All posts by gamesavepoint

Vinland Saga is the vikings-themed anime you didn’t know you needed

Now that History’s Vikings is scheduled to end their final season sometime next year, its like Odin himself willed it that WIT Studio, the animation studio behind Attack on Titan, should helm the anime adaptation of Makoto Yukimura’s popular manga series Vinland Saga.

The historical-drama anime premiered its first three episodes on Prime Video earlier this month, and it is a violent and bloody good time with exquisite action scenes, fleshed-out characters and an intriguing story about coming of age in a cruel world that takes enough from real life to satisfy history buffs.

From the opening scene, the audience is thrown into a cruel and violent world, as Vinland Saga starts right in the middle of the actual Battle of Hjörungavágr in the year 987. As expected from WIT, the battle is one very bloody affair, but the choreography and fluidity of the movements as characters swings their swords left and right is awe-inspiring. The beauty of the scene and the blood-pumping thrills of the action may trick you into thinking that the show will glorify violence and the way of the Vikings, but the series has more on its mind.

A man with black hair raises a sword in the air. The sky is black and he is standing on a boat. Amazon Video

Vinland Saga doesn’t shy away from showing the horrors of war and the foolishness of those who glorify it in their ignorance. The show puts its poignant philosophy front and center, as it directs its anger towards those who show cruelty to their fellow men. Thors, the first character we meet, is the perfect example: a renowned former mercenary, the Viking (or Jomsvikings) became disillusioned with his lifestyle and faked his own death during a battle, and now enjoys a peaceful and simple hobbit-like life in Iceland.

The story feels grounded and relies on historical facts to make us believe in these characters. Thors’ son, Thorfinn, grew up listening to stories from his father’s friend, Leif Erikson, who journeyed to a distant and bountiful continent to the west. Erikson also tells of the story of the colonization of Greenland Iceland by Norsemen escaping from war, and the second episode even shows the very real St. Brice’s Day Massacre in the Viking-colony of Northumbria, which will sound familiar to fans of Vikings. Given it is doubtful that the last season of the History show will span 200 years of history, Vinland Saga serves as the best sequel to that show.

Though only three episodes have aired, there’s already plenty of character development at play that teases a very tragic if intriguing future for the show. We see how the young boys from Thors’ village seem excited by the prospect of their first battle, while the village elders dread what awaits them. There are hints of a deeper backstory that connects Thors’ wife and the leader of the Jomsvikings, but the real standout is the parental bond between Thors and Thorfinn.

A father kneels with his hands on his son’s shoulders. They are in a log cabin. Amazon Video

Throughout the first three episodes Thors grows wearier of his son’s affinity for warfare and enthusiasm for battle, and the lingering shot of Thors’ disappointing look whenever his son talks about battle gives more insight into his character and what he has seen than any flashback could. Thorfinn’s eagerness to grow up despite the audience knowing better helps him avoid falling into “annoying kid” territory, while Thors will instantly make audiences think of Ed Stark, as both men escaped violent lives where they thrived in favor of peace and quiet in the far north, right before their old life comes knocking at the door.

Though the second and third episodes slow down on the action compared to the opening scene of the first episode, there is a sense of danger and dread that permeates the world of Vinland Saga. The show introduces us to a world where anything and everything can get you killed, and tension can come from something as simple as a character making eye contact with the wrong person, making even the non-battle scenes thrilling to watch.

A tall blonde man in a viking helmet holding an axe makes eye contact with a shorter man with black hair and a ponytail. Amazon Video

The one big problem with Vinland Saga so far is that the third episode ends on a huge cliffhanger that won’t get resolved for another two weeks. Even worse is that it comes right after the show introduced a promising villain in the form of Thors’ enigmatic and former friend, Floki, and the mercenary Askeladd (named after Norwegian fairytale hero). Both men come across as formidable and smart adversaries, so it will be interesting to see if the show maintains that conflict in future episodes.

This may have just been the prologue to what promises to be an epic story spanning decades, but Vinland Saga is off to a entertaining start that shows the horrors of being a Viking at the turn of the 11th century, while also serving as a coming-of-age tale set against the background of a bloody and thrilling war.

Rafael Motamayor is a freelance TV/film critic and reporter living in Norway. You can find more of his work here, or follow him on Twitter @RafaelMotamayor.


Latest Persona 5 Royal Video Shows All-New Combat Mechanics, Hangout Spots, And Minigames

It’s been a boon for Persona 5 fans lately as developer Atlus has been consistently revealing details on the upcoming Persona 5 Royal–the definitive version of the original RPG. And the latest “Morgana Report” video outlined several new features and mechanics that the game will include. These videos are in Japanese but translations have given us further insight into what Morgana has to say about P5R’s new content.

The new partner attacks that we’ve been seeing throughout P5R’s build up have an official name now; they’re called Show Time attacks. So far, we’ve seen Show Time attacks from the duos of Haru-Morgana, Ryuji-Yusuke, Ann-Morgana, Makoto-Ryuji, and most recently Yusuke-Ann. It’s not entirely clear how you’ll initiate these extravagant, high-damage attacks, but it was hinted that their availability will be tied to developing relationships between specific characters.

Another aspect of combat that has been further explained is changes to the Baton Pass mechanic. With a high-enough Confidant level, party members in the original game could transfer their extra turn (earned from critical or weakness hits) to another member. P5R will flesh out the feature even more to make it more effective. Taking a page out of the Persona Q book, spells and attacks can be used free of HP or SP costs after a Baton Pass. Furthermore, party members will restore a small amount of HP and SP when chosen to receive the extra turn. It appears that these perks will develop through a separate social ranking system, which was briefly shown in the Morgana Report video, where the player reached Rank 3 with Ann after a game of darts.

Combat will be even more dynamic because of accessories you can equip to other party members’ personas. Depending on what you equip, characters can cast spells outside of their original moveset; for example, we see Ann using an Ice-type attack through this system. It’s another similar element from Persona Q where characters can have sub-personas and cast different spells.

Yusuke and Ann shutting it down with their Showtime attack.

Outside of combat, social activities have expanded. Some of the hangout spots in the new part of town called Kichijoji were previously teased, but the latest video shows more of what these entail. You can actually take part in the DartsLive minigame (shout out to the Yakuza games) that’s in the pool hall Penguin Sniper. There’s also a jazz bar to chill at and get a drink with the team; you can see Joker and Makoto on a date at Jazz Jin and subsequently leveling up her persona. Like previous Persona games, P5R will feature a Shrine to visit during off hours, and it seems like it’ll provided boosts to Joker’s SP. Other small addition were showcased as well, like the ability to trade in gear you don’t use in exchange for points to spend on other equipment.

We’ve been keeping up with the new, upcoming version to Persona 5; you can catch up with our breakdown of the first P5R reveal trailer and compilation of all the P5R details that have come out since. While the game is set to release on October 31, 2019 in Japan, we’ll have to wait until sometime in 2020 when P5R launches worldwide, exclusively for the PlayStation 4.


The 10 best animated movies streaming on Netflix now

There are so many animated movies on Netflix that the 2018 breakout Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won’t even show up when you search through the genre. To make sure you don’t miss it — as well as other animated gems currently available on the service, we’ve rounded up the 10 best animated movies you can watch right now.

The offerings range from the aforementioned computer-animated superhero shenanigans to the best in hand-drawn animation as well as stop-motion masterpieces, with recent hits as well as decades-old movies with such gorgeous art that they barely look a day old. And whether it’s childish fun or existential angst you’re looking for, this list has got something for you.

miles morales in spider-man into the spider-verse
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) swinging through New York City.
Sony Pictures Animation

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Doing something new in the realm of superhero movies is nigh impossible, and yet Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has pulled it off. The film, which stars the Miles Morales version of the wall-crawling hero (as well as numerous other iterations of him from other Spider-verses, hence the film’s title), is a bright, innovative delight, harnessing a visual style that hasn’t been seen before to tell a story that, despite treading some of the same ground, feels equally fresh.

With appearances from the likes of Spider-Ham and Spider-Man Noir, as well as a look into the parts of New York that haven’t yet been seen in other Spider-Man films, Into the Spider-Verse turns what could be a relatively rote story (characters from one dimension get stuck in another, and must work together in order to get home) into a mesmerizing blend of comedy, action and drama. The film is also keenly aware of the comic book history it’s pulling from, and builds some of its best gags off the way Spider-Man has become a staple of pop culture.

Miguel and Ernesto de la Cruz in Pixar’s Coco.
Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) in Pixar’s Coco.
Pixar/Walt Disney Studios

Coco (2017)

Pixar’s musical Day of the Dead fantasy took home two Academy Awards, winning Best Animated Feature as well as Best Original Song for its central tune, “Remember Me.” Even a briefest glimpse at the film’s stunning visuals make it clear that the acclaim is warranted — that the music is mix of Broadway-worthy tunes and thunderous Jerry Goldsmith cues is a cherry on top.

When would-be musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) finds himself transported to the Land of the Dead, he’s forced to seek the help of his famous great-great-grandfather in order to make his way back, and attempt to bring music back into the lives of his family, who strictly forbid and discourage his musical ambitions. The story unfolds into something much bigger, just as the animated landscape does, turning into a tale about family, death, and moving on.

Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) in training.
Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) in training.
Walt Disney Studios

Mulan (1998)

Before the live action remake of Mulan hits theaters next year, why not revisit the original? Two decades later, the film is still a joy to behold, an adaptation of the legend of Hua Mulan, in which Mulan, a young woman (voiced by Ming-Na Wen), disguises herself as a man and takes her father’s place in the Chinese army.

With Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Harvey Fierstein, and Pat Morita (as well the singing of Lea Salonga and Donny Osmond) in the voice cast, the movie is a delight in almost every respect, and notable as the rare Western film to feature a woman of Asian descent as its lead.

incredibles 2 - holly hunter as elastigirl
Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) aboard a moving train.
Disney Pixar

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Nothing in this world is perfect (except the first Incredibles), which is both the message of and truth about Incredibles 2. Picking up right where its predecessor left off, Brad Bird’s sequel delves deeper into the philosophical arguments around whether superheroes are good or bad, and the collective responsibility to do the right thing even when it’s the hard thing.

Now that superheroes are back in the limelight, the next step is rehabilitating their public image. Unfortunately, the rise of the superhero also means the rise of the supervillain, and the tech-wielding Screenslaver is determined to see superheroes retired for good. Bird shows off his Spielberg-rivaling flair for action, making the big action scenes pop, and maintaining a sense of total clarity that’s rare in the contemporary CGI battle landscape.

Coraline exploring the Other World.
Coraline (Dakota Fanning) traveling through a portal.
Focus Features

Coraline (2009)

Even a decade later, stop-motion studio Laika’s very first feature film, Coraline, is a marvel. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, the film follows a young girl named Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning). Her family has just moved across the country, and she’s having trouble adjusting to the jump, a task that doesn’t get any easier as eerie magical influences start creeping into her life. Queen among the new influences in Coraline’s life is Other Mother (Teri Hatcher), a doppelgänger of her actual mother who just so happens to sport buttons for eyes.

The Castle of Cagliostro - Hayao Miyazaki
A car chase in The Castle of Cagliostro.
Manga Video

Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Before Hayao Miyazaki’s string of instant classics for Studio Ghibli, the animator took a crack at bringing to life one of Japan’s most famous manga characters: Arsène Lupin III. The Castle of Cagliostro finds the gentleman thief caught up in a counterfeiting scheme and looking to enact revenge. While Miyazaki’s sense of whimsy is mostly absent from his debut feature, his taste for spry, fluid movement remains, bringing to life gun fights, car chases and other Bond-like action.

Zucchini, a boy with blue hair, and a possible new friend.
Zucchini, with the blue hair, and a possible new friend.

My Life as a Zucchini (2016)

In the stop-motion film My Life as a Zucchini (or My Life as a Courgette), the young Icare is sent to a foster home after losing his mother in a grim accident. At the home, he goes by “Courgette,” his mother’s nickname for him. Initially, Courgette has a rough time, as he’s picked on by the other children, who want to know what happened to his parents. As time passes, however, he grows closer to the other children and even falls in love, slowly learning to open and trust others.

The stop-motion animation lends a sense of delicacy to Courgette’s story that is especially necessary given how awful the initial accident is, as well as how surprisingly frankly the children of the home discuss their respective situations.

the end of evangelion
A surreal scene from The End of Evangelion.
Toei Company

The End of Evangelion (1997)

An alternate ending to the cult series Neon Genesis Evangelion, the movie The End of Evangelion picks up where the 24th episode of the series and rewrites the ending. It’s probably best to watch the film once you’ve watched the series (handily also available on Netflix, though not without some problems), but even on its own, it’s a striking work of grief and giant robots. Watching Shinji Ikari’s struggle as the fate of the world comes to rest upon his shoulder is made all the more affecting by director Hideaki Anno’s talent for visual composition.

The steampunk Paris skyline.
The steampunk Paris skyline.

April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

The sci-fi adventure film April and the Extraordinary World presents a steampunk vision of the world — specifically Europe, with Paris boasting twin Eiffel Towers and the French Empire setting its eyes on Canada as the globe comes to depend on burning wood as a source of energy.

In the middle of it all, a young woman named April receives news that her parents, once thought dead, might still be alive. With her talking cat in tow, April sets off to find them, throwing herself into the middle of a conspiracy involving immortality serum, talking komodo dragons, and rockets.

The little prince standing on a planet.
The prince on his journey.

The Little Prince (2015)

This adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s iconic book combines the story of the titular Little Prince with that of a young girl who has just met the now-elderly aviator who serves as the main character of the book. The Prince’s half of the story is animated in stop motion, while the young girl’s half is computer animated.

While it might not seem necessary to add to Saint-Exupéry’s novella, which sent the Little Prince across planets to befriend foxes and roses, the film, directed by Mark Osborne, pulls it off well, making the tender tale a little more of an adventure, the better to translate to the screen.


Warframe’s New Spaceships Are Powered By Portals

Adding fully-manned spaceships and space combat to a gargantuan online game like Warframe isn’t rocket science. It’s portal science. It’s also game development wizardry that makes my brain hurt.

Warframe’s upcoming “Empyrean” update will include space combat that allows players to do things like run around inside their ship while somebody else is piloting and even leap out and steal other players’ chrome-coated intergalactic hotrods. It’s an ambitious addition to a game that started out as a co-op PVE shooter starring space ninjas who, yes, could pull off impressive acrobatic feats, but who could not leap into outer space and soar around like god damn Gundams. However, while other space games like Elite Dangerous and (especially) Star Citizen fetishize fancy but oftentimes impractical simulations of outer space, Warframe’s variation on the idea is rooted in some absolutely wild technical trickery.

In an illuminating interview with PC Gamer, Warframe game director Steve Sinclair explained that he actually wanted to have these features in the game from the get-go when he first envisioned it over a decade ago, but technical limitations made it unfeasible. It would’ve been a huge hassle to math together a physics engine that—between players doing their own thing and ships hurtling through space at absurd speeds—would’ve accounted for so many moving parts. To realize Sinclair’s vision, players needed to be able to freely explore inside the ship without being tossed around like popcorn kernels in a microwave every time the ship jostled slightly as it hurtled through space. Ultimately, the idea wound up on the cutting room floor.

Now, years later, it’s about to be in the game thanks to portal technology. The ships that players are inside of, Sinclair explained, do not actually move. Rather, they exist in their own “little level” off to the side and are attached to separate ship models in a separate 32-square-kilometer space where everybody’s blasting each other with lasers and “yee-hawing” through asteroids. So you’re not actually inside the ship you’re piloting. You’re in a little box, like kids imagining they’re space captains.

The difference between you and those children—aside from their innate capacity to hope and see the good in people, I mean—is that you have a portal window into the universe you’re playing in. “Portal rendering,” as it’s called, works pretty similarly to portals in Valve’s 2007 game Portal, creating a window attached to another location in a 3D space and presenting a view from an entirely different perspective. This is how you will see into Warframe’s space map while existing entirely outside it. Your cockpit is basically just a big portal.

Ships, to be clear, do not move. “It’s fixed in space and we’re just moving the backdrop perspective,” said Sinclair. So it’s basically exactly like the Planet Express ship in Futurama, except Sinclair and company did it for real. Well, in a real video game.

On Twitter, Sinclair posted a diagram of all this, if you want clarity and/or to confuse yourself even more.

But it doesn’t stop there! Warframe still has to account for players leaping out into space and flying around. That, said Sinclair, does occur in an isolated pocket of the 32-kilometer map, but when players do that, they’ll only be seeing models of the ships that their friends are running around inside, not the ships’ interiors. Which aren’t there.

There’s a common and incorrect perception on the internet that game developers are “lazy” when they are, in fact, insane miracle wizards who will bend the rules of time and space just so people can run around inside their toy spaceships. All that in mind, I wonder how Warframe’s developers feel about bird necks.


Samurai Shodown Competition Heats Up At This Weekend’s Fighting Game Tournaments

Evo 2019, the premier fighting game tournament, is less than a month away, and players are spending the weekend getting ready. With their game having only released in June, it’s an especially important time for Samurai Shodown players.

Nine-time Evo champion Justin “JWong” Wong hasn’t wasted any time getting up to speed after announcing in February he’d be competing in Samurai Shodown’s first-ever Evo tournament, which will have a $30,000 pot bonus partially thanks to the game’s publisher SNK. Wong, while best known for playing Street Fighter, has placed first in Samurai Shodown tournaments at both CEO 2019 in June and The Pinnacle last weekend. This weekend he faces competitors NeoRussell and ElChakotay at Toryuken 2019 in Toronto, Canada.

More Samurai Shodown competition will take place this weekend at Low Tier City 7 in Texas and Sonic Boom VI in Madrid, Spain. Since the game is still so young, and it’s been 11 years since the previous in the series, Samurai Shodown: Edge of Destiny, it’s too early to declare favorites—although given his experience, notoriety, and recent momentum, Wong remains an obvious contender to watch.

Samurai Shodown pools for Toryuken 8 begin on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. ET and will continue into the afternoon. On Sunday, the top eight for the event will get underway at 3:00 p.m. ET. All of the matches will be streamed live on the Toronto Top Tier Twitch channel, and a schedule for the rest of the event is also available.

Meanwhile, there’s another grass-roots event for Halo 3 being held in Chicago on Saturday. The $10,000 old-school tournament will feature 2v2 team battles throughout the night. If you have trouble sleeping that night, you can catch the remaining players grinding it out in the finals at approximately 5:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning. Those matches will be streamed live on Red Bull’s Twitch channel.

Finally, the remaining Dota 2 teams from North America will be battling it out in qualifiers this weekend for a shot at competing in next month’s The International for a piece of the $25 million prize pool. The Round Robin stage is currently underway with Forward Gaming leading the pack undefeated. After a few remaining matches tonight, the top four teams will reconvene on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. ET for the start of the playoffs, followed eventually by the grand finals on Sunday at 6:00 p.m ET. You can catch all of that action on Beyond The Summit’s Twitch channel.


Wraith And Bloodhound’s Backstories Are Apex Legends’ Best Mystery

Every once in a while, Apex Legends players notice that two of the game’s characters, Wraith and Bloodhound, both have a very familiar emblem hidden on their costumes. The emblem appears in Respawn’s previous Titanfall games, which might suggest the characters formerly piloted those games’ giant Titan mechs. It’s not a new theory, but the fact that it keeps coming up shows the power of Respawn’s lore.

Respawn’s Titanfall universe has a lot of little bits of backstory attached for flavor. Sometimes that lore comes out in little details fleshing out the series’ central conflict between its two biggest factions, the IMC and the Frontier Militia. Other times these bits are more esoteric peeks at some of the truly wild stuff that explains how the games’ world works.

That includes pilots. On one hand, pilots are the best of the best, the most elite soldiers who have undergone the extreme training necessary to pilot a giant robot in war. Pilots are also able to opt-in to cybernetic augmentation, and some of which are pretty extreme.

Apex Legends players who notice the pilot emblem on Wraith and Bloodhound are fascinated by it because the pilot emblem appears on Gen 10 chips. In the first Titanfall game, these chips signaled that a pilot had undergone the process of Regeneration 10 times. Regeneration is one of the most mind-boggling ideas in the Titanfall universe. It’s where pilots undergo augmentation and surgery to essentially reset their body, so they learn skills faster and perform them far better than a normal soldier ever could. Regeneration also comes with the nasty side effect of amnesia. (My favorite thing about this is that it’s an in-game story justification for the “Prestige” process popularized by Call of Duty, where you reset your in-game progress in exchange for an elite ranking.)

Pilots can only regenerate 10 times, and after that…we don’t really know what happens. (We don’t really know a lot of specifics when it comes to Titanfall lore.) This is why Wraith and Bloodhound are so appealing to think of as former Gen 10 pilots. They’re the most shrouded in mystery—Wraith, per her official backstory, is amnesiac and the subject of experimentation that may have left her with her phase ability. Bloodhound, meanwhile, is completely shrouded in mystery, but their outfit also looks like a repurposed pilot’s suit. So what happened to them?

Given that they’re both survivors—Wraith from experimentation, Bloodhound from being a renowned hunter from the Outlands—it’s possible that they’re just wearing gear they found and that we shouldn’t read too much into their design. If they were pilots, they would probably be too skilled to compete in Apex Legends’ tournament, since they’d be potentially augmented beyond the capabilities of the other competitors.

One of the neat things about Respawn’s approach to lore is the way that it suggests ideas but never really confirms them, letting players fill in the blanks and come up with stories of their own. Other bits of Titanfall have made their way into Apex Legends’ new season, such as the Flyer enemies and a reference to Titans in one of the map’s new areas. While I personally would love to find small hints dropped over the next few months that might lead to answers about Wraith and Bloodhound’s pasts, I’d also love to keep seeing conversations about it come up among players as we all notice new details and argue with each other about what it all could possibly mean.


How facial expressions could be the next game controller

I don’t usually care for infinite running games, but In the Same Boat is a bold exception. It’s an experimental project in which players use facial expressions to control a canoe, as it navigates obstacles along a river.

I recently played the game at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where it’s being partly developed by researchers and students as a joint project with the University of Saskatchewan. The team is part of a program run by Katherine Isbister, author of How Games Move Us, an excellent book on emotive game design.

Here’s how In the Same Boat works: A camera is placed on top of a PC, which monitors my facial expressions. On-screen emojis prompt me to laugh or frown or grimace. If I time my expression correctly, the boat progresses.

But that’s only half the game. In the Same Boat is a two-player game, so I’m connected to a another player who is doing the same thing as me. We have to coordinate our facial expressions in order to beat the game.

At first, I find it odd to simulate facial expressions, but after a few mishaps and triumphs, I find myself having a lot of fun. In fact, I begin to find it difficult to frown at the appropriate times, because I’m genuinely laughing.

The game begins to feel less like a goofy experiment, and more like a genuinely smart piece of work. It makes me feel the way I do when I play a fun new board game with my family.

The game’s goal, according to the game’s academic documentation, is to create “intimacy, trust, fondness, and affection over a distance through networked play.” Its use of coordinated action leads to “a heightened sense of social closeness between participants.”

“To the best of our knowledge, this game is the first to leverage physiological syncing over a distance,” states the game’s documentation. “It has the potential to help geographically-distributed friends, family, and partners to feel closer through playful interaction.”

In the Same Boat’s underlying tech is partly based on the work of Raquel Robinson, a former student at UCSC. Her project, All The Feels, is a biometric and camera-based Twitch overlay that analyzes how viewers are emotionally connected to the streams that they watch. This kind of real-time feedback isn’t merely a way to capture data, but a part of the streaming experience. It’s easy to imagine streamers responding to the biometrics that they inspire.

Isbister’s work on social and emotional technology ranges far and wide. During my visit I watched a presentation about a laser tag-style LARP game which turns the genre on its head by rewarding players for acts of kindness and generosity, within the framework of a narrative in which there’s a genuine “win” state. It points toward a future for games that isn’t so wedded to conflict as today’s commercial model.

“Lately, tech has taken a lot of hits for driving us apart and polarizing us,” said Isbister. “I believe games that bring people closer and that build emotional and social connections are not only extremely fun, but also could help bridge the gaps and mistrust that separate us.”


The Area 51 raid is unlikely, but the jokes are still fire

Today, the internet has been set ablaze by talk of a viral Facebook event that invites people to raid Area 51 together. As of this writing, nearly 500,000 people have said they’re attending the ill-advised occasion, with the host encouraging folks to “Naruto run” through the premises. “Lets see them aliens,” the post jokes.

Area 51 is an Air Force facility that has gained pop culture infamy as the place where the US government supposedly hides secrets, such as UFOs, aliens, and advanced technology. This is likely all rubbish, but even so, Area 51’s allure has remained over the years.

Given the flippant tone in the Facebook invite, this supposed raid of Area 51 is almost certainly just a huge goof. Everyone knows that military bases are a serious matter, and besides, efforts to visit the guarded base have been thwarted in the past. Many folks confess they have no real intention to show up.

Regardless, the joke has gone viral, and it’s prompting a number of memes around the web that make light of what people will find inside of Area 51. Games and nerd-related properties make heavy appearances here, which makes sense, given that we do like a good sci-fi.

Here are some of the best Area 51-related jokes we’ve seen around.

And just in case it’s unclear: Please don’t go to Area 51!


I feel less lonely when I play Dragon Quest Builders 2

At first, Dragon Quest Builders 2 struck me as odd. For what I expected to be a sandbox game, it sure made me sit through large amounts of dialogue. The non-playable characters, taken from the Dragon Quest franchise, will chat you up all day. At the start, this annoyed me but, as I progressed, it was these same characters that kept me playing.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 places the protagonist, a builder, in an alternate Dragon Quest reality. In this timeline, the Hero from Dragon Quest 2 — the 1989 NES game — betrays their quest and accepts the Dragon Lord’s offer to rule half the land. As it turns out, a world run by baddies isn’t all that terrible. When evil wins, there are still plenty of nice people left afterward. These are the characters we spend time with in Dragon Quest Builders 2.

Although it has a storyline, Dragon Quest Builders 2 borrows a lot from sandbox games. Among the many ways to play, you have the option to fight, build, mine, and farm. The game uses a block-building style, a la Minecraft.

However, what distinguishes it from Minecraft, and what made it meaningful to me, were the non-playable characters and the way they interact with the world. The characters in Dragon Quest Builders 2 made it easier to play single-player, because it didn’t feel as lonely as playing Minecraft by myself.

Square Enix

Playing Minecraft by myself feels isolating. There is no dialogue. You scarcely run into towns. It features a simple, contemplative soundtrack. It is relaxing, but it can start to feel lonely after a while. Because of this, I just could never get myself to sustain single-player for long. All the times I have binged Minecraft was with other people, in multiplayer mode.

Unlike Minecraft, other characters are central to playing Dragon Quest Builders 2. The player can only progress through the game by recruiting friends to help build up the town.

In Dragon Question Builders 2, each character does their own thing, and contributes to a larger cause — building a town — in a way that is relevant to their character. Depending on the interests of each character, the other townspeople will take care of different chores like watering, tilling the soil, or guarding crops from monsters. A character named Rosie likes gardening; so she’ll take care of tilling the soil and watering the plants while you adventure.

When you leave town, Malroth, the god of destruction, comes with. He runs around and helps you collect resources and fights battles alongside you. He is very reactive to the environment and will initiate battles, mine, and collect resources on his own. When you accomplish something in the game, he will always be there to give you a high five or to applaud you.

I found this NPC companionship made the game a great single-player experience for me. This was especially important because I only played it solo, on the go with the Switch. There is online multiplayer, a feature not in the original Dragon Quest Builders, but I was perfectly content to play by myself. I had the time to do what I want while still building an entire town. If I want to do something else like go explore the island, I needn’t worry. Each townsperson takes care of their own role and maintains the settlement.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 felt more like playing at home with my family, than it did a single-player experience. I wasn’t some god character, just the another character planting seeds as another tilled the soil. And in the end, I felt less alone.


The Twitch Streamers Who Put People To Sleep (Literally)

I don’t know if I’ve ever been fully conscious for an entire David “Dog” Caero Twitch stream. The Hearthstone personality (and now inaugural Masters Tour champion) lives in Nevada, which means that when he hits the internet, it’s already twilight in my Brooklyn apartment. There’s nothing to blame but human chemistry; Hearthstone is a sedate viewing experience, and Caero maintains a placid, even-tempered tone through any curveballs the game throws his way. It can be downright narcotizing, if you’re already horizontal.

Caero, of course, never intended to serve as a bedtime siren for a sizable portion of his audience, but they still thank him for his soothing generosity every day. You can understand why, initially, the streamer didn’t know how to respond to those who celebrated his ability to knock them out more efficiently than anyone else on Twitch.

“I used to find it insulting. When I first heard about it like, ‘You fall asleep to me, OK? Thanks dude.’ But I’ve started to fall asleep to streams myself in the past year or so,” he explains. “I’m good with it now. After all, it [leaves the stream] on.”

There are ASMR Twitch channels, piloted by ASMR auteurs, who gently massage velvet patches and crinkle plastic bags in order to trigger all the delicate, aestheticizing comforts perfected by the corresponding ASMR YouTube scene. Dog’s stream is not that. He is who he always wanted to be: a man who plays video games professionally. But as Twitch continues to usurp traditional entertainment venues, our own personal rituals have begun to morph. A generation of Americans nodded off to Johnny Carson every night, and while Twitch streamers haven’t yet breached that level of monoculture ubiquity, they are, increasingly, the only thing worth watching at midnight.

“It’s definitely something I’ve done as long as I’ve owned an iPad,” says Will Bindloss, a fellow Hearthstone streamer, pro, and journalist. “I like how certain Twitch streams are quite calming, offering just enough stimulation to take your mind off whatever’s been keeping you awake but not enough to prevent you from nodding off.”

The people I spoke to who use Twitch as auditory diphenhydramine all have their own tastes and proclivities for what conks them out. I prefer Hearthstone, for its metronomic pacing and thorough lack of heated gamer moments. Bindloss, on the other hand, says he normally tunes into speedruns. “Pokémon speedruns, specifically,” he clarifies. It’s an interesting dichotomy, considering the massive amount of intensity and virtuosity necessary to stick the landing on a GDQ-level performance, but there is a magic in the repetition of the craft that he finds spellbinding. “What I shoot for generally is a womb-like atmosphere,” he explains. The serene precision of the speedrunner imbues the viewer with a shared outside-the-Matrix euphoria, and I understand how nice that feeling can be at bedtime.

More surprising are the streamers who play games on the complete opposite end of the tonal spectrum: first-person shooters, MOBAs, and battles royales, which are filled to the brimmed with explosions and ammunition. They too report plenty of fans who use their craft to fall asleep, which is vexing for Brian “Kephrii” St. Pierre, a Twitch personality known best for his professional-level Widowmaker play. Like Caero, St. Pierre operates in the witching hours, and he wasn’t sure how to process the fact that people were coming to his stream to pass out. How do you nod off in the middle of an Overwatch match, when the fireworks are blaring and 12 different Ultimates are popping off at once? St. Pierre says he has never altered his posture on camera to be more adaptable to those who are already comatose, which can lead to some rude awakenings around 3 a.m.

“I find sometimes when a jumpscare happens in a game, I’ll yell or shout and a handful of viewers will mention how I woke them up and scared the hell out of them,” says St. Pierre. “They always come back though.”

It’s a reality that gets funnier and more surreal toward the end of his stream, when the clock strikes bleak digits. On Twitch, streamers often “host” other Twitch streams after they themselves go offline. Essentially, they redirect their viewership directly into another personality’s feed as a way to give them a free boost in viewership—similar to how CBS might slap a nascent sitcom at the end of their Super Bowl broadcast. St. Pierre is happy to host, but he always makes sure to give whoever he’s working with a disclaimer. “I have to warn them that 70 percent of the viewers are probably asleep,” he explains.

Monte “Dreads” Doebel-Hickok, a Los Angeles native who streams Hearthstone in his current home of Canada, tells me the anesthesia-streamer gimmick can be a useful tool in any streamer’s arsenal. The later the show goes, he says, the more sedentary the people tuned into the broadcast become—simply because it’s difficult to exit a browser when you’re already asleep. That can be a powerful ruse on Twitch, where metrics are king no matter where they come from. The fellow streamers he hosts have absolutely no qualms about performing to the audience’s subconscious, as long as the red number in the corner of the screen stays high.

“When I host someone at 10 p.m., those viewers are going to be way more active than if I host at 1 or 2 a.m. There might be more viewers in the channel at 2 a.m., but some people have passed out at that point,” he says. “I don’t think [the people I host] really mind. Anything that props up their total viewer count is a positive.”

Doebel-Hickok thinks that streamers have some version of the absentee advantage no matter what time they’re on air; Twitch is passive entertainment, and it’s easy for someone to forget to close a tab before leaving for work. He is more than OK with being anyone’s white noise—as Bindloss said, there’s value in being a personality that’s interesting enough to enjoy watching, and boring enough to ignore when you’re distracted by something else. Doebel-Hickok says that while he likes to wind down at night by watching Netflix, he tends to mark bedtime with a Twitch stream. “If I miss five or 10 minutes because I’m zoning out, it’s not a big deal. You can jump back into a Twitch stream at any time,” he says. “If they have a peaceful voice, it just allows you to get into that zone before going to sleep.”

St. Pierre thinks the appeal is the idea that there’s someone else in the room. A comforting sense of presence, the feeling of not being alone, which is one of the core things most human beings need from bedtime. Doebel-Hickok agrees with that and mentions the tight-knit communities in Twitch chat, explaining that collective hibernation could begin to feel routine.

As a generation, our sleep habits have been weaned on video games. Before I discovered ASMR, Zzzquil, or any other sleep aid, I had my friend Ryan, marathoning his way through Metal Gear Solid 4 till the hint of dawn peaked through our windows. Sometimes, I recall our legendary World of Warcraft benders, endless juvenile summer nights carving through a campaign, cemented to the bedroom floor. To this day, I associate a delectable, stress-free drowsiness from the sound of a Warrior stance change. It was my favorite way to kill a night and, for a very long time, my favorite way to fall asleep. It only makes sense that we’ve created a system that captures that feeling in its fundamental essence. Twitch is so many different things, but elementally, it’s a guarantee that someone, somewhere, will be playing Goldeneye all night long.

Luke Winkie is a writer and former pizza maker from San Diego, currently living in Brooklyn. In addition to Kotaku, he contributes to Vice, PC Gamer, Variety, Rolling Stone, and Polygon.