Four Things You Should Know

InXile Entertainment’s The Bard’s Tale IV wears its heart on its sleeve: Starting a new game throws you into a full-motion video cutscene of four actual human people – two of them equipped with obviously fake elf ears – sitting in front of what looks like the interior of a hand-painted inn. Three of the actors listen intently as the fourth plays a small harp, introducing them to the story of the game you’re about to play. The whole thing is drenched in a warm sepia tone, and at the cutscene’s close, the actors tense up as if they’re turning back into a still image. It’s weird and awkward, but charming.

Given the series’ old-school roots, it makes sense that The Bard’s Tale IV feels deeply nostalgic. It reminds me of the old computer games I used to play on the chunky Windows PC in my family’s basement work room. Its presentation may be sub-par, but below the surface lies an interesting battle system and intriguing world.

Here are four things I learned from playing the game’s first two and a half hours.

1. The World Is Interesting, Even If You’re New To The Series

Before you reach the main menu (and before the glorious FMV “elves”), a cutscene provides you with a primer on The Bard’s Tale’s world: Some gigantic plant-Cthulu gods called the Famhair turned apes into humans, who went to war with the elves and dwarves. The plant-Cthulus were eventually defeated and sealed away by a song, sung by a human woman cursed to sing it for eternity.

I’m not sure how the humans continued to exist peacefully with the rest of the races despite being constructed by evil gods, but hopefully that gets explained in the lore somewhere else in the game. As someone who’s never played a Bard’s Tale game before, I appreciated how the game opened with a story that established some interesting tension for the world and introduced the power of song. It made me hope I was about to participate in something similarly epic.

Once you’re in-game, the story you’re greeted with is different. A group of religious zealots called the Fatherites has been executing non-humans and magic users, which puts the multicultural, magic-using adventurers guild you’re a part of on the chopping block. The guild is attacked, and you’re forced to flee underground to the ruins of the old guild.

You soon begin to find out that a mysterious group has been sending agents disguised as members of the non-human races to harass humans in order to incite more persecution from the Fatherites. The Bard’s Tale IV left me legitimately interested to find out more about how the in-game story and the opening cutscene are connected.

2. There’s A Potentially Deep Combat System

The Bard’s Tale IV’s combat takes place in on a four-by-four grid. Your party has access to the eight spaces directly in front of you, and your enemies occupy the eight opposing spaces. Your positioning determines whether or not you can reach enemies with your attacks, and whether the enemies can reach you. There are directional attacks that do damage to all enemies within a certain column, as well as attacks that push or pull enemies within their grid. This means you can set up interesting combos like throwing caltrops onto the field in front of enemies with your rogue, then pulling them closer with your fighter’s taunt, ensuring that they take damage as they move over the spikes.

Positioning your party also affects the outcome of the battle. It’s probably a bad idea to put your rogue and your magic-user in front, so you have the ability to move your fighter or your bard to the front lines between battles. Even the best-laid plans can go awry, though. If your enemies get the drop on you, your party’s positioning will flip, putting your squishiest members in harm’s way. 

3. There Are Some Cool Exploration Elements

I had fun with the game’s systems. As you gain party members, you gain access to Songs of Exploration, spells that can be used to open secret doors and solve puzzles. In the opening hours, it was obvious which song I was supposed to use. For example, an ability called “Hidey-Bide” reveals hidden item caches, and “Jarnel’s Eyes” reveals hidden corruption in the environment, such as shadowy figures disguised as villagers, as well as a large area of the map. These abilities made me feel a little more connected to the fantasy of being a bard.

Locked doors around the world sometimes require short puzzles where you move gears around to create a working mechanism. These puzzles are a simple addition that could usually be completed by just moving the gears back and forth until I found the solution, but they were more interesting than traditional “find the key” doors (though I found some of those, too).

4. The Presentation Is … Mixed

The Bard’s Tale IV’s voice acting isn’t half bad, but everything else is sub-par. There are several types of cutscenes: the hand-drawn/painted cinematic that introduced the world’s lore, the FMV intro, and in-game animated scenes where characters walk around and talk to each other.

Most bizarrely, the game’s major scenes are constructed with flat, blurry images of the character models, cut out and plastered in front of pre-rendered backgrounds. These images don’t move (no lip-synching) apart from being warped and stretched slowly to create the illusion of life. If you need help picturing this, imagine the Hearthstone cinematic trailers, but made with flattened 3D assets … and also bad.

The game’s in-game visuals aren’t the best, either. Lighting is okay, textures are muddy, and character models are chunky and lack variety.

It also wasn’t as funny as I expected given the series’ reputation as one that attempts to make players laugh with all kinds of drunken debauchery. There were a couple eye-roll inducing jokes, like a pocket-picking skill for the rogue called “cavity search,” but I generally didn’t hear or read much that seemed like it was trying to make me laugh. Oh, except for when your enemies turn around and wave their asses at you. That happens sometimes. Yeah…

 

The Bard’s Tale IV’s opening hours felt a little rough around the edges, but there were enough interesting ideas to leave me curious about the final game. We’ll see if InXile Entertainment will take full advantage of The Bard’s Tale IV’s potential when the game releases on PC on September 18.

One thing’s for sure: I’m looking forward to more of the fake-elf-eared guy. Let’s get more campy FMV in video games, please.

In the summer, we do things that cool us off. That’s just conventional wisdom. We jump in lakes and lay in front of fans and eat gazpacho. Suggest hot chocolate in July and people scoff. But what if we’ve been going about it all wrong? What if the solution is leaning in to the heat, diving into even hotter activities to show the summer we’re not scared? What if doubling down on heat is the ultimate life hack?

Welcome to hell – at least, the video game version. Games are all about escaping to impossible places, like the beautiful mountains of Skyrim, or the creepy caves of Brinstar, or in a surprising amount of cases, the bowels of Hell itself.

Just like video game designers, I understand the appeal of hell. Sure it’s a life of extremes, but at least there’s no faffing around with the banality of everyday life. There’s probably less, “Oh it’s Tuesday again, do I have rice or quinoa tonight?” in hell. Plus, it’s a dry heat.

Let’s beat summer at its own game here. Whether you want to murder your way through hell or skate over it, gaming has got you covered.

Depriving this song of fiddle is its own kind of punishment

Guitar Hero 3

No one could forget Guitar Hero 3’s iconic story. You know there’s that part where, uhh, you film a music video? And you go to prison at some point I think.

Anyway, ultimately you sign a deal with the devil, and go play some sweet shows down in his sweet venue in hell. There are big spikes on all the amps, and demon dancers, and some dude swinging a big hammer around in the background. It’s all quite middle-school-sketchbook, which matches pretty well with the rest of Guitar Hero’s aesthetics.

The best part of this version of hell is that Satan is a jealous little goat. Not content to simply let you party in his digs for the rest of eternity, he eventually comes down and challenges you to a guitar battle; “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band, naturally. Once you win, your motorcycle sprouts wings and you fly right back out of hell (presumably to a sponsorship with an energy-drink company or something).

Pros:

  • Lots of adoring fans
  • Easy to leave
  • Seems more like a party

Cons:

  • Having to tiptoe around Satan’s jealousy
  • If you don’t like heavy metal or The Charlie Daniels Band, you’re really out of luck

We got all kinds of skulls down here. Big ones, little ones, ones inside demon heads…

DOOM

Doom isn’t the first time hell appeared in games, but it does feel like some sort of baseline for the medium. Heavy metal, demons, chainsaws; all the hits are here. Throughout the series, hell has varied quite a bit though. From the long, skull-filled hallways of the first game to the unsettling ethereality of the third, right up to the unrepentant gore of 2016’s release, Doom has never steered away from hell’s abstract horror.

There’s never a dull moment in Doom’s hell. Whether you’re finding keycards, punching cyberdemons, or tricking different factions into fighting each other, Doom provides a wealth of variety in its day-to-day Hell activity.

Even better, hell provides a source of renewable energy! Who would have guessed that the solution to our climate problems could be solved instantly, simply by surrendering our bodies and souls to the demons below?

Pros:

  • Environmentally sustainable
  • Ages well

Cons:

  • Your armor seems like it’d get really sweaty
  • Seriously, where is that blue keycard?

We got all kinds of hells down here. Arm hell, pink hel- oh is this the same joke? My bad

God of War, God of War 2, God of War 3

Before anything else, Hades is an interior designer. That’s the only lesson I can take from the original God of War trilogy, in which Kratos goes to a completely different Hell three separate times. Hades just can’t decide on his aesthetic!

So let’s run through our options:

Spiky Hell (God of War): It’s very pink. That’s my main takeaway. It also has rotating blades and platforming challenges that are incredibly hellish. Structurally, it doesn’t make a ton of sense; why would Hades suspend a bunch of vertebrae to run across? But really, the main takeaway here is pink.

Limb-y Hell (God of War 2): ARMS. That’s pretty much it.

Underworld (God of War 3): Now this is a hell. Big, ugly architecture, brambled vines you can use to burn people alive, and multiple cerberuses (cerberi?). If I was Hades, I would definitely choose to live here. Also, this version of Hell is notable because it’s the only time you actually meet the god himself. Kratos doesn’t have great people skills, so you end up repeatedly smashing him against his own ceiling. But oh, what a lavishly designed ceiling it is.

So, to sum everything up,

Pros:

  • Lots of variety
  • Never a dull moment

Cons:

  • Two of the three choices are real bummers

This really happened. Read the bible, haters.

The Binding of Isaac

“Sheol” is a Greek version of a Hebrew word that translates very roughly into some sort of underworld – the old testament wasn’t particularly clear on the details of hell. However, making abstract concepts grossly literal is one of The Binding of Isaac’s fortes. So, after descending through several layers of basements, caves, and wombs (yup), Isaac can enter Sheol. And then he can kill Satan.

Sheol is dark, big, and confusing. Odds are, you’ll stumble around in the shadows for quite a while before finding the boss room. Once there, you’ll fight three different incarnations of the devil: a lil’ guy, a big guy, and some giant feet.

Pros:

  • Better than spending time in a womb, I guess
  • Good if you like large cloven hoofs

Cons:

  • Dark, cold, presumably smelly
  • You really thought this Binding of Isaac run would be done 20 minutes ago and you have to use the bathroom

(pumping fist) Skate and destroy! Skate and destroy!

Tony Hawk’s Underground 2

For a game that calls itself “underground,” you sure do a lot of skating in parks, cities, and other ground-level locations here. What ever happened to truth in advertising, Tony???

Thankfully, there’s at least one place that’s truly underground. That’s right: it’s hell. After defacing some sort of ancient temple with cool skater graffiti, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 flashes “Burn in hƐㄥㄥ!!” on the screen, and opens up a whole new fiery area. In this area there’s … well there’s a lot of concrete and half pipes and stuff. It is a skating game.

But there are also demons that give you gnarly missions like “ㄥip Trick on toppa da two brokin ribs to nok em ovva.” To be honest, I have no idea what that means. But it’s probably because I haven’t lived the skater lifestyle. Meet me at the local Vans store, I have a lot of catching up to do.

Pros:

  • Sweet grinds, lips, and slaps
  • Demons seem chill

Cons:

  • Entry requires the defacement of historically important sites
  • Every L has been replaced with ㄥfor some reason

Can’t get your kids interested in the 14th century book? The game is probably about the same

Dante’s Inferno

Like the best kinds of dip, hell has many layers in Dante’s Inferno. Although some of the levels are more questionable than others – does “fraud” really deserve the same spotlight as “violence”? – you’ve gotta admire the title’s comprehensive catalogue of all things hell.

Perhaps most infamous for the giant Cleopatra-like manifestation of lust that shoots enemies out of her nipples (yup), Dante’s Inferno spares no expense in showing off all the ways that hell can make things weird. There’s plenty of variety here, but it all seems outright unpleasant. It’s hard to imagine finding a little corner of this hell to settle down in.

Pros:

  • Can cater to your every sin
  • Colorful neighbors

Cons:

  • Basically like the Jared Leto-Joker version of hell
  • God of War is a better game, sorry

There are literally no appropriate pictures of Agony. So here’s Little Bear, a show I enjoyed very much as a child

The Worst Version Of Hell

Play Agony, the recent game we gave awarded a 3.5 out of 10.

A new Kickstarter project recently appeared online (and is already well on its way to its goal with nearly a month to spare) that wants to explore Sega’s early history in the world of arcade machines with a pop-up book.

The Kickstarter is seeking $52,717 to publish the book, titled Sega Arcade: Pop-Up History, which will covoer five games: Hang-On, Space Harrier, OutRun, After Burner and Thunder Blade. It will feature sculptures from engineer Helen Friel, art from Kam Tang, and entries providing historical context for all the games by Guardian author Keith Stuart. Sega is also fully partnered for the project and has given it its blessing.

For more on the project, including time-lapse videos of the pop-up sculptures being created, head here.

[Source: Kickstarter]

Gaming is for everyone, and intelligent and creative women have always been an integral part of bringing the biggest and best games to life. From Sierra co-founder Roberta Williams, who pioneered the graphic adventure genre with series like King’s Quest, to Brenda Romero, who has spent nearly four decades as a programmer and designer in the game industry on franchises like Wizardry and Jagged Alliance, women have made extensive contributions to the industry. This has only continued with women taking more leadership roles, such as Jade Raymond going from executive producer on Ubisoft’s juggernaut Assassin’s Creed series to co-founding and becoming a GM at EA’s Motive Studios.

Continue reading…

Epic Games recently invested $100 million in prize money for Fortnite’s 2018-2019 tournaments. Roughly $8 million of that pot is dedicated to Fortnite’s Summer Skirmish Series, which kicked off yesterday and runs over the next two months.

Yesterday’s match didn’t go as planned, both from the stability of the game and the flow of the competition. The match featured 35 teams comprised of pros and celebrities. They were to battle in 10 matches, and the first team to grab two Victory Royales would win first place, and a prize of $50,000. If a team didn’t win twice, that pot would go to the team that netted the most kills in all of the matches.

The team that achieved the most kills at the end of a single match won $6,500. This reward should have pushed players to be aggressive in their attacks, but some players couldn’t move at all. The lag was so bad during some of the matches that players were being eliminated before they could even control their characters. You can see a moment of the lag here.

The teams clearly recognized that lag would be an issue and decided to camp and hide. This approach, while likely giving teams the best odds to win, didn’t deliver excitement, and turned this first Fortnite Summer Skirmish into a huge swing and miss for Epic Games. The tournament was cut short after just four matches were played. The winners were Chap and Liquid72Hrs in match one, Kevie1 and Notvivid in match two, Bartonologist and Baysoldier in match three, and ImMarksman and Yaboywildcat in the final match.

Following the battles, Epic Games tweeted “Thanks to all the participants we had out in the first week of #SummerSkirmish! We’ll be using different formats each week. We’re looking into improving server performance and ironing out issues as well.”

As most mainstream fighting games aim to complexify their systems while making the basics accessible. Enter Footsies, a fighting game that will show the power of proper timing and spacing the hard way. It’s not exactly easy, but it’s simple, and will hopefully teach you proper timing and spacing the hard way.

The game is about landing a special move on your opponent to win the round. Special moves can tough to land, so you can cancel a neutral or forward/back attack into them. You also have access to a Shoryuken-style uppercut, though this one can’t be canceled into and serves more as a way to capitalize on predicting your opponent’s next attack and countering it. You can also dash forward or backward. Block is allowed, but discouraged; you can only block three attacks per round.

This puts an emphasis on moving back and forth on the small field, making sure you not only press the right attack button at the right time, but aren’t just mashing buttons and can follow up any stray move into a special and win the round. It’s a neat back-to-basics fighting that not only acts as a teaching tool, but could be fun in its own right. You can download the game for free here.

Season 5 of Fortnite may have just started, but much of what could be released throughout the season is already out in the wild, if you know where to look.

Dataminers DieBuddies have found a ton of the new stuff coming to Fortnite in the new season by looking within the game’s files, where most players can’t access them. Some of the new skins include a viking getup, a shark suit, a luchador outfit, and more.

Some of these include new backpacks as well.

Of course, some new gliders and pickaxes also follow the aforementioned outfit themes for the season.

We also get a look at how the items acquired from the Battle Pass will progress as you level it up…

… as well as some new trails.

While we’re at it, here’s a new umbrella…

And some cool beach balls.

It’s hard to say for sure which of these items will make it into the final game (it’s not always one-to-one), but chances are most of these will be playable at some point in the near future.

As Season 5 of Fortnite begins this week, one of its most popular players wants developer Epic to implement a way for the people behind many of the popular emotes to monetize the dances they made famous.

Yesterday, Chance posted a tweet suggesting Epic put the actual songs that go with many of the emotes it’s added to Fortnite over the last year as way to let the artists who popularized the dances that are now making money for Epic as emotes.

To be clear, Chance is not explicitly suggesting Epic start giving the people who made the dances popular directly. Rather, the implication here seems to be that by officially licensing the songs that often go with these dances, the people responsible for making the emotes popular in the first place (and the reason any of these dances are in the game in the first place) a way to monetize them.

Most the dances in Fortnite are not created from scratch. They’re references to popular culture, and because many songs originate from songs, many of them are also tied popular songs. The “Floss” emote, which has become one of the most popular emotes seen in the game? That’s a reference to the popular dance popularized by the “Backpack Kid” (real name Russell Horning) who was performing the dance years earlier. You’ll also find similar examples in just about every kind of popular online multiplayer game, like Destiny 2 and World of Warcraft.

Chance then laid out a couple of examples of what he means, using the “Hype” (which is featured prominently in the music video for Drake’s “Look Alive“) and “Swipe” (inspired by 2Milly’s dance in the video for “Milky Rock“). Effectively, this would let players buy the song and the emote at the same time, letting them dance in-game and support the artist.

Chance’s suggestion also comes in after Epic announced it was increasing the percentage of revenue developers of items in the Unreal marketplace take away from the sales of their items. This shows that with as much money as Epic is making from Fortnite, it is more open to enticing creators to work with them and share in that profit. This could, theoretically, also apply to adding the songs for emotes.

 

Our Take
Chance’s suggestion brings up a good point. As many of the most popular songs in the world rise to new levels of popularity through the virality of social networks, streaming services like Spotify pay less than a cent per play on their services to the artists. This means that artists need to find alternative ways to monetize their success. Perhaps not a sob story for the likes for artists like Drake, but being able to make money on the emotes could mean a world of difference to a less popular artist whose dance could be the next sensation.

Another question at play here is ownership. Sure, the Horning made the Floss song popular, but how much did his appearance in Katy Perry’s music video for her song “Swish Swish” do to grow the dance’s popularity? If any song were to accompany “Floss” it’d be that one, so how much would Horning make on the dance in that case? Does SNL, which hosted one of the breakthrough performances of the dance, factor in at all?

Finally, there’s the question of whether choreography can be copyrighted in the first place, which is a difficult topic to address fully here. In short; it’s hard to do, but not impossible. So if the revenue for emotes becomes a huge moneymaker, the people who popularize them could start looking to get in on some of that money. 

It’s an interesting topic, one that has a chance of being brought up more often as these dances are implemented in more games and artists continue to search for new avenues to monetize their success.

Update: Add the legendary Celebi to the list! The Pokémon is available at the event for attendees the third of five quests at the event. It looks as though Celebit must be caught in AR mode when it appears.

Original Story: Trainers are dispersed far and wide in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, many walking aimlessly through the grass, unaware of their surroundings as they swipe their fingers upward to throw Pokéballs. The light rain in the early hours didn’t detour their efforts in the slightest. In certain parts of this beautiful park, the greenery can no longer be seen, and is replaced by large pockets of people. They were alerted of this specific area of the park to catch a specific new Pokémon.

Along with another appearance of the rare Unown, players are also catching Torkoal, the turtle-like fire Pokémon which is known to emit smoke from its nostrils and its back. Around the world, new Pokémon are also spawning. We’ve already seen Alolan Digletts, Geodudes, as well as their respective evolutions. Some are also reporting shiny versions of Plusle and Minun are showing up for them, so keep an eye out for those.

A previous image teased a new generation of Pokémon may be to Go coming soon, so we’ll keep an eye on any developments of new critters being discovered at the event.

As part of our month-long coverage of Destiny 2: Forsaken, we revealed how bounties would be making a return to the world of Destiny. As it turns out, they’ll be headed back a bit earlier than we realized, and with them also come changes to some of the more frustrating Heroic Strike modifiers.

When update 1.2.3. arrives next on Tuesday, players can start picking up optional bounties which will have them completing various tasks while playing Destiny 2, and get experience and faction rep for their trouble. “[Bounties] were removed to streamline the activity experience in Destiny 2 and reduce the number of “chores” that players felt compelled to complete every day,” Destiny 2 Senior Design Lead Tyson Green said in Bungie’s weekly blog. “In retrospect, we realized that was an over-correction, and optional daily objectives to achieve specific goals are something we want to restore.”

Bungie is making a couple of changes to how Bounties work, however. They will now eventually expire, and will cost Glimmer Destiny 2’s most common currency) to take on in the first place. “We wanted to avoid the ‘grab every bounty you see until your inventory is packed and sort them out later experience without constraining players to the tiny inventory they found in previous iterations of the game,” Green says.

The 1.2.3. update will also make quality-of-life changes, most notably some dialing back of the Heroic Strike modifiers which were plaguing players. Blackout, which made all melee attacks from enemies one-hit kills, is being scaled back to simply increase the amount of damage melee attacks deal.

Grounded, which increased the damage players took while in the air, is also being scaled back. ” There are many times players are considered “airborne” when they’re not actually jumping,” said Test Engineer Drew Martineau. “To account for that, we are reducing the damage threshold so players aren’t punished for things outside of their control.”

Finally, Glass, which halved players’ health but also halved the amount of time it took for players to regenerate their shields, has had its effects slightly reduced to “better enable players to see the effects of their overall Power progression over time.”

These changes are designed to ease the difficulty of Heroic Strikes a bit, letting players feel a bit more powerful as they progressed in Power level.