Tag Archives: gaming news

Netflix’s Enola Holmes is a slam dunk for Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown

Whatever faults Netflix’s Sherlock Holmes spinoff Enola Holmes might have, the performance at its center shines so brightly that they fade away even as they’re being registered. As the titular character, Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown constantly turns to the camera to address the audience, letting them in on the frustrations she can’t share with the rest of the world, and nominally inviting viewers to participate in her schemes. The schtick, run into the ground by Deadpool, should get annoying fast. But in Brown’s hands, it never does.

The film, directed by Harry Bradbeer and adapted from a book series by Nancy Springer, centers around Enola, the younger sister of Mycroft (Sam Clafin) and Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill). Enola lives in the family home with their mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). Together, they play sports, practice martial arts, engage in strategy games, and generally do everything that women in the Victorian Era aren’t supposed to do. When Eudoria disappears without a trace, Enola’s world is turned upside down, as Mycroft, now her guardian, takes umbrage with her upbringing thus far and tries to commit her to a finishing school. Horrified by the idea, Enola runs away, but on her quest to find her mother, gets caught up in a different mystery.

a daughter and mother engage in a sparring match
Millie Bobby Brown and Helena Bonham Carter in Enola Holmes.
Photo: Alex Bailey/Netflix

The plots Enola has to unravel are ultimately fairly simple. The joy in the film is less about watching her figure things out, and more in the unfolding character dynamics. The entire cast is packed with big, cartoonish personalities, from a headmistress who seems almost erotically thrilled by etiquette (Fiona Shaw) to Viscount Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), a foppish young man with a fondness for flowers and vegetation, whose apparent cluelessness seems to make him Enola’s opposite. Even Sherlock and Mycroft have been turned into novel, exaggerated versions of themselves. Mycroft is a stick in the mud who lacks the family’s trademark smarts, and Sherlock is much burlier and friendlier than most (if not all) of his previous iterations. (Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate actually filed a lawsuit against Netflix for this warmer, more human characterization.)

While Sherlock isn’t instantly recognizable, Cavill is at least appealing, and Enola Holmes is, per the title, Enola’s story. If anything, the fact that Sherlock plays a relatively minor role is for the best. And Brown, best known as Stranger Things’ mostly mute psychic Eleven, is finally given a chance to show off the bubblier side of her star power. She seems to be drawing from a bottomless well of energy, balancing cheekiness with self-awareness and still managing to make the few moments where Enola is truly emotionally distraught land convincingly.

She also pulls off the film’s central romance without tripping over how suddenly it seems to develop, as Enola becomes attached to Tewksbury before she knows it, and winds up compelled to figure out who’s sent a thug (Burn Gorman) to kill him, and why. They have a winning rapport, which makes the most of the way Tewksbury’s interests are more stereotypically feminine while Enola’s are more stereotypically masculine. And Partridge, who resembles a fey third Sprouse sibling, holds his own well enough against Brown.

a young man and woman speak to each other
Louis Partridge and Millie Bobby Brown in Enola Holmes.
Photo: Alex Bailey/Netflix

But Enola Holmes falls short in its depiction of “girl power.” The overall message that Enola draws from her adventures, about how her future is in her own hands, is commendable, but overly broad. Enola’s refusal to conform to Victorian standards comes at the cost of belittling everyone who does. All of the other students at her finishing school are mean girls, and the one character who seems to understand Enola without being similarly rebellious is ultimately exposed as a villain. Every female character must prove her worth by being able to fight or being otherwise tomboyish in some way; there’s no room for anyone who would choose a more traditionally feminine lifestyle.

Still, Enola Holmes is a terrific vehicle for star and producer Millie Bobby Brown — it seems consciously designed to unleash her full talents. It should come as no surprise, that the ending of the film leaves the door open for an Enola series, especially given that there are six Enola Holmes books so far. The match of material and star works so well that the story’s relative simplicity and undercooked quality aren’t too much of a stumbling block. It’s a perfect next step for Brown, and hopefully a sign of greater things to come.

Enola Holmes is streaming on Netflix now.

Source: Polygon.com

Magic: The Gathering has a new kind of booster pack, here’s how they work

The next set of cards for Magic: The Gathering arrives at retail stores on Sept. 25, and it’s called Zendikar Rising. This collection of 280 cards is being distributed in an entirely new way, with a different kind of booster pack. Called Set Boosters, they boast a tremendous collection of full-card art and the chance to get up to four Rare cards — including one or more Mythic Rares — inside each pack.

Wizards of the Coast sent Polygon an early box containing 30 of these new Set Boosters. Here’s what we found inside.

A Set Booster contains an art card — which could be a foil signed card, if you’re lucky. Then there’s a land, which has a 15% chance of being foil. There are then six “connected” commons and uncommons, a “fireworks” section, and a Rare or Mythic Rare and a foil card of some kind. Finally, there’s either a token, an advertisement, or a rare reprinted card from The List.
A graphic showing the composition of a Set Booster, new with Zendikar Rising.
Image: Wizards of the Coast via YouTube

The most important thing to know about Set Boosters is that they’re not intended for use in drafting. That’s a style of play where players open up fresh packs of cards and pass them around the table to create new decks. Set Booster packs are aimed squarely at collectors, and command a premium price tag to match. Wizards estimates they’ll run about $1 more per pack, but that will vary depending on what region you’re in, according to head designer Mark Rosewater.

Each pack is designed to be a kind of journey. Senior designer Gavin Verhey gave fans a tour on YouTube in August, and broke things down in detail. The first third of the pack is designed as an introduction. On top is a full-card piece of art drawn from the current set, with a small chance that it contains a foil artist signature. Behind that there’s a land card (in Zendikar, those are full-card as well).

Next comes six Common and Uncommon cards that are connected via a similar theme. In our packs we found clutches of unrelated monsters, spells, or cards that all use the same mechanic. I like this new approach a lot, actually, as it tends to reinforce the themes in a given card set and can also serve as inspiration for deck building.

After those six cards comes what Verhey refers to as “the fireworks.” First is a “head turner” card, curated by the team at Wizards to show off especially good art from the given set of cards. In our 30 packs we got a few duplicates, but they lived up to the name as the graphics really stood apart from the rest.

15 cards sitting on a wood table. They are quite colorful.
A selection of the “head turners” that Polygon found in its first 30 Set Booster packs.
Image: Charlie Hall/Polygon

After the head turner is a “wildcard,” which has a chance of being a Rare. After that is a guaranteed Rare or Mythic Rare and a guaranteed foil card. If you luck out, you could end up with four Rares in a single pack. We weren’t so lucky in our 30, but three of our packs included combinations of three Rare and Mythic Rare cards.

Finally, pulling up in the last slot, is either an advertisement/token card, a minigame card, or a reprinted card from Magic: The Gathering history — part of The List. We’ll deal with each of those individually.

Advertisement/token cards have been in Magic booster packs for years. They’re placeholders, intended to represent the effects of other cards of spells you might have in your hand. You’ll commonly find a box of them available for free at your local game shop, right next to basic land cards.

The minigame cards are — to my knowledge at least — fairly new. They’re nothing special, to be honest. Just frivolous little five or 10-minute exercises to do with your friends while you sit around opening up cards. I got two of them in my 30 packs: Booster Sleuth, which asks you to guess at one of the cards in the pack based on knowing the other 11, and Strictly Better, which is more or less a quick round of Would You Rather but for card art.

Where things get really interesting is with the reprints. The List was formally unveiled on Sept. 10, and includes 300 cards drawn from across the history of Magic: The Gathering. It’s effectively a floating, evolving set composed from all the cards in the game’s 27-year history.

“The plan is for The List to change subtly from set to set,” Wizards said in the official blog post, “bringing in cards that might make sense with the set we’re in, but it will mostly stay intact from set to set, meaning you will all get to learn what cards are in The List.”

Cards from The List are included in 25% of Set Boosters. In 30 packs, we got 7, which is just about right. They included Vanguard of Brimaz (Born of the Gods, 2014), Eternal Dominion (Saviors of Kamigawa, 2005), Pegasus Stampede (Tempest Remastered, 2015), Oubliette (Double Masters, 2020), Man-o’-War (Modern Horizons, 2019), Brothers Yamazaki (Champions of Kamigawa, 2004), and Brain Freeze (Vintage Masters, 2014). Each one looks just like the original, down to the style of the border and the placement of the artist’s signature. The only way to tell it’s from The List is the small Magic symbol in the lower left-hand corner.

A collection of Magic: The Gathering products with Zendikar branding.
The full product line for Zendikar Rising. A Set Booster is shown in the lower left.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

So what else did we end up opening? In 30 packs we came across a grand total of 42 Rares and three Mythic Rares, including a foil planeswalker and a borderless, alternate art planeswalker. There were 35 foils (including four foil lands) in all. Finally, we encountered two gold foil signed pieces of art, which you can see in the collage above.

Notably, all 30 art cards in the box were unique — save for those two signed cards, which also included their unsigned version as well.

While the official release date for Zendikar Rising is Sept. 25, there have been some production issues with this set which will create a bit of a shortage for a time.

“The first wave is facing delays in North America, and some locations may not receive their full shipment of Draft and Set Boosters in time for launch,” Wizards said in a blog post updated on Sept. 17. “The second wave is subsequently delayed as well. As a result, some North American locations may experience limited availability until the second wave arrives. Please contact your local store to check on product availability.”

Zendikar Rising is currently live online in Magic: The Gathering Arena.

Source: Polygon.com

Super Mega Baseball 3’s next update delivers Online Leagues

Super Mega Baseball 3’s next update delivers online multiplayer leagues, whose members can play out their seasons cross-platform. Originally called “Custom Pennant Race,” Online Leagues will arrive Sept. 29.

Scott Drader, the co-founder of developing studio Metalhead Software, said that players with Super Mega Baseball 3’s free trial or demo versions can get involved in Online Leagues, too, and play against others who have the full game.

“Between the cross-platform invite codes and the fact new users can get started in Online Leagues with just the trial or demo version of the game, we’re stoked for the potential this mode has to massively grow the SMB community,” Drader said.

An Online League’s games can be set up and played casually, via matchmaking among members or who are online. Players can also coordinate their playing times and play games on a fixed schedule using a match-against-specific user feature.

The Super Mega Baseball 3 demo allows players to join a league created by a friend, provided that league is configured with default settings. A league with different settings requires all users to have the full version of the game.

Online Leagues on default settings, unlike SMB3’s Pennant Race mode, allow players to use all of the teams from the game’s standard roster, adjust the game’s “Ego” (a difficulty scale), plus other visual customizations.

Elsewhere in the update coming next Tuesday, players will get a “fully revamped” Watch Mode, for AI-versus-AI games. That provides new, user-controlled cameras for the viewing party.

Super Mega Baseball 3 launched in May on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. We found the latest entry in the unlicensed, indie sports series as outstanding as its two predecessors, led by a “smart, engrossing franchise mode,” which lets players import teams from Super Mega Baseball 2.

Source: Polygon.com

Game of Thrones showrunners finally explain the Lady Stoneheart omission

There are plenty of changes between HBO’s Game of Thrones series and George R.R. Martin’s original A Song of Ice and Fire books — at least the ones that have been released so far. But even with all the changes, Lady Stoneheart garnered so much fan attention and was talked up so relentlessly by book-readers that even the most casual Game of Thrones watcher had questions about whether or not she would appear.

Since the revenant never actually made an appearance in the series, fans have always had a few outstanding questions about why she was cut. Thankfully, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have finally provided some answers.

[Ed Note: This post contains spoilers for the entire Game of Thrones series.]

The showrunners’ Lady Stoneheart info comes from the upcoming book “Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon,” James Hibbard’s behind-the-scenes look at the making of HBO’s Game of Thrones series, which had an excerpt published in Entertainment Weekly.

As a bit of brief background for those who aren’t in the loop, Lady Stoneheart is the resurrected form of Catelyn Stark. Following the events of the Red Wedding, where Catelyn was murdered, Beric Dondarrion gives his life to resurrect Catelyn. But she’s different when she returns to life.

Her wounds from the wedding don’t heal, and prevent her from speaking. More importantly she now has an all-consuming desire for vengeance over her and her family’s betrayal. She takes control of the Brotherhood Without Banners, and roams Westeros seeking her revenge against the Lannisters and the Freys.

According to Benioff and Weiss the the first reason they skipped out on Lady Stoneheart was thanks to a plot detail from one of Martin’s upcoming books. Unfortunately, the pair only offered this tease, but avoided actually discussing the events in question to avoid spoilers for Martin’s books. Of course, we can always make our own inferences, and based on where Lady Stoneheart is in the books it’s certainly possible that this has something to do with Brienne.

The second reason was a little more straightforward and practical. Benioff and Weiss knew that Jon Snow’s resurrection was on the horizon, so they opted to minimize the number of characters who came back from the dead. They figured if too many characters came back it would dampen the shock when Jon came back in season 6 after dying in season 5.

The final reasons the showrunning duo had for not including Lady Stoneheart was simply that Catelyn Stark’s death was just too good the first time around. For Game of Thrones as a series, the Red Wedding might be its most iconic and important moments and Benioff and Weiss felt it could lessen the wedding’s emotional impact if one of the characters returned, no matter how badly scarred. Another related issue for the pair was that they felt the Lady Stoneheart role would have been a waste of Michelle Fairley.

“Catelyn’s last moment was so fantastic and Michelle is such a great actress, to bring her back as a zombie who doesn’t speak felt like diminishing returns,” Benioff said.

While none of these answers are too surprising, it’s nice to finally have some explanation of why the fan-favorite character never made it to the screen. On top of that, it’s difficult not to feel like characters like Lady Stoneheart, or Young Griff could have been integral parts of the show’s last few seasons had they been included.

In fact, Martin himself has said that Lady Stoneheart “is an important part of” the series’ sixth book, “The Winds of Winter.” At least with Benioff and Weiss’ tantalizing hint that part of the reason she wasn’t included being a plot point in Martin’s unreleased books, fans can rest assured that Lady Stoneheart is once again returning to the series.

Source: Polygon.com

What actually happens when a huge game demo fails at E3

Turn the clock back to 2008. It’s E3, and Bethesda has been tapped to open up Microsoft’s press conference with a live demonstration of its next big game, Fallout 3. This is huge. Beyond performing on a stage for thousands of people, Fallout as a franchise had, at that point, laid dormant for a long time. And here was Bethesda, trying to bring back one of the most celebrated RPGs of all time, except now, the post-apocalyptic game was going to be a first-person shooter. People were skeptical.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Bethesda. Rehearsing the event was a no-brainer. But according to a recent podcast snippet between Bethesda executive producer Todd Howard and the folks at Xboxwho now own the Fallout studio — things still inevitably went wrong. That’s just the nature of a live event.

“What they do during a demo — it’s live, you go up to the controller, you’re gonna play through the demo, blah blah blah — and in case something goes wrong, there’s someone else playing also,” Howard said. The idea is that, should the demo come under technical difficulties, the presenters can simply switch the feeds. The second someone says “broken arrow” into someone else’s earpiece, the feeds are swapped.

In this case, Bethesda senior VP of global marketing Pete Hines was waiting in the wings. Sure enough, when it was showtime, the press conference began with Howard’s wireless controller unable to connect to the game. You can peep it happening in the video below — Howard can be heard telling the audience, “I’m good.”

Internally, however, Howard was panicking.

“And man, I was just like, ‘oh, please no,’” Howard recalls. Cue Hines picking up the slack. The trick, however, wasn’t just to keep the demo going. It was to keep up the illusion of Howard guiding the viewer through the presentation, which means the behind-the-scenes man has to keep up with what’s being said.

“The entire time I’m rehearsing, I’m thinking, this is the dumbest thing ever, they are never going to need this,” Hines recalls. “Todd knows what he’s doing. It’s not going to crash.”

And then of course, it faltered. Hines couldn’t help but curse.

“It was like two people went to a dance class, but they hadn’t really danced together yet,” Howard said. Fortunately, folks couldn’t really tell things were going haywire even as Hines tried his best to anticipate what Howard was going to do.

The Bethesda devs noted that, as a second precautionary measure, they also have prepared video to play during the demonstration, just in case the second player option doesn’t work out. Contingencies!

“It was the worst demo I’d ever given,” Howard said.

The podcast also talks more generally about Microsoft’s relationship with Bethesda over the years, why the merger made sense, and some hints of what’s to come for both companies. Fun fact: Those long load times on the console version of Morrowind? That was Bethesda rebooting your Xbox, the sly dogs.

Source: Polygon.com

Even Final Fantasy 14’s director cries during story quests

Final Fantasy 14’s patch 5.3 added a boatload of content, including new story quests to conclude the Shadowbringers story, cosmetics, Nier raid content, and the ability to fly in older zones.

While Shadowbringers focused on being the Warrior of Darkness in a different realm, our characters are now refocusing on the Garlean Empire that’s been threatening peace for a while now. Old foes have found new allies and a new expansion will likely release sometime next year, pending any delays.

We talked to the game’s producer and director, Naoki Yoshida, about the game’s story, new characters introduced, and the livelihood of the precious Qiqirn in an email interview.

The interview, which has been edited for clarity, contains spoilers for patch 5.3’s main scenario quests and the Sorrows of Werlyt quest line.

Polygon: The emotional response to the main scenario quest this time around was pretty brutal. Of course, FF14 fans avoided spoiling things for others, but there were many instances of fans saying they were crying for hours after completing the story. Did you expect this type of response?

Naoki Yoshida: We truly appreciate the many words of praise and the great reception from all of our players. The development team has seen a lot of the reactions and were of course ecstatic about it. In particular, the scenario writers were under a great deal of pressure, so I’m sure they are relieved.

I can’t say that I had no worries about how players would react to patch 5.3, but I had a certain amount of confidence. This confidence came from my own playthrough of patch 5.3’s main scenario during development checks—each time I did, there were tears streaming down my face (laughs).

The new Sorrows of Werlyt quest introduced us to a new Garlemald officer, who is quite … different from the others we’ve seen. We didn’t see too much of him, but he already sticks out like a sore thumb in comparison to the other characters in this game. Why did the team decide to go in this type of character design direction?

Unfortunately I can’t go into too much detail because a lot of it relates to what will happen further down the line in this story, but what I can say is that his appearance in the Sorrow of Werlyt story has somewhat grounded the fact that he will have a major impact in the story.

The Garlean Empire is in the midst of conflict, much like a civil war, due to Zenos having killed Varis—this has led to a fight for the seat as his successor. The IVth Legion escaped Dalmasca, but they have now set up camp in Bozja, working to push their own unique agenda. As you can see, the Empire is beginning to spiral out of control …

Alisae leaps into the air holding her rapier, with the bright blue sky behind her
Sweet freedom!
Image: Square Enix

There are tons of moments in this patch that really flexed the animation capabilities. Alisae’s leap at the end of the main scenario quest looked really great and it was refreshing. Did something change to allow this type of animation?

I think with Shadowbringers reaching its climax and conclusion with patch 5.3, the staff on our cutscene team were very excited and wanted to push the boundaries. I think another factor was very clear and good cinematic direction from the scenario team.

In general, the cutscene team is always looking to take on new challenges and create new cinematic elements in game, and I think those scenes are proof of their hard work coming to fruition. Cutscene animation is built from motion capture, but implementing the animation and adding cinematics requires meticulous, tedious, and time-consuming adjustments. The delay in our patch schedule due to COVID-19 may have been a blessing in disguise in this particular case, and the cutscene team worked hard over the course of two months to reach the quality we see in the final product. I think it’s safe to say you can expect to see further improvements in future updates as well!

Surely the Qiqirn that run the ferry in Upper La Noscea are going to see a huge dip in sales now that you can fly in A Realm Reborn zones. How will they be making up for the gil loss? (I’m sure the other ferry runners in the ARR will also take a hit, but I’m mostly worried about the Qiqirn, to be honest.)

Indeed, it’s true that for the Qiqirn, the ferries are their livelihood. I would hope that the Qiqirin are able to recoup some of the loss by collecting ferry fees from all of those rookie Warriors of Light, who have yet to defeat Ultima Weapon and are unable to fly yet … And hey, they might even resort to price gouging. (I’m joking!)

A Qiqirn ferry skipper waits by its boat
I will still give you gil, Ferry Skipper …
Image: Square Enix via Polygon

When we were developing A Realm Reborn, I brought up two features to the team I was thinking to implement: flying mounts and swimming/diving. You may already be aware, but the development period for ARR was quite short all things considered as we needed to release the game in a very short period of time, so we ultimately made the decision to implement these additional features in a future expansion. We did achieve this with flying became available in Heavensward, and the addition of swimming and diving with Stormblood.

However, we did not include ARR areas in these updates at the time, but I had always thought it would be great if we could at least allow for flying. Seeing high level players take to the skies is quite exciting for new players. I think it’s important to give newer players that motivation to reach that goal of being able to fly. I always wanted to make that a reality, and with the support of the level design and background teams, we spent about nine months of time developing the update. We did this in tandem with our normal patch development, and we essentially found the time between our normal work to make this happen.

Source: Polygon.com

A new Final Fantasy 14 dance was mocapped by a dev team member

Final Fantasy 14’s dances are beloved by players, which makes sense, because the game has a lot of downtime. This means there are many opportunities for party members to pop an emote and, in doing so, come to appreciate the careful work put into these dances.

Dances in Final Fantasy 14 are emotes and can be unlocked through quests, buying with in-game currency, as well as buying with real money in a shop. Players can be seen dancing around in towns, between phase transitions in bosses, and just about anywhere it’s safe to AFK and get your groove on.

The game’s latest patch, 5.3, added several new dances to the game. There’s the “Bee’s Knees” dance that features a hip-swaying step movement. There’s the “Lalihop,” which uses waving, crouching, and kicking. For the annual summer event, the Moonfire Faire, Square Enix added a hula-like dance called the “Flame Dance.”

“There are two general paths we may take when creating a new dance emote; one of which is having one of our animators create a storyboard for the dance and then having the dance performed by a mocap actor,” Final Fantasy 14’s producer and director Naoki Yoshida said in an email with Polygon. “The Bee’s Knees dance would fall into this category.”

The Bee’s Knees dance is by far the most popular of the three. There are players doing the Bee’s Knees just about everywhere you look. It’s become my go-to dance as well.

“Another good example is the Moonfire Faire dance. That dance was actually created by one of the guys on our quest team, who was really knowledgeable about that particular type of dance, so much so that he stepped in as the mocap actor for it,” said Yoshida. “There are a lot of hidden talents within the FFXIV team!”

With fun customization and fashions and an upgraded free trial, now is still a great time to start Final Fantasy 14.

Source: Polygon.com

J.J. Abrams’ Spider-Man comic plays in Marvel’s sandbox like a kid with a jackhammer

In the very first pages of their first Marvel Comics project, Spider-Man, J.J Abrams and his son Henry Abrams made clear that nothing was off limits. The book introduced a new villain, Cadaverous, killed off Mary Jane, saw Peter Parker hang up his Spidey suit, and jumped into the future to pick up with Peter and MJ’s son Ben. In issue #2, the writing duo killed off the Avengers — with a billboard!

The fury with which the Abrams boys carved out a “what if?” continuity ultimately overshadows the run, which began in September 2019 and, after many delays, delivers a fourth issue this week. There was patented mystery box allure to the mania of the first issue; with Spider-Man #4, the box is all that’s left. Ben’s story — about understanding his father, being the mutated heir to the superhero throne, and the general anxieties of teen life (kinda?) — feels nonexistent under the assault of action unleashed by Cadaverous.

But a lot of weird stuff happens! And maybe that’s the joy for the Abramses: When some writers might play in the sandbox, to echo comic veterans while bringing their creations into new context, Spider-Man is provocateurship. Yes, they really did that. No, nothing matters. Smash smash, thwip thwip, boom boom, Fin.

If there’s a big twist left to “J.J. Abrams Marvel book,” it’s that it really belongs to artist Sara Pichelli.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Spider-Man #4.]

zombie thor attacks tony stark in Spider-Man #4, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli/Marvel Comics

Having successfully captured Peter Parker and drained the (Spider-)man’s super blood, Cadaverous completes his mission: To revive his old mentor, Minka Tross.

Spider-Man #3 revealed the two were former Stark Industries employees working alongside none other than Richard and Mary Parker, Peter’s parents. As a group, they developed radiobiology tech known as “The Key,” a restorative, gene-bending blah blah blah that could potentially bring people back to life. But the experiments failed, and a revived test subject killed Minka. Stark, not wanting to play god, dismantled the unit. Then SHIELD showed up at their door looking to weaponize the discovery. The implosion of their careers prompted Richard and Mary to destroy all remaining evidence of the The Key, except for one test subject: a genetically enhanced spider!

[Captain America voice] I understood that reference.

Spider-Man #4 spends half its pages catching Minka up on what we learned in the last issue, which is unfortunate. But that talky stretch also gives us a glimpse of just how horribly wrong the experiments were going back in the day. Cadaverous’ blood transfusion successfully resurrects the deceased scientist, but … also morphs her into an Actual Spider Person.

Cadaverous and Minka explain things in Spider-Man #4, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli/Marvel Comics

Whether it’s the gap between issues or the overinvestment in Cadaverous’ connection to Stark/the Parks as a compelling hook, J.J. and Henry’s new chapter is mostly spinning wheels. Thankfully, the wheels are flailing dirt in every direction. The Avengers are alive and livid thanks to the villains’ cybernetic upgrades, and Pichelli’s art style keeps the mayhem grungy. There’s glee in the voices of both our heroes (Ben in full Spider-mode, Riri in Ironheart armor, Old Tony running for his life) and the undead (Slobbering Thor, Slobbering Hulk, Slobbering Captain America, and Slobbering Black Widow).

J.J. Abrams knows how to concoct an edge-of-your-seat action movie. He does it here, finally, when most of the twisty storytelling is behind him. Pichelli more than delivers, then she gets to draw a giant spider webbing itself around the Brooklyn Bridge.

Spider-Man fights Cadaverous’ minions in Spider-Man #4, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli/Marvel Comics

This version of Spider-Man is nonsense, but it’s particularly infuriating because it’s weightless nonsense that hopes twists and references and laissez-faire world-building are enough for a six-issue mini-series. It’s hard to imagine we’ll ever meet Ben Parker again (especially since Miles Morales does the young Spidey thing so well). It’s hard to imagine any resolution sticking. But there’s still a good book here, buried at the bottom of the mystery box. It’s one of pure spectacle, where a pair of writers step back from the spotlight, glorify their collaborators wielding pencils and ink, and let the real art rip.

There may not be time to evolve in that way. Four issues and 11 months in, and with two more books to go, Spider-Man, rather bizarrely, is still just an excuse to play with Marvel’s toys.

Source: Polygon.com

Amnesia: The Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs are now open source

Legendary horror game Amnesia: The Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs is now open source, meaning that modders can dig in and see what lies underneath the hood of both games.

The full source code for The Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs has been released on Github for folks who want to take a crack at modifying the game. It’s relatively rare for developers to post their game codes themselves, though sometimes proprietary code can make its way online via leaks.

“This doesn’t mean that the game is suddenly free,” Amnesia developer Frictional Games said in a blog post. “It just means that people are free to use the source however they want as long as they adhere to the GPL3 licence. The game and all of its content is still owned by Frictional Games. Just like before.”

Seeing how these classic games are built will also mean seeing things like flaws, and inefficiencies Frictional Games warned — but it’s all still functional and potentially useful to anyone learning game development.

“I also hope this release can be of help to anyone wanting to create their own engine or just wanting to learn more about game programming,” Frictional Games said. “While the code is not the greatest in places and the tech used is not the latest, it is a fully contained game engine in a fairly easy-to-understand package. It is also a testament that it is possible to do this sort of thing, even with a very limited team.”

Amnesia: The Dark Descent originally was released on Sept. 8, 2010 for Windows, Mac, and Linux. A Machine for Pigs, originally a mod, was released as an indirect sequel to The Dark Descent on Sept. 10, 2013. A new title, Amnesia: Rebirth, will launch on Oct. 20 on Steam and PlayStation 4.

Source: Polygon.com

X of Swords sends the X-Men into an epic battle for all of reality

Last summer, the fractured and combative world of superhero comics united in rapt attention (and some combativeness) for one series. Writer Jonathan Hickman, with artists Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, and Marte Gracia and designer Tom Muller, conceived of House of X/Powers of X, a futurist’s reshaping of Marvel’s X-Men line from the ground up. Literally.

Now, with roughly a year of X-Men stories set in the new status quo under their belt, Hickman and Larraz, along with writer Tini Howard, have returned to kick off the first crossover event of the Dawn of X: X of Swords.

Can X of Swords possibly measure up to HoX/Pox? What is it even about? Are there literally 10 swords in it? Let’s dive in.

What is X of Swords: Creation #1?

X of Swords: Creation #1 is a one-shot issue — there will be no X of Swords: Creation #2. It’s a jolt of story that sets the basic stakes of the X of Swords event, which, over the next month, will wind its way through one issue of every ongoing series in the X-Men line, before the whole thing concludes with another one-shot issue, X of Swords: Stasis #1.

The X of Swords checklist, from the back of X of Swords: Creation #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Tom Muller/Marvel Comics

Hickman and Larraz formed half the backbone of House of X/Powers of X, and they’re joined by Howard (Thanos), current writer of Excalibur, the X-Men line’s magic-focused book, which has been laying a lot of groundwork for X of Swords main plot.

What is X of Swords: Creation #1 about?

Creation picks up several dangling threads from Hickman’s X-Men series and Howard’s Excalibur to weave them into one new saving-the-world mission for the X-Men. First, there’s Summoner, a mysterious mutant refugee from Arakko, a missing fragment of the sentient island of Krakoa — a place that all Mutants are now welcome to live — that was splintered off into another dimension in an ancient cataclysm. The immortal X-Men villain Apocalypse, now a major force in Krakoa’s new government thanks to a pan-mutant amnesty, was around for that cataclysm. Though his true motivations remain as murky as ever, he seems to feel responsible for Arakko and its people.

Second, there’s Opal Luna Saturnyne, the Omniversal Majestrix and guardian of the Starlight Citadel, a waypoint between all of the Marvel universe’s infinite parallel realities. Normally, there’s a Captain Britain to guard each reality, but the Captain Britain Corps was destroyed during Hickman’s Avengers run several years ago, so the Majestrix is all that stands between the multiverse and chaos.

To say anything more would be some Big Spoilers.

Why is X of Swords: Creation #1 happening now?

After the Diamond Comics shutdown rocked the American comics industry this spring, X of Swords was pushed from Marvel’s July schedule to September. As Marvel slowly came back from the shutdown, the publisher had to work its way through its first summer crossover of 2020, Empyre, before XoS could debut.

New X-Men series Children of the Atom and SWORD were also put on hold or simply held until X of Swords was firmly on the scene. So for X-Men fans, it’s not just that they’ve had to wait two extra months for a mysterious crossover event — X of Swords is the starting gun for the next stage of X-Men books as well.

Is there any required reading?

“Would you care to join in?”, the pale faced and dark eyed Summoner asks an implacable Apocalypse. “Do I look like a player of games,” the immortal mutant asks in return. “Yes,” Summoner smiles, “Very much so.” In X-Men #12, Marvel Comics (2020).
Summoner and Apocalypse in X-Men #12.
Image: Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu/Marvel Comics

Yes, but the good news is, the backlog are some of the best sci-fi comics of the last few years.

If you’re reading any X-Men book right now, you should have read House of X/Powers of X. The refinements it made to the concept of the X-Men in Marvel Comics are complicated and wide ranging — mutants all live on a living island that makes drugs and they can’t die! — but the book is also just frightfully good.

Then, read X-Men. The flagship title of the Dawn of X line, it’s done the most hinting and ground-laying for X of Swords. And, again, it’s just a great comic. You could also read Excalibur if you want to. It’ll add some context, but I don’t think you’d be lost without it.

Is X of Swords: Creation #1 a great comic?

X of Swords: Creation is a great beginning. Larraz and colorist Marte Gracia are a great team — the colors were one of the things that kept HoX/PoX looking effortlessly cohesive from issue to issue, despite alternating artists. The new X of Swords character designs are stunning, Larraz’s character acting and Gracia’s lighting are superb as always, and if Marvel doesn’t put out a licensed X of Swords tarot deck they’re leaving money on the table.

X of Swords introduces a lot: A star dies. There’s a map, and tarot cards, and swords, and portals. Somebody rides a flying dinosaur in another dimension. It’s is very emblematic of hickman’s vibe, introducing new concepts, characters, and world building at a rate that can feel overwhelming.

If you can learn to go with the flow on a Hickman book, it’s likely you’ll be rewarded, but it can be an acquired taste. He’s the rare superhero comics writer who can consistently inject new, gonzo ideas into his books without actually overwhelming the reader. That experience is bolstered in Creation by Howard’s affection for the arcane side of the Marvel universe, as well as for the human side of one of the X-Men’s most stoic villains, the big blue-lipped Egyptian-sorta, Apocalypse.

Emma Frost and Professor X ask Apocalypse if there is anything more he can tell them about the threat they’re facing. “Thousands of years ago,” he replies with bowed head, “I gave up half the world to stop these monsters. All that cost was... my wife, my children and scores of god-like mutants whose names you have never heard,” in X of Swords: Creation #1, Marvel Comics (2020).
Emma Frost, Charles Xavier, and Apocalypse in X of Swords: Creation #1.
Image: Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Pepe Larraz/Marvel Comics

X of Swords: Creation doesn’t shake the mutant world like every issue of Hox/Pox seemed to. We’re not reaching back into the foundations of X-Men continuity to pull the whole thing inside out, killing entire X-Men teams to bring them back an issue later, or shattering the international political status quo of the Marvel Universe.

Instead, Hickman, Howard, and Larraz are doing the basic work of any crossover: Assembling a combination of story beats and ideas from the canon into a writing prompt. The prompt is both silly and ambitious, and in a very comics way, stronger because it’s both ambitious and a little bit silly. Now it’s up to everyone else on the X-Men line to make the best of the opportunity.

One panel that popped

We see Krakoa’s External Gate from above, as Beast steps into its black nothingness and Apocalypse stands just outside it. Close to the “camera,” Angel executes a perfect loop-the-loop, in X of Swords: Creation #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Pepe Larraz/Marvel Comics

It’s not the flashiest or funniest panel in the issue, but I love this brief establishing shot of Apocalypse and his team going down into the External Gate, framed in Angel’s wings. Larraz plucks a single moment of his graceful and completely unnecessary loop-the-loop out of time for the viewer. An inventive framing and beautiful execution for a totally un-splashy moment.

Hey wait you said you’d say whether there are literally 10 swords

There are either 10 swords, 20 swords, or 19 swords. I cannot tell you more at this time.

| Image: Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia/Marvel Comics

X of Swords: Creation

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X OF SWORDS – CHAPTER 1. A tower. A mission. A gathering of armies.

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Source: Polygon.com