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Take-Two Interactive CEO defends next-gen price hike

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Take-Two Interactive CEO defends next-gen price hike

The next generation of game consoles is on the way, but the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X / S might not just be bringing better graphics and more advanced technology. The new consoles could also usher in a higher price for games themselves, with the $60 norm that’s been a standard since 2005 potentially going away.

That’s not necessarily a problem, according to Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick, who defended the idea of a next-generation price increase in an interview with Protocol.

“The bottom line is that we haven’t seen a front-line price increase for nearly 15 years, and production costs have gone up 200 to 300 percent. But more to the point since no one really cares what your production costs are, what consumers are able to do with the product has completely changed,” said Zelnick.

“We deliver a much, much bigger game for $60 or $70 than we delivered for $60 10 years ago. The opportunity to spend money online is completely optional, and it’s not a free-to-play title. It’s a complete, incredibly robust experience even if you never spend another penny after your initial purchase.”

Take-Two was one of the first companies to reveal that it would be charging more for its next-generation titles, with the company announcing back in July that NBA 2K21 on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X / S consoles will cost $70, compared to $60 on the current-generation Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

The news was met with considerable backlash from a community of customers who have grown accustomed to the $60 price point over the past decade and a half that it’s been the industry norm. Zelnick later commented that Take-Two would be “announcing pricing on a title by title basis,” but he reiterated the same point: games cost far more to make today than they did when the $60 price point was introduced.

Take-Two has already started to show what some of that title-by-title consideration may look like, with the company planning to offer a free, standalone version of its popular (and lucrative) Grand Theft Auto Online game mode for PlayStation 5 customers next year.

Other companies, like Ubisoft, have elected to punt on the issue, promising free upgrades and no price increase for cross-generation games released this fall — without committing to avoiding further increases down the line as it produces exclusively next-gen titles.

Zelnick isn’t wrong: as Polygon notes, the cost of games has remained almost bizarrely unchanged even as nearly every other facet of the economy (both entertainment-focused and otherwise) has seen prices creep up over time. Adjusting for inflation, a $60 game in 2005 would cost over $80 in 2020 — which means that even a $70 price jump is comparatively cheaper.

And faced with the prospect of next-generation games — which promise to be even bigger and most expensive to produce than today’s current AAA titles — it’s hard to imagine a world where the price of games doesn’t increase in order to make development sustainable.

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Devon is a fitness enthusiast who loves playing Golf in his free time. He keeps in touch with the Golf events happening all around the world and jots down fine news pieces for the website.

Devon is a fitness enthusiast who loves playing Golf in his free time. He keeps in touch with the Golf events happening all around the world and jots down fine news pieces for the website.

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The coronavirus pandemic by the numbers

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The coronavirus pandemic by the numbers

I’m dwelling on numbers because this week, the US officially counted 200,000 COVID-19 deaths. Words like “grim milestone” just don’t seem adequate in the face of that toll.

Numbers are valuable. Case counts help scientists track the infection’s spread. Death tolls help policy makers figure out where things are going right — or horribly wrong. They’re utilitarian.

They can also hit like a derailed train.

Since I started this column two months ago, more than 345,470 people have died of COVID-19 around the world. 57,993 of those deaths were in the US.

That’s 345,470 people, each with families and friends and coworkers and enemies and cats and dogs and people who just saw them on the street while walking to the bus. They’re gone. Their desks and armchairs and beds are empty. The people who loved them are red-eyed and sorting through the stuff they left behind. Each human lost cuts deep into communities, and the US has etched a wound into itself that is deeper than any other covid-wound on Earth.

I’ve stopped looking at the numbers every hour, like I was doing this spring. But every Friday, when I look at the numbers on Johns Hopkins’ dashboard, it’s still a shock. I know I’m not alone.

“Shocked — that would be the word that I would say captures my response to our current death numbers from the vantage point of February,” David Celentano, the head of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s epidemiology department, told Vox this week.

In February, the first US death was alarming. Now, around 800 people in the country are dying of the disease every day, and the sirens and alarm bells have blurred into the background of a horrible year.

When it comes to death, numbers like 200,000 are no more tragic than numbers like 145,763, or 12 or one. But the roundness of the number does help to turn up the volume on that incomprehensible din. Visuals that compare the national death toll to our neighborhoods and cities, like The Washington Post’s brutal new interactive map, can help us understand the volume of death — body by body and block by block. Comparisons to other death tolls can help us reckon with just how unprecedented this is.

“The number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama,” Carla K. Johnson wrote for The Associated Press.

Thinking beyond the US’s borders — more than 985,748 people have died of this disease. There are 74 different countries and territories around the world with populations smaller than that number.

Wrestling with the loss of a nation’s worth of people is not something that any one of us thought we’d be dealing with this year. Every single death, every single case, ever since the pandemic roared into public consciousness in January, is one too many.

These numbers are the subject of all the science we talk about every week — they provide the data that researchers use to study this disease. But the climb of these numbers is also an urgent motivation behind this research. Whether researchers are trying to find a vaccine, or a treatment, or figure out how the virus moves between us, or how it wrecks our bodies — the goal is the same. No one can make those numbers go down — but it is still possible to keep them from going up.

Here’s what else happened this week.

Research

Child deaths tied to covid-19 remain remarkably low, months into U.S. pandemic
While the COVID-19 death toll in the United States remained the highest in the world, the fatality rate for people under 20 remained extraordinarily low. Experts are still trying to understand how the disease affects younger people.
(Lenny Bernstein/The Washington Post)

The Core Lesson of the COVID-19 Heart Debate
There has been a lot of effort put into understanding some of the damage that COVID-19 can do to the heart. Many studies have poured out of labs, as a flood of data has rushed into them — but many conclusions in the heart debate remain out of reach. Over at The Atlantic, Ed Yong discusses why, and finds that “as pandemics get wider, they feel weirder.”
(Ed Yong/The Atlantic)

What Do Two New Studies Really Tell Us About Coronavirus Transmission on Planes?
This is a good breakdown of some of the limitations behind two case studies that looked at coronavirus transmission on planes.
(Jane C. Hu/Slate)

Development

Johnson & Johnson Starts Phase 3 Trial for Single-Dose Coronavirus Vaccine
This week, Johnson & Johnson started its large-scale trials for it’s vaccine in the US. Unlike many of the other candidates, this one is designed to only require a single dose — potentially making is easier to distribute. A different company, Novavax, also entered phase three trials this week in the UK.
(Elliot Hannon/Slate)

Here come the tortoises: In the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, slow starters could still win out
At STAT there’s a good update on some of the other vaccine candidates. Pharma companies Merck and Sanofi are both moving more slowly and methodically, but are still very much making progress towards a vaccine.
(Helen Branswell/STAT)

A Covid-19 Vaccine for Children May Not Arrive Before Fall 2021
As vaccine development pushes ahead, one group is noticeably not represented in any of the vaccine trials underway in the US — kids. “Vaccine developers are keenly aware that children are not simply miniature adults.” Carl Zimmer writes in The New York Times. Creating a vaccine that is safe and effective for children will likely take a lot more work, and a lot more time.
(Carl Zimmer/The New York Times)

156 countries are teaming up for a Covid-19 vaccine. But not the US or China.
How will a vaccine get distributed when we finally have a good candidate? Manufacturing and shipping issues aside, it’s going to be a massive political undertaking too. For a look at the international relations side of vaccine distribution, read up on Covax, an initiative that aims to distribute billions of doses worldwide by the end of next year.
(Julia Belluz/Vox)

Averting a COVID-19 vaccination crisis will take careful communication
In order for a vaccine to work, people have to be willing to take it. The Sports Grind Entertainment’s Nicole Wetsman talked with a vaccine hesitancy researcher about this vaccine, and what concerns public health experts will have to overcome. (For more expert opinions on a similar topic, check out Maggie Koerth’s `How To Know When You Can Trust A COVID-19 Vaccine` at Five Thirty Eight.)
(Nicole Wetsman/The Sports Grind Entertainment)

Perspectives

The code: How genetic science helped expose a secret coronavirus outbreak
This is a great feature that dives deep into how researchers uncovered a single outbreak at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.
(Sarah Kaplan, Desmond Butler, Juliet Eilperin, Chris Mooney and Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

More than Numbers

To the more than 32,397,479 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.

To the families and friends of the 985,748 people who have died worldwide — 203,549 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.

Stay safe, everyone.

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Devon is a fitness enthusiast who loves playing Golf in his free time. He keeps in touch with the Golf events happening all around the world and jots down fine news pieces for the website.

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13 best movies leaving Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon in October 2020

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13 best movies leaving Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon in October 2020

If you’ve been loading up your Netflix queue with scary movies, waiting for the first of October to begin the spooky season, you might want to rethink that strategy. Several of our favorite horror movies are leaving Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max on Sept. 30.

In the current cutthroat streaming landscape, when a movie leaves one streaming service it’s often just heading to another, but that sometimes leaves weeks or months when a movie is unavailable before moving to a different streaming library. Below, we’re rounding up our favorite movies leaving their current streaming service at the end of September. Like we said above, that includes lots of horror favorites like Blade, The Exorcist, The Silence of the Lambs, and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, as well as some less spooky offerings like Alita: Battle Angel, Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the majority of Christopher Guest’s filmography.


Alita: Battle Angel

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Robert Rodriguez’s live-action adaptation of the manga and anime was notorious for the titular cyborg’s giant eyes that come straight out of uncanny valley. But the film itself is actually a lot of fun. From our review:

Absolutely everything about Alita: Battle Angel is unapologetically outsized — there is interplanetary war, there is a sport called “motorball” that’s basically jai alai with robots, there are slo-mo shots of objects of varying degrees of deadliness flying out of the screen — and it’s delightful.

Alita: Battle Angel leaves HBO on Sept. 30.


Best in Show/A Mighty Wind/Waiting for Guffman/For Your Consideration

Eugene Levy whispers something to Catherine O’Hara while grooming a small dog

Photo: Warner Bros.

A Christopher Guest quadruple feature is sadly leaving Hulu this month. All four improvisational mockumentaries showcase Guest’s signature silly, deadpan humor (though for my money, Best in Show, about the cutthroat world of competitive dog shows, is his best work.) Before they swept the 2020 Emmys with Schitt’s Creek, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara were frequent Guest collaborators, and appear in all four films. (Levy also co-wrote them.) Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., and the late, great Fred Willard round out the informal troupe.

Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Gufffman, and For Your Consideration leave Hulu on Sept. 30.


Blade

Actor Wesley Snipes raises a gun in a scene from the film Blade

Image: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo via Sports Grind Entertainment

With Blade set to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s worth remembering why Wesley Snipes iconic performance as the half-human vampire hunter is such a high bar to clear. From a Sports Grind Entertainment essay on the subject:

In his performances as Blade, Snipes projects a mentality and guarded interior life as only a nuanced actor could. As the “Daywalker,” a legendary half-human vampire on a crusade to eradicate his fellow bloodsuckers, he creates the contradictory impression of an antisocial weirdo with the comic timing of a funny, charismatic dude. With all that, he brings the attention to physicality of a screen martial artist. Though almost universally beloved in his performances as Blade, Snipes rarely gets enough credit for bringing all of those facets together.

Blade leaves HBO Max on Sept. 30.


The Exorcist

A frightening face looms out of the darkness in The Exorcist.

Photo: Warner Bros.

William Peter Blatty’s adaptation of his own supernatural horror novel is, simply put, a classic. Everything from director William Friedkin’s use of light and shadow to stellar performances from Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, and Ellen Burstyn works together to create a sense of dread that’s punctuated by some truly gnarly special effects. Sure, revisiting it in 2020 probably won’t cause you to vomit or pass out like audiences notoriously did when it was released (though that was definitely played up as a marketing stunt.) but the slow burn terror is still disorienting and spooky. The Exorcist is a product of its time but it totally holds up.

The Exorcist leaves HBO Max on Sept. 30.


Jurassic Park

jurassic park ending: the t-rex defeats the raptors in the jurassic park lobby as a “when the dinosaurs ruled the earth” banner falls from the ceiling

Image: Universal Pictures

Yep, Jurassic Park is leaving Netflix quicker than a Velociraptor escaping its pen. Just two months after Steven Spielberg’s classic creature feature hit Netflix and immediately made the streamer’s top 10 list, Jurassic Park is headed to another, undisclosed streaming network. It stuck around just long enough to coincide with Netflix’s animated kid’s series set in the Jurassic Cinematic Universe, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous.

Jurassic Park leaves Netflix on Sept. 30.


Much Ado About Nothing

Beatrice (Thompson) and Benedick (Branagh) look fondly at each other.

Photo: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Adapted and directed by known Shakespeare master Kenneth Branagh, Much Ado About Nothing is simple fun in the sun. The film stars Branagh and Emma Thompson as the argumentative and electric Benedick and Beatrice, who must work together in order to clear Hero’s (Kate Beckinsale) name so she may marry Count Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard). Keanu Reeves stars as Don John, who aims to keep Hero and Claudio apart, with Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, the requisite straight man, and none other than Michael Keaton as Dogberry, the local constable and comic relief. —Karen Han

Much Ado About Nothing leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.


My Cousin Vinny

Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei lean against a convertible

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci turn in two career best performances in My Cousin Vinny, Jonathan Lynn’s courtroom comedy about two Brooklyn boys put on trial in Alabama for murders they didn’t commit. One of them has a cousin, Vinny (Pesci), who recently passed the bar exam (on his sixth attempt), who agrees to take the case. Not only is My Cousin Vinny famously one of the most accurate depictions of courtroom procedure in film history, it’s also freakin’ hilarious. The twists are satisfying, Lynn takes equal opportunity to make fun of the southerners and the New Yorkers, and Marisa Tomei wears a lot of leather. What’s not to love?

My Cousin Vinny leaves Hulu on Sept. 30.


The Silence of the Lambs

Anthony Hopkins as “Hannibal the cannibal” in The Silence of the Lambs.

Photo: Orion Pictures

Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for Best Actor with only 16 minutes of screen time. His performance as Hannibal Lecter remains one of the greatest ever committed to film, and is matched beat for beat by Jodie Foster’s turn as Clarice Starling, the FBI trainee who comes into his orbit as she pursues the serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill.” The Silence of the Lambs is also one of the late director Jonathan Demme’s best (and most well-known) films, and rightfully so, as he balances the incomprehensibly horrific with startlingly tangible, human emotions. —Karen Han

The Silence of the Lambs leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.


True Grit

mattie ross and rooster cogburn, both on horseback

Photo: Paramount Pictures

The Coen brothers’ remake of the classic western stars Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld as gruff U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and a teenager, Mattie Ross, who hires him to track down her father’s murderer, outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). True Grit was Steinfeld’s feature debut, and her portrayal of the tough young woman earned her both critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination at just 14.

True Grit leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.


Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

Magnet Releasing

A send-up of horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Evil Dead, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as Tucker and Dale, two hillbillies who become embroiled in trouble when they cross paths with a group of camping college students. A series of misunderstandings leads the students to believe that Tucker and Dale are trying to kill them, while Tucker and Dale come to suspect that the students are enacting a suicide pact. As they dance around each other, Eli Craig pulls out all the slapstick stops. —Karen Han

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil leaves Netflix on Sept. 28.


Disney Plus bundle

Prices taken at time of publishing.

Disney is offering a bundle combining its three streaming services — Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus — for $12.99/month.

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Devon is a fitness enthusiast who loves playing Golf in his free time. He keeps in touch with the Golf events happening all around the world and jots down fine news pieces for the website.

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How Duolingo designed the new characters for its Project World

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How Duolingo designed the new characters for its Project World

Language app Duolingo is unveiling a new cast of characters that it hopes will help users better learn new languages, even during the toughest lessons. The characters will act as guides within the app, cheering you on if you get an answer correct, or reacting in a disappointed (or sassy) way if you get one wrong. The nine characters of Duolingo Project World all have unique personalities, and serve as guides to make a new language feel more familiar.

“Obviously Duolingo is a very gamified language learning app,” says Duolingo art director Greg Hartman. “We took a lot of cues from other games, and I think you realize how motivating characters can be; when you remove the main character you have an emotional attachment to you’ll probably play that game less. We wanted to establish some emotional connection, and have characters that encourage users, by giving them positive reinforcement.”


Duolingo

Learning a language can be a challenging journey that takes a lot of mental energy, Hartman notes; you’re learning things like how to order food in Spanish, phrases that would be useful to communicate with other speakers, but maybe not the most scintillating conversation material. “So the question was: How you make these everyday scenarios fun?”

Keeping the Duo Design

In designing the characters that inhabit Duolingo World, Hartman says the team wanted to keep the same design elements of their mascot owl Duo, with his large eyes, simple body shape, and detached feet. With most cartoon characters, the design is informed by the character’s personality— triangles are dynamic, squares are solid, and circles are fun, for example. But the characters in Duolingo don’t really have story arcs, they’re only there to support the user. Hartman says they decided to let the design drive the characters’ personalities. So a girl with purple hair and lots of sharp angles became an emo


Duolingo

character named Lily; a round fellow with a beard is kind-hearted Vikram; and a blocky child character with a flourish of red hair became energetic Junior. They went through many shapes and iterations before arriving at their final nine designs, Hartman adds.

They also decided that in order for the experience to feel authentically immersive, they’d have to add voices, rather than relying on their default male or female voices. They hired a voice actor for each character, and worked with Microsoft to create custom text-to-speech fonts. “It brings more personality to the app, and if you’re not hearing the same voice all the time, it helps train our learners’ ears,” Hartman said.

Duolingo will be releasing the individual characters’ voices in the coming months.

Finding universal names

Choosing the names proved a bigger challenge than Hartman was expecting. They needed names that sounded the same across languages, so that ruled out some early ideas, including “Jun” for one character because in Spanish it would be pronounced “Hoon.” And they renamed one character when they realized that in French “Pete” can sound like the word for “fart.”

Hartman also says the team wanted to make sure they weren’t choosing names that might translate into something offensive in another language: “We checked each name in every language we teach,” he says. “That was a huge part of the development of the characters.” He adds that having a diverse workforce proved valuable: “All I had to do was go to a member of our team, and say ‘tell me where we’ve gotten it wrong’ and people were kind enough to help guide us.”

The last big redesign at Duolingo happened in 2018, when the company changed Duo’s look and gave him more expressions (if you’re not guilted into finishing your French lesson by a weepy green owl, I can’t help you), and redesigned the rest of the app to reflect his newer look.

There are no plans to get rid of Duo, Hartman says; Duolingo is Duo’s world and these other characters live in it. But, he adds, they decided not to design the new characters as other animals, because it didn’t quite feel right for what they were trying to accomplish. “Language is so deeply rooted in human culture, and it seemed weird to add a cast of characters not from our world,” he said.

Fan Art Fridays

Duolingo started rolling out the new characters to appear in lessons in the app earlier this year, and have since been adding them to other features within the app as well. For instance, they began appearing in Duolingo Stories in July, and earlier this month, showed up in mid-lesson animations to cheer learners on.

Then a funny thing happened: Fan art versions of the characters started showing up on social media. So the company started a Fan Art Friday contest to encourage people to send in their art to be featured in Duolingo social posts.

The characters will officially roll out today at Duolingo’s annual Duocon conference. They’ll be available in Duolingo courses in which both languages are one of Spanish, French, German, English, or Portuguese, with plans to eventually add them to other language courses in the app.

Hartman says Duolingo thinks of gamifying language learning as a way to make a sometimes difficult —but ultimately rewarding— process more enjoyable, much in the way sports can make physical exercise seem like less of a grind. “It’s sometimes hard to get up and just run around your yard, but once you introduce a ball and healthy competition, you think less about how physically hard it is and more about the ball and the goal,” he said. “Duolingo wants to introduce a ‘mental ball’ to keep learners motivated.”

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Devon is a fitness enthusiast who loves playing Golf in his free time. He keeps in touch with the Golf events happening all around the world and jots down fine news pieces for the website.

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