You’ll need a Microsoft account to play Minecraft’s Java version next year

, | News

Mojang and Microsoft have announced that all versions of Minecraft will require a Microsoft account login by early next year. That will include the popular “Java Edition” preferred by the PC modding community. Mojang says the benefits of two-factor authentication and increased parental controls outweigh any inconvenience.

Now just to be clear, migrating from Mojang to Microsoft accounts is mandatory. If you don’t make the move, in several months you won’t be able to log in anymore – which means you won’t be able to play either.

New players of Mincraft’s Java version will need to create a Microsoft account login starting late this year. Current players will be migrated to the new system in batches in the first half of 2021.

Worst thing you’ll see during Trump’s term: Unhinged

, | Movie reviews

I have a soft spot for fat Russell Crowe.  The younger slimmer Russell Crowe was a total badass, but now that he’s older, bigger, and more sedate, he’s sporting an avuncular gruffness.  Instead of trying to impress everyone with how tough he is, he resorts to the burnished charm of a guy who used to be tough.  As Dr. Jekyll in Universal’s ill-fated Monsterverse, or the token white guy in Man with the Iron Fists, or the crazy uncle in The True Story of the Ned Kelly Gang, his grizzled teddy bear quality has served him well. Watch him considering himself on Google, and you’ll see that Shane Black pegged him perfectly as a soft-boiled detective in The Nice Guys.

But Unhinged, an awkward and uncomfortably mean-spirited thriller, wants to pretend it has cast a Romper Stomper as its villain.  It wants a scary and tough Russell Crowe, one so badass that he can rampage across a city murdering and raging because a lady honked her horn at him.  But what it gets is a fat, sweaty, wild-eyed Trump voter whose unhinged pyscho schtick is as unconvincing and inconsistent as his Southern accent.  He’s less Max Cady and more John Goodman shouting about what you get when you fuck a stranger in the ass.  Same performance, totally different tones.

In addition to its casting misstep, Unhinged has boatloads of dumb throughout.  The Ford logo on the front of Russell Crowe’s truck conspicuously hidden by a grill because Ford Motor Company probably doesn’t want their product associated with psychos.  Random car wrecks as if the production had to spend its car wreck budget or lose it.  A kid’s Fortnite strategy invoked as the way to defeat an attacking psycho.  An out-of-nowhere comedic one-liner when the bad guy is ultimately defeated.  The final lesson learned after all the murder and mayhem being “don’t honk your horn or it might make someone mad”.  Then, finally, a breathy ladysong cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper over the end credits. Why Don’t Fear the Reaper?  Who knows.

It’s all so tasteless and exploitative.  “He could happen to you,” the tagline pleads, imploring you to tap into your fear that some psycho could flip out at any moment and make your life a living hell of inept cops, overacting, and plot contrivances.  Urban thrillers are increasingly implausible in this era of cell phones.  Poor movies like Unhinged have to struggle comedically with the question “why don’t you just call 911?”  Meanwhile, it careens wildly into horror movie territory, playing crassly on the trope of the vulnerable young woman stalked by a psycho.  For a movie that plays more artfully with that trope, with fascinating performances by the victim and stalker, check out Alone, directed by John Hyams.  Alone knows that actors can pick up where plot contrivances leave off.  Unhinged just leaves us all dangling. 

I don’t do vinyl, but if I did, it would be the Ape Out soundtrack

, | Games

I’m not hip/pretentious enough to own a record player, and even if I were, I would be too lazy to actually use it. Who has time to slide something out of a cover, put it on a turntable, and carefully swing a needle arm onto the rim?

I would make an exception, however, for the Ape Out soundtrack, available from iam8bit, a hip/pretentious online videogame paraphernalia outlet. They call it “one of the coolest pieces of wax you’ll treat your turntable to”. That must be how people who own turntables talk. When you play Ape Out, dynamically generated jazz accompanies your violent rampage. It’s a soothing contrapuntal to the screams as you escape from the ape holding facility and violently slaughter your captors. To record a soundtrack, they had the developer play through the game to create a kind of definitive dynamically generated soundtrack. Ape Out on vinyl is available for pre-order now to ship later this year.

Pinball FX3 is on the verge of its 100th table

, | News

On October 20, Pinball FX3 will get the Williams Pinball: Volume 6 DLC, which adds three new tables.  This will bring the total available tables to 99.  At which point, Zen Studios can’t very well stop, because what sort of failed pinball collection gets this close to a hundred tables without reaching the milestone of 100 tables?  I mean, think about it.  100 tables.  That’s crazy.  If you were to take 100 pinball tables and lay them out end to end, they would circle the globe four times.  If you spaced them 1000 miles apart.  That’s crazy!

So what’s next after Williams Volume 6?  What table is going to tip Pinball FX3 over the 100-table threshold?  Technically, this latest Williams set will include their 100th table. At some point, a soccer table and a skateboarding table were mysteriously disappeared. I think there was even a ninja table, and of course that one would have mysteriously disappeared. But in terms of what’s available, Williams Volume 6 will bring them to 99, and whatever’s announced next will be the 100-table milestone.

Three years ago, I gave Zen Studios some ideas.  I hope they were listening.  Alternatively, I don’t see how anyone can have the Williams license long enough to implement 21 tables, and not a one of them is Pinbot or Bride of Pinbot.

The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game goes offline in a good way

, | News

When Fantasy Flight Interactive shut down in January 2020, many people thought that the fledgling studio’s closure marked the end of The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game as well. After all, a games-as-a-service card game needs constant support, and if the studio that made it went under, filling in would be a tall order for a title that never found profitability. Publisher Asmodee Digital put Antihero Games onto the game, and they’re just releasing the first major content update for it. The patch features a much-wanted offline mode that pulls the title off its dependency on home servers. It also includes a user interface overhaul and mid-mission saves. Not bad for a game that seemed fated to die in January.

The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game will also be getting a new free adventure pack, “The Fords of Isen,” sometime next year.

I want to tell you why Hades is so good

, | Features

Bruce Geryk doesn’t want to tell you why Hades is so good.  And he’s got the right idea, because discovery is a lot of the joy in Supergiant’s triumphant return to form (everything that made Bastion, their first game, a work of genius is represented here).  If Bruce were to detail too many specifics, he would deprive you of all the “ah-ha, that’s how that works!” or “ooh, that’s a cool way to do that!” or “hey, look what I just unlocked!” moments.  These progressive delights are a real accomplishment in a genre as crowded and familiar as action-RPGs and rogue-likes.

But unlike Bruce Geryk, I’m going to tell you what makes Hades so good.  I’m going to narrow it down to the one thing that elevates this otherwise very good action RPG rogue-like, the one thing that other designers would do well to learn, the one thing that still eludes so many developers of so many different types of games, the one thing that boosts this from a game I really like to a game I love.  That one thing is…

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It’s been a decade, StarCraft II. Time to rest.

, | News

Blizzard has announced that the studio is winding down StarCraft II’s active development. The game will continue to get technical support and will cycle through events, but new content updates and DLC creation will cease. According to Blizzard’s Rob Bridenbecker, they will also continue to support the esports community through their official partnerships with ESL Gaming and GSL.

We know some of our players have been looking forward to some of the things we’re moving away from, but the good news is this change will free us up to think about what’s next, not just with regard to StarCraft II, but for the StarCraft universe as a whole.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, the first of three main campaign episodes for the game, launched in July of 2010. That campaign went free-to-play in November 2017.

I don’t want to tell you why Hades is so good

, | Game reviews

[Editor’s note: Among the many things that I found deeply confusing in the 70s was the commercial for Life cereal. Two boys are given a bowl of Life cereal and told it’s healthy. Of course, they want no part of it. They’d rather have Sugar Pops or Froot Loops. But then one of the boys gets the bright idea to give the cereal to Mikey, because “he hates everything”. The other boy enthusiastically agrees.

I do not understand their reasoning. Why would they give it to Mikey if he’s just going to hate it? What do they hope to accomplish? I know what the commercial is trying to accomplish. It’s trying to sell viewers on the idea that Life cereal is so good that even kids who hate everything will like it. But I don’t understand the character motivation of the two boys. The fundamental premise of the commercial, the inciting event for the dramatic reveal, is flawed. Nonsensical, in fact.

I bring this up because it explains why I told Bruce Geryk that Hades was “not for him”. It’s not because Hades isn’t good. It is. It’s excellent. But I told Bruce Geryk that Hades wasn’t for him because I’m not someone who would foist off a bowl of Life cereal on some kid who hates all cereal. I would no more tell Bruce Geryk to play Hades than I would give Mikey a bowl of Sugar Pops or Froot Loops, much less Life.

But Bruce Geryk, ever the surly contrarian, ignored my comment about Hades being “not for him”. What’s more, he didn’t just play it; he played it a lot. He emailed me about it a lot.  He even wanted to review it, which accounts for what you’re about to read.  So while I’m still deeply confused about the choice the boys make in the Life cereal commercial, I can at last understand their surprise and delight by the end of the commercial: “He likes it!  Hey, Bruce!”]

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Age of Wonders: Planetfall finally launches into space on November 10

, | News

No one who’s actually spent time with Age of Wonders: Planetfall would accuse it of being a sci-fi skin draped over an Age of Wonders fantasy skeleton. There are just too many differences since Age of Wonders was about hobbits and elves and fireball spells. But it is one of those space-faring sci-fi games that has to conveniently omit the actual space-faring. Blame the success of Civilization for codifying how 4Xs work. One planet at a time, please. This isn’t Masters of Orion!

But the idea of amassing a galactic empire composed of multiple planets is finally coming to Planetfall with the Star Kings DLC on November 10th. Accompanying the DLC will be a free update that includes something called the “galactic empire system”. You won’t actually play multiple planets in one game; instead, you’ll play multiple planets in all your games. Paradox describes the galactic empire system as a “meta-layer where each planet you complete gets added to your own Galactic Empire”. According to the initial developer diary:

The planets you conquer in Galactic Empire Mode have special traits, such as having the oceans replaced with impassable void, or being covered in nuclear fallout. These traits are paired with extra secondary objectives for you to clear in order to earn more XP for your empire. Some secondary objectives even grant you the victory upon completion, allowing you to claim planets for your Galactic Empire faster than regular planetary domination! With nearly 60 traits in the update and up to 4 traits per planet, each planet you conquer feels like a new and unique challenge!

As your empire accumulates planets, each one gives you special bonuses you can carry forward to conquer the next planet. And with the experience point system, it sounds like Planetfall is getting a new risk/reward structure to encourage playing harder set ups on different kinds of planets.

The other Cyberpunk game is launching in November too

, | News

Cyberpunk RED, the pen & paper sequel to Cyberpunk 2020, should hit bookshelves on November 19th. Publisher R. Talsorian Games announced the release date at the New York City Comic Con this past weekend. If you can’t wait, or just don’t care about the analog experience of gaming with a physical book, the digital version will launch a few days earlier. If you’re even more impatient, you can check out the Cyberpunk RED Jumpstart Kit that’s already been available for over a year.

If you’re confused about this game coming out when Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Projekt RED will land on computers and consoles at the same time, you should know that they are connected. Cyberpunk RED’s lore begins just before the events depicted in the upcoming videogame. While you can play either without the other, those that do take part in both experiences will likely have a better understanding of Night City and how it all works. Those folks will also make creator and futurist Mike Pondsmith really happy.

They drew first blood in Mortal Kombat

, | News

That’s John Rambo in Mortal Kombat 11. Sylvester Stallone even supplies the voice work, according to studio head Ed Boon. At this point, why not? The game already has The Joker, Robocop, Spawn, and Terminator, so why wouldn’t Rambo tie on his headband and join the fray? Thanks to time travel and alternate universe portals in the lore, you can add anyone to the roster and it fits. I remember a time when Mortal Kombat only had a couple of realms and timelines, and now it’s some unfathomable mess of kids fighting their own parents and future selves while dealing with comic characters.

John Rambo is part of Mortal Kombat 11’s Kombat Pack 2 which will also include fan-favorites Rain and Mileena. The DLC launches on November 17th.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a real pushover in early access

, | Games

That’s a shot of my new favorite gaming activity. I’m shoving someone into a puddle of blood, hopefully to make them slip and fall. I’m being a jerk in a single player game. Baldur’s Gate 3, from Larian Studios, is in early access so I can’t say whether or not this will get tweaked or excised right out of the final game, but for now it’s a pusher’s delight.

The game is based on the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules and shoving is a thing in there. It’s not easy to abuse when you have a human dungeon master and players ready to side-eye you for being a schmuck, but the computer has no such issues. Shove away! You can elbow people into lava. You can push them off cliffs. You can bump them into your teammates line of fire. I haven’t trolled this many in-game characters since I went around Skyrim putting buckets on people’s heads.

An open letter to whoever found my Godhood notes

, | Game reviews

Dear sir or madam,

I am writing to you concerning the legal pad you found somewhere in the vicinity of Pasadena, California, on or about the date of September 12th, 2020.  The pad contains several pages of notes in cramped and somewhat messy writing.  Surely you can appreciate the time that was spent writing them.  Surely you can tell that the pencil was kept sharp.  Surely you noticed that entire sections were erased and rewritten for better formatting.  Surely it’s obvious there is some esoteric and deeply detailed subject at hand.

You might have inferred from what is written that these are the notes for a sermon, or perhaps someone’s theology homework.  But then you get to the references to nudism, cat worship, lust priests, and virgin sacrifice.  Perhaps you wondered if this might be some strange cult manifesto.  Maybe you have stumbled across the plans for a doomsday.  Maybe you should turn it over to the police.  

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Minecraft’s Steve is coming to Smash Bros. Ultimate

, | News

That’s blocky default Steve from Minecraft in Nintendo’s Smash Bros. Ultimate. Game director Masahiro Sakurai announced Steve’s addition to the game, along with Alex, zombie, and the enderman. Spooky! All the new Minecraft characters will have special moves like using a pickaxe or stacking blocks to create barriers and to reach higher areas of the game. According to Nintendo, all of the game’s existing levels had to be adjusted to accommodate the new Minecraft moves.

The Minecraft additions are part of Smash Bros. Ultimate’s second $30 fighter pass bundle.

FarmVille buys the farm

, | News

FarmVille, one of the first games to hit it big on Facebook, is done. Zynga posted the bad news to its fans and informed them that although the game will remain playable until the end of the year, no in-app purchases will be allowed past November 17th. It marks an 11-year run for the game, a lifetime for social media web games, but with Adobe ceasing support for Flash, the time had come to sunset the title.

“We are also working on fun in-game activities to be announced soon that are designed to make your remaining time with FarmVille even more enjoyable.”

Farmville 2: Tropic Escape and Farmville 2: Country Escape are still available, and there’s a third installment on the way if you feel the urge to give Zynga more money.