Category Archives: Gaming News

Gaming News

Sea Of Thieves Update Will Cut Down On File Size

Sea of Thieves is a constantly evolving game with an expanding roster of monsters to battle and islands to explore. In a blog post yesterday, Rare announced that it’s nerfing a dangerous foe: file size.

Executive Producer Joe Neate announced the changes in an official blog post. Following an update on February 6, Sea of Thieves’ installation size will be greatly reduced. Here are the new file sizes:

Xbox One – from an install size of 35GB to 10GB

Xbox One X – from an install size of 47GB to 25GB

Windows 10 PC – from an install size of 47GB to 27GB

Sea of Thieves launched in choppy condition. Server stability was a major issue and hackers plagued the seas for a time. Since then, it’s expanded with bug fixes and a series of free content releases. This size adjustment, which will require a larger than usual patch on the 6th, will help the game continue to expand.

“Changes to how we generate game updates/patches will better enable us to manage future content being added to the game,” Neate wrote. “This might mean that patch sizes increase slightly in the future, but the benefit is that the game install size won’t increase significantly. If we didn’t make this change, the game install size would continue to increase, taking up more and more of your hard drive space.”

If Sea of Thieves is going to keep growing and as more and more games use lots of disc space, taking up less real estate on players’ drives will be crucial. It also means that if you ever want to install and check out the seas again, you won’t wait as long. It’s a little random—I can’t think of the last time I’ve read an announcement like this—but if that means clear skies and clear hard drives, then sure.


YIIK: A Postmodern RPG Review – Too Slow for Boston

“Postmodern” is both an intriguing and an intimidating word. YIIK, pronounced “Y2K,” comes with the subtitle, “A Postmodern RPG,” but what does that mean? Is it a game centred around the tennis matches of Infinite Jest? Or around Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans? Regardless of the intention behind labeling the game as such, the postmodern tag initially seems a little peculiar at first.

However, when you boot up YIIK you’re met with a stylish title screen that looks like it was ripped straight out of a retro arcade. The stunning visuals are accompanied by an electro-jazz bass-driven track that immediately asserts the game’s homage to ’90s culture. After a short exchange with a crow named Marlene, you’re given control of Alex McHugh, college graduate and spoiled brat. You’re also unemployed, so you just wander around your town aimlessly until you meet a cat with a Salvador Dali moustache. Shortly afterwards, an ethereal girl goes missing, triggering a chain of events that threaten the very fabric of reality itself.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

YIIK plays as a turn-based RPG, but while the early-game battles are a lot of fun, combat becomes tedious before you even get halfway through the main story. Instead of a strength/weakness mechanic that’s usually innate to most turn-based systems, YIIK uses a series of minigames in order to determine how much damage you deal and receive. Alex’s basic attack sees him spin his favourite LP on a portable record player, which is lighthearted and amusing at first. However, as more characters and abilities get introduced to the game, the amount of minigames becomes increasingly daunting.

As the game progresses, basic attacks begin to do barely any damage, but special abilities feature minigames that span myriad genres and have no tutorials. These special abilities are necessary to take down mid-game enemies, but because there are no instructions on how to use them, the game’s learning curve is both unfair and unsatisfying. Make a mistake and you’ll deal no damage, so you’ll likely need to die a few times before you get the hang of a new ability. There’s a voice that narrates the battle dynamics when you dodge an attack or die that sounds like the aliens from The Simpsons, though, which is a small redeeming factor.

The defense mechanics aren’t much better. Sometimes you can dodge if you nail a real-time prompt, whereas other times the most you can do is reduce the amount of damage you receive. One particular kind of attack, for example, targets your entire party of four and hits you like a truck unless you nail three timed prompts in quick succession, which is a lot more difficult to do than it might seem. And since this attack is used more frequently over time, it becomes a frustrating, lethargic way to engage with combat. The battle pace is slow and the response to your inputs is clunky, making the battles themselves last for an unnecessarily long time. The further you progress through the game, the more often you have to battle while traversing its many dungeons, which means you need to spend even more time battling. Also, the real-time battle prompts are much better suited to a precise mouse-click than a button press, which is an issue on PS4. During one boss fight, I actively walked away from the game and went on Twitter for about five minutes to recharge. That’s how draining it was.

In a sense, it seems that YIIK tries to implement a combat system that’s a lot like Undertale’s. However, Undertale gives you the choice to talk to the enemy on top of providing you with a fight option, and different dialogue works on different enemies — in a sense, it has a kind of pseudo-type effectiveness structure in place that makes the game a lot more engaging overall. The fact that YIIK’s postmodernism relies on the quirkiness of its content — such as the fact that Alex attacks his enemies using a record player — means that it’s not postmodern so much as it is a take on hipster culture. By comparison, Undertale’s talk option genuinely is postmodern, as it challenges the fact that combat systems necessitate violence. Undertale was also much quicker in terms of battle pace and its enemies were a lot more interesting, both in terms of dialogue and design. Overall, YIIK’s combat pales in comparison.

The actual world of YIIK is stunning, though. Each map (apart from the dreary and awkwardly-angled Wind Town) is designed with a gorgeous retro art style that screams ’90s Nintendo, and the soundtrack is consistently killer. Hearing that Undertale developer Toby Fox helped with music production wasn’t surprising at all, and the late-game vocal tracks in particular set the mood brilliantly. The art style and music set a ‘90s mood that’s juxtaposed with an overall tone that’s much more lighthearted, though, as the game is genuinely funny for the most part, which offers some levity. One particular NPC unleashes a barrage of rubbish jokes, the last of which is “Are you visiting from Seattle? Say hi to Nirvana for me.” It’s very silly, but silliness often makes for great comedy.

However, YIIK’s attempts at humour can also be very problematic at times. Characters call each other “spazoids,” derived from the highly-insulting term “spastic,” and at one point Alex even says, “That’s our word” about the word “ginger.” On another occasion, a character says, “You guys went into an epileptic fit.” These jokes really don’t land, instead creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s one thing to set your game in 1999 and use otherwise outdated terms in context, but it’s another thing entirely to gratuitously use derogatory terms for comedic effect. The art style and characters already capture the era perfectly; drawing on the negative parts of the ’90s for no reason doesn’t really add anything.

And YIIK has a number of other issues too, in both design and technical performance. The game doesn’t perform very well on console for a range of reasons. For one thing, the movement mechanics are a real issue on console. With no invisible barriers, traversing narrow bridges from an isometric perspective with a PS4 controller’s analog sticks usually results in falling off the side. With a brief cutscene playing every single time you climb a ladder to an elevated bridge, and puzzles that often need to be undone in order to be redone, it can take a long time to simply cross that bridge. Obviously pressing the D key on a keyboard will cause you to move right with precision, but the same can’t be said of analogs unless you’re willing to move at a snail’s pace through a game that’s already slow.

I also encountered a game-breaking bug that could only be resolved by going back three hours to an old save file. In one dungeon, you’re tasked with finding two doors that need to be attached to a pair of frames. The second door didn’t spawn for me. After spending two and a half fruitless hours trying to solve a puzzle for which I didn’t have all the pieces, I tried my luck at giving the room a chance to load again. I went on my way through the dungeon as I had before and lo and behold, the door was there. This puzzle, like many of the puzzles, was not complicated but ended up being unnecessarily time-consuming. The puzzles in the early parts of the game are quick logic problems that are enjoyable and fit the style of the game like a glove. The later puzzles, however, are resolved with much more arbitrary solutions and, in my experience, are susceptible to bugs. For example, you are taught early in the game that one tool (Panda) is used to hold down pressure plates, while another tool (Dali) is used to activate inaccessible switches. Late in the game, you need to use Dali to activate a pressure plate while Panda is already in use elsewhere. However, you’ve been explicitly taught that each of the two has a role of its own — it’s a bit cheap, really, and when I figured it out I felt dissatisfied, because it didn’t fall in line with the logic that the game went out of its way to establish earlier.

Although some aspects of the game can be called postmodern, YIIK tries a bit too hard to make itself smart, coming off as pretentious more often than not

The game’s leveling system, meanwhile, is tied to the Mind Dungeon, which sounds a lot more intriguing than it actually is. Again, the Mind Dungeon gets maximum style points, quite literally being a dungeon located in the protagonist’s head that’s accessed by dialing a specific number. In the Mind Dungeon, the camera angle changes to a side-scrolling perspective. In order to level up, you need to select one of four doors on the current floor and choose one of six skills to increase. You then need to enter the room behind that door, which confirms the skill increase. All four doors can be used to increase a skill, meaning that you can increase four skills for every level. After all four doors have been used, you can speak to Marlene the crow at the staircase located on the opposite side to the side you entered on. After confirming the level up, you can descend to the next floor, which has another four doors.

However, leveling up takes a long time and, like the slow and clunky battle mechanics, becomes tedious before long. If you grind–which you need to do in YIIK–and save up enough EXP to gain a few levels at a time, you could easily spend up to 10 minutes just side-scrolling nonchalantly through the Mind Dungeon with little more to do than occasionally pressing the interact button on the doors. It’s not interesting or fun. If it was a much faster process, sure, that would be fine. It’s slow, though. And it’s boring.

Although some aspects of the game can be called postmodern–namely the character arcs and the writing–YIIK tries a bit too hard to make itself smart, coming off as pretentious more often than not. By self-consciously addressing itself as a game and including lines like “How can an RPG be postmodern?” YIIK is postmodern in a basic sense, featuring nods to the critique of Enlightenment ideas of self-realization. However, it doesn’t use this basis to communicate anything important later on. It never builds on the foundations it lays.

Literary criticism from the likes of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida in the latter half of the 20th Century introduced the idea of questioning truth, reality, and objectivity. It was people like Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, and Samuel Beckett who really experimented with the movement, though. YIIK opts for pointless “postmodern” jargon about the nature of objective reality and a person’s soul over meaningful character development and ambitious experimentation with its form, so while its characters are intriguing at first, they never really go anywhere. And the story doesn’t go anywhere either. The potential of characters isn’t developed until very late, and it becomes difficult to care about them just hours before the game wraps up. On top of this, phrases from the likes of Nietzsche and Murakami are rattled off in contexts that are completely detached from their meaning, which can be perceived as postmodern in an edgy sense but definitely not an intriguing or challenging one.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

This conflict with postmodernism wouldn’t be a big deal if the game was simply called “YIIK” instead of “YIIK: A Postmodern RPG.” As the game spirals towards its end, you begin to encounter major boss fights against people you’re meeting for the first time. 20 hours in, it’s hard to care about a brand new character that takes a half hour of the same minigames you’ve been playing for the entire game to beat.

YIIK has glimpses of greatness that sporadically appear throughout its messy composition. Some parts are excellent — such as the art direction and the music production — and they highlight that the game had a lot of potential. However, these factors of YIIK fail to compensate for the fact that it’s disappointing overall. At the end of the game, Alex provides a summary of what has happened and it’s genuinely interesting. It’s strange that the game managed to kill that intrigue with its slow, tedious, and clunky gameplay. There are two endings, both of which are canon. The one I got is the one that most people will get on their first playthrough. It’s not good. The story doesn’t resolve itself in any meaningful way and the last boss is designed as another arbitrary puzzle that’s a bit much to be considered clever or fair. Also, the route to the end of the game involves a monotonous grind that feels like not enough butter scraped over too much bread.

It’s fair to say that YIIK was never going to be a JRPG comparable to some of the stellar titles we’ve seen in recent years. However, it fails to reach its potential overall. Despite stunning art direction, a kicking soundtrack, and some interesting story points, it’s not an enjoyable game for the most part, thanks to its clunky combat, tedious grinding, and poor puzzle design. Postmodern texts aren’t always enjoyable–Wallace’s Infinite Jest features walls of text that list every chemical name for prescription drugs under the sun, spanning pages upon pages at a time. However, Infinite Jest has substance. For the most part, YIIK doesn’t.


Red Dead Online’s Gun Rush captures the best and worst of battle royale

Red Dead Online is a work in progress, which means that Rockstar keeps adding new modes and arenas to the smorgasbord of options currently available. The most recent, and most promising, of these game modes is Gun Rush.

Gun Rush is a fast-paced, small-scale battle royale mode with a maximum of 32 players. You and your enemies are dropped on a stretch of Red Dead Redemption 2’s open world, and then the map slowly begins to close around you. Players are forced into an increasingly small space against better armed and prepared opponents, and the mood mounts, becoming increasingly desperate.

Gun Rush hews much closer to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds than Fortnite. There’s no intense spectacle, no over the top abilities and weapons that steal the show. The flashiest I’ve seen is a batch of explosive arrows on a bow or a well-timed shotgun blast from around the corner, and extra tools are limited to horses and pieces of ugly armor hewn from metal.

It’s these simple tools that make the game mode sing, especially because you’re dealing with a handful of players and not 100 in one shot. In many ways, Gun Rush is like a “best of” highlight reel from PUBG. It takes the best moments — the initial rush for safety and weapons, the final, frantic firefights in the final zone, crouching in a quiet house with a weapon at the ready, listening to the ever-closer footsteps — and puts them in quick, 10-minute matches. Gone are long stretches of time and travel. Instead, we get right to the action.

Gun Rush legitimately feels good, despite the heft and awkwardness of Red Dead Online’s control scheme. The fact that you can sneak around a player who’s still rotating their camera, or pepper an opponent with a headshot as they transition cover, adds to the feeling that anyone can come out ahead (even if it does mess with the realism). Sometimes these weird moments spent fighting with the system screw me, but it’s hard to get riled up with such short match times. Instead, I quickly head into the next game and vow revenge.

Red Dead Online - a player takes cover. Rockstar Games via Polygon

The problem with the controls isn’t the fact that they’re a little clunky or a little slow; it’s that they’re suited for single-player, and the auto-lock on system is maintained. Once a player sees you and gets their weapon out, they lock on. You’re going to get hit; it’s just a question of how well you can mitigate it. Hitting headshots is still more difficult, and there’s room for precision to help players shine, but the skill floor is vastly lower due to the fact that the lock-on is so deadly and accurate. Even the bow, the one weapon that requires significantly more finesse, comes equipped with explosive arrows.

Gun Rush is also a reminder of how many fantastic systems Red Dead Online has that we just don’t get to experience. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a collection of slow, deliberate systems that make up Arthur Morgan’s day: slowly opening cabinets and rifling through drawers, grooming and feeding your horse, eating stew and drinking coffee at camp. In Red Dead Online, you don’t have access to many of those systems, but there are multiple kinds of combat. Fist fights, hog-tying, knife brawls all feel fantastic, and would be a welcome test of strength … but in Gun Rush, there are only a couple of windows of opportunity for sudden melee ambushes. Instead, it’s all about gunplay.

It’s a missed chance for Red Dead Online to reintroduce systems that feel fantastic and offer more slow, deliberate displays of skill. There are other multiplayer modes that restrict your weapons, like Make it Count, and some Gun Rush maps are high on pistols and low on rifles. It would be fantastic to play a Gun Rush that only had, say, knives and bows, but still had faster pacing and more action than Make It Count. There’s a lot of potential here to use the ever-closing map as a way to force players to get creative with limited tools.

Red Dead Online - a player lines up a shot with an explosive arrow. Rockstar Games via Polygon

Instead, Rockstar seems happy to dole out fiery arrows and shotguns, and while the results are explosive, they get repetitive as well. The first time I shot a guy up on the fort ramparts with an explosive arrow before switching to a shotgun and getting a second kill, it felt amazing. The first time I barely survived a bare knuckle brawl in a barn, only to turn around and have the eventual winner fire an explosive arrow into the window and take me out in a fiery blaze, I gasped and laughed. After that, the spectacle wore off. It was too common for games to end in such a brutal way, and there wasn’t enough variation leading up to that climax.

It’s also worth noting that Gun Rush is best enjoyed with game chat firmly turned off. Red Dead Online continues to have a problem where encountering other vocal players is often a dice roll to see how quickly you hear a racial slur or over-the-top taunt. I have not been encountering new comrades, forging bonds in the fire of a shared experience. Battle royale games, at their best, are highly social — it’s part of the appeal of Fortnite. You’re unlikely to find that in Gun Rush unless you’re playing with existing friends in party chat.

Overall, it’s intriguing to see this addition to Red Dead Online. We expect Rockstar to continue working on existing game modes and improving their fundamentals as opposed to rushing in a variety of experiences during Red Dead Online’s development. Gun Rush has had a promising start, but the gap between its highs and lows is a little too wide right now.


The Tension Between Remakes And Originals

With the spiffy Resident Evil 2 remake right around the corner, I got to thinking about remakes versus remasters. At what point should you just go back and boot up the original?

It can be interesting to see a modern take with new mechanics that retains the original soul of the source material. Then again, how would you know if it retains the soul of the original if you haven’t played it? You might just end up playing a prettier version of the game with changes that impact it in ways that take away from the original.

Still, as technology advances, remasters and remakes are becoming a trend that we all have to get used to. But what makes a good remaster and when does a game warrant a refresh from the ground up? I sat down with Heather Alexandra to talk about great remakes, as well as the games that should just be preserved and left alone.

Hear us talk about the surprising similarities between Leon Kennedy and Lady Gaga in the video above. Here’s an excerpt:

Heather: Maybe it’s my first real “old lady shouts at cloud” moment but for me, I don’t want the Shadow of the Colossus remaster to be the one that’s in the cultural ether. I want that to be a facet of what Shadow of the Colossus is, but I want the original to endure.

Paul: It’s interesting because it’s not an inherent problem specific to video games. We have remakes in Hollywood-

Heather: But it’s bullshit because we talk about remakes in film and we have a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. What was the point of that? Which is why I will say, what I do appreciate about remakes is when they do recontextualize and reimagine a gameplay experience.

Paul: I think about—welcome to the one show that’s going to mention A Star Is Born—but I think about that movie, where it’s a remake but it’s the fifth one and they all do something different that adds something to it. It’s not just a shot-for-shot remake.

Heather: So one of the reasons that Shadow of the Colossus made me uncomfortable—it just takes this original experience that I think was very pure and very much its own thing and adds all this glossiness to it. I think when you change the aesthetic of a thing so much, it changes the tone of a thing. It can change the implications that people read into it.


What’s the status of EA’s Star Wars games?

Update (Jan. 16, 2019): Following reports that EA canceled another Star Wars project — said to be the one that Visceral Games had been working on — we’ve amended the story with the current status of EA’s Star Wars slate, as of January 2019.

Electronic Arts announced in October 2017 that it would close Visceral Games, after deciding to reshape the studio’s Star Wars project from a traditional single-player adventure into “a broader experience.” The publisher’s explanation is couched in ambiguous language, but the big takeaway is this: Visceral’s intended Star Wars game was story-focused and linear, at a time when open-world multiplayer campaigns with varied gameplay are the games du jour.

We knew little about Visceral’s take on Star Wars, other than the name of its director — Uncharted veteran Amy Hennig — and its proposed style of gameplay. But aside from the booming Star Wars Battlefront franchise, Visceral’s untitled Star Wars game remains the one EA has shown off the most from its ballyhooed licensing deal. And four years into said deal, that’s saying a lot.

Electronic Arts first hooked up with Disney back in May 2013, at which point the companies announced three Star Wars titles in the works: one by DICE, one by BioWare and one by Visceral Games. No further details on any of those games were given at the time.

BioWare continues business as usual

BioWare had the benefit of already working on Star Wars games when this deal came through. The studio cut its teeth on the license, in a sense; among its most popular titles are Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its successor, Star Wars: The Old Republic. The 2011 online game launched after EA purchased BioWare, making it the publisher’s first taste of the Star Wars property.

If BioWare plans to deviate from The Old Republic and move onto something new, it has yet to make that apparent to Star Wars fans. One game down, two to go.

And then we got Star Wars Battlefront

EA revealed DICE’s project one month later, during its E3 2013 presentation. Star Wars Battlefront, a multiplayer-only game, launched just ahead of Star Wars: Episode VII in November 2015. While it garnered some criticism for its lack of offline modes and failure to tie into the latest Star Wars film, it was largely a critical and commercial success.

For this November’s Star Wars Battlefront 2, EA Motive joined DICE to help expand the game further. While multiplayer will still be at its core, Battlefront 2 will also have a single-player story mode, which EA Motive is heading up. EA’s spent plenty of time talking it up, which points to the mode as the biggest sign that it listened to negative feedback about Battlefront’s online focus.

The Star Wars Battlefront games remains to this day the only game from the EA-Disney deal to make it to retail. That leaves us with just one of the originally proposed projects unaccounted for.

Visceral’s project comes and goes

In April 2014, EA revealed first details about another Star Wars project in development. This one sounded even more promising than a reimagining of the beloved Battlefront franchise, thanks to a big name attached. Amy Hennig, former Naughty Dog creative director and longtime Uncharted lead, would head up Visceral Games’ Star Wars project.

After that came silence for more than a year, as Hennig worked on the action-adventure game. We heard from longtime Hennig pal and Uncharted star Nolan North for our next drip of information in June 2015. North promised attendees at a convention panel that the game would pull from the Uncharted playbook, as well as that of the canceled LucasArts title Star Wars 1313. Like both of those, Hennig and Visceral’s take on Star Wars was to be a single-player, story-focused action game.

In 2016, EA debuted a brief clip said to be in-game footage from Visceral’s still-untitled project. It came part of a larger package detailing EA’s entire Star Wars lineup — which had expanded to include several more studios since the 2013 announcement. Teams with their own Star Wars projects in development now also included Criterion, Capital Games and, most notably, Respawn Entertainment. (More on that one in a bit.)

In Visceral’s part of the showcase, introduced by Hennig, we got to see a soldier walk out into a bright, desert-like area. Think Tatooine, but with way nicer graphics.

And then? We neither saw nor heard from the game in its initial form ever again. Hennig said ahead of E3 2017 that Star Wars Battlefront 2 deservedly would hog the spotlight at that year’s conference, but that her team continued on with their own work.

This didn’t necessarily trigger any suspicions about the project’s status. Should it have? It’s impossible to say. Whatever was happening behind the scenes is not yet ours to know. Instead, EA has closed the book on the game, more than four years since it was announced. EA Worldwide Studios, led by EA Vancouver, began working on a revamped version of Visceral’s project.

As of January 2019, however, that work may be finished for good. Kotaku reported that EA had pulled the plug on the remainder of Visceral’s Star Wars game, shifting EA Vancouver onto other Star Wars projects.

The company was vague as ever when pressed for confirmation.

“As a natural part of the creative process, the great work by our team in Vancouver continues and will evolve into future Star Wars content and games,” a spokesperson told Polygon.

The game that started at Visceral, according to Kotaku, was indeed an open-world action game, albeit one whose eyes were bigger than its stomach. EA Vancouver is now said to be working on a similar, if much smaller game, due out in 2020.

Respawn enters the action-adventure ring

On “May the 4th,” 2016, Respawn Entertainment announced that it had its own action-adventure Star Wars project in development. The news came as the studio prepped for the launch of Titanfall 2. The mech franchise served as a reference point for director Stig Asmussen, best known for his work on God of War.

EA finally named the project during its pre-E3 2018 conference. It’s called Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a story situated after Episode III in the franchise canon. It’s due to launch during the 2019 holiday season; we expect the press cycle to kick up any time now and shed more light on the game, especially following the potential shuttering of the ex-Visceral project.

As for Criterion and Capital …

Criterion worked with DICE to produce a virtual reality-compatible version of Star Wars Battlefront during the franchise’s gap year, back in 2016. Capital Games, meanwhile, is developing mobile titles based on Star Wars.

Final tally

That makes five Star Wars games (and some expansions) released, one about to launch, and (at least) one in development.

The news about Visceral Games may give some fans or detractors pause about how EA is handling the Star Wars property. But while it’s tempting to make comparisons to the greatly mourned Star Wars 1313 — another promising action-adventure game that very publicly kicked the bucket — for the most part, EA has held up its part of the bargain. Two of the three companies named in its original announcement of the Star Wars deal have released projects based on the series. And if anything, EA has only shown more of a commitment to Star Wars by roping in other branches to work on the license.

Still, it’s disappointing. Here’s hoping that Respawn Entertainment can fulfill the promise of a single-player Star Wars story.

Clarification: Visceral Games is closed, but its project has been shipped off to EA Worldwide Studios and EA Vancouver to begin anew — so don’t expect Visceral’s vision to ever come to fruition.


Xbox One Game Pass Keeps Rolling Out Even More Titles This Month

Microsoft has announced more games coming to Xbox Games Pass in January. One of which, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, is already available on the subscription service.

Two more games, We Happy Few and The Lego Movie Videogame, go live on Xbox Game Pass on January 17. We Happy Few is a first-person action game where you play as three different people trying to survive in a police-state society that forces everyone to remain happy all the time by taking a mandatory drug called Joy. The Lego Movie Videogame is based on the characters and storylines of the titular movie.

On January 24, two more titles, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Saints Row: The Third, join Xbox Game Pass. The former acts as a loose prequel to the events told in The Lord of the Rings, and delivers a memorable action-packed gaming experience with a system that causes enemy orcs to evolve based on their combat encounters with protagonist Talion. The latter marks the moment in the Saints Row franchise where the games veered off from being a GTA-look-alike and, for the better, transformed into something ridiculously wacky.

Microsoft added several titles to Game Pass earlier in January as well. On January 3, Life is Strange 2: Part 1, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Farming Simulator 17 were added to the service. Absolver was added on January 7, and both Just Cause 3 and Aftercharge were put on the service on the 10th.

Game Pass has proven popular with players, with Xbox boss Phil Spencer claiming that “millions of subscribers” are using the service. The service offers dozens of games to subscribers for $10 USD a month, which is a pretty good deal when compared against the combined library’s full retail price. Microsoft took great strides to improve the appeal of Game Pass in 2018, such as an announcement that all first-party titles would launch on the service the day they released. This includes games like Crackdown 3, Gears 5, and Halo Infinite.

In 2018, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella teased that Game Pass will launch on PC in the future, but there hasn’t been an official announcement as to when. For now, the service is exclusive to Microsoft’s family of Xbox One consoles.


EA Responds To Star Wars Game Cancelation Report, Doesn’t Deny It

Following a report that Electronic Arts had canceled the open-world Star Wars game in development at EA Vancouver, the publisher has finally responded with a statement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer any real insight, though tellingly it does nothing to dispel what Kotaku’s story laid out.

“There’s been speculation overnight about one of our Star Wars projects. As a natural part of the creative process, the great work by our team in Vancouver continues and will evolve into future Star Wars content and games,” the company said in a statement shared with GameSpot. “We’re fully committed to making more Star Wars games, we’re very excited about Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order from Respawn, and we’ll share more about our new projects when the time is right.”

That is far from a denial that it’s canceled the project, which was said to be an open-world game “reboot” of what had previously been in development at the now-defunct Visceral Games. When the former Dead Space developer was shuttered, Vancouver assumed control of the project, which morphed into something quite different but would use assets from Visceral. Kotaku’s report states Vancouver is now at work on a smaller-scale Star Wars game that can be released sooner than would have been possible with the open-world game.

It’s been rough going for Star Wars games at EA, both in terms of this specific project and more broadly. Battlefront II had an extremely rough launch after players objected to the use of what was perceived as pay-to-win mechanics, which were ultimately pulled at the 11th hour, just before release.

As noted in EA’s statement, the company does have Jedi Fallen Order in development at Respawn, the studio known for the Titanfall series. Little is known about the game, which stars a young Jedi Padawan after Order 66 is carried out in Revenge of the Sith. Respawn has multiple games set for release before the end of 2019, which could include both Jedi Fallen Order and Titanfall 3. It’s also working on an unannounced VR game.

What the future holds for EA’s Star Wars games is unclear, but the company does have a licensing agreement that gives it the exclusive rights to make Star Wars games on consoles. That deal runs until 2023.


A Very Angry Capcom vs. SNK 2 Competition

Over the weekend, a monthly Capcom vs. SNK 2 tournament at Japan’s Club Sega Shinjuku held a special exhibition between three established competitors. The event had brought these three players together due to the similarities in how they play the game, particularly their use of a specific fighting style that rewards characters for getting hit and getting angry.

Of the old school fighting games that are still popular, Capcom vs. SNK 2 is arguably the most complicated. In addition to selecting a team of three characters from franchises like Street Fighter and King of Fighters, players also must determine which of the six fighting styles, or grooves, they will use. These grooves vary dramatically in the tools they provide competitors. A-Groove, for instance, gives players access to Street Fighter Alpha 3-style custom combos. Meanwhile, K-Groove is the style that revolves around characters reacting to getting hit; it bears similarity to Garou: Mark of the Wolves’s Just Defend mechanic and Samurai Shodown’s Rage meter. This fighting style formed the basis of Saturday night’s exhibition, providing a spectacular look into its complexities.

The three players in the showcase, Bocchan, GAO, and RAI, are all masters of the K-Groove, each with notable wins at events both local and major stretching back years. They were invited to put their skills on display at Club Sega Shinjuku after the monthly Capcom vs. SNK 2 tournament in a lengthy round-robin competition called K-Groove Madness. In this game, different characters excel in different grooves, and this became clear when the players chose the characters for their teams. Where Street Fighter mainstays like Blanka, Cammy, and Sagat—all of whom make up Bocchan’s team—are generally going to be good in just about every groove, K-Groove also allows fighters like The Last Blade’s Hibiki and Fatal Fury’s Geese—used by RAI and GAO, respectively—to compete on a more even playing field.

Capcom vs. SNK 2’s K-Groove revolves around two key tools. Just Defend is almost like a parry in that it gives the defender the opportunity to act quickly out of blockstun and retaliate against their opponent. Furthermore, successful Just Defends give the user a small bit of life back and contribute to the Rage meter. Unlike other grooves, where performing certain offensive actions will build meter, Rage can only be acquired by getting hit and using a proper Just Defend. Once the Rage meter is full, the character immediately enters an angered state during which they deal more (and suffer less) damage.

The existence of the Rage meter can allow for incredible comebacks, but players must balance their characters’ health with the Rage bar in an effort to make the most out of the power-up. As seen in the clips below, matches can turn on a dime as soon as one player fills up the Rage meter, no matter how far that player may have fallen behind in health. Bocchan, GAO, and RAI were all able to take advantage of K-Groove in this way over the course of the exhibition.

This comeback by RAI’s Sagat was one of the most exciting moments of the night, perfectly showcasing the power of the K-Groove toolset.

Capcom vs. SNK 2 occupies the same space as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike in that they are all beloved, classic fighting games that continue to be played seriously to this day. While they don’t draw stadium-filling crowds, what they bring to the table is still special. The confluence of style and customization has kept players coming back almost two decades later and makes events like last weekend’s K-Groove Madness possible. Give players more ways to express themselves and they will always find a way to do something extraordinary.

Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.


This Spinning Sleeve Makes Your AirPod Case Even More Fidgetable

As much I love my AirPods as headphones, the best feature of Apple’s wireless earbuds has always been their fidget-friendly charging case. I’m honestly shocked I haven’t broken the little magnetic lid from all the time I’ve spent absentmindedly clicking it open and closed to keep my hands busy. And now, thanks to Air Vinyl Design’s ZenPod case, your headphones can pull double duty as a fidget spinner too.

The thin, leather ZenPod sleeve fits your AirPod case like a glove, and completely hides any hint of Apple’s white plastic when fully closed, save for a Lightning cable cutout on the bottom. Two spinner wheels sit on either side of the case, and the ball bearings inside offer as smooth a spin as any fidget spinner I’ve ever tried, albeit with a lot less centrifugal force.

ZenPod also lets you continue to enjoy your AirPods’ clicky lid sensation, though it does hamper the experience somewhat. The lid still snaps closed with a satisfying click, but it won’t spring open at a full 90 degree angle with a flick, at least not until you’ve sufficiently broken in the leather hinge. The lack of thumb groove on the case also makes it more difficult to find the lid by feel. These are definitely trade-offs, and whether they’re worth it for you depends on how much you like fidget spinners and/or leather, I suppose.

But beyond the gimmicks, ZenPod is just a really nice AirPod case. It’s much thinner and easier to slide into a pocket than the silicone cases we’ve seen in the past, and the three available color combinations mean you can easily differentiate different family members’ AirPods, if you have multiple sets lying around the house. It’s not a life changing product, and it’s certainly not something that anybody needs, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t spent all day spinning it. 


Your Fortnite Account Could Have Been Hacked Through An Old Epic Games Webpage

Check Point security researchers discovered vulnerabilities in Epic Games’ website, which could have been used to hack into someone’s Fortnite account. According to CNET, the researchers found the exploit in November 2018, and it was subsequently fixed by Epic this month.

“We were made aware of the vulnerabilities and they were soon addressed. We thank Check Point for bringing this to our attention. As always, we encourage players to protect their accounts by not reusing passwords and using strong passwords, and not sharing account information with others,” an Epic Games spokesperson said.

Unfortunately, the exploit was not one that could have been avoided via constant password changes. The vulnerability existed through an unsecured URL that was first created in 2004 for an old Unreal Tournament records page. Before the page was deactivated, a hacker could have used it to take advantage of the access tokens a player might use to log into Epic Games’ servers, and their Fortnite account as a result as well. The hackers wouldn’t even need to know the player’s Epic Game’s password either, as the exploit takes advantage of any corresponding accounts that the player might use to log in, such as Facebook, Google, or Xbox Live. When completed, the exploit allows someone to listen in on the victim’s conversations with other players and also purchase in-game items with the hacked person’s credit card.

“Even if you [had] a security product looking for anti-phishing, it wouldn’t catch [the hack] because it’s coming from a legitimate domain,” Check Point head of products vulnerability research Oded Vanunu said. Vanunu went on to encourage players to enable two-factor authentication for their Epic accounts. Doing so won’t protect you from all forms of hacking attempts, but it will help protect you from people trying to get at your account through access tokens. Epic seemingly agrees, as the company released a free Fortnite emote for players who enable two-factor authentication.

“Token hijacking is something that is happening on all major platforms,” Vanunu continued. “We are starting to see malicious attackers looking for tokens more.”