Archive for the ‘Gaming & Culture’ Category

When practical effects ruled the world: VFX legend gets his due in new doc

October 12th, 2019

The trailer for Phil Tippett—Mad Dreams and Monsters

No matter what the Criterion collector in your life says, DVDs have been slowly fading away from our lives these last few years. Losing films as a self-contained thing you can acquire has many ramifications, but chief among them for film nerds is the transformation of "extras." Where should things like deleted scenes, director's commentary, bloopers, or behind-the-scenes vignettes exist if they can no longer be packaged right alongside the film? Maybe today's YouTube videos, oral histories, or podcasts work well enough in many situations, but frankly, some innovators in film history deserve more.

Luckily, this type of content in 2019 has increasingly found a new streaming-era-friendly home: the standalone documentary. From Hayao Miyazaki: Never-Ending Man (essentially extras for Boro the Caterpillar) to The Director and The Jedi (that's The Last Jedi), these projects show that what would've been extras in the past can work as their own feature-length entities able to play to crowds of film lovers at festivals or exist as algorithmic suggestions alongside original films on Netflix, Amazon Prime, et al.

At the 2019 Fantastic Fest, this budding format proved to be just right for Phil Tippett, a film effects legend whose work you've seen even if his name doesn't ring any bells. From Star Wars to Jurassic Park with Robocop in between, Tippett is the stop-motion savant behind so many landmark "effects" films from the era before CGI took over. And the long time industry hero finally has the spotlight on him in Phil Tippett—Mad Dreams and Monsters, a new documentary delivering that familiar behind-the-scenes feeling in the best way possible.

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Posted in documentaries, Gaming & Culture, Jurassic Park, Phil Tippett, robocop, Star Wars, vfx | Comments (0)

Ranked: Every Ticket to Ride map

October 12th, 2019

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at

You may have played one of the most successful titles in tabletop gaming, Ticket to Ride. But have you tried all of the game’s expansions and standalone spinoffs? These additions introduce new boards and rules that tweak the basic format of drawing train cards and then placing trains to connect cities across each map with the goal of connecting more distant cities so you can complete Destination Tickets for more points.

I’ve counted 17 different maps so far (not counting Japan and Italy, which will be released in Europe at Spiel 2019 in late October and worldwide in January 2020. Also, the Märklin map is no longer available and won't be included in this exercise). That’s a lot for anyone to digest. So to help any Ticket to Ride faithful looking to expand, Ars has compiled this overview—along with my personal ranking—of all existing maps, some of which are also available in the wonderful mobile app version of the game. And if something below doesn't quite ride for you, let us know your favorites maps in the comments.

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Posted in ars cardboard, Board games, Gaming & Culture, Ticket to Ride, trains | Comments (0)

Blizzard reinstates Hong Kong protestor’s prize, says “China had no influence”

October 12th, 2019

After four days of mounting public pressure, Blizzard Entertainment took a late Friday opportunity—8:30pm ET, where press releases go to die—to partially undo its ban on three members of the Hearthstone esports community for making statements in support of Hong Kong.

The outright ban applied to professional Hearthstone player Ng "blitzchung" Wai Chung has since been changed to a six-month suspension from official Hearthstone esports tournaments. The original decision to strip him of the associated tournament's prize money has been reversed.

Additionally, the two Chinese broadcasters who interviewed (and possibly egged on) blitzchung during his shout of "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" had been fired; they too have had their punishment changed to a six-month suspension from their jobs as official Hearthstone esports "casters."

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Posted in Blizzard, Gaming & Culture, hearthstone, Hong Kong | Comments (0)

Disney’s Jungle Cruise looks like an entertaining rehash of The Mummy

October 11th, 2019

Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson star in Jungle Cruise.

A scientist hires a down-on-his-luck riverboat captain as her guide on an Amazon adventure in Jungle Cruise, a forthcoming Disney film inspired by the classic Disneyland theme park ride. Yes, Disney's ride-inspired films have largely been forgettable apart from the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. And yes, the trailer does seem eerily similar to the 1999 film The Mummy in many respects, with a soupçon of Tomb Raider thrown in for good measure. It also looks like good old-fashioned escapist fare, a perfect summer offering.

Emily Blunt plays Lily Houghton, a scientist who is keen to locate the Tree of Life somewhere in the wilds of the Amazon. It's purported to hold "unparalleled healing powers." She's already located a mysterious arrowhead she believes is the key to unlocking those powers, and now she just has to find the tree. Her younger brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) accompanies her on the mission, and they hire a colorful riverboat captain, Frank (Dwayne Johnson), to guide them.

Frank is a bit on the shady side, manufacturing all kinds of fake thrills on his standard riverboat cruise to delight (and sometimes disgust) his clients. He's in this for the money—and his price for guiding Lily and McGregor tends to fluctuate along with their fortunes. "All the while," per the synopsis, "the trio must fight against dangerous wild animals and a competing German expedition." Not to mention, there might also be some kind of mythical cursed creature standing in their way.

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Posted in Disney, film, Gaming & Culture, Jungle Cruise, Trailers | Comments (0)

Alien’s origin story chestbursts anew in stirring new documentary

October 11th, 2019

Trailer for Memory: the Origins of Alien.

Ridley Scott's timelessly evocative sci-fi/horror mashup Alien celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, so what better way to mark the occasion than with an in-depth documentary exploring the film's origins? Memory: The Origins of Alien does just that, with a mythological twist: Director Alexandre O. Philippe has framed his narrative around how certain films (like Alien) tap into our collective unconscious, particularly our most deep-seated fears, and this new documentary makes some surprising—and thought-provoking—connections in the process.

On Alien and film docs

Alien grossed between $100 million and $200 million worldwide upon its release in 1979. Critical reviews were initially mixed, but the film snagged an Oscar for best visual effects—the gross-out chest-burster scene and H.R Giger's nightmare-inducing designs for the various alien life cycles alone were worthy of the honor. Now, of course, the film is considered a classic. The American Film Institute ranked it the seventh best science fiction film of all time in 2008. And naturally it spawned an equally lucrative franchise of sequels, none of which have ever quite achieved the same level of artistic vision. (I'd argue that James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens came close, though.)

The film's success was all the more remarkable given that it was released just two years after Star Wars: A New Hope, more of a classic space opera action film. Alien was darker, moodier, grittier, and more constrained. Much of the action takes place aboard the spaceship Nostromo, with doomed crew members getting picked off one by one by the monster in fine horror-trope fashion. Meanwhile, Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley challenged conventional gender roles in both genres, transcending the stereotypical Final Girl to become the ultimate nerd-culture icon.

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Posted in alien, alien franchise, documentary, Entertainment, Gaming & Culture, Memory: The Origins of Alien, Ridley Scott | Comments (0)

“Troll Factory” turns disinformation campaigns into teaching game

October 11th, 2019
You, too, can become a Director of Disorder.

Enlarge / You, too, can become a Director of Disorder. (credit: Yle)

Half of the battle against disinformation campaigns is educating people about how they work. And that's why the Finnish public broadcasting company Yle—Finland's equivalent of the BBC—has created a game called Troll Factory. The game, which recently won the European Journalism Centre's and Google News Initiative's Global Youth and News Media Prize for promoting media literacy, puts the player in the role of a disinformation operative working for an Internet Research Agency-like organization with an anti-immigrant agenda.

The gamification of education on disinformation campaigns has been shown to help build up a resistance to fake news in the past. The University of Cambridge conducted a study in 2018 using a browser game called "Bad News" and found that completing the 15-minute game increased "psychological resistance" to fake news on social media, reducing the perceived credibility of fake news headlines by an average of 21 percent across 15,000 participants.

Troll Factory takes Bad News' approach one step further by using real samples of memes, conspiracy theories and fake news articles used in such campaigns to infect social media and heighten the polarization of public discourse around the world—and in the US and Western Europe in particular. With the increasing reliance on social media for news, Yle's interactive team sought to create more awareness of how weaponized social media has become and more understanding among social media users of how they could be drawn into unintentionally spreading false information.

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Posted in Biz & IT, disinformation, Educational Games, Gaming & Culture, news literacy, social networks | Comments (0)

Gay World of WarCraft guild forced to change name because of user complaints

October 11th, 2019
What's to become of the <em>WoW Classic</em> guild "GAY BOYS"?

Enlarge / What's to become of the WoW Classic guild "GAY BOYS"? (credit: Aurich Lawson / Blizzard)

Public scrutiny of game developer Blizzard's relationship with free speech was already high this week. It intensified on Thursday, but the latest Blizzard story has nothing to do with punishing players for statements about Hong Kong. Instead, it's about the names of guilds in World of WarCraft.

We’ve heard lots of acronyms, but never "ZFXPK"

Ars Technica received word on Thursday that the "GAY BOYS" guild within the recent World of WarCraft Classic fork had its name changed late Wednesday to the machine-generated gibberish "Guild ZFXPK." An email, apparently sent by Blizzard Customer Service, indicated that the guild's name-change process began because "your fellow players reported your in-game name as inappropriate multiple times." From there, the email cites "a thorough investigation" that also led to the guild's creator receiving a temporary account suspension. The suspension was later overturned, but the guild's name remains "Guild ZFXPK."

A cursory scan of existing WoW guilds shows another one named "GAY BOYS," which had a temporary name change in 2016, followed by a Blizzard forum thread asking why it had been changed. After acknowledging that general user forums weren't the place to properly dispute customer service issues, a WoW forum moderator offered some advice for choosing a new name: "Picking a name that you can identify with without also using words that would illicit [sic] a reaction from other players would be far more beneficial."

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Posted in Blizzard, Gaming & Culture, lgbtq, World of Warcraft | Comments (0)

Elven brothers go on a quest to find lost magic in Onward trailer from Pixar

October 10th, 2019

Pixar's new animated film Onward reunites the creative team behind Monsters University.

Two elven brothers embark on a quest to revive magic and bring back their lost father in a new trailer for Onward, the upcoming animated feature from Pixar. It's directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae, the same creative team that gave us 2013's Monsters University. So we're probably in good hands.

The official synopsis for Onward is short and sweet: "Set in a suburban fantasy world, Disney and Pixar’s Onward introduces two teenage elf brothers who embark on an extraordinary quest to discover if there is still a little magic left out there." That world includes elves, trolls, mermaids, centaurs, fauns, gnomes, and plenty of other mystical creatures, all of whom have long since forsaken their magical roots, lured by the shiny new hotness of technology.

The first teaser dropped in May during the NBA Finals. It features charming suburban scenes depicting all the once-magical creatures going about their daily lives, much like suburban humans. (My favorites included gnome gardeners and a mermaid sipping a drink in her inflatable backyard pool.) And we meet the Lightfoot brothers, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), as they embark on what Barley considers to be a glorious quest. Ian insists it's just "a really strange errand."

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Posted in Chris Pratt, Entertainment, film, Gaming & Culture, Onward, Pixar Animation Studios, Tom Holland, Trailers | Comments (0)

Steam’s next big feature will make any “local multiplayer” game work online

October 10th, 2019
With Steam's new upcoming feature, dubbed Remote Play Together, you can turn any "local multiplayer" game into a connected experience.

Enlarge / With Steam's new upcoming feature, dubbed Remote Play Together, you can turn any "local multiplayer" game into a connected experience. (credit: Valve)

On Wednesday, Steam sent a stealth news update to developers about a surprise new feature coming to Steam as soon as October 21: "Remote Play Together." The feature will transform any "local multiplayer" video game into an online one, and this will work by having the primary player stream their game to up to three other friends—meaning, other players won't have to buy a copy to join in.

As of press time, the emailed update has been posted on a Unity development forum, and it spells out how the feature will work, along with how developers can opt into its upcoming public beta. The news was later confirmed by Valve developer Alden Kroll as authentic. Valve has yet to otherwise post its own announcement.

How it works

Once the beta goes live, players can pull up the Steam Overlay (shift + tab on a keyboard) while playing a Steam game with any form of "local multiplayer" support and load their friends list. Once you send a Remote Play Together invite, "it's just like handing a second controller to a friend," according to the Valve email.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, Steam, steam remote play, Valve | Comments (0)

Doom Eternal joins this year’s game-delay club, will launch March 2020

October 8th, 2019

Doom Eternal—the highly anticipated sequel to the hell-shooter series' 2016 reboot—has left our list of most anticipated games of 2019. On Tuesday morning, game publisher Bethesda announced that Doom Eternal needs another four months in the oven. That means it will launch on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on March 20, 2020.

That list of supported platforms is missing a big name: Nintendo Switch. Tuesday's delay includes an additional, indefinite delay of the sequel's port to Nintendo's weaker console, thus breaking the developer's original promise that Switch buyers would get to rip and tear into Doom Eternal the same day as everyone else. "We will announce [the Switch port's] date in the future," the company's statement vaguely reads.

Publisher Bethesda took the opportunity to delay another related game out of November 2019, as well: Doom 64. This first-ever port of the 1997 shooter onto non-N64 platforms is still coming to PC and modern consoles, Bethesda says, but it too will launch on March 20, 2020. Now, at least, that port will become a free pre-order bonus for buyers of Doom Eternal. But we're not sure why Bethesda and id Software couldn't get Doom 64 ready by this holiday season to tide series fans over during the bigger game's delay. (In the meantime, if you own a legitimate copy of the N64 original, we suggest ripping its files and launching them on PC via the incredible Doom 64 EX mod.)

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Posted in bethesda, Doom, doom eternal, Gaming & Culture, id Software | Comments (0)