TIME Video Games

There’s Life on Mars in Bungie’s Latest Destiny Trailer

Mars is the kind of place to raise your kids, so long as they're comfortable wearing something Dune-ish and come packing heat.

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Is it really mid-August already? We’ve less than a month until Destiny lands on September 9 for PlayStation and Xbox platforms like a thermobaric bunker-buster, taking the wind out of everything else’s sails through September’s remainder and possibly beyond.

We spent the beta period that just ended exclusively exploring alien-infested ruins on Earth, so the latest trailer should be of more than passing interest as it highlights a very different off-planet locale central to the game’s sprawling mythology, and one we’ve only glimpsed so far: the planet Mars, hundreds of years in our future.

Here’s Bungie’s tease:

What little we know of Mars may as well be a myth. We built a massive metropolis in the red dust. No one knows what remains of our lost age, now buried beneath the dunes.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft Silent On Xbox One Sales as PlayStation 4 Wins July

Sony says the PlayStation 4 is the fastest selling PlayStation in history, as July retail game sales turn up another net-positive month.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 continues to defy what were once, you may recall, rather tepid expectations for this round of console sales.

Who needs consoles when they have tablets and computerized phones? Who wants to pay $60 or more for games when they can have dozens for a fraction of the price on a mobile device? Who wants to sit in their living room tethered to a TV, or play games that can take 15 or 30 hours or even longer to complete?

Ten million buyers to date worldwide, that’s who, a record in the time that’s passed–nine months, counting November when the console launched–for any PlayStation platform in Sony history, says Sony.

And with July’s NPD retail numbers out, Sony’s saying the PS4 was the number one console for the seventh straight month in a row, and that it led in retail software sales as well. The Last of Us: Remastered held the number one retail sales spot in July (confirmed by NPD), which is that much more impressive when you consider it’s not a new game and that it launched on July 29, so it had just three days to chart.

NPD says video game hardware sales were up dramatically year-on-year, from $99.8 million to $198.8 million, or a full 100%, offsetting declines in older console and current handheld sales. Add up Xbox One and PS4 sales to date and NPD says that compared to Xbox 360 and PS3 sales for the same period, the new consoles are trumping their predecessors by “close to 80 percent.”

Retail software sales were unchanged from July 2013, though as usual, the comparison ignores digital content sales, which could put the actual figure anywhere (and almost surely higher). NPD notes that EA’s annual NCAA Football installment usually launches in July, but that since the series is on indefinite hiatus due to legal squabbles about the use of player likenesses in the games, July 2014 was extra-sleepy on the retail software side.

Overall, NPD says new physical video game sales (hardware, software, accessories) grew 16% compared to July 2013.

Turning back to Sony’s PlayStation 4, we’re now looking at 10 million units sold through worldwide (revealed by Sony August 12) versus 5 million Xbox One units shipped to stores worldwide (revealed by Microsoft back in April). Of course, that doesn’t mean Sony’s outselling Microsoft 2:1, given the four month lag in official Microsoft figures, but then that’s all we know publicly, so on some level, that’s going to be the perception. You could argue Microsoft’s reluctance to get specific is just another way of being very specific, and not knowing where the Xbox One stands on a simple units-sold-through basis is probably as bad or worse than knowing when the apparent gulf starts to look this sizable.

Is Microsoft waiting to say more until it’s launched the Xbox One in more markets? Perhaps. At last count, Sony was selling the PS4 in 72 markets versus Microsoft’s 13 (not as big a deal as the numbers make it sound given population distributions, but far from dismissible).

Microsoft’s supposed to make up some of that shortfall this fall, and it has the Halo Master Chief Collection to help it along, but 2014 is first and foremost third-party-ville: Destiny, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Far Cry 4, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Grand Theft Auto V remastered and so forth. This is not the year of grand and daring first party exclusives, so short of overwhelming fealty to a series like Halo or LittleBigPlanet, or interest in racing games like Forza Horizon 2 or Driveclub, fence-sitters looking to dive in by year’s end are probably going to buy the system that plays those games based on their perception of where the momentum is.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft’s Xbox Tomb Raider Deal Is a Timed Exclusive After All

Xbox boss Phil Spencer won't say how long the timed exclusive lasts, only that it's not "in perpetuity."

I wondered why in the world a platform-agnostic studio like Crystal Dynamics would turn its beloved-once-more Tomb Raider franchise over to a single platform after a string of successes across multiple ones. The news out of Gamescom yesterday was that the studio would bring Rise of the Tomb Raider, its sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider, to the Xbox One exclusively. There was no mention in the presentation of it being a timed exclusive.

Crystal Dynamics’ head of product development Darrell Gallagher said the game was “coming holiday 2015, exclusively to Xbox.” The devil’s in those two words, “holiday 2015,” it seems.

According to Eurogamer, who asked the obvious question of Xbox honcho Phil Spencer at the show, Spencer — and let’s give him credit for being willing to say this much so soon — says the exclusivity deal isn’t forever.

“When people want me to say, can you tell us when or if it’s coming to other platforms, it’s not my job,” Spencer told Eurogamer. “My job is not to talk about games I don’t own.”

And he’s sympathetic to the competition.

“I get the reaction I see,” he continues. “If I’m a PlayStation person all of a sudden I feel like, the franchise has gone.” But Spencer lays concerns he bought or somehow controls Crystal Dynamics to rest, confirming Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t Microsoft’s forever, and that he doesn’t “own [the studio] building Tomb Raider on other platforms.”

When pressed, Spencer wouldn’t say how long the deal lasts (naturally), adding only that Microsoft has Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox 360 and Xbox One for holiday 2015. “What they do with the franchise in the long run is not mine,” he says. “I don’t control it. So all I can talk about is the deal I have. I don’t know where else Tomb Raider goes.”

TIME Video Games

Sony Says 10 Million PlayStation 4 Game Consoles Have Been Sold Worldwide

Sony confirmed the PlayStation 4's latest sales figures during its Gamescom 2014 press conference in Cologne, Germany.

At Gamescom 2014, Sony announced that it’s sold more than 10 million PlayStation game consoles worldwide since the system launched in November 2013. And that would be 10 million plucked off shelves by consumers, not just shipped to stores.

The last time the console majors rolled out unit sales specifics (around the end of March), Sony said it had sold through some 7 million PS4s, Nintendo that it had sold through just over 6 million Wii Us, with Microsoft bringing up the rear at around 5 million Xbox Ones shipped to stores. Microsoft said in July that with the Xbox One’s price drop from $499 to $399 and removal of Kinect in early June, Xbox One sales had more than doubled, but it was unclear then (as now) what the actual figures were.

TIME Video Games

For Better or Worse, Rise of the Tomb Raider Is for Xbox One Only

Score one -- a really, really big one -- for Microsoft.

The sequel to the unexpectedly acclaimed 2013 Tomb Raider series reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider, is going to be exclusively on Xbox One when it launches next holiday 2015. The game was announced in June at E3, but the assumption then was that it would be multi-platform. It was a safe assumption: The original as well as its remastered version were available for Xbox and PlayStation platforms (as well as PC and Mac).

Crystal Dynamics’ head of product development Darrell Gallagher made the announcement at Gamescom 2014 today, and lest you wonder if “coming holiday 2015, exclusively to Xbox” means a timed-exclusive, with the game eventually rounding the bend for rival platforms, it sounds like that’s not the case (and that it is indeed Xbox-only forever).

Here’s Gallagher clarifying things on Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider Tumblr:

Dear Tomb Raider Community,

As you may have seen, we’ve just announced that Rise of the Tomb Raider, coming Holiday 2015, is exclusively on Xbox. We consider all of you to be the lifeblood of Tomb Raider and the work we do at Crystal. I’d like to give you some insight into this decision, and why we feel this is the very best thing for the Tomb Raider sequel we’re creating at the studio.

Tomb Raider in 2013 was a success due in large part to your continued support. Our goal has always been to deliver something truly special with Rise of the Tomb Raider. Today’s announcement with Microsoft is one step to help us put Tomb Raider on top of action adventure gaming. Our friends at Microsoft have always seen huge potential in Tomb Raider and have believed in our vision since our first unveil with them on their stage at E3 2011. We know they will get behind this game more than any support we have had from them in the past – we believe this will be a step to really forging the Tomb Raider brand as one of the biggest in gaming, with the help, belief and backing of a major partner like Microsoft.

This doesn’t mean that we’re walking away from our fans who only play on PlayStation or on PC. Those are great systems, with great partners, and amazing communities. We have Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris coming to those platforms this December, and Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition is available on PS4.

We know that there are probably many more questions and concerns. Please do send them to us, and we’ll answer to the best of our ability. Meanwhile we’re going all out to try and make something truly special – the most ambitious Tomb Raider game ever built.

Thanks,

Darrell Gallagher
Crystal Dynamics Head of Studios

TIME Video Games

Skylanders Series Finally Heads to Its Logical Home: Tablets

Activision

Activision's toy-game franchise is finally coming to tablets, and not a watered-down spinoff, but the full console experience (and then some).

Toys — speaking as a child informed by the 1980s’ halcyon infusion of Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe and Transformers — are things you want to play with using your hands, not virtual appendages. You want to feel their heft, to pick them up and set them down, to put fingers to their plastic contours and movable joints and smooth or spiny textures before positioning them along imaginary compounds and battlements.

Activision’s Skylanders series celebrates the physicality of toys by folding that experience into a virtual one and back again. But until now, you’ve always had the virtual part of the experience with a television screen, probably up off the floor and away from the toys themselves. The toys were the physical experience you had to carry to the virtual one.

Activision’s finally remedying that by inverting the formula and bringing the virtual experience to the physical one: Skylanders Trap Team, the newest installment in the series that lets players “trap” characters from the game in physical objects, will be the first to support tablets, and it’ll launch simultaneously with the console versions when they ship on October 5.

It’s not a scaled-down version, either, but the full Trap Team experience you’ll have with any of the console versions, soup to nuts. What’s more, and this is where the notion of a table version starts to get interesting, Activision’s engineered its own Bluetooth gamepad. Imagine an Xbox 360 controller with all the trimmings, including dual analog thumbsticks, d-pad, face buttons and triggers, only one that’s slightly smaller (designed for the game’s younger target demographic).

It’s available as part of something the team calls the Skylanders Trap Team Tablet Starter Pack, which includes a Bluetooth version of the Traptanium Portal (the plastic stand you set the Skylanders action figures on, as well as the traps) and the gamepad itself, which rests under the platform in a formfitting cubby hole.

The starter pack includes the controller, the built-in tablet stand (it’s part of the platform, so “included” may be overselling this point) and a display tray that lets you track the traps and villains you’ve collected. Activision told me all 175 existing Skylanders toys are compatible with the platform, and that’s in addition to Trap Team‘s over 50 new playable Skylanders heroes and 40 new villains.

The tablet docks directly to the portal, tilting backward slightly, nestling in a crook-like stand (built into the portal) designed to grab and hold it without mechanical latches. That’s so you can pull the tablet out or drop it back in with ease. Watching Activision demo the new interface, it looks like coming home, like a game that’s finally found the interface it was designed for.

How much? You’ll need a tablet, of course, but assuming you have one that’s compatible — Activision supports the 3rd gen iPad forward, the Kindle Fire HDX, the Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Note — you can lay hands on the starter pack for $74.99, same as console.

TIME Video Games

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare’s Multiplayer Details Drop at Last

Check out the first official Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer trailer.

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Call of Duty Advanced Warfare wants to reset your expectations, to convince you that it’s not the annual, somewhat tedious box-checking military adventure you’ve been opening your wallet to for umpteen-many years and games.

The guys at Sledgehammer — the same guys who gave us Dead Space — have doubtless seen the mass of disconsolate user reactions to recent installments on aggregation sites. They know that while people continue to buy these games in record numbers, there’s something to be said for retooling not just how a Call of Duty looks or how many set piece skyscrapers go boom, but how the game actually plays.

Some of that’s self-evident with the long-teased promise of Advanced Warfare‘s EXO suit, a Crysis-like combat augmentation armament that turn soldiers into bionic superhumans. With the EXO suit, you can run faster, regenerate health more quickly, drape yourself in a Predator-like cloak, hover in place for several moments, out enemies behind barriers, deploy a force field-like shield, and all of that folded into a perks system that offers slight improvements or variations on ability themes. The tactical shift by definition has to be considerable.

Today’s multiplayer reveal confirms those presumptions: If you can run and dodge faster, the pace of combat becomes that much more frenetic. By letting players leap into the air and hover (as well as dodge while in the air) you’re taking the game vertical (and to a certain extent turning it into Tribes). And there’s now a “Boost Slam” melee attack that adds a “death from above” tactic. Check out the official multiplayer reveal trailer above to see someone rolling through all those maneuvers as well as illustrating how to do so seamlessly.

Sledgehammer’s also tweaking skill and XP-related multiplayer progression by folding in Supply Drops. In addition to XP ranking, Supply Drops let you acquire custom weapons (each weapon has 10 options that Sledgehammer says add up to 350 customization out of the box, and that’s before attachments), cosmetic “gear”-related customizations and rare one-time use items that activate during the match at set intervals.

The “Pick 10″ create-a-class option is back, only with more options that add up to Pick 13, including customizable scorestreaks (how much you can score without dying) you can use with your favorite class, cooperative scorestreaks (you and a friend vamping on each others’ scores), and EXO suit modifications and perks.

Slegehammer says Advanced Warfare will feature 12 modes out of the box, including oldies like Capture the Flag, Hardpoint, Team Deathmatch, Domination and Search and Destroy, as well as new ones like Uplink (teams fight for control of a satellite drone) and Momentum (Advanced Warfare‘s take on tug-of-war). And between matches, they’ve added a Virtual Firing Range you can drop into to try out item metrics like sights, attachments, bullet spread or recoil without map loading, or as Sledgehammer puts it, “having to blindly go into a match with a new loadout.”

How do you lord your virtual moxie over others? In Advanced Warfare‘s new Virtual Lobby, where all of your hard-earned XP and Supply Drop rewards are displayed for anyone to peruse. Sledgehammer says you can scan everyone else’s characters in full here, from character customization options to loadouts and gear selection.

And for eSports wonks, Advanced Warfare will support Hardpoint and Capture the Flag modes, round-based domination, an expanded Oracle mode when broadcasting, ranked playlists, LAN lobbies and the option to tweak private matches using a rules-related value slider.

TIME Video Games

Watch the Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Multiplayer Livestream Right Here

The game's creators give us our first look at Call of Duty Advanced Warfare's multiplayer modes.

Want to watch Activision’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare big multiplayer reveal this afternoon? Consider that box checked below. The live stream airs at 1pm ET / 10am PT today. Park your browsers here to watch Sledgehammer Games co-founders Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey walk through the upcoming mid-21st-century shooter’s multiplayer modes while in Cologne, Germany (part of the Gamecom list of pre-show events — the trade fair kicks off this week, August 13-17).

Multiplayer is traditionally Call of Duty‘s grand lure — more so than the solo campaigns, anyway. What’s more, Advanced Warfare introduces the EXO suit, an exoskeletal military armament painstakingly researched and extrapolated from existing military technological projections, that essentially gives players superhuman powers. That, in theory anyway, means radical changes to the tactical gameplay.

TIME Video Games

What if Academic Tests Were Video Games?

Digital Vision / Getty Images
Digital Vision / Getty Images

No, The Legend of Zelda won't replace the ACT or SAT anytime soon, but imagine a world in which archaic standardized tests (and perhaps even the notion of a final exam) were replaced by realtime, inherently evaluative experiences that bettered the learning process itself.

It’s been so long since I sat through a standardized test, I’ve forgotten most of the rigmarole. I blame “selective stupefaction,” my made-up-psychology term for when your brain decides some feat you had to perform long ago is too mind-numbing to remember.

What memories remain are of humming florescent overheads, cathedral-sized collegiate halls (with none of a cathedral’s architectural charm), scores of students hunched over fold-down slabs of laminate, scattershot coughs or harrumphs, the smell of must and cologne and perturbation, and — who could forget — the instructor pacing the rows like a bipedal security camera.

I was okay at, but slightly terrified of, standardized tests, one of those kids who’d glance up at the ticking clock and freeze like an animal in someone’s headlamps. But I’m pretty good at video games, and over the last decade-plus, I’ve come to prefer the sort (rare, still, granted) whereby the experience informs or impacts some broader aspect of my life, in lieu of merely improving my hand-eye coordination.

So what if tests could be video games like that, or at least more video game-like?

NPR’s Education blog wonders the same, exploring why people play and how play-based instructional design relates to learning. Well-wrought video games of all stripes are already learning factories, replete with rewardable variables like player initiative and creative expression, strategic and tactical thinking, curiosity and exploration, social bonding and judgement or ethical behavior and reflection. One of the critiques of standardized tests is that they measure human intelligence too narrowly, that they ignore all of the other multifaceted ways in which humans acquire and thoughtfully apply knowledge. Games, of course, have been measuring elements of the latter for decades.

The sort of standardized academic tests I took in the 1990s were assessment based, designed (you could argue crudely) to measure your ability to memorize and regurgitate things, extrapolate from narrative passages and apply algorithmic thinking to math-based problems.

What if those tests were simultaneously the learning tool, or the learning process, a kind of implicit, ongoing test that offered the sort of realtime, adaptive feedback a game can? What if what we’re learning from game design now could eventually improve or supplant the kinds of standardized tests we’re still using as empirical benchmarks today?

Consider a multiple choice test with its mundane sentences and lettered selections stacked in row after numbered row: an avalanche of organized banality. Now imagine that test if the words were baked (literally or conceptually) into an experience that was interactive and improvisational — an experience that since words by themselves are the ultimate abstraction (see Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics), was less removed from reality.

“Is a video game a test or a learning encounter? It’s both,” Arizona State professor James Paul Gee tells NPR, adding that in a video game, “you’re always being tested — you can’t get out of a level until you finish it.”

Play-related experiences can provide insight not just into someone’s ability to check the right box, but also into the deductive process whereby they come to that decision in the first place, argues Stanford psychometrics professor Dan Schwartz. Schwartz says the latter is far more important than testing a student’s ability to momentarily dredge up bits of information, or apply a formula by rote to solve a problem.

The idea, Schwartz tells NPR, is to design games that require students to learn, “So they’re not just measures of what the student already knows, but attempts to measure whether they are prepared to continue learning when they’re no longer told exactly what to do.”

Could you design an academic test that worked as a video game and both better educated students and provided educators with a better sense of their students’ learning challenges? When you think out past the cultural hinterlands of decades-old standardized tests (including some that have been with us for nearly a century), play-based experiences that can both measure and refine our ability to learn deserve to be taken just as seriously.

TIME viral

Take a Musical Journey Through the Evolution of Video Games With This A Cappella Video

From Pac-Man to Tetris to Halo

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Behold: nearly three decades of video game music in a 16-minute a cappella extravaganza. From the hypnotic, rhythmic Tetris theme to the ominous, haunting sounds of Halo, this medley by the YouTube channel Triforcefilms is pretty comprehensive.
 
In case you don’t feel like carving out 16 minutes to watch the whole thing, here are all the games included in this epic musical journey, along with the times they show up:
 
1. Pac Man 1980 – 00:43
2. Super Mario Bros 1985 – 00:58
3. Legend of Zelda 1986 – 01:38
4. Dragon Warrior 1986 – 02:26
5. Tetris 1989 – 03:10
6. Ninja Turtles 1989 – 03:36
7. Sonic the Hedgehog 1991 – 04:14
8. Doom 1993 – 04:55
9. Super Metroid 1994 – 05:38
10. Super Mario 64 1996 – 06:07
11. Duke Nukem 3d 1996 – 06:46
12. Pokemon 1996 – 07:13
13. Resident Evil 1996 – 07:57
14. Final Fantasy 7 1997 – 08:30
15. Zelda Ocarina 1998 – 09:43
16. Metal Gear Solid 1998 – 10:25
17. Halo 2001 – 10:59
18. Katamari Damacy 2004 – 12:01
19. Oblivion 2006 – 12:34
20. Uncharted 2007 – 13:21

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