Review: Thought-provoking sci-fi drama Bliss works on multiple levels

Screenshot from Bliss trailer

Enlarge / Greg (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Salma Hayek) find themselves shifting between a beautiful and an “ugly” world—but which is real, and which is the simulation? (credit: YouTube/Amazon)

A depressed man finds himself questioning the reality of his existence when he meets a free-spirited woman who insists he’s inhabiting a simulation in Bliss, a new film from director Mike Cahill that stars Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek. Sure, it sounds like an indie riff on The Matrix, and there are a few shared elements, but Bliss is markedly different in theme and tone, and it is very much Cahill’s unique vision.

(Major spoilers below the gallery. We’ll give you a heads up when we get there.)

As we’ve reported previously, Cahill also directed the 2011 indie sci-fi film Another Earth—his first feature—which received a standing ovation at its premiere and won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Cahill’s 2014 followup feature, I Origins, also snagged the Sloan Prize; in fact, he’s the only director to have twice won the award, so he’s got some serious indie sci-fi film street cred.

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#amazon-studios, #bliss, #film-review, #gaming-culture, #mike-cahill, #owen-wilson

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Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade leads latest PlayStation game-reveal event

Sony’s latest PlayStation-focused video reveal event, as part of its State Of Play series, was its shortest yet, lacking announcements on any first-party Sony games coming to either PlayStation 5 or the older PS4. Instead, the event was led by a third-party whopper: a remake of… last year’s Final Fantasy VII Remake.

That definition is a stretch, since this new title may be better classified as a graphical remaster, but there’s a lot going on, as visible in the above gallery. The new game, FFVII Remake Intergrade, will land exclusively on PlayStation 5 consoles on June 10, and in good news, existing owners on PS4 will get nearly all of its content as a free upgrade (so long as they either own the game digitally or have a disc-based PS5). That content includes a sweeping graphical overhaul with new lighting, texture, and particle systems and an optional 60fps mode, plus a new “classic” option for the game’s active battling system. Picking “classic” will let players focus entirely on selecting commands from menus, instead of giving direct joystick control to a “lead” character like Cloud or Tifa.

For existing owners who may have already beaten the game, the incentive to double-dip comes in the form of a new “episode” of content. This will put players in control of original series character Yuffie, and the revealed footage includes her and a companion named Sonon spending time in existing game regions like the Sector 7 slums—and Yuffie using Sonon as a springboard to pull off cinematic, sweeping attacks. To access this new chapter, existing owners will have to pay for the extra DLC, though publisher Square Enix hasn’t yet clarified how much that will cost.

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#gaming-culture, #gran-turismo, #horizon-forbidden-west, #horizon-zero-dawn, #playstation-4, #playstation-5

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Paramount+ will carry new Star Trek series Strange New Worlds and Prodigy

Key art for the new <em>Star Trek</em> series <em>Star Trek: Prodigy</em>.

Enlarge / Key art for the new Star Trek series Star Trek: Prodigy. (credit: ViacomCBS)

In an online event for investors, ViacomCBS revealed several new details about CBS All Access replacement Paramount+, including pricing as well as two new Star Trek series that will premiere on the network. Also, the company announced that a much-anticipated Showtime show will end up on Paramount+ instead.

Paramount+, which was announced several months ago, will launch on March 4 in the United States, Canada, and 18 Latin American countries. As with CBS All Access, both an ad-supported and ad-free plan will be offered. In the US, the ad-supported one will cost $4.99 per month, while the ad-free plan will cost $9.99.

That $4.99 per month is $1 cheaper than the ad-supported version of CBS All Access. However, this cheaper plan will not include local CBS stations. The service is also expected to launch in Nordic countries within a few weeks and in Australia sometime later this year.

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#cbs, #cbs-all-access, #gaming-culture, #paramount, #paramount-pictures, #showtime, #star-trek, #tech, #viacom, #viacomcbs

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Valve has to provide some Steam sales data to Apple, judge says

The Steam corporate logo repeats over a red background.

(credit: Aurich Lawson / Ars Technica)

A US magistrate judge has ordered Valve to provide sales data to Apple in response to a subpoena issued amid Apple’s continuing legal fight with Epic Games.

In addition to some aggregate sales data for the entirety of Steam, Valve will only have to provide specific, per-title pricing and sales data for “436 specific apps that are available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store,” according to the order. That’s a significant decrease from the 30,000+ titles Apple for which Apple originally requested data.

In resisting the subpoena, Valve argued that its Steam sales data was irrelevant to questions about the purely mobile app marketplaces at issue in the case. Refocusing the request only on games available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store makes it more directly relevant to the questions of mobile competition in the case, Judge Thomas Hixson writes in his order.

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#gaming-culture

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Report: BioWare wrests Dragon Age 4 away from EA’s online-multiplayer mandate

A company logo has been photoshopped onto the face of a tough-looking video game character.

Enlarge / Some good Dragon Age news, at least from our perspective. (credit: EA / Sam Machkovech)

As it turns out, EA’s recent bloodbath over online BioWare multiplayer games was larger than we thought. And in today’s case, a behind-the-scenes report seems to offer good news on that front.

After yesterday’s official confirmation from EA that Anthem Next” was no more, Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier has arrived with news about another dramatic change to a BioWare game: the unnamed Dragon Age sequel (which we’ll call Dragon Age 4 for convenience’ sake) will be a single-player game.

Uh, what?

The way Schreier tells it, EA as a publisher is now “allowing” the Dragon Age 4 team to “remove all planned multiplayer components from the game”—and that use of “allowing” implies that this was a butting of heads between those who wanted online components in this famously single-player RPG series (EA) and those who didn’t (BioWare).

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#anthem, #bioware, #dragon-age, #ea, #gaming-culture, #mass-effect

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Don’t look now, but GameStop’s stock price is surging again

HODL!

Enlarge / HODL! (credit: Getty Images)

GameStop’s stock price saw yet another sudden surge in late trading hours on Wednesday. After opening at $44.70 that morning, the price shot up from $52.41 at 3pm to $91.71 just before the market closed at 4pm.

That 75 percent increase in a single hour was followed shortly after by a peak price of nearly $200 in post-market trading Wednesday evening. As of this writing, the stock is currently selling at about $132 in highly volatile early market trading.

The sudden surge obviously brings to mind GameStop’s similarly quick stock price run-up in late January. Since peaking at over $400 during that extremely volatile week, though, GameStop’s stock price had settled to something resembling calm, closing between $40 and $60 every day since February 8.

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#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #markets, #stock, #volatility

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Nvidia RTX 3060 review: A fine $329 GPU, but ho-hum among the 3000 series

The EVGA RTX 3060, as posed in front of some sort of high-tech honeycomb array.

Enlarge / The EVGA RTX 3060, as posed in front of some sort of high-tech honeycomb array. (credit: EVGA / Nvidia)

The past year of graphics card reviews has been an exercise in dramatic asterisks, and for good reason. Nvidia and AMD have seen fit to ensure members of the press have access to new graphics cards ahead of their retail launches, which has placed us in a comfy position to praise each of their latest-gen offerings: good prices, tons of power.

Then we see our comment sections explode with unsatisfied customers wondering how the heck to actually buy them. I’ve since softened my tune on these pre-launch previews.

I say all of this up front about the Nvidia RTX 3060, going on sale today, February 25 (at 12pm ET, if you’re interested in entering the day-one sales fray) because it’s the first Nvidia GPU I’ve tested in a while to make my cautious stance easier. The company has been on a tear with its RTX 3000-series of cards in terms of sheer consumer value, particularly compared to equivalent prior-gen cards (the $1,499 RTX 3090 notwithstanding), but the $329 RTX 3060 (not to be confused with December’s 3060 Ti) doesn’t quite pull the same weight. It’s a good 1080p card with 1440p room to flex, but it’s not the next-gen jump in its Nvidia price category we’ve grown accustomed to.

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#gaming-culture, #graphics-card, #graphics-cards, #nvidia, #nvidia-rtx, #rtx-3060, #tech

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Loki and Star Wars: The Bad Batch get Disney+ premiere dates

Today is a red-letter day for Disney property announcements: release dates have been set for the Disney+ series Loki and Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and the new Spider-Man film has a new name.

We’ll start with Spider-Man. Following a marketing stunt in which three different stars of the movie shared three fake movie names alongside initial images from the film on Instagram, the actual title for the new Spider-Man movie has been revealed in a cheeky Twitter video and blog postSpider Man: No Way Home.

The fake names that had circulated previously included Spider-Man: Phone HomeSpider-Man: Home-Wrecker, and Spider-Man: Home Slice.

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#bad-batch, #disney, #gaming-culture, #loki, #marvel, #mcu, #no-way-home, #spider-man, #star-wars

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EA, BioWare cancel Anthem’s sweeping overhaul

The face of a video game character has been photoshopped too look like a clown.

Enlarge / Tears of an Anthem clown. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Bioware / Getty Images)

The story of EA and BioWare’s beleaguered action-RPG Anthem has apparently ended. According to an official BioWare blog post, the ambitious jetpack-combat game’s “overhaul” project is dead. The staff that had been assigned to rebuild the game into better shape has been reassigned to work on other BioWare projects, particularly Dragon Age 4 and the next Mass Effect game.

From what we saw in the game’s March 2019 launch version, EA and BioWare clearly intended for the game to receive regularly updated content, but negative reviews (including my own) made clear that BioWare needed to go back to the drawing board. Despite some good ideas and fun flight controls, Anthem‘s basic core needed serious touching-up before we’d return to the game.

No more singing of the Anthem

Then-general manager Casey Hudson made a February 2020 statement acknowledging those criticisms. After listing aspects of the game that needed work, he offered a pledge to fans: that BioWare would complete “fundamental work… to bring out the full potential of the experience… specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges, and progression with meaningful rewards—while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting.”

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#anthem, #bioware, #ea, #gaming-culture

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Attack of the Murder Hornets is a nature doc shot through horror/sci-fi lens

Extreme close-up photograph of terrifying insect.

Enlarge / “What are you looking at?” The Asian Giant Hornet, aka a “murder hornet,” is not to be trifled with. (credit: Gary Alpert)

In November 2019, a beekeeper in Blaine, Washington, named Ted McFall was horrified to discover thousands of tiny mutilated bodies littering the ground: an entire colony of his honeybees had been brutally decapitated. The culprit: the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), a species native to southeast Asia and parts of the Russian far East. Somehow, these so-called “murder hornets” had found their way to the Pacific Northwest, where they posing a dire ecological threat to North American honeybee populations.

The story of the quest to track and eradicate the hornets before their numbers became overwhelming is the subject of a new documentary: Attack of the Murder Hornets, now streaming on Discovery+. Featuring genuine suspense, a colorful cast of characters crossing socioeconomic lines, and a tone that draws on classic horror and science fiction movies, it’s one of the best nature documentaries you’re likely to see this year.

Asian giant hornets are what’s known as apex predators, sporting enormous mandibles, the better to rip the heads off their prey and remove the tasty thoraxes (which include muscles that power the bee’s wings for flying and movement). A single hornet can decapitate 20 bees in one minute, and just a handful can wipe out 30,000 bees in 90 minutes. The hornet has a venomous, extremely painful sting—and its stinger is long enough to puncture traditional beekeeping suits. Conrad Berube, a beekeeper and entomologist who had the misfortune to be stung seven times while exterminating a murder hornet nest, told The New York Times, “It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh.” And while Japanese honeybees, for example, have evolved defenses against the murder hornet, North American honeybees have not, as the slaughter of McFall’s colony aptly demonstrated.

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#discovery-plus, #documentaries, #ecology, #gaming-culture, #honeybees, #invasive-species, #murder-hornets, #science

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Sony announces new PSVR hardware for PlayStation 5

You probably want to put the PlayStation VR headset on your head, not on top of a new PlayStation 5, for an ideal use case. But, hey, you do you.

Enlarge / You probably want to put the PlayStation VR headset on your head, not on top of a new PlayStation 5, for an ideal use case. But, hey, you do you. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

A new generation of PlayStation VR hardware, including a new controller designed specifically for VR, will be coming to the PlayStation 5 sometime after this year, Sony announced today.

The short announcement is light on details and doesn’t include any photos or prototypes of the new headset or controller. But it does mention that the next PlayStation VR will include a higher resolution and field of view than the 2016 original, which is stuck at a somewhat dated 1920×1080 resolution.

For context, last year’s $299 Oculus Quest 2 came in at a total resolution of 3664×1600, and that’s for an untethered standalone headset with much less horsepower than the PS5. Valve’s high-end Index headset, meanwhile, sports a 135 degree field of view, much wider than the ~100 degrees on PSVR (cheaper modern headsets generally have closer to 90 to 100 degree view fields, though).

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#gaming-culture, #playstation, #playstation-vr, #ps5, #psvr, #sony, #virtual-reality

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Chip shortage may threaten PlayStation 5 supplies at Christmas

To call Sony's PlayStation 5 "in demand" would be an understatement.

Enlarge / To call Sony’s PlayStation 5 “in demand” would be an understatement.

The global semiconductor shortage is threatening to constrain PlayStation 5 supplies throughout the rest of this year, even as Sony’s gaming chief insisted the company would be able to produce “decent numbers” of its new console in the second half of 2021.

The PS5 is one of the most sought-after tech products of recent months, with shipments selling out as soon as they reached stores when the console was launched in November last year.

Coronavirus lockdowns have only added to gamers’ demand for the latest consoles and software, fueling what are expected to be record profits for Sony’s gaming division in the financial year to March. Sony upgraded its gaming unit’s annual revenue forecasts earlier this month primarily thanks to improving sales of game software, services, and accessories.

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#arm, #chip-shortage, #gaming-culture, #playstation-5, #sony, #tech

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Epic will pay off class-action loot-box settlement with in-game currency

What... what are you doing with that hammer?

Enlarge / What… what are you doing with that hammer? (credit: Epic Games)

Epic is set to settle a class-action lawsuit over its use of randomized loot boxes in Fortnite‘s “Save the World” mode by paying affected players with in-game currency. Rocket League players who previously purchased loot boxes in that game will also receive an in-game payment.

While Epic never offered loot boxes in Fortnite‘s mega-popular battle royale mode, it let “Save the World” players purchase “loot llamas” full of random items until early 2019 (amid international outcry about the randomized loot-box business and its similarity to gambling). Shortly after ending the practice, Epic was faced with a class-action lawsuit alleging, among other things, that it had “psychologically manipulate[d] its young players into thinking they will ‘get lucky.'”

Under a proposed settlement for that suit, which Epic says has achieved preliminary approval, all players who purchased a loot llama at any time will be rewarded with 1,000 V-Bucks (worth roughly $8). Even though it’s settling a US lawsuit, Epic says this same deal will apply to all Fortnite players globally.

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#epic, #fortnite, #gaming-culture, #loot-boxes

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Take-Two DMCA takes down reverse-engineered GTA source code

A Github project that generated reverse-engineered code for Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City was taken down over the weekend as the result of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act request from publisher Take-Two.

The project—comprising hundreds of thousands of lines of C++ code generated over years of painstaking analysis—did not distribute any of the copyrighted image or music files needed to recompile the game. Those files needed to be sourced from an authentic copy of the PC version of the games, originally released in 2002 and 2003.

This didn’t prevent Take-Two from claiming that “the content in the links below consists of copyrighted materials owned by Take Two,” as the DMCA notice reads, in part. “The use of our copyrighted content in these links are unauthorized and it should be removed immediately.”

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#gaming-culture

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Diablo II Resurrected tops BlizzCon announcement flurry

Long rumored, finally confirmed.

Enlarge / Long rumored, finally confirmed. (credit: Blizzard)

Blizzard’s latest BlizzCon event sees the longtime PC game maker at perhaps its most beleaguered yet. Game delays, notable departuresbotched remakes, smartphone-gaming backlash, and an anti-protester reputation have weighed down what was once a sterling RTS/RPG reputation. That led us to wonder: Can today’s streaming-only BlizzCon showcase of games and plans show that the company’s recent hires and behind-the-scenes reshuffling are paying off?

In at least one respect, the outlook is optimistic, thanks to an impressive reveal of Diablo II: Resurrected. This long-rumored remake includes everything from both the base 2000 game and its 2001 expansion, Lord of Destruction. At first glimpse, this top-to-bottom remake seems to get everything right that WarCraft III: Reforged got so very, very wrong—and we won’t have to wait very long to come up with our own impressions. Sign-ups for D2:R‘s technical alpha are now live ahead of the game’s launch on PC and consoles “in 2021.”

The right balance between preservation and polish?

We’ve grown increasingly skeptical of Blizzard’s sales pitches in recent years, but so far, everything about D2:R strikes us as the right kind of “Blizzard Classic” approach, including the following sales pitches:

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#blizzard, #blizzard-entertainment, #blizzcon, #diablo-2, #diablo-4, #diablo-ii, #diablo-iv, #gaming-culture, #overwatch

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Valve gets dragged into Apple and Epic’s legal fight over Fortnite

Valve gets dragged into Apple and Epic’s legal fight over Fortnite

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Apple’s bitter legal dispute with Epic Games over the distribution of Fortnite on iOS has now managed to rope in Valve. Apple has subpoenaed the Steam maker for a wide range of PC game sales data it says is crucial to its case. But Valve is fighting back against that subpoena, saying its information is proprietary, not relevant to Apple’s case, and would be costly and difficult to generate.

As discussed in a joint letter from Apple and Valve filed with the Northern District of California court this week, Apple’s November subpoena seeks two large categories of information that Valve is refusing to provide:

  • Documents sufficient to show Valve’s: (a) total yearly sales of apps and in-app products; (b) annual advertising revenues from Steam; (c) annual sales of external products attributable to Steam; (d) annual revenues from Steam; and (e) annual earnings (whether gross or net) from Steam; as well as
  • (a) The name of each App on Steam; (b) the date range when the App was available on Steam; and (c) the price of the App and any in-app product available on Steam.

While Valve has responded to some other parts of Apple’s subpoena, Apple says that information has been “so heavily redacted that Apple cannot discern what information they might contain.”

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#gaming-culture

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Burning Crusade Classic leaks ahead of BlizzCon

Promotional image for World of Warcraft.

Enlarge / That’s quite the game-announcement leak there, Blizzard. (credit: Blizzard)

Ahead of this weekend’s BlizzCon game-announcement frenzy, two of Blizzard’s secrets have sneaked out in the form of a leak. Both revolve around World of Warcraft: one for the latest Shadowlands expansion, and another for the World of Warcraft Classic server option.

In the latter case, 2007’s hugely popular WoW expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, will be bolted onto the WoW Classic option inside the Blizzard Launcher starting sometime in “2021.” The news comes from an apparent leak of official BlizzCon press release materials, all formatted with official images and descriptions of what’s to come, as found on Blizzard’s official servers by users at Reddit’s WoW community.

As with 2019’s official WoW vanilla launch, The Burning Crusade will return without any new or special features on top of what originally came with the game. You may recall that this expansion pack included a trickle of content drops while Blizzard maintained it before selling Wrath of the Lich King in 2008. Meanwhile, Blizzard’s leaked document claims that the original version’s update cadence will return: “Content from the original game will roll out in phases, at a cadence paced for the WoW Classic community. Prepare for the opening of the Black Temple, gear up to confront the gods of Zul’Aman, and gather your allies to face the fury of the Sunwell.”

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#blizzcon, #burning-crusade, #gaming-culture, #world-of-warcraft, #world-of-warcraft-classic, #wow-classic

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Robinhood says Gamestop volatility was a “1 in 3.5 million” black swan

Ready, take aim, and let fly...

Enlarge / Ready, take aim, and let fly… (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Robinhood’s move to temporarily limit purchases of GameStop and other highly volatile stocks in late January was the overwhelming focus of today’s House Committee on Financial Services hearing.

At the hearing, Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev said that extreme stock volatility that led to Robinhood’s restriction was a “five sigma” event with a “1 in 3.5 million” chance of happening. That made the situation practically impossible for the company to plan for, Tenev said. “In the context of tens of thousands of days in the history of US stock market, a 1 in 3.5 million event is basically unmodelable.”

As we’ve covered previously, the high volatility of GameStop and other so-called “meme stocks” last month meant Robinhood was suddenly forced to provide much more collateral to the stock clearing houses that actually process its trades. Tenev said Thursday that these collateral obligations increased tenfold between January 25 and January 28, as GameStop rose from $76 a share to over $347, then back down to $193.

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#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #hearing, #house, #policy, #robinhood, #wallstreetbets

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Let them fight! Mortal Kombat red-band trailer gives fans what they want

Warner Bros. has released the red-band trailer for its forthcoming Mortal Kombat reboot, which had long languished in development hell. A Russian-dubbed version of the trailer initially leaked on reddit, according to Eurogamer, before being pulled. It’s basically a nonstop, blood-soaked fighting fest, featuring all the fan favorites from the popular video game franchise.

(Some spoilers for the games and earlier films below.)

Midway Games released the first Mortal Kombat game in 1992, which proved hugely influential for many a teenager who frequented video arcades during that era. There have been 11 main games and multiple spinoffs in the franchise thus far, all set in a fictional universe of eight different realms. The greatest warriors from the various realms must compete in a series of Mortal Kombat tournaments to conquer other realms.

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#entertainment, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #mortal-kombat, #warner-bros

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Latest Nintendo Direct event led by Zelda: Skyward Sword HD remaster

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a particularly long Nintendo Direct video presentation, and Wednesday’s news-filled flurry of game announcements lived up to the company’s reputation for surprises and weirdness. And in a tip of its hat to The Legend of Zelda series’ 35th anniversary this year, Nintendo capped its first Direct of 2021 with the reveal of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, coming to Nintendo Switch on July 16.

Skyward Sword was the only mainline Zelda game to launch with a serious reliance on Wii-like controls (Link’s Crossbow Training notwithstanding). The 2011 game required the Wii MotionPlus add-on, as its swordplay revolved around precisely angled swipes for the sake of certain enemies and puzzles, and this remaster will let players relive that experience by assigning motion controls to both left and right Joy-Con controllers. Don’t worry, Switch Lite owners: This HD re-release doesn’t mandate Wii-like waggling. If you prefer, Link’s sword angles and item tosses can be assigned to the controller’s right analog stick instead.

Whether this control update alone will redeem the game compared to other Zelda classics will probably be a matter of taste. Skyward Sword was notorious for clinging to classic series tenets in ways that bogged down its otherwise gorgeous and accessible gameplay (a criticism that somehow escaped Ars’ original review). Its successor, 2017’s Breath of the Wild, famously shattered the classic Zelda template—and for the better. But in general, even a lukewarm Zelda game is still a good video game, and like other remastered Zelda games before this one, it looks like we’re getting a handsome and tasteful touch-up of everything—and this does particular wonders for LoZ:SS‘s unique “watercolor” aesthetic, which looked quite blurry on the original Wii.

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#gaming-culture, #legend-of-zelda, #nintendo-direct, #nintendo-switch, #skyward-sword

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Steam developer gets banned for “Very Positive” review trickery

An archived copy of <em>Emoji Evolution</em>'s Steam store page shows how hard it is to distinguish the developer's "Very Positive" name from the merely "Positive" review summary (on the right).

Enlarge / An archived copy of Emoji Evolution‘s Steam store page shows how hard it is to distinguish the developer’s “Very Positive” name from the merely “Positive” review summary (on the right). (credit: Emoji Evolution)

Here at Ars, we’ve covered Valve banning Steam game developers for everything from sexual content and gratuitous ultraviolence to ill-defined “trolling”. But we’ve never before seen a case where a developer got kicked off of Steam just because of its (non-infringing) name.

That’s just what happened to Emoji Evolution developer Very Positive, which said on Twitter Saturday that its developer account had been banned for “review manipulations.” Unlike other prominent examples of Steam user-review manipulation, though, Very Positive didn’t do anything to unduly skew the reviews players posted for its games.

Instead, Very Positive exploited a vagary of the Steam store’s user interface. That interface displays a game’s developer and publisher name in the same font, color, and general area as the written summary of that game’s overall user review summary (e.g., “Overwhelmingly Positive,” “Mixed,” “Mostly Negative,” etc.) Thus, it was hard for users to distinguish at a glance that the “Very Positive” developer name wasn’t an accurate summary of Emoji Evolution‘s actual user reviews (which ranged from “Mixed” to “Mostly Positive” according to screenshots).

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#ban, #gaming-culture, #moderation, #review-manipulation, #steam, #valve

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Xbox takes back-compat to new extremes, tricks old games to run faster

A cartoon speedometer is labeled FPS.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Getting older video games to run on newer consoles may seem like a simple idea: the new boxes are faster, so older, weaker games should just work, right? Things never quite work out that way, especially when architecture changes dramatically between console generations, which is why we’ve been fascinated by Team Xbox’s focus on “backward compatibility.”

Microsoft’s engineering team has already gotten hundreds of past-gen games to work on the Xbox One family (and beyond). Now, the engineers have broken ground on a completely different vision for backward compatibility: making games from the past, particularly the wimpy base Xbox One, render more fluidly on Series X/S. This new feature, dubbed “FPS Boost,” is particularly interesting because it requires zero code updates injected into older games.

Not remasters; more like ReShades

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s announcement about the feature on Wednesday fails to explain exactly how it works. Instead, it leaves the storytelling duties to the frame analysts at Digital Foundry, who got exclusive dibs on the story. In a Wednesday video breaking down how the feature works, John Linneman confirms that Xbox Series consoles, while processing older games’ code, can “send data back from Direct3D [a longstanding API used in both Xbox consoles and Windows games] to the game faster than the original [consoles] did.”

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#gaming-culture, #xbox-series, #xbox-series-s, #xbox-series-x

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When physics met dance: Marie Curie and Loïe Fuller in Belle Époque Paris

Poster from the Belle Epoque joins together two black-and-white photographs of women.

Enlarge / Radiant: The Scientist, the Dancer, and a Friendship Forged in Light explores the lives of Marie Curie and Loïe Fuller. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Both the arts and the sciences flourished in Paris during the years of the so-called Belle Époque at the dawn of the 20th century. This was when Nobel Prize-winning physicist Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, made their breakthrough discoveries in radioactivity, discovering two new elements. At the same time, a modern dancer and pioneer in theatrical lighting named Loïe Fuller, who was all the rage in Paris, dreamed of incorporating radium into her stage act. Science writer and communicator Liz Heinecke brings the live of these two visionary women together in an illuminating new biography, Radiant: The Scientist, the Dancer, and a Friendship Forged in Light.

The details of Marie Curie’s life are very well-documented and well-known. She left her native Poland and moved to Paris at 14 to pursue a degree in science, living in abject poverty while studying and conducting research. She met a chemist named Pierre Curie, and they began collaborating, eventually falling in love and getting married in 1895. The Curies had been married for six months when Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays (winning the very first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901). Soon after, Henri Becquerel published his insight that uranium salts emitted rays that would fog a photographic plate in early 1896. Becquerel’s uranium rays so fascinated Marie that she made them the focus of her own research. 

With Pierre, she uncovered evidence of two new elements they dubbed polonium and radium. The couple shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with Becquerel for their work developing a theory of radioactivity—she was the first woman to be so honored. After Pierre’s tragic death in a 1906 street accident, Marie developed new techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes from pitchblende and eventually succeeded in isolating radium in 1910. She won a second Nobel Prize (this time in chemistry) in 1911 for the discovery of polonium and radium. She remains the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice and the only person to do so in two different scientific fields.

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#books, #dance, #gaming-culture, #loie-fuller, #marie-curie, #physics, #science

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How Guilty Gear saved its online play in a post-offline world

Sol Badguy faces off against Faust in <em>Guilty Gear Strive</em>, the latest entry in the long running fighting game series coming in April

Enlarge / Sol Badguy faces off against Faust in Guilty Gear Strive, the latest entry in the long running fighting game series coming in April

As a huge fighting game fan I’m always excited when a new game comes out. No other genre captures my attention in the same way. The feeling of discovery, the community and competitive spirit—a good release means potentially thousands of hours of playing and learning, not to mention all the sharing and talking with fellow players.

This week I’m excited about Guilty Gear Strive, releasing April 9 on PS4, PS5, and PC. There’s an open beta this week, and Ars got early access to try it out, including the newly improved netcode.

I’m happy to report that the beta is already doing the right things to make an online game feel as much like an offline one as possible.

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#gaming-culture, #uncategorized

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An anniversary for great justice: Remembering “All Your Base” 20 years later

A menacing video game character's dialogue reads

Enlarge (credit: Newgrounds / Aurich Lawson)

As the Internet began crystallizing into its modern form—one that now arguably buttresses society as we know it—its anthropology of common language and references matured at a strange rate. But between the simple initialisms that emerged by the ’90s (ROFL!) and the modern world’s ecosystem of easily shared multimedia, a patchwork connection of users and sites had to figure out how to establish a base of shared references.

In some ways, the Internet as we know it really began on February 16, 2001, 20 years ago today, when a three-word phrase blew up: “All Your Base.”

On that day, a robo-voiced music video went live at Newgrounds.com, one of the Internet’s earliest and longest-lasting dumping grounds of Flash multimedia content, and went on to become one of the most beloved Internet videos of the 21st century. Though Flash support has since been scrapped across the entire Web-browsing ecosystem, Newgrounds continues to host the original video in a safe Flash emulator, if you’d like to see it as originally built instead of flipping through dozens of YouTube rips.

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#adobe-flash, #flash, #gaming-culture, #memes, #newgrounds

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PC versions of Grand Theft Auto reverse-engineered to raw source code

A group of dedicated coders has generated complete reverse-engineered raw source code for the PC versions of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City, which comprises hundreds of thousands of lines of C++ code, in a years-long process.

We’ve discussed in the past how video game fan coders use reverse-engineering techniques to deconstruct the packaged executable files distributed by a game’s original developers. This painstaking, function-by-function process creates raw programming code that can generate exactly the same binary file when compiled.

With that code in hand, coders can examine what makes the game tick and make improvements and changes at a much more granular level than with traditional modding. In the case of Grand Theft Auto, those improvements include bug fixes, reduced load times, improved rendering, widescreen monitor support, and a free-floating camera system, to name a few examples. The source code can also be used to generate ports of the game to new platforms like Linux, Switch, and PlayStation Vita (though these recompiled versions all require the copyrighted art and music files extracted from the original game).

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#decompilation, #gaming-culture, #gta, #source-code

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Valheim is the endless Viking survival game we have craved for years

Valheim is Steam’s latest top-selling, out-of-nowhere indie game, and from some angles, it sure looks the part. Depending on what screenshots you stumble upon, you might get some serious PlayStation 1 nostalgia vibes, with characters, animals, and trees that look straight out of the first ’90s Tomb Raider game.

We’ve seen this before when it comes to Steam Early Access hits, usually because a game maker spends more time on gameplay and depth, not screenshots. Hence, it’s not surprising to notice similarities to other survival-creation fare like Minecraft and Rust, where glitchy simplicity is part of the charm. But starting and ending with the graphics in this epic, Viking-tinged tale misses the modern-gaming forest for the blocky-voxel trees.

To understand why the $20 Valheim has surpassed the 2 million sales mark in only 13 days, and why its Early Access buyers can’t get enough of it, you have to scrape a few hours beneath the comparison-heady surface level. Get that far, and the game’s allure becomes clearer. This is a survival game made by people who really like survival games—but don’t necessarily like the genre’s tedium.

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#early-access, #gaming-culture, #steam-early-access, #valheim

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Jared Leto’s Joker is back in new trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Happy Valentine’s Day, DCEU fans: HBO Max dropped a new trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Disappointed DC Extended Universe fans were clamoring for a “Snyder cut” soon after the release of 2017’s Justice League, and Warner Bros. eventually obliged them, announcing it would release the full director’s cut on HBO Max. For Valentine’s Day, the studio dropped a full two-minute-plus trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League to further reward the fandom’s patience. Count me among the skeptics on the question of whether we really needed a “Snyder cut,” but I must admit, based on the full trailer, Snyder’s version does seem markedly different from the theatrical release. Among other changes, the trailer includes a brief glimpse of Jared Leto’s Joker, who didn’t appear at all in the original.

As we’ve reported previously, the original Justice League was the third film in a trilogy that included Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). It brought together Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). They are on a mission to save the world from arch-villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a “New God” in search of three “Mother Boxes” that will enable him to terraform the Earth into something more hospitable to him and his army of Parademons.

Snyder completed all the principal photography and was well into post-production, but he stepped down as director in May 2017 following the tragic suicide of his daughter, and the studio turned to Joss Whedon (The Avengers) to complete the film. Whedon rewrote the script, adding some 80 pages, and did extensive reshoots, bringing more humor and a brighter tone into the mix. He also cut more than 90 minutes of Snyder’s original footage to accommodate the studio’s requested 120-minute runtime, although Whedon’s version retained the basic story outline. The result was what some critics called a “Frankenstein” film, struggling to incorporate the very different visions of two directors. Reviews were mixed, and while Justice League wound up grossing $657 million, the purported break-even point was around $750 million.

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#dceu, #entertainment, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #snyder-cut, #zack-snyder, #zack-snyders-justice-league

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The digital divide is giving American churches hell

The digital divide is giving American churches hell

Enlarge (credit: Leon Neal | Getty Images)

For Clay Scroggins, preaching on Zoom was never part of the plan. As lead pastor at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, he was accustomed to services in a 3,000-seat auditorium, with live music and a jumbotron for people in the back. But God’s plan is often mysterious, so when the city of Atlanta forced him to shut the church’s doors last spring, Scroggins faithfully moved his ministry online. “Ultimately, we were really informed by Jesus’ calling for us to love our neighbors,” he says, “and the most loving thing we could do was to continue to meet virtually.”

And continue to meet virtually they have. Sunday sermons are broadcast live and posted to the church’s YouTube channel for congregants to watch anytime. Bible study and small group meetings have moved to Zoom. Buckhead has even managed to replicate spontaneous church lobby “bump-ins” with video chat breakout rooms for some events. Donations, which provide all of the church’s operating income, remain the same, they just come via a digital collection plate. At Buckhead Church, virtual worship is going so well that some parts of it might be here for good. But not every congregation has been so blessed.

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#christianity, #gaming-culture, #pandemic, #policy, #religion, #zoom

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Review: The Stand starts out strong and then whiffs the landing

James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgård, Whoopi Goldberg, and Amber Heard are among the ensemble cast of a new miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's sprawling 1978 novel, <em>The Stand</em>.

Enlarge / James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgård, Whoopi Goldberg, and Amber Heard are among the ensemble cast of a new miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling 1978 novel, The Stand. (credit: CBS All Access)

A deadly virus wipes out most of the human population, and the survivors find themselves caught in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil in The Stand, the latest miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling 1978 novel. But despite a strong start, terrific performances from the all-star ensemble cast, and impressive production values, as a story, The Stand starts unraveling midway through, culminating in a meandering, seemingly pointless finale.

(Spoilers for the book below; a few major spoilers for the new miniseries below the gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)

As we reported previouslyThe Stand is widely considered to be among King’s best work, with a sprawling cast of characters and multiple storylines. It’s also his longest, with the 1990 Complete and Uncut Edition surpassing even It in page count. King has said he wanted to write an epic dark fantasy akin to The Lord of the Rings, only with a contemporary American setting. “Instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg,” King wrote in his 1981 nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. “The land of Mordor (‘where the shadows lie,’ according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.”

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#cbs-all-access, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #stephen-king, #streaming-television, #television, #the-stand

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Bad Girls: Grindhouse chills, thrills, and kills shot on a $16K budget

You’ve probably never heard of the underground film industry in Columbia, South Carolina—which is understandable, since it has only produced three films in the last 10 years or so. Two of those films are by producer/director/person-with-a-dream Christopher Bickel, who finished his sophomore full-length movie effort Bad Girls just this month.

Bad Girls is an over-the-top grindhouse jam, packed full of sex, drugs, loud music, and ultraviolent action. The movie was shot on a budget of $16,000—approximately one-tenth the amount that Troma (probably the best-known ridiculously low-budget production company) spent making its first film in 1979.

The microscopic budget makes it almost impossible for Bad Girls to avoid the Dancing Bear trope—but despite the movie’s lack of funds and semi-amateur cast and crew, Bad Girls delivers a thoroughly watchable experience to its target audience.

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#gaming-culture, #grindhouse, #indie-film, #movie, #movie-review

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CD Projekt Red source code reportedly sells for millions in dark Web auction

This bird has been hacked!

Enlarge / This bird has been hacked!

Earlier this week, CD Projekt Red announced that it had been hit with a ransomware attack that allegedly exposed the source code for games including Cyberpunk 2077, Gwent, and The Witcher 3. Now, security experts are reporting that the source code has been auctioned off on a dark Web forum, seemingly for millions of dollars.

VX Underground, which tracks ransomware and other malware attacks, noted on Wednesday that the ransomed source code had been posted on a dark Web forum known as EXPLOIT. The starting bid was reportedly $1 million, with a $500,000 bidding increment and $7 million “buy it now” price.

Cyber intelligence firm KELA confirmed the authenticity of that auction, telling The Verge that forum users needed to put up 0.1 BTC (roughly $4,700 as of this writing) to participate in the bidding as a sign that offers were legitimate. The sellers also reportedly provided file listings for Gwent and the Red Engine that underlies CDPR’s games as proof that the data was authentic.

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#attack, #cd-projekt-red, #cdpr, #gaming-culture, #ransomware

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The games of love: our favorite couch co-op games to play with a partner

<em>Mario Kart</em> is a safe standby for any couch co-op session.

Enlarge / Mario Kart is a safe standby for any couch co-op session. (credit: Nintendo)

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, we’ve overhauled our guide to the best couch co-op games, adding several new recommendations for you to share with a loved one.

Video games have gone a long way toward keeping us sane during our pandemic days. But while there’s never been more people playing together, finding the best co-op games to play with a partner at home can still be tricky. More and more titles have (understandably) emphasized online multiplayer, leaving the market for quality couch co-op experiences somewhat thin.

If you and your loved ones are looking for some good times for the living room, though, we can help. Below, we’ve rounded up 26 of the best couch co-op games we’ve played, with options that should appeal to both hardcore and less experienced players. Whether you’re eager for a half-hour session or a weekend-long binge, interested in a platformer or a twin-stick shooter, or playing on PC, Switch, Xbox, or PlayStation, our selection should have something worth your time.

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#co-op-gaming, #couch-co-op, #features, #gaming-culture, #nintendo-switch, #ps4, #staff, #valentines-day, #video-games, #xbox-one

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Apple TV+ acquires a “sci-fi courtroom drama” about a murderous robot doll

Astronauts stand in a row on the lunar surface.

Enlarge / A shot from For All Mankind‘s second season. (credit: Apple+)

More science fiction is headed to Apple TV+, according to a new video and report. Apple has published a “first look featurette” video and related augmented reality app for its alternate-history space-program drama For All Mankind‘s second season, and the report claims that a drama about a robot accused of murder will soon begin production.

The latter will be a feature film called Dolly and is based on a short story written by Elizabeth Bear. According to Deadline, Apple acquired the film “following a competitive bidding war” involving four bidders, including multiple studios and another streaming company.

The film is described as a science fiction take on a courtroom drama, with the premise that a robotic doll murders its owner but “shocks the world by claiming she is not guilty and asking for a lawyer.”

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#apple, #apple-tv, #dolly, #for-all-mankind, #foundation, #gaming-culture, #sci-fi, #science-fiction, #streaming, #tech

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Why GameStop couldn’t cash in on its briefly inflated stock frenzy

Hi, yeah, how much can I get by trading in this slighty used share of GameStop stock?

Enlarge / Hi, yeah, how much can I get by trading in this slighty used share of GameStop stock? (credit: Getty Images)

At the beginning of the year, the stock market as a whole valued video game retailer GameStop at roughly $1.15 billion. By the close of trading on January 27, at the height of the speculative mania surrounding the stock, that total value had surged to about $22.6 billion. Today, GameStop’s market cap has sunk back down to a more reasonable $3.34 billion.

You’d think GameStop would have tried to take advantage of this brief market mania, cashing in on its suddenly hot brand by trading inflated stock for real money that could help its struggling brick-and-mortar business. But a new Reuters report cites “three people familiar with the US video game retailer’s internal deliberations” in detailing the logistical and regulatory hurdles that prevented that from happening.

Insider red tape

The core of GameStop’s quick cash-in problem was the SEC’s insider trading rules, which define a specific “trading window” schedule outlining when company insiders can and can’t trade on quarterly earnings results that haven’t yet been made public.

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#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #stock, #stonks

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Disney fires Mandalorian’s Gina Carano over “abhorrent, unacceptable” posts

Disney fires Mandalorian’s Gina Carano over “abhorrent, unacceptable” posts

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Lucasfilm)

Gina Carano’s turbulent tenure as a member of the Star Wars acting universe has come to an abrupt end.

Lucasfilm issued a statement to the press on Wednesday, which Ars first found on io9, confirming that Carlano was out of not just The Mandalorian, on which she co-starred for two seasons, but all Star Wars properties. It read:

Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future. Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.

The phrasing implies that Carano’s relationship with Disney and Lucasfilm may have ended before her most recent high-profile post on social media: an Instagram “story” quoting an anti-mask podcast’s post that compared Nazi “rounding up” of Jews during the Holocaust to “hating someone for their political views.” The same post, from this Tuesday evening, implied that Jews were somehow more subject to violence by “neighbors” than by Nazis—without citing a nation, era, or other clarification about the point being made.

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#anti-semitism, #gaming-culture, #the-mandalorian

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HBO Max signs “adult” cartoon series based on Scooby-Doo’s Velma

This artist's approximation imagines Velma from the <em>Scooby-Doo</em> series getting chummy with the <em>Clone High</em> cast. We doubt that such a crossover will happen, but animation nerds can dream, right?

Enlarge / This artist’s approximation imagines Velma from the Scooby-Doo series getting chummy with the Clone High cast. We doubt that such a crossover will happen, but animation nerds can dream, right? (credit: WarnerMedia / Aurich Lawson)

One of HBO Max’s biggest differentiators in the video-streaming scramble has been its animation family, which includes a glut of established “mature” cartoons from families like Adult Swim and DC Universe. A Wednesday announcement sees WarnerMedia moving aggressively on that front with a whopping seven new series orders on top of existing series in development.

Today, the company’s Hanna-Barbera family announced one of its biggest nudge-nudge, wink-wink series ideas since off-kilter fare like Space Ghost: a series, simply named Velma, about the “origins” of Scooby-Doo mainstay Velma Dinkley.

Suggestive Scooby stuff, from Gunn to Max

WarnerMedia’s press release says the series’ first ordered season will offer “an original and humorous spin that unmasks the complex and colorful past of one of America’s most beloved mystery solvers,” then confirms Mindy Kaling (The Office) as both Velma’s voice and an executive producer of the show. The announcement doesn’t include information on other cast members or writers/directors, simply doubling down on a suggestive description: “an adult animated comedy series.”

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#animation, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #paramount-plus

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Netflix acquires the rights to all 22 Redwall books, plans film and series

An anthropomorphized mouse holds up a sword and a shield.

Enlarge / The book cover for the first book in the series, Redwall. (credit: Penguin Random House)

Netflix has acquired the rights to all 22 books in Brian Jacques’ fantasy series Redwall, marking the first time that rights to the entire series have been purchased by one film or television company. Netflix made a deal for the rights with book publisher Penguin Random House Children, according to Deadline.

This is a major franchise move even for Netflix, as the books are considered classics by many and have sold more than 30 million copies. The series follows the fantasy adventures of noble and heroic talking animals. Every book in the series was written by author Brian Jacques, who passed away in 2011 shortly before the publication of the 22nd book.

The streaming network plans to create both a feature film and an event TV series. The film will be based on the series’ first book, which is simply titled Redwall. The screenplay will be written by Patrick McHale, who is best known as the creator of Cartoon Network’s critically acclaimed animated miniseries Over the Garden Wall.

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#animation, #brian-jacques, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #penguin-random-house, #redwall, #streaming, #tv

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Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury review: Everything old is new again

If you were one of the few million people who stuck with Nintendo through the Wii U years, the Switch era has likely created a lot of feelings of deja vu for you. For every full-fledged sequel like Super Mario Odyssey or Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch, you’ve had to face at least one warmed-over Wii U port like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker, or Hyrule Warriors Deluxe (to name just a few).

While it’s nice that these underloved Wii U games are getting a new lease on life (and a new fully portable play option) on the much more popular Switch, the idea of paying full price for a light update to a game you bought less than a decade ago on the Wii U might feel a little grating.

For its latest Wii U rehash, Nintendo seems to have acknowledged this issue to some extent. The Switch port of the excellent Super Mario 3D World comes packaged with Bowser’s Fury, a brand-new bit of “open world” content that extends 3D World‘s gameplay ideas in some interesting new directions. The result is a package that should have any 3D platforming fan at least taking a second look, even if they already bought the game a few years ago.

A new kind of 3D Mario

If you missed out on Super Mario 3D World the first time around, you might have to adjust your expectations for a 3D Mario platform game a little bit. Much like the 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land before it, 3D World generally avoids the wide-open areas and level-specific goals of games like Super Mario 64.

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#bowsers-fury, #gaming-culture, #mario, #super-mario-3d-world

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We now have new evidence that Richard III murdered the princes in the tower

Vintage engraving (1876) depicting the murderers of the "Princes in the Tower": King Edward V and his younger brother Prince Richard, Duke of York. New evidence has emerged that Richard III did indeed order the murders.

Enlarge / Vintage engraving (1876) depicting the murderers of the “Princes in the Tower”: King Edward V and his younger brother Prince Richard, Duke of York. New evidence has emerged that Richard III did indeed order the murders. (credit: Getty Images)

England’s King Richard III is at the center of one of the most famous assassination legends in history, immortalized in one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. It’s quite the tale: a power-hungry duke seizes the throne when his brother unexpectedly dies, and he orders his young nephews (one the rightful heir) murdered in the Tower of London to cement his claim to the throne. But was he really a murderer? The debate over Richard III’s presumed guilt has continued for centuries. Now, a British historian has compiled additional evidence of that guilt, described in a recent paper published in the journal History.

The so-called “princes in the Tower” were the sons (aged 12 and 9) of King Edward IV, who died unexpectedly in April 1483. Edward’s elder son and heir (now technically King Edward V) and the younger sibling (Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York) were originally brought to the Tower of London in May by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, ostensibly to prepare for Edward’s formal coronation. But the coronation was postponed until June 25 before being postponed indefinitely. Gloucester assumed the throne instead as King Richard III, and he had Parliament officially declare young Edward and his brother illegitimate the following year.

Although no bodies were produced at the time, historians largely agree that the princes were likely murdered in late summer of 1483. Two small human skeletons were found at the Tower of London in 1674, but there is no conclusive evidence that these were the princes, despite a perfunctory examination in 1933 concluding that the remains were those of children roughly the same ages. Two more bodies that may have been the princes were found in 1789 at Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Forensic scientists have been unable to gain royal permission to conduct DNA and other forensic analysis on either set of remains in order to make a proper identification.

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#gaming-culture, #henry-tudor, #history, #richard-iii, #science

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Disney redundancy: Fox CGI-animation studio behind Ice Age, Rio to shut down

Two rows of posters for animated films.

Enlarge / By the end of April, the dedicated Blue Sky Studios team behind the above films will be shuttered by its current owners at Disney. (credit: Blue Sky Studios)

After acquiring 21st Century Fox in 2018, Disney moved forward with content plans that, in some ways, celebrated and married the combined corporate-entertainment universes. But film cancellations and corporate redundancies soon followed, and today’s announcement is a huge one for CGI animation. Blue Sky Studios, the makers of the Ice Age and Rio film series, is shutting down.

Citing “the current economic realities,” a Disney spokesperson confirmed to Deadline that Blue Sky will be fully shut down by this April, affecting all 450+ employees in the Greenwich, Connecticut, studio. But Disney will keep all the rights to Blue Sky’s series and characters, and according to the same Deadline report, an unnamed animation team inside the Disney corporate machine is moving forward with an Ice Age series exclusively for Disney+.

Bad Nimona news

For years, CG animation at Disney had a severe split in quality between its outside partnership with Pixar and the company’s in-house Disney Animation Studios. That changed with the megaton budget and years of stops-and-restarts in the making of 2010’s Tangled, a critical and commercial success that paved the way to more internal-production successes like Frozen, Moana, and Wreck-It Ralph. At the same time, Pixar became a wholly owned Disney property in 2006 and continued to thrive with its own universe of existing IP and new series.

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#blue-sky-studios, #disney, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #pixar

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Cyberpunk 2077 developer hit with ransomware attack

How would Johnny Silverhand deal with this ransomware threat?

Enlarge / How would Johnny Silverhand deal with this ransomware threat?

Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red announced that it has “become the victim of a targeted cyberattack” that allegedly exposed the source code for many of its games.

In a message the developer shared on Twitter Tuesday morning, the hackers allege that they stole the closely guarded source code for Cyberpunk 2077, Gwent, and The Witcher 3 (including an unreleased prototype of the last). Documents “relating to accounting, administration, legal, HR, investors relations and more” were also allegedly compromised.

While the hackers apparently used ransomware software to lock CDPR out of certain parts of its systems, the company says it should be able to restore access to the data through backups. The company also remained defiant in the face of a ransom demand of an unspecified amount, saying it wouldn’t negotiate, despite a threat to release the stolen data. “We will not give in to the demands nor negotiate with the actor, being aware that this may eventually lead to the release of the compromised data,” the company wrote. The demand came with a 48-hour deadline.

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#biz-it, #cd-projekt-red, #cyberpunk-2077, #gaming-culture, #ransomware

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A couple clings to shared past amid a memory-wiping pandemic in Little Fish

Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell star as a young couple struggling to stay together as a memory-wiping virus spreads unchecked in Little Fish.

A young couple fights to hold its relationship together in the midst of pandemic, where a memory loss virus is robbing everyone of their memories in Little Fish, a new science fiction romantic drama from IFC Films. Directed by Chad Hartigan, this thoughtful, genuinely moving film explores themes of memory, self, and the power of shared experiences to forge strong bonds between us, all through the lens of an otherwise average, ordinary Everycouple.

(Some spoilers below.)

The film is loosely based on a short story by Aja Gabel, about a young couple dealing with the man losing his memories in a fictional pandemic, although screenwriter Mattson Tomlin (Project Power) substantially rewrote and fleshed out this core idea. This was well before the current pandemic, but even in the Before Times of 2018, Hartigan was struck by the concept of the world metaphorically crumbling around two people who clung to optimism for the future—and each other. “We never could have imagined or predicted that this would be the case,” Hartigan told Ars. “It always felt to me like an emotional story with a science fiction backdrop.”

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#entertainment, #film, #gaming-culture, #ifc-films, #little-fish, #science-fiction

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Super Nintendo World apparently took scenery from a Mario fangame

A piece of scenery at Japan’s newly opened Super Nintendo World theme park area appears to draw direct inspiration from an original piece of art created for a fangame.

Twitter user meatball123 was among the first to notice the uncanny similarity after seeing a cactus decoration in the background of a video for the park’s Yoshi’s Adventure ride. The specific three-pronged design of the cactus in that video doesn’t look like anything seen in an official Mario game, but it does match almost precisely the background cacti found in World 2 of Newer Super Mario Bros. Wii, a fan-made mod released in 2013.

Meatball123 also notes that, as of last weekend, the three-pronged cactus sprite appeared prominently when a search for “New Super Mario Bros. Wii cactus” was performed on Google Images, which could explain how the mixup happened. Representatives for Nintendo and Universal Japan have yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica.

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#fangame, #gaming-culture, #nintendo, #super-nintendo-world

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Ex-Rare devs open up about the canceled Goldeneye 007 remake for Xbox 360

At Ars Technica, our love of classic shooter video games usually revolves around the PC, but it’s hard to talk about that golden age of shooters without talking about Goldeneye 007. Rare’s first shooter for the N64 was an astounding technical achievement in 1997, and many of its innovations still hold up nearly 25 years later… but that’s only part of its modern mystique.

Unlike many classic ’80s and ’90s games, Goldeneye 007 never got a formal re-release on newer game systems. But it nearly happened. I’ve spent years reporting on leaks about an Xbox 360 remaster, helmed primarily by original studio Rare, which was nearly completed and then canceled. Last week, those years of teases exploded when a near-final beta dated August 2007 leaked—playable from start to finish on Xbox 360 hardware and emulators.

In light of the latest leak, I spoke via email to two of the Goldeneye 007 remaster project’s eight original team members, artist Ross Bury and programmer Mark Edmonds, to fill in as many gaps as they could remember 14 years later. I tracked those names in part because they’re not credited in the leaked game’s normal credits sequence, but rather are visible when looking at any in-game computer terminals. When pressed about his involvement, Bury began his first email with two modest answers: “Not sure that there’s too much to tell,” and “I’m pretty sure I’m no longer under an NDA regarding it.”

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#gaming-culture, #goldeneye-007, #rare, #xbox-360

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Marvel drops action-packed two-minute Falcon and the Winter Soldier trailer

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprise their roles as Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes in Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, coming to Disney+ in March.

Marvel Studios did the Super Bowl right by releasing a lengthy two-minute trailer for its upcoming new series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprise their roles as Sam Wilson (the Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) for the Disney+ show, which is set after the events of Avengers: Endgame. The pair will “team up on a global adventure that tests their abilities—and their patience.”

(Some spoilers for prior MCU films below.)

You may recall that after the Avengers and their many allies finally defeated Thanos in Endgame, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) handed over his shield to Sam so he could take on the mantle. But will Sam accept it? That’s part of what The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will explore over the course of its six episodes, and showrunner Malcolm Spellman has said the tone will be similar to Captain America: Winter Soldier. Marvel is purportedly spending in the range of $25 million per episode to ensure a cinematic quality for the series.

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#disney-plus, #entertainment, #falcon-and-the-winter-soldier, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #marvel-cinematic-universe, #marvel-studios, #mcu-phase-four, #trailers

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YouTube’s lo-fi music streams are all about the euphoria of less

Brake lights blur in the city at night.

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Dion Lewis was trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. Last August, when a storm left his Chicago neighborhood without electricity for a week, he improvised. Lewis had recently created a YouTube page for tutorials about the various aspects of computer programming called Code Pioneers, and that first night, unable to record, he decided to gather his wife and daughter for some quality time. Together in their living room surrounded by flickering candles, the three of them sat listening to songs Lewis “previously downloaded to use as background music” in his video tutorials. They included tracks like RalphReal’s “Mix It Up” and “Wallflowers” by the Portland experimentalist musician Bad Snacks.

The next morning, moved by what he’d heard, Lewis grabbed his DJ controller, headphones, and used “the last amount of power” in his laptop to make “Late Night Coding in Chicago”—a 32-minute stream of soothing lo-fi hip-hop songs and, to date, one of the most-watched videos on his YouTube page.

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#gaming-culture, #hip-hop, #music, #streaming, #youtube

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Review: The Dig brings a famous archaeological find to vivid life

Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes star in the new Netflix film The Dig.

Just before the outbreak of World War II, a widow and a local archaeologist team up to excavate large burial mounds in Suffolk, England, and discover priceless treasure, in the new Netflix film, The Dig.  It’s based on the 2007 novel of the same name by John Preston, and brings to vivid life the famous 1939 excavation at Sutton Hoo. It’s a quiet, thoughtful film with gorgeous cinematography and fine performances from the cast, although ultimately it feels rather lacking in depth and emotional heft.

(Some spoilers below.)

Sutton Hoo is the site of two early medieval cemeteries, incorporating a group of 20 or so earthen mounds. In 1937, a British widow named Edith Pretty inherited the land from her late husband, and hired a local archaeologist named Basil Brown to excavate the mounds, paying him 30 shillings a week. She was particularly interested in Mound 1. But after conferring with colleagues at the Ipswich Museum, Brown opted to excavate three smaller mounds (designated 2, 3, and 4) first, over the summer of 1938.

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#archaeology, #entertainment, #film, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #science, #sutton-hoo, #the-dig

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Gaming sites are still letting streamers profit from hate

Gaming sites are still letting streamers profit from hate

Enlarge (credit: MrLonelyWalker | Getty Images)

In today’s attention economy, platforms are megaphones and audiences are income. Shut off the megaphone and the income goes away. Bad guy go bye-bye. Throughout the last year, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and beyond have reckoned with their social responsibility not to amplify and monetize hate in what has become known as “the great deplatforming.” But what about when the megaphone is off and the cash keeps flowing in?

A WIRED investigation has uncovered dozens of far-right and white supremacist figures who monetize or have monetized through financial services essential to Twitch and YouTube’s full-time gamers: Streamlabs and StreamElements. Booted off traditional streaming sites, these figures have fled to more underground, less-moderated streaming services like DLive, where integrations with Streamlabs and StreamElements let viewers send monetary donations alongside public messages to streamers. Unlike PayPal, which has been cutting off white supremacists since at least 2017, Streamlabs and StreamElements’ role in buoying extremists has flown under the radar.

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#dlive, #gaming-culture, #paypal, #racism, #streaming

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Super High-Fidelity Mario: The quest to find original gaming audio samples

One of many Super Mario World tracks that have now been remastered from their original, high-fidelity audio samples.

Classic-gaming archaeology doesn’t always revolve around digging up rare and unreleased games. Sometimes, it’s about taking well-known relics and reconstructing them from newly unearthed and higher-fidelity original component parts. As a result of this work, one of the biggest games of all time now sounds completely different.

Remastering the Super Mario World soundtrack in this way means diving deep into the world of compressed video game audio samples. These were most common in the late cartridge era; the samples were nestled between the literal bleeps and bloops of the earliest video game sound chips and the CD-quality audio of the optical disc. Games in this era would frequently chain together brief snippets of recorded audio and replay them over and over with different effects, as if they’d been loaded into an electronic keyboard.

The game cartridges couldn’t store much data, of course, so the original synthesizer samples usually took a heavy hit in fidelity during the transition to game soundtracks. “The composer [often felt] obligated to sacrifice sound quality to get their music running without any lag and to fit into the cartridge,” said Michael, a video game music source investigator from El Salvador (who didn’t share his last name). “Especially if all the audio work is made by the CPU (like on the Nintendo 64), this limitation can distort how the music sounds. In some ways, this isn’t the best take of the game’s music.”

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#audio, #game-history, #gaming-culture, #mario, #music, #n64, #snes

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