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Spotlight: Games at E3

Spotlight: Games at E3

E3 tends to throw a lot of information––and games––at the public. D. Bethel has thoughts on a few of them.

Having been a console-first gamer my entire gaming life, I tend to pay close attention to the news and videos coming out of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). At this point, I don’t get particularly hyped about the games that get announced (I hear people that hit social media after a press conference exclaiming, seemingly in earnest, “I NEED THIS GAME NOW!” Chill, dude) especially since few games shown at E3 anymore are surprises, having been announced months or years earlier. If anything, being a guy who is way into process, I’m excited to see what state these previously announced games are in and what kind of games they actually end up being. It’s like a big public presentation of the middle portion of the transition from idea to final product.

With that in mind, there a few games really stood out to me, with a few that may have slipped under the larger coverage of the show.

Ghost of Tsushima – Sucker Punch Studios (PS4) – Release TBA

The games I discuss in Shortcast 59 are only from the Sony press conference. Though I’ll be broadening my scope for this Spotlight, there was one game from Sony’s exhibition really got its hooks in me.

Sucker Punch is a studio with whom I’m nominally familiar. I never played the Infamous series of games, having been an Xbox 360 owner at the time of their release, but the idea intrigued me enough and the general response to the series was always positive, nor had I touched a Sly Cooper game as 3D platformers never really appealed to me despite the series’ general good regard among the community. With that said, I hold neither Sucker Punch nor their upcoming game, Ghost of Tsushima, to any metric aside from what they show of the game itself.

And what they showed of Ghost is fire.

In fact, it seems like a game made specifically for D. Bethel. According to Sucker Punch creative director, Nate Fox, Ghost is a wholly linear, narrative-focused game that takes the player through 13th century Japan in the midst of a war with the Mongols. With that, teenaged Dan, the Japanese history nerd, perked up. Additionally, it’s a historical samurai action game with no supernatural elements whatsoever as Sucker Punch aimed for “a grounded game.” Comicker D. Bethel, who’s making a western webcomic with no supernatural elements, perked up as well. Combined with the deliberate combat that looked similar (though let’s hope it’s not too similar) to Bushido Blade and Way of the Samurai, super gamer nerd Dan became invested.

Like with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption before it, the idea of a AAA grounded historical game that isn’t simply a tactical war game nor an RPG seems like an avenue less explored by big studios; so to see Sucker Punch tackle it (and with Red Dead Redemption 2 out this October!), I’m definitely keeping my eye on this one where, before, it wasn’t in my field of vision at all.

Sable – Shedworks (PC only at the time of this announcement) – Late 2019

Here’s where I walk back my console cred and mention a PC game. E3 held what it called its “PC Gaming Show” that showcased upcoming PC games in the same manner that other press conferences showcased console-focused games. Tucked among those games was Sable, and I can’t believe it’s real.

Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract.

I’ve watched the trailer a few times and I know it’s a game, but I couldn’t tell you what kind of game it is yet. The visuals stunned me. Surely a lot of people are going to be calling this a “hand-drawn” game, which it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s doing some high-level and artistic cell shading that eerily––EERILY––evokes the work of French cartoonist, Jean Giraud (aka Mœbius). Most accurately, it seems to be an homage to his long-running Métal hurlant (a magazine Giraud co-created and was published in the US as Heavy Metal) strip, Arzach.

Pages from the first appearance of Arzach in the pages of Métal hurlant (1975). Source: Humanoids Publishing.
An image from Mœbius’ Voyage d’Hermés series (2011), created for boutique clothing company, Hermés. source: Hermés

Created by the two-person UK developer, Shedworks, their main source of inspiration seems to be from the strides in open-world development that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made than directly trying to interpret the work of Giraud into a video game space. Instead, the game apparently focuses more on the exploration and interaction with this breathtaking landscape rather than on RPG-like character growth and battle. Apparently, there’s no combat at all in the game, which is an intriguing proposition (No combat?! How is that even possible?!?!) that brought with it, to an extent, an internal sigh of relief. Finally, something different aside from just the visuals.

My joy doesn’t come from gleefully pointing out that this game seems to ape Mœbius’ style or comic at all––there’s no joy in that––but that this game vivifies his aesthetic perfectly. This must look like what the artist had in his head from which he could only capture still frames and arrange them on a page. Of all the games being written about, Sable genuinely gave me pause.

Sea of Solitude – Jo-Mei (PS4, XBox One, PC) – Early 2019

As an academic English person––albeit one who specialized in Composition and Rhetoric––whenever popular culture reveals a literary depth to it, it draws my attention with laser precision.

I heard on a podcast––sadly, I don’t remember which one, but probably Waypoint Radio––about a game shown during EA’s press conference that caught people off guard because Cornelia Geppert, the creative director of German indie studio, Jo-Mei, got surprisingly emotional and thoughtful when presenting the game, Sea of Solitude.

While “getting emotional” seems to be a highly subjective term––Geppert comes across as more nervous and genuinely excited to show off her game at the largest gaming trade show in the United States––her candor with the game’s themes and what they are trying to say with the game surprised me more.

A major argument in the discourse around games is that they are superficial entertainment, escapist power-fantasy exercises and that’s the baseline level of appreciation for them. Some even argue that such an angle should be our only appreciation of them (“Keep politics out of games!” “Keep your X agenda out of games!” “Games should be more like they were before!” etc.).

The problem with that is games are made by people who think very hard about their games. Like with any creative product (or any product), the consumer doesn’t usually see the majority of effort that went into making it. That’s part of why we are so quick to offer hot takes on games, movies, comics, toys, videos, etc. We are reacting to the product put in front of us, not seeing the complex web of thought, ability, and troubleshooting behind the shiny veneer. To an extent, good games look effortlessly made.

Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract. This has become more visible as creators have been more vocal with their process. From Hideo Kojima’s thematic and increasingly abstract approach to his Metal Gear Solid series to the small and decisively personal games like Brothers and Papo y Yo, consumers are seeing the level of critical and artistic effort creators put into their games.

Usually we hear these things after a game’s release. That Jo-Mei presented their literary ambition first, before the trailer, partly illustrates why I liked their segment of the press conference so much. This seems like a huge step forward for the developer whose previous games don’t seem like anything that really broke through to the larger critical discussion.

Luckily, the game looks stylish and fun––like LIMBO or INSIDE crossed with a post-apocalyptic anime––I’m excited because it piqued my academic interests while also being a game that––superficially––looks like it’ll be a fun time.

––––

E3 has been particularly exciting this year. After a year or two of the industry being hit hard by extreme successes (2017 was an outstanding year for games) and existential dilemmas (voice actor strike, labor issues, continuing GamerGate behavior), seeing good games at the show as well as developers tackling some of these issues (both positively and negatively) head on puts this E3 ahead in a lot of ways. At the very least, we get good games out of the static as developers, journalists, and players try to move the medium forward and upward.

Spotlight: ‘Masterpieces’ Are Better With Flaws

Spotlight: ‘Masterpieces’ Are Better With Flaws

Far Cry 5‘s muddled political message is better for gaming than a perfect one.

The announcement events and imagery set up Far Cry 5 to be a game with a lot to say about modern American politics. Image source: Ubisoft.

Upon its announcement last year, Far Cry 5‘s political promise attracted the liberal gamer base (and disconcerted conservative gamers) as it seemed to be aiming strictly at the American Christian fundamentalism and rural conservatism that have been at the front and center of the country’s political discourse since the last presidential election. With the game’s release and the reviews rolling out, it’s clear that while it is, mechanically, a fun game to play, it doesn’t stick the landing in terms of cultural political commentary.

Instead of taking a hard stance on the current political climate, it tries to straddle the fence, to not take sides and, instead, treat the threat of fundamentalist conservatism as an exaggerated skin draped over the ludic need for opposing forces to attack the player. In this game, the cannon fodder is simply “crazy cult member”,  similar to the shift Resident Evil made away from zombies to Othered, uneducated, Spanish, feral, rural villagers in the fourth game (which they doubled-down on in the fifth game by moving out of Spain and into Africa). They may have a different story and context, but they were basically just zombies to shoot down––targets to hit for a “higher score.” Despite oblique references to modern political situations (including a mission built around obtaining a “pee tape”), Far Cry 5 seems to play the politics off as a joke when it pops up at all.

The last few years have really seen an effort to fold political commentary into game narratives and, as it stands now, the results seem to be less than effective albeit provocative. From the nuanced existential dread of the indie darling, Papers, Please, to the hyperbolic but consistent Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, the efforts have been teaching us that developers, at the very least, are ready to tackle such subjects even if their hold on the language, narrative agility, or tools to effectively enact such commentary remains debatable.

This static speaks to the point that how to tell a good story in a game is nebulous at best as gaming is not––unlike books, movies, comics, and tv––a one-sided narrative act. Games are by their very nature interactive and, therefore, the success of the narrative quite literally falls into the hands of the players, be it their attention to the story as they play or the choices they make in-game and how they line up with the intent of the developers. Narrative is still a messy, complex, and delicate aspect of video games.

Papers, Please largely succeeds with its politics, though its retro aesthetics, somewhat limited availability, and esoteric gameplay could keep it from a larger audience. Image source: 3909 LLC.

This results in a lot of “flawed masterpieces”––good games like Far Cry 5 that don’t quite stick the landing. The aforementioned Wolfenstein II offers distinct answers to the political problems it confronts, but can be undermined by its wildly shifting tone from the touchingly serious to cartoonish absurdity. Watchdogs 2 (also from Far Cry‘s developer, Ubisoft) was largely a success but dropped the ball in crucial instances that harmed the efficacy of its thesis. Most publicly, Bioshock Infinite had a huge backlash to its initial critical success as people ruminated on its message after playing the game and found a lot to be troubling. Mafia III, in contrast, seemed to have a strong, clear, and evocative stance on race in the sixties, but the game part kind of faltered. Similarly, Papers, Please had a strong emergent political statement that was powerful for those who played it, but its indie status and, perhaps, esoteric retro aesthetics (as well as limited availability) probably kept it out of the hands of many potential gamers.

Arguably, no game has hit the landing when it comes to political commentary. Something always comes along and taints the potential and lays the game down as a “flawed masterpiece.” If it were to happen, no doubt it would most likely be out of accident than design. Video game narrative is arguably still in a fledgling state, with detractors even stating that story is not wholly useful to the medium (which Andrew and I talked about in Episode 133). So, it’s important to keep in mind that the  growth of the medium (of any medium) includes heavy-footed attempts and stumbles.

Narrative is still a messy, complex, and delicate aspect of video games.

As a whole, we are still learning how to tell stories in games. It’s problematic because the technology for game development continues to surge forward as well and the bouncing between the two often feels like a scrimmage rather than a handshake. However, the key word there is “learning.” The way we generally learn is through metacognitive reflection of what we have already done, examining our past missteps in order to make the next attempt better.

And that is where these flawed masterpieces are actually helping the community rather than harming the medium. When Far Cry 5, in this case, so overtly stated that it would be a game with something to say at its announcement, only to walk that back as quickly as possible, the final product’s failure to live up to that promise got the community talking about politics in games, much as games––flawed as they are––like Wolfenstein II, Papers, Please, and Bioshock Infinite did before. This conversation exposes the nuance in the medium and actually helps to establish a baseline of what the community wants, expects, and hopes for in the future. These missteps encourage the audience (gamers, critics, and journalists) to become part of the process instead of simply waiting for the developers to simply say what they want to say (or say what they think we want to hear) and wait with gritted teeth to hear if they got it wrong. While that very scenario was the impetus here, the resulting conversation seems productive rather than agonistic.

That the community is talking about how to tell a political story in a game narrative is generative and progressive for the medium and the culture. Even among gamers themselves, having a game act as the discursive crux around politics, gaming, and narrative shines a light of hope on a community that has done more than its share to darken the skies on those topics. Our culture has evolved us to a point where political discussion mimics sports fandom––picking a team and shouting at the competition. Productive conversation is less about right and wrong and more about looking at the successes and failures of an idea, pointing them out, and making decisions based on them.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus may have been over the top at times, but it inspired genuine conversation about politics in gaming. Image source: Bethesda Softworks

More importantly, the community needs to have these conversations with itself more than it needs an effective political statement in a game. If a flawed game gets us to not only intelligently critique and what-if a game but also examine ourselves as a community––to reflect on our goals and diversity––then I would rather have that than The West Wing of video games.

The fallout from Far Cry 5‘s narrative failure will fuel more nuanced and interesting attempts (that will no doubt fail in their own ways) in the future, but the point is that those attempts will be better. What effect does a “perfect” statement have? What benefit comes from the community just sitting back in admiration? What happens to the knowledge we gained from the experience if we treat it as something that has been checked off of a list?

Perfection is boring. Gaming, like politics, always changes as time moves forward. The conversation about the successes, failures, and potential of a game serves as inspiration to be and do better next time be it from Ubisoft, a competitor, or an independent developer––as long as it keeps us talking.

Spotlight: The Marvel Minimum – The Five Movies To See Before “Avengers: Infinity War” UPDATED

Spotlight: The Marvel Minimum – The Five Movies To See Before “Avengers: Infinity War” UPDATED

[This article has been updated by the author since seeing the film; the content remains spoiler-free. -D. Bethel]

When Marvel’s trailer for Avengers: Infinity War debuted, many comic fans, like myself, were excited. The culmination of ten years of dedicated movie watching will pay off in what MCU mastermind, Kevin Feige, has dubbed “[a thing] you’ve never seen in superhero films: a finale.” But being a self proclaimed comic expert, and even having my own YouTube Comic Book Show, means you become the person your friends text when they have questions. One that struck me after the trailer debut was “Who’s the purple dude that looks Hellboy-ish? The bad one who put a jewel into his knuckle?” The question is perfectly fair, although my response was a bit, um, charged:

“Um… Thanos? The Mad Titan. The ultimate villain that has been teased since Avengers ONE. WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHO IS THANOS?!!!!

WHO IS THANOS? Thanos is not amused. Source: Marvel.com

That simple question led down a rabbit hole of a discussion with my friend about the fact that they missed Thanos in all three of his movie appearances (two of which were post- or mid-credits scenes), and his mention in another. Then you have the Infinity Stones and how they fit in (literally and figuratively) with the Infinity Gauntlet and how all of this relates to the average moviegoer. When all is said and done, when you sort the movies out using those requirements, you have the following:

Thanos Appearances/Mentions

  • The AvengersMid-Credits
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Only actual in-movie appearance
  • Avengers: Age of UltronPost-Credits
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Mentioned due to being Gamora/Nebula’s “adoptive” father.

Infinity Stones Appearances/Mentions

  • Thor (post-credits scene) – Tesseract/Cosmic Cube – Space Stone
  • Captain America: The First Avenger – Tesseract/Cosmic Cube – Space Stone
  • The Avengers – Tesseract/Cosmic Cube – Space Stone and The Scepter – Mind Stone
  • Thor: The Dark World – Aether – Reality Stone
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – The Orb – Power Stone and Aether – Reality Stone
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron – The Scepter/Vision’s head – “Mind Stone”, All 6 of the Stones were in Thor’s vision.
  • Captain America: Civil War – Mind Stone in Vision’s head
  • Doctor Strange – The Eye Of Agamotto – The Time Stone
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – mentioned Power Stone again
  • Thor: Ragnarok – Thor was looking for the Stones from when he had that vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

So, counting the above, in order to understand Thanos and the Infinity Stones (minus the Soul Stone.. WHERE IS THAT BAD BOY?) before going into Avengers: Infinity War, a person would have to have seen ten of the eighteen movies over the last 10 years just to understand everything that doesn’t have to do with our main characters. But is all that necessary? Could we shorten the list? Or, alternatively, how short can we make the list and still have it all make sense?

How many movies do you need to watch to even understand this promotional image? Where is Thanos’s helmet? Source: Marvel.com

Let’s start out with movies from above you could skip as they are unrelated to most of the Infinity War plot (either secondary mentions of Thanos/Infinity Stones or no mentions).

  • Thor
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Then let’s take out movies that can have single line explanations in Infinity War to remove the bloat:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger – By the way, the Cosmic Cube/Tesseract was the macguffin of this movie and is seen in The Avengers.
  • Doctor Strange – The necklace Stephen Strange wears and uses in this movie has time powers and is the Time Stone
  • Thor: The Dark World – The Aether (aka red mist) was from this movie and that is actually an Infinity Stone.

So removing those means that only four five movies in the MCU have to do with the actual events of Infinity War from an understanding of the villain, giant cast of characters, and major plot points.

[UPDATE]: After seeing Avengers: Infinity War I would recommend that you watch All NINE of the below films for the most effective enjoyment of this film aka THE NEW HOTNESS. My recommendation is less due to the plot in all nine movies and more attributed to the character arcs and relationships that help push the plot of the new movie forward. However as far as plot goes, Thor: Ragnarok has been added to the list as it leads directly into Infinity War.

  • The Avengers
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Thor: Ragnarok

Not bad. But let’s add in some movies to round out character motivations, and side characters that may be pertinent to Infinity War:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Arguably the best MCU movie and introduces The Winter Soldier who’s a pretty major character at this point.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – MORE GUARDIANS (for real they added another member to the team in this movie. Plus, BABY GROOT!).
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming – Gives you more information on Spider-Man and his relationship with Tony Stark.
  • Black Panther – Many of the locations and characters from Black Panther are sure to be important in Infinity War based on the trailers alone.
Clearly, Black Panther is important. Look at all that Black Panther stuff going on. Source: Marvel.com

In conclusion, here is this comic nerd’s list of the movies you should probably watch before Avengers: Infinity War. Additionally, if you swap Avengers: Age Of Ultron for Iron Man (the first) these may be the best movies of the 18 MCU films anyway. The list below is in viewing order (by MCU chronology) with bolded titles being the MUST SEE four films.

  1. The Avengers
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  5. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
  6. Captain America: Civil War
  7. Spider-Man Homecoming
  8. Thor: Ragnarok
  9. Black Panther

With all nine of these movies under your belt, anyone should be able to enjoy Avengers: Infinity War to its fullest.

Have any suggestions or edits to this list? Let me know in the comments below!


Taylor Katcher doesn’t like sand. It’s coarse and irritating and gets everywhere. But he loves comics, typefaces, and most other things to a fault…mostly. You can follow Taylor’s unbridled love for stuff on Twitter.

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 4

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 4

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This fourth part of a multi-part series looks at Chroma SquadRogue Legacy, and Steamworld Dig. Take a look at the third part here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-3/.

Chroma Squad

Chroma Squad by Behold Studios is one of those games that I never would have guessed I would have wanted: a tactical RPG themed around the production of a Super Sentai style show. Or, as one reviewer described it, “Power Rangers crossed with XCOM with a dash of Game Dev Story.” Yet, somehow, the theme works really well, resulting in a fun game that scratches that tactical RPG itch with a lighthearted sense of humor.

You have to defeat those Putties, Power Rangers! Source: Behold Studios

Perhaps one of the stranger aspects of the game is the meta narrative: the player controls a group of stunt actors who decide to create their own Super Sentai show. The game is divided between turn based battles, in which the cast acts out an episode of the show, and the time between episodes, where you create new costumes and upgrade the production equipment. This creates a unique spin on the RPG aspect of the game, with character improvement being tied to things like upgraded costumes. The battles are important insomuch that success and achieving bonus goals reflects on the show’s popularity with fans. It’s not enough that you win battles; there are goals that you have to meat in order to keep viewers happy and engaged. Do poorly and you may even find your show getting cancelled.

Buying new props for your team makes them more effective in battle. Source: Behold Studios

You can hear me discuss Chroma Squad back in Episode 131 – A Magical Failure. Since then, the game has expanded to include a new “Director’s Cut” free update which adds some new game modes and tweaks some of the play experience. The game is also available on other platforms, including iOS and Android, so you can take the excitement of Super Sentai with you wherever you go.

Check out Chroma Squad for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/251130/Chroma_Squad/.

Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy was the breakthrough hit Rogue-lite platform action-adventure game by Cellar Door Games, developer of a number of free Flash games like Don’t Shit Your Pants. Basically, it combines the difficulty and random generation of Roguelike games with the platform action-adventure of Metroidvania style games in a unique combination.

Action platformer craziness! Source: Cellar Door Games

The story of Rogue Legacy is relatively straight-forward: you play as a line of royal descendants entering a castle to find a great treasure. Every time your character dies (which is inevitable, given the nature of the game), you choose a new descendant to take his or her place. You have three options, each with their own combination of abilities and disabilities that will make that next play-through unique. You keep the gold and other items that you find through each expedition into the castle. These can be used to make further generations more powerful, either through purchasing new equipment or upgrading your castle (which, in turn, makes your heroes more powerful). Although the game can be frustratingly difficult at times, it still makes for a really fun game that captures the feel of a Roguelike without being too punishing.

After many collecting many treasures, you too can be this powerful. Source: Cellar Door Games

Rogue Legacy has actually come up in the show multiple times, back in 2014-2015. Andrew first mentioned the game back in Episode 27 – Super Sleep Mode. Dan started playing in Episode 53 – With Space Hands and continues discussing his experience in Episode 54 – Noun the Adjective. The game is available on Steam but also available for consoles (PS4, XBox One).

Check out Rogue Legacy for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/241600/Rogue_Legacy/.

Steamworld Dig

Steamworld Dig, by Image & Form Games, is the second entry in the “Steamworld” series of games that includes Steamworld Heist. Part platform mining game, part Metroidvania, the game follows the adventure of a steam powered robot named Rusty who inherits his uncle’s ore mine. Most of the game focuses on carefully digging through the mine, collecting valuable ore while making sure you don’t dig too much and get stuck.

A combination of steampunk, westerns, and … digging. Source: Image and Form Games

I will admit (again) that I am always a sucker for games that have that Metroidvania feel and Steamworld Dig did a very good job of capturing the essence of what I liked from a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In a way, what it brings together is the best of platform action-adventure games with a reasonable dose of RPG gameplay. The game doesn’t do as much for exploring as some of the classic Metroidvania games, as most of the exploring is going further down the mine, but it manages to be a lot of fun. Perhaps, the only real complaint I had was that I was done with it so quickly; I sat down to play the game on a day off and found myself at the end before I even realized it.

Between descents into the mine, you get to go shopping. Source: Image and Form Games

For whatever reason, I never actually talked about playing through Steamworld Dig on the show. It probably has something to do with the fact that I finished it quickly enough that it didn’t make its way into my Week in Geek. However, it’s worth mentioning that since I played it, they’ve actually released a sequel to the game, Steamworld Dig 2.

Check out Steamworld Dig for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/252410/SteamWorld_Dig/

 

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 3

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 3

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This third part of a multi-part series looks at Stardew Valley, Renowned Explorers: International Society, and Project Highrise. Take a look at part two of the series here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-2/.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is one of those games where the designer wanted to make the very best version of a classic game. In this case, the game in question was Harvest Moon, first released for the Super Nintendo in the late 1990s. The premise is simple: after getting fed up with your big corporate job, you open a letter left to you by your grandfather and discover that you’ve inherited a farm in a quiet little town called Stardew Valley. From there, you… well, you farm. You plant crops. You water crops. You harvest crops. You make enough money to buy more crops. Go fishing in the local river. Or at the pier. Maybe build a chicken coop. Raise chickens. Harvest eggs. Make mayonnaise. Expand your house. Go adventuring in the local mine. Fight some monsters. Help rebuild the local community center. Make new friends. Maybe meet the man or woman of your dreams.

Farming takes work. And organization. And patience. Source: ConcernedApe

When I started playing Stardew Valley, I didn’t really have a lot of experience with farming simulation RPGs. I played Harvest Moon for about an hour back in 2007 and didn’t quite figure it out. But Stardew Valley became the game I spent most of my winter holiday playing last year. By the time the calendar hit New Year’s Day 2017, I had put more than 100 hours into the game. All in the course of about two weeks time. Say what you will about farming simulation RPGs, but this one is pretty great.

The people of Stardew Valley add a lot of character to the game. Source: ConcernedApe

I mentioned Stardew Valley in Shortcast 21 – Love the Stank. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about new content. The primary focus has been on the fabled multiplayer support, debuting soon (-ish) on the Nintendo Switch and later on other platforms. But, they’ve also mentioned a few new pieces of content that they intend to add to the game.

Check out Stardew Valley for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/413150/Stardew_Valley/

Renowned Explorers: International Society

Renowned Explorers: International Society by Abbey Games is a strategy game with a fair number of RPG elements. You choose a group of explorers from the collection of possible characters and then proceed on adventures. You’re in search of treasures and renown in an effort to be the best explorer in the International Society. Each adventure involves exploring the local area, having encounters with the local residents, and sometimes engaging in battles. You have a fixed number of resources, so you need to decide how to best use them to succeed in the adventure. Many of the encounters involve story prompts where you have to choose what option to go with. Some require greater skill or sacrifice but yield potentially greater reward.

Exploring the local environment is a big part of the game. Source: Abbey Games

Battles shift to a hex based battle map, where characters take turns making attacks and using abilities. A lot of combat is based on a paper-rock-scissor mechanic of attitudes: devious, friendly, and aggressive. Not only do you choose an overall attitude for every battle but characters have individual abilities that are keyed to the difference attitudes. Learning how to best utilize these different attitudes is the key to succeeding in battle. Because the actions in battle can range from actual violence to talking (whether it be devious or friendly), it ends up being much sillier than one might think at the onset. But silly in a fun way.

To Battle! Agatha von Brunswick lectures the local farmers. Source: Abbey Games

You can hear about my experience with Renowned Explorers: International Society in Episode 133 – We’re on a Track. At the time, there was already one small expansion, aptly named More to Explore, available for the game. Since then, they’ve released an additional expansion, The Emperor’s Challenge, which includes four new characters and a variety of new East Asian themed adventures.

Check out Renowned Explorers: International Society for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/296970/Renowned_Explorers_International_Society/

Project Highrise

Back in the 1990s, Maxis, the company known for SimCity and its rather peculiar progeny, published a slightly different game created by Japanese developer OpenBook Co., Ltd.: SimTower. It was a sort of weird game where you build and manage a highrise tower. Twenty years later, Kasedo Games decided that the highrise simulation genre needed a new entry. With that, Project Highrise was born.

You’re in charge of all the stuff a bustling office tower might need. Source: Kasedo Games

In Project Highrise, you build and develop a building. This means everything from the structure itself, including elevators, utilities, and services, to the tenants that live or work in it. When you start, you only have a limited number of options for tenants; most of what you’ll be filling your building with will be small legal and accounting offices. But, as you get better and better at managing the building, your prestige will grow and so will your options. The focus of the game is managing your tenants needs while keeping your building profitable.

Nobody said your building had to make sense. Source: Kasedo Games

Project Highrise was one of the first games I got from the Humble Bundle Monthly. I talked about it back in Episode 125 – Hot Sauce Box. There have been a few expansions since then, adding some new types of businesses to your highrise, although the game is still a solid play experience without any new stuff.

Check out Project Highrise for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/423580/Project_Highrise/

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 2

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 2

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This second part of a multi-part series looks at Game Dev Tycoon, Starbound, and Turmoil. Take a look at the first part here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-1/.

Game Dev Tycoon

Ever wanted to run your own game development studio? Well, that takes work. And you’ll probably face loads of failure. But, if you just wanted to SIMULATE running your own game development studio, Game Dev Tycoon, by Greenheart Games, is here for you. It’s a pretty straightforward indie game from 2013 that has a surprising amount of mechanical depth.

Every good game company starts out in a garage. With a DeLorean. Source: Greenheart Games

The bulk of the game focuses on developing games. It’s relatively straightforward: you pick a topic (like Virtual Pet, Pirate, or Hacking); pick a genre (like Strategy, Casual, or RPG); and select a system to develop it on (like the Ninvento TES 64, PC, or the Vena Oasis). For each game, you have to decide how to prioritize different elements of the game. Will you choose to emphasize World Design or Graphics? Engine or Story? Every type of game has different priorities, so part of the game is learning what works and what doesn’t.

It’s tough to know what makes a good Medieval RPG. Source: Greenheart Games

As your games are successful, your company grows. You move out of the garage and into an office. As you grow, you develop bigger games and build a larger fan base. You eventually get to go to the big trade show, G3. Get big enough and maybe you can even develop your own console. Or maybe a MMO. Eventually, you reach the end of the game (after about 30-35 years) and you get ranked based on your performance. Well, that’s assuming you don’t go bankrupt along the way.

This is a bit of a cheat because I just talked about Game Dev Tycoon in Shortcast 39 – Holidaycast 01, but I was specifically talking about the recently released iOS version. However, as it ends up, the Steam version is currently on sale! Although it hasn’t been updated with the new content from the iOS version as of this writing, the developers say that they’ve moved their timetable for it forward, meaning that the content should be available soon.

Check out Game Dev Tycoon for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/239820/Game_Dev_Tycoon/

Starbound

Starbound is a good example where I showed up to a type of game pretty late. I never played Minecraft. Or Terraria. I never got caught up in the sandbox building and crafting games when they first hit the scene. But Starbound, by Chucklefish, was my chance to not only get into this kind of thing but also to spend far too much time playing around with it.

Create a character from a variety of different appearances and playable races. Source: A. J. Asplund

Starbound, considered by some a sort of spiritual successor to Terraria, is a 2D sandbox building game with a light overlay of adventure and exploration. When you start your game, an entire procedurally generated universe is created that you will explore. Ostensibly, you are one of the last surviving members of a galactic federation. You escape just as a terrible monster destroys the headquarters of the federation. All you have is a broken down ship and a matter manipulator, a tool that lets you construct and deconstruct matter. From there, you get to explore the wide open universe located on your hard drive.

There is a lot of procedurally generated galaxy to explore. Source: A. J. Asplund

There’s a story to follow, but there’s also a lot to do on your own. Go mining for resources. Build your own house. Or city. Construct an underground empire. Go searching for fossils. Capture strange creatures. Build a space station. Raid pirate ships. To a certain extent, Starbound is what you make of it. On my home server, I built a small colony on an ocean planet. Shopkeepers and soldiers lived in peace on the surface. Hidden in the main structure was an elevator leading deep down into the ocean below, where I had constructed a giant underwater farming colony, growing exotic plants from across the galaxy. Eventually, I added a museum to showcase all the fossils I had discovered in my adventures. Starbound is what you make of it.

Building your own structures is a big part of the game. Here’s my museum. Source: A. J. Asplund

I actually talked about Starbound twice: once, in Episode 122- It’s a Fake, where I first picked up the game but didn’t quite get it, and again in Episode 136 – Make it So, when I set up a Starbound server at home for some friends to play around with. It’s worth mentioning that the game continues to get updated, so there’s seems to always be something new around the corner.

Check out Starbound for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/211820/Starbound/

Turmoil

Turmoil, by Gamious, is a lighthearted simulation game set in 19th century North America. It’s about OIL. You play a young entrepreneur that starts into the oil drilling business. Each level focuses on a single plot of land, precious black gold buried somewhere underneath the surface. Through a combination of using sounders and effective drilling, you try your best to pull as much of the oil as you can to the surface, where your oil delivery men then haul it to sell. And you have exactly one year to do it. Of course, there are challenges. Sometimes, the market price for oil dips, so maybe it’s better to stockpile your oil. Or maybe the pocket of oil you found has gone dry and you need to dig deeper. As you continue through the game, things get complicated.

Drilling for oil never seemed this entertaining in the movies. Source: Gamious

Between levels, you go to town, where you have the opportunity to spend your money on all sorts of things. New technology. Improved sounders. Better drills. All the sorts of upgrades you need as things get more difficult. You also have to compete against three other oil tycoons, each trying to be the best oil tycoon around. And, like any game about rich oil tycoons trying to make it big, you also have the opportunity to buy and sell stock in each other’s oil companies. It may be that the easiest way to beat Ricardo is to buy out his oil company.

Fred the Factory guy wants to upgrade your drills and pipes. Source: Gamious

I first mentioned this game back in Episode 128 – His Curry Name. There have been a few minor tweaks and patches since then. But, perhaps the most important thing is that they’ve announced new DLC that is coming soon, sometime in the first quarter of 2018. Maybe it’s time you take a chance at being an oil tycoon.

Check out Turmoil for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/361280/Turmoil/

 

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 1

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 1

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). With it being a day of giving/commerce for a lot of people, it seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This first part of a multi-part series looks at Punch Club, Steamworld Heist, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

Punch Club

Role-playing. Boxing. Street fighting. Pizza delivery. Punch Club, by Lazy Bear Games, might be one of the stranger games I played this year. Perhaps the strangeness of the game is best summarized in its description on Steam: “Train hard, fight crocodiles and find love. Earn your place in the Punch Club ranks, and discover who brutally murdered your father, in this choose your own adventure boxing management tycoon.” That’s right. Choose your own adventure boxing management tycoon.

You have to choose the right skills and moves before every battle. Source: A. J. Asplund

The game is divided between fights, where you select which moves and abilities your character will use in battle and then watch it play through the fight, and the rest of the game, where you wander around the city performing odd jobs, training to be a better fighter, and signing up for tournaments.  The story starts simply enough, but quickly goes into unexpected directions depending on what you do and where you go. After a few days of play, I was going into the sewer fighting ninja crocodiles where a friend of mine had become an enforcer for the local mafia. There’s a lot of strange content in this one.

There are a lot of places to go in Punch Club, each with its own challenge. Source: A. J. Asplund

You can hear my initial thoughts on Punch Club in Shortcast 28 – Linguistic Bravado. Since that recording, I can say that the game only gets more strange. With a skill-tree character upgrade system more complicated than a majority of RPGs out there, this game sits in that weird place that so many indie games do. Part RPG, part management game, part simulation… a little bit of everything.

Check out Punch Club for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/394310/Punch_Club/

Steamworld Heist

Steamworld Heist, part of the “Steamworld” family of games by Image & Form, is a turn based strategy platform game. At least I think that’s the best way to describe it. You control a crew of space pirate robots that go from destination to destination, looking for salvage. Each character has a different combination of weapon, abilities, and hats that result in different play styles and uses within any specific level. As you explore the different locations in the game, you typically find yourself engaged in battle with a variety of different bad robots out to stop you. Different missions have different goals (whether it be defeating all the enemies, collecting all the treasures, or just escaping alive). Think of it a bit like a cross between XCOM and Worms.

Sometimes, all it takes to defeat the bad guy is a well-aimed shot. Source: Image & Form Games

Between missions, you navigate your steam ship through space to different mission locations. You can also visit shops throughout space that let you buy better equipment and weapons using the scrap that you find. This makes your robot space pirates more capable on missions, from better weapons to improved abilities. It’s a dash of role-playing style character advancement in the middle of a turn-based platform shooting game.

Oh, the grim looking places you’ll go! Source: Image & Form Games

When I talked about Steamworld Heist in Shortcast 31 – The Secret was the Clap, I had actually just downloaded the version on the PS4/PS Vita. What I didn’t realize was that I had picked up the game on Steam some time earlier (and forgotten). Like a lot of these indie games, they find their way to consoles in one form or another.

Check out Steamworld Heist on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/322190/SteamWorld_Heist/

Sentinels of the Multiverse

Anybody that listens to the show knows I’m a big fan of Greater Than Games superhero cooperative card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse. The virtual version, created by Handelabra Games, captures the fun of the card game with the convenience of not having to lug around a giant box full of cards. As in the tabletop game, everything begins with the setup: you choose a one of the four villains to battle and one of the four environments to do battle in. In addition, you choose three to five heroes to control from the available ten. This means that the base game has a lot of different possible combinations of play available. Expansions (of which there are many) add additional villains, environments, heroes, and even new ways to play the game.

So many heroic options to choose from! Source: A. J. Asplund

Once you’ve selected your villain, heroes, and environment, it’s time to start the actual game. Gameplay is identical to the tabletop card game, although the game engine prevents you from making rules mistakes (or, as some people like to call it, cheating). The system correctly plays through the villain and environment turns, making sure you don’t miss anything. On hero turns, you have to determine what cards and powers to use to defeat your opponent. When playing by yourself, you control all of the heroes in the battle. However, the game also allows for cross-platform multiplayer, so you can play with your friends on iOS or Android, each of you controlling your own hero (like the card game).

America’s Finest Legacy faces off against the villainous Baron Blade. Source: A. J. Asplund

Between the card version and the computer version, Sentinels of the Multiverse has come up quite a bit on the show. Dan played the Steam version back in Episode 87 – Thunder and Lightning. I mentioned it during our discussion of virtual versions of tabletop games in Episode 94 – The Garbleflangers. Either way, the whole line of Sentinels of the Multiverse products are currently on sale on Steam, but the base game is only $1.99 right now so if you haven’t given it a try, I recommend it.

Check out Sentinels of the Multiverse for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/337150/Sentinels_of_the_Multiverse/

News Blast: Alita – Battle Angel

News Blast: Alita – Battle Angel

source: 20th Century Fox

Gunnm (or Battle Angel Alita, stateside) is a manga and anime with a cult following, deep history, and a rocky path to big-screen adaptation. The manga was written and drawn by Yukito Kishiro over the course of five years and nine volumes. Early in its run, it was adapted into an Original Video Animation (OVA) comprised of two half-hour, stand-alone episodes (based on the first two manga volumes) that were sold together on VHS, initially. In the states, the OVA (retitled to simply Battle Angel) had a large audience due to its emotional story and cyberpunk stylings, and gathered enough of a reputation to attract the interest of James Cameron, who eventually bought the film rights.

James Cameron, who had professed his enjoyment of the manga, was originally set to direct the film adaptation, but he has since left the dusty, rusted future of Battle Angel for the literally greener pastures of Avatar‘s Pandora. In his absence, the directing duties shifted to action auteur, Robert Rodriguez. After years of speculation and anticipation, a trailer has been released:

From the looks of the trailer, a lot of work has been done to keep the visuals true to the look of the manga and OVA, and the plot summary from the film’s website also seems to be holding to the basic story found in the first two volumes:

Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita (Rosa Salazar) is found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens she has no memory of who she is, nor does she have any recognition of the world she finds herself in. Everything is new to Alita, every experience a first. As she learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield Alita from her mysterious past while her street-smart new friend, Hugo (Keean Johnson), offers instead to help trigger her memories. A growing affection develops between the two until deadly forces come after Alita and threaten her newfound relationships. It is then that Alita discovers she has extraordinary fighting abilities that could be used to save the friends and family she’s grown to love. Determined to uncover the truth behind her origin, Alita sets out on a journey that will lead her to take on the injustices of this dark, corrupt world, and discover that one young woman can change the world in which she lives.

Disregarding the nearly twenty year wait since the film rights were purchased where the fan anticipation has done nothing but build, the now-titled Alita: Battle Angel has another hill to climb given the context into which it will be released. Western adaptations of manga/anime doesn’t have a deep history, but, when it does happen, it tends to not do well. However, the most recent attempt, 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, was a cultural disaster as much as it was a box office stumble. Surely, with that still weighing heavy on the minds of fans and producers alike, it seems likely that Alita will be met with severe skepticism.

Ido has his rocket hammer, so Dan is happy. Source: 20th Century Fox.

Optimistically, it has some elements that work for it that actively worked against Ghost in the Shell. For one, all iterations of Battle Angel take place in a far future United States; so, aside from the general appropriation of a story originally written and drawn by a Japanese artist, the wide-scope white-washing that occurred in Ghost in the Shell seems avoidable in this case. In the small scale, the father-figure character from the manga and OVA, Daisuke Ido, has had Austrian-German actor, Chrisoph Waltz, cast in the live-action adaptation; the character has been renamed Dyson Ido, so the criticism can’t be wholly avoided. Second, translated editions of the manga and the OVA have been widely out of print for awhile, so Battle Angel doesn’t have as much presence in the cultural zeitgeist as Ghost in the Shell had with its classic manga, multiple movies and television shows. If anything, because of this, Alita: Battle Angel seems to be in a good position to be released without much fear of controversy.

The manga was brought back into print in English by Kodansha Comics in May of 2017, but it still remains to be seen if the long out of print OVA will see a new release, either on Blu-Ray or on digital services. A re-release seems likely as a marketing move to raise anticipation for the film’s release.

While fan reaction to the trailer has yet to be aggregated here, it’s clear that Rodriguez and his team are making interesting choices that could go either way with fans of Battle Angel and sci-fi movie fans in general. There is the digital deformation of actress Rosa Salazar to make her appear closer to how Alita (or Gally, in Japan) looks in her original representation. Whether this technique is applied to other characters––both main and incidental––throughout the remainder of the movie may be the line between acceptance or rejection of this choice by fans. As mentioned previously, the westernization of Ido by casting Waltz in the role could lead to controversy, but that remains to be seen. Canonically, his character is less tied to the cultural origins of his name in the story and more to the mysterious Zalem (in Japan, or Tiphares in the States; Battle Angel is a veritable totem for how wacky things can get when translating texts for the sake of localization), a city occupied by the wealthy and entitled that ominously floats above Scrapyard, where Battle Angel‘s story takes place. Therefore, Ido’s race-change may be a non-issue, at least within the context of the story.

All that being said, after almost twenty years of being in development hell, it is refreshing and curious to see a property surface from the mire, at the very least. We’ll have to wait until July to see how much of the mud has stuck.

News Blast: Marvel Announces Scripted Podcast with “Wolverine: The Long Night”

News Blast: Marvel Announces Scripted Podcast with “Wolverine: The Long Night”

source: Marvel.com

Marvel announced yesterday that it would be tapping into the dramatic podcast medium––citing popular true crime NPR podcasts, Serial and S-Town, as specific inspirations––using one of its most iconic superhero characters, Logan (as Wolverine), set to debut in the spring.

According to the press release, the 10-episode series, titled Wolverine: The Long Night, will be a crime narrative with Logan (voiced by British actor, Richard Armitage, most recently known for his role as Thorin in The Hobbit films) not as the protagonist but as the focus of a criminal investigation by a pair of detectives:

It follows agents Sally Pierce (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and Tad Marshall (Ato Essandoh) as they arrive in the fictional town of Burns, Alaska, to investigate a series of murders and quickly discover the town lives in fear of a serial killer. The agents team up with deputy Bobby Reid (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) to investigate their main suspect, Logan (Richard Armitage). Their search leads them on a fox hunt through the mysterious and corrupt town.

The podcast series will be a timed exclusive to users of the podcast aggregator and broadcaster, Stitcher, but only to those who subscribe to its premium services, and then only until fall 2018, after which it will be widely distributed. It’s an interesting and rather safe experiment with the debut being locked behind a paywall, but it will undoubtedly bring new listeners (and new premium subscribers) to the already prominent podcast-streaming website. In theory, if The Long Night does not perform well, then at least it died in front of a relatively small and curated audience.

British actor, Richard Armitage, is set to voice Logan in the podcast. Source: BBC

The teaming with Stitcher pulls some interest as it will undoubtedly guide a lot of fan attention toward the service, a service which has been under scrutiny about its business practices before. But since the deal is about timed exclusivity and doesn’t seem to be a production partnership, skeptical podcast fans need only to wait six months to listen using their preferred services. It is interesting that rabid fans won’t be able to simply download the episodes directly from Marvel at the outset, which possibly speaks to the fact that Marvel may be hedging their confidence until they see its success.

The prospect of an audio dramatized version of comic book characters isn’t wholly new––characters such Superman and the noir hero The Shadow were staple radio plays back during the medium’s heyday––but the podcast angle is new and seemingly novel. However, podcast-based audio drama is in a veritable renaissance currently, and this move is a logical, albeit a relatively safe, step. Disregarding the commercial availability of audio dramas through companies like Big Finish, fictional podcast dramas have had many iterations and successes through the years, with productions like The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Homecoming, and Welcome to Night Vale having been around for awhile to varying degrees of popularity (with Welcome to Night Vale being the standout from this list).

However, like NPR diving head-first into the podcast medium with Serial (it had been podcasting its broadcast shows, but Serial was its first main effort to produce a podcast from scratch), Marvel’s entry into dramatized podcasting could produce a similar effect, especially using one of its most popular, vexing, and mysterious characters. Logan’s past is a game of retcon darts where anything can be added if it’s thrown hard enough at the board. This canonical malleability makes Logan a logical candidate for a short experiment such as this and likely explains (in the only rational way) why Marvel would not use the current Wolverine in the form of Laura Kinney as the star of this series. With Logan as the focus of their first foray into this new medium (which will directly follow his return to the Marvel universe), if The Long Night succeeds it could really raise the visibility of podcast dramas in the eyes of a wider audience just as Serial did for its user base.

Logan hasn’t been seen in comics since the 2014 “Death of Wolverine” storyline, but returned in November 2017 in Marvel Legacy #1. Art by Steve McNiven.

Overall, this seems like a promising project. Written by Ben Percy, a veteran comics writer though one whose résumé is filled with mostly DC credits, it’s emboldening to see this project hire a person already comfortable writing in a serialized format with superhero characters, even if this story will be (and I apologize for using the heavily flogged descriptor) grounded and a bit more subdued. Some may wonder if Fox is involved, but––if I’m correct––this venture doesn’t need any approval nor collaboration with the owners of the film and TV rights to the property. At the time those contracts were signed, new media was probably not part of the deal and, in theory, Fox could do something similar with its filmic version of the characters. As it is, Wolverine: The Long Night is tied to the comic book version of the character rather than extending from the cinematic interpretation. This distinction will surely please the fans yearning for a non-comic book adaptation of the mutants that are separate from version seen from Fox.

The unfolding of this project will be intriguing as it could possibly open up an entire new medium to not only its fans but new fans who may have been unable to fully enjoy other iterations of superheroes, such as those with visual impairments. While audio drama may be viewed as an old or outdated medium, audio books have never been more popular. Even audio book services like Audible are producing original audio book and dramatized content for their subscribers. When looked at critically, audio drama holds a lot of potential in our digital and mobile context. With Marvel dominating the cinematic space and having broke new ground (even if the momentum has waned a bit) in new media with its Netflix shows, that the company is looking at new ways to present its characters to the world outside of traditional media is heartening and, more importantly, smart.

News Blast: New Releases for The Last Jedi

News Blast: New Releases for The Last Jedi

Although old news for just about everybody, Lucasfilm released a new trailer for the upcoming film in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. [Note: Your guess is as good as mine as to how many colons belong in that title. I’ll leave that for Dan to determine at a later date.] As with any Marvel/Disney/Lucasfilm trailer, there’s a lot being packed into two minutes and thirty-four seconds. For those that missed it, here it is:

I’m not really here to make any major speculation or draw any conclusions from this trailer. As a lot of people on the internet have already pointed out, there is a significant amount of clever cutting and editing. Any conclusions that you may draw from the trailer are entirely speculative (unless your conclusion is, “These people are in this movie”).

However, there is one thing from the trailer that has also appeared in several other forms of advertising media that has turned a few heads and gotten a few people talking: Luke Skywalker in various stages of “looking like a bad guy.” In the trailer, some attentive fans have looked at 1:47, where a defeated (and wet?) Luke says, “This will not go the way you think.” Others have referenced 1:53, where a wet Rey confronts what appears to be Luke in his grimdark outfit. [Note: we’re not entirely sure what wetness has to do with it, but it may be important.]

Of course, a few seconds of a trailer never amounted to anything. Don’t worry, because Lucasfilm did not stop there. Shortly before the release of the trailer, Lucasfilm released the new poster for the movie. It features everything one would expect from a movie titled, “The Last Jedi.” All the characters locked in seemingly action poses. A couple of lightsabers. Lots of … red? Judge for yourself:

Apparently, the primary color being used here is “Sith Red.”

Fans of Star Wars posters have noticed a certain theme that appears throughout a number of the posters. It is typical for a villainous character to appears in the background, behind the rest: Episode 1 – Darth Maul; Episode 3 – Darth Vader; Episode IV – Darth VaderEpisode V – Darth VaderEpisode VI – Darth VaderEpisode VII – Kylo Ren. Certainly, it’s nothing definitive, especially since in half of those cases, the villain pictured is not main villain of the story. But, it’s another thing that have drawn the attention of fans.

And let’s not forget about the IMAX Standee, also released last week.

Big movie requires big standee.

The standee, which is cleverly divided into “good guys” on the left and “bad guys” on the right, also happens to feature one character on both sides: our man Luke Skywalker, again. We could go on with this, but it’s just speculative absurdity at this point.

What does it all mean? Apparently, we’re meant to believe that Luke is playing both sides in this movie. Or not? It’s never really clear. Teasing the fanbase is something that Lucasfilm (or, more appropriately, Disney) has turned into a veritable art form and a standard operating procedure. At this point, the only thing we know for certain is that a lot of people are going to go see the new Star Wars movie in mid-December.