, | Features

[Editor's note: Every two weeks, we'll pick a classic game to play and discuss. Then the choice of the next game will be made by a randomly selected participant from the current discussion. It's like a book club, but with videogames. We'd love to have you join us. Register for the forums and hop into the discussion! This week's choice, by CraigM, is Wing Commander 3.]

I grew up a huge fan of science fiction, I became obsessed with Star Wars as soon as I discovered it. When my family finally got a PC my first game was a flight sim. And when Wing Commander 3 came out, here was a game combining sci-fi flight sims with Luke Skywalker! It was tailor-made for 12 year old me. Unfortunately at the time the only computer I had access to was an old Apple IIE, and most of my gaming was done on the Sega Genesis. By the time I had the ability to play the game, it had already faded from it’s glory days. It is one of the greatest omissions in my gaming history, and it thrills me to no end to see if this game really lives up to its reputation.

There are other reasons to pick Wing Commander 3 other than reputation. Space sims are quickly gaining traction. Look no further than Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen to see examples. The designer of Star Citizen is none other than Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame. So now is the perfect time to see why his name can garner $48 million in crowd funding. That kind of cash is evidence of fierce loyalty that only could come from some truly seminal games.

Wing Commander 3 is also notable for its story. I might seem odd for a flight sim of any stripe to be heralded for narrative, since they often rank with strategy games for their perfunctory nature, but it remains one of the frequently cited strengths of the series. Full motion video, with live big-name actors, underpin the storytelling. The Kilrathi have managed to gain enough notoriety that even my complete absence of any experience with the series does not prevent me from knowing who they are.

Wing Commander can be found at Good Old Games for $5.99.

, | News

Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is shutting down. According to the notice, the servers for the free-to-play MMO will be shut down and service will be discontinued on August 29th. For the last month of operation, players will get increased drop rates on in-game items and boosted virtue and reputation. The store will no longer sell in-game currency for real money.

This was a very difficult decision for us to make. We’ve seen the game through ups and downs, and hope that you’ve enjoyed playing it every bit as much as we had making it! Through it all, it’s been players like you who’ve made it all worthwhile.

Ultima Forever was launched in August of 2013 and was developed by Mythic Entertainment. Owner Electronic Arts announced the closure of Mythic on May 29th.

, | Game reviews

My truck is idling at a stoplight. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto V or Watch Dogs, so I can’t just nose my way between lanes and drive through the red light. In Euro Truck Simulator 2, obeying the rules is part of the gameplay. The fine I’d incur for running a red light isn’t worth the time I’d save. This game is an exercise in structure and restraint. I realize that’s not why a lot of people play games — they have enough structure and restraint in their actual lives — but not all games are power fantasies for your id. So here I am, waiting for the light to change and not minding one whit.

After the jump, Woody Allen would be jealous. Continue reading →

, | News

Path of Exile is getting user-customizable hideouts. The Forsaken Masters update will add NPC mentors that will give players quests, which when completed, can unlock the Masters’ special abilities, new skills, and reveal the locations of their hideouts. These sanctuaries will be given to players who can decorate them to their satisfaction. That bookcase goes there! This rug will tie the room together! The hardest part of Path of Exile after this patch will be finding just the right ottoman to complement the armchair.

Use your Hideout as a quiet place to craft after battle, or expand it and use it as a personalised Guild Hall with hundreds of decorations.

The Forsaken Masters update will launch on August 20th.

, | Games podcasts

Brandon Cackowski-Schnell and Tom Chick talk about (deep breath) the Destiny beta, Firefall, Euro Truck Simulator 2, Wolfenstein: New Order, Zen Pinball, Rogue Legacy, Muramasa Rebirth, the new Ascension add-on, the Guardians of the Galaxy iPad game, and Desert Fox.

, | News

How much does it cost to publish a game on Microsoft’s Xbox One console through the ID@Xbox program if you go as cheap as possible? Luckily for frugal game makers, Happion Laboratories, developer of Sixty Second Shooter Prime and Energy Hook, has posted a breakdown of the costs to bring a game to the Xbox One. Not counting the actual hours of his own work, indie developer Jamie Fristrom calculated the cost of the Xbox One port for Sixty Second Shooter Prime at around $5000. The largest expenses were for insurance and rating boards fees, both of which are required by Microsoft.

If you want to release in a given territory, you have to get your game rated by the official ratings boards of that territory. It’s sad but true, getting your game rated in some territories can be a lot more expensive than simply translating your game to that territory’s language! I spent about $700 on localization, all told, and spent nearly $2000 on getting my game rated by PEGI and USK. (I skipped Australia and New Zealand because they both wanted around $2K for their ratings boards…maybe I’ll launch in those territories later if the game seems to be selling particularly well.)

Fristrom noted that while the costs were much higher than publishing a game on the PC, it was worth it. He’s covered his costs and made a “living wage” as well. Sixty Second Shooter Prime is available on Xbox One. Sixty Second Shooter Deluxe is on PS Vita. There’s also a free version of the original Sixty Second Shooter available through Google Chrome.

, | News

Electronic Arts’ EA Access membership deal offers all-you-can-play gaming on selected titles, discounts on digital purchases, and the ability to play games a week before their official retail release. All this for an affordable $4.99 a month, or $29.99 a year! Unfortunately, only Xbox One gamers will get this opportunity. Why isn’t EA Access on Sony’s PlayStation 4? According to what Sony told Game Informer, it’s because they don’t believe the publisher-specific subscription plan offers value to their customers.

“PlayStation Plus memberships are up more than 200% since the launch of PlayStation 4, which shows that gamers are looking for memberships that offer a multitude of services, across various devices, for one low price. We don’t think asking our fans to pay an additional $5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer.”

It seems that for now, PlayStation gamers won’t be getting EA Access. Beta invites to EA Access are already being offered to selected Xbox One players.

, | News

When Zen Studios announced that all your tables on the Xbox 360 were going to languish in last-gen obscurity and you’d have to rebuy them for your Xbox One, it was like that moment when you see the ball teetering into the far lane leading to the drain. Play the sad trombone effect. And if you’re like me, you converted all your Zen Pinball habits to the Sony ecosystem while flipping Microsoft the bird. Maybe you even sulked about it online.

And guess what happened:

Microsoft and Zen Studios have taken your feedback to heart, and seeing that many of you were very upset with the news that table transfers between Xbox 360 and Xbox One would not be happening, we have some good news for you! We will be able to implement table transfers on Xbox One starting from Pinball FX2′s launch. Any available table on Xbox One that was previously purchased for Xbox 360 can be imported to the new version free of charge.

Well, there is one small price to pay. The launch of Pinball FX2 on the Xbox One will be delayed until next month.

, | News

Electronic Arts will be offering a membership that gives subscribers access to free games and exclusive deals. EA Access, through the Xbox One, will give subscribers the ability to play FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2, and Battlefield 4 for $4.99 a month or $29.99 per year. More games will be added to “The Vault” for subscribers to enjoy, likely when their full price sales dwindle enough to qualify. Microsoft’s Games for Gold and Sony’s PlayStation Plus programs smirk at the latecomer. If the prospect of subscribing to older games doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps EA can entice you with a whopping 10% discount for select games in the Xbox One marketplace? Even upcoming titles like Dragon Age: Inquisition and NHL15 are included! No? Okay, what if EA gives you five full days of early access to games before they’re released? Sort of like breaking the retail street date on an upcoming game, but the publisher nods approvingly rather getting your account banned.

What if you’re a PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Wii U owner? Sorry! No deal for you. EA Access will be made available soon to all Xbox One players.

, | Games

I gave your studio $20 to Kickstart this game and now you’re telling us that you’re making another game at the same time? And you need to Kickstart that one too? You suck! Stop working on other projects! You have an obligation to finish the game you started! Oh, and why are you selling the alpha on Steam early access? Those people shouldn’t get the same deal the Kickstarter pledges did! I’ll never trust Kickstarter, early access, or your company again! Please send me some free swag.

After the jump, what happens when regular Joes see how game companies actually work? Continue reading →

, | News

Microsoft has released a free beta of Catan Anytime which is an HTML5 multiplayer version of the popular board game Settlers of Catan. The Windows Blog explains that this web-optimized build of Catan was made in partnership with Mayfair Games and Bontom Games. The developers will be releasing the full ruleset, Development cards, Achievements, and Ports at GamesCon in August.

Catan Anytime is part of the Rethink Internet Explorer campaign that promotes Microsoft’s web browser. The beta for Catan Anytime is available now.

, | Movie podcasts

Dwayne Johnson attempts the Herculean task of starring in a Brett Ratner movie. At the 53-minute mark, we put ourselves behind the 8-ball and come up with our favorite pool table scenes in movies.

Next week: Guardians of the Galaxy

, | Movie reviews

Luc Besson loves stories about powerful women. A Luc Besson heroine starts deceptively vulnerable and becomes almost transcendently powerful. Le Femme Leeloo. Lucy is in that same tradition, with all the hallmarks of a Luc Besson movie on display. Flashy, fast, sexy, very international. But unlike Besson’s other movies, there’s a kind of maturity to Lucy. This is a Luc Besson movie made by someone who’s been contemplating his own mortality and has decided that fight choreography will only get you so far. This is a Luc Besson movie that wants to consider the questions you’d expect from Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. And, believe it or not, this is a Luc Besson movie that does exactly that in the context of his usual flashy, fast, sexy, very international action. Like Joe Wright’s Hanna, Lucy is a thriller that isn’t content just to thrill. It has something to say.

What it says is profoundly humanistic, down to a cellular level. When Morgan Freeman, once again playing the sum of all Freemans, is offered the power of all-seeing knowledge, he says to Lucy exactly what he said to Bruce Wayne when Bruce Wayne made the same offer. “Look,” Freeman says, his wise eyes twinkling with concern and benevolence, in that order, “humanity can’t handle knowledge and it will just lead to chaos.” Bruce Wayne agreed, so he told Morgan Freeman to just delete everything. But Lucy, who can see further, deeper, and wider than Bruce Wayne or Morgan Freeman, says what anyone with youth and a liberal arts education will also tell you. “No. Ignorance breed chaos. Not knowledge.” Neil Degrasse Tyson would be proud. I know I was, even if I’m more of a Bruce Wayne myself. But this is Luc Besson’s story. This is what he wants to say. This is where he’s ended up after contemplating his own mortality.

As an action movie, Lucy is a glorious videogame in god mode. Fans of Watch Dogs and Saints Row IV will thrill to Besson’s batshit crazy set pieces as he raises the stakes higher and higher, breaking rules and even subverting his own tropes. Besson loves nothing quite so much as squeezing a ton of heavily armed thugs through a narrow corridor, basically spraying them at the protagonist as if from a firehose. He can’t resist doing the same thing in Lucy, but then breaking his own rules. Lucy is a superhero movie without the burden of a license. The IP here is humanity, evolution, the rational miracle of life, all billion years of it. It is Ken Russell’s Altered States meets Joss Whedon’s Avengers.

Like Under the Skin and Her, two other mind-blowing movies anchored by arresting Scarlett Johansson performances, Lucy is smart and sexy science fiction about what it means to be human. Lucy begins in progress and utterly mundane, with Johansson as an overseas student having an argument with her boyfriend. Who are they? Where are they? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Why is the scene playfully intercut with that footage? What’s in the briefcase? What does Morgan Freeman’s character and carefully staged lecture have to do with any of this? It’s a puzzle that comes together neatly, and the final reveal — Lucy has the confidence to provide an Answer — makes this the most sophisticated and satisfying movie Besson has made. Does every filmmaker want to be Stanley Kubrick? If only every filmmaker was this capable of channeling Kubrick while still retaining his own identity.

, | Game reviews

Most driving games are about speed. The idea is that if you’re not going fast, you’re not having fun. Fair enough. That’s a pretty safe approach. So speed is the basic currency in a driving game.

But what Spintires presupposes is, what if it’s not? The foundation for Spintires, literally and figuratively, is mud. The developers at Oovee have built an offroad diving game around the physics of sucking squelching goddamnable tire-drinking mud. At first, I thought the name Spintires was dumb. I kept wanting to write it “Sprintires”, but that makes even less sense in the context of this game. In this game, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself on a patch of paved road. Spintires is about roads that sometimes aren’t even roads. Oh, wait, I’ve been driving along some sort of wash or gully and someplace where there aren’t any trees for whatever reason. Let’s see, on the map, it looks like this leads to, uh, someplace I haven’t explored, so I have no idea. Let’s see what’s up there.

After the jump, where we’re going, we don’t need roads. Continue reading →

, | News

In case you’re playing Wargame: Red Dragon as a slightly upgraded version of Wargame: AirLand Battle, developer Eugen wants to remind you that there are ships in there. So today’s free “Millionth Mile” update, which adds more than 60 new units for the Eastern bloc powers (sorry other side of the Iron Curtain!), also adds very special trucks that will be useful if your opponent is playing with naval units.

…The Millionth Mile also introduces a brand new kind of unit, in the form of an AShM (anti-ship missile!) truck carrier. These units, whose main function is to engage ships over long distances from the land, increase the tactical depth of the game while redefining Wargame’s naval warfare!

Frankly, I find playing on maps composed entirely of land redefines Wargame’s naval warfare just fine.

You can read my anti-ship review here.