This week, Google announced that Stadia, its game-streaming platform, is coming out November 19. Consequently, it’s time to sit down and think about whether or not you really want to buy in for Stadia’s launch day.
While the idea of playing games on any PC, phone, TV, or other device sounds like a dream come true, Stadia’s promise comes with many caveats, including the fact that you need to buy the Stadia Founder’s Pack to use it on your TV (if you aren’t planning to stream to a PC). Given that, I think it’s fair to say that deciding to buy into Stadia right now and deciding whether or not to buy a Founder’s Pack are basically the same question.
I can’t tell you if Stadia’s going to be right for you or not, but it seems like a good time to go over all the things you may not know about if you’ve only heard the elevator pitch, so you can decide whether or not go put some money down on a Founder’s Pack bundle.
Hold on: Why do I need the Founder’s Pack to play on my TV?
The idea behind Google Stadia is that players can hook up a controller to any screen they own and start playing games through the platform. When Stadia launches next month, that will not be the case. You will be able to play games on Mac and Windows PCs, through Chrome; Google Pixel 3 and 3A phones; Chrome OS devices; and Google’s 4K-compatible Chromecast Ultra streaming device.
This means the only ways to link Stadia to your TV, the home base of console gaming, is to get a Chromecast Ultra, which comes with the Founder’s Pack, or hook up your PC to your TV.
Even if you have a Chromecast Ultra, you will also need the Google Stadia controller to play Stadia games on it. This wasn’t always clear, but a Google community manager recently confirmed this on Reddit.
So, you need the Chromecast Ultra and the Stadia controller, at least at launch. Since the Stadia controller is $69 on its own, and the Chromecast Ultra is $69, most people will be best served buying the Founder’s Pack, which costs $9 dollars less than the two combined, and gets you a few months of the service and some other goodies.
But what if I don’t plan to play Stadia on my TV?
Even though your TV is most likely the largest (and best) screen in your home for gaming, you can also stream Stadia games to your phone (if you have a Pixel 3 or 3A) or computer.
However, playing games on these platforms comes with some strings attached. (Literally, in some cases.) Google recently revealed that the Stadia controller will only work wirelessly with Chromecast Ultra at launch, not other devices. This means you’ll have to plug it in to play on PC and the Pixel 3. Now, you can sync up different gamepads to go wireless on other devices, but Google has said that non-Stadia controllers will create extra input lag at launch. I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t say whether or not that’s a dealbreaker, but it could be.
To me, the inability to play wirelessly is only an issue on a phone. Most of us sit close enough to our computers that a wire won’t be a bother—a bigger issue on a smartphone screen, at least. Luckily, this problem is out of most players’ hands at the moment because Stadia only works on a few Google-specific phones.
Fine. I get it. What’s in the Founder’s Pack?
For $129, the Stadia Founder’s Pack includes a Chromecast Ultra, a Google Stadia controller, and three months of Stadia Pro, which you also need to use the service. Stadia Pro, like Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation+, includes some free games, and players will get Destiny 2 and all of its expansions on launch day. You also get a gift card that allows you to give three months of Stadia Pro to a friend.
When you buy the Founder’s Pack, you’ll be able to sign in and reserve your username right away, which may or may not matter to you if you have a handle you like to use across lots of platforms.
When you price it out, the Stadia Founder’s Pack isn’t a bad deal. $69 for the controller, $69 for the Chromecast, plus $60 for two three-month subscriptions is well over the asking price. But the reason why you need the Founder’s Pack if you want use Stadia at launch is that each of these components is more or less required to get the platform up and running in the best possible condition. And that’s assuming your broadband is good enough to run Stadia, which isn’t a given.
OK…wait. Is Stadia going to work?
We’ve finally arrived at the million-dollar question. As I said at the top, Stadia seems to come with a lot of caveats at launch. Based on what Google has said, it sounds like many of these compromises and conditions will fall away over the course of 2020. There’s no doubt in my mind that Google will get Stadia to run on all phones and, over time, I expect they’ll find ways to get it running on TVs directly or using other devices.
I certainly hope Google solves all of Stadia’s wonkiness with both its controller and third-party gamepads. Also, Google’s said it will eventually open up a free-tier of Stadia that does not require you to pay $9.99 per month, which will make the service much easier to try without forcing gamers to invest in a new platform. (Once the free tier is out, the Pro tier will enable certain high-level features like 4K and surround sound support, and it’ll give you a free game each month.)
I’ve been referring to November 19 as Stadia’s launch date because that’s technically the truth, but it’s better to think of it as Stadia going into beta or “early access.” If I were to guess, I’d say the service won’t reach its peak until at least a year from now. For suckers early adopters like me, it may be worth it to check Stadia out, because it’s weird, new, and half-baked. However, if you’re in it for the convenience, I think you’ll want to take a hard look at how you plan to use Stadia before you buy in.
Update 10/17/2019, at 5:45pm: We’ve updated this post to reflect the fact that the a la carte cost of the Stadia controller and Chromecast Ultra add up to more than the cost of the Stadia Founder’s Pack, not less.
The secret life of one Polish dentist apparently involves coding a horror game in MS Paint.
World of Horror is the passion project of part-time dentist Pawel Kozminski. It’s a retro throwback RPG that draws on the work of Junji Ito, a Japanese horror manga artist, and H.P. Lovecraft, creator of Cthulhu and all things Eldritch. The game is set in a small seaside Japanese town just as the “Old Gods are reawakening, clawing their way back into a world that’s spiraling into madness.” It features a series of branching stories helmed by five playable characters, and gameplay involves turn-based combat and “unravel[ing] puzzles and mysteries through spells that sacrifice sanity.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about World of Horror, however, is that Kozminski created the entire game in MS Paint. Usually, game developers save themselves the horror of creating complex works in such a dated program by using custom animation software. Not Kozminski, who told Engadget that he specifically chose MS Paint for its limitations. “Creating art in Paint is actually really inspiring and somehow relaxing. The limits of the program really force you to get creative with it, which is a huge thing. I guess 1-bit black-and-white art is the closest I can get to simulate that comic book feel, too.”
Demos of the game have been floating around since 2017, but Kozminski’s profession and program of choice seem to have mostly flown under the radar until the Engadget profile. The fact that this is the brainchild of a dental hygienist, a merciless driller of teeth, who is also patient enough to create an entire game in MS Paint is truly the stuff of nightmares. (Just look at this tweet from Kozminski.) It’s slated to hit PlayStation 4, Switch, and Steam later this year (hopefully in time for spoopy season). In the meantime, you can download a demo here.
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.
We live in a truly incredible time for action figures—whether you’re wanting to spend a couple hundred bucks or even just twenty, you can get well articulated, highly detailed recreations of some of your favourite characters from all sorts of shows, movies, comics, and games. But it means we also get this: amazingly intentionally old toys.
It looks beautiful, rendering beloved characters like Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, and Aeris (Aerith? Who’s Aerith? No one’s Aerith, not here, in my heart, goddammit Square-Enix) with the power of modern gaming graphics in a level of fidelity they’ve never been seen in before. Not even really in Advent Children, that CG movie that was bad except for that maybetwo fight scenes and we shouldn’t talk about it!
But anyway, they also had these action figures on display, where Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, Aeris, and all their friends and foes from the original game look exactly like the blocky, polygonal chibi blobs they looked like outside of battle in the original PlayStation game.
And I need them immediately.
There were no details about how and when fans either in or out of Japan will be able to get the figures—the accompanying placard implies they could even, much to the chagrin of my wallet, be blind-box items, with a mystery character teased for the set.
But I just…need to know how and when. I’ll import, I’ll do whatever. I need these chunky, blocky looking action figures on my desk, revelling in the majesty of the original Playstation’s attempts to bend polygonal 3D gaming to its limited technological will. They only have blurry eyes for faces! There’s enough sharp angles to send a mathematician into a headspin! They don’t even have hands! And I love them. They’re ugly and they’re perfect.
I never really understood the current fascination with retro action figures—why pay modern, premium pricing for a toy designed to look deliberately crappy? Turns out, I just need catering to my ‘90s kid childhood to realise what ‘80s kids have known for a while.
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He’s finally bloody done it. Ash Ketchum, star of the Pokémon anime and perennial clutcher of defeat from the jaws of victory, is finally the winner of a Regional Pokémon League. The world of Pokémon fandom is rejoicing with him, including…himself?
Well, actually it’s sort of herself: in the first eight seasons of the western dub of the Pokémon anime, Ash was voiced by voiceover actress Veronica Taylor. Although since then, all the way up to the currently airing Pokémon Sun and Moon anime, Ash has been voiced by Sarah Natochenny, to many fans Taylor is the Ash voice they grew up with, and Taylor clearly still relishes just how much the character means to fans.
Which means that today’s news is extra cause for celebration. The latest episode of Sun and Moon aired in Japan this weekend, and saw Ash triumph over Gladion to become the inaugural winner of the Alola Region Pokémon League. While previously in the anime Ash has won major tournaments like the Orange Island Challenge and Battle Frontier, neither held the same status as either the anime or the video game series’ traditional Regional League competitions.
All the way from Kanto up to Kalos, Ash has faced crushing defeat after crushing defeat in the anime versions of the Regional League battles—the Kalos loss in Pokémon XYZ being the closest his got, causing heartbreak among fans when it seemed like he had a killer Pokémon team and was, at last, about to break his losing streak. But two years later he’s finally done it, and Taylor took to Twitter (with the help of a little Ash figurine) to deliver an inspirational message to the character she once embodied:
Hey, Ash! It’s your younger—but still the same age—self, Ash Ketchum! Congratulations on winning the Pokémon League! I wanna say I always knew you could do it, but really? I didn’t. I only knew that to achieve your goals, you had to train hard—and that is true, but along the way I’ve found out the importance of constantly learning, and challenging yourself, and being open to new experiences. That, by helping others, you help yourself. And mostly: it’s not winning that counts, but how you play the game.
But man, it sure feels good to win. Congratulations, and keep up the good work. I gotta go—Mom’s making dinner with Mr. Mime. Catch you later!
Awww. It’s nice to see Taylor acknowledge her character’s journey, even if she’s no longer actually a part of it. It makes Ash’s win all the sweeter.
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As someone obsessed with handheld gaming consoles, Nintendo’s Switch should have been the ultimate portable system for me. Instead, it actually made me nostalgic for Tiger Electronics’ LCD handhelds; arguably some of the first true portable video game systems. They were cheap, durable, simple, and addictive, and 30 years later I find myself missing that experience.
I don’t have a lot of free time to devout to playing and finishing games these days. I’ll occasionally have a few minutes of boredom I’m looking to kill, but I don’t think I could even load Breath of the Wild in that amount of time. That’s where the cheap LCD games of the late ‘80s and ‘90s excelled. They were bite-size snippets of action with a goal that was rarely more involved than registering a new high score. They required no serious commitment and there were no tutorials to slog through. You could easily hop in into a game in a couple of seconds, enjoy a few minutes of satisfying button mashing, and then quickly stash them away until you needed to feed your gaming addiction again—minus the side effects of losing hours of your life or blowing your budget.
Founded by Arnold, Gerald, and Randy Rissman in 1978, Tiger Electronics got its start making simple electronics like phonographs, but transitioned to interactive toys and LCD-based gaming devices in the early ‘80s. For a while the company’s most notable product was a series of portable game devices based on Universal’s 1976 King Kong remake featuring a knock-off version of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. It led to a legal dustup between Universal and Nintendo over who owned the rights to giant apes, which Nintendo eventually won, but ultimately decided not to take down Tiger Electronics in the process.
A few years after the Kong controversy blew over, Tiger Electronics settled on a design for a series of electronic handheld games that the company would eventually sell millions of in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. The first games in Tiger’s new lineup, released in 1987, were sports titles like football, skeet shooting, and baseball, which also happened to be the first Tiger handheld I ever owned.
Before Tiger’s new line, portable gaming systems always came with a premium price tag. I can remember drooling over mini tabletop arcades in catalogs, but never actually putting them on my Christmas or birthday wish lists for fear of maxing out what my parents were willing to spend. Even Nintendo’s Game & Watch handhelds were on the pricy side, but in 1987 Tiger Electronics changed that. Its new handhelds featured a gratuitous use of plastic—from the housings, to the buttons, to even the display covers—and simple segmented LCD screens, barely a couple of inches in size, that could only display a limited and crude collection of graphics and animations. If there was such a thing as disposable video games, Tiger’s handhelds came close to being that.
Gameplay was equally basic. Tiger’s Electronic Baseball played more like an enhanced home run derby where the player’s team never actually takes the field. Just two buttons were used to swing at every pitch and then strategically advance your players from base to base—with “strategically” being used very generously here.
But the 10-year-old version of me didn’t care, he absolutely loved this game, bringing it on long road trips and even smuggling it into Sunday school every week. I also didn’t care that Bases Loaded on the NES was a vastly superior experience; Tiger’s version could come with me anywhere, I didn’t have to take turns playing with my siblings, and I didn’t have to wait until my parents were done watching something on TV. Playing it today I rarely get past a couple of innings before losing interest, but the simplicity is exactly why I still keep games like these in easy reach, and keep coming back. They scratch an itch without destroying my productivity.
All the corner cutting also meant that Tiger Electronic’s handhelds were usually around $20 each, easily accommodating the budgets of most 10-year-olds reliant on allowances or birthday money for income. The plastic still feels cheap and my baseball game is covered in scratches and scars from being endlessly dropped and rage-thrown, but it’s one of my few childhood electronic toys that still works fine 30 years later. Tiger had found the perfect balance between price, durability, and addictiveness to hook a generation.
It also helped that the company was almost obsessive about licensing popular properties like movies, video games, and even TV shows. Unlike a console game these handhelds didn’t require months of complicated development. Tiger could churn these games out quickly, and it did just that. Mortal Kombat, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, GI Joe, Captain Planet, Full House, The Little Mermaid—if something was pop culturally relevant in the ‘90s, there’s a good chance there was a Tiger Electronics handheld game made for it.
So why isn’t Tiger Electronics a dominant name in gaming today? The brand is definitely still around, now owned by Hasbro, but the clock started ticking on the company’s cheap and simple approach to handheld gaming on April 21, 1989, when Nintendo’s Game Boy was released. It was more expensive than Tiger’s handhelds, but every game offered unique gameplay, graphics, and sound, and game carts could often be found competitively priced. Tiger eventually released its own cartridge based system in 1997, the Game.com, that included online connectivity and a touchscreen, but the Game Boy Color arrived soon after, and Tiger Electronics simply wasn’t big enough to take on Nintendo any more.
I’m not going to pretend like I still turn to Electronic Baseball for all my gaming needs, the Switch is definitely my goto console now. But despite being portable, I’m hesitant to travel with it for fear of damaging or losing $300 worth of gear. It also doesn’t really provide instant gratification, and more often than not as an adult that’s what I’m looking for. Smartphone games come close to filling that need, but sometimes I just want to mindlessly mash buttons for a couple of minutes, hitting home runs or beating up baddies, without having to worry about killing my phone’s battery, waiting for app updates, or all the other distractions of modern gaming. Tiger Electronics game me exactly that 30 years ago.
Forza Horizon 4 is one of the best driving experiences you can have without getting off your couch. But it, like most video games, requires two hands to play. Luckily for those who are not so-equipped—like me, unfortunately, at the moment—Microsoft makes a special controller that can be configured for just about anybody and any body.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a remarkably versatile device. Centralized by a platform-like hub with two big buttons and a directional pad; it’s also bristling with ports that can accept a bunch of different input devices. Joysticks, buttons, pedals, even mouth controls, and other very specific clickers can all be easily plugged in and mapped to Xbox controller button functions.
The hub itself is wireless, just like a regular Xbox One controller, so you can use it from a couch or a wheelchair or wherever and sit far from the TV while keeping the wired controller accessories within reach.
Ergo: “…a gamer can game with one hand and one foot, or one hand and their shoulder, or even one foot and their chin,” as Microsoft Product Marketing guy James Shields explains in a surprisingly emotional promotional clip.
After a bad off-road wipeout in real life relegated me to my apartment and rendered my left hand useless for many months of the past year, my colleagues were kind enough to send me one of these controllers.
Here’s how I dialed it in for driving around digital Scotland in Forza Horizon 4.
My gaming posture puts my ass on the couch, Adaptive Controller on the floor, and nunchuck accessory in my right hand while my left rests or runs occupational therapy exercises. (It’s called multi-tasking.)
Here’s an important and odd aspect though: the nunchuck is actually plugged into the left port, but I turn the whole Adaptive Controller around so it’s physically on the right. This is partially so the brake and throttle are where they’d be on a car, but also so I can use the clicker buttons on the nunchuck to activate the left bumper button, which you need to enter races in-game in Horizon 4.
I click the big buttons with my feet, using the left for brake and right for gas, and use my right thumb to steer. That’s all I really interact with during gameplay.
The Adaptive Controller also has a start button to pause, a select button to bring up the map, and a directional pad I use for changing the music, pulling the handbrake (extra realism since I have to reach down for it!) and cycling through menus. To get to any of those, I have to bend and stretch, but it’s alright because they’re not needed often.
With this configuration, I can be pretty competitive and usually win races with opponents set to the “inexperienced” difficulty. Though I have won on more challenging settings, I’ve been playing racing games since the original NES was barely obsolete and I’m confident in assessing that hand-and-foot gaming is a lot harder than using a traditional game controller. Point is: prepare for a steep learning curve if you’re moving from a regular clicker to a unique special-needs setup like this.
Anyway, I’m grateful that this option exists at all. But the Adaptive Controller doesn’t come out of its box ready to play like this. You need to configure both the game and the controller itself to work for you.
In Forza Horizon 4 you can’t map specific buttons to functions individually, but you can cycle through quite a few controller presets.
For use with the Adaptive Controller and nunchuck, particularly in the way I described above, I run with Default Layout 9:
Basically, you need the A and B buttons for throttle and brake, LB for selecting things, RB for moving through menus, D-pad right for changing the radio station (they’re all so good, you don’t want to skip this) and D-pad down for e-brake for sweet, sweet snow drifts.
Don’t forget, if you turn the whole controller around as I do, the directional buttons will be reversed from the user’s perspective. The stick for steering will not be backward, of course, as that’d be impossible to drive with.
That’s kind of the minimum controls you can get away with accessing to have a good time in Horizon 4.
I haven’t messed with the advanced adjustments yet, but you can if you want to fine-tune your controller’s responsiveness.
In the difficulty settings, I left the mistake-erasing “rewind” off originally but it does make races a lot easier to win. Otherwise, I’ve found that the combination of traction control on but stability control off lets you have fun and slide around, but also makes it slightly easier to accelerate in snow and mud in, say, a 900 horsepower Lamborghini. Which is a thing that happens in this game.
The Adaptive Controller has its own mapping program you can open like any other app from the Xbox home menu. I have mine programmed thusly:
For my configuration, to use in conjunction with Forza Horizon 4’s Default Layout 9, and the controller backward, the important parts are to map: D-pad down to X, D-pad left to RB, D-pad up to Y, and I actually haven’t messed with D-pad right but maybe there’s another function you might want to add there.
If you were hoping to drive a manual-shift car, sorry, I haven’t been able to crack that one for myself or my fellow one-handers. The in-game messaging is inaccessible too, so, if you’ve messaged me and been mad I haven’t replied, don’t take it personally. I just can’t reach the chat button.
Also, I have not successfully been able to do much in photo mode without a standard controller yet.
But pay special attention to which “slot” you save your setup to. If you save your mapping to slot 1, you have to physically set the controller to match slot 1 also. It’s a little button on the controller with a corresponding light, but it’s easy to forget about. That had me pretty frustrated for a good 20 minutes before I realized what the light on the controller was.
The setup I just described is the best way for a one-handed person to play Forza Horizon 4 on Xbox One based on quite a few hours of my personal research.
However, in case that doesn’t work for you, I also reached out to Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios, and they got back to me with their official recommendation for how to game this game with an Adaptive Controller:
Plug the PDP One-Handed Joystick into the left stick port of the Xbox Adaptive Controller. The Joystick will be left stick.
In the Xbox Accessories App, create a custom remapping profile (recommend calling it something like “Forza Horizon 4 – 1 handed”)
In that profile, remap X1 to LT and X2 to RT. This remaps the little joystick button to brake, bigger joystick button to accelerate.
Leave the buttons on the Xbox Adaptive Controller — A, B, View, Menu – as they are. This allows you to rest your hand on the XAC and/or hit these buttons with your right hand as you hold the joystick in that same hand.
Plug a standalone button into Y. It’s a dramatic way to hit reverse while holding the PDP One-Handed Joystick, or you could put it under your foot.
If you want X or bumpers map to D-Pad Up, Down, Left.
I’ll point out that the “official” remap there requires another external button in addition to the controller and nunchuck. But, the team also forwarded how to play the game one-handed without buying any extra accessories at all:
“You can also play ‘Forza Motorsport 4’ with one hand using a traditional Xbox Wireless Controller, using presets available in the game’s “Controller Options” menu – these presets put essential controls (steering, gas and brake) all on the left side, or the right side depending on a player’s preference.”
Video games, especially internet-connected modern ones, are a great way to get out into the world when your physical body cannot.
The fact that this Adaptive Controller exists is a real boon for the gaming community, and I’m excited to say that it’s really brought me very genuine joy in a dark time of my life.
If you or somebody you know is physically barred from gaming, or driving, and hasn’t heard about this I hope this blog gets them into Forza Horizon 4. If you’re already using a setup like this and have tips for us one-handed video game drivers, I hope you’ll share them in the comments.
This month, nearly a decade to the month after the release of its predecessor, Nintendo released Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, a return to the beloved ARPG Marvel gaming series that takes comic book crossover mania to a team-based beat ‘em up conclusion. But it also serves as a reminder that…god, things were so different back when Ultimate Alliance 2 was coming out, weren’t they?
In September 2009, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still just a glimmer in Kevin Feige’s eye. We had accepted that upstart newcomers Marvel Studios might be on to something with the release of Iron Man the year prior (who would’ve thought that gamble casting Robert Downey Jr. as some B-tier comics character would pay off?), and at that point, only what is still the green-skinned stepchild of the MCU, Incredible Hulk, had joined it. The First Avenger, Thor, Iron Man 2, they had all yet to come—and above all, no one going to a movie theater outside of comic book diehards knew what an Infinity Stone was. There were murmurs of the Avengers, sure, after Samuel L. Jackson made us sit in a movie theater a little longer than we were used to (the audacity!). But Thanos? A gauntlet? Nada.
We also had the release of Vicarious Visions’ Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, which unlike all those lame-looking superhero movies we were being inundated with in the ‘00s, looked kind great. The follow up to a surprise 2006 hit and an adaptation of the then-recent comics event superseriesCivil War, Ultimate Alliance 2 presented an intriguingly gamified take on a blockbuster storyline: Superhero vs. Superhero! Privacy vs. Protection! That Guy you kind of know from a movie but he’s weirdly even more of a giant asshole vs. that guy with a shield they’re thinking of casting Jim from The Office as!
MUA2 was an unfiltered window into the world of Marvel’s comic book output as it was directly in 2009 which, in the context of everything has happened since, becomes a fascinating time capsule to reminisce over. It was a time when X-Men and Fantastic Four icons could stand alongside the Avengers and no one would bat an eye, because that’s just what happens in comics. A time when no one knew what an Infinity Stone was. And they were Infinity Gems, if you did.
In June 2019, by contrast, we were coming off the back of the release of something as bonkers asAvengers: Endgame. Over a decade and nearly two-dozen movies, the Infinity Stones haven’t just become part of pop culture lexicon at large, they have been gathered, used, re-gathered, and re-used. Thanos lived, rose up, and now died (twice, technically!), long live Thanos. So has Tony Stark, although the large shadow he cast over the MCU that Iron Man helped create all those years ago will continue to linger without him, thanks to the indomitable legacy of Robert Downey Jr.
At last, the cinematic version of the Infinity Saga is at an end—and here stands Nintendo and Team Ninja with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Which is…a quest. To gather the Infinity Stones. And stop Thanos before he does so!
And look, here are your familiar cinematic faces in a roster of Marvel heroes now considerably less esoteric than the one in Ultimate Alliance 2—filled with characters slightly ajar enough to be comics-inspired, but close enough to basically be the characterization of their movie counterparts. Here is the Black Order, aka Those Guys With About 10 Minutes Max of Infinity War and Endgame Screen Time, to find them! Here’s Ultron, please remember that movie that most people thought was just kind of okay! Here is Daredevil making a joke about hallway fights with other Netflix-Approved Heroes!
To be fair to Ultimate Alliance 3,it wears its inspirations on its sleeve—it does not mask its pretty direct connections to that giant movie you (and what feels like the rest of the planet) have just seen to the tune of a gabillion dollars, as if they were something worth masking in the first place. Marvel Cosmic Bullshit is just as good an excuse as any to smash all these heroes together, and smash Ultimate Alliance 3 does with an earnest abandon. It, thanks to the comics, can even go one better than the films, adding beloved comics heroes like Ms. Marvel—well, Kamala Khan, specifically, now that Carol’s had her well-earned promotion to Captain Marvel—and Spider-Gwen, alongside familiar names from the movies.
There are even X-Men characters and a whole level set at the X-Mansion! As if this game didn’t already serve as a reminder of what a long, strange decade it’s been, this marks the mutants’ first major foray back into Marvel tie-in media since that whole awkwardness with Marvel attempting to blacklist mutants and the Fantastic Four in its gaming spinoffs over a spat with Fox, who owned the movie rights for them. Well, up until the point Disney grew tired of the charade and absorbed the film studio into its giant, Mickey-ear-adorned mass earlier this year. At least we can play as Wolverine again?
But as fun as it is from a “I can play as Scarlet Witch and Elsa Bloodstone smashing up faceless bad guys for several hours” perspective, Ultimate Alliance 3 is still about smashing up those faceless bad guys in a saga we are now intimately, tiredly familiar with. Not just thanks to the movies, either, but because it seems like the Infinity Stones have been the catch-all reason for any Marvel crossover outside the comics lately—including other recent games like Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite.
A decade in the waiting, I wish it had been bolder—to take more direct inspiration (not even necessarily like its predecessors) from a particular arc of comics, and to embrace the idea behind why we love these superheroic crossovers at all in the first place. To do something silly, and wild, and zany to match the candy-coated Spandex it otherwise revels in thanks to its thankfully-comics-inspired-aesthetic.
We have had a decade of Infinity Stones. There’s so much more Marvel can be, whether it’s on the big screen (where we’re finally getting an intriguing glimpse of such a thing), in its comics, or in games like Spider-Man, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the upcoming Avengers game, and beyond. Perhaps, after one last indulgence in this familiar well, its time to put the Infinity Gauntlet away for a good long while.
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EA’s Madden NFL 20 is currently in early access, meaning a select number of folks are currently able to get a couple hours of gameplay in before the game’s official Aug. 2 release date. In a surprise to absolutely no one, there are some problems with this current iteration of an Electronic Arts-developed game.
The most notable problem seems to be this invincibility mode that some quarterbacks are able to achieve while scrambling around behind the line of scrimmage. This issue was pointed out by Madden School, and demonstrated through a video of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson scrambling hundreds of yards while avoiding the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt at a comical rate.
At least that problem is somewhat understandable given that speedy quarterbacks are pretty exploitable in these games, and Lamar Jackson is currently the fastest quarterback in Madden 20, according to Muthead. What’s not understandable, however, is why this bug can also make Justin Tucker look like the Madden 2004 version of Michael Vick.
Some users were rightfully skeptical of the clip, given that there are options to turn down a computer opponent’s tackling abilities down to 0, but Madden School’s community manager claims that those theories are false in the replies of the video. This also isn’t the result of switching the game’s play style to “arcade mode”—which intentionally makes Madden a lot more cartoonish—as the upper left-hand corner displays that this is being done in “competitive mode”—which makes games almost frustratingly realistic.
Developers still have a few days to figure this stuff out, but if an oversight like allowing Justin Tucker to become Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl got through, one can only imagine what kind of leftover bugs will still be in the game upon its official release.
You know who are the worst people on earth? Dingbats who condescendingly scoff at creative works because they’re not “modern.” Those who go to revival screenings to guffaw at pre-digital special effects, or who say things like, “This game sucks! The graphics are so blocky and it doesn’t auto-save every five seconds!”
Don’t let your child become that. Instead, introduce them to older masterpieces early and often, so they learn that art is a conversation between the ages, and every creator of a cool, new thing is standing on the shoulders of giants. Start with these retro games and work your way up to Truffaut.
Atari’s 1979 classic is a masterclass in the power of minimalism and design, and a perfect first game for kids. Using only 4 kiB of RAM (that’s about two pages of text), creator Warren Robinett wove a sweeping adventure that includes combat, puzzles, exploration, and even the world’s first Easter egg. It still works because your child’s imagination will transform the game’s blocky shapes and simple quests into an entire world of danger and heroics. It’s like magic. When my son was four, he identified with Adventure’s hero (a square) so strongly that he insisted on dressing up like him/her/it for Halloween. He talked incessantly about the sinister motives of the bat (What is a bat even going to do with a goblet anyway?), and had nightmares about the game’s “dragon” (a not-scary-at-all blob of pixels that looks like a duck) coming to get him. All that from a few pixels and a perfect design.
I used to let my kid win most of the time, but now he’s 12, and I don’t let him do shit. But even when I’m playing my best, he beats me. He smokes me at Halo. He’s beaten my old ass at every Mario Kart game ever made. But not Joust. Joust is my last line of video game defense.
My mom was wrong: All those hours feeding quarters into that accursed machine at Spaceport did pay off, because now I completely DESTROY my kid at Joust. I mean, I knock him off his ostrich without even thinking about it, and grab up all the bonus eggs too. In your face, kid! Your old man can still kick your ass! I’m not completely irrelevant … right? (You should substitute whatever arcade game you wasted your youth playing, of course. They’re all available somewhere.)
Super Mario Bros. 3
Everyone likes this game. It’s impossible to not like this game. Its perfect level design, colorful graphics, unforgettable characters and addiction potential as strong as heroin make this early ‘80s Nintendo classic the best video game ever made. Warning, though: Do not let your child play the Switch version. It includes save slots. This is sacrilege. It destroys the lesson of SMB: Even ostensibly fun things are actually a frustrating series of mistakes and disappointments, and only through perseverance and drudgery can we hope to succeed at jumping on bullets and dodging those goddamn fireballs spat out of weird plants that will eat you.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Ocarina of Time blew everyone’s mind when it came out in 1998. Everything we ever wanted from a video game was packed in one little N64 cartridge: a huge (for the time, anyway) open world, perfectly balanced puzzles that seem impossible at first, but aren’t actually hard enough to frustrate you, 3D gameplay and combat that didn’t suck, unforgettable characters, an awesome horse, great music, and more. Every Zelda game since then, right up to Breath of the Wild, is just a footnote, a refinement of Ocarina of Time, so if your kid ever wonders how newer games came about, a few hours playing Ocarina of Time will provide the answers, and a hell of a fun time.
Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
As a rule, I don’t like things that are “educational,” but I make an exception for AoE II.This real-time-strategy game came out for PCs in 1999,and it’s still a perfect game for older kids. It lets you lead one of 13 ancient civilizations, and battle against other cultures by gathering resources, building weapons, and going to war. Each civilization is unique, and the carefully balanced gameplay means that any civilization can defeat any other, if you play it right. Not only does Age of Kings teach players something about ancient cultures, it also teaches you how to think strategically, how to plan and organize, and lets you create fantasy alternative histories in which ancient Korea went to war with the Celts, or the Huns fought the Aztecs.
Another game that’s perfect for older kids, SimCity 2000 is proof that video games don’t have to be violent, fast, competitive or even about anything interesting to be totally engrossing. This civic administration simulator challenges players to grow and run their own city, micro-managing zoning, taxes, traffic patterns and municipal ordinances (kids love ordinances!). It sounds incredibly boring, but it’s totally fascinating, and I will fight you if you don’t think so.
More than just a fun way to waste 8,000 hours, SimCity 2000 will change the way your kid thinks about the world around them. What was once an anonymous city block can now be understood in terms of the laws, history, and wrenching political compromises that brought it into being. Your kid will see an abandoned building and wonder how exactly the mayor failed his people, or take a look at a map and figure out how the traffic flow could be improved. As an added bonus, you can name your city “Fartburgh.”
At Comic-Con last week, Netflix finally, after months of teasing, gave us our first look at The Witcher in action. Not only did it reveal some pretty major, if unsurprising connections to the world of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, it also gave us some intriguing hints to what fans familiar to the CD Projekt Red games can get out of this new show.
The trailer opens, unsurprisingly, with a shot of Henry Cavill as the titular Witcher: Geralt of Rivia, a mercenary monster hunter who travels across the world killing monsters for gold. Geralt can do this—and has all that white hair to boot, a marker that sets him apart from even his fellow Witchers—because he is part of the self-named ancient order that exposes its warrior recruits to dangerous, toxic mutagens to transform them into Witchers, giving them enhanced strength, agility, senses, and the ability to cast magic, which is otherwise a very rare ability in The Witcher’s world—a place called The Continent.
“I remember hearing stories about Witchers… is it true what they say?” the narrator tells us, as we cut to a brief shot of of Geralt doing what he does best: fighting monsters. We see a little more of this encounter later on, but it appears to be an adaptation of the very first short story Sapkowski wrote about Geralt, “The Witcher,” eventually collected in the first short story anthology in the series, The Last Wish. In that tale, Geralt is tasked with slaying a beast called a Striga—who is actually the raised body of a Princess named Adda, cursed to transform into a monstrous beast for having an incestuous relationship with her brother, the prince of Temeria. “The Witcher” sees Geralt fight the beast and lift the curse from Adda.
Before we see too much more, we cut back to another brief shot of a bloodied Geralt in the town from the opening. Geralt is from a splinter faction of the old Witcher order called the School of the Wolf, hence the wolf medallion he’s wearing in these town scenes and elsewhere in the trailer.
Next, we get a brief shot of a forested realm and its warrior women inhabitants: these appear to be Dryads, and this is the realm of Brokilon—home to the all-female race and the toxic waters that can be used to transform members of other species into Dryads themselves. We see them encountering a young girl who is actually one of the most important characters on the show: Ciri, played by Freya Allan. A young princess from the kingdom of Cintra, Ciri is being hunted by a whole host of nefarious parties because of both her royal connection and her untrained, but vast, magical powers.
As we cut across shots of some interesting figures—a caravan of black-armored soldiers, a young, disfigured woman, who will become very important momentarily, and a woman using magic to casually lift a rock—we hear another figure provide more narration. This time essentially setting up the backstory for The Continent at large, explaining the history of magic and how, in an event known as the “Conjunction of the Spheres” in the books and games, supernatural beings and monsters began appearing across the world: “Elves are the original sorcerers of the Continent—when humans and monsters arrived, elves taught humans how to turn chaos into magic…”
“…and then, the humans slaughtered them,” the narrator—a mage named Istredd (Royce Pierreson) concludes, revealing himself as having been speaking to the disfigured young woman from earlier. This woman is another major Witcher character, known to fans of the books and games alike, but perhaps not in this particular form: this is Yennefer of Vengerberg, played by Anya Chalotra. A powerful sorceress herself, Yennefer was born with a severe curvature of the spine, and an abusive upbringing with her father leads to further traumas being inflicting on the young woman.
Yenn is what is known as a “source,” someone with natural-born capacity to wield magic, a rarity among humans. Eventually, she can harness this ability to completely alter her appearance to other people, casting an ever-present glamour that presents herself as a physically able, attractive young woman… which is why it’s slightly less peculiar that she eventually becomes one of Geralt’s love interests in the books and the games.
We next cut to a shot of the show’s version of the Isle of Thanedd, home to Aretuza. That’s a magic school for young women that Yen and several other sorcerers we’ll meet in the series, as well as Ciri herself eventually, honed their magical abilities.
“Chaos is the most dangerous thing in this world,” the green-robed sorceress we saw floating a rock earlier says to one of her students. This is Tissaia de Vries (played by MyAnna Buring), who plays a huge part in Yennefer’s backstory, being the woman who took the young Yenn in and helped hone her magical abilities to treat her conditions.
“But without control, Chaos will kill you,” Tissaia warns, as we get a few more intriguing shots: Ciri on an icy plain, Yennefer smashing a mirror, and what could be an overhead shot of the Chapter of the Gift and the Art, the higher conclave of sorcerers on Thanedd that Tissaia is part of. Eventually, in the books the Chapter is destroyed by infighting in a coup over whether not to support the invading Nilfgaardian Empire, a major faction in the series that we’ll see a bit more of soon.
We cut to cool shot of Geralt swinging a silver whip back in the same ruined castle he was shown briefly fighting in earlier. This feels like once again more affirmation that this action sequence is Geralt’s fight with the Striga in “The Witcher” as this twirl is basically ripped from the introductory cinematic for the first game in CD Projekt Red’s beloved video game trilogy, which depicts the same fight.
As we get to see a few more shots of Geralt’s battle with the Striga—and picking up some coin as a reward, as Witchers are wont to do—we get yet another narrator, this time a woman. “So that’s all life is to you,” she asks, of Geralt. “Monsters and money?” Basically…yeeeeaaaaah.
We cut to a wounded, recovering Geralt to see that this narrator is none other than not just another sorcerer, but another important figure in the books, games, and his life in general: Triss Merigold, played by Anna Shaffer. Triss, like Yenn, is also a source, and, like Yenn, is a love interest of Geralt’s. This scene presumably takes place shortly after Geralt’s encounter with the Striga, as when he first meets her, Triss is an adviser to the King of Foltest, who recruits Geralt to cure his daughter of her monstrous curse. “It’s all it needs to be,” Geralt says of the monsters and money.
“Something out there waits for you,” Triss ominously warns, as the trailer really starts getting into the main premise of the show: an adaptation of what is actually the first proper novel in Sapkowski’s series, Blood of Elves. “This child will be extraordinary,” a man tells Geralt, as we cut over shots of Ciri and her homeland, the kingdom of Cintra. This man is actually another interesting character from the books and the games—Mousesack (Adam Levy), better known to gamers as the druid Ermion. Mousesack has a small but important role in the books, guiding Geralt and Ciri to their eventual meeting.
As we mentioned, uh, a while back, Ciri isn’t just the princess of Cintra, but has elven blood, giving her magical abilities. We appear to cut to either one of her main abilities—magical visions and, at this point in the series, uncontrolled teleportation—as we see the young Ciri in a desert region looking upon a distinctly magical-looking tree.
In a brief interlude from Ciri and Geralt’s story, we cut back to moments between Tissaia and Yennefer during the latter’s brutal training. “Yennefer, imagine the most powerful woman in the world,” Tissia instructs, presumably beginning to teach Yen the magical ability to alter her appearance. “Do you have what it takes?” (not really a spoiler: she does! Yen is eventually one of the most powerful sorcerers around).
But now we’re back to Ciri’s story, and an important introduction of just one of the primary threats in the series: the invasion of the Kingdom of Cintra by the Nilfgaardian Empire. Nilfgaard attacks Cintra during the First Northern War. The woman we see here standing dumbstruck as the Nilfgaardian army attacks is likely Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May), Ciri’s grandmother. “She is why they came,” Calanthe says, presumably referring to Ciri. Calanthe leads her people in the fight against the Nilfgaardian’s until the bitter end, when, as we see briefly here, Cintra’s capital (also named Cintra, helpfully), is razed to the ground by the Nilflgaardian army.
As we see a brief moment of Ciri’s vast magical powers displaying themselves in the Cintran court—blasting the gathered crowds back suddenly. Mousesack continues to urge Geralt to face his destiny: protecting Ciri from the clutches of Niflgaard’s emperor. We also get some brief shots Yennefer’s glamoured form here, too—the appearance she projects to those around her to mask her true body.
“Find Geralt of Rivia,” Calanthe tells Ciri.
We finally cut back to the town we saw Geralt in at the start of the trailer. Note that Geralt isn’t fighting monsters here, but humans—this could be a town called Blaviken, where Geralt earns the nickname “The Butcher of Blaviken” for killing a bunch of thieves and mercenaries on the hunt for a local mage. Or it could just be any town and Geralt’s in a scrap because, at this point in history the Witchers themselves have become a rare breed, and aren’t really held in the highest regards, because they’re…well, kinda creepy monster hunters? Usually one of them being present is a portent that bad things are going down, so commonfolk tend to not particularly be too keen.
A few more random shots follow: Another shot of the Striga, Ciri begging with Calanthe that she can’t face her destiny alone before fleeing Cintra, and Yennefer encountering Geralt, at a masquerade that is likely the Belleteyn, a May Night festival Geralt and Yen meet each other at in Sword of Destiny, the second anthology collection in the book series. This isn’t actually how they first meet in the book series—that’s detailed in the short story “The Last Wish,” which collected in the anthology of the same name.
“No matter what you choose,” Mousesack continues, “You’ll come out bloody.”
We see Geralt getting involved in what appears to be a fight between Cintran soldiers and commoners—and we actually get a very brief glimpse of another character from the books.
This peculiar looking character is Duny and…is actually really important, but saying why would constitute ruining a major spoiler for the series at large. Suffice to say, at this point in the series, Duny is actually a prince who was cursed to look like a strange, hedgehog-like being.
We get another few glimpses of Ciri—first, encountering the Dryads after fleeing Cintra, and then second, what appears her escape from capital (you can juust about make out the blue cape she’s wearing throughout the trailer).
The trailer climaxes back during Geralt’s fight in the town from the opening—it’s cut to make it look like Yennefer is calling on Geralt and is in this fight as well, but it appears to be two different shots, given the inclement weather Yennefer is being drenched by is not present in Geralt’s scrap.
Back on Geralt though, you see him do something very familiar to fans of the game—point out three of his fingers. This is how Witchers cast magic in combat, called Signs, making runic gestures. He’s likely using Aard, one of the most basic signs in the game, which is essentially a telekinetic blast.
We sharply cut to a very brief, very peculiar shot of Tissaia catching a bolt of lightning and redirecting it through a hole in the ceiling. It’s hard to say where this is from, but if we were right earlier and Tissaia’s fellow sorcerers in the Chapter of the Gift and the Art are in the series, this could be part of the coup attempt, but that actually comes quite a bit into the series.
The trailer actually instead concludes with a very game-fan pleasing shot: a giant, spidery creature emerging out of a swamp as an incredibly messed up looking Geralt prepares to face it down.
The creature has a few more limbs that suggest it could even be an Arachnomorph, spider-creatures introduced in DLC for the third Witcher game, Wild Hunt, but given the books are the major source material for the show this looks like it could more likely be a Kikimore, a giant insectoid creature Geralt battles as a prelude the short story “The Lesser Evil,” a fight with which eventually brings Geralt to the town of Blaviken, where he earns his infamous nickname. It’d make sense if it is, given the town we saw him fighting in earlier!
Anyway, it’s this last shot that’s going to be especially pleasing to fans of the games: Geralt’s got black eyes here because he’s…poisoned himself to near death? Preparation ahead of combat is as important to the actual fight itself in The Witcher, and Witchers often temporarily boost their mutagenic abilities even further by drinking potions before going into a fight. But the potions are actually, essentially, various strengths of poison, so Geralt has to balance a fine line between giving himself a temporary boon and, well, killing himself.
In the games, this is represented by a toxicity meter that fills as players chug potions in and out of battle. As Geralt looks sicklier and sicklier the more it fills, a near-maxed-out meter is represented by, you guessed it, black eyes. It’s a cool visual callout to fans of the games to indicate that some serious business is about to go down.
Although short, our first look at The Witcher is a sweet one, whether you’re coming to it as a fan of the original books or of the gaming saga that catapulted their world into the wider cultural sphere. So far the show’s take on the novels seems to expand on the world in some interesting ways—especially on its focus beyond Geralt, particularly Yennefer’s origin story—while at the same time drawing in some familiar, fearsome foes that fans who devoured the Witcher games will get a kick out of seeing replicated on screen.
How much longer we’ll have to wait for this version of The Witcher to fully reveal itself remains to be seen—Netflix wouldn’t give a release date beyond later this year.
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