TIME Video Games

This Is What Batman Might Look Like in a Final Fantasy Game

Japanese artist and game designer Tetsuya Nomura tries his hand at a rendition of Batman we've definitely never seen before.

Tetsuya Nomura, if you don’t know that name, is arguably Japan’s most visible video games character designer, best known for his work on the Final Fantasy games. He’s responsible for some of the most memorable dysmorphic faces, improbable pantaloons, kitchen-cleaver swords and punk-via-bouffant hairdos in gaming history.

And now he’s shown us what he might do were he green-lit to drop DC’s Batman into one of his games. Think Batman by way of Final Fantasy XII‘s Mydia by way of a Battlestar Galactica Cylon.

Square Enix

That’s more than just a concept drawing, too: You might eventually be able to buy this version of Batman, which Nomura apparently designed for DC Comics’ Variant Play Arts Kai action figure line. The figure was revealed in advance of Comic-Con, which kicks off today, July 24 and runs through Sunday, July 27.

Nomura’s going to be at the show autographing postcards on behalf of Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts and DC Comics series Play Arts Kai action figures purchased at the show (you have to buy one to get the autographed postcard — a little gimmicky-sounding, I know).

No word yet on when (or I suppose we need to include the condition if) this claw-winged, crimson-visored version of Batman’s going to be available, but Kotaku says the figure will be on display at Square Enix’s Comic-Con booth through Sunday.

RELATED: Batman Arkham Knight Developer Interview

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles

TIME Video Games

This Gamer Says He Found His Father’s Ghost in a Game

Video games have been archiving little facets of our selves for years, leading to unexpected encounters like this one.

This one’s a little hard to read, so prepare yourself. But it’s also kind of amazing, and a reminder of just how much gaming — once dismissed as a trivial pastime — is intersecting with people’s lives in utterly nontrivial ways.

Yahoo-based Motoramic reports that a gamer who lost his father when just six years old encountered him again, 10 years later, in a video game they’d played together before the parent died.

The game, RalliSport Challenge, was a 2002 Xbox and Windows racer that among other things allowed players to save their best lap time as “ghosts,” against which other players could race. When this child, now a teenager, decided to have another look at the game a decade later…well, maybe I’d better just let him tell the story, which Motoramic says he did as a comment left in response to a YouTube PBS piece dubbed “Can Video Games Be a Spiritual Experience?“:

Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together – until he died, when i was just 6.

i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.

but once i did, i noticed something.

we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.

and once i started meddling around… i found a GHOST.

literaly.

you know, when a time race happens, that the fastest lap so far gets recorded as a ghost driver? yep, you guessed it – his ghost still rolls around the track today.

and so i played and played, and played, untill i was almost able to beat the ghost. until one day i got ahead of it, i surpassed it, and…

i stopped right in front of the finish line, just to ensure i wouldnt delete it.
Bliss.

I couldn’t locate that comment in the YouTube story, but I was able to track it back to an Imgur capture someone posted to a Reddit thread (a month old — this story isn’t breaking, and the PBS YouTube video ran back in May), which itself contains several moving stories by various users of their interactions with lost loved ones through left-behind, gaming-related experiences.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles

TIME Video Games

The Luigi ‘Death Stare’ Is Now Nintendo Canon, Apparently

It's also probably not a good idea to say his name three times while standing in front of a mirror.

Remember the Luigi “death stare” meme that surfaced after Mario Kart 8 shipped? The thing where Luigi (green-capped brother of Mario) stares down his victims on the raceway like the Wrath of God in a go-kart?

Nintendo tipped its hat to the meme during its E3 2014 Digital Event, and now it’s identifying that steely, spleenful gaze with the character in Japanese ads for Mario Kart 8. Check it out.

How’ll we know it’s really canon in years to come? How else: Have Luigi whip out his flashlight and shine it from under his chin while doing his pitiless thing in the next Luigi’s Mansion game. Make it a special move even.

TIME Video Games

The Destiny Beta Is Back a Day Early for Both PlayStation and Xbox

Bungie says the Destiny beta is back early because it managed to finish maintenance ahead of schedule.

You know all that stuff about the Destiny beta being down for maintenance and offline until Wednesday, July 23 at 10:00 a.m. PT?

Pish-posh, apparently, because the beta is back as I’m typing this, and I mean for everyone — PlayStation and Xbox players alike. Bungie made the announcement on its Destiny blog just a few hours ago:

We know you’ve been waiting, so we busted our asses to finish our chores up early. You can download and play the Beta right now. This is a great moment for the entire Bungie Community to share in this adventure, and we couldn’t be more excited. Get in there. Break it. Tell us what you think. Share your experiences online.

If you have a code, redeem it already, says Bungie, and if you don’t, here’s how you can still get one. Bungie adds that it has “some surprises in store,” and says that if you play this Saturday, July 26, starting at 2:00 p.m. PT, you’ll get a permanent reward to celebrate your participation. The beta runs until July 27 at 11:59 p.m. PT, and the launch version of the game arrives for Xbox and PlayStation platforms on September 9.

TIME Gadgets

How to Build a Better Game Boy with Raspberry Pi

Note that if you're so inclined, you'll need to be handy with a soldering iron, hot glue gun, dremel and a bunch of other things.

You know how we like to remember things, as Bill Pullman’s character says in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, in our own way? When I think about Nintendo’s original Game Boy, released over two decades ago, it’s of a tiny handheld with sharp graphics and a screen like a pocket-sized poster.

Except looking at pictures of it now, the Game Boy resembles more the brick it probably was, and that eensy-teensy screen is a postage stamp dipped in pea soup. How did we ever game on that thing?

What if you could build a better Game Boy, or at least one with a better, bigger screen and a vastly more flexible backend?

Right, Nintendo already checked the bigger, better screen box with its Light and Color and Advance models. But I’m talking about a Game Boy that still looks like the original XL-sized model, with the same cerise-colored face buttons and off-white ABS plastic housing, only under the hood it’s a Raspberry Pi.

In the spirit of mods that require soldering irons and hot glue guns and bucket-loads of patience, meet the “Super Mega Ultra Pi Boy 64,” a Game Boy shell with a Raspberry Pi soul.

Raspberry Pi, in case you don’t know, is a computer on a single circuit board. It’s tiny (about the size of a credit card), relatively powerful (on par with an older Android phone or iPhone) and extremely cheap (in the $20 to $30 range). It runs a medley of operating systems, including Linux, RISC OS and Windows CE, and was designed for educational as well as enthusiast purposes, the idea being that kids (or anyone, really) could tinker with it to make who knows what.

Fair warning: the process whereby modder Microbyter put together his “Super Pi Boy” looks arduous, but what the heck — it’s a great read. This fellow picked up a damaged Game Boy for $5, dremeled out the battery compartment, converted a 3.5-inch LCD from 12v to 5v (to make it work with the battery), soldered in the original Game Boy controller PCB, rejiggered the audio to work with an amplifier, loaded an emulator called Retropie, then dropped in the Pi board itself and wired everything together.

And it works, which is some kind of miracle, and has me wishing I had one so I could play through this twitchy grayscale gem all over again.

TIME Video Games

Nintendo’s ‘Wii U to Wii U’ Transfer Feature Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Nintendo adds a system-to-system transfer option, but Wii U owners still can't backup save files or move data around conveniently.

I’m not sure it’s the feature that’ll motivate fence-sitters off their palisades to buy one, but if you already own a Wii U — or better still, two — the latest system update finally adds the option to run a full system transfer, Wii U to Wii U.

To be clear, you’re already able to transfer data off the Wii U, you just can’t back it up. Does that sound oxymoronic? Let me explain.

Wii U data can only exist in one place, so you either have it on the Wii U’s internal flash or an external USB storage device, but never in both places at once. If you brick your Wii U and your save files live on an external storage device, then you buy or receive a replacement Wii U, you’ve had no way of recovering those files. Making matters worse, Nintendo doesn’t offer cloud saves, so you could argue the Wii U is inferior to the original Nintendo Entertainment System (which in some cases allowed you to save straight to the cartridge) as well as most systems that’ve come after it.

Nintendo’s latest Wii U system update, out yesterday, goes some way toward rectifying this deficit, but the restrictions are pretty onerous. For starters, you’ll need the source Wii U alive and kicking and running the same system software version as the destination Wii U. From there, you’re in essence running an all-or-nothing clone operation: the source Wii U transfers “any users, Nintendo Network IDs, save data, and digital content” to the target Wii U, then wipes the source Wii U clean.

That’s helpful if you own a vanilla Wii U, say, and want to transition to the annual custom-painted limited edition. But we’re probably talking about a handful of hardcore Nintendophiles. Who wants to own two otherwise identical Wii Us? And even then, you’re not backing anything up, you’re just moving it from one system to another.

It’s a shame, because what I’d wager Wii U owners really want — or at least what I do — is a way to back up those Wii U save files, be it to the cloud or an external storage device. Microsoft and Sony have supported save file duplication to external storage as well as cloud save-file backups for years. Nintendo’s system update is arguably helpful for a tiny fraction of Nintendo’s audience, in other words, but not the backup/transfer feature Wii U owners have long deserved.

TIME Video Games

The Destiny Beta Just Went Dark Until Wednesday

Bungie

If you can't log in, that's by design, and the whole thing should be back in roughly 48 hours.

So that’s it PlayStation owners, the horn just sounded and it’s time for everyone to climb out of the pool: Bungie’s Destiny beta, which arrived last Thursday for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 owners, is now offline for a two-day maintenance hiatus.

Don’t worry, it’ll be back on Wednesday (this week) at 10 a.m. PT, at which point PlayStation players will be able to log back in, this time joined by their Xbox One and Xbox 360 friends across the aisle — though that aisle is technically uncrossable: the game doesn’t support cross-platform play.

In fact it doesn’t even support same brand play, which makes sense if you’ve read Bungie’s thoughts on the matter, namely that screen resolution and detail levels do matter when you’re talking about information that might convey critical advantages to one player or another.

The beta will officially wrap for everyone on July 27 at 11:59 p.m. PT. In the lead-up, Bungie’s planning a Beta Rally on Saturday, July 26 that kicks off at 2:00 p.m. PT. If you’re present during the rally (read: “stress test”), you’ll receive a beta tout you can bring to the final version of the game.

The final — or perhaps we should just say “launch” — version of Destiny arrives for Xbox and PlayStation platforms on September 9.

TIME

PlayStation 4 Sweeps June Game Sales, While Mario Kart 8 Resuscitates the Wii U

Sony's PlayStation 4 (upper-left) and Microsoft's Xbox One (lower-right). Sony, Microsoft

Retail tracker NPD says June marked another up month for video games, led by sales of Sony's PlayStation 4 and Mario Kart 8 for Nintendo's Wii U.

You could argue that now we know why Microsoft sent out that bolt-from-the-blue Xbox One sales claim half a day before NPD’s June sales figures arrived: it turns out Sony’s PlayStation 4 was the top selling console for June 2014, while Nintendo’s Wii U snatched the top selling single game SKU with Mario Kart 8.

Let’s start with overall industry sales, which saw something of a spring banquet when May 2014 came along and year-on-year retail hardware, software and accessories sales soared by 52 percent.

June 2014 saw further year-on-year growth across retail hardware, software and accessories categories by 24 percent over June 2013. Once again, the key factor was hardware sales growth of 106 percent (in May, by comparison, hardware growth was 95 percent year-on-year), offsetting declines in portable hardware sales.

As usual, we don’t have unit sales specifics, but Sony claimed victory for next-gen software sales in an email, writing that the PS4 “[led] two of the top three titles” (Watch Dogs, FIFA 14) and was first in unit sales “for the sixth consecutive month.”

Nintendo, for its part, claimed Mario Kart 8 (reviewed here) was June’s top-selling game and gave us a few rare figures: 470,000 physical and digital units sold in June, bring the total to more than 885,000 units sold (in the U.S. alone) in the game’s first five weeks. Nintendo says June 2014 Wii U sales are up 233 percent over June 2013, while Wii U software sales are up 373 percent for the same period.

I’d list NPD’s physical software sales, but at this point it’s getting too confusing: Watch Dogs was the top-seller (over Mario Kart 8) across all platforms if you ignore digital sales, but as noted above, Nintendo says Mario Kart 8 was the top-selling game once you factor in digital sales. (If I were NPD, I’d either figure out how to fold accurate digital sales into the rankings, or stop publishing the physical software sales chart entirely.)

While NPD says portable sales declined year-on-year, Nintendo notes that June 2014 3DS sales were up over the prior month by more than 55 percent, driven in part by sales of Tomodachi Life (175,000 digital and physical copies sold).

We’re now well into an extended up-trend, too: NPD says nine of the last 10 months saw year-on-year growth, thanks primarily to the new console launches last November, but NPD notes that growth trend started with software sales in September and October 2013 (in other words, Grand Theft Auto V — still listing in NPD’s top 10 chart for June 2014 software sales, incidentally).

What’s next: July 2014’s going to look pretty sleepy, sales-wise, and we’ll probably see declines across the board, though the Destiny beta that kicked off on PS4 and PS3 yesterday, adding Xbox One and Xbox 360 next week, could bolster hardware sales. The Last of Us for PS4 should do reasonably well, but it doesn’t launch until July 29. August is pretty quiet until Diablo 3 (for PS4 and Xbox One) comes along on August 19, followed by the latest Madden NFL on August 26.

But it’s September everyone’s waiting for: Assuming Destiny and The Sims 4 don’t suck, those two alone could well set sales records.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Is Shuttering Xbox Entertainment Studios, but Halo TV Series Lives On

Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Studios Phil Spencer speaks at the Microsoft Xbox E3 2012 media briefing in Los Angeles on June 4, 2012.
Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Studios Phil Spencer speaks at the Microsoft Xbox E3 2012 media briefing in Los Angeles on June 4, 2012. Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

The studio, created just a few years ago and employing some 200, will close its doors immediately.

This is the kind of day Microsoft’s having: first, the company announced it was laying off 18,000 employees, most of those from the company’s recently purchased Nokia division.

Now, in the wake of that bombshell, the company says it’s closing Xbox Entertainment Studios, its nascent interactive entertainment wing formed in 2012 to create original television content for the company’s Xbox Live online service. On the chopping block are roughly 200 jobs in California and British Columbia (it’s not clear if all 200 are layoffs, or whether some of those jobs will wind up reshuffled within the company).

Bearish as analysts have been about Microsoft’s Xbox program in general, and especially in light of CEO Satya Nadella’s recent assurances about Redmond’s commitment to the Xbox brand, I’m not sure anyone saw this coming (and despite the fact that in hindsight Nadella said nothing specific about Xbox Entertainment Studios in that note — I assumed, as I’m sure most did, that when he talked Xbox, he meant the whole enchilada).

Xbox Entertainment’s biggest projects were arguably Halo: Nightfall, an upcoming digital feature, and a Halo TV series staged in the popular sci-fi universe and produced by Steven Spielberg. Xbox Entertainment’s closure doesn’t spell the end for those projects or even of Microsoft’s interest in original programming, but it means the scope for such projects will change.

After the closure announcement, Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer issued a memo committing to original programming “already in production,” including the documentary series Signal to Noise and both Halo: Nightfall and the Halo TV series, “which will continue as planned with [Halo developer] 343 Industries.”

Xbox will continue to support and deliver interactive sports content like ‘NFL on Xbox,’ and we will continue to enhance our entertainment offering on console by innovating the TV experience through the monthly console updates. Additionally, our app partnerships with world-class content providers bringing entertainment, sports and TV content to Xbox customers around the world are not impacted by this organizational change in any way and remain an important component of our Xbox strategy.

Despite Spencer’s assurances, this is Microsoft pretty clearly hitting the eject button on a dedicated content-creation studio shortly after takeoff. It’s not clear what went wrong, or even if something did. My guess would be that Nadella viewed the studio’s standalone existence in the company hierarchy as too far outside his reimagined (or, you could argue, doubled-down-on) wheelhouse, that wheelhouse being “a productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world.”

Read through Nadella’s missive again, and in view of what’s happened, it’s easier to see how Xbox Entertainment Studios hit the cutting room floor today, though that’ll do nothing to assuage studio talent fresh out of a job.

TIME Video Games

Atari Unveils Pridefest, an LGBT-Themed Social Sim Game

Atari

Atari says it's working on an iOS and Android game that's effectively a parade-building sim designed to appeal to the LGBT community.

A social sim game designed to appeal to the LGBT community is coming to an iOS or Android tablet near you, Atari says. Dubbed Pridefest, players will be able to “launch their very own personalized pride parade in a city of their choosing.”

So, customize parade flotillas by choosing size, components, mascots and decorations, as well as surrounding structures and side attractions, which in turn feed a city happiness metric, checking off quest or challenge goals to unlock new parades, receive festival supplies or secure bonuses. Social elements of the game also include avatar customization, chatting with friends and the option to bring your parade to friends’ cities, or to join in on theirs.

While there’s no specific release date yet, Atari promises this is “coming soon.”

“To have [Atari] support our conference and cause, as well as bring an LGBTQ-themed game to market is a huge step toward equality in gaming,” GaymerX founder Matt Conn said in a statement. “It’s extremely important that we see these large publishers like Atari stepping up to the plate, and I’m excited that they have the courage to take the first step in supporting the community.”

As Conn mentions, Pridefest is significant in a number of ways. While LGBT characters have been featured in games before–even as a protagonist in, for example, My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant–this seems to be an exception to the rule, and certainly not the norm. Pridefest may be the first video game to unambiguously cater to the LGBT community as a whole.

That said, the game carries with it huge potential for stereotyping. The concept alone, that LGBT is de facto synonymous with “pride parades,” “flotillas,” “colorful decorations” and so forth seems a little reductive, pandering to pop culture simplifications of what it means to be LGBT.

Anyone considering purchasing this game should consider the following: Assuming the underlying gameplay is competent, is this the sort of game someone who identifies as LGBT would also want to play? Are games that fold LGBT characters and issues into more mature game narratives, say a character like Dragon Age Inquisition‘s Dorian (or at least what we know of that character at this point), of greater interest?

Another, greater question for the gaming community: If you could roll out your own LGBT-themed or inclusive games, what kinds of games might they be?

 

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