TIME Video Games

Just Kidding: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Is Available for Xbox One After All

Matt Peckham for TIME

The Xbox One version of Beenox's open-world web-swinger is downloadable from Microsoft's Xbox Games Store now, despite Activision's suggestions a few weeks ago that it wouldn't be.

The plot thickens: Activision’s gone ahead and unceremoniously released The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for Xbox One after originally intimating the game had been delayed indefinitely. “We are working with Microsoft in an effort to release The Amazing Spider-Man 2 video game on Xbox One,” an Activision spokesperson told Eurogamer a few weeks ago.

Mission accomplished? As I type this, the full game is available for download from Microsoft’s Xbox One Games Marketplace. That’s a picture at right of the Xbox One sale screen snapped with my phone’s camera. As you can see, the game’s just under 10GB and runs $60. It may well have been released in error, though I haven’t (yet) confirmed that.

Beenox’s sequel to 2012’s reasonably well-received The Amazing Spider-Man — released in tandem with Columbia’s film franchise reboot — is also available today for 3DS, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Windows and Xbox 360. No one knows why the Xbox One version vanished, or why it’s reappeared now, but it’s probably good news for Spidey fans who happen to be Xbox One owners. And it’s definitely good news for Microsoft’s platform, presently battling perception issues related to performance competence (particularly in relation to multi-platform games like The Amazing Spider-Man 2). At this point, the delay still appears to be in effect for physical copies of the Xbox One version of the game, which GameStop lists as shipping July 1 (note that’s probably just a placeholder date, not a serious estimate).

If the game’s finished and purchasable (and by finished, I mean as bug-free and fine-tuned as any of the other versions), it stands to reason that something very strange and perhaps bureaucratic is transpiring behind the scenes. No, it wouldn’t be retailers crying foul because the game’s available for day-one digital download: the game is also available digitally (as I type this) on the PlayStation 4. And in Microsoft’s Xbox One Same-Day Digital Availability FAQ, Microsoft writes “All Xbox One Games will have a digital version unless there is a required physical peripheral (e.g. Skylanders Swap Force).” So nothing obvious is in conflict.

If I had to guess, I’d say someone pulled the trigger by mistake and we’ll see it disappear before the day’s out. Activision doesn’t do things by halves, especially not multi-platform tie-ins to major franchise movies (unless the retail copies unexpectedly show up in stores today, too). I’ve asked Activision for an explanation, and I’ll update this article if my contacts respond. [Update: It looks like the downloadable version was intentional after all, and thus is here to stay; I’m also told the physical version should be in stores “in early May.”]

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Child of Light Review: A World as Lovely as It Is Dark and Deep

Ubisoft's budget-priced roleplaying fable riffs on beloved roleplaying tropes while serving up an evocative, hand-drawn fantasy pastiche with traces of Yoshitaka Amano and Hayao Miyazaki.

It’s easy to be seduced by the visual charm and intricacy of a game like Child of Light. It has so little competition, and high fidelity hand-drawn artwork looks prettier than ever on high-definition television screens with resolutions approaching the point at which individual pixels become as undifferentiated as paint on canvas.

But we’re also still at that point in the evolution of our hobby where transplanting elements from one medium to another — say the elegance of a Yoshitako Amano drawing or a Hayao Miyazaki animation into gaming’s interactive world-realizing dynamos — can assume pretend significance, especially if you think about video games in vertical terms: columns of concept unto themselves. It’s easy to be impressed by something that visually transcends its own medium, in other words, but that’s in some ways still playing catchup to others.

Limbo was a little like that: cleverly noir-ish and procedurally ambient with its minimalist silhouette-scapes, looking like nothing before it. But the game’s distinctive atmosphere overwhelmed and, in my view, ultimately overruled what little there was of that abstraction we label “gameplay.” I played it once and I’ve never felt compelled to return. It seemed more a snack of a game, a light-and-shadow Big Gulp, proof that you could look like an existentially sophisticated game without actually being one.

Ubisoft’s Child of Light — available April 30 for Windows, current and last-gen consoles — is in that sense the opposite of a game like Limbo. It’s an experience that deftly melds its painstakingly painting-like environs and allegorical fable-inspired narrative to a first-rate battle system: one unapologetically inspired by Final Fantasy-style roleplaying games, but with its own hidden depths and wrinkles.

To be clear, fighting’s most of what you get up to in Child of Light — in its case, squaring off against mythically composite dark fantasy foes: wolves, spiders, other kinds of spiders, stone golem-y things, gryphons, giants, other vaguely Scandinavian folk-creatures and so forth. You’ll encounter them perched in gnarled nooks or darting from shadowy crannies, sometimes patrolling ethereal skyways, sometimes guarding treasure chests, sometimes surveilling throughways to new areas. Combat’s one of gaming’s oldest tropes: the medium’s inflection of mythology’s archetypal “road of trials.” If you’re looking for an experience that transcends weighing statistical gains against escalating confrontations, this isn’t it: the hero’s transformation in Child of Light is still fundamentally duel-driven.

But it’s also encapsulated by something we’ve never seen in a game before, and at risk of violating my earlier point about novelty, there’s something fascinating about playing a game that unfurls in epic verse. Child of Light‘s story is told in a way that’s literally poem-like, its narrative beats delivered as metrical lines, shifting from loose to mathematically specific forms a bit like Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (which the game’s writer, Jeffrey Yohalem — a Writers Guild of America Award-winner — cites as inspiration). I found the approach a trifle awkward at first, partly because I wasn’t expecting it, partly because poetry by definition draws attention to its rhythmic strictures.

But by the time the game’s child protagonist was well on her way, soaring above the treetops and landing on lofty boughs or mountaintops, I couldn’t wait to see what Yohalem might do next, sometimes crafting beautiful singular-spoken couplets, at other points skillfully volleying lines (and line completions, and rhymes) between the game’s ensemble. It’s not merely the state of being a poem that’s interesting here — that alone risks feeling too much like a stunt — it’s that Yohalem’s written such a beautiful one that’s easily worth the price of admission.

While the game at first resembles an earthbound platformer that’ll use gravity to control your headway, it jettisons that notion early on by letting you take to the air and giving you the run of a freely explorable 2D puzzle-scape flush with enemies and progression-related conundrums wrapped up in hand-drawn vistas so beautifully wrought that simply having the freedom to wing through and admire them at your leisure becomes a reward unto itself. It’s a fairy tale pastiche where giants lumber like spooky golems along the horizon and startle flocks of birds, or where the sun peeks through purple-black clouds that drop legs of lightning — light and dark in breathtaking contrast, like daylight storms along the Rockies.

Looking only gets you so far, of course, so how does Child of Light play, battle-wise? Battles occur when you bump into enemies you can attempt to surprise from behind or fight head-on (or be startled by, to your disadvantage). Combat proceeds in quasi-realtime turns, your party members standing to one side of the screen, your opponents on the other, and a “who goes next” meter unwinding below. That sort of thing we’ve seen before (the game’s creator Patrick Plourde reminded me that Valkyrie Profile also takes this side-scroller-plus-turn-based-combat approach), but it’s the little wrinkles that add pizzazz to Ubisoft’s homage.

For instance, you can send your sentient companion firefly (named Igniculus) flitting about the combat screen to aid you or hinder your opponents (either using the gamepad’s right thumbstick, or letting someone else do so with a second gamepad). Hover over one of your party members while pulling the left gamepad trigger and Igniculus doles out health points, or hover over an enemy while doing the same and Igniculus can slow their progress in the turn meter. Affecting combat readiness extends to successful strikes, which knock the victim back significantly, allowing you to formulate elaborate strategies fed by buckets of abilities, in turn fed by a melange of characters you’ll meet and bring into your party along the way.

Those characters have their own stories and roles to play, and their non-overlapping combat abilities dovetail with multiplex skill trees that scale masterfully as garden variety enemies and boss battles intensify in successive areas. You’ll want to play on “hard,” by the way, if you want the highest fidelity “these-very-specific-tactics-unlock-this-particular-battle” challenge, bearing in mind that the lower difficulty settings are aimed at younger, less experienced players: Plourde told me he was inspired to make a game that might be played together by both a parent and child. And while the skill trees tend toward low single-digit advances, the ramifications of each unlock feel quantifiably significant in execution. A simple +1 to combat damage in your ability tree results in a considerable advance in battle damage meted out, for instance. The appearance of skill nickel-and-diming is illusory, in other words.

Child of Light isn’t the world’s longest roleplaying game, though neither is it the shortest. There’s maybe a weekend’s worth of play here if you’re thoughtful and thorough and willing to ratchet up the difficulty setting. While you can keep playing at the end, if you’ve been thorough about side-questing I’m not sure there’s reason to, but then you’re only paying $15 for the privilege of rolling through once. If you’d like a comparison, Limbo costs $10 today, and offers a fraction as much to see, or do, or when all’s said and done, reflect on.

4.5 out of 5

Xbox One

TIME Technologizer

Microsoft’s Xbox Original Programming Strategy: Let’s Throw Lots of Spaghetti at the Wall

Atari dig
Zak Penn, director of of an upcoming Xbox original documentary about Atari, and Andrew Reinhard, archaeologist, hold up an Atari 2600 E.T. game cartridges excavated in a New Mexico landfill on April 26, 2014, in Alamogordo, N.M. Microsoft

The company is taking an active hand in bringing video to its console, but it's still figuring out the details

Back in May of last year, when Microsoft unveiled its Xbox One console, among the long list of announcements was the news that the company was getting into the business of creating original entertainment programming. But about the only concrete detail it shared at the time was the fact that Steven Spielberg was going to executive-produce a live-action series based on the Xbox’s blockbuster Halo game franchise.

This week, the company is going to have lots more to say on the subject at NewFronts, an event in New York where producers of online video are sharing upcoming shows with the advertising community. I attended a recent preview hosted by two Xbox Entertainment Studios executives with impeccable Hollywood credentials: President Nancy Tellem (the former CEO of CBS Entertainment) and Executive VP Jordan Levin (the former CEO of the WB Network). The duo talked about six “Xbox Originals” projects Microsoft has greenlit, plus another five in development, and showed us trailers for some of them. They also discussed the company’s goal of offering interactive entertainment rather than traditional, sedentary couch-potato stuff.

Xbox Originals

The main takeaway I got from the sneak peek is that Microsoft is still in the process of figuring out what it wants to do with original programming on Xbox.

I don’t mean that as a slam: Tellem and Levin both kept saying that the effort is in a mode of experimentation. “I’ve been at this long enough to know that you just have to step up to the plate and keep swinging until something connects with the audience,” Tellem said.

Some of the Xbox Originals that are in the works:

Signal to Noise: A series of documentaries about technology’s impact on the world, produced by Simon Chinn (Searching for Sugar Man, Man on a Wire) and Jonathan Chinn. The first one, which chronicles the fall of Atari and focuses on the legendary idea that the company buried unsold E.T. game cartridges in a New Mexico landfill, has already made news: The filmmakers just dug up the cartridges.

Every Street United: Tying into the World Cup in Rio De Janeiro, and debuting this June, this is a reality series involving street-soccer players from around the world, culminating in a match in Rio.

Two Halo projects: The Xbox’s signature game will be the subject both of the live-action series executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and an animated feature (due later this year) executive-produced by Ridley Scott.

Bonnaroo: Xbox will stream the Tennessee music festival in June, allowing viewers to switch between two stages of live performances.

Humans: Based on a Swedish series and co-produced with the UK’s Channel 4, this is a one-hour drama set in a parallel present in which people have eerily life-like robotic servants.

Jash project: In development, a still-to-be-named half-hour featuring a comedy collective whose members include Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Reggie Watts, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.

Extraordinary Believers: A show in development from the creators of Robot Chicken, which inserts silly 3D animated characters who look like they’re from a sword-and-sorcery world into what seems to be unscripted video shot in everyday locations.

In addition, Tellem and Levin played up the idea of turning additional Xbox game franchises such as Forza Motorsport and Gears of War into series or movies, without providing details.

Everything Microsoft is announcing is designed to be a potential hit with typical 18-34-year-old guys who like to play video games: There are no shows about economic policy or wedding dresses or medieval folk music. Still, within that framework, there’s a fair amount of diversity and programming that also might be of interest to those of us who happen not to be 18-to-34-year-old guys. The company seems to be aiming for variety rather than one buzz-generating blockbuster along the lines of Netflix’s House of Cards.

The part of Microsoft’s plans that’s the fuzziest–but that has the greatest possibility of helping it stand out from the streaming video crowd–is the interactivity angle. Tellem and Levin kept talking about how exciting it was, but they didn’t have too much to say about the specifics, other than the ability to choose a Bonnaroo stage, the possible integration of Skype videoconferencing into some shows and a few other general ideas.

That said, Microsoft has one big edge on Netflix, Amazon and other companies that are generating exclusive original entertainment for their streaming services: In the Xbox One, it controls its own powerful hardware platform, with advanced features such as the Kinect 2 sensor. The opportunity to do great, interactive things is there, at least. And if Microsoft makes any of the Xbox Originals interactive in a way that captures the imagination of viewers, it really will be news. It’s just that it’s too early to have an opinion about its chances.

Also still a bit vague: Microsoft’s precise distribution plans. It’s saying that Every Street United will be available on Xbox Video for Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows and Windows Phone, and that Signal to Noise will be exclusive to Xbox One and Xbox 360. But it’s not yet spelling out which Xbox Originals will require a subscription to the Xbox Live service and which won’t–it sounds like there will be some of each–and whether any will be ad-supported.

I also asked Tellem whether all the episodes of any of the Xbox Originals series might be released in one fell swoop, a la House of Cards. “We’re going to do some experimentation,” she told me. “I’m not against binge viewing by any means. There are some projects which lend themselves to it, and others that don’t.”

The notion of Microsoft taking an active hand in creating TV shows and movies that will be available only on Xbox is new, but its consoles are already major players in streaming entertainment. (Owners already spend more time using their Xboxes to watch video and listen to music than they do playing online games.) Tellem says that the company is going to be patient with this effort: “Microsoft understands the value of content, and that this road is just beginning.” For now it feels like it’s anyone’s guess where it’s going to lead.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Technologizer

E.T. Is Right Here: Lost Atari Cartridges Unearthed in New Mexico Dump

Atari Cartridges
A member of the excavation team brandishes an E.T. cartridge at a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico Microsoft

Video game company Atari Inc. reportedly discarded hundreds of video game cartridges, including cartridges for its unsuccessful E.T. game, in 1983 after a crash in the gaming market. The materials have now been recovered by excavators for an upcoming documentary

The 1982 Atari 2600 video game version of E.T. is famous for several things, none of them good–including being both terrible and terribly unsuccessful, so much so that it helped drive Atari to the brink of death. But the thing which has become the defining fact about it is the sad fate of the unsold cartridges: The company supposedly had them dumped in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico and then covered over with concrete. Here’s the New York Times writing about the burial in 1983.

Last year, Fuel Entertainment secured the right to excavate the landfill in search of the lost games, a project it undertook on Saturday. The archeological effort hit pay dirt: The diggers have uncovered at least hundreds pof cartridges, including both E.T. and some titles which were best-sellers at one time, including Asteroids, Centipede and Space Invaders. (Whether that’s the extent of the trove we don’t yet know–as recounted in the Snopes entry on the burial, the legend has always been that millions of cartridges were dumped.)

The excavation was filmed for an upcoming documentary which will premiere as an exclusive offering on Xbox. More details at Microsoft’s Xbox Wire.

Now that this important matter has been addressed, maybe it’ll prompt someone to investigate the other iconic dumping of a tech product flop: The unsold Lisa computers Apple allegedly got rid of in Logan, Utah, also in the mid-1980s.

Bonus material: See below for the original TV commercial for the E.T. game. Even when being advertised, it doesn’t look so hot.

TIME Video Games

GameStop Signals Major Retail Transition, Says It’ll Close 120-130 Stores

Inside An Electronic Arts Retailer Ahead Of Earnings Figures
A customer browses a wall of used video games for sale from Electronic Arts and other video game publishers at a GameStop store in West Hollywood, Calif., Oct. 28, 2013. Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The game retailer's plan to shutter between 120 and 130 of its 6,457 stores worldwide falls into its CEO's description of "GameStop 3.0," a new phase of the company's lifespan where it will aggressively expand its footprint into gaming-adjacent tech fields

GameStop won’t go gently into that good, all-digital night: the company says it plans to shutter between 120 and 130 of its retail game stores worldwide by the close of its current fiscal year (which I believe ends in May, so we’re talking more or less immediately), while at the same time opening hundreds of mobile and Apple-related retail stores.

130 stores is a drop in a very large bucket — one that comprises 6,457 GameStop stores in all worldwide. Closing 130 amounts to just 2 percent of that number, but you might argue it’s an unusually significant and symbolic 2 percent, because it happens to be part of something GameStop CEO Paul Raines describes as “GameStop 3.0.”

GameStop 3.0, according to GI.biz, which covered Raines’ address at GameStop’s 2014 Investor Day on Wednesday, is “a new phase of the company’s lifespan that will see it aggressively expand its footprint into gaming-adjacent tech fields” — which is just a really long way of saying “Hey, we’re diversifying!” (What were GameStop’s 1.0 and 2.0 by the way? I assume “new games” and “used games,” respectively.)

Or put more aptly, “Hey, we’re further diversifying!” GameStop’s been in explore-and-expand mode since the mid-1990s. When I worked for the company (long, long ago), before it was called GameStop and through the bankruptcy proceedings that led to the name change, it had well under 1,000 stores. After stabilizing, paring back its lowest performing stores and merging with EB Games, it then went on an international brand-purchasing spree that eventually wound things up to its current whopping store total: GameStop today has over 6,600 stores worldwide when you factor its other computer-related retail businesses.

In 2000, it bought FuncoLand, which nabbed it a moderately popular magazine that might otherwise have shuttered along with Computer Games, Computer Gaming World, EGM², GamePro and the lot, but which now — thanks in large part to GameStop’s promotions and Power Up Rewards membership perks — ranks third largest in the U.S. by circulation (and that’s among all magazines, not just game rags). In 2011, the company bought Brad Wardell’s Impulse digital distribution service in hopes of competing with Steam, and of course the company’s been buying and selling used games for as long as I can remember, a practice that’s accounted for a majority of its gross profits for years.

But as Gamasutra’s Matt Matthews noted a year ago, used games as a component of brick-and-mortar revenue are a dwindling and irreplaceable resource. If you’re a PC gamer, you’re probably purchasing most or all of your games online. If you own a PS4 or Xbox One, you’re increasingly likely to do so. Insert obligatory nod to smartphones and tablets and micro-consoles and handhelds and the impact they’re having on retail software sales. Not that any of this is news to GameStop: I’d bet my life the company’s been predicting and obsessively planning for this transition for years.

All of which explains Raines’ GameStop 3.0 strategic overtures, which he says will include opening another 200 to 250 of the company’s Spring Mobile stores (wholly GameStop-owned wireless/mobile stores that sell AT&T products exclusively, currently totaling over 200 in the U.S.), adding 20 to 25 of its Simply Mac stores (GameStop purchased the Apple-exclusive retailer in 2013 — they have 23 locations today) and adding 100 to 150 of its Cricket locations (AT&T-brand-owned prepaid wireless stores franchised to companies like GameStop and Radio Shack — GameStop opened 31 last November, and Dallas Morning News says GameStop’s also been selling Cricket pre-paid wireless service in about 100 stores in Dallas and Los Angeles). According to GI.biz, Raines added that before any of these expansions, GameStop is “the third-largest and fastest-growing AT&T retailer in the US.”

In other words, if GameStop can make good on these so-called “gaming-adjacent tech fields,” it has not just a future but a bona fide bright one, despite the inevitable downturns in retail game sales (new or used). The only other question I have, and that no else seems to be asking, but which seems pertinent to me given the obvious trajectories here, is how much longer a company shifting away from games is going to be able to call itself GameStop.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Flappy 2048 Review: Wherein I Clear 2 Million

What happens once you flap past the 2048 block? You'll have to play to find out.

“Some maniac combined Flappy Bird and 2048!” writes an Imgur user. That about sums up Flappy 2048 (thank you @ShawnElliott, former editorial compadre, for bringing it to my attention): a game — you can play it here in a browser — that weds the inanity of Flappy Bird to the puzzling mathematical madness of 2048.

Flappy Birdthis link is to someone else’s web-based copy — you probably know. But in the event you don’t, it’s an endless side-scroller where you tap your screen (or click a mouse) to make a bird flap its wings and arc through narrow gaps between Super Mario Bros.-like pipes. The pipes are positioned close together, your flaps feel more like lurches, each gap is very small and they change height as you go, making sustained flight virtually impossible. There’s no saving, the achievements are competition-medal minimum (and they max out low), and so the impetus to play much past “gold” harks back to old-school arcade-dom, King of Kong style.

2048, by contrast, is a math-based slide-tile game currently tearing up the freemium charts that’s been relatively well-received. I first heard about it when someone claimed they’d landed a score of 8,192. Having fiddled with it myself, I now realize just how incredible a feat that is.

Flappy 2048 marries the two by replacing Flappy Bird‘s gaps with 2048‘s matching numbers. Click here to see that Imgur poster’s animated GIF of the game in action:

Like Flappy Bird, you click the mouse to flap the bird-cube’s wings and aim for a number match to trigger 2048‘s math-doubling, then repeat, ad nauseam. I’ve been playing the web version this afternoon and managed to clear 2,097,152, which sounds really impressive, but since I suck at Flappy Bird, is really just another way of saying it’s a whole lot easier than Flappy Bird. All you have to do is get close to the intended number block and it all but pulls you through (that, and it’s pretty forgiving about its thresholds). This is what those of you who can’t stand Flappy Bird should consider playing. That, or check out 2048 itself.

Flappy 2048

Though: “Things get really weird after you reach the 2048 block,” writes the Imgur poster. I can vouch that yes, they do. Yes, they definitely do.

TIME technology

This Video Game Will Let You Be a Cat (Finally!)

Getty Images

It's still in its early stages, so fingers (er, paws?) crossed that it gets the funding it requires

A few months ago, we reported that a video game that would let you pretend to be a cat is in the works. In that game, the player’s only objective is to knock things over. That’s it. You win by pretending to be a cat and then knocking a whole bunch of things over.

Now, don’t get me wrong, that game — which you can play in your browser — is a rollicking good time. It’s truly a delight. But now there’s a new game in the works that offers a much more comprehensive feline simulation experience. Because let’s face it: being a cat is about so much more than just knocking your humans’ stuff to the floor.

Simply titled Cat Simulator, this third-person game will allow the player to chase rats and mice, climb trees, eat, sleep, poop, and do all the other important things that cats do each and every day. It’s still in its early stages of development, and its creators have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise additional funds. They hope to create more realistic graphics and more cat customization options, along with other animal friends so the cats don’t get lonely.

Here’s a sneak peek. Right now it’s looking pretty low-budge, so here’s hoping that they raise more money.

(h/t Mashable)

TIME Video Games

Let’s Hope Dragon Age: Inquisition Finally Has Dragon Age Figured Out

With any luck, BioWare's third-in-series action roleplaying game will remedy the last installment's over-simplistic combat and drab, recycled locations.

I’ve liked none of the Dragon Age games. Not even the first. But I’d have to say I enjoyed the first immeasurably more than its lazy sequel, which conjured feelings of loathing by the time I was ticking off the game’s last few achievements and rolling through its embarrassingly recycled cityscapes for the umpteenth time to experience all of its tedious alternative denouements.

In October 2009, when I spoke with Dragon Age: Origins‘ lead designer, Mike Laidlaw, I asked him about something he’d said elsewhere: He wanted the game to be the HBO of RPGs (he also referenced George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” books, which hadn’t transitioned to television yet, but everyone already thought of as exemplary):

Specifically, we wanted to remove the sense that the fantastic is casual, and to present the fantastic as something that for the common man, for the everyman is still very much fantastic. Almost terrifying, in fact. One of the key tropes we’re trying to upend is that lightweight lack of consequences feel that can happen in fantasy. It’s like “Oh, he’s dead… But it’s okay! Because we resurrected him!” No one ever talks about the near death experience or the tunnel of light or like in real life, the survivors going “Oh my god!” You know, we’re talking an inconceivably intense experience.

But when I finally played the game, it felt nothing like the HBO of anything, mistaking mere blood splatter for maturity, and foisted-upon-you consequences for meaningful ones, and overwrought, cliched fantasy banter (by writer David Gaider) about mature topics for artful storytelling. (Fair warning, I’m a literary snob: I’m looking for Cormac McCarthy and Gene Wolfe and Jorges Luis Borges and Alan Moore and China Mieville all the time, and why should games get a pass?)

I want to think the best of Dragon Age: Inquisition, though Laidlaw returns as lead designer and Gaider as lead writer. It doesn’t feel like a Dragon Age game in the trailer above, though it’s obviously trotting out the horse-beaten amnesiac hero shtick about random-person-you surviving a calamity and having no memory of why. If the gameplay turns out to be intriguing, of course, all bets are off, because I can play the heck out of a Final Fantasy VII or X or XIII (or Fallout 3, or Diablo III, or Baldur’s Gate II) and just let the first-rate game systems override the unimaginative storytelling.

In any case, the other pullout you’ll be interested to note here: the trailer confirms Dragon Age: Inquisition will ship on October 7 (for Windows, PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360).

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

If There’s an Apple vs Google ‘Arms Race’ for Mobile Game Exclusives, Android’s Losing

Apple and Google are supposedly battling for exclusive games on their respective mobile platforms, but we haven't seen many fireworks.

A story by the Wall Street Journal claims that Apple and Google have staked out a new battleground over mobile games, as both companies try to grab exclusives for their own platforms.

Citing unnamed sources, the Journal says Apple and Google are apparently offering promotional placement to game developers in exchange for timed exclusivity. While the report claims no money is changing hands, top placement in the iOS App Store or Android’s Google Play Store can have a huge impact on sales, so developers have a strong incentive to consider these deals.

But while reading the Journal’s report, one thing struck me as odd: There isn’t a lick of evidence that Google is actually fighting back against Apple’s supposed exclusivity push. While the story provides several examples of Apple making exclusive deals with top game developers, it doesn’t offer a single instance of Google doing the same.

With Apple, Electronic Arts reportedly agreed to a two-month exclusivity window for Plants vs. Zombies 2, and ZeptoLab gave Apple’s platform a three-month head start for Cut the Rope 2. An executive at GameLoft also confirmed that the company talked to Apple about an exclusivity deal, but ultimately decided against it.

What examples do we have for Android? The Journal merely says that Google has helped promote apps that “integrate Android branding.” One deal, with Russian developer Game Insight, apparently involved a discount on in-game items shaped like Android’s robot mascot. It’s safe to assume Apple wasn’t competing for this deal, and besides, Game Insight isn’t nearly as well-known as ZeptoLab, Gameloft or Electronic Arts.

Deal or no deal, it’s hard to find many instances of games going Android-first. Some noteworthy exclusives do exist, including Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VI and Gree’s Rage of the Immortals, which both had roughly a one-month head start on Android. But there are many more cases of popular games hitting iOS first, including Threes, Deus Ex: The Fall, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Hearthstone, The Room 2 and Ridiculous Fishing.

The story also mentions Amazon, practically as an aside. But at least with Amazon there are previous, documented examples of exclusives for the company’s app store. (The Journal’s report doesn’t even mention that Amazon is now creating its own games, which, as an approach to exclusive content, is much more interesting than making limited-time deals with other developers.

The idea that Google and Apple are battling for exclusives sounds good, at least, as it’s reminiscent of how traditional game console makers buy up exclusives for their own platforms. I’m just skeptical that there’s much of a fight going on in this case. Or if there is, it’s been extremely lopsided in Apple’s favor.

Besides, exclusives don’t mean much if they aren’t being marketed as a way to lure people onto one platform instead of another. If Google was having success with locking up Android-only releases, wouldn’t we be hearing about it from Google, rather than from “people familiar with the situation?”

TIME Video Games

What’s Happening with Uncharted and The Last of Us Developer Naughty Dog?

Naughty Dog

That's three high-profile departures in two months.

I wish I knew. First Amy Hennig — who I’ve interviewed, and who’s arguably the creative lifeblood of the Uncharted series (she directed or co-directed all three installments) — leaves Naughty Dog, or winds up forced out, depending who you talk to (Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells claims the separation was, in fact, amicable). That made headlines in early March. Then “Uncharted 4″ (or whatever it’s ultimately called) director Justin Richmond follows Hennig’s lead and exits the studio to work on League of Legends with developer Riot Games.

And now Nate Wells is saying his farewells. Wells — no relation to Naughty Dog co-president Evan, as far as I know — worked as lead artist on The Last of Us, a game that went on to win pretty much every award a video game can. Prior to working at Naughty Dog, Wells was the lead artist on Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite, where he served until August 2012, leaving Irrational to work on The Last of Us at Naughty Dog. (A remastered version of the latter for Sony’s PlayStation 4 is due later this year.)

Here’s Wells (Nate) confirming his new digs on Twitter last night:

Wells is now working at studio Giant Sparrow, the folks behind PS3-exclusive adventure game The Unfinished Swan.

I can’t imagine any of this bodes well. Naughty Dog’s lost the director of its next big Uncharted game, the director and creative lead for all its prior Uncharted games and the lead artist on its most critically acclaimed game to date (The Last of Us), all in the space of two months.


MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

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