Best thing you’ll see all week: Shimmer Lake

, | Movie reviews

You know that trick where you ask someone to spell “most”, then you ask them to spell “boast”, then you ask them what they put in a toaster, and then they say “toast”? Which is wrong because — gotcha! — you put “bread” in a toaster. It’s a dumb mental trick that plays with how your brain anticipates information. It sees certain things and then pre-loads itself based on your ideas of structure and patterns. It gets ahead of itself because it has spent your life accumulating expectations. Shimmer Lake is an intricate exercise in structure and expectations. It’s also one of the tidiest and most fiendishly clever crime thrillers since Fargo. Continue reading →

How about that giant snake in Assassin’s Creed Origins?

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Thanks to the E3 blowout of gameplay, we know that Bayek, the hero of Assassin’s Creed Origins, can climb just about anywhere thanks to the game’s new animation system, and that his combat maneuvers aren’t locked into rigid sequences because the producers have moved to a hitbox-based engagement system. Bayek’s unlimited inventory allows him to hoover up all the loot in Egypt, and his gear quality and level will determine how he fares against enemies. He has an eagle friend that helps him spot bad guys. There’s a giant snake. Bayek can drive chariots, ride camels and horses, as well as pilot boats.

Hold up a second. What’s that about a giant snake? As much as the Assassin’s Creed games have stretched credulity, the lore has always been grounded in a semblance of reality. Even when you were trading blows with a superpowered pope or listening to time-traveling ghosts from a progenitor race, there was a strict line between the science fiction elements and the historical tourism. This serpent monster would seem to cross that line. Ashraf Ismail, lead on Assassin’s Creed Origins, spoke to Eurogamer and pointedly did not explain the giant snake in the room.

What I will say about that is, because I know there are fans asking if we are going fantasy, is that we wanted to play with the mysticisms, the religion, the animal-headed gods… This was one credible, authentic way of imagining, from a mainstream perspective, what you might expect about Ancient Egypt.

Taking a cue from Ubisoft’s Far Cry games, it might be a dream sequence or a drug-induced vision. Perhaps it’s an illusory false god created by a power-mad priest? Whatever explanation accounts for the giant snake, we won’t know until October 27th when the game launches.

Best short thing you’ll see all week: Curve

, | Movie reviews

In the movie Curve, Dancing with the Stars dancer Julianne Hough gets trapped in a car wreck while a psycho killer stalks her. Her leg is stuck, so she isn’t going anywhere. This makes things pretty easy for the psycho killer, but there’s still about an hour of movie left, so a bunch of stupid stuff happens. The Curve I’m talking about is not that one.

This Curve is a short film by Tim Egan, an Australian cinematographer whose short didn’t quite make the cut in ABCs of Death 2, so it was chucked into a B-side release called ABCs of Death 2.5. Having already seen 52 ABCs of death, of which maybe 10 aren’t terrible and 3 or 4 of those are actually good, I didn’t have it in me to watch another 26. I might have to rethink my decision after watching Egan’s latest short film, Curve.

Curve is a horror movie about friction. Literal friction. The principle of physics governing the movement of two surfaces in contact with each other. But being a thoughtful horror short, it’s not really about what it’s about. I’d say it’s a metaphor for the human condition, but of course I would, because I’ve taken a few too many undergraduate philosophy classes. Some habits are hard to shake. Still, I can’t help but think that Curve is to short films what No Exit is to the theater. But unlike a production of No Exit — those characters are so annoying — Curve is mesmerizing, memorable, and ultimately slick. And it only takes about ten minutes of your time.

You can watch Curve in its entirety right here on Vimeo.

The necromancers are rising in Diablo III

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The Rise of the Necromancer pack is coming for Diablo III in just a few days. The $14.99 DLC adds the necromancer character class, two more character slots, and some cosmetic bits for players to fawn over. The necromancer is built around generating and directing mobs of undead minions. Also, they make corpses explode. The pack will arrive alongside the free 2.6.0 update which features Challenge Rifts, a weekly community throw-down based on selected character builds.

The Rise of the Necromancer will be available for PC, PlayStation 45, and Xbox One on June 27th. You must have either Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, or the Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition to add the necromancer pack to your game. Alternately, a Diablo III: Eternal Collection bundle with all Diablo III expansions and DLC will be available as well.

If we could only whistle to find Joy-Cons in Nintendo Switch’s latest update

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Have you lost a Joy-Con to the inky depths of the couch cushions? Left one in the bathroom, perched on the magazine stand? Maybe you just want to slip one into a friend’s backpack and remotely cause it to buzz like an errant sex toy? The latest system update for the Nintendo Switch has something to help you find misplaced controllers. Buried in the patch notes is this cool feature: “Find paired controllers within communication range by activating the vibration feature.” From the home menu, go to Controllers then select Find Controllers. As long as you have the Joy-Con’s vibrate setting on and it has sufficient battery power, the little guy will fire right up. Sounds like it’s time to start hiding Joy-Cons around the house!

The Wire, season 1, episode 9: where does it all go?

, | TV reviews

I don’t know how much drug dealers make, but I wouldn’t have guessed a million dollars a month. It’s certainly not the kind of number I imagined while watching Barksdale and Stringer Bell closed up in the office above the strip club. A million dollars a month seems like Scarface money. But this is inner city Baltimore.

As Freamon unfolds the extent of Barksdale’s operations, Daniels asks something else that didn’t occur to me.

“So where’s it all go?”

Freamon is nonplussed. Barksdale doesn’t have fancy houses, cars, or jewelry. He owns business fronts and property. And he makes political contributions. Substantial political contributions. Legal political contributions. Freamon also mentions the senator’s limo driver caught with a bag of cash. The implication is that there are also less than legal political contributions.

As Freamon explains this, the camera pushes in on Daniels, lost in thought. And then a shadow passes across his face. Not a figurative shadow. A literal shadow. Continue reading →

Pokemon Go is all set to make a big comeback with your friends

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The last time you walked around in a park to capture Pokemon on your phone was probably a long time ago. If you’re like most of the estimated 28 million people that started playing Pokemon Go at launch in July, you stopped playing sometime in November or December of last year. You got busy during the holiday season and the novelty factor of finger-swiping pokeballs at bouncing Pidgeys wore off at that point. Niantic has periodically held special themed events like the Easter “Eggstravaganza” that increased the drop rate for eggs, but the trickle of updates hasn’t really offered anything to entice anyone but hardcore current players.

Pokemon Go’s upcoming summer update is going to add true cooperative play. Raid Battles are time-limited boss battles that can pop up at gyms. When one appears, up to a dozen players can cooperatively attack the monster to take it down. If they succeed, everyone in the group gets a chance to capture that monster along with being rewarded with some high-level loot. Participating in these cooperative events will require Raid Passes, which everyone can get once per day from gyms. Players will even be allowed to generate private lobby codes so they can fight with their buddies instead of random folks. Niantic says the raids are designed to bring back that feeling of discovery and cooperation that everyone had in the first weeks of the game.

Although there’s no set date for the public release of the update, high-level community members are testing it already.

For such a little game, One Deck Dungeon is a real handful

, | Game reviews

Okay, a skeleton requires a magic 2 and a magic 4 to get past its armor, as well as the inherent strength 10 for being on the third level of the dungeon. Once I’ve covered those boxes with dice, then I need two strength 3s, one strength 5, one strength 6, one agility 5, and one magic 5. In other words, once you’ve magically blasted away a skeleton’s defenses, you mostly punch it really hard. Its only special ability is that it runs down the timer if I don’t fully defeat it. For some reason, this represents a skeleton being “Undying”. That’s what the card says. Just go with it.

So let’s get down to the anatomy of a skeleton murder. Continue reading →

You can watch Neill Blomkamp’s new work for free, but it’s in Steam early access

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Neill Blomkamp’s new short film is Rakka. You can watch it on YouTube, or on Steam for free right now. On Steam, you may notice a curious offer for optional DLC from Oats Studio. The Volume 1 Assets pack includes a 5.1 audio sound mix, a script, 3D models, and concept art for the film. The studio plans to release dallies, sound files, and visual effects documentation to purchasers at a later date.

“I just wonder if there’s a different way to have a one-on-one relationship with the audience.”

Blomkamp, the director of District 9, Chappie, and Elysium, started Oats Studio to focus on short films for himself and other filmmakers that wouldn’t get financed through the studio system. He plans to pay for it through donations and Steam DLC. His scheme sounds a lot like early access for games, in fact. Release an initial “volume” of a movie, get feedback from customers, then possibly adjust and continue. Additionally, Blomkamp expects buyers of the assets to use them for their own projects tied into the film. A bit like allowing users to create workshop mods for games, although there’s no word on if those audience collaborators will get a cut of Oats Studio’s revenue.

Just when you thought it was safe to be just an image, Xbox Avatars are coming back

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Microsoft announced a revamped Xbox Avatar program yesterday at E3 2017. The new Xbox Avatars have been redesigned with diversity and inclusiveness in mind, so for example, avatar clothing and accessories are no longer locked into gender categories. Prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs are options as well as a pregnancy “baby bump” and various other physical traits. According to the producers, the redesign is being done in Unity.

Xbox Avatars were originally launched in 2008 on the Xbox 360, but the characters dropped in popularity when the Xbox One launched which (as of now) does not feature them in any prominence. The new Avatars will launch this autumn on Windows 10, then later on Xbox One consoles, presumably with a user interface update that will give them more visibility.

Insurgency: Sandstorm will deliver the hokum Insurgency was missing

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That’s the trailer for Insurgency: Sandstorm, the sequel to Insurgency from New World Interactive. This time around, the game will have a campaign story, playable in single or cooperative modes. According to the developers, it’s a “deeply personal” tale of an “an unexpected journey” across a “war-torn landscape.”

Their objectives have aligned, and their vision of the war blurred as it touches each of them in different but converging ways.

Insurgency: Sandstorm will also have vehicles, character customization, and unlockable cosmetic items. It is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

The Wire, season 1, episode 8: juris ex machina

, | TV reviews

The Wire is about what it’s about largely because of one character. Without this character, McNulty would be just another homicide detective, Avon Barksdale would be peddling drugs unsurveilled, Omar would rampage unchecked, Bub’s hat collection would be minus one bright red hat, and residents of the projects would have easier access to a payphone. Furthermore, without this character, there are now two points when the investigation would have come to a halt.

In other words, The Wire would have been a much shorter series. Continue reading →

Sony says they aren’t doing cross-network play because please think of the children

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One of the big mysteries for Sony PlayStation gamers is the platform’s lack of cross-network play with Xbox. When Microsoft announced the cross-network play initiative earlier in the year, Sony only confirmed that they already had that ability since Final Fantasy 11 on the PlayStation 2 and PC. A cryptic but possibly hopeful answer to Microsoft’s invitation. Those hopes were dashed when Sony confirmed at E3 that Rocket League and Minecraft on PlayStation 4 would not be participating in the effort despite Nintendo pledging to make their versions of the games cross-network compatible. Eurogamer sat down with Sony PlayStation’s global sales and marketing head Jim Ryan and put the question directly to him.

We’ve got to be mindful of our responsibility to our install base. Minecraft – the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it’s all ages but it’s also very young. We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe. Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully.

When pressed for clarification since Nintendo, a company famously protective of their young audience, is willing to cooperate, Ryan offered, “Everybody has to take their own decisions.”