TIME Video Games

Sony Says User Information Safe After Hackers Targeted PlayStation Network

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Attendees walk past the Sony Corp. PlayStation booth during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The tech company just had a really rough weekend

Hackers hit the Sony Corp.’s huge Playstation network this weekend, before a bomb threat was made against a flight carrying a top Sony executive in the U.S.

The tech company said on its Playstation blog Monday that the network was taken down by a denial of service attack, but added that none of the personal data of its 53 million users was compromised.

“We have seen no evidence of any intrusion to the network and no evidence of any unauthorized access to users’ personal information,” said the blog post by Sid Shuman, senior manager of social media.

Somebody with the Twitter handle @LizardSquad claimed responsibility for the data breach on Sunday, Reuters said. The purported hacker said the attack was carried out to warn the Japan-based firm that more profits needed to be spent on data security.

“Sony, yet another large company, but they aren’t spending the waves of cash they obtain on their customers’ [PlayStation Network] service. End the greed,” said one @LizardSquad post on Sunday.

In other unsubstantiated claims, the user said that Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of World of Warcraft, had been targeted and also threatened Microsoft’s Xbox Live network.

The posts took an alarming turn when @LizardSquad tweeted at American Airlines on Sunday, claiming to know that explosives were aboard a flight being taken by Sony Online Entertainment President John Smedley.

https://twitter.com/LizardSquad/status/503595025301635073

The San Diego-bound flight from Dallas was later diverted to Phoenix, and its passengers have since made their way to San Diego.

Reuters reports that American Airlines said in a tweet that it was “aware of threats” made over Twitter and had alerted security.

American Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Mohr told AP that she couldn’t discuss security matters and referred questions to the FBI. The FBI declined Reuters’ request for comment.

[Reuters]

TIME Video Games

Star Wars: Commander Is Slow-Going Unless You Pay Up

All of the game's content is available for free--so long as you're willing to wait for it.

Disney’s new freemium real-time strategy game Star Wars: Commander just arrived on Apple’s App Store in the U.S. as a time-limited exclusive for iOS devices (there’s an Android version coming shortly).

Don’t confuse it with Star Wars: Force Commander, another real-time strategy game released back in 2000 for Windows by now-Disney-owned studio LucasArts. It was a mess of a game–one of several failed attempts to give players a thoughtful, strategic window into the iconic Star Wars universe. To this day, no one’s succeeded.

So Commander is interesting because it’s the closest thing we’ve had to a thoughtful, strategy-minded Star Wars game–boardgames notwithstanding–in years. The only downer: it’s a free-to-play-slow, pay-to-play-faster game.

I’ve been noodling with it this morning, and it’s your garden variety real-time strategy game: kit out a base, build and upgrade structures, then deploy troops to slug it out in Star Wars-ian locales. After stepping through a few tutorial exercises that illustrate where to tap to buy things and how to tap to deploy units in combat, you’re allowed to throw in with either the Rebellion or the Empire, the difference between the two a matter of campaign storyline and playable unit types. Choose the Empire and you can trot out AT-ATs and Tie Fighters. Favor the Rebellion and you’ll have access to individuals like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia.

Underlying the economy are crystals, credits and alloy. Refineries and credit markets produce alloy and credits respectively. You purchase structures and units with the latter two, though these accrue at ridiculously slow speeds (as in “go-do-something-else-for-several-hours” slow), and which you have to harvest manually by tapping on the producing structures. Automation is apparently beyond warring factions with ultra-high-tech weaponry, but then that’s how the developers get you to pay attention to just how little your factories are generating at a given interval.

If you want to speed things up, you can pay real money for greenish “crystals” at price intervals of $100, $50, $20, $10 or $5, which in turn let you buy oodles of credits or alloy, as well as pay for protection (presumably against hostile incursions by other players, since the game also supports PvP battles). Fairly warned: if you dislike freemium games that lock most of their gameplay behind punitively slow resource generation clocks, you’re not going to like Commander at all.

What makes it feel like a Star Wars game? The retro gliding yellow-letter intro, of course. The character likenesses, with voice work not by the original actors but plausible analogues. Mostly John William’s unforgettable musical motifs, with signature flourishes from flutes, french horns and trumpets ebbing or swelling in the background obligingly. If you want some insight into the nerd-lore propping up the game’s logistics, GamesBeat interviewed one of the game’s producers about that (preview: it sounds like the Rebels are scavenging Clone Wars tech).

But since Star Wars was never about the battlefield minutia or the specifics of this or that piece of Separatist technology, it does start to feel a little like a generic real-time strategy template overlaid with a Star Wars-ian one. On the other hand, that sums up most Star Wars games: vanilla ice cream with dollops of Star Wars sauce. It’s also clearly Disney spooling up its Star Wars turbolaser in advance of Star Wars: Rebels, its animated Clone Wars TV series followup set half a decade before the events of the original Star Wars movie.

I should caution that Commander has launch quirks, in particular one where I minimized the game, then reloaded it, only to have it claim I’d launched a second instance on a second device, thus squelching the first one (in general, the game seems to hate minimization). It’s also arguably a poor fit, visually speaking, for a 4-inch iPhone: while you can zoom on the maps, the interface panels and text are just too small to use comfortably (like 22Cans’ Godus, Commander probably should have been tablet-only). Assuming Apple’s next iPhone has a significantly bigger screen, I’d reconsider that position. Barring that, I wouldn’t bother unless you have at least an iPad Mini.

TIME Video Games

Swing Copters Is Live, Not to Be Confused with Tube Revenge

The creator of Flappy Bird's next game is here, along with the first batch of apparent knockoffs.

Swing Copters, the guy who made Flappy Bird‘s next mobile game, is live now as promised, though you’ll have to search to find it (it wasn’t charting as this post went up), and that means sorting through all the soundalike (and in some cases lookalike) copycat versions.

On the Google Play store, you’ll find a bunch, including one that looks visually and functionally identical to Swing Copters titled “Copters swing.”

At this point, there’s just one turning up in my App Store results, a little tapper called Tube Revenge – Swing Copters. It’s not a last minute clone, either: its version history dates back to March 2014. Weirder still, its designer describes it as inspired by Flappy Bird. For the record, Flappy Bird debuted in May 2013 and went viral in January 2014, Tube Revenge – Swing Copters cropped up in March, and then Dong Nguyen’s Flappy Bird followup is hitting now, August 21. I’m not sure how that works. The phrase “Swing Copters” is fairly nonrandom, after all.

In Nguyen’s Swing Copters, you play as a little creature sporting a propeller cap and tap the screen to fly–slewing somewhat drunkenly side to side–upward through girder-like platforms that jut from the screen’s edges. Nguyen threw in dangling hammers that sway like pendulums and threaten to whack you as you motor past, just to keep it interesting.

Tube Revenge, by contrast, has you tapping to keep a tiny green pipe flying left-to-right, Flappy Bird-style. knocking into orange-colored creatures to score points while avoiding black ones. Unfortunately the game hung half the time I brought it up, and kept trying to send me to something called Boom Beach, so I’d give it wide berth.

TIME Video Games

This Is What Happens When Jimmy Fallon Plays Goldeneye 007 with Pierce Brosnan

Hint: It does't go well for Mr. Brosnan.

Want to see Jimmy Fallon square off with James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan (playing as his digital Bond-ian self) in Nintendo’s Goldeneye 007? Wish granted for roughly two minutes if you click the video above.

It’s weird watching someone like Brosnan, who I’m guessing isn’t a routine gamer, play a game like Goldeneye 007 on national TV. And that’s the point: It gives you little sense of what it’s like to play a fan-beloved game plenty would call Rare’s magnum opus, but then you’re watching to see how merciless a relatively serious gamer like Fallon’s going to be (relatively merciless), whether Brosnan’s going to be a good sport about it (a very good one), and what the audience is going to make of Fallon’s trademark sputtering and faux-obsequiousness.

Why was Brosnan on Fallon last night? To talk up his new film, The November Man, a spy flick about an ex-CIA agent drawn into the thick of an agency coverup.

TIME Video Games

Take a Gander at Swing Copters, the Next Game from Flappy Bird’s Creator

Instead of tapping the screen to flap sideways, you tap the screen to propel yourself up.

The creator of Flappy Bird‘s next game is upon us, and it’s called Swing Copters. It’s another single-tap game from designer Dong Nguyen that’ll arrive this Thursday, August 21. It’s free to play with ads, or if you like, Nguyen will let you pay $0.99 to remove them.

In the game, you play a little bug-eyed dude wearing a Tweedledee propeller hat. Above you lie open spaces between girder-like platforms that jut from the screen’s edges. Tap the screen and up you go, slewing to one side or another so that you have to course-correct continuously.

On either side of the opening hang hammers that threaten your passage, swinging to and fro like blunt pendulums. The hammers seem like the later stages of certain Flappy Bird vamps, specifically even more insanely difficult versions of that game where the pipes moved up and down.

TouchArcade laid hands on the game ahead of its rollout, putting up a video illustrating what it looks like in action (that’s it above). The object is braincell-stupefyingly simple: clear gates, then trump your gates-passed score, just like your pipes-passed one in Flappy Bird. There’s a medal system, too, presumably bronze, silver or gold, though the guy in the video never manages to clear enough gates to clinch one.

It does look harder than Flappy Bird, but then try flipping your screen on its side as you watch the video, and I suspect you’ll agree that it looks an awful lot like a vertical remaster of Flappy Bird.

TIME Video Games

Reddit Comes to Xbox One First with ReddX App

It may not be the first reddit app you can browse on a TV, but it is the first one you can access through a dedicated games console.

I’m not sure a big-screen TV’s the most natural home for a glorified bulletin board, but if you’ve always wanted to browse vast fields of reddit text on your TV, Microsoft has just the thing for you: an app called ReddX for the Xbox One (as well as Xbox SmartGlass), which it describes as “the first reddit app for the TV.”

You’re going to wind up in a semantic debate with the “first for TV” thing, since not all consoles connect to TVs, and we’ve been able to screen-share whole libraries of reddit apps from mobile devices for ages. But this is the first I’m aware of someone designing a reddit app specifically for a games console, so give Microsoft props for getting out in front of that.

ReddX, available today, lets U.S. and Canadian Xbox One owners browse or zoom in on text, images and videos, as well as tap to upvote, downvote, or comment on threads, just as you can through a browser. You can optionally save images you like to your profile, or make it the ReddX app’s background. And in addition to the Xbox One controller (with or without text keypad), ReddX will take input from the Xbox One media remote as well as Xbox SmartGlass via a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Microsoft says the app can be snapped to your TV’s side while you game if you want to keep tabs on a thread, allowing you to “interact with each other in similar ways to the reddit.com experience.” That’s probably the most interesting thing about ReddX: the keeping reddit up while you’re doing something else part, a migrational Windows 7-original feature that feels even smarter on a game console.

The least interesting (but slightly amusing) thing: unlocking “media achievements named after some of the Internet’s favorite memes.” I have no idea if any of these are real, but someone’s purportedly taken screenshots of some of them.

And the first reddit thread ever created with a games console? Right this way.

TIME Video Games

Bungie’s New Destiny Trailer Detours to Storm-Wracked Venus

Bungie rolls out another 60 seconds of Destiny gameplay with a peek at Venus, once a terraformed human stronghold now held by a robotic alien race.

From Mars to Venus, it seems Bungie’s counting down planetary locales you’ll be visiting in Destiny, its online-only first-person shooter due out on September 9.

Last week saw our band of intrepid heroes stalking the red-duned surface of the fourth rock from the sun, so this week is about the second.

“Venus was once the site of a great discovery – a paradise. Now, it is a monument to all that we have lost,” writes Bungie in the teaser. There’s not much else to say about the formerly-greenhouse-gas-suffused planet, which looks lush and bucolic here.

Those peacock-headed mechanoid creatures you’re seeing in the combat cuts are the Vex, a robotic alien species that can time-travel and want to exterminate humanity. And I’m guessing those gate things are the warp points from which they’ll pour forth to help fill your XP meter.

TIME Video Games

You Shouldn’t Play Diablo 3 Ultimate Evil Edition on Your PS Vita

Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard's action-roleplaying opus looks and plays great on the PS4 and Xbox One, but it's an inscrutable mess on the PS Vita.

Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition exemplifies everything I don’t like about knocking through certain games on Sony’s PlayStation Vita using Remote Play.

That’s supposed to be the thing you buy a Vita for these days: its wireless PS4 screen-sharing feature, since the handheld’s future as a place to go for new content is gradually closing up, board by board. Instead, the Vita is now the PS4’s $200 second screen, Sony’s unplanned answer to Nintendo’s Wii U GamePad.

But as a second screen employed to judiciously whack away at fields of Fallen Overseers and Flesh Gorgers or Bone Reavers and Boggits in a game like Diablo 3, it leaves a lot to be desired. I say this not to slag Diablo 3 itself, which is at least as terrific on the PS4 and Xbox One as it is on the PS3 and Xbox 360 (I now prefer the consoles versions to the PC original).

I mention it only to warn Vita owners who may be eyeing Remote Play as a selling point for the PS4 version of the game, out Tuesday, August 19. It’s not.

Fire up Diablo 3 on the Vita courtesy the PS4 and you’re transported to a world that’ll give you some sense of what yours is going to feel like when you’re finally trundling through middle age with a pair of reading glasses dangling from shirt pocket or lapel. Words that correspond to face button selections in the game and that look just right on a TV screen per Blizzard’s PC-to-console redesign are practically Lilliputian on the Vita’s minuscule display. The text in my copy of The Compact Oxford English Dictionary — which reduces the entire 20-volume to a single grimoire-sized tome resized by a third of its original dimensions — is roughly on par. Of course, this dictionary comes with one of those slide-over magnifying lenses; the Vita has no such feature.

Text-schmext. Who cares, you’re probably saying. It’s a Blizzard game! Granted, no one plays Diablo 3 for the sculpted prose or imaginative plotting, but let’s say you ignore the writing team’s potboiler blather — there’s a lot of gameplay-specific stuff that’s lost in the shrunken muddle, even if you hold the Vita close and squint.

You’ll need to memorize face-button ability assignments, for instance, because the icons at screen bottom identifying what’s what are lookalike blobs of light smaller than eraser heads. Secondary feedback panels are equally obscure: you can tell you’re benefitting from some sort of power-up, but only that, the icon-of-whatever in its nanoscale square rendered inscrutable.

Just keeping your bearings turns into a needle-hunt: the automap at maximum zoom becomes a faint overlay that’ll let you keep track of the edges of things or pinpoint simplistic map icons like red hearts (healing nodes), but where points of interest lie clustered together, you might as well be sorting specks of sand in an anthill. And the game’s informational nexus, where you fiddle your inventory and skills or check your paragon level and quest objectives, is…actually not too bad, except when you’re looking at colored text. Deep blue (normal magical) items, which look deep purple to me, are almost illegible against the screen’s black background.

As usual, the Vita’s rear touchpad stands in for the missing DualShock secondary triggers, but it’s about as reliable as Microsoft’s Kinect, failing to trigger at first tap about a third of the time. If you’re standing back a ways from a cluster of enemies, no problem, but get yourself blocked up by a squad of Wallers, say, and that lack of one-to-one hair-trigger dependability leads to wasted potion quaffing at best, and at worst, sudden (and unwarranted) death.

Have you ever held a DualShock controller next to the Vita? Try it, paying attention to the length of the thumb controllers. You could stack at least two of the Vita’s nubs to meet one of DualShock 4’s, and that’s being conservative when you factor in the subsurface rotary base and joint. There’s significantly less play, in other words, which when you factor in the Vita’s inherent screen lag, makes for fussy results. Where I have yet to misfire an Entangling Shot wielding the DualShock 4 playing on TV, when playing on the Vita, my Demon Hunter’s missile-fire will careen wide of the mark at least once per scrum, and on occasion fire in the opposite direction. There’s just not enough control space to stretch out and fine-tune your tactics in a game that’s chiefly about tactical fine-tuning.

I’ll give Blizzard this: At least the battle numbers that rise over your or your enemies’ heads are magnified, crit counts or damage amounts looming large for a microsecond, like when you type on an iOS device’s onscreen keyboard. If you just want to wade into a level and farm a bit without tactical nuance, keeping tabs on the mathematical results, it’s doable. But I wouldn’t call it enjoyable.

Like I said, I love Diablo 3 on the PS4, I’m just pointing out that the Vita as a second-screen device for a game like this — and for others with similar problems, like Assassin’s Creed 4 or Need for Speed: Rivals – is an afterthought, something no one’s really designing to. Who can blame them? You’re essentially taking a sledgehammer to an exterior wall and trying to convince someone the hole you get is a window.

Diablo 3 is one of these games that might have worked as a native Vita port, assuming you could get the camera down close enough without breaking design elements specially tailored for the target resolutions (say precisely how far such-and-such spell travels across the screen). It’ll never get one, of course, because no one’s buying the Vita as a destination platform these days, so we’re left with Remote Play’s interpolated half-measures.

This is not, to be fair to the Vita (and Sony, and Blizzard), the Vita’s fault. It wasn’t designed to play games like Diablo 3 on its otherwise gorgeous five-inch OLED screen, or with its tiny thumb nubs in lieu of a full-sized gamepad with full-fledged thumb sticks. Studios will sometimes admit that porting an older game to a newer system and giving it the HD trimmings isn’t a horsepower or even recompilation conundrum so much as an interface or asset scalability one. That’s the trouble with so many Remote Play games, and the reason why games like Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD take years instead of a few brief months to come together.

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.

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.

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