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Microsoft Apes Nintendo, Announces Xbox One Indie Game Showcase Stream

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 03:05

Microsoft has taken a leaf out of Nintendo's book and announced a new Direct-style stream centered around indie titles coming to Xbox One. Named ID@Xbox Game Pass, the first episode will air on March 26 at 9 AM PT / 12 PM ET / 4 PM GMT (3 AM AET in Sydney).

"You can expect to learn more about some of the hottest ID@Xbox titles coming to Xbox Game Pass with new reveals, gameplay highlights, and conversations with the developers," the platform holder stated. It went on to tease information on Afterparty, Void Bastards, and Supermarket Shriek, as well as "new game announcements." You'll be able to watch on YouTube, as with Microsoft's Inside Xbox streams.

On the face of it, the show will be similar to Nintendo's regular Nindies streams, the most recent of which happened just a few days ago. The spring Nindies showcase even included a collaboration of sorts between Nintendo and Microsoft as a port of Cuphead for Switch was announced. It also brought a new Zelda game and some new Switch games available right now.

Microsoft's announcement comes just hours after Sony unveiled its new show, State of Play, which promises more information on upcoming PlayStation games and "new game announcements" of its own. That stream is also airing on March 26, just a few hours after Microsoft's ID@Xbox Game Pass show.

Pokemon Go Bringing Gen 4 Legendary Giratina Back With New Form

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 03:05

Pokemon Go's first Gen 4 Legendary Pokemon, Giratina, is making an encore appearance in the hit mobile game soon. Niantic is bringing the Renegade Pokemon back to Raid Battles for another month beginning March 28, and this time around it'll appear in a different form.

From March 28 to April 2, players will have another opportunity to capture Giratina in its Altered Forme (pictured below). After that, the Legendary Pokemon will transform into its Origin Forme--the serpent-like appearance it takes in Pokemon Platinum--until it leaves Raid Battles on April 29.

Regardless of what form it takes, Giratina is a dual Ghost/Dragon Pokemon, so the same strategies you used to battle it when it first appeared during last year's Halloween event will apply. What's unique about this combination is that both Ghost and Dragon are susceptible to their own types, so Pokemon like Salamence, Rayquaza, and Gengar will prove to be effective against Giratina. Dark-types such as Tyranitar and Houndoom will also have an edge over it.

In the meantime, you still have a few more days to capture Pokemon Go's current Legendary, Dialga. The Temporal Pokemon will only appear in Raid Battles until March 28, meaning this is your last opportunity to add it to your collection before it leaves the game. Dialga is a dual Dragon/Steel-type, making it weak to Fighting and Ground Pokemon like Machamp and Groudon.

Pokemon Go is in the midst of its spring equinox event, which makes Grass Pokemon like Oddish and Sunkern easier to find. The game's next Community Day takes place this Saturday, March 23, and it likewise features a Grass Pokemon: the Gen 3 starter Treecko.

XCOM 2 Is Free To Play And 75% Off On Steam This Weekend

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 02:48

No matter how long and tiresome your week is, there's at least one thing you can look forward to by the time you make it to Friday: Steam's free-to-play weekend games will be live. This weekend, only one title is available as a free-to-play exclusive, but it's a big one: XCOM 2, a turn-based strategy game where you command a resistance group of soldiers fighting back against aliens who have captured and now dominate Earth.

From now until Sunday, March 24 at 1 PM PT / 4 PM ET / 8 PM GMT (or March 25 at 7 AM AET), you can play XCOM 2 completely for free on Steam--and if you love the game, be sure to grab it at its current steep discount of $15 / £11.37 / AU $21.16 (normally $60). It'll be on sale until Monday, March 25 at 10 AM PT / 1 PM ET / 5 PM GMT (or March 26 at 4 AM AET). The XCOM 2 Collection, its Digital Deluxe edition, and various DLC are marked down as well.

XCOM 2 takes places two decades after XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the series' 2012 reboot. You play as the commander of XCOM, a military organization working to sabotage and bring down the alien regime that now occupies Earth. Stealth and strategy play an even bigger role in this sequel, which allows for sneaking around enemies and planning thrilling ambushes. The game earned a 9/10 in GameSpot's XCOM 2 review for its nuanced strategy, compelling characters, and the critical decisions you're forced to make.

"Time keeps ticking in XCOM 2, and the best we can do is make the right choices when we have the chance," wrote GameSpot's Mike Mahardy. "XCOM 2 imparts the weight of those decisions, and that's what makes it extraordinary. It's mathematical, emotional, and thoughtful all at once. It's exhilarating, even in the face of failure. It's compelling, even though we often lose. Victory is the goal, but that's just an afterthought here--it's the complex journey that counts."

Play XCOM 2 for free on Steam »

Life Is Strange 2 Isn't Back Until May, Release Schedule Detailed

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 01:43

You'll be waiting a while longer to continue Life is Strange 2. Square Enix outlined the upcoming roadmap of releases for the remaining episodes, and the next one isn't coming until late spring. The full season is slated to last through the rest of the year.

The company outlined its season of content on Steam. Episode 3 is coming on May 9, followed by Episode 4 on August 22, and Episode 5 on December 3. Those gaps are about what players may have expected given the four-month wait between the first two releases in September 2018 and January 2019, but it also means the story isn't as close as fans may have hoped.

Life is Strange was a surprise from publisher Square Enix and gained a cult following around its mixture of sci-fi and fantasy tropes with the mundane parts of real life. It received a spin-off, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, that served as a bridge and teaser for the sequel.

"Life is Strange paints an excellent, vivid picture of a young woman's struggle for acceptance and justice, but trips itself up by trying to make things gamey," critic Alex Ray Corriea said in GameSpot's review of the first game's final episode. "The story of Max and Chloe is a beautiful tale, but it's marred by bizarre logical leaps and leftover plot holes. Aggravating out-of-place fetch quests and stealth sequences crack the somber atmosphere and very hamfistedly remind you that you're playing a game. It's unfortunate, because I do love Life is Strange's story. I just wish the ending wasn't so mismanaged."

Stephen King's Dark Tower TV Show Still Happening, First cast Announced

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 01:16

While it's not unusual for a popular novel to get more than one adaptation, it's rare for them to occur only a few years apart. But following the commercial disappointment of 2017's adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, another version is on the way, this time as an Amazon series. The first cast members have now been announced.

As reported by Variety, the lead roles of The Gunslinger and The Man in Black will be played by Sam Strike and Jasper Pääkkönen respectively. Strike was seen most recently in the sci-fi show Nightflyers, as well as David Fincher's Netflix thriller Mindhunter. Pääkkönen had a key role in Spike Lee's acclaimed Blackkkansman, as well as the series Vikings.

A Dark Tower TV show was first announced back in 2016. It was subsequently announced that former Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara would be producing the series, and the plan was to make it a spin-off from the film. The movie, which starred Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, hit theaters in August 2017, but its box office failure meant that plans for further movies were quickly dropped.

However, development on the show continued, with Mazzara remaining on board. As Variety notes, the series will now be a "more faithful adaptation" of the source material. King himself commented on this back in October 2017, when he stated the show would be "complete reboot" of the property. "The TV series they’re developing now... we'll see what happens with that," he said at the time. "It would be like a complete reboot, so we'll just have to see."

The Dark Tower encompasses eight novels, written between 1982 and 2012. The books blend classic western themes with horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, and many of King's other novels connect to the ongoing story.

Devil May Cry 5 Hits Big Sales Milestone In First Two Weeks

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 00:37

Capcom has shipped 2 million copies of Devil May Cry 5 within its first two weeks, the company has announced. That's a significant boost from its previous release, the soft-reboot DMC: Devil May Cry, which had its sales expectations reduced amid a weaker-than-expected launch.

Capcom also noted that the series has now cumulatively sold more than 19 million copies since it debuted in 2001. If sales of DMC5 remain strong, it's likely to help push that lifetime figure over the 20 million mark.

DMC5 is the first mainline release for the series in more than ten years. It brings back Dante and Nero, along with a new character, V, who summons animal familiars to do his fighting for him. The last numbered release, Devil May Cry 4, sold 2 million copies in roughly its first month on the market.

"DMC5 thrives on the stylistic and mechanical prowess of its predecessors. It sticks to tradition above all else, pursuing a few ambitious new ideas along the way, but mostly maintaining the series' focus on intricate fighting systems and campy bravado," Matt Espineli wrote in GameSpot's Devil May Cry 5 review. "Rarely does the game stumble, consistently leveraging its spectacle and mechanical depth to push aside any small frustrations. All the while, the story exudes a charismatic charm that keeps you constantly intrigued as you're refining your skills. DMC5 proves the series can still be brilliant and imaginative without compromising its longest-held traditions."

Judgement's Western Release Date Unchanged, Actor Caught In Drug Scandal Removed From It

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 00:28

Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, the team behind the Yakuza series, has provided an update on its upcoming PS4 title Judgement. The game became embroiled in a controversy when Japanese voice actor Pierre Taki was linked to drug use, something which is treated very severely in Japan. In a tweet, the developer said the character model and voice for Taki's character, Kyohei Hamura, will be adjusted for its western release.

Additionally, screenshots and trailers featuring Taki's character have been "temporarily removed from all of Sega's official channels." In the future, this material will be made available again with the adjustments reflected in them, Sega confirmed.

Judgement is already available in Japan, but sales of the game were halted while the investigation surrounding the drug use was conducted. Taki later admitted to using cocaine and tested positive for it. Judgement's western release date has not been delayed and it will be available on June 25.

As previously mentioned, Japan has very strict drug laws and the use of drugs has severe consequences, especially for those in the public eye. In addition to being removed from Judgement by Sega, Disney has also stopped sales of Frozen, in which Taki voices Olaf. Japanese publication Asahi News has reported that Disney is also looking at replacing him for Frozen 2.

Judgment is a narrative-driven game that serves as a spin-off from the Yakuza series. Players assume the role of investigator Takayuki Yagami, who is looking into grisly crimes in Kamurocho, which is the Kabukicho, Tokyo-inspired setting for the Yakuza games.

PlayStation Reveals State Of Play Stream, Will Have New Game Announcements

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 23:08

Taking a page out of Nintendo's playbook, Sony has announced State of Play, a "new video program" that will provide viewers with updates and announcements from the world of PlayStation. The first episode will air on March 25 at 2 PM PT / 5 PM EDT / 9 PM GMT / 8 AM AEDT on March 26.

According to a post on the PlayStation Blog, the episode will "showcase upcoming PS4 and PS VR software, including new trailers, new game announcements and new gameplay footage." The show will be available to watch on Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and, of course, on GameSpot.

Sony says that State of Play will return throughout the year with more updates and announcement. The confirmation of this series of Nintendo Direct-style events will no doubt be exciting for PlayStation fans, especially since the company has confirmed it will not be attending E3 in 2019.

"As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community," the company said, explaining its decision to skip the annual trade show. "PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can't wait to share our plans with you."

It seems State of Play is one of the new and familiar ways Sony intends to engage the PlayStation community. While it hasn't detailed what games it may showcase, there are a number of big PlayStation titles currently on the way. Naughty Dog is working on The Last of Us 2, Sucker Punch has Ghost of Tsushima, Media Molecule is building Dreams, and Sony Bend's Days Gone is set for launch in April.

Sony will no doubt also use the platform to showcase some of the third-party and indie titles that are in the pipeline for both PS4 and PlayStation VR. Check back on March 25 and we'll have all the news from the event for you.

Control Release Date Announced For PS4, Xbox One, And PC

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 22:59

Alan Wake and Quantum Break developer Remedy has confirmed the release date of its newest project, Control. The action-adventure title will launch for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on August 27.

Remedy confirmed the news to Eurogamer following rumors sparked by a leaked Xbox Store listing. The game was first revealed at E3 2018, where it quickly became one of our most anticipated games.

Control stars Jesse Faden, a woman with supernatural abilities. At the game's start, Jesse breaks into the Federal Bureau of Control--a fictional government agency that researches ways to explain and exploit paranormal phenomenon--in order to discover the truth about the origin of her powers. Her infiltration, however, runs into a snag, and she's suddenly thrust into a fight to protect the Bureau as its new director.

Jesse's powerful supernatural abilities allow her to wield telekinesis to rip apart the environment, or lift herself up and fly through the air. She can also seize the minds of others, bending them to her will and forcing them to fight alongside her.

Game director Mikael Kasurinen compared the atmosphere of Control to the 2018 movie Annihilation, while Remedy creative director Sam Lake loves that Control gives him the freedom to be weird again. For more, check out some Control gameplay from E3 2018 above.

Watch The Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest Keynote, Shadowbringers News Teased

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 22:40

The Final Fantasy Fan Festival 2019 is taking place this weekend in Tokyo, and some news about Final Fantasy XIV is expected. The event kicks off with a keynote address featuring none other than game director Naoki Yoshida speaking to the crowd at the Makuhari Messe in Tokyo and broadcast online around the world. According to Square Enix, you can expect Yoshida to talk about "new announcements" for the game's next expansion, Shadowbringers, which is due out this year.

The keynote begins March 23 at 10:30 AM JST, which works out to 6:30 PM PT / 9:30 PM ET. You can watch the stream live from the official Final Fantasy XIV Twitch channel in Japanese or with English commentary on the official Square Enix Twitch channel. The commentary will be handled by Final Fantasy XIV's Michael-Christopher Koji Fox and community director Matt Hilton. They won't translate in real-time but instead go over and discuss the key takeaways.

The Fan Festival 2019 runs March 23-24, and there is heaps more programming that you can watch. This includes another segment with Naoki called "Naoki's Room" where he invites special guests to the stage to talk about things that "don't quite fit anywhere else." Some of the guests include various voice actors, as well as executive producer and member of the board Yosuke Saito.

There will also be a cosplay contest, where fans will show off their best outfits based on Final Fantasy characters.

Some of the Day 2 programming includes a "Letter From the Producer" segment where Yoshida talks about new details about Final Fantasy XIV as well as a development panel where developers will provide a behind-the-scenes look at how the game is made.

Be sure to visit the Final Fantasy XIV website to see a full rundown of programming for the Fan Festival. GameSpot is on the ground in Tokyo for Fan Festival, so keep checking back all weekend for more coverage from the event.

Disclosure: Square Enix paid for GameSpot's flight to Tokyo and accomodation.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice--Where To Find The Shinobi Axe For Killing Shielded Enemies

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 18:38

Most of your time in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is spent dueling with swords, deflecting enemy attacks and striking back in order to overwhelm your opponent and open them up for devastating deathblows. But some enemies are tougher to deal with than others, and no amount of fancy sword work can break something like a sturdy shield. That's where the Shinobi Prosthetic and its various tools come in, providing you options on the battlefield that are great for dealing with specific kinds of enemies.

You won't start out with many tools for the Shinobi Prosthetic in Sekiro, though--you have to locate them in the world and bring them back to the Sculptor in the Dilapidated Temple in order to access them. That means that plenty of them are easy to miss, and not finding the right prosthetics can at the right time can put you at a serious disadvantage against some of the game's tough bosses and mid-bosses. You'll also lack the means to defeat some of the more irritating regular enemies until you find the right tools.

The Shinobi Axe is one of the early prosthetics that you'll definitely want, since it's great for smashing through shields and the wooden hats of the small but tough Senpou assassins. If you don't search around enough, though, you can walk right past the axe, and that'll make your progress a little more irritating. Here's everything you need to know to snag this early prosthetic tool, and while you're at it, you might want to check out our Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review, and our rundown of how death and Dragonrot work in the game.

Visit Ashina Outskirts To Find The Estate

The Shinobi Axe is actually located in the Hirata Estate, a place you can only access through a specific quest item that lets you visit one of the Wolf's old memories. The item you need is a bell that you can get from a character early on in the first area you visit, the Ashina Outskirts. Head to the Outskirts Wall--Gate Path area, past the samurai mid-boss you'll fight near when you arrive. In the next, more open area, you'll find lots of enemies patrolling around, and several blasted-out houses. Inside one is an old woman who thinks you're her son when you speak to her. If you let her believe it, she'll give you a bell and ask you to make an offering to Buddha.

That bell is the quest item you're looking for. Take it back to the Dilapidated Temple and offer it to the Buddha statue near the Sculptor. That'll give you access to the Hirata Estate level three years in the past.

Make Your Way Through The Estate

Once you're in the Estate, you'll need to progress to a specific area. Fight through the first section until you reach the Idol marked "Estate Path." It's this section where you'll find the Shinobi Axe, although you'll have to do a little work to reach it.

At the idol, you'll be on a path that leads through some enemies to a closed gate. To get around the gate, you'll need to hop over the wall on the right of the path and head past some huts and houses. If you've already found the Flame Vent prosthetic, you'll need to go past that to get to the Axe. Advance through the yards until you pass an area with a row of huts, where a bunch of enemies are hanging out by a campfire. The path ahead of the campfire will take you back onto the main road, on the other side of the gate you couldn't open. You should pass an injured samurai who tells you the Shinobi Axe is located in a nearby shrine.

Finding The Shrine

As you pass the samurai and come back out on the main road, you'll be able to turn either left or right. To the right, you'll see two enemies standing at a gate where you can eavesdrop on them. Instead, turn left, heading toward the locked gate. Jump up on the wall on your left and you'll see two more enemies talking just beyond. Picking up their conversation reveals they're talking about burning a nearby building, which they call a shrine. That's the place you're looking for.

Drop down and take out those two guys, then open the small square building to find the Shinobi Axe inside. You'll need to return to an Idol Statue so you can travel back to the Dilapidated Temple and get the Sculptor to fit the Axe to your prosthetic, but you can do that quickly by opening that locked gate--it opens from the side you're on, giving you a quick path back to the Idol.

Once you have the Axe, use it to stagger baddies with a big, powerful attack, and to smash anybody's shields. You'll find those shield-wielding enemies just up ahead on the main path through Hirata, so you're going to want to get the Axe ready to go as soon as you can.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Guide--Where To Find The Firecrackers Shinobi Prosthetic Early

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 17:40

Swordplay is a massive part of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but just as important is your other special weapon: the Shinobi Prosthetic. Early in the game, you gain a prosthetic left arm that can be outfitted with all sorts of tools. It's what allows you to use a grappling hook to reach tough spots, and it also supports a bunch of different weapons, a lot like those you'll find in Dark Souls or Bloodborne.

The thing is, you can't just buy most Shinobi Prosthetics at a shop--they're scattered throughout the world in Sekiro, and they can be easy to miss as you work through the game. Especially early in the game, though, prosthetics can be very useful for beating bosses and mini-bosses that might otherwise wail on you. It's important to grab the early ones as soon as you can, so that when you run up against the worst enemies, you'll be prepared.

The Firecrackers prosthetic is extremely handy for some of the first bosses you'll come up against, including the horseback Gyoubu and the Blazing Bull. If you're not careful, though, you won't find the place to get the Firecrackers until after the battle with Gyoubu, which puts you at something of a disadvantage.

Here's everything you have to do to find the Firecrackers prosthetic as early as you can, so you'll have it to deal with some early bosses. While you're at it, you might want to check out our Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review, and our rundown of how death and Dragonrot work in the game.

Head To Ashina Outskirts

Scattered throughout Sekiro are merchants called the Memorial Mob. You'll find them in places with a lot of dead folks (which is basically everywhere in Ashina), hanging out in tents, selling various items. These include your basic consumables, like Medicinal Pellets, as well as the occasional key item--like Firecrackers.

The first Memorial Mob merchant you can find is in the Ashina Outskirts area, specifically in the Outskirts Wall--Gate Path area. You're looking for the section of the area that follows the samurai mid-boss. In the next area, you'll find patrolling enemies, and a few people to talk to: specifically, a woman who will think you're her son, and her actual son, who wants you to help her.

Find The Stone Tower

From the blasted house with the woman, keep moving through the area until you hit a gate with stairs going upward. At the top is an enemy who'll fire a cannon your way. Look to your left before the gate and you should see a place where you can grapple up.

This is the stone tower you're looking for. Keep climbing it by looking up to the left for more places to grapple. After a few swings, you'll reach the top, where you'll find the Memorial Mob merchant you're hunting.

Spend Your 500 Sen

The Memorial Mob guy has an item called Robert's Firecrackers, and it's the item you're looking to buy from him. It'll run you 500 sen, so you might have to save up--try buying Light Purses if you're having a time staying alive, since money that's in purses can't be lost when you die. Once you can afford the Firecrackers, head back to the Sculptor to have him attach the Loaded Firecrackers to your Shinobi Prosthetic. It's great for distracting enemies and interrupting their animations, and is particularly effective against animals.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 Brings The Cult RPG Series To The Modern Age

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 16:31

After many teases on social media, Paradox Interactive and Hardsuit Labs have finally revealed Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2, the sequel to the original 2004 RPG. With Bloodlines 2, releasing in 2020 for PC and consoles, several key members from the former studio Troika Games, along with some new blood at Hardsuit Labs, are looking to pick up where the bleak yet off-the-wall original left off. Just before its reveal, we had the chance to get an early look, while also speaking with Bloodlines 2 lead narrative designer Brian Mitsoda and senior writer Cara Ellison about the making of the sequel.

As an adaptation of the table-top game series from White Wolf Publishing, the first Bloodlines focused on the shadowy underworld of Vampire society in modern-day Los Angeles. Starting out as a newly converted vampire, you were drawn into centuries-long quarrels amongst elite vampires, all the while coming to grips with your new and unusual circumstances. While much of the first game hasn't aged too well, its in-depth role-playing and social gameplay are enduring achievements. Showing shades of immersive-sims like Deus Ex and System Shock, it possessed an impressive amount of complexity with how you could use your vampiric abilities to navigate the complex web of conspiracies within the secret society.

The game's original developers, Troika Games, drafted up concepts for a follow-up, however, low sales and a lack of projects after Bloodlines' launch forced the closure of the studio. In the years since its release, a dedicated online community has kept the game active, slowly turning the obscure PC RPG into an underground hit.

Showing similar shades to the original game, the new protagonist of Bloodlines 2 is suddenly thrust into their new life as a vampire. Taking place in the city of Seattle, the new fledgling faces a tribunal held by the Camarilla--the union of different vampire factions. Recalling their final moments alive, and subsequent rebirth at the hands of another vampire, the meeting comes under attack, forcing you to make a quick exit. From here, you'll slowly work your way up the Vampire hierarchy, dealing with returning factions like the Tremere, and embrace your newfound life as a creature of the night.

For the sequel, the developers expressed that they wanted to maintain the same level of agency and detail from the previous game, while also focusing more on the strange and lesser-known details of living a new life as a vampire. This on-boarding process, as seen in the opening of the game, also highlights the new abilities that come with being a Vampire. In addition to taking on different disciplines, you'll also have a suite of vampire skills to use, such as levitation, telekinesis, and even a mist-form--allowing you to pass through objects. Eventually, you'll be able to unlock access to higher-end abilities, like conjuring up sharp objects made of blood and slowing down time to easily evade enemies.

During the demo, Mitsoda--who served as the lead writer on the original game--talked about bringing the series back after 15 years, and how they wanted to make it accessible for fans and newcomers.

"There's something exciting about the player discovering this world that is right under our noses," said Mitsoda as he elaborated on the world building of the game. "A big part of what we wanted to do with Bloodlines 2 is to make sure that people who are fans of the first one will immediately feel like, "This is Bloodlines. This feels like Bloodlines." Then the people who are coming into it fresh are going to going to have the same feelings of what is this all about? I'm a vampire. What do I do now? So, we want people to go out there with the expectations of they don't know anything now, but they're going to be discovering everything that's going on in Seattle.

Just like in Bloodlines 1, you'll be able to freely explore various open hubs and far away locations while tackling missions with other key-characters. In addition to exploring locations like Pioneer Square, Pier 55, and other areas of downtown Seattle, you'll follow leads into the city's underground ruins. These sections are said to be inspired by the real-life locations that were paved over after intense fires during 1889, and the ruins house a number secrets pertaining to the lost history of Seattle, and how vampires played a part in it.

According to the developers, Bloodlines 2 will shed light on the various vampire cultures and their power structures. Just like in the original game, the sequel also leans heavy on socializing. You're often pushed into high-pressure situations with humans and vampires alike, where you'll need to make a choice that could compromise relationships. Siding with one faction can put you at odds with another. However, you're totally free to break away from a side at anytime. These social situations can also highlight the mundanity of living life as a Vampire. Shortly after making it back to your apartment, you encounter a fellow vampire named Dale, who volunteers to be your information broker and to help with your transition. It was an oddly relaxed conversation--especially considering this came after surviving several attacks from humans and other undead.

While explaining their approach to balancing the absurdity of vampirism with the more grotesque aspects of being undead, senior writer Cara Ellison spoke about what it was like working on the game's tone, and how humor is a bit of a coping mechanism for the vampires in Bloodlines.

"I'm kind of in charge of looking at the game as almost like vampire puberty, like where it's a transition from leaving humanity behind," Ellison said. "I think you might be surprised at how funny it is to be a vampire, in a weird way. It's quite a dark game, but we manage to show it as an absurd existence, and you might encounter some people who were weathering their situation in an interesting or maybe in a slightly dark and humorous way. That really connects to me, because I'm British. Everything bad is funny to us, like Brexit is weirdly funny. [...]There's a lot of complexity in there to explore. It's pretty fun to write."

Since you're a vampire, handling your business and exploring the city--even in the evening--can be a challenge. This is where the series' signature Masquerade gameplay comes in. According to series lore, The Masquerade is a code of conduct that vampires must follow in order to prevent exposing their existence to humanity. Though you are a vampire, you still look normal enough to pass as human while in public. However, when you use your supernatural powers in front of unsuspecting humans, you'll break the Masquerade and draw attention to yourself and to the larger vampire society. Police and common criminals can still pose a threat, however, and causing too much havoc will alert elite vampires that will hunt you down.

Bloodlines 2 carries over the complexity of the original game, allowing you to overcome obstacles and events in different ways by using your vampiric skills or social charms--like seduction, for instance. However, there will come a time where you'll need to defend yourself, which includes several conventional weapons and supernatural abilities. In one section taking place in a back ally in Pioneer Square, there's an opportunity to break up an attempted mugging. While watching this bit of gameplay, we saw the main character use several of these skills one after another. First, they used their heightened senses to highlight the key targets, and took advantage of their heightened physicality to make high-jumps across the roofs to get into position and perform a series of takedowns on the unsuspecting muggers.

Though you'll have plenty of tools to use, melee combat will have a larger focus, which the developers stated is something they wanted to improve from the original. During combat, you'll be able to launch pre-emptive strikes against human enemies, and even counter their attack with instant-kills that will drain their blood. Blood is a resource that you'll constantly need to keep track of, powering your various abilities. While it's not possible to do a no-kill run through the game--you still have to feed after all--the developers stated that you can play as a "humane" vampire to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.

How you advance your character can set the tone for what's to come. This even comes into play by the type of human blood you feed on. If targets are angry, especially during a combat encounter, then you'll feed on blood filled with anger resonance. If they're frightened, then they'll be highlighted with the fear resonance. Feeding on a specific type of blood for too long will have you favor a particular type, opening up access to certain skills. But if you choose to forego your humanity, and kill indiscriminately for too long, your character will dip further into the vampiric-side. According to the developers, if this happens, your character's social skills will be affected, making certain situations--like socializing or going out in public--more difficult, but inversely, you can acquire more vampiric abilities as a result.

Some of my favorite moments from the previous game where seeing just how far you could push social or combat situations in your favor. Though often times they didn't work out in ways that I intended, I ended appreciating the events that occurred, most of which was very odd. From this early look, Bloodlines 2 looks to be a faithful restart for the series, keeping up the adaptive, and incredibly bizarre storytelling. It'll be interesting to see what passes for strange in the eyes of the developers, fifteen years after the original game's release.

Nintendo Finally Does VR, In The Most Nintendo Way Possible

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 12:00

Despite the numerous innovations it's been responsible for over the past three decades, Nintendo has also been notoriously slow to adapt to certain trends. The company was, after all, the last to earnestly embrace online gaming, and it seemed that would likewise be the case with virtual reality--which made the announcement of Labo VR, the fourth kit in its growing line of DIY games/toys, such a surprise. And while it may not be as sophisticated as a true VR headset, Labo VR is the most compelling Labo kit yet, although your enjoyment will largely depend on your own creativity.

Like Nintendo's previous three Labo packages, the VR kit comes with its own game card and an assortment of cardboard sheets, stickers, rubber bands, and other crafting materials with which to assemble its various Toy-Cons. The full suite of projects includes the Blaster, Bird, Camera, Elephant, and Wind Pedal, plus a set of VR Goggles that works in conjunction with the other peripherals. The goggles are the key to the experience; they house the Switch console and slot into almost all of the other Toy-Cons, allowing you to play their corresponding mini-games in VR (though each activity also supports the option to be played in 2D).

What's most immediately impressive about this setup is that it doesn't require any additional hardware or accessories to work, as PlayStation VR and other headsets do; you simply slide the Switch into the VR Goggles, then insert that into the Toy-Con you wish to use. We had reservations about holding the Switch up in what is effectively just a cardboard viewfinder, but the goggles feel surprisingly sturdy, and all of the Toy-Cons feature safety caps to lock it into place, ensuring the console doesn't accidentally slip out during use. That said, we'd still caution parents to supervise their children when playing with the Toy-Cons to prevent any mishaps.

Of course, without additional cameras or input devices, the Labo VR kit offers a more limited virtual reality experience than proper VR headsets. Even so, head tracking felt accurate and responsive in our time with the kit, and all of the mini-games we played made good use of the 360-degree view the VR Goggles afford. If things do become wonky, however, you can recalibrate the Switch by removing it from the goggles, setting it on a flat surface, and pressing an on-screen button.

Each of the five new Toy-Cons works with a different pair of activities. We only got to try a handful of these during our hands-on time with the kit, but the mini-games we did play seemed to suffer from the same problem as those in the Variety kit; namely, they didn't appear to offer much in the way of depth, so it's difficult to imagine spending more than a few minutes with them. That said, the games were amusing, and the Toy-Cons are intended to be passed between players, so your mileage will vary if you have family members or other loved ones to share the experience with. Of the bunch, the Blaster offered the most traditional gaming experience--a simple on-rails light gun game in which you shoot an army of adorable aliens that have invaded a city. The Blaster is also used to play a secondary competitive mini-game that is essentially a VR version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, pitting two players against each other in a race to fire food into the hippos’ mouths.

Another highlight was Bird, which has players soaring about an island in search of hatchlings to feed. The Camera Toy-Con lets you snap pictures of marine life in a simple underwater photography game, while the Elephant features the most unexpected activity--an art program that allows you to draw 3D artwork by maneuvering its trunk. However, the trunk's limited range of movement made this particular activity the least appealing of all the ones we tried. By contrast, the most memorable sensory experience came from the Wind Pedal. Like the pedal Toy-Con from the Labo Vehicle kit, this peripheral rests on the floor, but pressing down on it causes a fan to swing upward and blow air into your face. The object of its mini-game is to press down on the pedal at the right time to make a frog leap over stacks of balls that are fired from clockwork bears. The game itself is a rudimentary timing challenge, but feeling the gusts of air against your face as you see yourself ascending into the sky was a trippy sensation.

On top of each Toy-Con's dedicated mini-games, Labo VR also includes a mode called VR Plaza, which features 64 bite-sized VR activities to play. These run the gamut from side-scrolling platformers to puzzle games, and each one was created using the series' flexible Garage function, which lets you program your own Labo activities. This is where the game's lasting appeal lies, as you can tinker about with the entire selection of pre-made games, editing them as you please or even creating your own VR games.

The Nintendo Labo VR kit launches on April 12. This time around, Nintendo is offering the kit in two different configurations. The full bundle retails for $80 and includes all six Toy-Cons, while the starter set--which comes only with the Labo software plus the VR Goggles and Blaster--costs $40. The remaining peripherals can then be purchased across two separate expansion sets for $20 each.

Game Of Thrones' Emilia Clarke Survived Two Brain Aneurysms During The Show

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 11:37

Before Game of Thrones fans were introduced to the deposed and hunted royal Daenerys Targaryen, the actress behind the role was facing a life-threatening battle of her own. In a new essay for The New Yorker, Emilia Clarke revealed she suffered two brain aneurysms during her time on the show, the first occurring after wrapping filming of Season 1 of the HBO series.

"Just when all my childhood dreams seemed to have come true, I nearly lost my mind and then my life," she wrote. "I've never told this story publicly, but now it's time."

It all started on February 11, 2011--two months before the series premiered. Clarke was working out with a trainer when she felt "as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain." She continued, "I tried to ignore the pain and push through it, but I just couldn't. I told my trainer I had to take a break. Somehow, almost crawling, I made it to the locker room. I reached the toilet, sank to my knees, and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain--shooting, stabbing, constricting pain--was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged."

Eventually, someone came to her aid and Clarke was transported to a hospital. It's there she learned she was suffering from a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which she described as "a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain." According to the actress, roughly one-third of patients who suffer those don't survive. Soon after she underwent her first brain surgery.

The surgery left her alive but in extreme pain. Later, in a series of cognitive exercises given to her by a nurse, Clarke realized she couldn't remember her name. She was experiencing a case of aphasia. "Nonsense words tumbled out of my mouth and I went into a blind panic," she wrote. "I'd never experienced fear like that--a sense of doom closing in. I could see my life ahead, and it wasn't worth living. I am an actor; I need to remember my lines. Now I couldn't recall my name."

It took a week for the aphasia to pass and a month after her admittance, Clarke left the hospital. She did so with the knowledge that there was a second smaller aneurysm in her brain. "The doctors said, though, that it was small and it was possible it would remain dormant and harmless indefinitely," she explained. "We would just keep a careful watch."

In the time that followed, Clarke often found herself weak, fatigued, and in pain. "Season 2 would be my worst. I didn't know what Daenerys was doing," she wrote. "If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die."

Then, after finishing Season 3 of the series and spending some time in New York City, Clarke went in for one of her now-regular brain scans. It was discovered that the smaller aneurysm had doubled in size and she would again need to undergo surgery. Unlike the previous one, though, this procedure was not as successful.

"When they woke me, I was screaming in pain. The procedure had failed," she recalled. "I had a massive bleed and the doctors made it plain that my chances of surviving were precarious if they didn't operate again. This time they needed to access my brain in the old-fashioned way—through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately."

Again, Clarke spent a month in the hospital recovering from brain surgery. And once again, it took a toll on her mentally. "I spent a month in the hospital again and, at certain points, I lost all hope," she said. "I couldn't look anyone in the eye. There was terrible anxiety, panic attacks. I was raised never to say, 'It's not fair'; I was taught to remember that there is always someone who is worse off than you. But, going through this experience for the second time, all hope receded. I felt like a shell of myself."

What's more, Clarke suffered in silence. She never went public with the struggles she was facing. Until now, that is. "In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes," she wrote. "I am now at a hundred percent." Beyond that, Clarke also launched the charitable organization SameYou, which has the goal of providing treatment for those suffering from brain injuries and strokes.

And now she's looking toward another accomplishment: the end of Game of Thrones. "There is something gratifying, and beyond lucky, about coming to the end of Thrones," she said. "I'm so happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next."

The Mandalorian Showrunner's Instagram Photo Teases IG-88's Appearance, Famous Voice

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 11:30

It looks like IG-88 is coming to Disney's Star Wars spin-off streaming show, The Mandalorian--and he'll have a Marvel Cinematic Universe alumnus providing his voice.

Showrunner Jon Favreau shared a photo on his Instagram feed of Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi in a voice recording booth, apparently working on The Mandalorian. The screen Waititi is facing in the photo shows a beloved bounty hunter: the spooky droid IG-88. From the context of the photo, it looks like Waititi is providing IG-88's voice.

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A post shared by Jon Favreau (@jonfavreau) on Mar 21, 2019 at 4:43pm PDT

IG-88 first showed up in The Empire Strikes Back on Darth Vader's star destroyer. The droid was among the many bounty hunters Vader dispatched to find the Millennium Falcon, of which Boba Fett wound up being successful. (It's worth noting also that Boba Fett was a Mandalorian, which were a group of famed warriors in the Star Wars lore.) IG-88 and the other hunters never showed up in the movies again, but they had backstories fleshed out in novels, comics, and video games in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. IG-88 even showed up as a villain in the 1996 video game Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire on N64 and PC.

With Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars franchise, the old Expanded Universe stories became non-canon. But it looks like IG-88 lives on beyond his turn in the original Star Wars trilogy. The Mandalorian stars Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and follows a lone gunfighter beyond the reaches of the Republic in the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, so IG-88 apparently survived at least that long.

Waititi is among the directors slated to take on episodes of The Mandalorian. This isn't the first time he's lent his voice to a character in a project he was also directing--Waititi voiced Korg, an alien composed of rocks, in Ragnarok, and damn near stole the movie. Hopefully that means IG-88 will carry some dark humor to go with his murderous ways.

The Mandalorian is set to appear on Disney's streaming service, Disney+, sometime in 2019.

Google Stadia: Phil Harrison Talks Data Caps, Pricing, And Exclusive Games

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 09:10

At GDC 2019, we sat down with Google VP Phil Harrison to talk about Stadia, his company's new cloud-based streaming service for video games. The platform will allow you to play all types of games, both triple-A and indie, from a variety of devices.

During its GDC 2019 keynote presentation, Google announced Stadia will release within 2019, and come to the US, Canada, UK, and "most of" Europe. The only games confirmed for the service as of this time are Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Doom Eternal. Harrison offered further details during our interview, including what exclusives will look like and what type of pricing model players can expect. He also confirmed Stadia will never support offline downloads.

We have more information on how cloud gaming works, and have outlined the top companies investing in gaming's possible cloud-based future. Read on for our full chat with Harrison.

I assume you've been monitoring all of the chatter, the reaction so far. What do you think?

Very happy with the way that our message was received and I think that there's a lot of very thoughtful follow up which is starting to happen. It's exactly what I wanted.

There's obviously a lot more to talk about in the months to come, but I wanted to start off with asking about latency and input lag. Are you confident that by the time the service is out, you'll be able to satisfy most of those concerns around input lag and latency?

Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. And we believe that it's not just for when the server starts, it's actually, we've demonstrated it today. Having a studio with a very, very high threshold of quality and functionality from [id Software] and having id on our stage yesterday was very purposeful, because the way [Marty Stratton] tells the story is spot on. They were skeptical when we first started talking to them. They were skeptical that a streaming platform could support the level of quality and responsiveness that they needed to deliver on their game experience. What they have delivered with Doom Eternal, I don't know if you've had the chance to?

I haven't personally, no.

[Well it absolutely] demonstrates that. And it's because of the investments that we are making in the hardware, in the fundamental networking fabric, in the compression and encoder and the way that we transport the bits from our data center to your home. There's probably a hundred innovations there that each mean that we can deliver that quality of experience. There's a very thoughtful editorial on Digital Foundry, I don't know if you've had the chance to read?

The Eurogamer article from this morning?

Yeah, Eurogamer. It's a very deep technical analysis. And in summary, they're saying that it's indistinguishable from a local Xbox One X, which I think is a very good way to frame this.

And then in more kind of serious but kind of jokey ways, we get the data, the video from our data center to your eyeball, quicker than your eyeball to brain to nervous system to finger. The human operating system is the slowest part of the operating system, and some humans are slower than others!

Have you got a fix for that, then?

I think that being about 12 is probably the best fix.

One of the other big questions people have is about bandwidth and the requirements for that. I've read some of the stuff you've already talked about, and I think you've said between 25 and 30 Mbps? Is that right?

Yes. [Happy] to clarify any questions on that. [For Project Stream], we asked gamers to have 25 megabits per second, although, in fact, we only use about 20 megabits per second on average in order to get a 1080p, 60 frames per second stream. Because of innovations that we've made on our compressor and encoder, we will deliver up to 4K, or deliver 4K at around 30 megabits per second. And then if you are still streaming at 1080p because of bandwidth or device, then we will use much less bandwidth.

So how do you message that to the end user then? Like how do you tell them that, depending on infrastructure and bandwidth, this is the quality of experience you're going to get with Stadia?

So there will be some objective and subjective ways that we do it. One, there will be some bandwidth tests that players will be able to perform in order to inform them about what the performance characteristics of their network are. There will be just information that we'll make available on our website and other places that will hopefully educate. And then there's a crucial bit in the middle which is, helping players optimize [in case] there are some environmental reasons inside their home that are restricting their experience. [We] will give them a knowledge base that will allow them to then--in some cases--move their wireless router or [maybe] upgrade their router. But we'll help the gamers as much as we can every step of the way.

So how does that work in a practical sense? Will there be a tutorial or something that you're going to offer?

I don't know how we'll do it practically but we're committed to doing it.

Okay. So, I guess the next big question is data caps. A lot of people out there are throttled by how much data that they're able to get every month. Are you working with ISPs to come up with some sort of solution around that?

The ISPs in the US where this issue is more prevalent, but not everywhere, so I think it's actually important to remember that this is not a national, nationwide concern. But historically, ISPs have demonstrated that they are very responsive to [consumers' needs]. When music streaming became popular, they lifted the bandwidth limit. When music streaming migrated to YouTube and Netflix streaming, once again the limits went up, and we expect that the limits will continue to rise over time. Partly driven by consumer demand, but also frankly, ISPs are in competition. There is a market dynamic, you know, that we believe will help continue to deliver a great service for gamers. [There are] trials going on with 5G streaming; [bandwidth in homes] that have no caps at all. So I think that we'll continue to see innovation with that.

Is there something specifically that you, as Google, is doing to push ISPs along this path?

We think that the ISPs understand the opportunity and will make the innovation.

Right now, you've pegged Stadia as something to expect later this year. When you do launch, is it going to be staggered by region or city, or will a switch be turned on and it's just available?

So we are already live in 12 data centers, from Project Stream from last year. We need to build out our infrastructure. And we will make detailed launch plans on [an exact] date in the summer.

Do you have any figures or a percentage of the market that you are looking at, that shows you, this is the percentage of the US population that can get the service in its full capacity, when you launch? Is there a number that you're looking at there?

We have a number of data points that show us, both from our internal data from use of YouTube to other publicly available information. Across the launch markets that we are focused on for 2019, it's measured in the hundreds of millions.

In the US, is there like a number you can share?

I don't have it broken down in my head, I'm sorry.

But you're comfortable that you're hitting a significant part of the available market with the infrastructure that you're requiring?

Absolutely.

A big question mark is around pricing. I know you guys aren't talking about that specifically right now. But can I ask, is the pricing model, is that something that's already been decided and you've still got to?

Yes.

Okay, so it's already been decided and you're just going to reveal it at a later date?

Correct.

Can I ask what some of the factors were that led you to deciding on the specific model that you have, without obviously giving it all away?

A lot of very deep conversations with our developer and publisher partners over many, many months and years in some cases. And a lot of deep consumer research. We have had a fantastic user research team as a core part of the Stadia team for two years now. And so, we have [our] point of view, [which we] then test [against various] hypotheses with consumers and with publishing partners, and then get to the right result.

A lot of this is uncharted waters, though. How difficult was it to come to whatever this model is?

Ask me that question in the summer.

Okay, I will. So, whatever the pricing model ends up being, will resolution be respective of price? For example, are you able to offer me, for the same price, a 8K service versus a 4K service versus a 1080p service?

We're not gonna get into those details today. I will confirm however that 8K is not in our launch window or scenario. And we'll talk about exactly how we're going to be bringing this to market in the summer.

I totally respect [latency concerns], and that is why, one of the reasons why we allow and enable gamers with the devices they already own, to be able to try Stadia. So using a laptop they may have that runs Chrome with a USB connected controller that they already have. They have everything they need in order to try and prove to themselves that Stadia works great for them. And then they will be able to feel great about that and hopefully deepen their experience with us.

Yeah. As we mentioned, this is somewhat uncharted territory for games and you know, one of the other key things that the audience keeps bringing up is the issue of ownership, right? So in a streaming platform, what do they actually own? How difficult do you think it will be for you to get traditional core gamers on board with the idea of streaming and not having that physical disc in their hand or a download that they have on their console?

There is no denying, there is no download. There is no physical box for them to put on a shelf, and actually I can speak from some kind of personal experience on this, because I'm a music fan and I'm a film fan. And somewhere in crates, I actually don't know where anymore, I have thousands of CDs. And I can't remember the last time I bought a CD. I used to buy Blu-ray discs because I wanted that physical ownership. I can't remember the last time I bought a Blu-ray disc. All of the media that I consume has gone to streaming.

But it took me a while to get to that point. It wasn't something, it wasn't a decision that I made overnight. It was because I recognized the value of being able to enjoy that music or those shows on all of the devices in my life seamlessly. It was like, well actually this is better because it's easier. This is better because it's more immediate.

And so, I'm not gonna tell your readers how to think for themselves about how they will go on that journey. And I respect that some will be earlier, and some will be later. But that's the same with every innovation that happens in technology.

Do you think there's something specific within the gamer experience and the gamer DNA that would make letting go of that a bit more difficult than with other media?

I think our job as a platform is to demonstrate [value] to the gamer of, what it really means when they [login to your] platform. The game experiences that the gamers get are adding value to the experience in a way that is clear as day that you could never get this from a downloaded or packaged product. And that's the challenge that we have to be up for.

And that's why we're building a first-party studio. That's why we are bringing the best of Google technologies in support of the game development process, so that we bring ML and AI and conversational understanding and things that are only possible when the entire data center is running the game.

Now, I know you said no downloads, but we have seen in the past few years, places like Spotify and Netflix, eventually offer offline downloads. Is that something you'd ever consider?

No. Not technically possible.

Yeah, I was gonna ask, with the way Stadia is built, if you even could.

It would be a compromise of our vision if we were to do that.

What about the data collection and privacy side of things? What are you able to say now to people about how Stadia will collect or use the information you gather from player usage?

Well we absolutely respect players' privacy and will hold very high standards, as you would expect from Google, around privacy. So I don't know that I have anything to add other than our account system will be built on top of the Google account system. You will absolutely have a different persona in a game than you have on your Gmail, so people don't need to worry about how they show up in the real world versus the virtual world. We will separate and make that distinct. And what we offer to game developers is I think a scale of reaching more gamers across more devices and so hopefully that is a win-win for the gamer, because they get better games, and it's a win-win for the developer.

You mentioned you'll be separating profiles from Gmail. But with the integration of YouTube being so central to this, is it going to be off your YouTube ID as well then?

No, it's off your, it's, without going into the kind of intricacies about how Google's account works, it's built on top of your Google account.

What's the reaction been from the developers so far?

Great, I mean I'm happily spending a lot of time with media since I came offstage, but… it's been fed back to me from other colleagues, you know, the meetings that they're having with developers who are seeing the platform for the first time. Obviously we have been sharing under NDA and [privately kept] plans with many developers. But we're able to make much more public what we're doing now and it's been great. Really exciting.

One of the big confirmations from the Google keynote was the creation of Stadia Games and Entertainment. How long before we hear news about what that studio is working on? Is it a single project, multiple projects? What can you say?

Multiple games. We're building our own in-house studios from scratch. That inevitably takes time but we're also working with independent external developers to publish and bring games to Stadia in very unique ways. So I think you'll hear from us more quickly about those games.

The partner games?

The partner games, and then [Jade Raymond] actually builds out her team and she has a--I actually don't even know if anybody knows what a Rolodex is anymore--but you know, she has a very powerful link to everybody. I've dated myself using Rolodex.

How long has work been going on in the background with Stadia Games and Entertainment? I mean, GDC obviously wasn't the first time you guys started work. How long has behind the scenes stuff been going on?

It was a conversation that I had with Google leadership before I joined the company. [My] point of view was [that in order] to really deliver on the promise of this platform, we had to build our own games. We had to build our own experiences, and that was a very fundamental, strategic direction that we needed to move in.

This leads to my next question. I don't wanna put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you think exclusives are still a very important part of the platform?

I understand that [for a gamer] the word 'exclusive' can sometimes be a challenging terminology. [I would] rather we moved the narrative towards [games] that are built specifically for a data center. And if those games also show up on other streaming platforms, that's okay, because what that means is that the developers are starting to innovate and think about the future and [build] a 21st century game, rather than a 20th century game.

So you're not excluding the possibility that some things that Stadia Games and Entertainment create might appear on another streaming platform?

No, the games that we make, that we invest in ourselves, will obviously only be on our platform.

You're obviously going up against some very well established competition. And the way I see it, you guys have the infrastructure and the community when it comes to YouTube. But well established players like Sony and Microsoft have the edge in their respective game libraries. Assuming you get up to speed on the game library side of things, how important is the community side to the success of this?

I think it's vital that we give game developers the tools and technology to allow them to create those new experiences that are both playable and viewable. And that this is a whole new game design language, that I reckon [will be in GDCs] two, three, four years from now. [It will] be a very clear talk track inside of GDC.

I'm already having these conversations with teammates in some studios. Historically, you [had] a game producer [build] the game. But now, some studios are very thoughtfully thinking about, well I need to augment that with somebody who understands the viewership experience. The language, the rules, the meta--[the meta way] of doing this hasn't been defined yet. We're just starting to define that in [this industry], but that's a really fascinating transition.

So you're saying that how a game is viewed on a platform, like YouTube, will become as important as to how it actually plays?

Correct.

Okay, that's super interesting.

And this idea that the memorable moments that become the shareable stories on YouTube, which then become the click and play jumping off points for other people to enjoy or engage with that game, are really super valuable.

So that'll be part of the DNA of any games that your own studio will be making, is that right?

I hope so.

Okay. One last question. Who's the audience? Like in your head, are you going for like, core audience--people who have traditionally played console--or are you going for a much broader group?

Both. And I think we are building the platform with the highest level of technical capability so that you and people like your readers are excited by the technical capabilities. That's why we're going for 4K, 60 frames per second, HDR, which all those are almost like buzzwords or checkpoints. They're validations of intent of how important we respect both the developer and the gamer. And then there is another audience who is just super excited about the idea of being able to take those triple-A game experiences and not have to pay a huge upfront cost for a console or a high end PC. And those two worlds are maybe different, they speak different languages, but they get excited about the platform as well.

Thank you so much, Phil. When will we hear from you guys next?

In the summer.

Can you outline what the next thing you'll wanna talk about is?

So if you think about GDC as being our statement of intent and vision for [game developers], [then, we'll be spending] the coming weeks and months [with] the community of YouTube creators. And then in the summer, we will be focused on the gamer, on the player. What they can play, exactly when they can play it, pricing, business model. It's not really something that players think about but, you know, just the way in which they will have a commercial relationship with the platform and with the games and the launch date, etc. So we've got a busy few months ahead.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Guide--Where To Find The Flame Vent To Kill The Ogre

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 09:02

The Shinobi Prosthetic packs some of your best weapons and tools in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Once you unlock the special prosthetic arm, you can use it to grapple up to hard-to-reach places and switch between things like a flame thrower, a big axe, and distracting firecrackers to help you deal with various enemies.

The trouble is, those prosthetic tools aren't always easy to come by. In fact, they're mostly hidden in the game world, and you need to track them down in order to use them. They're definitely worth searching for, too, as they can give you an edge against a lot of different enemies, including bosses. One of those is the Flame Vent, a Shinobi Prosthetic that can blast enemies with fire, dealing burning damage that can persist over time. You can pair it with oil that you'll find all over the place in Ashina, which can make the burning effects even more powerful.

The Flame Vent prosthetic is good against specific, powerful enemies and bosses. Bad guys with red, glowing eyes are berserkers who aren't staggered by your attacks, so they can be tough to deal with. But as a rule, those guys are scared of fire, so once you have the Flame Vent, you can use it to make them recoil, giving you a second to heal or an opening to deal some major damage.

Here's everything you have to do to find the Flame Vent as early as you can, so you'll have it to deal with some early bosses. While you're at it, you might want to check out our Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review, and our rundown of how death and Dragonrot work in the game.

Head To Ashina Outskirts

Your first stop is the Outskirts Wall--Gate Path area. From the Idol Statue, head forward past the samurai general mini-boss, into the area beyond. In that section, down some stairs, you'll find a blasted house with a woman inside. Talk to her and she'll ask if you're her son; if you let her believe you're her son, she'll give you a bell to use as an offering. Bring it back to the Dilapidated Temple and use it at the Buddha statue beside the Sculptor. The bell will transport you to Hirata Estate and a memory of an attack there three years earlier.

Continue To Estate Path

Hirata is a fairly lengthy level with lots of enemies to kill along the way. Keep pushing into the compound until you hit an Idol Statue that marks the location as the Estate Path. You'll be on a pathway up toward a gate, which you'll find locked. That'll force you to the right of the path, over a wall and into some yards with huts and houses, and more enemies.

Keep pushing to the right until you hit an area with rows of huts. You'll find enemies patrolling here, as well as one archer hanging out on the roof of one of the rows. Clear the area, then push up toward the archer. You'll see several enemies hanging out around a campfire. You'll need to kill them to get what you came for.

Check The Campfire

Once all the enemies are dead, get close to the campfire. You should get a button prompt there that'll let you pull the Fire Barrel out of the flames. Return to the Sculptor at the Dilapidated Temple and he'll turn the Fire Barrel into the Flame Vent prosthetic tool. Use it to blast fire onto enemies; you'll also eventually be able to upgrade it to shoot flames further.

Double Fine Goes Rogue(lite) With Rad, A Fresh View Of The Post-Apocalypse

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 08:54

We all know Double Fine for its rich history of adventure games with an unmistakable, funky charm. Founder Tim Schafer is a household name at this point, especially because of games like Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, and Psychonauts, but there’s a lot more to the independent development studio than Schafer’s legacy. I'd say Double Fine's collection of games is already rad, and it's about to be even more so with Rad. The game is being led by Lee Petty, who has had a prominent role at Double Fine as art director for both Brutal Legend and Broken Age, and project lead for Headlander. And I was able to catch up with him and see Rad in action.

At its foundation, Rad is a roguelite isometric action game set in a deranged, yet colorful non-linear wasteland, which may sound familiar. Rad has its own twists, though. Mutations act as randomized power-ups that add a necessary (and unpredictable) diversity to your moveset. One such mutation can be a cute, monster-like turret attached to your back that shoots enemies behind you or thrown down in a stationary position. Or you can grow irradiated feet that makes you immune to poisonous terrain and leaves a hazardous trail to trap enemies in pursuit. Variation is key to the roguelite genre, and appears that Rad gives that to you in spades.

You start as a human character, but the world of Rad will transform you.

Run-based action games have no doubt grown in number and popularity since Spelunky's debut more than 10 years ago, so I asked Petty about how he and the team plan to make Rad stand out in an increasingly crowded genre.

"I still wanted to find a way to create a memorable world in that space. For me, that was a simple choice, why would you want to basically be in a series of locked rooms? Because it's easier to balance combat because you're stuck in a room and have to clear it. But it's never felt like a world to me. We're going to have some dungeons, but you're going to be able to walk around this world. We're going to make exploration more interesting with stuff to find, and more opportunities for environmental storytelling."

That shone through a bit in my short time with the game. Fundamentally, however, I had to find a number of certain objects in the world to advance as the game funneled me through encounters with unique enemies and a challenging boss fight. Everything flowed smoothly thanks to tight controls and a few effective abilities. But being a roguelite isn't the only area that's challenging for a game to stand out in, Rad's also playing on a familiar setting: a post-apocalypse. Even in 2019 alone, it's a frequent backdrop, so I asked Petty how he and the team are distinguishing Rad's version.

"One of the big things is we really wanted to make a game of a post-apocalypse that wasn't about killing other people for resources. This is really about having this surreal world that's undergone two apocalypses with little bits of like 80s culture. I was a teenager in the late 80s, as a lot of this stuff was happening. It wasn't the shocking post-apocalyptic movies that I found interest in. It was the weird stuff like Solarbabies or Miracle Mile, or even crazy stuff like Hell Comes to Frogtown. It's almost like they paved the way for an alternate fantasy role-playing game genre, but it was way more surreal and creative. It was science fiction, mutants, and weird off-shoots of human civilization."

Petty's perspective is apparent from the start with Rad's lively presentation and visual quirks that build onto your character with each mutation. Naturally, I wanted to know more about the youthful character you play and how their story gets woven into the roguelite loop. Petty mentioned that you'll perpetually go to a hub world where you speak to folks who react to your progress and changes in the world. But playing in the post-apocalypse evokes certain worldviews that drive an overarching narrative. Petty had something to say about that.

"There is this arc of, 'Well, what town or elder is fine with just throwing their teens to the grinder to solve this problem?' You start to wonder, well, are these good people? Why are we doing this? Is there really a threat out there?

"You have the sense that, and you see this in a lot of those 80s movies, the protagonists are the underdogs. Even back then, there was a sense that, like, the baby boomers fucked us all over. We all agree on it now, but even back then we were thinking, 'What the hell? We're going to fix this I guess.' I think that's the relevant point and why it's been on my mind lately. Like okay, we're going through stuff with climate change, right? Usually there are themes of transformation and bringing the world back, but there's some sense of hope underneath all of the mutation and mutants."

It's refreshing to hear where Rad draws inspiration and see it in action. And it channels that quirky Double Fine personality in a genre and theme that can seem worn which certainly helps Rad stand out. Needless to say I'll be curious to see how the gameplay loop, increasing challenge, and narrative all coalesce in the full game. We'll see just how rad Rad will be when it launches in Summer 2019 for PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Guide--Where To Find Key Early-Game Shinobi Prosthetics

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 08:03

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is full of tough enemies, like all of From Software's titles. Fighting them requires quick reflexes as you block and deflect attacks while looking for an opening to strike back. But some enemies can be dealt with in more creative ways than just hacking away at them with your sword. As you work your way through Sekiro, you'll also find additional weapons that often give you quick access to various baddies' weaknesses.

These weapons get added to the Shinobi Prosthetic, the special prosthetic left arm that allows you to do all kinds of things in Sekiro, including grapple up onto buildings and trees. But in order to use the tools for the Shinobi Prosthetic, you'll have to find them. There are a bunch, and they're usually scattered throughout the game world. Some you can buy, some you'll earn from boss fights, and some you'll have to locate by exploring as you go.

There are three prosthetics early in Sekiro that are extremely easy to miss, but if you have them, they can make the game's first few hours a whole lot easier. The Firecrackers, Shinobi Axe, and Flame Vent can give you the edge against a variety of different enemies, including a few tough early bosses. If you don't know where to look for them, you can walk right past them, though--and that can make your first few hours in Sekiro a lot more trying.

Here's where you need to go to find each of these three key prosthetics within the first few areas of the game, and what they're useful for. Don't sleep on these Shinobi Prosthetics, or you're going to make the beginnings of Sekiro much tougher.

While you're learning Sekiro's early game, you'll wan to read up on how death works. You may also want to check out our Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review as well.

Shinobi Firecracker

The Firecracker prosthetic is pretty handy in a lot of cases, most specifically against animals. You can use it to distract enemies and knock them out of attack animations, while also opening them up to attack while they're momentarily stunned. Try firecrackers against the Blazing Bull and Gyoubu, the horseback general. You'll need 500 Sen to snag the Firecracker, so you'll want to save those coin purses you find in the first area of the game so you can snag it.

You'll need to find a specific merchant to snag the Firecracker. He's located in the Outskirts Wall -- Gate Path area, near the stairs that lead to the Idol for the Outskirts Wall -- Stairway area. Just past where you meet the woman who thinks you're her son, you'll see a gate and a stairway just beyond. At the top of the stairs is a guy who will spot you from a distance and shoot cannonballs at you. Instead of heading toward him, look to your left for a place where you can grapple up.

You're now at the base of a stone tower. Look for more grapple points above you until you reach the top. There you'll find a Merchant Mob tent and a guy inside. He'll sell you Robert's Firecrackers, which can be fitted into your prosthetic by the Sculptor back at the Dilapidated Temple.

Flame Vent

The Flame Vent is really easy to miss, but pretty essential against certain enemy types. You'll occasionally run across red-eyed berserker enemies that'll come hard for you and who won't be staggered by your attacks or deflections. The red-eyed enemies are afraid of fire, though--it doesn't do extra damage, but it will cause them to recoil and break some of their attack animations, giving you some breathing room. Fire attacks also can inflict burn damage on enemies over time.

The Flame Vent is located in the Hirata Estate area that's accessible from the Dilapidated Temple. You'll first need to talk with the woman in the destroyed house in Ashina Outskirts. Let her think you're her son and she'll give you a bell as an offering to Buddha. Take that back to the Sculptor in the Dilapidated Temple and he'll tell you to offer it to the Buddha sculpture beside him. When you do that, it'll take you back in time to Hirata Estate as it's being attacked and burned by bandits.

Once you're in the past, continue forward until you hit the Estate Path area. From the Idol Statue, you'll see a road ahead of you that terminates in a closed gate. To get around it, you'll need to jump the wall to the right and enter an area of small huts. You'll first pass a courtyard with three enemies in it, then hop another wall into an area with a row of huts where enemies are patrolling. There's also an archer on one of the rooftops ahead and to the left when you first enter this section.

If you push to the back end of this area, you'll find several enemies standing around a small campfire near one of the huts. Take them out, then check the campfire itself to discover the prosthetic hidden among the flames.

Shinobi Axe

One of the more powerful, harder-hitting prosthetics is the axe, and you'll want it for dealing with those annoying guys carrying wooden shields and the small assassins with the big hats. Swinging the axe at those guys smashes their defenses instantly, allowing you to go in for deathblows. You can also use it to send enemies reeling with it, which makes it handy in a lot of fights.

The axe is easy to miss, but it's right after you find the Flame Vent. Again, head into the past using the bell you get from the woman in Ashina Outskirts and head to the Estate Path area. From the Idol Statue, head over the wall to the right and through the area with the rows of huts and the patrolling enemies. Past the campfire where several enemies sit and you found the Flame Vent, you'll find a path that leads up some stairs. This road takes you behind the closed gate you saw previously, and you'll find a hurt Samurai who will tell you to find the Shinobi Axe in a nearby shrine.

When you get back on the main path, you'll see two enemies to your right standing in front of a closed gate. Instead, turn the other way, so you're headed back toward the closed gate. Hop up on the wall to your left and you should see two men standing in front of a small building. You can eavesdrop on them to hear them talking about deciding not to burn the shrine. Kill them and open it up to find the Shinobi Axe inside.

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