Month: September 2016

Twitch announces Twitch Prime, included with Amazon Prime membership

Twitch announces Twitch Prime, included with Amazon Prime membership

Today, Twitch announced Twitch Prime, a new premium membership service included with Amazon Prime. The program is similar to the now-defunct Twitch Turbo, allowing Twitch viewers to enjoy the site ad-free. In addition to the ad-free experience, Twitch Prime gives users one free channel subscription per month and free “game loot” — in the case of September, that nebulous “loot” takes the form of early access to a new Hearthstone hero or a copy of the game Streamline.

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Pixels & Ink #221 - Cody vs Worried Pac-Man

Pixels & Ink #221 – Cody vs Worried Pac-Man

This week on podcast, Cody boycotts his co-hosting duties due to the overwhelming support for Worried Pac-Man to be the new Pixels & Ink host. Melanie, Phil and Brendan discuss No Man’s Sky being investigated for false advertising and Palmer Luckey’s defaming of Hilary Clinton. Phil saw the new Tim Burton movie and both him and Mel saw Sadato vs Kayako.

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Wargaming's Hybrid Wars Launches on Steam

Wargaming’s Hybrid Wars Launches on Steam

Ever since the release of their widely popular franchise World of Tanks, Wargaming has built quite the momentum within the gaming industry. Earlier this month, the developers sat down with Sega to introduce Valkyria Chronicles content into World of Tanks Blitz, their World of Tanks franchise mobile offering. Now, Wargaming has released a brand new game available on Steam: a real-time strategy game called Hybrid Wars.

According to the game’s official website, Hybrid Wars is a “classic top-down shooter” in which players “command and upgrade [their] own arsenal of futuristic mechs to take on wave after wave of enemy forces.” The game features over 50 different kinds of enemies, as well as co-op multiplayer. But most of all, the game has been praised for its simple and straightforward gameplay: stomp around as a mech and shoot everything that moves.

Wargaming is also featuring Hybrid Wars bundles for interested World of Tanks players. This includes a $36.99 bundle with 5,000 gold and a copy of Hybrid Wars Deluxe edition, and a $49.99 Futureproof bundle with the deluxe edition, a season pass, and 6,500 worth in gold. Which, all things considered, is not a bad deal: especially because Hybrid Wars has seen a fair amount of praise on its Steam store page for drawing inspiration from early ’90s and 2000s shooters. Suffice to say, it’s clear Wargaming wants to bring its World of Tanks fans into the mix by receiving gold for cheaper than they would on the Premium Shop.

Hybrid Wars officially went online Sept 29th. So if you’re interested in giving Wargaming’s brand new top-down strategy game a shot, it’s currently available for $17.99 USD on the Steam storefront, with the deluxe copy running $19.99 and the deluxe season pass bundle priced at $24.99. No word yet on DLC, but all things considered, the $7 increase is not that bad for a game clocking in under $20.

Batman: The Telltale Series: Ep 2 – Children Of Arkham (PS4) Review 5

Batman: The Telltale Series: Ep 2 – Children Of Arkham (PS4) Review

Telltale kicked off their Batman: The Telltale Series epic in style a few months back, establishing an intriguing mystery that toyed with a number of classic characters in the Bat-mythos and subverted a few expectations. It was a little overly bogged down in exposition of course, but such things are to be expected in the first chapter of a serialized story. With the second episode Children Of Arkham, Telltale can stand on the groundwork they laid down and expand on a Bat yarn that is bursting with potential. Aside from some nagging technical glitches, the episode is a hell of a lot of fun, likely even topping the premiere that I already enjoyed quite a bit.

Things start a little slowly, with Bruce Wayne remembering his parents’ death yet again, which isn’t always the most exciting chapter in any Batman tale. Thankfully, the Telltale folks have gotten so good at their particular brand of cinematic storytelling that the sequence plays out with surprising emotional and visceral impact, even adding a little twist that plays into the current mystery at hand. Exactly what happened that night remains unclear, but it’s yet another problem this Bruce has to deal with on top of a mass press smearing of his family name that might speak to actual criminal ties in the Wayne past, a hot n’ cold relationship with his buddy Harvey Dent (hmmmm…), a bitter old Carmine Falcone pulling strings, a twisted young Oz Cobblepot ranting about revolution, and that Cat Burglar named Selina Kyle who has gotten the attention of both sides of Batty’s personality.

Batman: The Telltale Series: Ep 2 – Children Of Arkham (PS4) Review 4Good old Catwoman gets quite a bit of screen time again here, setting up a secret meeting with Bruce that devolves into one of those flirtatious fights that has defined their relationship for so long. The writing in their relationship was strong in the last episode and only gets better here. It’s been clear from the beginning that the folks at Telltale really get these characters and their appeal. Time will tell how strong their grand Bat narrative actually is, but as the writers lay down the pieces it’s clear that they know what they are doing. They drag up old themes, yet always with a slight twist to keep things interesting. It’s not merely another trip through the Bat motions. There are some genuinely strong ideas in play.

Once again time is split between Bruce Wayne and Batman, and surprisingly, it’s the Wayne sections that are proving to be the most entertaining. By diving into Wayne’s past in a way that challenges the legacy of Bruce’s parents, Batman: The Telltale Series ensures that the character is off kilter and on the defensive. The choices made as Bruce are always compelling and justify whether you’d like the character to be hotheaded or calculatingly aloof. Though the Wayne material lacks action, the writing team piles on big shocking twists and allows detective work to stand front and center (though always cleverly employed in a way that allows Bruce to conceal his true intentions).

Batman: The Telltale Series: Ep 2 – Children Of Arkham (PS4) Review 3
Batman: The Telltale Series: Ep 2 – Children Of Arkham (PS4) Review

The Batman sequences are again essentially a series of quicktime events, but they are undeniably fun. Telltale have a knack for designing their stories to play out with maximum visceral impact. They use their camera setups and editing dynamically and it always feels like a rush of excitement even if players are essentially just pressing the occasional button in time with onscreen action. The designers also allow you to plot out your attacks as Batman to take out multiple foes efficiently and/or silently in ways that feel very much like the caped crusader at his most masterfully threatening. It’s amazing how the team have managed to turn a point-and-click adventure into a thrilling comic book action movie and, as a big story-altering choice at the end of the chapter suggests, this thing is only getting started.

Batman: The Telltale Series: Ep 2 – Children Of Arkham (PS4) Review 1Sadly, there are some flaws  in this episode of Batman: The Telltale Series, and they are almost entirely technical. Character performances and camera fluidity feels more ambitious in this episode in an effective way; however, those decisions also seem to be pushing the game engine to the limit. There are frequent frame drops and stutters this time, especially in the early going. It’s distracting and frustrating, but at least it seems to smooth itself out by the end of the episode. Hopefully these are problems that the Telltale folks are very much aware of and working on. Clearly on the creative side of things, this team knows what they are doing and are delivering a hell of a ripping Batman yarn. So, it sure would be nice if the gang could clean things up on the technical side as this season marches towards what we all have to assume will be an epic finale.

Nintendo Announces Mini-NES Console

NES Classic Edition Trailer Reveals 60 Hz Gameplay, CRT Mode

Earlier this year, Nintendo announced the NES Classic Edition: A small NES-shaped box that allows players to experience Nintendo classics throughout the NES era from a plug-and-play console. Today, Nintendo of America and Nintendo UK explored the box’s features in a YouTube reveal, with two different videos posted on each of their respective channels.

The advertisement videos showed the NES Classic in action, with the UK version exploring the smooth 60 Hz feature that the box plans to provide. Games will also features a 4:3 mode, a CRT filter mode that emulates a tube television screen and a pixel perfect mode that captures pixel detail in fine quality.

Both videos also demonstrated how suspend points work. Functioning like emulator save states, each game can hold up to four suspend points per game. This means that if players want to relive certain boss battles, or fear their actions early in a game will negatively impact their progress, they can create a save and return to an earlier point during play.

As the official NES Classic Edition site lists, the console package features the system proper, an NES Classic Controller, an HDMI cable, an AC adapter and 30 pre-installed games. The NES Classic Controller works with NES games on the Wii U too, making it a versatile peripheral. Additional controllers cost $9.99 USD ($12.99 CAD) per purchase.

With a $59.99 USD ($79.99 CAD) suggested retail price, the NES Classic Edition seems like a strong release on Nintendo’s part for the holiday season. Running the cost of a brand new AAA title, the system features such classics as Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Mega Man 2 and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. It’s hard to say for certain if the release will see strong sales over the next few months. But plug-and-play consoles have always had their niche, and Nintendo is well aware of the fact that their NES titles are popular virtual console offerings. Time will tell if the NES Classic Edition will pave the way for other small systems, such as a miniature SNES.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children 5

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children 2016 (2016) Review

There was a time, let’s call it the 1990s, when Tim Burton was one of the most exciting filmmakers in la-la land. The goth kid with a sense of humor managed to create films with an uncanny balance between his personal obsessions and mass entertainment. He was wildly imaginative and seesawed between developing his own modern Grimm fairy tales and lending his unique aesthetic to popular properties. Then at some point Burton seemed to give up on pursuing his voice. He now essentially just picks a popular book, play, or TV show, slathers on light dustings of his famous aesthetic, and lets the story take care of itself. The guy was never a master storyteller, but at least he used to care enough about design, casting, and tone to create worlds worth getting lost in. Now it feels like he’s just in it for the paycheck and the pleasures of the blockbuster making process. Miss Peregrin’s Home For Peculiar Children feels more like it was made by a talented Tim Burton rip off artist than the real thing.

Based on a popular series of YA novels (Sigh…isn’t everything?), the movie is like some sort of mash up between Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, and gothic horror. It follows a disaffected teen boy (Asa Butterfield) who goes to visit his kooky old grandpa (Terence Stamp) and discovers him being attacked by a slenderman-esque creature who eats out his eyes. That’s Butterfield’s introduction to a secret world of magic that leads him to an island in Britain featuring the titular home for peculiar children. Peculiars are essentially kiddie X-men mutants with more gothic powers (ie secret monster mouths, the ability to bring creepy dolls to life, etc.). They are watched over by Mary Poppins type figures who keep them young by living in a time loop that plays the same day over and over. This particular house is stuck in the 40s and run by a delightfully eccentric Eva Green. Unfortunately there’s a dark side to this world involving eyeball eating monsters led by Samuel L. Jackson. So trouble is afoot.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children 6That all sounds like ideal Tim Burton material, doesn’t it? The type of thing that he could bring to life through an explosion of creepy cartoon imagery and eccentric characters, right? Sadly, the director never seems completely committed to the material. He stirs up some wonderful visuals during the world-building portion, but it all feels oddly subdued to suit a more family friendly style (well, except for Sam Jackson and the monsters. That’s vintage Burton stuff, but hardly the focus). It certainly doesn’t help that the script by the usually solid Jane Goldman feels structureless and overstuffed with events. Clearly the filmmakers didn’t want to lose anything from the book and as a result it feels like a rush of plot and circumstance that never gets enough time to develop. This should be the type of movie where viewers are invited into a strange world and given the opportunity to get lost in it. Instead, it’s a flurry of stuff happening with no time left to admire the surroundings. What a pity.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children 4There are some high points though. Burton indulges in a little stop motion animation to impressive effect and tosses in some nice morbid humor. Eva Green is fantastic as always as a stern headmistress with a heart of gold and a knack for crossbow monster hunting. Ever since Casino Royale, she’s made a career out of being the best part of mediocre projects and this is her latest. Hopefully she’ll get something worthy of her considerable talents some day. Sam Jackson also clearly has a blast playing a monster and is quite good at it in his limited screentime. Sadly that’s it for memorable performances, with everyone else (like Judi Dench and Chris O’Dowd) either wasted in tiny roles that amount to nothing or a young actor who doesn’t get enough screentime to develop a proper character. It’s a shame the kids aren’t more memorable, since they are theoretically supposed to be the stars of a new franchise. But nope, they are all pretty bland and boring and have little to do other than look young and/or creepy.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children 3Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children should have been a bunt for Tim Burton. It’s a story custom designed for his skills that he could pull off in his sleep. Sadly, it seems like the director just stayed asleep and let this one take care of itself. This is Burton on autopilot and that’s a depressingly common sight these days. Hopefully the filmmaker will find something to spark his imagination again soon. He’s made a few decent flicks in recent years when he’s actually been committed to the material (Sweeney Todd, Frankenweenie, and Big Eyes were all quite good). Unfortunately, most of his movies are for hire now, with Hollywood ether unwilling to fund the guy’s passion project or the filmmaker merely disinterested in actually finding material worth getting passionate about. Ultimately, this one is for Burton apologists only, a dwindling crowd that may well disappear soon if this guy doesn’t get his act together.

Hi-Rez Studios' Paladins Headed to PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins Headed to PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Paladins: Champions of the Realm has turned out to be quite the successful FPS-MOBA hit over the past month. First, Hi-Rez Studios and Chinese investment holding company Tencent Holdings brought the game into the Chinese casual and eSports market. Then the game emerged on Steam’s top 10 list, along with plans for inviting international teams to Hi-Rez’s official Paladins Invitational. Now, the PlayStation Blog has officially announced that Hi-Rez Studios’ offering is headed to PlayStation 4, with the official Paladins website also offering an Xbox One sign-up.

Posted by Hi-Rez Console Producer Kabir Barry, the PlayStation Blog announcement reveals that Paladins was “designed with console in mind” during the game’s development. In order to create a solid console control scheme, Barry states that Hi-Rez “enlisted some big-name console gamers to make sure the control scheme feels just right.” Of course, the game is also free on console, just as it is on PC: making it an easy FPS-MOBA choice for players that cannot quite afford Blizzard’s Overwatch or Gearbox Software’s Battleborn.

The news is also a major move forward for Paladins, providing Hi-Rez an ever-expanding audience to play their game. With Barry noting that “more than 1 million people played Paladins” during its first ten days in open beta,” it’s certainly proven a popular title on PC and Mac alone. Its debut on Steam most likely helped boost Paladins‘ popularity too, raising it into a unique alternative to Blizzard’s retail release. But the jump into the console market may give Paladins the push to break out across demographics, landing with both PC enthusiasts and console players looking for a quick competitive fix.

No plans have been announced yet by Hi-Rez for the Closed Beta’s official release date. Until then, links for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are live now, so feel free to stop by and put your name in.

Battleborn Getting Trial Version, May Be Moving to Free-to-Play

Battleborn Getting Trial Version, May Become Free-to-Play

Gearbox Software’s Battleborn has always been the runt of the FPS-MOBA genre. Trailing behind Blizzard’s Overwatch and the immediate popularity of Hi-Rez’s Paladins: Champions of the Realm, players have been speculating for awhile that Gearbox’s attempt to break into the genre may face a free-to-play version. While Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford denies these plans, he has confirmed, according to Kotaku, that there will be a “trial version of the game that would be free.”

Pitchford announced Gearbox’s trial version plans after Kotaku’s Jason Schreier reported that Battleborn would receive some sort of free-to-play announcement in mid-November. According to his report, an anonymous source “familiar with plans for the game” claimed Gearbox “had wanted to make Battleborn free-to-play from the get-go, but publisher 2K preferred to sell it as a standard $60 retail product.” His source suggested that 2K changed their mind after seeing Evolve‘s recent performance thanks to their free-to-play move.

After the story broke, Gearbox Software CEO Randy Pitchford took to Twitter, calling the Kotaku report “reckless.” According to him, there are “no plans to convert Battleborn [to] free to play,” although an unannounced free trial version would feature the ability to purchase retail and DLC.

A move to free-to-play would certainly make sense for the struggling shooter. Even though Battleborn‘s price tag has dropped in recent months, placing a retail tag on the game is still a barrier for many players. By opening the game up to certain free-to-play models, even if just a trial demo, then Battleborn would be able to draw in more players to help keep its playerbase healthy. From there, Gearbox could make profits off potential DLC releases.

Suffice to say, more news on Gearbox Software’s decision will come into play in the near future. If Kotaku’s source is accurate, then we may have an official announcement by the middle of November.

Westworld: Season 1: Ep 1-4 (TV) Review 4

Westworld: Season 1: Ep 1-4 (TV) Review

Westworld — both the TV show and the eponymous theme park — is a big-budget Rorschach test. When you watch the show, do you come for classic western tropes elevated by self-awareness, a psychological thriller about the usual artificial intelligence questions, or a political drama about a futuristic theme park? If you found yourself a guest of Westworld, would you gravitate towards playing the chivalrous hero or the heartless villain? Westworld is more than a simple Jurassic Park riff. This reboot eschews the chaotic events of the original film for a thoughtful slow burn with more on its mind than simple violence.

Westworld: Season 1: Ep 1-4 (TV) Review 3

Westworld is based on the film of the same name, written by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton. Like that best-seller, it was also about an amusement park that goes rogue, putting its guests in danger. In HBO’s adaptation, there is no obvious danger, at least not for the moment. If there is a genuine threat to anyone in the park, it’s Ed Harris’ unnamed man in black. From the sounds of things, he’s been spending his vacations at Westworld for a very long time, enough to know the patterns of certain androids (here referred to as “Hosts”). Now that he’s gotten bored with the main attraction, he sets off to find what he believes is a life-or-death endgame hidden somewhere in the park. Harris steals every scene he occupies, philosophizing in between moments of calm brutality with the usual steely-eyed conviction we’ve come to expect from his performances. If your favorite part of FX’s Fargo was the villains, Harris’ gunslinger will scratch that same itch.

On the other side of town, William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes) are gallivanting across Westworld as a sort of last hurrah before William marries Logan’s sister. Simpson and Barnes play off each other well, with Simpson’s soft-spoken affability contrasting nicely against Barnes’ wild hedonism. Their back-and-forth is akin to Goofus and Gallant, with William trying to help every Host he sees and Logan itching to use his trigger finger at any opportunity. Whether their relationship will ever move past “a goober and a jerk” remains to be seen – although the smart money is on Logan buying the farm if things get murderous. There’s certainly violence in Westworld, but since the guests can’t be hurt and the Hosts can be easily repaired, every fight is toothless by design (aside from a clever scene in the pilot).

As a result, the violence feels like set dressing rather than a fight with real stakes. Like its contemporary Game of Thrones, Westworld will throw in a bare breast or a brawl to break up scenes of characters talking – a tactic which feels unnecessary here. Game of Thrones is a sprawling political epic that needs to break up its many, many tomes of exposition to keep things moving. But Westworld is tightly focused and exclusively character-driven. Often, the violence will be in service of character interaction; punctuation on what their actions have been telling us all along. When William and Logan get into a shootout with some bandits, their respective fighting styles could not be more disparate, each shot fitting what we’ve come to understand about these future in-laws.

Although it seems the action in the park will be focusing on William, Logan, and the man in black for the time being, don’t be surprised if the show decides to hone in on the Hosts. They’re stuck in a Groundhog Day-style loop, with their memories reset at the end of each narrative cycle. Although this means certain Hosts can never truly grow as people, certain loops reveal a little more about their backstory. In a more traditional show, farmgirl Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) would be the protagonist; a plucky homebody who dreams of running away with her lover Teddy (James Marsden). But, in reality, she’s the longest-running Host at Westworld; a supporting player in everyone else’s narrative, standing on the verge of a realization that could tear her apart. Like everyone else playing a Host, Wood has to slip between various stages of emotion almost instantaneously. She’s the lynchpin of the whole show; if her steps towards enlightenment fall flat, so does Westworld’s strongest marriage between conflict and thematic undertone. Her breathy intonation is consistent across each of her “modes,” feeling more and more genuine each time she switches back into her primary simulation.

Westworld Season 1 (TV) Review 4
Westworld Season 1 (TV) Review 3

So far, only three Hosts have poked at the cycle, and none of them are particularly happy with what they’ve found. In this respect, the show hasn’t fully deviated from its source material. Hosts are certainly glitching out, but they seem more interested in discovering the true nature of their simulated world, like a reversed Matrix. Whether this ends in some kind of violent revolt remains to be seen, but it’s likely no coincidence that park staff keep making cracks about the many ways Westworld guests torture the hosts.

Westworld Season 1 (TV) Review 5
John P. Johsnon/HBO

If there is a weak link in Westworld, it’s the park staff. The guests are living out a self-aware Western, the Hosts are trapped in a sci-fi horror, but the park staff is simply concerned with investors and upkeep. At first, the political machinations inside Westworld seem like the most intriguing part of the show. We’re being shown the months and weeks of cruel bureaucracy that will ostensibly lead into the massacre teased by the show’s heritage. This is a treat for those who adhere to Hitchcock’s “show the audience the bomb under the table” rule. However, with the exception of Host programmer Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), everyone feels like they’re playing off a cheat sheet for a generic political potboiler. Anthony Hopkins as Westworld founder Dr. Ford is perhaps the worst offender, playing Ford as a mix between an eccentric genius and a sleepy menace, never bringing any genuine life to the role.
The behind-the-scenes struggles of the park are only interesting because of the characters in the park itself. The Hosts and the guests are the characters you’re genuinely meant to care about, with the constant meddling of the staff acting as a green-tinted Sword of Damocles. It’s not like the inhabitants of Westworld need any help destroying themselves, but they’ll likely get it all the same. These violent delights have violent ends, as the saying goes.

The gruesome nature of those violent delights plays directly into the show’s Cabin in the Woods-esque sensibilities, with an eerily identical group of creators who manipulate the events of the park. It’s less subtle than Cabin, if only because the park staff is expressly putting on a show for an audience. For example, there’s a character who talks about his next big story expansion almost exactly like a video game developer at a press conference. Metanarratives about the relationship between audience and creator are always welcome, but this particular tale is bolstered by the circular relationship between guest, staff, & attraction.

Westworld Season 1 (TV) Review 6There’s the (very) obvious parallel between Westworld the program and Westworld the park, where the staff is trying to put on the best possible show for the audience, but there’s something to the idea of a work getting away from what the author intended. Whether this is intentional on the part of the show remains to be seen, as the episodes screened for critics didn’t quite delve into that concept.

If Westworld’s sole claim to fame was its ability to successfully juggle multiple genres, that would be enough for a recommendation. However, that it manages to combine these disparate parts into a larger whole, in service of its underlying themes is truly praiseworthy. The possibility of a Wild West-themed robot rampage is the least compelling aspect of a legitimately exciting freshman show.

More Beyond Good & Evil 2 Concept Art Hits Instagram

More Beyond Good & Evil 2 Concept Art Hits Instagram

Earlier this week, CGMagazine reported on Michel Ancel’s concept art Instagram post, hinting at a brand new Beyond Good & Evil. Showcasing a mechanic with scraggly hair and a piglet in a hoodie, the post set off major speculation across the industry. Of course, it wasn’t the first time for Ancel’s project: rumours have been flying around for years about its timeline and completion, and the post issued at just the right time to get fans excited for the possibility of a Beyond Good & Evil origin story. But Ancel isn’t planning to post just one image and leave. On his Instagram, he’s now shared a second concept art photo: this time, of a giant anthropomorphic shark.

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