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Game developer Relic opens three-storey Vancouver office

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Relic Entertainment is opening a 43,000-square-foot office in Vancouver

Other gaming companies have been expanding their footprint in the city over the past year

The Vancouver neighbourhood affectionately dubbed “Mount Pixel” has added one more company to its growing list of technology-minded residents.

Relic Entertainment has opened a new three-storey, 43,000-square-foot office in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood | Photo: Tyler Orton

Relic Entertainment Inc. officially opened its new three-storey, 43,000-square-foot digs Thursday (November 7) in Mount Pleasant.

The Vancouver-founded video game developer, now owned by Sega Games Co. Ltd., employs about 250 workers who will be getting access to a private theatre, gaming and crafting spaces, a library and scrum areas.

“We were able to build our new studio from the ground up, which allowed us to dream a little bit and create a studio that reflects how we want to work together and what we want to offer our employees and our community,” Relic chief operating officer Heidi Eaves said in a statement.

“We tried to add thoughtful touches around the office, like a craft area for folks who love to paint tabletop RPG miniatures, a board game lounge, video game consoles installed in our theatre, a large gathering space for presentations and industry events, a rooftop patio and BBQ, sit/stand desks for every employee, showers and towel service for people who cycle to work, and so much more.”

The location at West Fifth Avenue and Alberta Street takes up the top three storeys of a new five-storey building and sits blocks from social media management company Hootsuite Inc., animation studio DHX Media Ltd. (Wildbrain) and visual effects house DNEG, which brought home an Oscar this year for its work on the Ryan Goslin-starring First Man.

Relic isn’t the only gaming company expanding its footprint in Vancouver.

Kabam Inc. announced one year ago it would lease 105,000 square feet of office space across seven storeys at the under-construction Vancouver Centre 2 tower on Seymour Street.

CEO Tim Fields told Business in Vancouver in January that he anticipates the company’s 200-person headcount doubling over the next few years.

But last year’s departure of two Japanese gaming companies, Bandai Namco Studios Vancouver Inc. and Capcom Game Studio Vancouver Inc., has raised concerns over investment leaving the city.

The same week the Capcom Vancouver studio closed, U.K. developer Improbable announced it was opening its first Canadian office in Edmonton, already home to gaming giant BioWare.

Meanwhile, changes to corporate taxes in the U.S. and the introduction last year of Alberta’s 25% incentive for the gaming industry have also put the local industry on its toes.

B.C.’s own interactive digital media tax credit comes in at 17.5% – the lowest among all jurisdictions in the country, according to data provided to BIV from industry group DigiBC.

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torton@biv.com

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Review Pokemon Sword

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#ScorbunnySquad

As we told you a few days ago, our reviews of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are going to be a little bit late. We didn’t get our code until about 07:30 PST and it wasn’t until I got home from work that I was actually able to start it up. And once I did start it up, I didn’t stop. For nearly six straight hours I dove into the newest region of the Pokémon franchise. I explored the Wild Area. I teamed up with strangers in Max Raid Battles. I ran from a swarm of angry Wingulls. And I’ve made some delicious curry.

Six hours is only a small dent in what is shaping up to be a sizable adventure, but it’s enough of a dent for me to acknowledge that I’m quite enjoying what Game Freak has cooked up here.

Pokémon Sword (Switch)
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: November 15, 2019
MSRP: $59.99

With rollings hills and rolling Wooloos, the Galar Region makes a beautiful first impression in the opening moments of Pokémon Sword. After a brief run-in with Zacian in the mysterious woods near my house, I slowly set off on my adventure with my BFF-cum-rival Hop, a boy from down the street who just happens to be brother to Leon, the champion of the region. It’s Leon who gives me my first Pokémon; I go with Scorbunny because everyone else I know with the game picked one of the other two.

After a quick trip to meet Professor Magnolia and her granddaughter Sonia, my rival and I set off for Motostoke for a really underwhelming opening ceremony to the Gym Challenge. We’re sidetracked, however, by some Wooloos on the train tracks, forcing us to venture into Sword’s big new addition to the Pokémon formula: the Wild Area.

Located just outside the gates of Motostoke, this sizable open-world environment is filled with plenty of tall grass, wild Pokémon, as well as other players, if you choose to connect to the internet. It’s also where you’ll find various dens that grant players Watts, a form of currency used in the Wild Area, or house Max Raid Battles with Dynamax pokémon. In these battles, you choose a single ‘mon from your team to join up with three other players to battle these massive beasts. If you don’t connect to the internet you’ll be joined by three A.I. controlled partners. The first few times I attempted one of these battles with other players yielded no responses, but after about two or three tries I was able to hook up with other real-life people.

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When connected to the internet in the Wild Area, the land becomes far livelier with other players running about but not in ways that are always beneficial to the experience. The frame rate tends to stutter when there are too many characters on screen and other player avatars will appear and vanish with no rhyme or reason. It’s not the best look for an area that can be pretty barren. Hooking up with other players to do Max Raid Battles hasn’t always worked, as I’ve been hit with a “No communication partner was found” error on multiple occasions, but when it does work it’s a pretty neat set-up. One player will be allowed to Dynamax their Pokémon of choice while the others have to make do with their normal attacks. Type advantage still plays a major role here, so you can have the tiniest of Pokémon absolutely wipe the floor with one that’s three stories tall.

You can spend as much or as little time in the Wild Area as you want. I probably took a full hour exploring it, finding TMs, and expanding my Pokédex before moving onto Motostoke. After the opening ceremony and a quick introduction to trainers Marnie and Bede, as well as the sure-to-be-annoying Team Yell, I set off for the first stadium on my adventure. Turffield Stadium is home to Milo, the game’s requisite Grass-type gym leader, who doesn’t stand a chance against my team of fire- and flying-type Pokémon. After completing the gym challenge of herding Wooloos, I faced off against Milo and beat him in less than a minute. This dampened victory highlighted what so far has been the only sore spot of Pokémon Sword.

Simply put, this game is too easy. Six hours in and there hasn’t been a battle I’ve struggled with or a Pokémon I’ve failed to catch. I understand the idea of ramping up the challenge as players go along, but I feel like the difficulty should have started to push back just a bit by now. Scorbunny is far too powerful in these opening hours and with the Wild Area, it’s quite easy to become overpowered as the land is lush with wild Pokémon to battle, especially when you consider EXP Share is an automatic feature of the game and switching out party members is easier than ever before. Max Raid Battles also provide little challenge as I’m often paired up with one player who’s always able to one-shot our opponent.

Pokemon Sword

I can only hope the game starts to present more of a challenge as I venture further in the campaign, because other than the lack of difficulty, I’m quite enjoying my quest through the Galar Region. The art direction can be quite lovely, the design of the towns and cities is ornate, and many of the new Pokémon designs are outright adorable. My Scorbunny has just evolved into his angsty Raboot form and other members of my team feel as though they’re getting to a high enough level that an evolution is only moments away. While the various routes I’ve been on may not house as many wild Pokémon in the tall grass as the Let’s Go games, the world is still well-populated with Pokémon, trainers, and plenty of small details cooked into the environments.

Now, I have read about some problems other players have had with the game crashing and potentially deleting files off their MicroSD card. I have not run into any issues with Pokémon Sword outside of the aforementioned failure to connect with other players. It’s been a mostly smooth ride when docked or in handheld mode and I can only hope it remains so the further I travel into the Galar Region.

I know it’s early, but Pokémon Sword has sunk its hooks into me in ways the series hasn’t since Pokémon X. Sure, the central sub-plot is far simpler here than in past entries with its not-yet-interesting investigation of the mysterious Zacian, but the first six hours have done a great job of getting me invested in the idea of becoming the next Galar Region Champion.

[This review in progress is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Motorola new Razr foldable smartphone is coming to Canada

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Motorola is bringing back the classic Razr as a vertically folding smartphone. The company announced the new device at an event in Los Angeles, California on November 13th.

The new Razr evokes the design of classic flip phones from yesteryear, but with similar advanced folding display technology to what you’d see in something like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold or the Huawei Mate X. Unlike both of those devices, the Razr folds vertically instead of horizontally with its traditional clamshell design. It’s worth noting that Samsung recently teased a vertically folding version of its Galaxy Fold. The original never came to Canada.

When fully extended, users will get a 6.2-inch 21:9 2142 x 876 pixel resolution ‘Cinemavision’ pOLED display. Motorola dubs it the ‘Flex View.’ When the phone is closed, you’ll be able to interact with it through the ‘Quick View’ external display, which measures in at 2.7 inches. It’s a gOLED 4:3 screen with a 600 x 800 pixel resolution.

To make the Flex View display work, Motorola says it engineered a ‘zero-gap’ hinge that allows both sides of the display to sit flush when folded. Plus, the company claims this will protect it from debris and dust. Additionally, there are metal support plates help pull the display tight and support it when opened. However, as you fold it, those plates slide out of the way, allowing the screen to curve in a bell shape and prevent creasing.

If you remember flip phones from back in the day, one of the best parts was hanging up a call — no smartphone has bested that cathartic snap of closing a phone. Motorola wants to bring that back with the Razr. It says that the hinge’s smooth tension, as well as the sturdy display, will allow users to hang up with a snap.

Quick View will help you open your phone less

While the flexible display is certainly a novelty, Motorola put as much thought into its small, external ‘Quick View’ display.

Users will be able to manage notifications and control media playback from the small external display. However, it also allows users to authorize payments, interact with Google Assistant and even respond to messages.

Plus, if you’re looking to take a selfie, you can do so with the Quick View display and the device’s primary camera.

Further, the Quick View helps when you’ve opened the display as well. For example, when taking pictures, you can set a timer and the subject will see the countdown on the Quick View panel. Alternatively, you can set the small display to play an animation to catch the attention of kids when you’re trying to take a photo.

Motorola designed a “seamless” continuity system that will let users transition between the Quick View and Flex View displays without interrupting what they’re doing.

Not a powerhouse

Unfortunately, for all the thought Motorola put into this phone, it seems the company missed a few essential things. For one, the Razr only runs Android 9 Pie and not the latest Android 10 — although that will hopefully come in time.

It also isn’t exactly a powerhouse when it comes to specs. The device is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 710, sports 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The battery clocks in at 2510mAh and can be charged up quickly with Motorola’s 15W ‘TurboPower’ system.

While disappointing, none of these are game-breakers if the folding display proves useful, and if Motorola can get Android 10 out to the Razr sooner rather than later.

The Razr will be available in the U.S. first as a Verizon exclusive. Pre-orders start on December 26th, and it’ll be available in-store starting January 2020.

Motorola says the Razr will be available in Canada starting in early 2020 but hasn’t yet provided other details. It will also release in select European markets beginning December. Finally, the phone will come to Latin America, Asia and Australia, but Motorola didn’t provide a date.

The phone is set to cost $1,499.99 USD (about $1,987.34 CAD).

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Apple redesigns MacBook Pro keyboard

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Apple is finally introducing a replacement to its butterfly keyboard after years of customer complaints.

The company announced on Wednesday a large, expensive MacBook Pro with a keyboard that has been redesigned for the first time in four years.

The computer, which is intended for power users, professionals or anyone who needs a lot of screen space, features a 16-inch retina display, replacing its 15-inch MacBook Pro. It starts at $2,399, but can go all the way up to $6,099 when you tack on additional storage and processing power. The 13-inch entry-level MacBook Pro, which came out earlier this year, starts at $1,299.

The new MacBook Pro promises better battery life, a new Intel Core processor, an updated cooling system and advanced speakers. But the most significant change is the keyboard.

Apple has long faced complaints over broken and sticky keys in its butterfly keyboards — a design with a mechanism under the keys that expands like wings, opening itself up to dust and other debris. The concept allowed Apple to create a slimmer keyboard design, but some tech reviewers have called it Apple’s worst invention of all time.

Now, it’s reverted back to a traditional scissor-style mechanism that most laptops use. The company says the keyboard will have a stable feel and be responsive.

The MacBook Pro comes with many familiar features, including its signature Touch Bar, a fingerprint sensor and Mac apps, but it now offers double the default storage and pricey upgrade options, up to eight terabytes of storage. (This may appeal to people who have large files and wallets.)

The MacBook Pro is available for purchase online Wednesday in space gray or silver colors. It hits stores later this week.

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