Eight chapters down, six chapters to go. There's much to say about The Evil Within, points I'll elaborate on at another time, but I can't stop thinking about the game's big ol' black bars.
Though Bethesdahas talked about The Evil Within as having an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (super widescreen), Digital Foundry found it's actually 2.50:1. Either way, it means The Evil Within features prominent black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Most games today are 16:9 (widescreen), and since we've largely transitioned to widescreen TVs, games fill the whole screen. Of course, lots of games introduce modified aspect ratios during cutscenes for a "cinematic" look to differentiate from gameplay.
But games with alternative aspect ratios during gameplay aren't new, either. Lots of bullet hell shooters, such as Ikaruga, require monitors to be flipped horizontally in order to be played properly. The Evil Within director Shinji Mikamiwas also responsible for Resident Evil 4 on GameCube, which sported black bars, albeit smaller ones. Both Dragon's Dogma and Beyond: Two Souls recently went similar routes.
So while games playing with aspect ratios isn't new, our involvement with them, as players, is.
Here's what The Evil Within game looks like, captured from one of my saved games:
The letterboxing has occasionally bugged me. A few hours in, during the game's third chapter, the gameplay starts to click. The game reveals a setup not dissimilar to Resident Evil 4's intro. The player approaches a quiet village, one that quickly becomes overrun with messed up villagers bent on killing you. It's a big, experimental space that provides the player ample chances to encounter enemies, make mistakes, and adopt a playstyle that feels right. One way to avoid an enemy is by scrambling up a ladder that puts you far away from the enemies. It's a moment to catch your breath in a game that doesn't often let up.
Since you don't have access to much weaponry at this point, it's not possible to hide and carefully pick off the enemies. You must, eventually, venture back down. It's common for creatures to linger in your last known position, and due to The Evil Within's aspect ratio, the bars prevented me from seeing what's below.
Brad actually illustrated what I'm talking about during our Quick Look for the game:
It's possible to argue The Evil Within utilizes forced perspective to teach the player a lesson about tactics. Running away and hoping the AI is going to eventually walk around in the ideal pattern isn't often a viable path to success. Preventing you from seeing what's below while cowering and hiding is a punishment enforced through camera design. That could be true, but I haven't encountered many other situations like that in The Evil Within. It feels like an anomaly.
By and large, I've been able to ignore the bars because I'm playing the game on an enormous 60" screen. At that scale, my eyes are on the constant action occurring at the very center. The Evil Within's camera is oppressively close, too, meaning I'm exclusively focused on what's immediately in front of me. To that end, the framing does regularly impact the game, as it serves to push your attention in a certain direction.
In film, the viewer is passive. The director has control over what's relayed to your eyes. That's not true in games, as most allow the player agency over the camera. Barring non-interactive cutscenes, a game cannot reliably predict the player will frame the environment in a specific way, suggesting the aspect ratio is purely for cinematic "feel," a decision that rings stranger and stranger as games define their own forms.
This all assumes The Evil Within adopted 2.35:1 for artistic purposes. I've been looking through Mikami interviews from the last few years, and haven't come up with much. A NowGamer interview with Bethesda's VP of PR and marketing Pete Hines and The Evil Within senior producer Jason Bergman touched on it:
"NowGamer: I was quite struck by the artistic direction in The Evil Within, this sort of grim realism and washed-out filters – what are your influences in that regard?
Bergman: Well it’s meant to look like a horror movie, obviously. There’s a film grain effect to it, but you’ll notice the darks are very dark, very solid shadows, the art direction at Tango is fantastic.
The lighting, in particular – they’re very, very precise about where lights are placed and where shadows are cast. Next-gen allows us to do things that are really cool -
Hines: The aspect ratio.
Bergman: Yeah, [it] prevents you from seeing the floor. Any time you take something away from the player they’re very used to, it makes them uncomfortable and so, bringing in the camera just that little bit…I don’t know if you noticed, but when you open doors, he opens them really slowly."When Bethesda announced the PC version's hardware specifications, it released this statement:
"Shinji Mikami and the team at Tango designed The Evil Within to be played at 30fps and to utilize an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 for all platforms. The team has worked the last four years perfecting the game experience with these settings in mind. For PC players, we’ll provide debug commands on how you can alter the framerate and aspect ratio, but these commands and changes are not recommended or supported and we suggest everyone play the game as it was designed and intended for the best experience."Between the two, the game's publisher has, at least, clearly declared the 2.35:1 aspect ratio was artistic intent. In the second statement, it's giving PC players the chance to circumvent that decision, likely because Betheda's PC roots have convinced it players will tinker in that direction anyway.
We're used to games taking up every pixel because that's how it's always been. When a game subverts that, even if unsuccessfully, do players have responsibility to respect intent? You can change the aspect ratio of The Evil Within, but it's possible to change lots of things in games, especially on the PC. There's a console command to make the player invincible, but nobody would argue it's the way to play. Do we extend that same courtesy to the game's aesthetic, even if we have the power to employ preferences?
It's a complicated question made more nuanced by wondering if artistic intent is being used as a convenient excuse for the game to try and overcome technical shortcomings. We'll never know.
For the sake of argument, let's say that's not true, and Mikami chose 2.35:1 because it's part of his vision. Given he's deployed similar aesthetic choices in the past, it's not unreasonable. The man enjoys blending Hollywood and games. If Mikami wants The Evil Within to be played with this aspect ratio, which frames the game through a particular lens, perhaps players should show that decision respect, despite other options.
Or maybe not! By being interactive, perhaps games invite players to subvert the designer's will and aspect ratios are merely an act of interpretation. World builders can set up an experience a certain way, but the free will of a player means the creator gives up the right to be upset over what they do with the game, even when it comes to tinkering with technical specifications.
The truth, of course, is probably somewhere in-between.
This argument will return when The Order: 1886 ships early next year with an even wider aspect ratio of 2.40:1, a decision the developers have attributed to both aesthetic and technical choices.
As for me, I'm going to stick with The Evil Within at 2.35:1. Whatever the reason for its existence, there's nothing else like it. If that's what the creator wanted, too? All the better.
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Puppet Master might not-so-secretly be my favorite series.
Another week, another slate of horror movies. When I started looking over my notes from the last seven days, I was legitimately impressed with how much I managed to sneak in. It's a good thing, too, since I haven't been able to watch any movies this week, and my time is scarce in the days ahead, thanks to a wedding. (It'll be fun, but c'mon, I have movies to watch!)
What makes the movies from this past week so interesting is how they cross over into different genres. Genres are a weird thing to begin with. On every service, you'll see movies divided into horror and thriller, though it's easy to see the films in either. A perusal of Netflix's offerings confirms this. Is anyone going to say Rosemary's Baby, You're Next, and Silent House aren't horror movies? It's a weird line to draw.
Coherence (2014) by James Ward Brykit
The vast majority of horror spends way too much time fellating its clever or harrowing premise, and forgets the reason to care about said premise are characters worth a damn. You see better characters in low-budget flicks, since they can't compete on the CG stage. Coherence is a movie about characters who just-so-happen to exist in terrifying world where a comet is causing lots of weird stuff to happen.
A group of friends are getting together for dinner, and it feels like an annual event where everyone goes out of their way to attend because it goes back decades. It's a dinner where old tensions flare, but everyone shuts up and has another drink. In any other circumstance, it would end with someone driving home after a little too much wine, a reminder why they only do this once a year, and life goes on. But not this time.
Like Honeymoon, Coherence spends an extraordinary amount of time placing its chess pieces. We know stuff has to get wild at some point, and Coherence smartly seeds what's to come relatively early, but shows patience. In the first 20 minutes, we're introduced to the major players, and provided history lessons on what's happened before they all walked into the room.
Besides making the characters more than fodder for what lurks in the dark, it helps movies skirt a major issue. For a horror movie to work, the characters have to make careless decisions--separating from the group, walking in the dark, etc. What makes these decisions frustrating is the lack of motivation. It usually comes across as a way of moving the plot or setting up some quick death, rather than a consequence of the events at hand. The characters in Coherence do some very stupid things that would seem obvious in retrospect, but in the moment, when nothing makes sense, you can understand how they got there.
Also like Honeymoon, it's impossible to talk about Coherence without giving away what's going on, but it's a wonderful and horrifying thought experiment. Coherence really commits to its ending, too, in a way other horror movies don't. Cliffhangers are commonplace, but largely because it's setting up a sequel for a movie hoping to become a franchise. Cliffhangers can be effective if done with purpose. When the credits roll, it's a gut punch "oh ****" moment that leaves your mind reeling about what happens in the minutes after. What actually happened next isn't important so much as what the cliffhanger implies about the moment itself.
Yeah, I really liked Coherence.
Grabbers (2012) by Jon Wright
When JJ Abrams made Super 8, he spoke fondly about Steven Spielberg. Spielberg directed E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but was also responsible for bringing Gremlins, The Goonies, and others to life as a producer. These films had a particular mixture of heart, hope, and fear. It's made them feel authentic, a sentiment Abrams failed to capture in Super 8, perhaps because he was trying too hard.
That's the long way of saying Grabbers pulls this off, a movie that could easily fall into Amblin's lineup, if you were to swap Grabbers' computer effects for rubber puppets. A small Irish town is forced to grapple with the sudden appearance of creatures from the sea that subsist on sucking the blood from their victims. One of the town's few police officers is an alcoholic, but gets away with it because everyone else is, too, and there's never any crime. When a feisty out-of-towner (a women, naturally) shows up to temporarily take the chief of police's place, the two are quickly thrust into a situation where they have to work together.
Let me cut to the chase, and the reason you should watch this: the police discover alcohol can kill the critters. The plan? Get the whole town piss drunk, so if anyone happens to get their blood sucked, it'll also kill the things. It's not hard to imagine how this leads to some pretty ridiculous situations, especially given this is a town full of people who are well-versed in getting piss drunk on a daily basis. They're experts.
It's really fun, straddling the Spielbergian line of making you laugh and scream in equal measure, a movie that takes itself seriously enough to not take itself too seriously. The only measure by which Grabbers falls apart is its insistence in shoehorning a romantic arc between the two leads. There's barely enough time to become friends, let alone lovers. There's nothing about the story that demands the two ride off into the sunset together, hand-in-hand, yet the movie forces the issue at the exact point the characters should be worried about anything but. People are being killed left and right, monsters are getting bigger by the minute, but hey, let's kiss? It feels heavy handed, forced, and totally unearned. Fortunately, it's irrelevant.
The Houses October Built (2014) by Bobby Roe
Man, does this movie sound good on paper. A group of thrillseekers rent an RV each year, hitting up haunted houses and documenting their journey. They hear whispers online about the haunted house, and start seeking it out. It's a solid setup for a found footage film, especially for a genre that often doesn't bother having a decent narrative conceit to explain why everyone is running around with video cameras.
The trailer is really good, too! Gosh, I was psyched for this one. When the doll girl suddenly starts screaming in the RV? Chills! But The Houses October Built is a movie whose best scares are tucked into the trailer. This isn't a case where a trailer ruins tension and buildup, but exposes how little there is to The Houses October Built. Everything's in the trailer because there's nothing else for the movie to present.
There's not much to say. It's boring, it's not scary, and the trailer is better than the movie itself.
(P.S. What kind of haunted house would let you film what happens inside? Ugh.)
Dead Snow 2 (2014) by Tommy Wirkola
Here was the first question I had about Dead Snow 2: what is that guy from Party Down doing here? Somehow, Martin Starr signed up for this. Then again, I'd probably say yes if someone called me up and said "hey, do you wanna fly to Norway and pretend to kill zombies for a few months?
Even though I watched Dead Snow some years back, I can't remember much about it. The zombie nazis were a cute twist on an overdone concept, but it didn't leave a lasting impression. It was fine for a boring night.
Don't take this as a comparison of quality, but if Dead Snow was Evil Dead, Dead Snow 2 is Evil Dead 2. Sam Raimi's series pivoted from straight horror to horror comedy in the sequel, and Dead Snow 2 finds similar success with the format. There are a few shocking moments in Dead Snow 2, but they're often derived from violent absurdity, rather than "hey, time to gross you out." (Though Dead Snow 2 does have those moments too often, and it's the movie at its weakest.)
Don't try to apply logic to what happens in Dead Snow 2. How does the human body just organically embrace the arm of a dead person? Shouldn't the cops call someone? Just embrace the contradictions.
In a month that's been full of nightmares, Dead Snow 2 gave me some hearty laughs. It's a movie willing to embrace its cheese, and when it discovers the best running gag I've seen in a movie all year, I started to fall in love. You'll know what I'm talking about it when you see it, and be sad when it comes to an end.
The Awakening (2012) by Nick Murphy
I've had The Awakening kicking around my Shocktober lineups for a while now, but never pulled the trigger because the trailer didn't sell me on anything but another timid ghost story that's been done endlessly. Having finally watched The Awakening, I can assure you it's much more than its trailer lets on.
Set during the depressing aftermath of World War I, Florence Cathcart's made a name for herself by debunking supernatural myths. She's riding high off the success of a book denouncing the existence of ghosts when a man knocks at her door, pleading for someone to investigate a haunting at school for young boys. Things quickly begin to go bump in the night, but it's unclear whether it's actually ghosts.
What makes Cathcart more interesting than your typical ghost investigator is that she does so totally biased against the concept. The Conjuring, Insidious, and other recent ghost tales involve people who believe in the supernatural, and who arrive in your home to help prove it to you, as well. Cathcart investigates the supernatural because she's not convinced, and every claim she's able to debunk becomes another notch in her belt, and only emboldens her ultimate cause.
The story's more complicated than that, but the less you know, the better. The Awakening doesn't make sense until its final moments, but it's earned.
The way horror movie sells and distribute tension varies wildly. Some try to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way through, while others pick and choose their moments, using surprise as its primary tool. Remarkably, once The Awakening passes a certain moment in the story, it does both, which is how it remains consistently effective. Too often, surprise is just another way of saying jump scare, and while The Awakening, being a ghost story, has jump-y moments, it's not exploitative and lazy like so many others.
I'd argue The Awakening is less scary than it is tense. In many ways, that's worse. Scares are a form of relief, and when the "scare" happens, it usually means a moment to regain composure, as the movie's beats begin to alternate. Tension is ongoing, fostering a lingering sense of dread. You're always nervous.
It's a ghost story that's not about the ghosts. What makes The Awakening work is Cathcart's psychological journey, and what happens along the way is only important because it's important to Cathcart. The audience getting scared is a lovely byproduct, of course, but it's all in service of a good story.
THIS STORY IS WORTHY OF CAPITALIZATION.
Hot on the heels of a Twin Peaks revival, Sony's decided to make Monday even crazier by announcing Vib Ribbon is coming to PlayStation Networkfor PlayStation 3 and Vita. It'll hit PlayStation 4 eventually, too.
When Sony mentioned Vib Ribbon multiple times at E3earlier this year, the company seemed to be setting up a chance to right a great wrong: Vib Ribbon had never been released in North America. Instead, the tease came and went, and Vib Ribbon remained, essentially, lost to history.
This week, that will finally change.
"It was not my intention to rub salt in the Vib Ribbon wound, but to express my admiration for it as the genre-busting title it is and was," wrote SCEA CEO Shawn Layden in a blog post today. "My mistake was that I had assumed that everyone who had been around in the original PlayStation era would have had their chance to play the game. I had forgotten that the American gamer was effectively denied the opportunity. To mention it at E3 was to delight some and to squirt lemon in the eyes of others. For this, I apologize. It was not my intent to dangle the delight of Vibriin front of those who longed for but could not have. It was to make a point about having the courage, and talent, to break the mold. To do what your heart demands. To me Vib Ribbon--well, to be honest, Nanaonsha for that matter--has always been committed to that ideal. An ideal I wish to celebrate.
For the PS3 version, Sony's even managed to retain the ability for the game to generate new levels, based on the audio CDs you own. That is, if you still happen to own any audio CDs. It's unclear if that will be part of the PS4 version, but let's hope so.
"Sometimes games like Vib Ribbon require backing and belief that do not comport with the marketing wisdom of the day, or the forecasted financial upside. Sometimes you get behind a project because, well, you gotta believe," said Layden. "Vib Ribbon is finally making its way to North America, and the major catalyst was all of you who wrote, posted, blogged, tweeted that you wished to see this game come back and wanted your voice to be heard by the suits. Well, it has. Now I look to all of you experiencing this singular game for the first time."
(Note: A blog version without the trailers attached is available right here.)
October is finally here, which means it's time for Shocktober, as well. I wait all year long for this, and I've spent way too many hours over the past few days researching the following list of movies. I'm stoked.
It's not on my list, but I'll probably end up watching Trick 'r Treat at some point.
Shocktober, for those who haven't participated in the past, is a daily challenge during the month of October to watch as many horror movies as possible. Although I've picked 31 movies, I'm not actually planning on watching a movie every single night. Some movies will get stuffed into marathons on weekends, while others will simply be pushed to another year.
More importantly, before you charge into the comments, know that Shocktober isn't about creating a definitive list of horror's best movies. "Where's Friday the 13th? Why don't you have Nightmare on Elm St.? I thought you loved Hellraiser!?" I've seen just about everything, and while some classics are part of the haul, there's only of those one per week. Feel free to make suggestions, and share your own lists below!
There's always next year.
Some of the movies are hitting theaters this month, and they've been appropriately slotted for the Friday of the weekend they're opening. Other movies are debuting through various on-demand services in October, and I've slotted them the first day they're available. Unfortunately, a few are are obscure, and not available on iTunes, Netflix, and other places where movies are one click away. You're on your own!
If you're looking for the best way to watch some of these movies, CanIStreamIt works like a charm for navigating digital services. There are even apps for phones and tablets to make the whole thing easier.
Some other programming notes that determined this year's lineup:
- I'm tired of torture porn, which is why you don't see anything like it on here. It's boring. (One of the only movies that's managed to break that trend for me is the brutal and amazing Martrys.)
- Alien, Critters, Halloween, and Eraserhead are this year's classics to rewatch.
- While I've tried to avoid movies exploitative of women (a trope the genre would be wise to stop using as a crutch to generate uncomfortable tension), it's hard to dodge in movies I haven't seen.
- There's a bunch of found footage on here because, well, I really like found footage. Feel free to replace some of those movies with other ones I've dropped in here, if you dislike the style.
- The movies cut from this list but were once part of it include Raze, House (the one by Nobuhiko Obayashi), Under the Skin, Oculus, Warm Bodies, The Tunnel, Bereavement, Making Contact, The Frogs, Galaxy of Terror, Deliver Us From Evil, Dark Woods, The Munches, Tusk, and the WNUF Halloween Special. Plenty of them seem like they would have been worthy!
- Movies I've seen but considered part of the rewatch included Contracted, We Are What We Are, Maniac, The Silent House (the original), Rubber, Alien Abduction, The McPherson Tape, [rec], and BBC: Ghost Watch. All come highly recommended, especially [rec]. That movie's damn scary.
In any case, let's get going. With Alien: Isolationcoming out next week, it seemed entirely appropriate to kick this year off with one of the greatest, if not the greatest, horror movie of all-time, Ridley Scott's Alien.
- October 1: Alien
- October 2: ABCs of Death 2 (VOD)
- October 3: Annabelle (Theaters)
- October 4: The Guest (Theaters)
- October 5: Coherence
- October 6: The Honeymoon (Warning: I'm told the trailer is spoilery. Beware!)
- October 7: Beneath
- October 8: Grabbers
- October 9: Death Spa
- October 10: The Houses October Built (VOD)
- October 11: Dead Snow 2 (VOD)
- October 12: The Awakening
- October 13: Kill List
- October 14: Rawhead Rex
- October 15: Halloween
- October 16: The Loved Ones
- October 17: Chopping Mall
- October 18: Extraterrestrial (VOD)
- October 19: Possession
- October 20: Atrocious
- October 21: The Battery
- October 22: Bad Milo
- October 23: Escape From Tomorrow
- October 24: V/H/S Viral (VOD)
- October 25: Exists (VOD)
- October 26: The Borderlands
- October 27: The Town That Dreaded Sundown
- October 28: Stage Fright
- October 29: Entity
- October 30: Eraserhead
- October 31: Horns (Theaters)
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We've always been buying consoles and PCs to play our games, and the power bringing them to life happens on the machines in our homes. A popular vision for the future involves cloud computing breaking that cycle. Shinra Technologies, a wholly-owned spin-off of Square Enix, is one of those companies.
The elevator pitch for Shinra is an attempt to move consumers away from buying hardware by having the computational heavy lifting take place in the cloud. This could, in Shinra's words, open the door to game concepts that wouldn't be possible when companies like Microsoftand Sonymust always compromise console technology to make it affordable.
Shinra is lead by Yoichi Wada, the former CEO of Square Enix. Wada left his post last year, not long after the publisher revealed it would take a huge financial hit. Slow sales prompted Wada to step down, but he became a chairman of the Square Enix board later that year.
It's not hard to imagine how Shinra might apply to online games. In an MMO, where bits of latency are less of an issue, developers could create worlds impossible to render on consumer-level hardware. All players would need is the ability to log-in and receive a video stream.
When Shinra was announced, the company released this teaser video:
You might have noticed two experiments in there. One involves a big, complicated 3D world. President of technology Tetsuji Iwasakiestimated there were roughly 20 miles of game world being shown at once, with more than 620,000 trees loaded into memory simultaneously.
"I began to think 'if we have 100 people playing together, and, up until now, they've only been putting their positioning data on the server, what if they were all playing together in a way where their game calculations were done once for those 100 people?'" said Iwasaki. "We would be able to vastly simplify the way that the game is calculated. As an example, let’s imagine the protagonist is running on everybody’s screen, and we have the animation and rendering calculation that has to be done to get that protagonist to be running. Instead of calculating that 100 times, we calculate that once and send that video back to the users."
This doesn't have to only apply to big-budget games, either. Wada views Shinra as a technology to enable a broader spectrum of games. Right now, he views development exclusively moving towards small scale creations built by tiny teams and huge projects funded by tens of millions of dollars. The middle is falling out, and Wada argues cloud computing could play a role in bringing it back.
"This is our true feeling," he said. "This is what we feel very deeply [about]. We want to open up the future of games, together with the users, together with the developers. Together, with everyone, we open up a new future for games."
Use of middleware is a relatively new phenomenon in Japanese game development, one that contributed to setbacks during the past generation. It's not uncommon for Japanese game developers to build entirely new engines for the next game, and often won't share tools between teams. While there's been great change in this area, it's certainly not to the point where one could imagine a Japanese game company sharing technology outside its offices. More than anything, this is why Shinra isn't an internal project.
"There’s two important points in splitting it off from Square," said senior VP of business Jacob Navok. "One, we need to be able to gather content from lots of developers and publishers. Two, Square Enix, as a company, needs to be free to be able to put its content on to various cloud systems, including PlayStation Now and others."
When asked whether this was a heated discussion within Square Enix, Wada smiled.
"We want to open up the future of games, together with the users, together with the developers."
"In those terms, I may not have been a typical Japanese [executive]," he said. "This method didn’t seem particularly unnatural to me. I thought this was the best, and this was the natural route to take."
Wada looks at the video game industry in 2014, and sees creative stagnation. Throughout my conversation with Wada and his team, everyone emphasized a belief Shinra could benefit game design. It's early days, however, and there aren't many games to prove this potential. It could. It might.
"My aim is to bring the cloud [to everyone], and create a very extreme game that is just mind-blowing," he said. "This is a win-win situation for the consumers and us because the consumers don’t have to invest in the machines that we will have in our data centers. Everyone will be sharing them. Consumers will be able to have these extreme gaming experiences without investing a lot on the machine of the devices."
Wada and company speak of themselves in a sort of savior role, one that's identified core issues with modern games, and technology can provide a solution. It's ironic, then, to choose the name Shinra. Final Fantasy VII players recall Shinrawas the tyrannical corporation from the series' PlayStationdebut.
Pointing this out prompted laughter from the whole group.
"Cloudis the protagonist in Final Fantasy VII," said Wada. "As a joke, we chose something from Final Fantasy VII. Shinra was a very evil, massive company, and they always remained evil. But we are very good people! [laughs] The logo for Shinra Technologies was drawn by the artist who drew the logo for Shinra in Final Fantasy VIII. The logo in-game was black and red--evil. We took that away, and we changed it to blue and white, to not make it so evil."
The "coincidences" go even deeper.
"Our New York office is actually within the Avalanche Studios office in New York" he said. "If you remember, in Final Fantasy VII, the resistance that tries to go against Shinra in the game is called Avalanche. They battle Shinra."
Shinra's business center is located in New York for talent recruitment and tax reasons, while its development efforts are happening in Montreal. Though Shinra shares an office with Avalanche Studios, there are no formal plans for the company to work on anything using Shinra's systems. That said, Wada suspects something will come of the close cooperation and interaction between the two companies.
We won't have to wait very long to see Shinra in action, either. A beta launches early next year in Japan, with other countries to follow soon after. The initial beta will feature "catalog content" (read: old games) and a stress test in the form of a simple, overhead 2D RPG.
It's not much. Technology means nothing without games to back them up, which Shinra doesn't have yet.
"We come from passion and love for the industry and a feeling of frustration about what we see happening right now--a lack of innovation in game design," said Navok. "Everything looks cookie-cutter. [There's] a lack of innovation in technology, which is resulting in products that always have to look the same because it’s the only way that they’re going to sell. We are hoping that by introducing a very different type of technology, we can come up with new game designs that will get people excited and see something new for the first time in a long time."
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UPDATE: Tweaked to reflect what's actually changing with Shadow Fiend. Thanks!
Though Valvejust wrapped up The International 4, the studio continues to tweak DOTA 2. The latest changes come from the Rekindling Soul update, otherwise known as version 6.82. It's significant.
First and foremost, Shadow Fiend has been dealt some changes, mostly aesthetically. Here's a summary of where he's (it's?) at:
There's an entire pagethat demonstrates the new and improved Shadow Fiend. Coinciding with Shadow Fiend's update is the availability of an arcana item set, which grants a different skin, voice, attack effects, and other ways of making your character stand out 'n look pretty.
Other changes include courier morph (which means your courier will be temporarily visually displayed), the launch of fantasy (a la fantasy football) season two, fight recap (providing a detailed statistical breakdown of matches), a new location for Roshan on the map, tweaked versions of Bloodseeker and Phantom Lancer, and a bunch of other changes that are better seen by reading the bottom of this page.
Because I don't know anything about Dota 2, I asked our expert, Mr. Shoemaker, for quick thoughts:
"This is the most radical stuff they've done to the fundamentals of Dota 2 since it came out. They're the kind of changes normal people would look at and roll their eyes--stuff like a handful of trees being in a different place. But changes like that just keep raising the skill ceiling because they give really good players a ton more options for ways to maneuver and strategize. The nature of these changes is tantamount to changing the length of a football field or the duration of a shot clock in basketball, except there isn't just one change, there's a ton of them."
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The companies have brokered a massive deal for $2.5 billion.
It didn't take long for rumors to become fact. Microsofthas closed a deal to purchase Mojang, which means Minecraftis moving under the Microsoft umbrella. Expected to close before the end of the year, the deal is worth $2.5 billion.
Minecraft creator Markus Persson, however, will not be staying along for the ride. He's leaving Mojang for personal reasons.
"As soon as this deal is finalized, I will leave Mojang and go back to doing Ludum Dares and small web experiments," said Persson in a blog post. "If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately. Considering the public image of me already is a bit skewed, I don’t expect to get away from negative comments by doing this, but at least now I won’t feel a responsibility to read them. I’m aware this goes against a lot of what I’ve said in public. I have no good response to that. I’m also aware a lot of you were using me as a symbol of some perceived struggle. I’m not. I’m a person, and I’m right there struggling with you."
Microsoft already confirmed existing versions of Minecraft will continue to be developed and supported. That means Minecraft isn't disappearing from Android, PlayStation, or iOS. It's unclear what Microsoft's longterm plans are for Minecraft, but it's status quo for the time being.
Xboxhead Phil Spencer released a video talking about his relationship with Persson and Mojang alongside the deal's announcement.
The company says Minecraft under Microsoft will soon benefit from "richer and faster worlds, more powerful development tools, and more opportunities to connect across the Minecraft community." No timetable has been given for any of this, however.
Microsoft also expects its deal to pay off almost immediately. It anticipates the deal will break-even by the end of fiscal year 2015, which ends on June 30, 2015. That's not very far off.
It'll probably be a while before we learn what Persson is up to next.
"It’s not about the money," he said. "It’s about my sanity."
"He worked really hard, he loved his job. On Sundays we would go to the park to feed the ducks. He loved ducks. They always made him smile. It was our place to be together."
When someone close is no longer in your life, it's impossible to know what might trigger the next wave. It might be the sight of a restaurant where you had dinner, it might be throwing away a t-shirt they left behind, it might be hearing a song. Fragments of Him tries to capture these quietly paralyzing moments.
When you click on the towel, it disappears. The clearing of objects and possessions after a loss is a very real, very emotional process we hardly give much thought.
In Fragments of Him, players slowly navigate environments plucked from the real-world: an apartment, a restaurant, a park. Some objects can be clicked on, and these objects trigger short narration. It becomes clear this narrator is recovering from a severe psychological trauma, one that's slowly revealed to be the loss of a longtime partner to a fatal car crash.
Fragments of Him started as a game jam project, and you can still play that version on Kongregate. The surprising response to the game jam version encouraged the team to work on an expanded version, set for release this winter sometime. This game jam was part of the internationally-focused Ludum Dare, and the theme was minimalism. Given the Ludum Dare only allows for 72 hours to develop a game, there's something humorous about a theme that's backed by a tiny development time.
"[I] woke up at four-o'clock in the morning, saw the theme for the jam, and it was minimalism," said game and narrative designer Mata Haggis. "[I] went to sleep, woke up a few hours later, and thought 'what kind of person would live in a minimalist house? Why would you have minimalist decoration in your house?'"
Haggis pitched Fragments of Him to a couple of students he'd taught at the My Academy for Digital Entertainment in the Netherlands. These days, he juggles game design and teaching. In a previous life, Haggis worked on big-budget games as a designer, including Burnout Paradise and Aliens vs. Predator. His students are part of SassyBot, a four-person team that's been collaborating on several games.
In constructing a reason for someone to remove a person's possessions, Haggis kept coming back to the end of a relationship.
"That idea of intense pain driving these actions was something that really spoke to me," he said.
The relationship that forms the narrative backbone of Fragments of Him is between two men. One of them dies. While such a relationship remains somewhat unique to games, the story hardly makes a fuss about it.
"I think it emphasizes the universality of these feelings to have that slight difference to a large group of the [playing] audience," said Haggis. "That was really the origin of all that."
In the last few years, developers have tried to explore ways for games to express new kinds of stories. It's a trend anchored by games like Papers, Please, Journey, and Gone Home, and the approach for each was different. Games have become particularly good at expressing particular kinds of stories, and we often see them repeated over and over again. New stories demand new kinds of gameplay experiences.
"You think of an emotion you want to convey, you think of an experience you want to go through," said Haggis. "Then, you have to try and work out 'what actions would this person want to do in that space?"
Fragments of Him tries to explore the largely invisible process of grieving. In one way or another, we all experience this. When an emotional upheaval occurs, the shock is enormous. Eventually, that wears off, and the business of getting back to your daily life, a life without that person, begins anew.
As someone who's received emotional body blows the last few years, I can tell you it's the hardest part. I wear my father's wedding ring. What I'd figured would be my greatest honor is also a curse. It's a constant reminder. When the people leave us, objects, and the memories we imbue to them, are what remain.
Many games tell stories after the events have occurred. Fragments of Him is near-present, but does not indulge in shocking the viewer with a spectacularly destructive and fatal car crash. Instead, it's focused on the seemingly mundane. But anyone who's picked up the pieces after the loss of someone will tell you the same story: the mundane moments are the ones that, oddly, become the most tragic and heartbreaking.
"At some point in our life, everybody is going to experience the emotion of grief," said Haggis. "If we’re lucky, most of us experience this through a breakup. That’s some sense of grief that we have in a relationship breakup. It’s that taste of what comes when we lose someone really, really important to us forever. One of those things you get with these kinds of moments, this grief, is not necessarily your pain at that exact time which is the problem, it’s the pain that continues always. That sense of a lost future together."
Your actions in Fragments of Him remain simple throughout. Clickable objects are highlighted in yellow, and they eventually fill a meter that triggers the next scene. It's undoubtedly a clunky interface, one made more frustrating when you can't find the one bookshelf that's needed to move forward, but it works.
SassyBot and Haggis knew the team was onto something when it had to start bringing tissue boxes to events where they were showing off Fragments of Him in person. It's also where they discovered how different objects would trigger different reactions from people. Though Fragments of Him tells a very specific story, it's one explicitly designed with universal appeal in how it's told.
"At some point in our life, everybody is going to experience the emotion of grief. That sense of a lost future together."
"One of the parts from the prototype that always seems to get people is when they step into the bathroom, and they take away a towel, and they leave one towel there," said Haggis. "There’s no audio cue for this, there’s nothing recognizing you’ve taken this step, just that tiny moment of going 'oh, that person’s not coming back.' [...] I remember very clearly doing that after a breakup of a relationship once. I think I was coping pretty well until that point. It was such a tiny thing to do. [But then I felt] the enormity of what happened, all those hopes that I had, how things had changed."
The upcoming version of Fragments of Him will, again, focus on loss, but from the perspective of many, exploring how a single life can impact so many others when it's suddenly and unexpectedly extinguished.
"I’m not writing this to be over-the-top dramatic, he said. "I’m not intending this to be this massive tearjerkers. I’m writing this to be a good, honest story about emotions that I’ve felt, that I believe other people feel."
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Batman: Arkham Knight's New Date Is June 2
Rocksteady is being given plenty of time to prepare its farewell.
Batman: Arkham Knightwas supposed to be released this fall, but it's actually coming on June 2, 2015.
That's it. Go on with your day.