Sex game that looks like a kinky Mass Effect blows up on Kickstarter

Four years ago, StudioFOW was known as a collective that created brutal porn films featuring the heroines of popular video games. In these movies, characters would routinely get raped and abused until reaching a mental breakdown, all for the viewing pleasure of millions of hungry fans. Today, StudioFOW is still around — but now it’s making a video game that is exploding on Kickstarter.

Subverse is a hybrid video game that combines tactical RPG gameplay (think XCOM), shmups, and cinematic visual novel elements. You can explore a galaxy full of planets hiding secrets. You have a ship that you can upgrade, and a crew that you can get to know through backstories and loyalty missions. But also, you can sleep with all of the women you recruit.

If this kinda sounds like Mass Effect, that seems intentional — Subverse wears its influences on its sleeve. At one point, the Kickstarter pitch jokes that the game’s navigation mechanics are “stolen from well-known sci-fi games,” but the similarities go beyond that. The sexbot character, for example, is very reminiscent of Mass Effect’s EDI. But where BioWare games have shied away from focusing too heavily on the romance elements, Subverse leans fully into the relationships between characters. While there is a story, watching people bang each other at the player’s preferred speed and pose seems to be the primary motivating factor behind Subverse’s gameplay. StudioFOW promises that your crew is perpetually turned on, and seemingly there to please the player, cleavage physics and all.

“The better you perform in combat, the more you explore, and the more you talk to your waifus – the better your rewards get!” the Kickstarter reads. “Each waifu will have unlockable, fully animated, StudioFOW quality hentai scenes which you can view whenever you wish from the comfort of your own Captain’s Quarters.”

Given the developer’s pedigree, you might expect that Subverse’s debauchery is as brutal as the wider StudioFOW oeuvre, but surprisingly, that’s not the case here. While StudioFOW heavily emphasizes the action, DC, the creative director, told Polygon that unlike their previous work, Subverse will not feature rape.

Subverse will feature fully consensual sex,” DC said. “It was a creative decision on my part.”

Given that Subverse aims to release on Steam, StudioFOW’s options for portraying things like rape is limited. While Steam does sell games where people get it on, the distribution platform recently pulled a title called Rape Day because it posed “unknown costs and risks,” according to Valve. Kickstarter, meanwhile, doesn’t allow fundraising for “offensive material” or “pornographic material.” It’s possible that Subverse couldn’t exist and be sold on these platforms if it included the type of sex that the studio is known for.


As DC tells it, early scripts for the game were darker, but these iterations didn’t work out the way the studio hoped. “We tried a number of rewrites then eventually went full on comedy and it IMMEDIATELY clicked, like overnight,” he said. The aim was to create a lighthearted game with “memorable perverts and deviant villains.”

To wit, Subverse features a character called William Dildofingers, who apparently has inflatable phalluses attached to his robot hands. If this sounds ridiculous and a tad immature, the kicker is that, as of this writing, Subverse has raised $1,787,407 on Kickstarter — well past its goal of $129,409.

Subverse’s success on Kickstarter can be boiled down to a variety of factors. For one, StudioFOW has been around for a good while, and its hardcore porn films have produced a legion of devoted fans. Many StudioFOW creations have been viewed millions of times. If a fraction of that audience donated to the Kickstarter, it’s no wonder the project is doing so well.

More overtly, sex games continues to be an underserved market in the video game world. Games about sex are few and far between, and any game that depicts the subject has to deal with things like age ratings. Retail stores often refuse to stock adult-only games, while platforms like Steam try to hide their existence unless you opt in. Despite this landscape, hunger for games about sex is alive and well in the video game industry. Gaming portals like Nutaku, which specialize in risqué games, boast that it has millions of players every month. Many of these existing sex games, however, do not look or play like the AAA video games that Subverse is trying to parody.


Still, there’s the question of why players would trust filmmakers to make a good game. StudioFOW claims that some people on staff have already shipped titles on Steam, but it also helps that they’re already familiar with the development tools necessary to bring it to life.

“We switched engines to Unreal 4 last year [to make movies], and since it’s primarily a games engine, we thought it would be a natural progression for the studio to try and make a game with it,” DC said.

With less than a day left to go in the fundraiser, it seems likely that the project could hit $2 million. Already, donors have unlocked a variety of fundraising milestones, such as added characters, more chapters, additional lewd sequences, character vignettes, and even a manga adaptation. Rewards, meanwhile, are strictly digital — the campaign offers things like digital art books, adding names to the credits, Discord access, naming planets, and even designing a love sequence. This, StudioFOW explains, was done to make sure that its budget isn’t wasted on physical rewards that take away from the game’s actual development.

“I have to say that the Kickstarter campaign has surpassed even my wildest expectations,” DC told Polygon. “I think it resonates with people because we’re trying to make a good game instead of the usual exploitative hentai fare that uses gacha and gambling systems.”


My Favorite Katana Zero Character Is This Hapless Goon I Killed Near The Start Of The Game

I’d heard stories about Strong Terry. Whispers. Rumors. Wide-eyed tales of his boldest feats. He’d be the one to bring me down, they all said. The beloved big boy who never skipped leg day would stomp all over me, even though I’m a cold-blooded samurai assassin. I wouldn’t stand a chance. Except then I killed him without even realizing it.

This all happened to me early in Katana Zero, a cyberpunk samurai game in which you can manipulate time. Its action sequences are sublime, each room a little puzzle you have to solve using a mixture of planning, wits, and improvisation. Every fight is a dance where one wrong move means brutal death. It’s like Hotline Miami if the main character was on even more cocaine. But Kotaku contributor Keza MacDonald already wrote about that. I want to talk about Katana Zero’s writing.

The central narrative is purposefully inscrutable to achieve an effect; you play as a samurai who’s addicted to a drug that gives him the power to slow down time, but it also fries the heck out of his brain. He—like you—doesn’t know much about his past, or even his present, beyond the fact that he receives regular injections from mysterious benefactors who tell him to kill specific targets each day. The game uses this framing device and glitchy audiovisual effects to achieve a uniquely grimy, foreboding feeling rooted in your character’s irreparably addled state of mind. Time skips. Memories slowly unfurl themselves over time. That part is rad.

What ends up unfolding is a mystery box story that’s compelling while you’re experiencing it, but that ultimately rings hollow. There are no real emotional stakes, save for your character’s attachment to a little girl who’s both a cliche and the walking embodiment of emotional manipulation. The game ends on a cliffhanger, with some central characters barely introduced, let alone fleshed out.

The game does have several smart little touches that more successfully made me care about Katana Zero’s world. Its narrative is excessively dark most of the time, but it balances its tone with humor that is, well, still pretty darn grim. This brings us back to Strong Terry. If you chill outside of rooms before charging in and severing tens of heads from an equal number of necks with balletic grace, enemies will sometimes chat amongst themselves. In one of the game’s early levels, I overheard two baddies arguing over who’d win in a fight: me, the ruthless killer who’d been devastating their ranks, or Strong Terry, the tough guy with a heart of gold who never skipped leg day. I figured he’d be a boss or something, perhaps later in the game.

One level later, I burst into a random room and cut down a random dude. I was about to kick down the door into the next room when another guy ran in. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO STRONG TERRY?” he bellowed as he stood over the guy’s extremely decapitated body. Then he swore vengeance on me, but before he could even complete his sentence, I cut him down too. I laughed and figured that was the end of it.

It wasn’t. In between levels, your character returns to his apartment. There, you can drink tea and watch the news. After recounting my latest grisly crime, the newscaster then made specific mention of the fact that beloved local mainstay Strong Terry had died in the attack. Towards the end of the game, I encountered an armed soldier eulogizing Strong Terry. “RIP Strong Terry,” he said. “You’re lifting with Baby Jesus now.” The soldier he was talking to said he’d been “saving a bullet” for me for what I did to Strong Terry.

Katana Zero kept this gag running for my entire playthrough, and I admire the commitment. I talked to other people who missed it entirely, which made me appreciate it even more. But the joke is also clever on a macro level, since it adds to the feeling the game is trying to create. Your character is an utterly remorseless drug-fueled killer. Maybe these enemies are individuals with their own lives, names, and faces, but he doesn’t see it. They’re just bodies. Some are big and slow, like Strong Terry, while others are nimble and deceptively dangerous, like the pompadour-sporting team of “Skinny Rickies.” You can witness them all having their own council meeting—just before slaughtering them. Your character views all of this as dispassionately as, well, somebody playing a video game.

You can interrupt people when they’re talking about this stuff, too. When your character dies, he just rewinds time, so you might see the same conversation begin to play out 10 or 20 times. When I was playing, I’d listen to them through to the end once, but after that, I’d slice up hapless baddies and their buddies before they had time to get a word in edgewise. The game responds to this behavior in a fun way: When you take your sword to somebody while they’re talking, letters spill out of their speech bubbles like spurts of blood. Dialogue shares this interruption system. When characters are talking at you, you can hammer a big red button, allowing you to rage at people to get to the point, to give you answers, or to give you drugs. If you wait on pressing that red button, you’re presented with more considered dialogue options. At first, I tended to wait, but after I killed Strong Terry and his heartbroken buddy, it began to feel truer to my character to just charge through conversations—to scatter words, thoughts, and ideas like so many bodies.


The best part of Oculus Quest: It makes the hard stuff look easy

The Oculus Quest might seem like a modest step forward to the casual onlooker: it’s VR, minus the wires. But the product is more complicated than its simple silhouette suggests. A ortable, self-contained headset that doesn’t require a PC or sensors to deliver room-scale head and hand tracking in VR required dramatic leap forward from the Oculus team in a short amount of time.

Since the original Oculus’ release in 2016, the VR company has made a number of incremental technological streps that have led them here. Jason Rubin, vice president of VR/AR partnerships and content for Facebook, is confident those changes will impress the headset’s early reviewers and audience. That what looks simple will feel significant.

The hardware will be released on May 21, and pre-orders were opened today. You can already read our full review of the product itself, and I’ve been able to use the hardware in my own home, with no restrictions, for the past week.

The next generation of portable VR

I agree with Rubin’s assessment after spending so much time with the hardware. The Quest is an amazing piece of engineering, and it’s hard to believe that it’s able to deliver such relatively high visual quality and imperceptible tracking latency using only the self-contained, and somewhat aging, Snapdragon 835 chip. For reference, that’s the same system on a chip found in a Google Pixel 2 smartphone.

“We’ve implemented many optimizations from the software stack to the hardware to give Quest the best possible performance,” Sean Liu, director of hardware product management, told Polygon. “For instance, an active cooling system allows Quest to run at much higher clock rates for sustained periods, letting us get more power out of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC.”

The hardware team even had to get creative with how the controllers connected to the headset, since it was so important to minimize latency.

“To achieve this, we invented a completely new custom wireless protocol that allowed us to reduce latency for the controllers to a lower level than could be achieved by using Bluetooth or WiFi — in fact, to a level as low as 2 milliseconds,” Liu explained.

But most players won’t care about the engineering that went into the Quest, what’s important is that it’s both fun and easy to use. And that’s where the Quest really shines: It’s completely self-contained, so it doesn’t need to be connected to a PC. It requires no external sensors, even though its controllers deliver six degrees of freedom, allowing you to manipulate objects in 3D space just as you would with a traditional Rift or HTC Vive.

You can stand in one place or sit down to play many games if you’re short on space, but room-scale VR is also available, as long as you have a minimum of 6.5 feet by 6.5 feet of unobstructed floorspace. Or you can switch between those options any time you’d like. That ease of use and nearly instant setup was the entire point, according to Rubin.

“We are competing with everybody’s entertainment time right now,” he said. “You can put on Netflix, you can go play PlayStation, you can go read a book, you could do any one of a thousand things. VR should not take half an hour or 15 minutes to get set up … That’s why we thought the most important thing to tackle first was [getting rid of] those external sensors and fidgetiness of setting it up every time.”

Much of the simplicity of the system comes from the Guardian system, which is a safety mechanism that shows you a virtual, wireframe barrier when you get close to stepping outside of your usable VR space. The Quest will even take you out of VR and show you the world around you through the system’s passthrough cameras if you step completely outside of it. Creating a new Guardian setup is as easy as looking down and tracing the area with the controller; the entire process takes around 10 seconds.

“Even if your Guardian has changed and you moved to a different room, it takes absolutely no time to paint Guardian on the floor and go,” Rubin pointed out. “It’s just not a big deal anymore.”

This change makes getting into VR so much easier that Oculus will no long offer any products that use external sensors, in fact. You may be able to track down an original Rift on the secondary market, but from here on out the Rift S and the Oculus Quest will be the standard Rift products offered for the full gaming experience, along with the more limited Oculus Go and Gear VR.

This is a big shift, but wireless, self-contained room-scale VR brings its own challenges. Rubin pointed out that it’s hard to tell how players will react to being completely untethered from the PC. Some people get a little too enthusiastic with their movements, while others take even more time to get comfortable moving around with the headset on.

“Sometimes you put people in wireless VR and they’re flying all over the room,” he said. “And thank god we have the Guardian system because they’re suddenly untethered, and it’s so freeing. Other people use the weight of the cable to tell them where north is, if you will, where their PC is. And without that, they feel a little bit naked, especially if they are used to playing with the cable, so they’re a little bit more conservative with what they’re doing. There were a lot of surprises.”

I asked Rubin why the review embargo lifted so much earlier than the Quest’s May 21 release date, and his answer was blunt.

“We get more sales,” Rubin told Polygon. “We believe in these products. We believe the reviews are going to be good. If you believe the reviews are going to be good, you want them out there as soon as possible … At the end of the day, anybody who holds [reviews] until launch day is worried.”


Magic: The Gathering’s War of the Spark lets players take some wild swings at each other

Magic: The Gathering’s War of the Spark is an attempt by publisher Wizards of the Coast to elevate the storytelling in its marquee franchise. On the table, the original collectible card game’s latest set allows players take some big swings at each other. It also puts a ton of Planeswalkers on the table. The end result is the potential for some truly epic engagements.

Since I started playing Magic again last year, Wizards has provided Polygon with some cards from each new set. I’ll usually sit down with my old decks and tear open a whole box of boosters — 15-card packs filled with random cards — in order to plan out some new strategies for the coming season.

Of all the cards that appear in those boosters, Planeswalker cards are the most rare. These powerful characters act like sidekicks, augmenting my basic spells with their Loyalty abilities. I’ll often try and build decks around multiple copies of the same Planeswalker card, hoping to bring out one of them early in the game. It’s the most reliable way to build up momentum for a Planeswalker’s most expensive — and most powerful — abilities.

Usually, as I tear through a 36-pack box of boosters, I’ll be lucky to find one additional Planeswalker card. This time around I found one in my very first pack. Then, in my second pack of cards, I got another. And another. And another. And they were all different.

I thought I was losing my mind.

Nicol Bolas Dragon God by Raymond_Swanland

But no, as it turns out this latest set of Magic cards includes at least one Planeswalker card in every pack. After I’d torn open everything that Wizards had sent I was sitting on a stack of more than 40. The possibilities here are simply boggling.

This time around, Wizards has gone about things a little differently. Planeswalkers are clearly much more numerous, and can also appear at just about any rarity, including uncommon. That means there are some pretty low-powered Planeswalkers coming onto the table. To make up for that, designers have given each of them a unique passive ability.

For instance Huatli, The Sun’s Heart, states that your creatures get to do damage based on their toughness rather than their power. That makes the most defensive cards in my hand suddenly the most offensive. Angrath, Captain of Chaos, gives all of my creatures menace, making them much more difficult for my opponent to block. Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, states that any time a creature with power four or greater enters the battlefield its owner gets to draw a card. With 36 Planeswalker cards in the set — 39 if you include those in the Planeswalker decks and a promo card — there’s a lot of weird effects to choose from.

My impulse, therefore, is to get as many Planeswalkers into my deck as possible. I’m looking at color combinations that I’ve never considered before, including three- and four-color mana decks. I might even try my hand at building a deck that runs entirely on colorless mana just so I can get the weirdest combination of Planeswalkers into battle at the same time.

Wizards of the Coast

On the other hand, I could also double down on the red and black deck that I’ve been working on for the last few years. Since the changes made to the core rules with the Rivals of Ixalan set, it’s easier to integrate multiple cards featuring the same Planeswalker into your decks. Players who have been keeping up with the last few years worth of new card sets likely have a small stockpile of underutilized Planeswalkers that suddenly look a lot more attractive than they did just a week ago.

But there’s a catch.

In keeping with the game’s narrative push, there’s one Planeswalker that has the most powerful ability of them all. Once Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God comes into the game, he receives the abilities of every other Planeswalker card currently in play. As permissive as War of the Spark is for players looking to try out unusual new strategies, it’s also a kind of trap. Everyone will need to contend with the Dragon-God, so maybe the best strategy of all is to simply build my deck around him instead.

Overall, I’m terribly impressed with Wizards of the Coast this time around. For a game that’s more than 25 years old, Magic is proving with each new set that it still has plenty of life left in it.

The War of the Spark set had its pre-release last weekend and goes on sale this week at major retailers, local game stores, and on Amazon. The cards are now live in the digital version of the game, Magic: The Gathering — Arena. Physical Planeswalker decks — pre-built decks available for a premium price at many retailers — now also include a code to unlock those same cards online.


Chinese EVE’s Largest Corporation Is Moving To International Servers

EVE Online Serenity Logo
Image: CCP Games (

Lately, the EVE community is buzzing about a potentially galaxy-shattering invasion. It’s not one designed by the game’s creators or by one of the current power blocs looking to start a new great war. Rather, players from EVE’s dedicated Chinese server, called Serenity, are planning to join the rest of EVE’s single shard environment.

While most players in China play on Serenity, non-Chinese countries play on an international server called Tranquility. The reason for the separation of the two communities is long and tedious, built on licensing agreements between EVE publisher CCP Games and various Chinese partner organizations. These agreements, combined with rules from the Chinese government, have kept the two game servers separate since Serenity’s creation in 2006. A few times the two player groups have come together to compete on international tournament servers, such as during the “Worlds Collide” tournament that pitted teams from each server against each other. There are some Chinese players on international servers, some members of the Fraternity alliance, for instance, use VPN connections and other methods to connect to Tranquility and currently hold large areas of its conquerable space.

Recently, players have been suspecting at least some of the separation might be coming to a close. Some users on the EVE subreddit have shared communications purported to be from the Pan-Intergalactic Business Community, or PIBC, the largest player-run coalition on the Chinese Serenity server. These communications detail the PIBC’s plans to invade Tranquillity and establish a foothold. Screenshots posted to reddit by user FRT-panda, a member of one of the Chinese language groups already playing on Tranquility, show a gathering of nearly two thousand players attending the announcement on YY, a Chinese social media and voice chat software.

Screenshot from the YY chat in question, the user count is in the top left corner.

The screenshot and others like it have been circulating on the EVE subreddit. As they are not in English, players have been relying on translators to provide context on what is being said. Reddit user JHXSMatthew provided a brief translation for one of FRT-Panda’s screenshots, showcasing the meeting minutes from PIBC’s announcement.

Screenshot with a rough translation from Reddit user JHXSMatthew


According to the translation, PIBC will attempt to make a foothold in Tranquility. Their goal in coming to Tranquility, leaving their assets and territories on Serenity behind, is to seek new challenges and find more players to fight. They aren’t immediately looking for a strong ally to protect them, which many players hope will cause them to fight for their territory, rather than acquiring it via diplomacy. According to the translation, the PIBC will welcome Chinese and non-Chinese players and won’t force their players still on Serenity to join them.

Another reason for the migration is that for all intents and purposes, PIBC seems to have achieved as close to total victory as a group can expect to in EVE Online. They and their allies have almost complete control over the vast majority of capturable space on Serenity. Several groups of their enemies have already made the transition to playing on Tranquility with the rest of the world. According to the translations of the meetings, the PIBC players are willing to leave old vendettas and allegiances behind them to create a united Chinese front and begin building a new empire.

There are many reasons that players might want to cross the digital divide between worlds. Some make the transition looking for new challenges, to research tactics in a completely foreign metagame, or because they feel like they are being forced into the transition by their enemies. One of the few groups to make the transition in reverse, going from Tranquility to Serenity, is Rooks and Kings, who created a video documenting some of the struggles happening on Serenity over the last few years. The video covers the history of several major factions native to Serenity, including the group rumored to be staging the current switchover.

So far, the invasion is off to an impressive start. Already PIBC has formed into a group of over 900 pilots, calling themselves The Army of the Mango Alliance, and are already playing on Tranquility. The alliance was founded around ten days ago, and though they have yet to begin conquering any space for themselves, they are rapidly expanding. The alliance is growing by the day, and as those players begin to establish themselves, more will surely follow. If PIBC follow through with their plans, the entire face of EVE Online could change. A new group of players fighting for limited territory could ignite wars that last for years, as players are displaced and attempt to find new areas to call their own.

As for the players who are native to Tranquility, their opinions on the move are varied. Some players fear that rumors of Serenity being filled with thousands of automated bot accounts are true and worry that the trend will carry over to Tranquility. Botting accounts generate income 24 hours a day, causing massive inflation, and though against the rules, can be difficult to track down and ban. For the most part, though, players seem receptive to fresh blood being injected into the game, and hope that the influx of what could be thousands of players will make a large impact on day to day operations in game. Players largely seem to view the so-called invasion in a positive light: EVE is a game that thrives on content created by its players. Adding a few thousand more to the mix should be a positive change overall.


Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Down To $45 On PS4, Xbox One (US)

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is barely a month old, but as usual your patience has already been rewarded if you waited for a deal. It’s already down to $45 on Amazon in the US, for the PS4 and Xbox One versions. Amazon’s sale prices come and go rather quickly, so if you want in on the deal you should probably grab it to be on the safe side.

This marks the lowest price we’ve seen on consoles so far, and even cheaper than a recent Newegg sale price. Some brick-and-mortar retailers have also been known to price-match Amazon, if you’d rather pick it up yourself, but call ahead first.


Sekiro is the latest From Software title, following up on hits like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. The studio has gained a reputation for the genre it helped shape–nicknamed “Soulsbornes.” Their games (and now, many imitators) make a point of tough combat and resource scarcity to instill a feeling of accomplishment. Sekiro is in the same vein as its predecessors, so be ready to die a lot if you take the plunge.

The game had a strong start in sales, hitting 2 million copies in just its first ten days. That’s a big accomplishment for a new franchise in a genre that is known for being niche and putting off some players. While From is committed to maintaining its challenge, it did recently issue a balance patch aimed at encouraging use of the full suite of tools.

“The orchestration of intense one-on-one boss encounters that truly test your mettle, and slower-paced stealth sections that let you take on battles at your own pace, is masterful,” Tamoor Hussain said in GameSpot’s review. “More so than in previous games, From Software has honed in on the inherent tension found in the challenging nature of its games, and uses it to incredible effect. Sekiro marries the developer’s unique brand of gameplay with stealth action to deliver an experience that is as challenging as it is gratifying.”


Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt is rad, even if its randomness is a drag

Mortal Kombat’s Krypts are more than simple unlock screens and currency dumps. In Mortal Kombat 11, the Krypt is a third-person action game. It’s this generation of Mortal Kombat’s best surprise, even if I can’t get past the grind-heavy economy.

Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt takes place on Shang Tsung’s island — a familiar location for Mortal Kombat fans. I play as a mysterious traveler, and I wander the island looking for secrets and hidden items.

Only a few steps into Shang Tsung’s island, and I find my first Mortal Kombat relic: the hammer of Shao Kahn. With my new tool, I smash through a few nearby walls. The small opening corridor branches into new paths. This is Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt. It’s a place to go and spend my hard-earned Koins from the game’s various mode, but it’s also a clever throwback to Mortal Kombat history.

As I explore the island, I discover the famous courtyard, where Shang Tsung and his monks watched the first Mortal Kombat tournament. I come across the statues of Raiden, Goro, and Sonya Blade.

Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt opens up over time. My first foray took several hours of exploration before I ran out of Koins and other currency. More than once I felt like I’d run out of new places to explore, and even still I found items lurking behind puzzles or down a missed hallway.

It’s a nostalgic trip for Mortal Kombat fans. Not only am I collecting the spear of Scorpion or the blindfold of Kenshi, I’m walking around my first fighting game memories. The Pit stage from the first Mortal Kombat is prominently featured in this iteration of the Krypt.

I remember spending hours as a kid trying to knock my teenage sister into the spikes below, fully aware that I was playing something too “mature” for my age. Standing on a 3D, high-definition version of that bridge and watching Ermac plummet to his death was a reminder of hours spent sitting in front of my Super Nintendo. They were simpler times, with digitized actors swaying back and forth in cheap ninja costumes and a green leotard.

No matter how fun the island is to explore, I eventually run out of Koins. Without the ability to open chests and look for random skeleton keys, I’ll never see the hidden Reptile Easter egg locked behind one of the final doors.

Even with the update to Towers of Time, I still need luck on my side to earn keys. Doors I was looking forward to opening will stay shut forever unless I grind out Hearts, Soul Fragments, and Koins. To play the Krypt, I need to leave the Krypt, and my moment has slowed as a result.

Mortal Kombat 11 created a miniature Metroidvania inside the world of Mortal Kombat. It’s a reminder of how fresh the series can feel, even when it’s playing on nostalgia. I can only hope the reduced grind can propel me through those locked doors.

But even if I never go back, it was nice to feel like a kid again for just a few hours. When Mortal Kombat 12 comes out, I probably won’t remember 11’s frustrating initial economy or my half-finished Krypt. I’ll remember holding down-uppercut in my basement, watching my sister’s avatar plummet into the pixelated spikes below.


Mordhau Is A Clunky Game For Swordplay Nerds That I Can’t Put Down

Mordhau is a medieval multiplayer fighter named after a German sword technique from the Renaissance era in which knights hold their weapons by the blade and try to bash their opponents heads in using the pommel. Like its namesake, Mordhau is slow, awkward, and bloody, but for some reason, I want to keep playing.

To develop the game, Slovenian game studio Triternion created a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 that raised $298,608. They wanted to combine organic, free-flowing combat with the arcade-fueled chaos of 64-player skirmishes. It features all sorts of weapons, a handful of different maps and game modes, and even horses you can mount to gallop into enemy ranks or, more likely, the barricade wall. Though Mordhau only released yesterday on PC, it’s already generated a lot of buzz on Steam and Twitch, and rightly so. Despite the small budget, somewhat janky physics, and a host of server crashes and launch-day bugs, there is something irresistibly fun about running around clashing swords with dozens of other people while the death toll piles up in a frantic heap.

You spend most of your time in Mordhau swinging weapons. If your cursor, which also controls your first-person field of view, is near the horizon, you’ll chop at your enemies in that direction. If it’s above or below you’ll do corresponding hacks from those directions. To parry, you press the right mouse button. To stab, you scroll with the mouse wheel. What’s special about Mordhau is the way it lets you string these moves together into slow but methodical patterns of attack.

You can, for example, begin swinging your sword, than cancel that attack to bait out a parry from your opponent before stabbing them in the face. Or you can begin with a swing and switch to a stab. And instead of using parry to block attacks, you can counterswing at the last moment to deflect your opponent’s weapon and immediately go into a strike of your own. On top of all that, you can grab your sword by the opposite end and begin the attack anew with a whole other set of animation timings to be cognizant of. It feels heavy and substantial, and while it’s straightforward on paper, it’s easy to make a complete mess of it and get your head lopped off in a few seconds during the heat of battle.

Mordhau’s battles currently include an objective-based tug-of-war, a player-vs-AI horde mode, and a battle royale deathmatch. In the tug-of-war mode you can respawn as a variety of different classes. There are knights wearing heavy armor, lancers good for taking out enemy horses, and even engineers that can lay down barricades and help repair objectives. There are also archers, which are fabulous when you need a break from tense duels and want to try and take out enemies from afar. The drop-off in arrows after you fire them is steep, and aiming for too long will lead your character to grow tired and end up firing way off target before being penalized with a long reload animation. Plus, really good players can parry incoming arrows. Even so, some of the most fun I’ve had playing Mordhau so far revolved around me hiding behind trees trying to hit enemies in the back as they were locked in battle with my teammates. When one of them spotted me and hacked right through my short knife as I tried to parry, it felt like the circle of medieval combat had been fulfilled.

The battle royale mode is more intense. Instead of respawning with your preferred loadouts intact, you start with nothing and have to scavenge for better gear or steal it off the corpses of your opponents. Punching in Mordhau follows the same principles as other weapons, so melees early on still feel strategic and dramatic, unlike the flailing contest of battle royale shooters like Apex Legends. From there, you can pick up rocks, hammers, and meat cleavers, all the way up to sturdier and more lethal weapons like the two-handed zweihander. I’ve never lasted long, but the soundness of the game’s underlying combat makes me feel like I can take survival into my own hands by better mastering different tactics.

That said, Mordhau is far from a smooth, seamless experience. I’ve had dropped matches and a handful of deaths where someone killed me from several steps away because I was lagging. I’ve also struggled to level up my character thanks to an experience-point glitch that the studio is currently working on resolving. Mordhau feels somewhat similar to the early days of PUBG in that regard, although it’s impossible to tell if it will continue to grow and improve or simply be another flash in the Steam pan. If you’ve ever wanted to play a medieval game where you can take of the pommel of your sword off and throw it at someone while they’re running away, Mordhau already has you covered.


One woman’s quest to record everything on TV led to her ruin

One of the most poignant and melancholy moments in Close Encounters of the Third Kind is Richard Dreyfuss sculpting his mashed potatoes in the shape of Devil’s Tower. “This means something. It’s important,” he says through tears, his wife and three kids realizing that “there’s something a little strange with Dad.”

It’s a raw scene of self-awareness for someone who is in dire need of psychological help. He doesn’t get it, of course, because Close Encounters is a popcorn movie, and he’s only acting this way because aliens have implanted a call to adventure in his psyche. Race to the mountain, Richard Dreyfuss, and be an ambassador in space!

Real life doesn’t work like a Steven Spielberg movie. In real life, obsession, even one with noble origins, can tear families apart and ruin lives. There is no twist at the end proving that blocking off the rest of the world to pursue an inexplicable goal is actually the right choice, even if there’s a silver lining.

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Story, a documentary by Matt Wolf debuting at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival (and hitting other spots around the country this spring and summer), sits in an unusual midway between the Pollyanna-ish Close Encounters scenario and the all-too-familiar “someone is losing their mind” tragedy of reality. For Marion Stokes, the crippling effect of obsession began with 1970s public affairs television and the rise of VHS technology.

Stokes was an African-American woman in Philadelphia, working as a librarian and traveling in extreme leftist circles. The documentary doesn’t tell us much about her early life, but we know she was put up for adoption by her mother, who kept and raised later children. Marion interpreted this as a betrayal, perhaps sparking a fundamental paranoia.

Eloquent and sharp, Stokes was courted by the local branch of the Communist party and actually tried to emigrate to Cuba with her first husband and their son, Michael Metelits, who acts as a witness for much of Recorder.

Marion Stokes Tapes 01-12-1981 
Marion Stokes Tapes Jan. 12, 1981
Courtesy of

Marion returned to Philadelphia and ended up as a panelist on a local news show called Input. Clips of Input will look completely alien to people brought up on the Two Minutes Hate-style rancor of programs like Hannity. People from vastly different perspectives would talk and, calmly, try to find common ground. The anchor of the show was a kind-hearted, extremely wealthy man named John Stoaks. As the two exchanged ideas, Marion and the married Stokes fell in love, and he left his family to marry her.

The couple and Michael moved into a building on Rittenhouse Square (the poshest address in Philadelphia) and, with newfound riches, Marion bought an early Betamax machine. (Note: Wolf’s documentary, which is very juicy and propulsive, is, for God knows what reason, extremely convoluted on its timeline, so any vagueness comes from the movie’s own pitfalls.)

The very liberal-minded Marion starts taping Star Trek reruns because she loves the utopian society of the United Federation of Planets. But word on the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979 triggers something in her. She is extremely untrusting of the “official” story coming from domestic news outlets. She is certain that facts from early reports don’t jibe with later ones. Specifically, whether or not CIA operatives were among those taken hostage. Whereas most people would just have a sense of unease and ask “hey, don’t you remember them saying on the TV that there were CIA guys there, but now you don’t hear it so much anymore?” Marion took action. She was an early adopter of technology to capture and preserve the flow of information for further review. She started recording everything.

As the Iran saga captured Marion’s attention, television news saw a dramatic shift in style. The crisis birthed Ted Koppel’s Nightline, which did well in the ratings opposite American icon Johnny Carson. TV viewers of the era saw same story every night — Iran and only Iran — but from a different angle. The prime-time drama, with unexpected twists and new characters, lasted close to 450 days.

Other channels copied the style, and a 24-hour news channel, CNN, launched. Marion, in turn, bought more televisions and truckloads of tapes. She eventually stopped speaking to her son and created a barrier between her husband and his daughters. Her focus was the recordings. Finding something that most people wouldn’t see.

Marion Stokes Tapes 01-21-1981 
Marion Stokes Tapes, Jan. 21, 1981
Courtesy of

Fueling the obsession was a kind of altruism. No one else was collecting the footage — certainly not anyone that can be trusted. Someone had to do something. Marion took on the task for the betterment of society. She also ruined her life. In the documentary, we see that her behavior became erratic and paranoid, her home overrun and, despite the help of staff, any time spent outside the apartment was rigidly fragmented; a chauffeur would routinely rush her home to swap in fresh tapes when old ones run out of room. She was trapped.

Recorder gets a lot of mileage of playing excerpts from the Stokes archive. Major world events are viewed against oddball, long-forgotten stories. Social trends are captured in amber. In a pointed moment, the film plays a video of a truly repulsive man saying racist things: The man is a young Jeff Sessions. Clearly, it is important to have an independent record of some things.

Most striking is the way Wolf details the morning of 9/11/2001. In a four-way split screen of CNN, ABC, Fox and CBS, we watch as one feed switches over to the horror, then a long gap while the other three live in a parallel universe that hasn’t gone through the change yet. ABC airs a house ad touting that night’s Ted Koppel special about untold atrocities in the Congo that “you won’t want to miss.” (Looks like it got pushed to January 2002.)

The documentary continues through to Stokes’ death which, eerily, played out at home as eight televisions recorded a breaking story: the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Despite DVR long being the norm by this point, Marion didn’t trust it; she didn’t want “them” to know what she was watching. Her staff had to hunt for increasingly rare VHS tapes. When she finally passed away, her son hit stop.

The surreal twist is that, while Marion’s never-ending project ruined the Stokes family’s chance for a normal life, media specialists and news historians flipped when they learned about the 70,000 tapes she left behind. They are now in the hands of, being digitized and preserved.

Marion Stokes Tapes, Jan. 12, 1982
Marion Stokes Tapes, Jan. 12, 1982
Courtesy of

Those of us old enough to remember a time before YouTube and social media understand Marion Stokes’ drive in a way that, I think, a younger generation can not. Can you imagine getting in an argument about a fact with someone, finally saying “enough, I’ll prove it!” then driving to the library to settle the score? It’s impossible to imagine a functioning world without the access we have today.

The access may take its own toll. Alvin Toffler’s brilliant 1970 book Future Shock, which predicted the gig economy and the information overload paradox of overchoice, couldn’t predict the QAnon devotees screaming on Twitter about false flags and Pizzagate, but it understood how rapid changes in technology could make us actually physically ill.

Recorder substantiates Toffler’s dark vision in news clips from the Stokes Archive. In addition to her news hoarding, which she affirmed would one day enhance democratic behavior through knowledge, Stokes had a different obsession: Apple computers. She collected countless Apple products and stashed them in her various apartments. She grew consumed with Steve Jobs and described him as if he were another son. It’s fascinating when you consider that Apple’s entire ethos is that of limiting choice, a closed perfect system that avoids interaction with others as much as possible.

This paradox makes sense in a story about someone whose mind malfunctioned when charged against the tide of media and technology. Jobs’ sleek, essentialist philosophy versus a maddening drive to capture and preserve the entire world eventually left someone unspooled. Recorder is a fitting tribute.

Jordan Hoffman is a writer and member of the New York Film Critics Circle. His work can be read in The Guardian, New York Daily News, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, and elsewhere.


Mortal Kombat 11 Community Thank You Gift Now Available

Mortal Kombat 11 received some criticism for its in-game economy and grind, but NetherRealm has started to address those progression issues with a series of patches. As part of the make-good effort, the studio has also bundled the latest patch with a thank you gift, awarding a big dose of currency to players.

The bundle includes 500,000 Koins, 500 Hearts, 1,000 Souls, and 1,000 Time Crystals. Time Crystals are the premium currency, and so the amount here equals about $10–enough for two of the premium skins. The rest of the currency types are used in the Krypt, to unlock various rewards. It’s only available on PC and PS4 so far, with Xbox One and Switch incoming.

You’ll have to claim the reward through your notifications area. Make sure you claim it by May 6, 2019 at 6 AM PT.

That injection of kash came alongside a big update for MK11. It fixes several exploits and makes changes to matchmaking, but the bigger adjustment for the player grind will be that it’s softened the edges for the Towers of Time. The patch notes say it adjusts the AI difficulty curve for the Towers, tweaked elements like health reductions in high-level Towers or Koin rewards, and adjusted some daily modifiers. All of that seems aimed at making a smoother ramp for players to enjoy the Towers, which were a common criticism among reviews and early player impressions.

“Streamlined mechanics keep the act of fighting furiously exciting no matter what your skill level, and comprehensive tutorials encourage you to dig into the nitty-gritty,” Edmond Tran said in GameSpot’s review-in-progress. “There’s a diverse roster of interesting characters and playstyles, and the story mode is an entertaining romp. The unfulfilling approaches to the game’s dynamic single-player content and progression may feel like they’ve totally whiffed (at least at this early stage), but Mortal Kombat 11 hits where it matters.”