Serenity and wonder fill my ears when I first open Stellaris. Pulling from the same lived-in future aesthetic of games like Mass Effect, Stellaris opens with an invitation. It wants you to explore, it wants you learn, to unearth secrets your galaxy has held for millennia. As I do, astral outlines and nebulae dot my galactic map. Carved out into large chunks are the cosmos' remaining empires. The Kalaxenen Order. The Sibulan Core Worlds. The Bruggan Consciousness. And my own nascent superpower--the Reaper Commonwealth.
Every week, we take a look at some of the most bizarre, exciting, and downright unique things to happen in comics. Check out our choices of the strange and wacky things that shouldn't be overlooked from this week's releases.
Soft Body is a playable kaleidoscope, an ever-changing symphony of motion, color, and sound. It’s a mixture of different genres, combining the best aspects of bullet hell games, puzzle games, and Snake to create a challenging and mesmerizing experience.
You control two snakes that either move in unison or independently, dependent on the given level. The control inputs typically only require the left and right analog sticks. Using them, you guide snakes around a geometric landscape filled with angular enemies that emit waves of projectiles. You have to complete a collection of small objectives in order to beat each level, which usually involves moving a small ball or circular object around a maze, “painting” borders by touching or merely coming close enough to them, and destroying nearby enemies. The objectives remain simple and straightforward throughout, but the layout and challenges vastly differ from puzzle to puzzle. Despite their variance, none of the puzzles stray too far from Soft Body’s established rule set, and each design features the similar visual stylings and effects while also introducing new colors and contrasts.
While minimal, Soft Body’s controls can be disorienting, particularly when you have to control each snake independently. It is a game of trial and error, requiring precision and careful navigation. In its worst moments, some puzzles devolve into a series objectives with no apparent connective tissue, including levels with two maze-like objectives located at opposite corners of the screen and divided by a large barrier that needs to be “painted” in order to complete the level. The void in between each of these objectives was basically a minefield of projectiles and enemies that felt added in for sheer navigational challenge alone and gradually grew more tiresome. These moments are rare, but their design still comes across as haphazard when compared to more organized levels whose puzzles follow a more logical flow.
Tiny visual and aural flourishes breathe life into Soft Body's two-dimensional stages. When the snakes under your control come into contact with objects, particle effects spout onto the screen. When you complete your objectives, decorative background shapes spin and shake in excitement. These elements are enhanced by Soft Body's sound design, which is just as minimalist yet striking as the visuals, adding impact to each interaction between snakes and their environment. Every touch, hit, or movement around borders generates electronic chirps, and both the sights and sounds blend together to create a captivating, Zen-like experience.
Visual and aural flourishes breathe life into Soft Body's two-dimensional stages.
For such a bizarre, abstract game, Soft Body has a consistent visual language that communicates when and how enemies will act. Your foes take the forms of circles, squares, and triangles, each of which has a specific animation telegraphing its upcoming attacks. One circular “turret” latches its aim onto your snake and follows its movement for several seconds before the line representing its aim solidifies and the turret fires a projectile. Squares have a core that slowly swells toward the borders of the full shape, releasing a wave of deadly, circular projectiles once it reaches its edges. These enemies never break from Soft Body’s established rule set and language, making it consistent to solve despite its ever-changing presentation.
In Tastee: Lethal Tactics, your plan is more important than the action that follows. It's a game of bets and bluffs, and if you telegraph your next move, you'll likely lose. Tastee doesn't always communicate its ideas effectively, and there are frustrating barriers to hurdle, but there's a tense, layered, turn-based strategy game waiting on the other side.
It all revolves around simultaneous turn-based combat in two phases. In the planning stage, you direct the stance, movement, vision cones, and attacks of four individual mercenaries fighting your opponents. In the action phase, you watch your plan unfold--all while the enemy does the same.
Weekly Recap: Star Wars Battlefront 2 Revealed, PSN #1 in April, Mass Effect 4 Delayed, Disney Infinity Canceled
Written by Munk
Weekly Recap: Star Wars Battlefront 2, April NPD, Disney Infinity Canceled
Did you step away this week? Here is a roundup of all the big news and some stories you may have missed.
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EA made it official this week, announcing that Star Wars Battlefront 2 is in development and pegged for release in 2017. The company said it hopes to launch at least one new Star Wars game every year for the next three or four years. [Full story]
PS4 On Top
The NPD Group made its month announcement this week about physical sales from the past month in the United States. The PlayStation 4 was again the top-selling console of the month, while Dark Souls III was the No. 1 best-selling game. For more, check out these stories: hardware, software.
To Infinity And....
Disney Infinity is no more. The House of Mouse announced this week as part of its latest earnings report that it was cancelling Disney Infinity and closing developer Avalanche. The company is taking a $147 million hit as a result of the shut down. Additionally, Disney will no longer make games internally at all, but instead license its games out to other studios, like Electronic Arts. [Full story]
Not This Year
Mass Effect: Andromeda, the latest entry in BioWare's spacefaring RPG series, will not make it out this year as previously expected. The game is now due to arrive in early 2017, BioWare announced this week. The delay was necessary to give the team time to "deliver everything the game can be and should be." [Full story]
DICE environment artist Simon Barle has created Bloodborne’s Hunter’s Dream location in Unreal Engine 4--in his spare. The results are incredible.
Ubisoft's team-based tactical shooter Rainbow Six Siege received a huge new update this week that made a number of fixes and balance adjustments; oh, and it also added unicorns. Really. Full patch notes.
The PlayStation Network is currently hosting a big sale on games from Ubisoft and Focus Home, among others. The deals are good for all major platforms, including PS4, PS3, and PlayStation Vita. Here is a roundup of some of the best deals.
What Could Have Been
Some footage of an unannounced and unreleased Star Wars RTS has emerged online. The untitled project would have had stylized visuals and was based on the classic-era Star Wars films. Take a look.
Everything Eventually Gets Remade in GTA 5
Battlefield 1's trailer was really cool and ultra-popular. Now, it's been remade in Grand Theft Auto V, where it can be appreciated in a sillier light. Have a look.
Free DLC Alert
Free DLC alert. EA Sports has added a new course, Banff Springs, to Rory McIlroy PGA Tour. Additionally, the update fixes some bugs and adds new audio lines for some PGA Tour golfers. Full patch notes here.
Like A Phoenix
Prey 2 might be announced at E3 2016, according to a new report from Kotaku. The first version of the game was essentially tossed out, so we’re expecting to see basically Prey 2.0.
Microsoft Nixed It, Apparently
According to former Lionhead Studios developer John McCormack, the developer wanted to put a black woman on the cover of Fable III--but Microsoft nixed the idea.
"They were going, 'You can't have a black person on the cover, and you can't have a woman. And you want a black woman,'" McCormack told Eurogamer. "And I was like, 'Yes, I do, because it's about be whatever hero you want.' [Microsoft said], 'No. It's a white guy. That's just the way it is. We know what sells and that's fucking it. Stop the arguing.' I was like, 'Fuck you!' That was a huge fight.
"They said, 'What's the most unsuccessful Disney film?' I was like, 'I don't know.' They went, 'Princess and the Frog. Work it out.' I was like, 'Fuck you, man." I hated it.
The Banner Saga 2's console versions finally have a launch date. The game will launch on PS4 and Xbox One on July 26, Stoic and publisher Versus Evil announced this week. A new trailer has also been released. Check it out here.
Consortium sequel The Tower's Fig crowdfunding campaign wrapped up this week. It raised a total of $348,538 from 3,046 backers. The developers only asked for $300,000, meaning it was a big success. The Tower is now Fig's fourth successfully funded game. You can read more about it here.
Time Machine VR, a new exploration adventure game, will launch on May 19 for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, developer Minority Media announced this week. You play as a time-travelling scientist who is tasked with going back to the Jurassic era to face dinosaurs who to find the answer for a plague that is destroying earth in the modern day. You can get the name now, an Early Access version, on Steam.
Want a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming Warcraft movie? Director Duncan Jones filmed himself on Periscope walking around the set, showing off props, and more. You can re-watch the video here.
Stephen Colbert is something of a wizard when it comes to his knowledge of JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. But now, he's finally been stumped. Actor Ryan Gosling recently appeared on his show and asked him a question that Colbert had no answer to. You can probably imagine there is some trickery going on here. Watch the full video here to find out how it went down.
Lego Dimensions Expands
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment this week released three new fun packs for its toys-to-life game Lego Dimensions. They are for characters include Bane (DC Comics), Slimer (Ghostbusters), and Lego Ninjago. These are Wave 5 Fun Packs. You can learn more about these and others at the Lego Dimensions website.
Say Hello to Riley
The crowdfunding campaign for robot security device Riley, described as the "world's smartest home companion," is entering its final hours. The Indiegogo campaign has already cleared its $50,000 goal (funding stands at more than $163,000 right now), but you still have time to make a pledge, as the campaign ends later today. Head to the Indiegogo page here to learn more.
Kevin Spacey reportedly confirmed for new Call of Duty game
Written by Munk
American actor Kevin Spacey has allegedly been confirmed to be playing a part in the upcoming Call of Duty game. The information surfaced in relation to a new video posted on the official Call of Duty Instagram account.
A voice says in the video, "Ideas don't determine who's right. Power determines who's right. And I have the power, so I'm right."
According to IGN, the featured voice and character likeness is that of Kevin Spacey.
The video closes with the Microsoft and Xbox One logos, followed by date the new Call of Duty game will be revealed. Interestingly, the PlayStation logo was absent from the video.
Activision has launched a teaser website for this year's Call of Duty Game that tells fans to "Get ready for a new era". A clock on the website counts down to 1 p.m. EDT on May 4. A teaser video posted by Activision earlier this week revealed that the new game will focus on private military contractors (PMC).
GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.
I admit I have very little idea of what's going on in Lichdom: Battlemage. The cutscenes recently added to this unfinished game are gorgeous and dramatic, and the new voice-overs are delivered with conviction, but I am not sure where I am and why I'm there. What matters is that I can summon ice and fire to my palms and fling them at scowling demonic warriors. Never has magic felt as powerful as it does in Lichdom, where it is free from the shackles of mana bars and long cooldowns. I march through ruins overgrown with ivy and rush down snowy paths dotted with evergreens, controlling the elements as if I were a demigod.
I enjoy Lichdom's magical combat so much, in fact, that I suspect it will spoil other games' spellcasting for me, so fluid does it feel. Corrupted magical flakes billow forth from my fingers and infect my attackers with bugs that spawn when their host perishes. I heave bursts of purple energy into skeletons, making them autonomous pets that assist me in battle. An autotargeting system may seem an odd thing to praise, but Lichdom's homing assists let me show off my impressive wizardry even when my opponents and I are constantly on the move. It's a fun and engaging system of dodges, blocks, and attacks that flow smoothly from one move to the next.
You start with only fire and ice at your disposal, though your options grow as you progress through the two sizable levels Lichdom currently offers. You equip three different schools of magic at a time, each of which has three basic types of actions: a targeted spell, an area-of-effect attack, and a shield that allows you to counter offensive moves as well as to mitigate damage. You can flip between these three schools at will, using the mind-control spells of the delirium sigil to gain helpful assists before wading into a mob and burning your opponents to a crisp. During battle, the air is awash with magic as you strafe about, avoiding oncoming spells and slinging icy projectiles.
So hot snow falls up?
The experience is gorgeous, though taxing to your PC, and it's hard not to appreciate the heavily detailed stone temples and splintered ice floes. The overwhelming CryEngine-powered beauty is not enough to stave off creeping repetition, however. Foes appear in a predictable fashion, and while the various spells provide some diversity to how you cut through the swarms, each encounter feels more or less like the last. The specifics change, but the pace rarely wavers, and the second map's rough level of difficulty, which makes for frequent deaths and respawns, emphasizes the tedium of Lichdom's linear path. The spellcasting feels amazing, but I longed for something a bit more--a set-piece show of destruction, a large-scale battle with a legion of mages at my side, or an environmental puzzle to solve. The bosses provide a bit of a tempo change, but my general tactics rarely wavered.
Nevertheless, Lichdom is poised for greatness, with its spell-creation utility helping to lead the charge. As foes fall, they leave behind various spell components that you can synthesize into more effective materials, and then combine to make new, more powerful spells. The types of spells--targeted, AOE, and shield--never change, but they gain new characteristics and statistics, with simple fireballs turning into flaming death balls with a chance to stagger targets and set them on fire for a period of time. Early on, I paid close attention to how I combined spells, choosing skills and components that seemed best suited to my play style from the two or three options the game typically offered during crafting. In time, however, the differences between similar spells were too minute for me to care, and I focused on synthesizing components at random until I had epic-level spells to equip. I love the freedom of the spellcrafting, but there comes a moment when the differences stop feeling meaningful.
Welcome to the Non-Ironic Punishment Division of Hell Labs.
There's no doubt, however, that Lichdom: Battlemage nails the basics. Never have I felt more like a commanding sorcerer than I do here, which makes me ache for more ways to show off my spellcasting skills. If developer Xaviant can give its game coherent narrative context and diversify the unwavering pace, Lichdom could ride its waves of elemental energy to glory.
Two large levels, five magical sigils, endless spell customization, and fluid spellcasting.
What's to Come?
A New-Game-Plus mode, bug fixes, performance optimization, more levels, balance tweaks, and more.
What Does it Cost?
$19.99, available via Steam.
When Will it Be Finished?
The current announced release date is August 26, 2014.
What's the Verdict?
In Lichdom: Battlemage, the full power of the elements courses through your veins. Unvaried pacing leads to repetition, but such a forceful foundation is difficult to ignore.
Report: Elder Scrolls parent company seeking compensation for Oculus Rift headset, Oculus calls claims "ridiculous"
Written by Munk
[UPDATE 2] John Carmack has commented on the story, saying on Twitter: "No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR. Oculus uses zero lines of code that I wrote while under contract to Zenimax."
[UPDATE] Following the publication of this story, a ZeniMax representative provided a detailed statement on today's Wall Street Journal report. You can read their statement in full below.
"ZeniMax confirms it recently sent formal notice of its legal rights to Oculus concerning its ownership of key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift. ZeniMax’s technology may not be licensed, transferred, or sold without ZeniMax Media’s approval. ZeniMax’s intellectual property rights arise by reason of extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others. ZeniMax provided necessary VR technology and other valuable assistance to Palmer Luckey and other Oculus employees in 2012 and 2013 to make the Oculus Rift a viable VR product, superior to other VR market offerings."
The original story is below.
A new report today from The Wall Street Journaloutlines some controversy over Facebook's still-pending (but approved) purchase of Oculus VR, maker of the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift. According to documents obtained by the news publication, Fallout and Elder Scrolls parent company ZeniMax Media is claiming rights to the intellectual property that powers the Oculus Rift headset.
According to the report, ZeniMax lawyers have sent multiple letters to Oculus and Facebook, claiming former id Software (owned by ZeniMax) designer John Carmack, who joined Oculus last summer, "improperly took ZeniMax's intellectual property with him to Oculus." This technology, ZeniMax says, helped Oculus VR grow from a fledgling startup to a Silicon Valley darling in under two years.
"It's unfortunate, but when there's this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims," an Oculus representative told The Wall Street Journal. "We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent."
The letters were sent following Facebook's surprise announcement last month that it would acquire Oculus VR in a massive deal worth $2 billion. Leslie Moonves, CEO of GameSpot parent company CBS Corp., is a member of the ZeniMax board of directors.
For its part, a ZeniMax representative said: "ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests." The company's letters to Oculus represented a "formal notice of its legal rights," according to the report. Sources close to ZeniMax said the company is seeking compensation.
The Wall Street Journal points out that it is unknown if Facebook knew before acquiring Oculus VR that ZeniMax was seeking compensation for the technology behind the Oculus Rift headset.
ZeniMax's dispute with Oculus dates back to early 2012, when Carmack reportedly contacted Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey. At this time, Luckey was experimenting with virtual reality headsets with a research group at the University of Southern California. Luckey, now 21, reportedly sent a prototype to Carmack.
Later that year at a "Los Angeles gaming convention," Carmack showed off a modified headset, the same headset that ZeniMax says was "the template for Oculus' Rift headset." The Wall Street Journal references an unspecified YouTube video where Carmack shows off this headset. Though it's not clear which video specifically they mean, Carmack demonstrated a virtual reality headset to numerous publications, including GameSpot sister site Giant Bomb, during E3 2012.
In this video, Carmack says he introduced new software to help the headset become a workable product. It appears it is this software that ZeniMax now claims ownership of. Luckey founded Oculus VR around the same time.
Finally, The Wall Street Journal says ZeniMax began seeking compensation for this intellectual property in August 2012, according to sources. Negotiations were reportedly held--on and off--for a period of about six months, and Oculus apparently even offered ZeniMax a "small equity stake." However, no deal was ever reached, sources said.
Carmack joined Oculus VR last summer, and five other ZeniMax employees followed, the report goes on. And just last week, ZeniMax penned a letter to Oculus VR's lawyers and Facebook's general counsel, saying: "It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality," according to The Wall Street Journal.
Community manager fired after controversial tweets about embattled NBA owner Donald Sterling
Written by Munk
Turtle Rock, creator of the Left 4 Dead franchise and the upcoming Xbox One/PS4/PC game Evolve, has fired its community manager after he tweeted about embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, calling him a "victim."
This afternoon, Turtle Rock apologized for Olin's tweets, saying they don't represent the company's values and calling Olin a "former" community manager for the studio.
"The comments made by our former community manager stand in stark contrast to our values as a game development studio," Turtle Rock said on Twitter. "We sincerely apologize for his remarks and in no way endorse or support those views."
For his part, Olin responded with a statement of his own.
"Anyone who follows me knows my tweets were not in support of Sterling's actions. Rather, they were promoting three core tenets I believe in: 1) The harm sensational media presents to society. 2) The importance and sanctity of your privacy within your own home. And 3) The right to be whatever you want to be as an American, as long as it isn't hurting anyone else. That last point not to be confused with condoning Sterling's actions, which I don't," Olin told Kotaku.
"That said, it's disappointing to see that a select few in Turtle Rock and 2K Games management bought into this hysteria without even having a conversation with me--or even thoroughly reviewing the context of the tweets themselves," he added. "Ironically, it serves as a great example of why I hold tenet #1 above so close to heart. That said, everyone should totally still buy Evolve. The guys and gals making that game know their ***, and are making it good."