TIME e3 2015

Microsoft’s Xbox One Just Fixed Its Biggest Problem

Something players have been clamoring for since day one

Microsoft is adding backward compatibility to its Xbox One console, the company announced at its E3 event Monday to great applause from the crowd. The feature will let Xbox One owners play older Xbox 360 titles on their new console, with added features.

“Last year, the team decided to tackle a feature that has consistently been at the top of your request list,” said Xbox head Phil Spencer. “Your Xbox 360 games, the games you’ve invested your time and money in, and the games you want to continue to play, will be playable natively on your Xbox One.”

The Xbox One backward compatibility will roll out by the holidays with around 100 titles at launch. Players will not be charged to access the Xbox 360 games they already own, the company said.

TIME e3 2015

Surprise, You Can Play the New Fallout Game Right Now

This is the best E3 surprise ever

Game maker Bethesda’s first E3 press conference included one very cool surprise: a new Fallout spin-off game that is available right now.

After showing off its new consoles and PC titles Doom and Fallout 4, Bethesda unveiled a new iOS and Android game dubbed Fallout Shelter. It’s not directly connected to Fallout 4, but rather something Bethesda Studios game director Todd Howard said the company wanted to build for mobile devices “because it couldn’t be done anywhere else.”

In the game, which looks a little like the diorama-style bases in Firaxis’ XCOM reboot, you craft and manage your own vault, working to keep its occupants productive and happy. Howard says the game is free, as in genuinely free, without paywall timers, Internet connection requirements or build queues.

Fallout 4 is coming out November 10, 2015. Fallout Shelter, a game no one had the faintest clue was coming, is available on the App Store.

TIME e3 2015

Here’s a First Look at the Incredibly Violent New Doom Game

It's intense

Bethesda kicked off its first E3 press conference with a splashy, gore-filled peek at its long anticipated Doom sequel.

The demo began on a Martian research facility, in a fiery foundry-like level. Long, steaming corridors were garnished with hellfire, demons and screams. This installment appears to be unabashedly violent, which is to say quintessential Doom. There are a few wrinkles, such as various Mortal Kombat-ish close quarters finishing moves and a chainsaw that now eviscerates bodies segment by segment.

The most interesting wrinkle? “Doom Snapmap,” an in-game level editor designed, says Bethesda, to let any player craft complex maps or fiddle with the game rules on the fly. When you’re ready, you just push a button to play, or share your creation with anyone in the world.

The company didn’t reveal details about multiplayer, but said more information would be doing soon. Doom ships in spring 2016 for PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

TIME e3 2015

Bethesda Begins E3 by Showing Off Doom, Fallout 4

Bethesda

Bethesda jumpstarted E3 2015 with some impressive first looks at its gaming lineup a year out

Bethesda kicked off its first ever E3 press conference at the Dolby Theater in downtown Los Angeles with a splashy, gore-filled peek at its long anticipated Doom sequel, followed by a barrage of revelations, including our first deep dive on the company’s recently unveiled post-apocalyptic open world epic, Fallout 4.

“We’re here to give you a look at what’s coming from Bethesda over the next year,” teased Pete Hines, Bethesda’s head of marketing and the showcase’s emcee. And then he fired up the world’s first look at Doom.

The demo began on a Martian research facility, in a fiery foundry-like level with long, steaming corridors garnished with hellfire, demons and screams. It’s an unabashedly violent, volume-at-11, quintessential Doom, in other words, but with a few applause-generating wrinkles, including various Mortal Kombat-ish close quarters finishing moves, and a chainsaw that now eviscerates bodies segment by blood muscle and bone-filled segment.

In all, it felt like a carefully choreographed tour of the abattoir-quel, highlighting this once-and-future shooter’s ineluctable DNA: preposterous (albeit gratifyingly so) escalating arsenals, and marathon gallops through phantasmagoric mausoleums punctuated by lurid butchery.

Bethesda

After an oblique nod to multiplayer (we’ll learn more about it soon, said Bethesda), the company finished with a peek at Hell, which, as you’ve probably guessed, resembled the cover of an Iron Maiden album lacquered with bile and viscera.

The most interesting wrinkle? “Doom Snapmap,” an in-game level editor designed, says Bethesda, to let any player craft complex maps or fiddle with the game rules on the fly. When you’re ready, you just push a button to play, or share your creation with anyone in the world.

If you’re into the whole sleek, stylish carnage thing, Doom should have at least those bases covered when it ships in spring 2016 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Alongside sizzle reels for known games like Battlecry (an online free-to-play multiplayer video game for Windows) and The Elder Scrolls Online (just launched for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), Bethesda unveiled Bethesda.net — essentially its version of Blizzard’s Battle.net, an online hub for all of its games. The company also touted something it’s calling The Elder Scrolls Legends, a free-to-play strategy card game based on the company’s fantasy-verse, queued for PC and iPad later this year.

And we finally got confirmation that steampunk stealth sequel Dishonored 2 exists, though details were scarce. Fans will doubtless unearth more from the showcase teaser trailer, but we know that it’s set in a coastal city, that you’re hunting down new adversaries, that you can opt to play as Dishonored‘s original (male) protagonist or a new one (female) with unique powers and gadgets, and that you can experience the entire game without killing a soul. Dishonored series developer Arkane said the game is in development for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, but didn’t offer a release timeframe (though if we take Hines literally, the “coming over the next year” statement implies we’ll see it by the close of 2016).

Oh, and Bethesda’s going to release a “definitive” graphically enhanced edition of the original Dishonored for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Look for that this fall.

Last but certainly not least, the company trained its spotlights on Fallout 4, then proceeded to bat the “player expectations” ball so far out of the park it was probably kissing stratosphere. After explaining that the game’s been in development since 2009 (six years!), Bethesda Studios game director Todd Howard said that building this version of Fallout began “with an obsession for detail.”

Bethesda

“It’s every button, every blinking light not just on one terminal, but all of them,” said Howard, as the camera pulled back from machines sporting dozens, then hundreds and eventually thousands of winking computer lights. “It’s our belief that it’s all of these small details coming together that form a much larger whole.”

We now know something about those mysterious pre-apocalyptic sequences in the launch trailer. the game gets started before the bomb explode, and that the character you create somehow survives in a vault for two centuries before emerging as its sole survivor. Cryonic storage? Some other form of time travel? That, or something like it (Howard said he didn’t want to spoil anything, but what else could it be?). And yes, the game is set in and around Boston, so there’s the setting finally confirmed. But forget the why, where or when, it’s the how and what that impressed here.

Like the fact that Howard said the company recorded around 1,000 of the most popular names, so you’ll hear your name actually spoken, not just see it onscreen (that’s frankly insane). And Howard claims this is Bethesda’s biggest game ever (as in bigger than Skyrim, people).

Howard confirmed that the game is, as suspected, running on a next-gen version of Bethesda’s Creation engine, including full physics-based rendering and dynamic volumetric lighting. You can play in first or third person, per usual, walk away from encounters at any point if you like, and, to paraphrase Howard, shoot anyone in the face without breaking the game’s story logic.

The dog is back (not the same dog from games past, or at least I’m pretty it’s not), and refined to the point that you can basically just point at something in the environment and tell Fido to interact. Howard demonstrated the dog grabbing an item and bringing it back to you, for instance. The series’ arm-clad PIP Boy computer returns as well, this time tied into new features like a layered armor system and the option to diddle with arcade mini-games that parody real world ones like Donkey Kong and Missile Command.

But the wildest Fallout 4 feature has to be the game’s new do-it-yourself systems. Want to craft weapons no one’s yet thought of, using the game’s terrifyingly granular crafting engine? How about build your own settlement, decrepit wall by wall and moldering chair by chair? It’s all optional, of course, but Howard illustrated how you might cobble together a house from parts, then plant some food, dig for water, lay down a power generator, then run wires to connect your burgeoning domicile. Maybe you want to control stuff remotely, so you build a terminal to do that. Maybe you want to add turrets, to defend against raider attacks (you’ll probably have to, in fact). Or maybe you want to link trade caravans between multiple settlements. You can do all that, and more.

But Fallout 4‘s most impressive trick has to be its release date, confirmed by Bethesda toward the showcase’s close: November 10, 2015. Think about that. From the game’s revelation on June 3 to its release by mid-fall, we’re talking all of five months.

As if that weren’t enough, Bethesda then unveiled a new iOS and Android game it’s cutely dubbed Fallout Shelter. It’s not directly connected to Fallout 4, but rather something Howard said the company wanted to build for mobile device “because it couldn’t be done anywhere else.”

In the game, which looks a little like the diorama-style bases in Firaxis’ XCOM reboot, you craft and manage your own vault, working to keep its occupants productive and happy. Howard says the game is free, as in genuinely free, without paywall timers, Internet connection requirements or loathsome build queues.

Bethesda

The coolest part of the showcase after the Fallout 4 info-dump? Fallout Shelter, a game no one had the faintest clue was coming, is available as I’m typing this on the App Store.

TIME Video Games

Street Fighter’s Ryu Will Now Be Kicking Butt in Super Smash Bros.

US-JAPAN-IT-GAMES-E3-NINTENDO
Frederic J. Brown —AFP/Getty Images Gamers play Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3Ds at the annual E3 video game extravaganza in Los Angeles, California on June 10, 2014.

Time to see how Pikachu deals with a hurricane kick

Gaming powerhouse Nintendo announced on Sunday that Street Fighter’s iconic karate master Ryu has joined Super Smash Bros.’s illustrious roster, while Fire Emblem‘s Roy will be returning to the brand’s flagship fighting game.

Both characters are now available via download for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS gaming systems.

“Today’s update proves that the evergreen Super Smash Bros. games continue to evolve and grow with unexpected new content,” said Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing, according to Business Wire.

The introduction of the two latest playable characters accompanies a software update that will allow gamers to explore three new stages along with a range of alternative costumes to select from.

TIME Video Games

The Craziest Video Game Sale of 2015 Just Got Underway

Failbetter Games Sunless Sea

Valve's annual summer sale sees popular PC games marked down by as much as 80%

Welcome back, Steam Summer Sale! If you’re a PC gamer, get thee to the storefront’s splash page and have a gander, because the whole looky-loo thing is still totally free.

The sale began on Thursday, June 11 and runs through Sunday, June 21, right through the heart of the E3 video game trade fair that kicks off (unofficially) tomorrow night with a livestreamed showcase by Elder Scrolls and Fallout developer Bethesda Softworks.

At the moment, my favorite deal is Failbetter Games’ wonderfully bizarre and beautifully scripted roguelike, Sunless Sea, for $14.24 (down 25%), followed by Endnight Games’ creepy existential survivalism simulation The Forest for $10.04 (down 33%) and Tango Gameworks’ classic survival horror The Evil Within for $29.99 (down 50%).

I’m seeing solid discounts on lots of big names everyone knows, and if you’ve been waiting all year to grab one of those, by all means carpe diem. But the thing I like about sales like this, is that they’re a chance to scoop up a bunch of stuff you don’t recognize (but that sounds interesting, or that seems to be resonating with others via the user reviews) with fewer regrets if said stuff turns out not to be your particular cup.

TIME Video Games

YouTube Takes a Shot at Amazon’s Twitch With ‘YouTube Gaming’

YouTube

The popular video sharing site announces plans to overhaul its games content and tweak live streaming options

Remember the scuttlebutt back in March about YouTube ramping up its gaming presence? Turns out it wasn’t wishful thinking: the Google-owned video sharing titan on Friday unveiled “YouTube Gaming,” a new games-centric service not to be confused with “YouTube #Gaming,” the company’s longtime games aggregation channel.

YouTube Gaming, which YouTube says will launch in the next few months, is both a new standalone app as well as a revised web portal for YouTube’s gaming-verse. It packs the site’s gaming videos, livestreams and other community features into a single streamlined space, with new profile customization features that will let you add games to “favorites,” thereafter highlighting them during searches and tagging them as “My Games.”

YouTube is also going to give “more than 25,000″ games their own discrete pages, it says. The company hypes that figure — simultaneously taking a polite swipe at Amazon-owned rival Twitch — by claiming YouTube has “more [gaming] videos than anywhere else.”

That’s a lot of curation, but it could help clean up the service, too. Each game page will now have tabs that show the official YouTube pages for the game’s publisher. Discovery is now focused narrowly on gaming content, thus, to use YouTube’s example, typing “call” is going to conjure a phrase like “Call of Duty” instead of “Call Me Maybe.” If you’d rather bypass all the “free rider” fan or media watermarked versions of trailers or developer diaries for the unblemished originals, this should make finding them easier.

YouTube’s angle on livestreaming’s getting a modest makeover, too. You can already livestream games on YouTube, but conventional wisdom holds that serious gamers prefer Twitch, which offers more gaming-specific features. YouTube Gaming attempts to address some of this by no longer requiring that you schedule a live event beforehand, for instance, and giving you the option to roll all of your streams into a single link.

How well that works, and whether it’s enough to sway Twitch acolytes, remains to be seen. YouTube says it’ll show off the channel at E3 next week. The new site and app should launch this summer, starting in the U.S. and U.K.

TIME Video Games

Here’s How Mark Zuckerberg Explains Virtual Reality

The Oculus Rift is arranged for a photograph during the Oculus VR Inc. "Step Into The Rift" event in San Francisco,   California, U.S., on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Facebook Inc.'s Oculus virtual-reality headsets will work with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 10 and use the software maker's wireless Xbox game controller. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg  *** Local Caption *** Palmer Luckey
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg The Oculus Rift is arranged for a photograph during the Oculus VR Inc. "Step Into The Rift" event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 11, 2015.

It's 'like you’re actually there'

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out his vision for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset in a Facebook post on Thursday that has racked up 70,081 likes and counting. Facebook bought the company behind the Rift, Oculus VR, last year in a deal worth $2 billion.

Zuckerberg hailed the device as so much more than a gaming console with head straps, arguing that it could be used to transport users into three-dimensional movies and virtual social settings with their friends.

“When you put on the Rift, you’ll be able to experience immersive virtual environments that create the feeling of ‘presence’ – like you’re actually there,” Zuckerberg wrote.

He continued:

“We developed state-of-the-art custom display technology to create immersive visuals, and precise head tracking, so you can move naturally in virtual environments. We integrated high quality VR audio into the Rift to convince your ears that you’re really there. And we invested a lot of effort in making the headset light, comfortable and easy to wear. Putting on the Rift is as easy as putting on a baseball cap.”

Oculus’ Rift headset will release in early 2016. Oculus has not yet disclosed the price for a headset.

TIME Video Games

How the Oculus Rift Could Help Xbox Crush PlayStation

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift Oculus Rift

It's all about Windows 10

No one expected this: Oculus VR said Thursday its Rift virtual reality headset will ship with Microsoft’s Xbox One controller as the Rift’s de facto way to play games.

Yes, there’s a crazy new contraption called Oculus Touch, hyped by founder Palmer Luckey himself during Thursday’s Oculus VR presser. The Touch looks like a pair of left/right Fitbits glommed onto Wii U nunchucks. It’s at least one possible future for VR input, if Luckey has his druthers. But let’s talk about the Oculus/Xbox One gamepad partnership, because in my view, the reason it’s happening at all is pretty straightforward when you think about Windows 10.

Oculus Rift has been a PC-centric technology from the outset. Maybe that changes in half a decade and we’ll all be dongled in to our smartphones or tablets. But today, if you want to tango with the half dozen head-mounted conceptual thingies scrambling to vie for our hearts and wallets, you generally need a good ol’ fashioned computer. And what do the lion’s share of good ol’ fashioned computers run now? Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft’s Xbox One gamepad, whether you agree with Palmer Luckey’s contentious claim that it’s the best controller in gaming (“It just is,” he said, as if his words might subliminally objectify reality on the spot), is certainly the best gamepad Redmond’s crafted to date. And it’s formally part of the Windows ecosystem, driver and developer supported and backward compatible with anything that worked with the company’s old Xbox 360 controller. It’s how you game with a gamepad in Windows right now as well as how you will when Windows 10 finally arrives this summer (sure, you can jury rig Sony’s DualShock 4 PlayStation 4 controller to work with Windows, but Sony doesn’t offer its own Windows drivers).

So in hindsight, not having some sort of partnership with Microsoft ought to have been the head-scratcher. If we assume Oculus Rift’s early adopters are going to be predominantly PC gamers — and I’d bet almost anything that’s going to be the case given how not consumer-friendly as well as culturally exotic these headsets are going to be for non-geeks — then the Xbox One deal becomes a natural corollary.

 

Folding the Rift into the Xbox One ecosystem then becomes just a baby step sideways. That’s especially true when you factor in Microsoft’s plan to load Windows 10 onto its dedicated gaming system in the near future, solidifying its promise to have a single, unified operating architecture across all of its platforms (both a first for Microsoft as well as anything else in gaming).

Where the Rift-Xbox partnership goes down the road, by all means speculate freely. But it’s an unambiguous coup for Microsoft — or the Facebook-owned Oculus, depending whom you think’s the more important water-carrier.

And however well Sony’s PlayStation 4 has been doing sales-wise, the Oculus-Microsoft news has to be chilling for the company’s own VR effort, Project Morpheus, confined to Sony’s platforms. That, and given how competent HTC’s Windows-centric Vive VR headset looks already, at this point…well, Windows has been a continuous, indefatigable, interface-leaping platform, whereas the PlayStations have all been devices-of-the-moment. That Oculus is thinking about this in those terms is why you should, too. Because this is bigger than the console wars trope, and it’s why challenging Microsoft in the long term is about so much more than monthly platform sales.

TIME Video Games

Here’s When You Can Buy Oculus’s Long-Awaited Virtual Reality Headset

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg/Getty Images An attendee wears an Oculus VR Inc. Rift Development Kit 2 headset to play a video game during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Oculus is also working on its own controllers

A consumer version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is set to be released in the first quarter of next year, Oculus VR confirmed at a pre-E3 event Thursday. The Facebook-owned company has not yet revealed the Rift’s price, but it’s expected to cost upwards of $1,000 including a computer capable of powering the device.

Oculus Rift also announced a partnership with Microsoft that will mean players will be able to stream Xbox One games to the Rift headset via a computer running Windows 10.

The Rift will be packaged with the Xbox One controller, letting gamers control their characters through a familiar interface. However, Oculus also announced it’s working on its own controllers specifically designed for interacting with a virtual environment, though it isn’t clear if they will cost gamers extra.

The partnership between Microsoft and the Facebook-owned Oculus VR will give Microsoft a second toehold in the market for virtual and augmented reality headsets. Microsoft is also working on the HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that will work with the company’s upcoming Windows 10 software. However, where the HoloLens is being pitched as a productivity and content consumption tool, Oculus’ Thursday demonstration made it clear the Rift is primarily a gaming device.

Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion in a deal that closed last summer.

 

 

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