TIME Video Games

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Release Bumped Up a Week

October 7 was looking a little crowded. But September 30? Not so much.

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Warner Bros. and developer Monolith’s upcoming attempt to make you a heroic Nazgul, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, is apparently coming along well enough to earn a rare release date bump: instead of October 7, the game will release on September 30 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, followed on October 2 by the PC version (via Steam).

The game’s PR team says that’s because of “fans’ excitement.” I’m speculating, but I’d wager the more likely reason is that Tuesday, October 7 was a little crowded. On that day, we’ll see major releases like Driveclub (PS4), Alien: Isolation, NBA 2K15 (the latter two for PC, PS3/4 and Xbox 360/One), NBA Live 15 and Project Spark (Xbox One). That, and two days prior, Activision’s Skylanders Trap Team hits. So I’d wager Warner Bros. and Monolith backed up to September 30 because it’s wide open: the only major rival that day is Forza Horizon 2 (Xbox 360/One).

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is about zipping around Tolkien’s “land of shadow” just after Sauron (nee The Necromancer) shows up and wreaks demigodly havoc. You play as Talion, a raised-from-the-dead ranger who can thus tap the same sort of eldritch otherworldly powers the Nazgul could (and since this is a game designed to make you feel ridiculously formidable, plenty more besides).

The twist involves something called the Nemesis System, which is developer Monolith’s way of making its world and the things you encounter in it feel procedural. Each adversary you encounter has unique attributes that feed an elaborate ecology of behaviors, and your encounters ripple through that ecology, changing your relationship to other enemies and ultimately creating your own personalized bosses. Every time you play, that deck reshuffles.

Whether the reshuffling feels lively and organic in the playing or too obviously generic remains to be seen, but expectations are high, as they ought to be, given the level of affection and esteem for Tolkien’s world.

TIME Video Games

Watch the First Trailer for Halo: Nightfall

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Microsoft released the first trailer for its upcoming live-action digital series Halo: Nightfall.

The series, which is being executive produced by Ridley Scott, will feature a new character named Jameson Locke, who is an agent for the secretive Office of Naval Intelligence. The series will be bundled with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a compilation of past Halo games that launches this November.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles

MONEY Odd Spending

The High Cost of Being A Comic-Con Superfan

Night Elf at Comic-Con
Jessica's Night Elf Rogue outfit won an award at the 2012 San-Diego Comic-Con.

Some fans, known as cosplayers, construct elaborate costumes of their favorite comic characters. The results are amazing, but they don't come cheap.

On Thursday, the San Diego Comic-Con kicked off its 2014 edition. The annual four-day event has grown beyond comics into a geek-culture mecca, attracting fans of everything from superheroes and video games to mainstream network programming.

Of the thousands who descend every year on the San Diego convention center (at $45 a pop per session), most are just looking to meet other enthusiasts and see the latest on their favorite characters. But there’s a large number of fans who want to take their experience a little bit further—from liking a character to becoming it. They’re called cosplayers, enthusiasts who make costumes of their favorite fictional avatars. With costs that can run into the thousands of dollars, these costumes are an artistic and financial testament to the wearer’s love of a particular game or show.

Jessica Al-Khalifah is one of these superfans. She and a friend had gotten into the online role-playing game World of Warcraft and in the process grew attached their virtual avatars. Playing the game was fun, she thought, but what if they could actually be their in-game characters, if just for a day or two?

Lucky for Jessica, there was convention coming up nearby. “We decided we should make some outfits and see what it’s all like,” she says. “It turned out we weren’t so bad at it.”

“Not bad” is an understatement. Jessica’s creation, a Warcraft Night Elf outfit, took four months of on-and-off labor to assemble and involved learning a whole new trade in the process. “I just wanted to make it look really cool, so I said, ‘You know, I think I’ll learn how to leather work,’ ” she recalls. “I hurt my hand a million times.”

The finished product featured ornate leather-and-metal armor, as well as two gigantic painted scythes, and cost roughly $600 by the time she was done. The result was good enough to win her an award at the 2012 San-Diego Comic-Con, but it wasn’t even her most elaborate creation. Another costume, based around the Legend of the Seeker television show, included a leather bodysuit and fiberglass weapon that was electrically engineered to glow. The final materials bill for that one: $1,200.

That kind of price is especially common amongst contest winning outfits. Jen King, owner of Space Cadets Collection Collection, a Texas-based collectibles store, also won a an award at the San-Diego Comic-Con with a Galaxy Quest themed group costume. Jen’s Sarris (the giant green alien) attire cost $500 alone, and her whole group spend more than $4,000. This year, she flew back to Comic-Con to chase another title, this time with her husband and son in tow.

sarrisgroup
Jen King’s group costume cost over $4,000, but won Judge’s Choice at the San-Diego Comic-Con.

Luckily for enthusiasts, not all costumes need to break the bank. Lynn Chan and Sarah Bloom have been dressing up as their favorite characters for years, and tend to spend around $200 per outfit. If you’re careful about picking your subject, Lynn says costumes can be made for as low as $30 (sewing machine not included). That said, like any hobby, the costs do add up over time. When asked how much she had spent over her seven years of cosplay, Sarah couldn’t put a figure on it. “Oh god, I don’t even know,” she laughed. “Probably three to four grand?”

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 9.30.28 AM
Lynn Chan (left) and Sarah Bloom (right) spend about $200 per costume.

It’s a lot of money, but in the end, each designer says the effort is worth it for the feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing a great costume. Jessica still remembers how she felt when she won the 2012 contest. Oh my gosh, that was awesome. It was so surreal,” she says. “All my hard work paid off.”

TIME Rumors

Valve Might Have Made Its Steam Controller a Little Less Peculiar

An analog thumbstick would bring Valve's game controller more in line with traditional ones.

Valve’s Steam controller is apparently looking less like a crazy experiment and more like a typical gamepad in a newly-surfaced image.

As discovered by Steam Database, the design shows an analog thumbstick on the left side, which would replace the directional buttons on Valve’s previous design. If the image is legit, the controller would have a pair of round, circular touchpads on either side, though, so Valve wouldn’t totally be backing off its original vision.

Having tried the original Steam Controller prototype at CES in January, I can understand why Valve would make the change.

With something like a first-person shooter, the right touchpad still makes sense as a way to turn and aim, as it kind of feels like moving a mouse on a gaming PC. Compared to a thumbstick, the touchpad allows for more precise aiming–at least in theory.

But for movement, you don’t need precision as much as you need quick action. A thumbstick, much like keyboard controls on a PC, can be quickly thrown in any direction with minimal effort. It doesn’t really matter that the controls aren’t as fine-grained as a mouse or trackpad.

Still, Valve would be making a trade-off: The thumbstick would come in place of directional buttons, which are popular for fighting games and can be useful for old-school platformers.

Valve could have just ditched the left touchpad entirely, but I’m guessing the company would want to keep it around for games that are mainly controlled by cursor, such as strategy games. That way, users could move the cursor with their left thumbs and use their right hands for buttons and triggers.

Besides, if you’re really bothered by the lack of a d-pad and thumbsticks, there are always more traditional controllers instead.

Valve hasn’t said exactly when it will release the controller, along with the first Steam Machine consoles, but it recently pushed the effort back to 2015.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles

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.

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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.

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