John Wick Hex turns you into a cold, calculated killer

One night, game designer Mike Bithell and a friend went out to see a largely forgettable action movie, and afterwards the conversation shifted to what, exactly, made John Wick so engrossing. Bithell’s friend, Ben Andac, who previously worked as a producer at Sony, then asked Bithell an exciting question: what would he do with the John Wick license? After thinking about it, Bithell realized he’d want to create a strategy game as opposed to a first-person shooter, giving players a chance to occupy Wick’s fast-moving analytical brain.

“I thought we were just bullshitting about cinema” says Bithell, whose previous work includes the charming platformer Thomas Was Alone and the stealth strategy game Volume. What the designer didn’t know was that his friend was working with Lionsgate and game publisher Good Shepherd to find an indie developer that would be a good fit for the John Wick license. “They were looking for a collaboration with someone who wouldn’t just give them the easy option,” Bithell explains.

Fast forward to 2019, and Bithell and his team are working on exactly that game, now called John Wick Hex. As he had originally envisioned, it transforms the brutal, unrelenting action from the films into something more cerebral. Players control the suit-clad assassin as he makes his way through dark alleys and poorly-lit hotels, which are all filled with gun-toting enemies. It’s not a turn-based game, where you perform an action and then watch as the bad guy does the same. Instead, it’s a game based around time: you plan out your strategy in advance, and then watch as the action unfolds in real time.

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I had a chance to play through a pair of missions last week at E3, and while it takes a few minutes to understand, from what I played John Wick Hex feels surprisingly true to the movies. At the top of the screen is a timeline, not unlike what you’d see in a video editing program, which shows you not only when your actions will occur, but the enemies’ as well. This lets you see immediately if you’ll have enough time to get a shot off, or if you’ll have to resort to a melee action, which is quicker. The game is filled with these micro-decisions, each of which can be incredibly important; even figuring out which way to roll after you punch a bad guy can determine if you survive the encounter.

Part of the reason that the game feels so authentic, according to Bithell, is that the developers had a lot of access to the John Wick movie team. That includes director Chad Stahelski, as well as the stunt co-ordinators. “A lot of the moves in the game come from being directly in a room with the stunt team,” he says. “You could make a game that was inspired by John Wick without the John Wick name, but having that access, that experience of working with people who actually know what they’re doing, that’s priceless.” In fact, the idea to add a fog of war — a common tool used in games to obscure enemies that aren’t in close range — came directly from Stahelski. Bithell says that it’s been a great help working closely with “people who have been thinking about a lot of the same problems for a long time.”

Of course, there are some significant differences between a time-based strategy game and an all-out action movie, so Hex has to do some things differently. For one thing, all of the missions take place in very small, tightly contained areas, and they’re all very linear. Bithell says that this is so that players can focus on deciding what to do as opposed to where to go. “One thing we found while going through the process is John Wick doesn’t make choices based on geography, he makes them based on interactions,” Bithell explains. “He’s not choosing ‘I want to go down this path.’” You also won’t be able to improvise with your environment in the way that Wick does in the films; don’t expect to pick up a book and use it as a murder weapon. According to Bithell, these kinds of interactions tend to be one-use-only “switches” in games, which he wanted to avoid.

John Wick Hex

Bithell believes that there’s a level of logic and thought in John Wick’s action scenes that makes them an ideal fit for this kind of translation. In the movies you can follow the flow of a fight scene from beginning to end, and understand why each decision was made, whether it’s reloading a gun or ducking behind a wall. Even if it’s not always realistic, it tends to make a certain kind of sense. “That’s what makes it really great for an adaptation to games, because it’s built on systems,” Bithell explains.

The team isn’t talking much about story yet — Bithell wouldn’t even tell me if Keanu Reeves had played the game — but John Wick Hex will be a prequel, taking place before the movies and before John meets his wife. Fans of the Wick universe shouldn’t worry too much, though, as it sounds like the game will tread lightly when it comes to the films’ surprisingly deep lore and mythology. “I wanted to make something that was in that world,” says Bithell, “but provoked questions rather than answering them.”

John Wick Hex doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’ll be available on PC.

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Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency and Calibra digital wallet, will arrive next year

What just happened? We knew that it was being developed, and now Facebook’s confirmed it: the social network has officially announced that its cryptocurrency, Libra, will launch next year.

Facebook said it is forming a new subsidiary called Calibra, which aims to “provide financial services that will enable people to access and participate in the Libra network.” The first product to come from the company will be a digital wallet for Libra, the new global currency powered by blockchain technology.

Last week brought reports that the crypto is being supported by big-name backers including Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and Uber Technologies. Facebook has confirmed that the wallet will be available in Messenger, WhatsApp and as a standalone app, with 2020 the expected launch date.

Facebook hopes Calibra will help those people for whom even the most basic financial services are inaccessible. “Almost half of the adults in the world don’t have an active bank account, and those numbers are worse in developing countries and even worse for women,” the company writes. “The cost of that exclusion is high — for example, approximately 70 percent of small businesses in developing countries lack access to credit, and $25 billion is lost by migrants every year through remittance fees.”

Facebook says Calibra will let you send Libra to anyone with a smartphone at low to no cost. Eventually, extra services will be introduced, such as using it to pay bills, ordering food by scanning a code, and riding public transport without the need for cash or travel passes. The aim is for Libra to eventually be used to buy anything.

Unlike a crypto such as Bitcoin, Libra is a stablecoin backed by real-world assets, meaning holders have “high degree of assurance” that they can convert coins into traditional currency based on an exchange rate.

Reuters writes that Libra will be bought by linking a bank account or, for those without access to banking, from physical locations like cash transfer businesses and convenience stores.

With Facebook’s questionable reputation for respecting people’s privacy, getting people to trust in Calibra/Libra might not be easy, but the firm says it will not use the data for ad targeting, and user data will only be shared with Facebook and third parties when it has customer consent, or when law enforcement requests it.

Renewed optimism in cryptocurrency has seen Bitcoin’s price surge past $9,000 for the first time in 13 months.

Main image credit: justplay1412 via Shutterstock

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iOS 13 will warn users if they delete an app with an active subscription

Something to look forward to: Apple’s upcoming iOS 13 is currently in beta mode with developers and curious users sporadically finding new features, big and small. A change spotted recently in the iOS 13 beta 2 reveals an updated popup box that warns users during app deletion if they’re actively subscribed to the app. The feature can prove useful in reminding users to update/cancel their app subscriptions before they decide to part ways with it.

It’s no secret that Apple’s increasing reliance on subscription services is meant to keep its revenue healthy, making sure that the company itself and developers can rely on a steady income from customers’ subscriptions to apps. It’s also meant to make up for deteriorating sales in hardware, something which a $999 monitor stand is unlikely to remedy.

With subscriptions now becoming a major feature of software, Apple has been making some under the hood changes to reflect how app subscriptions are managed, particularly when uninstalling an app with an active subscription.

As initially spotted by Federico Viticci in the second beta of iOS 13, a revised popup now appears warning users that despite deleting an app, its subscription will remain active on other devices and will renew automatically at its required period unless the user wishes to cancel it.

If users want unsubscribe during app deletion, they can click on the Manage Subscription button to cancel their ongoing plan or press Keep to remove the app but retain the subscription.

The popup serves as a good reminder to prevent unwanted subscription bills from recurring and is indicative of a future where most apps installed on our phones will be tied to a subscription model of some sort.

Image Credit: 9to5Mac 

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Palm’s tiny phone is available unlocked at $350

The first time I showed the Palm phone to the TechCrunch staff, they were excited. At the very least, it was a unique take on the category, designed to be a second phone for those moments that didn’t require a larger, bulkier device.

But reality set in pretty quickly. The device’s capabilities were severely limited by a number of factors, including size. The biggest issue, however, was a Verizon exclusive that only let users purchase the device as a second handset tied to an existing account.

Back in April, the company announced that the 3.3-inch phone could be purchased as a standalone device — albeit still through Verizon or US Mobile. Today, it’s expanding that, making the handset available unlocked, so it will work with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and MetroPCS SIMs.

The phone’s available “at only” $350. That’s cheap compared to many full-sized, mid-tier handsets, but cheapness is certainly a relative concept. It still seems like a lot for a second phone, and while it’s certainly adorable, I’d strongly advise against anyone using it as a primary handset. Heck, it’s not even all that great as a standalone MP3 player.

If you’re still interested, you can pre-order it today — and Palm will throw in a $30 leather case with neck and wrist lanyards. It starts shipping in six to eight weeks.

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Xiaomi’s latest products for Russia include its smart TVs and flagship Mi 9T

Xiaomi, best known for its smartphones, is making serious inroads into Russia as it launched a collection of products in the country where some 145 million people live. That includes its smart TVs featuring 700,000 hours of content, smart wristbands, wireless earbuds, and flagship phone Mi 9T, which is identical to its recently announced Redmi K20 for China under a different identifier.

Customers can find these products online on Xiaomi’s website and offline at its 31 authorized retail stores across the country. The hardware giant aims to open 100 new Mi Stores in Russia this year, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. Russian news outlet Kommersant reported the plan last week.

Xiaomi began shipping to Russia back in 2017 by introducing three handset models and its offering has since broadened. Russia marks the third international country following India and Indonesia — its biggest markets outside China — where it has rolled out smart TVs, a new area of growth for the Hong Kong-listed company.

The three Mi TV models will be available from June 25th with prices ranging from 11,990 rubles ($186.56) to 33,990 rubles ($528.88).

The TV push comes as Xiaomi copes with a global slowdown in smartphone shipment. TVs, like phones, can be an important channel for Xiaomi — which has long billed its software as a differentiator from conventional hardware companies — to sell app services and ads. It came as no surprise that Xiaomi recently bought a small stake in TCL, the world’s third-largest LCD TV maker, to ramp up its production capability in building next-gen connected TVs.

The expansion in Russia also reflects Xiaomi’s ambition to grow its overseas markets, which in the first quarter made up 38% of its overall revenue. Huawei, its main domestic rival, is tipped to see a 40% decline in international smartphone sales as U.S. export bans deal a blow to its business.

The three TV models it rolled out in the country “are a symbol of our sincere devotion to Russian consumers,” said Janet Zeng, vice president of international development at Xiaomi Mi TV. “I’m sure you all see how much we worked to combine our technical development and localized content. By [doing] this we emphasize our devotion to the Russian market and its priority for us.”

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