nature of the layoffs—which were reportedly much more extensive than anyone was anticipating. Departments like IT and esports were reportedly “gutted,” while core development teams were largely untouched.

Over the following year, Activision Blizzard sparked even more criticism when it began rehiring for many of the roles which it had initially cut, culminating in a 2020 announcement that it still needed to hire 2,000 employees to meet new demands. 

Frank Pearce was an crucial behind-the-scenes developer since Blizzard’s founding. (Image credit: Blizzard)

Frank Pearce steps down 

In July, another Blizzard co-founder announced he was leaving the company after 28 years. Though one of the less visible faces of Blizzard, Pearce led development on Warcraft 3 and was an executive producer on WoW's Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria expansions. 

Blizzard bans Hearthstone pro over “liberate Hong Kong” message 

Many questioned if Blizzard’s decision was motivated by a desire to stay in the good graces of the Chinese government.

Blizzard created international outrage when it suspended Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for calling for Hong Kong's liberation from the Chinese government during a post-match interview at the Asia Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament. At the time, Hong Kong was enveloped in chaos as hundreds of thousands of protestors fought against an extradition bill that would allow for the transfer of criminals to mainland China. Blitzchung was initially suspended for a year and stripped of his prize winnings. The two Taiwanese casters who were present during the interview were also fired.

Though Blitzchung did break one of the rules of the tournament, Blizzard's decision to suspend him drew widespread condemnation and became a national news story. Employees staged a walk-out in protest of the decision while outraged players organized boycotts across all of Blizzard's games. Major Hearthstone casters resigned, sponsors like Mitsubishi pulled their support from future events, and American politicians penned a bi-partisan letter condemning Blizzard's actions. Subsequent Hearthstone tournaments stopped conducting player interviews or using webcams to show players after teams held up signs supporting Hong Kong and Blitzchung, while human rights advocacy groups called on Blizzard to overturn the suspension.

Many questioned if Blizzard's decision was motivated by a desire to stay in the good graces of the Chinese government. Over the years, China had become an enormous part of Blizzard's business, but government regulations are notoriously fickle, and many accused Blizzard of silencing free speech in order to protect its business interests.

(Image credit: Future)

Free speech protests take over BlizzCon 2019 

Tensions and outrage over Blitzchung's ban grew in severity for weeks before spilling over into BlizzCon 2019. Long before the doors opened to the Anaheim Convention Center, hundreds had gathered outside in protest.

Just before the keynote presentation began, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack took the stage to apologize for how Blizzard reacted. Brack initially didn't specify whether Blizzard would undo its suspension, but in a PC Gamer interview later that day at the event Brack confirmed that Blizzard would be reducing Blitzchung's ban to just six months. The two Taiwanese casters would still be fired, however. Brack denied claims that Blizzard's decision was influenced by its Chinese publishing partner NetEase. 


Warcraft 3: Reforged is a disaster

First announced during BlizzCon 2018, Warcraft 3: Reforged was an ambitious remaster that would update the original 2002 real-time strategy game with HD graphics, re-recorded cutscenes, as well as an upgraded user interface and world editor. But when it finally launched in January of 2020, Reforged had failed to deliver on many of its promises.

Maps looked significantly worse than the 2018 reveal, the re-recorded voice overs were scraped entirely, and—most upsetting of all—features that had been present in Warcraft 3 for decades, like clans and offline play, were missing. The new EULA also gave Blizzard full ownership of any mods that were made in Reforged, which greatly upset Warcraft 3's modding community. And because Warcraft 3: Reforged effectively replaced Warcraft 3 entirely, there was no way to go back and play the original without buying a physical copy. 

Players were incensed. The outrage grew so enormous that Brack finally addressed it a few weeks later and apologized for how thoroughly Blizzard missed the mark and promised that it would keep working to improve the game. A Bloomberg report released in 2021 claims that much of Warcraft 3: Reforged's failings were due to mismanagement and Activision aggressively cutting its budget late in development, forcing the team to abandon features entirely.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Hearthstone pro claims he's been blacklisted by Blizzard after his wife was laid off 

In June of 2020, a popular Hearthstone player named Savjz claimed he had been blacklisted from competing in official tournaments because his wife, Christina Mikkonen, was one of the 800 employees laid off in 2019 and had publicly criticized Blizzard multiple times on social media. According to Mikkonen, Savjz was blacklisted after she criticized a community manager on Twitter for advertising a job opening back in July.

Blizzard responded to the accusations by clarifying that Savjz was not blacklisted but hadn't been invited because he didn't agree to a “request for confidentiality” about information regarding the tournament. Savjz claimed Blizzard didn't want him sharing information with Mikkonen, which he refused. Blizzard eventually apologized to Savjz and the two reached an agreement where he could participate in future events.

Alex Afrasiabi quietly leaves Blizzard 

Afrasiabi is one of the few people directly named in the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard.

As one of the biggest faces on World of Warcraft's development team, Alex Afrasiabi's sudden departure from Blizzard in June was initially a mystery. He had served as creative director for a number of years and had reportedly led development on Titan, Blizzard's cancelled MMO. Blizzard made no statement about his departure, with players only noticing it after Afrasiabi updated his LinkedIn page to confirm he was no longer with the company.

Afrasiabi is one of the few people directly named in the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, which alleges he repeatedly groped and harassed women employees. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirmed to Kotaku in July 2021 that Afrasiabi had been terminated “for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.” 

Afrasiabi also had NPCs named after him in World of Warcraft, which were removed in 2021.

Afrasiabi also had NPCs named after him in World of Warcraft, which were removed in 2021. (Image credit: Blizzard)

Blizzard employees share spreadsheet documenting salaries in protest over low pay 

In August of last year, Bloomberg reported that Blizzard employees were anonymously sharing their salaries after discovering large wage disparities. According to sources that spoke to Bloomberg, an internal company survey revealed that many employees were unsatisfied with their pay—especially in contrast to how much Activision Blizzard executives like Kotick make. To advocate for better pay, employees created a spreadsheet and began documenting their salary and recent pay increases. 


Activision Blizzard hires controversial Trump and Bush-era government officials 

Activision Blizzard raised eyebrows earlier this year when it hired Frances Townsend, who had served as a homeland security advisor to president George W. Bush where she became one of the biggest political faces in America's War on Terror. Townsend also served as a national security analyst for various news organizations, and has also been criticized for defending acts of torture like waterboarding and sleep deprivation. Townsend would serve as Activision Blizzard's chief compliance officer, working to ensure its games didn't run afoul of government regulators in foreign countries.

A few weeks later, Activision Blizzard also appointed Brian Bulatao, a former Trump administrator, as chief administration officer. As Kotaku reported, Bulatao became the subject of public scrutiny after a probe into Trump's firing of an independent watchdog in the State Department. In testimony during a probe into his firing, that watchdog claimed he was fired without cause and Bulatao “tried to bully” him on multiple occasions when investigating the Trump administration. 

Jeff Kaplan quits Blizzard 

In April, Overwatch lead designer and Blizzard vice president Jeff Kaplan announced he was leaving the company after 19 years. The announcement was shocking, as Kaplan had become the face of Overwatch and was working on its sequel. 

WoW players cancelled their subscriptions and used their remaining time to stage in-game protests after news of the lawsuit broke. (Image credit: Blizzard)

Activision Blizzard is sued for discrimination and sexual harassment 

Over 2,500 employees signed an open letter condemning Activision Blizzard leadership and demanding accountability.

In July, The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing revealed it had filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard claiming that employees had faced “constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances” due to a “frat boy workplace culture.” The lawsuit was the result of a two-year investigation, in which the department claims to have uncovered many instances where employees—particularly women and minorities—were discriminated against, sexually harassed, and denied opportunities that were instead handed to less qualified candidates.

The lawsuit includes anonymous testimonies, including one instance where an employee allegedly committed suicide on a work trip after being subject by sexual harassment from a manager. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and former creative director Alex Afrasiabi were two managers named directly in the suit. It alleges that Afrasiabi sexually harassed several women while Brack allowed toxic behavior to fester within the company and did little to stop it.

Activision Blizzard leadership vehemently denied the lawsuit and called its claims “meritless,” which outraged many current and former employees who felt that they were being silenced. In the week following news of the lawsuit, dozens of former and current employees began speaking up and sharing their own experiences of harassment and toxicity at the company. Over 2,500 employees signed an open letter condemning Activision Blizzard leadership and demanding accountability, and employees also staged a walkout in protest

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Adata XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB SSD review Adata XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB

The PCI Express Gen 4 interface is rapidly approaching default status, especially if you’re talking new as opposed to installed hardware. Intel’s latest desktop and mobile CPUs support it, AMD having jumped on the PCIe 4.0 wagon back in 2019. The Xbox Series X/S and Playstation 5 also support the standard.

As for solid-state drives, we’re now well through the early adopter stage, with numerous high-end PCIe 4.0 drives available, plus several value drives. The new ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite, sampled here in 2TB configuration and M.2 2280 format, falls into the latter category. But where some Gen 4 drives achieve a lower price point by using cheap and not always terribly cheerful QLC or quad-level flash memory, ADATA has managed to price TLC or triple-level flash memory into the bargain, in this case, 96-layer Micron chips.

Adata XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB Specs

Capacity: 2TB
Interface: PCIe 4.0 x4
Controller: Silicop Motion SM2267
NAND: Micron 96-layer TLC
DRAM cache: 1GB
Rated seq. read: 3,900 MB/s
Rated seq. write: 3,200 MB/s
Rated IOPS read: 490K
Rated IOPS write: 540K
Endurance: 1,480TB
Warranty: 5 years
Price: $270 (£256)

Without wishing to instruct anyone in the fine art of orally applying a vacuum to an oocyte, as you add cell levels and therefore data density to NAND flash memory, you lose performance and endurance. QLC is slower and doesn’t last as long as TLC before wearing out. Much of that can be masked with tricks like running a portion of the drive in pseudo-SLC mode for improved performance, as is indeed the case with the Gammix S50 Lite. But you’ll catch up with the underlying performance of whatever flash memory you’re using eventually. More on which in a moment.

Anyway, how has ADATA pulled off TLC at this kind of price point? The answer, at least in part, is a more affordable PCIe Gen 4 controller chip. The original Gammix S50 was a high-end PCIe Gen 4 drive with the Phison controller. This ‘Lite’ model is cheaper and powered by the new Silicon Motion SM2267 controller.

It’s the low-cost option from SM’s latest range of PCIe 4.0 controllers. For starters, it’s fabbed on a cheaper 28nm production node, where fancier controllers are typically manufactured on 12nm or thereabouts. It’s also limited to four memory channels and two ARM Cortex R5 CPU cores. The SM2267’s SM sibling, for instance, is on 12nm, has eight memory channels and rocks four Cortex R8 cores.

(Image credit: Adata)

That said, this new budget PCIe 4.0 controller is faster than SM’s previous-gen high-end PCIe 3.0 controller, the SM2263, with 1,200MT/s peak performance to the older chip’s 800MT/s. What’s more, the increasing density of flash chips means you can achieve large capacities with just four channels, in this case fully 2TB. One other area of arguable corner-cutting is RAM allocation. The ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite gets 1GB of DDR4 cache where you might expect 2GB for a drive with 2TB of capacity. Still, a bit less DRAM is much better than no DRAM at all.

For the record, the official performance claims include sequential throughput of 3,900MB/s for reads and 3,200MB/s and for writes, while the 4K random access is pegged at 490K read IOPS and 540K write IOPS. Overall, then, the philosophy here is actually pretty straightforward. ADATA is aiming to achieve something akin to premium eight-channel PCIe Gen 3 performance, drives like the previous-gen WD Black SN750 or the Kioxia Exceria Plus, with a lower cost quad-channel PCIe Gen 4 drive.

Rounding out the speeds, feeds and specs is 1,480TB of write endurance, which should be plenty for all but a tiny fringe of ultra-intense users and a healthy five-year warranty. Physically, this 80mm M.2 drive gets a thin, flat heat spreader which is claimed to reduce temps by up to 20%. All told, you’re looking at a cost of around three quarters that of a high-end PCIe Gen 4 drive with a more expensive eight-channel controller. So, it’s a pretty attractive proposition on paper.

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Adata XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB performance

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Adata XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB performance

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But what about, you know, the performance? Peak performance in the most forgiving benchmark, namely CrystalDiskMark 7, is in line with the claims, notching up 3.9GB/s reads and 3.2GB/s writes. The ATTO and AS SSD metrics are a little lower, but either way, the numbers are very much competitive with a high-end PCIe 3.0 drive. 

We've compared this drive to the Samsung 980 1TB ($110), Silicon Power US70 2TB ($350), and the fastest SSD around, the WD_Black SN850 1TB ($200). This covers other budget offerings as well as pure speed alternatives.

As for 4K random access, again it depends somewhat on the application used. But the broad-brush conclusion is that the ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB returns if anything numbers slightly above expectation if not at all remarkable, at 71MB/s for reads and in the low to mid 200s for writes.

Temperatures are very well managed, with a peak of just 53°C in testing. The well-managed temps imply that the drop from 1.1GB/s initial internal file copy speed to a fluctuating range between 300MB/s to 500MB/s after around 350GB of data is related to exhausting the SLC cache rather than thermal throttling. However, 3,300MB/s to 500MB/s is rather lower than we would normally expect for TLC flash, so that aspect is inconclusive.

(Image credit: Adata)

Overall, the ADATA Gammix S50 Lite 2TB delivers pretty much on the initial proposition. It largely does perform in line with a high-end PCIe 3.0 drive. The low peak operating temps are impressive too, if arguably academic given the one obvious weak area, namely sustained performance. Still, if you’re looking for a 2TB SSD with a proper five-year warranty and no performance nasties, this is worth popping on your shortlist, provided you can find it cheap enough for the proposition to hang together. Otherwise, check out our guide to the best SSDs for gaming

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Crapshoot: The Russian Leisure Suit Larry with a ‘sexy’ Tetris minigame Tetris, but with sex

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, a Russian adventure that's not as porny as it sounds, but whose surrealism might make you gag in a very different way…

Sorry. Normally I try to find something interesting and a little bit unusual for you. This week though, I'm afraid we're going to have to resort to that most tired and cliched of gaming staples: secret agents struggling with sexual inadequacy after being bitten on the penis by a poisoned penguin.

And they say zombies are overplayed.

So… yeah. GAG: The Impotent Mystery. It's a rare example of a Russian adventure that got an international release, but only technically. It seems that there were only about 20 copies sent out—three for the Dutch, seven for the English, nine for the Germans, and one for the Dark Lord on his dark throne, in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie. If more people have come into contact with any sticky part of it, it's because one of its minigames was cut out and released as freeware—an erotic Tetris clone. Erotic as in naked people for blocks, not sexy blocks. Unless you're into that.

Nothing like that happens in GAG of course. There doesn't even seem to be any actual nudity in the English version, though apparently there is some in the original Russian one. (Edit: Apparently not, though there was a soft-core expansion—no comment—called Gary's Vacation.)

It's… ah… an odd adventure, to put it mildly. The title screen alone is head-tilting, as a naked woman in silhouette slides back and forth over a line, before being knocked off it by the falling game logo and turning into a waving penguin. With me so far? Good. It won't last.

From there, we find out that the main character, Gary Tusker, is a member of an agency charged with, and I quote, the Prevention of Sexual And Religious Perversions. From there, a spooky introduction more suitable for a horror game kicks off, with graves and zombies and scantily clad ladies being beamed around… and then talking to demon creatures about plans to kidnap a girl called the Marquese. Then our hero wakes up and has a hallucination based on Doom in which he blows up his telephone with a rocket launcher, and also is a cut-rate virginal Fabio whose hobbies include using a telescope to peek at and film girls in other buildings, and porn. And that is all.

That is just the introduction! Watch it and the first area here.

It gets weirder. Go to bed, and you can sleep, a narrator intoning that “Gary slept. But he knew he should wake up at the first click of the mouse. That was a habit developed over the years.” Instead, it takes a couple, after which he groans “OK, stop that clicking, I'm up already!” You can also opt to have a wet dream, which consists of him dreaming about a race between some racing cars, tribal warriors, elephants, rhinos and buses. 

The TV—tuned to Horny News, as if there's any other kind—has an announcement about the game's designer being declared the Sexiest Man In The World. His name incidentally is pronounced “Cop off” by at least the English dub. Narrative determinism, ho? Maybe! Then there's a mini-game where you stab flies on a table with a fork because… yummy protein?

Also, he owns these…

Head… hurting…

The actual plot kicks off with a call from Gary's boss. “If I never hear from you again, scumbag, it'll be too soon,” she growls, despite having phoned him. She assigns him to the Marquese case, responding to his question about whether she's hot with, “What's it to you, limpo?” Also, the phone/fax machine burps out print-outs because… I don't know. On the wall, flies are having sex. One of them poops on Gary's diploma. You also have to cook the flies you already gathered in a microwave.

Oh, and this is in the toilet. If you get the reference, award yourself a point.

Anyway, all detectives have helpers. Gary’s is Lao, the kind of Chinese stereotype that… oh, I have no words. Not only does he have a ‘comedy’ accent, his face has been run through Kai’s Power Goo or similar just to really get its racism on. Anyway, he swaps voyeur porn for items, including “North Korean Passport”, “Globe Of Taiwan” and “Huge Pack Of Dodgy Second Hand Luminous Condoms.” What he actually provides are a gynaecologist’s ID and some house keys. You can also flick through a porn mag where the topless ladies are censored by a penguin and I think I just went insane.


Yep. That was it. Hurt less than expected. I can now hear fuchsia.

Wow. Even the caption I wrote refuses to be associated with that picture.

Heading out to what I vaguely remember being an assignment, Gary finds himself at a spooky castle with en suite teleport hole to THE FUTURE. Blue portal in. Orange portal out. It reminds me of something, but I can't put my finger on exactly what.

You're then mugged by a guy in a robot mech who will only let you into the castle if you prove you're a member of the military Corps of “Ginaecologists” using that convenient ID from earlier. Confused? You should see some of the stuff I'm leaving out. Like the flying turkey in Gary's microwave. I'd mention it, but it would be a distraction.

(Image credit: Noviy Disk)

Or how about that minigame? Yes, you obviously need to match up the rutting couples. It's tough going though, and you don't know exactly what the game wants you to match up. As with Tetris, the drop rate is brutal, and you need to get a seriously high score to win an item you need to finish the game. 

Unlike Tetris, not winning ultimately results in the completion of an evil scheme, because past a certain point in the game a bug means that you're not allowed to play it any more.

Nnnngh. I've never been drunk, but this is what I imagine it would be like to play Myst after a whole crate of absinthe. The castle isn't as overtly wacky as the apartment, but it's still got levers that detect your mouse pointer and lock you out, codes written under mats that trip you up while you're standing on them, random military equipment just sitting around, and of course, this professional blockade…

In fact, I'm just going to copy a few things from the walkthrough I found myself using after about five minutes. I think the snippets say more than an attempt to explain ever could.

“When you wake up, you are facing a guillotine and only have your iberium in inventory. Quickly look down at your feet–you notice a candle burning the rope that holds the guillotine up. You now must spit accurately to dampen the candle. When you have success, you are taken a little closer to it. Trial and error will get you there. Finally, you reach out and put out the flame between your finger. You then realize you weren't even tied up!”


“Use the lingerie on the area below to make a bungee cord. You have to calculate how many bras and panties to use to reach the motorboat without overshooting it. It has an instant do-over if you fail, so don't worry about experimenting. You are given a drawing board schematic. There are three combinations that work: 3 bras and 5 panties, 4 bras and 3 panties, or 5 bras and 1 panty.”

And let's not forget the finale:

“Pick up the spell book. The Marquise appears, ready to do you in. Quickly throw the spell book in the fire. The evil is banished, the castle and the Marquise destroyed. This leads to the first end sequence cutscene of a war machine hoedown!”

Incidentally, they're Satanists. Or something. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. I'm just grateful that at this point, both of the game CDs were suddenly snapped in half by an unseen force you cannot prove does not exist.

GAG only officially came out in Russia and the Netherlands (where this English dubbed version also hails from) though I've been told there was a German release as well. The scary part? Crazy as is it is, GAG did well enough to get at least one sequel. I shall repeat that. There is a sequel and it is real!

I think I'd rather eat the game discs. Both at once, as a hyper-crunchy ham sandwich. Only with a baguette instead of the CDs. I'd also like a Kit-Kat. Excuse me. Trip to the shops beckons.

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Halo Infinite’s bot names are kind of great Halo Infinite combat

It's a big deal for Halo that Halo Infinite's multiplayer includes bots. It's a first for the 20-year-old series, aside from the PvE Firefight mode that debuted with Halo ODST and the bots in a single game mode in Halo 5 called Warzone that was cool in theory, but also saddled with microtransactions. Bots being available in every multiplayer mode means Halo newcomers can practice against easier opponents, and players who love Capture the Flag but don't want to deal with other human beings online can just jam by themselves. I expected all of this going into Infinite's technical test, but I didn't expect the bot names to make me laugh out loud.

I didn't really consider the fact that Infinite's bots would even have names, but it makes sense in hindsight. The scoreboard would be pretty dull with human names on one side and 'Bot 1' 'Bot 2' 'Bot 3' 'Bot 4' on the other. 343 Industries also could've gone with character names from the Halo series, but they did something much better, putting together an eclectic pool of philosophers and historical figures, deep cut movie references and what I assume are in-jokes, but they work for me anyway.

Despite some of these bots being named after very smart people, they're not geniuses on the battlefield. On Friday 343 Industries kicked the difficulty up a notch, but the bots are still going to be a breeze for the average Halo player. Another difficulty level up the pole may provide a decent challenge. So far they're competent, for the most part, but sometimes they get a bit… confused.

Still, these names: they're great! Better than 99% of gamertags, that's for sure.

Here are my favorite Halo Infinite bots so far. I'm looking forward to meeting more. 

The philosophers and historical figures

  • 343 Parfit
  • 343 Locke
  • 343 Hume
  • 343 Aloysius
  • 343 Hobbes

The foods and movies that might also be completely different references

The goofballs

  • 343 Free Money
  • 343 Ritzy
  • 343 Beard
  • 343 Hundy

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I’m pleased to report that Halo Infinite’s needler whips ass Halo Infinite Needler

The needler never gets the respect it deserves. Halo fans have always raved about the Halo 1 pistol and the battle rifle, or the plasma sword or the Halo Reach grenade launcher or even the Covenant carbine, but dammit: I love the needler. And it looks like the combat designers for Halo Infinite do, too, because after a couple hours of hands-on with the multiplayer technical test, I think this might be the strongest the needler's ever been.

I love the tiktiktiktik sound it makes as it fires out a quick sequence of razorlike purple crystals. I love that it homes in a little bit, because I'm a bad shot. I love the excitement and tension of those needles building up to a critical mass where they explode, instantly killing my target. Firing the needler is making a bet that I'll land enough needles to flip its damage from puny to mighty, rewarding me with that purple cloud of death.

I'll admit that needler in Halo: Combat Evolved was a joke, though. Sure, you could use it in the campaign to blow up some grunts, but it took way too many needles to trigger an explosion on other Spartans in multiplayer. Three pistol shots in your head and you'd be toast, your needler still half full. In Halo 2 the needler wasn't much better by itself, but with the power of dual wielding it was fearsome: if you could get your hands on two needlers, you could pump a Spartan full of explosive purple in a blink.

Bungie really gave the needler the buff it deserved in Halo 3, making it strong enough to stand solo in a firefight. I'm sure there are Halo purists who hated that being killed by or using a weapon with homing powers, but that was just fine with me: it meant the needler was pretty much always sitting there on the map waiting for me when I wanted it.

I'm pretty sure the needler remained formidable in Halo Reach and Halo 4, but I don't remember if it was as good at tracking and as quick to hit its explosion point as it is in Halo Infinite. Infinite has a pretty quick time-to-kill, so I'm not sure if the needler really sticks out as unbalanced. But is it good? Oh yes, it's good.

Welcome back, you beautiful purple powerhouse.

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Uh oh, Halo Infinite campaign details are leaking from the tech test Master Chief

Get ready to dodge spoilers for the next four months, because Halo Infinite story details have already started to leak. Players checking out the first technical test flight for Halo Infinite on PC and Xbox have datamined a slew of story details from the multiplayer-exclusive preview build, and they're already starting to appear online.

343 Industries creative lead Joseph Staten confirmed on Twitter that some campaign files were “unintentionally included” in the build that went out to players and asked those who have seen them not to spoil the game for others. “Leaks like this are painful for the dev team and can ruin the campaign experience for everyone,” Staten tweeted.

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I've taken a look at a lot of what leaked and, honestly, Halo Infinite might be a difficult game to spoil. The info dump includes story beats and descriptions of objectives, most of which are hard to parse without context. After all, what we've previously seen of Infinite seems like a fresh start with mostly new characters on a new Halo ring. Also included is a list of achievement titles and weapons that we already know about or that you can probably guess based on earlier gameplay reveals. It's possible I dodged some groundbreaking revelation, though, so diehard Halo fans should probably bury their heads in the sand to be safe.

Halo community director Brian Jarrard advised people who have datamined the information that posting it on public channels will result in DMCA takedowns. “You run a very real risk of getting a takedown notice, which could result in a strike on certain platforms. If you have already posted content, we recommend removing it from your channel proactively,” he tweeted.

The most obvious places I can see this happening are YouTube and Twitter, both platforms that are swift to act on DMCA claims, so post at your own risk. Also, don't post a bunch of spoilers for a game that nobody can play for months, ya knuckleheads.

We've been playing the technical test ourselves and will be sharing some thoughts soon. What's there now is still pretty light (we've been shooting a lot of bots and running gun drills), but it definitely feels like next-gen Halo.

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Hexes never looked as beautiful as they do in the Hexoplanet trailer Hexoplanet screenshots

I'm not sure why a hex map is so instantly appealing to me, honestly—maybe it's a reminder of old D&D campaigns from my teen years where world maps were drawn on hexagonal graph paper instead of on a square grid. Hex maps just have an extra bit of wonder and mystery to them, I think. 

So when I see a hex map in a game I'm always interested, and that goes triple for the one shown in the trailer for Hexoplanet. Because, wow. It's beautiful.

In Hexoplanet, which is being developed by artist and engineer Max Gittel, “You take control over a robot civilization that recently achieved self-consciousness and needs to prepare a new planet for their masters, the humans.” As in games like Factorio and Satisfactory, you gather resources, build factories, produce products, manage logistics, research tech, and transport materials around the map to where they're needed most using trucks, trains, and boats.

Sounds fun, but mainly I'm just in awe of how beautiful this hexy world looks. I think it's the most beautiful hex world I've ever seen, in fact. Swampy marshes with little lily pads, chunky little ice floes floating off the coast, wheat fields, poofy trees, hexes stacked up to form plateaus and mountains, plus there's some really lovely shaders and atmospheric effects at play. Even the heavily industrialized areas somehow look beautiful, with little smokestacks pumping out adorable clouds of pollution and cargo ships churning through murky brown waters.

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And perhaps there's more to it than a beautiful hex world and a network of resource management. At the end of the trailer, self-replicating bot #392094343 takes a look at the label on its arm, which reads Property of Humans, and then gazes into the sky. Maybe we're in for a little robot revolution?

Hexoplanet is currently in development, with an “anticipated” release next year. 

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Valve says Steam Machines were ‘a good idea’ that helped make Steam Deck possible

Valve has not had great luck making hardware. The Steam Controller failed to revolutionize the controller scene despite its innovative design, the Steam Link worked well but was muscled out by a less-impressive app, and the ballyhooed Steam Machines basically faceplanted right out of the gate. The Index is an impressive unit, but hasn't sparked a meaningful uptick in VR adoption since its release.

We said earlier this month that Steam Machines could be seen as a cautionary tale for early proponents of the Steam Deck, Valve's upcoming handheld gaming device. But in an interview with IGN, Valve designers Greg Coomer, Lawrence Yang, and Scott Dalton took a different perspective, saying that the lessons learned from those earlier units were instrumental in making the Steam Deck possible.

“Steam Deck feels like the culmination of a lot of that earlier work,” Coomer said. “Steam Link has proven really valuable in establishing what it means to stream games from PCs. The Steam Controller was really valuable, it taught us a lot about what's necessary and valuable to a customer. So all those earlier products really feel like they've informed this one.”

One of the biggest obstacles facing Steam Machines, Dalton said, was the “chicken and egg problem” of games: Valve was trying to push into gaming on Linux (Steam Machines were Linux-based), but developers were reluctant to port their games to the OS without a critical mass of users, while gamers weren't inclined to make the switch because there weren't enough games. That's what prompted Valve to create Proton, a compatibility layer that enables Windows-based games to run on Linux. It works very well, and it means that relying on ports is no longer an issue. 

That's not actually great news for Linux diehards who want ports, as we saw earlier this week when a planned port of A Total War Saga: Troy was dropped because there's no real call for it anymore. But it's a major part of Valve's plan to achieve mainstream success for the Steam Deck.

“It was really important for us to be able to talk directly to developers and say, hey, look, the Steam Deck runs your game,” Yang said. “You don't have to port.”

“Steam Machines was a really good idea,” Coomer said. “The operating system wasn't quite there, the number of games you could play on the system wasn't quite there. Really, we've looked at a lot of what we've learned as boxes that we needed to check if we were ever going to talk to customers again about that category. We didn't really want to bring this device to customers until we felt it was ready and that all those boxes were checked, essentially. But definitely, doing that, I don't think we would have made as much progress on Steam Deck if we hadn't had that experience.”

A healthy library of games does seem like a pretty important feature for a gaming device, and Valve says that the Steam Deck has so far handled every game thrown at it, including games released this year. Whether that translates into success where Steam Machines failed remains to be seen, and one potential stumbling block could be supply issues: Steam Deck reservations are currently only available in the US, UK, EU, and Canada, yet the 64GB and 512GB units aren't expected to be available until sometime “after Q2 2022,” a full year from now.

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On behalf of PC gaming, sorry about all those cheaters in your console games Call of Duty: Warzone

Remember when we couldn't all play games together just because we owned different boxes? That stank. Multiplayer games are better when there are fewer boundaries between us and our friends, which is why I've celebrated the increasing popularity of crossplay in the biggest games out there.

In just a few short years, it's become almost assumed that a new multiplayer game will have crossplay. Even games that came out years before anyone was asking to cross the streams are getting in on the fun, including Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, Destiny 2, and even Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

Honestly, I find it incredible. It's still exciting to send an invite from a PC to a PlayStation and just see it work, as if this is how multiplayer gaming always should have been. But crossplay's proliferation isn't all good news. In many cases, console folks get a pretty raw deal. Not only do they have to deal with the superior precision of mouse and keyboard, but they also have to carry PC gaming's worst baggage: rampant cheating. In only a few short years, paranoia over who's aimbotting and who's legit in popular console shooters like Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legends has skyrocketed, and it's mostly thanks to PC players.

On behalf of PC gaming, sorry about all that.

hes_not_cheating_bro_love_to_see_it from r/CODWarzone

The open platform

There was a time when I didn't worry about cheaters in multiplayer games. I was 13, played more Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 than is reasonably healthy for an eighth-grader, and did it all on a PlayStation 3. Back then, cheaters (we called them all 'hackers') were basically the boogeyman. We had been thoroughly spooked by stories we'd heard and videos we'd seen of hackers running amok in CoD lobbies, but few of my friends had ever actually seen one.

That's how rare cheating used to be in the world of console gaming. Wrongdoers were definitely out there, but jailbreaking a console always seemed like too much trouble for your average middle school CoD fan. The walled garden of the console ecosystem insulated me from the place where all the real troublemakers hang out. On PC, aimbots and wallhacks are only ever a few clicks away. I learned that lesson fast when I jumped ship and got my first gaming rig in 2013.

When it comes to cheating in PC games, it's less a question of whether or not it happens and more of how badly cheaters affect the average player's experience. Almost every competitive shooter I've played—including Rainbow Six Siege, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, CS:GO and Overwatch—has a cheating problem, and they all center around the PC. If you group up with a rando using wallhacks, they're on PC. Domed by a dude that magically has zero recoil? Probably on a PC. Thankfully, in shooters with ranked modes like Siege or Overwatch, cheaters tend to naturally rise to the top skill brackets where only a small percentage of legitimate players will encounter them.

Cheating can start to feel rampant, in my experience, when matchmaking is less precise. This is where battle royale games stand out. With a minimum lobby of 60-150 players, battle royale tends to be a bit laxer about skill disparity. Less than a year after receiving crossplay, the Apex Legends community has reached new levels of unrest over Respawn's handling of cheaters and DDOS attacks. The perceived increase in cheating can be partially attributed to the game's increased popularity in 2021, but I suspect the batch of console players newly exposed to what's possible on PC has something to do with it, too.

random_loba_on_my_team_using_wallhacks_and_silent from r/apexlegends

Troubled waters

Of course, there's no better example right now of a crossplay game in turmoil than Call of Duty: Warzone. The free-to-play, 150-player battle royale has had a major cheating problem for almost as long as it's been out. It has also featured crossplay since day one, a first for Call of Duty when Modern Warfare launched in 2019. We've covered the multitude of ways that enterprising hackers have bypassed Activision's internal anti-cheat measures to cause mayhem. Warzone's massive popularity and its seemingly ineffective anti-cheat has created a perfect storm where the capabilities of cheaters seem endless and players are losing faith that conditions will ever improve.

Caught up in this storm are console players that are understandably frustrated that they wouldn't have to deal with so many cheaters if they could simply exclude PC players from crossplay matchmaking. “Apparently getting an anti-cheat is hard, so at least enable some sort of console-only cross-play. As just a temporary solution. The game is literally unplayable at the moment. We've seen moments in Warzone where cheating was rampant, but this time it feels like we're just outnumbered,” reads a post by user Sec0nd on the Warzone subreddit.

Players do have the option in Warzone to turn off crossplay altogether (as do console Apex players), but many don't want to give up the very real benefits of crossplay, like faster matchmaking. Others, like one Xbox Warzone player I spoke with, don't want to be cut off from the PlayStation friends they play with every night. For games with smaller playerbases, like the Switch version of Apex Legends, switching off crossplay may sometimes mean you can't play at all.

The price of crossplay, according to the console Warzone players I spoke with, is encountering three to five cheaters every night they play.

hacker_vs_the_ground_you_dont_even_need_to_aim_at from r/CODWarzone

“I think that cross-play in Call of Duty specifically is very well done,” user Sec0nd told me. “It's just a shame that the PC side of things is bringing in a lot of cheaters. And because there is no working anti-cheat it's pretty frustrating for console players to be forced into the same pool as the one that is bringing in all the cheaters.” Even turning off crossplay won't purge your lobbies entirely. Console players with money and determination can buy expensive (and undetectable) controller passthrough boxes that bring a limited number of cheats to native console play.

The severity of Warzone's cheating is exactly why PC-centric developers like Valve and Riot have tried so many tactics to thwart bad actors. Valve not only made its own ant-cheat, but it has also tried player-curated clip reviews. Most recently, CS:GO reinstated a paywall to play Competitive just to hit cheaters in their wallets.  Riot built an abnormally invasive anti-cheat program for its free-to-play FPS Valorant. Even though it's annoying that Vanguard wants to always be running (even when Valorant isn't), the results over the game's first year have been very impressive. Cheaters definitely exist, but Vanguard appears to cast a wide net that catches most in the act.

To play PC games is to accept some amount of vulnerability. It's the open platform, after all, and that comes with good and bad. I'm okay with that, but I feel weird about flipping on crossplay and dragging console players into the mud with the rest of us. Right now, PC cheaters are a hindrance our console peers are willing to put up with to play with friends, but the transition has been bumpy.

Sorry, again. And welcome to PC gaming.

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7 rare Magic cards you’ve probably never heard of Magic card Chandra

Under boxes of Christmas ornaments or trapped deep in the plastic of ancient Trapper Keepers you might find some of the rarest Magic: the Gathering cards. Over its years as the reigning king of collectible cardstock, Magic has always generated tales of the garage sale Black Lotus, the attic Mox Pearl, and the older brother's forgotten Ancestral Recall. 

But in the shadow of Magic’s nine most powerful cards is a murky realm of the unusual, the unobtainable, and the unknown. Let’s bring to light a few of the most interesting with some insight from Mark Rosewater, Magic’s head designer since 2003, Wizards of the Coast employee since 1995, and world-renowned artist.

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

1. The Garfield Event Cards 

Value: $5,000 – $15,000 or more
No. printed: Varies, between nine and 220 depending on the card.

Being the father of Magic comes with its benefits, and Richard Garfield has harnessed them to create a few special cards over the years. Starting with the first card, Proposal, in 1993, Garfield had a few copies made with special art he commissioned from Quinton Hoover. In one of the nerdiest proposals ever, he slipped a single copy into his deck, and then didn’t draw it until the fourth game to be able to propose to then-girlfriend Lily Wu. 

PC Gamer: Over the years a number of cards have been made for Richard Garfield’s life events, with the most recent known being Phoenix Heart in 2014. What does it say about Magic that these kinds of promotional, arguably indulgent-and-fun cards can be so memorable to some fans?

Mark Rosewater, head designer: Having designed thousands and thousands of cards over the years, I’ve come to see the Magic card as a canvas capable of creating all sorts of artistic expressions. Yes, they can be game pieces, but they can be much more than that. Richard, for example, used it as a means of celebration to publicly acknowledge events that were important to him. I think this struck a chord with the Magic community because it reminds all of us that the game is more than just an activity we participate in, but a means by which we can create a larger community that adds to the richness of our lives.

Has anyone else done something similar?

When my twins were born, I announced it online with a card that I’d made. I didn’t print it like Richard did, but I did share my news with the audience through the medium of a Magic card. (It was the world’s first and only split creature card.) I have likewise heard a lot of stories from fans about how they, or sometimes their friends or family, made their announcements in the form of a Magic card. There seems to be something universal in sharing news through the format of something you love.

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

2. 1996 World Champion Card

Value: $17,500 (sold in 2001 to private collector)
No. printed: 1 (rest of the sheet and printing plates destroyed afterwards)

Back in the early days of Magic’s tournament scene, just after the birth of its Pro Tour (now the Players Tour), the third World Championship was to be held at the Wizards of the Coast headquarters in Seattle in the summer of '96. Out of a field of 125 players, relatively unknown Australian Tom Chanpheng took down the heavily favored Mark Justice to win, earning himself a trophy with a one-of-a-kind card embedded in it. 

With the 1996 World Championships, we got a corresponding 1996 World Champion card. But never again. Were there ever any plans to continue this trend in the following years? 

I never knew of any plans to make another one and I was the person who designed the 1996 World Champion card. I believe it was just done as a one-of promotional event for that specific tournament. I did design one other unique only-one-exists-in-the-world card for a Japanese tournament center. The card was called the Shichifukujin Dragon.

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

3. Summer Magic (Summer Magic Hurricane) 

Value: $10,000
No. printed: Unknown, most product was recalled and destroyed

Riding high on the smash sales success of the game in '93, Magic had ordered another printing of its core set of cards, called Revised. But Revised had some problems, including an incorrect picture for Serendib Efreet, washed out colors, and it even sparked protests over satanic imagery. In an attempt to fix these issues, a new print run was started in the Summer of '94. Despite the intended function of the print run, it came back with a fresh set of mistakes, extra dark inks. The most famous of these was the green card Hurricane printed as a blue card.

There’s always a tension between making things accessible, making things exciting to collect, balancing them for play, and creating fun.

Mark Rosewater

With the printing issues that surrounded Summer Magic in 1994, a lot of product got recalled to be destroyed, and although some clearly made it out there. Legend says that some was given out to Wizards employees. Are there still boxes of Summer Magic floating around? 

This is before my time, but the story as I’ve heard it was the cards were printed at our printer in Europe, so no cards, to my knowledge (although again, before my time), were ever specifically in the Wizards of the Coast Renton office or handed out to employees. I do know of a fellow employee who collected a full set of Summer Magic, but he did that on his own and didn’t acquire them through work.

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

4. Portal Three Kingdoms (Imperial Seal) 

Value: $1100
No. printed: Small print run.

The Portal sets were all designed as introductory sets, with the rules of Magic simplified to ease new players in. This trend continued with Portal Three Kingdoms, which was created for the Asian market as a retelling of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. These facts made the size of the print run small, and only a marginal amount of English language booster packs made it to Australia and New Zealand. Years later, in 2005, Portal cards were made tournament legal in both Vintage and Legacy, and a few cards like Imperial Seal became extremely expensive and sought-after components of top decks, with Imperial Seal acting as extra copies of Vampiric Tutor

With cards like Imperial Seal and Imperial Recruiter in Portal: Three Kingdoms not being tournament-legal at first, was it a surprise to see them become rare, valuable cards?

They were designed as introductory products for beginners to learn Magic, so we had no plans for them to be tournament legal. We did playtest them, but not with the same kind of rigor we do for a tournament-legal product. At the time we made them, we thought some Magic players might want them from a novelty standpoint, but didn’t foresee how sought-after they would become, again because we never thought they’d have tournament relevance.

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

5. The “Guru” Lands 

Value: $450—$650
No. printed: Limited promo

Mid 1999 saw a new promotional program aimed at recruiting players to become “Gurus” that would teach new players how to play. Alongside the exceptionally goofy marketing the program provided paperwork and intro decks, and earned each Guru points that would get you basic lands with unique art. With how short of a time the program existed and the rarity of the unique art, this set of five cards would become desirable status symbols for everything from collectors to tournament players.

The Guru program, with its system of Guru points, seemed like it was set up for larger things but never quite got there. Was there ever the intent to introduce more rewards or promotional cards for the program before it folded in 2001? What made the program fold in the end?

I believe the Guru program was created first and then when the team was looking for incentives to encourage people to join they went to a popular well, making Magic cards with unique art. I don’t know if there were any plans to do follow-up cards. I personally never heard of any such plans, but it wasn’t something I worked directly on. I don’t know specifically why the program stopped, but experience from working at Wizards for 25 years is that it wasn’t accomplishing its goals.

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

6. HarperPrism Book Promotional Cards (Mana Crypt)

Value: $320
No. printed: Limited promo

With Magic’s success came the beginning of a new series of novels exploring the story behind the setting for the game. Before they were published, a promotional tie-in was dreamed up, and five unique cards were created. Inside the back of each novel was a mail-in form that could net you the appropriate card for the book. Most of the cards were pretty bad, but one of them—Mana Crypt—would be recognized for its power. It was extremely hard to acquire for the next 20 years, only being reprinted in an accessible format with the release of the Eternal Masters set in 2016.

Mana Crypt was a very sought-after card for a long time. It’s since been reprinted in sets like Eternal Masters and Double Masters, has Wizards learned from how popular the card became as a promo-only card?

Magic is both a game and a collectible, so there’s always a tension between making things accessible, making things exciting to collect, balancing them for play, and creating fun experiences. We have learned though that if the newer version is distinct from the original, even in a subtle way, that the collectors can still get excited with collecting the original version while the gamers can have fun, enjoyable experiences with any version. I should note that those aren’t distinct groups. There’s a big overlap in the Venn Diagram of Magic players who love both playing and collecting the game.

When we went back to Magic’s original world with Dominaria in 2018, was there any talk about the old HarperPrism books? Some of us still want to see Garth One-Eye again, especially as a planeswalker card!

We didn’t talk about more books, but you are in luck in regards to Garth One-Eye. While not a planeswalker card, Modern Horizons 2 did print Garth One-Eye as a legendary creature. He even has a cool ability which lets you cast copies of certain cards from back in Alpha.

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

7. Alpha – Beta – Gamma Playtest Cards

Value: $1000 for least desirable commons, far more for the best
No. printed: A few hundred of commons, far less for uncommons, 5-6 of rares at most

When Magic was first being designed, before print runs, cards were hand written (Alpha test), typed or hand drawn with colored circles for mana costs (Beta test), or had low quality black and white printed faces (Gamma test). This process left behind stacks of unusual and interesting relics of the design process on faded paper, and some of the most dedicated collectors of Magic oddities prize them for their novelty and history in the annals of the spellslinging arts. 

How have playtest cards changed over the years? Originally we saw handwritten ones with crude photocopy art, but what is that process like now? Do those playtest card mockups stick around, or get thrown out now? I assume there are probably no Alpha or Beta test cards in drawers anymore.

When Richard made Alpha playtest cards they were just printed on paper, photocopied and cut out. Early playtest cards were similar although closer in shape to a Magic card (the Alpha playtest cards were tiny). We then started using stickers that we stuck onto Magic cards. We kept improving the sticker technology, but used them for many years. The latest technology is printing playtest cards directly onto blank Magic cards. Usually, when we’re done using playtest cards, we destroy them, but some are kept as mementos to later share with the public.

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