TIME Video Games

R.I.P. Diablo 3 Auction House, and May You Never Return

After today, any items left on Diablo 3's auction block will be gone forever.

You have to respect Blizzard for knowing when to fold ‘em: the Diablo 3 auction house will today disappear from the game for good, after a long drawing down period that saw it shift from developer mea culpa to functional cessation to its visual (and final) removal from the game today, June 24.

Diablo 3‘s auction house was supposed to be about reducing fraud, stamping out illicit item-trading by effectively legitimizing it under Blizzard’s auspices. But in the end, it became a stultifying gameplay-bypass tool. Blizzard obviously wants Diablo 3 to be a game about taking down Diablo, a game of skill steeped in assimilating and vamping on its design principles. But like any game that incentivizes players to kit out characters with ridiculously high-spec, hard-to-find items, the real game in Diablo 3 is about the loot hunt: about finding that kit, then extrapolating to multiple character builds and executing variations on a theme.

The trouble with systems that let you arbitrarily cut in line — and there’s probably a crude economic metaphor here — is that we know with all but scientific certainty that many of us will do whatever we can get away with in a game, and why should the ones “getting away with it” see that as a problematic? Diablo 3‘s auction house allowed players to spend as well as make real money playing the game. When the potential — some would argue of necessity, given how rare legendary items were in the beginning — to buy past gameplay (and eventually make money doing so) by a substantial population conflicts with everyone else’s sense of gameplay fairness, what do you think’s going to win: wishes or cash?

There were no momentous player-led rallies to oust Diablo 3 moneymaking. No mass boycotts of the auction house occurred. In the end, it took Blizzard’s not-so-invisible hand reaching down of its own volition to excise the auction house from the game, turning Diablo 3 back into something that now, finally, feels more like a game worth thinking about competitively.

I’m sure “illicit” external trading’s already going on, and so be it. No one’s yet built an exploit-proof game. But the lesson here — and this has implications for free-to-play apologists — may be that trying to corral and formalize a system fundamentally at odds with the game’s own design principles doesn’t make it any less of a problem. I’m surprised Blizzard didn’t see that coming a mile off, and I just hope the lessons learned pay their way forward in all the company’s games to come.

TIME Video Games

Now You Can Be ‘Frankenstein’s Monster': Evolve Inside Scoop

Gamers can finally understand what Frankenstein's creation felt as the angry and armed mob hunted it down

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Developer Turtle Rock, Creator of Left 4 Dead, will soon launch a new multiplayer experience, Evolve. The game is set in a futuristic frontier-like galaxy, where Humanity has colonized a planet called Shear. That’s when the monsters come in. A group of hunters are enlisted as a last ditch effort to save the planet’s colonists. On paper Evolve is a simple concept — four player-controlled hunters versus one player-controlled monster — but from this simple idea for a gaming mechanic, something novel and complex has been created.

“Even prior to creating Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock Studios was keenly interested in the idea of a team of players fighting a giant boss battle, but with the boss being controlled by another player,” said Michael J. Boccieri, Senior Producer at 2K. “Compared to a standard boss battle, this 4v1 multiplayer results in unique gameplay every single match due to the human mind controlling the monster, so no match ever plays out the same way…[Turtle Rock] then drew inspiration from other mediums including film, comic books, literature and more, which was a core driving component to a lot of the aesthetics that make Evolve what it is today.”

The notion of playing as the monster in a game isn’t new, but never before have developers embraced the idea of giving players control quite like this. In Shelly’s Frankenstein (as well as its film adaptations), Frankenstein’s creation is always on the defensive, despite its impressive power. The creature, misunderstood and unmoored, is hunted by an angry village mob, which views it as an implicit threat. But in games, players haven’t really experienced the persecuted monster’s point of view.

Though developers have occasional embraced a “monster” as a narrative’s lead, but those instances are few and far between. In these cases, the game is usually constructed in either two ways:

1) The monster is the protagonist in an anti-hero role, who is tasked with fighting a worse evil, or it is empowered by the developers to hunt and slay others. This can be seen in titles such as Altered Beast, Splatterhouse, Overlord, Demon’s Crest, Alien Vs Predator 2, and more.

2) The monster is just a stock character in a gameplay centric title within either the Fighting or Sidescrollling genres, like Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee or Rampage World Tour.

In all of these titles the developers empower the player to be on the offensive, hunting and killing with minimal regard for the protagonist’s life beyond the threat of restarting a level. Players are rarely, if ever, given an experience where they can inhabit the mind of a monster who is being hunted by an an overwhelming force. That’s where Evolve steps in.

During this year’s E3 gaming expo, the game’s publisher 2K gave TIME the opportunity to competitively play the game. I took control of a monster named Kraken. During my match, I finally understood what Frankenstein’s creation felt like as the angry and armed mob hunted it down. Because Evolve a strategic competitive multiplayer title, I was able to feel the fear of being hunted. At the onset of each match the monster is weak and vulnerable. I was forced to avoid confrontation and scavenge on local wildlife, and in doing so, I could “evolve” (three evolutionary stages in total). With each subsequent evolution I was granted more abilities, and gained the strength necessary to push back my attackers.

“Certainly when you start a match as the monster at Stage One, you are underpowered compared to the hunter team; a savvy hunter team knows this, and will attempt to corral, contain and destroy the monster as quickly as possible,” said Boccieri. “Much as Frankenstein’s creation comes into his own over the course of the novel, so too does the monster player over the course of a match as they feed on the wildlife and evolve, growing more and more powerful. By Stage Two the monster is equal to the hunters, and by the time the monster reaches Stage Three, the hunters actually become the hunted. It’s an interesting parallel to the plot of the novel — by the time we are at the ice flows at the novel’s conclusion, we wonder whether Dr. Frankenstein is hunting the monster, or he himself is the hunted?”

But in those early moments of the game, I was overwhelmed by paranoia. Every move and action I made could be used by the hunters to track me down: my footsteps, birds that had been startled or dead animal carcasses my character left behind. Each time I stopped to eat wildlife, I feared that just beyond my field of vision — the hunters lay in waiting. And that is what’s so unique about Evolve. That perspective flop that gamers rarely have the opportunity to enjoy.

TIME Video Games

Shovel Knight May Be the 8-bit Homage We’ve Been Waiting For

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The music in Shovel Knight‘s launch trailer sounds nothing like the music in the game. I can personally vouch for this.

The trailer (above) is all dour, thrash-y, melodically minor guitars and calf-murdering double-bass drumming. The actual game is scored with scritch-popping chiptunes (that’s the hipster way of talking about 8-bit music in 2014). With respect for Jake Kaufmann, who’s listed as developer Yacht Club Games’ sound designer, the trailer’s music doesn’t hold a candle to the mad genius of his vintage-infused in-game tunes, like this one:

Shovel Knight is an 8-bit-like (coin a genre), a platformer starring a shovel-wielding knight, out to defeat the evil foozle, and his thumb-torturing adventures along the way. It’s like Wizards and Warriors meets Castlevania meets Faxanadu (and I’m told, DuckTales — for shame, I never played that one). It’s the result of a wildly successful Kickstarter that blew past its $75,000 goal by nearly a quarter of a million bucks back in April 2013. It’s the latest release in a sudden parade of mature Kickstarter-spawned games putting paid to crowdfunding’s promise.

Bask in its unabashed genuflection to 1980s game design tropes. Bathe in its classic NES color palette. Chuckle at the notion of a horn-helmed knight nobly brandishing a sharpened spade. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Faulkner would have understood (and probably played) Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight costs $15, and you can have it on PC, Mac, Linux, 3DS or Wii U this Thursday, June 26.

TIME Video Games

20 Video Games to Watch for Summer 2014

Here's our summertime list of PC, console and handheld video games to keep an eye on.

  • Resogun: Heroes

    Resogun was just about the best thing on PS4 at launch, a wonderful little wraparound side-scrolling shoot-em-up, and on June 24, it’ll get an update that adds local cooperative play and lets you create your own ships. Everyone who owns Resogun gets that stuff, but if you want the separate Heroes expansion’s two new game modes — Survival (infinite play like Arcade, but humans now have parachutes and there’s a day/night cycle) and Demolition (described as “Arkanoid meets Resogun” by way of a wrecking ball) — it’ll run you $4.99.

    June 24 / PS4

  • Valiant Hearts: The Great War

    Another side-scrolling puzzle/adventure game from Ubisoft, Valiant Hearts: The Great War uses a bleak cartoonish aesthetic (“The Great War” meaning World War I) to tell an adventure story “inspired by actual letters from the time.” The story itself concerns three strangers united through war in their attempt to help a young German soldier find love “in a story about survival, sacrifice and friendship.” (In other words, bring tissues.)

    June 25 / PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Shovel Knight

    A horn-helmed knight, a weaponized spade, bona fide chiptunes and visuals designed to make you feel like you nodded off and woke up in 1985 8-bit-land. Shovel Knight‘s Kickstarter was so successful it blew past its $75,000 funding goal to reach over $311,000. Fingers crossed all that extra cash helps this platformer pay out gameplay dividends when it arrives (after a few delays) in late June.

    June 26 / 3DS, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux

  • Divinity: Original Sin

    Divinity: Original Sin, a prequel to 2002’s sleeper roleplaying gem Divine Divinity, is a Kickstarter-funded left turn of sorts for developer Larian. It’s a shift from Divinity II‘s third-person action-angled approach back to a high-in-the-sky camera overview, and includes — all series firsts here — cooperative play, turn-based combat and mod tool support.

    June 30 / PC, Mac

  • Sunless Sea

    Heard of a browser-based text adventure called Fallen London? Me neither — until game chat/scribe luminaries Tom Chick and Bruce Geryk (Quarter to Three) put together this podcast of podcasts about that game and its imminent spiritual sequel in which you captain a (possibly doomed) steamship through lightness depths. The game’s billing: “Lose your mind. Eat your crew. Survive.” You want to play this. You really do.

    July 1 / PC, Mac

  • MouseCraft

    In MouseCraft, you have to stack blocks shaped like tetrominoes — shapes made out of four squares — to forge “safe” paths for on-the-move mice, guiding them through puzzle-based levels. No surprise: Poland-based studio Crunching Koalas calls it “Tetris meets Lemmings.”

    July 8 / PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, PS3, PS Vita

  • Another World: 20th Anniversary Edition

    I adored French designer Eric Chachi’s Out of This World (its right proper name in the States, by the way) when I first played it back in 1992 on a 16MHz CompuAdd 386sx. I missed its souped-up reemergence in 2011 on smartphones and tablets, but I won’t make that mistake — and if you’ve never played it, neither should you — when it arrives this summer for PS4.

    July 8 / PS4, PS3, PS Vita

  • Quest for Infamy

    Fans of classic Sierra adventures games, rejoice, or at least get your hopes slightly up at the prospect of a new Quest for Glory-inspired romp through roleplaying-as-burlesque. Developer Infamous Adventures has been working up to this, its first non-remake adventure game, since the warmly received fan-remakes of the King’s Quest and Space Quest series.

    July 10 / PC, Mac

  • Abyss Odyssey

    Game genres have the strangest names. “Roguelike.” I suppose it’s more efficient than typing out “action-roleplaying fantasy hack-and-slash with randomly generated levels.” Abyss Odyssey sounds like that with a dash of Street Fighter (it’s a 2D side-scroller with platforming bits) set in 19th century Chile (another game with an unusual-to-gaming backdrop) where you’re fighting a slumbering warlock’s nightmares made real.

    July 15 / PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Unrest

    Unrest is a roleplaying game staged in ancient India, which instantly earns it backdrop street cred (name the last game you played set in ancient India). Other hypothetically cool-sounding points: combat is possible but discouraged, the game’s impetus hinges largely on storytelling through dialogue choices that interact with character “values,” and if you die, the game simply shifts to another character, your previous one’s death impacting how the story unfolds.

    July 23 / PC, Mac, Linux

  • The Last of Us Remastered

    Watching comparison videos, you realize just how much Naughty Dog managed to pull out of the PS3’s hat with The Last of Us (less than a year ago). The PS4 version looks better, in other words, but not dramatically so. That said, if you want to play what’ll surely be the definitive version of this award-winning tromp through an end-of-days, story-twisting zombie shooter, make some space on your midsummer calendar.

    July 29 / PS4

  • Sacred 3

    Newcomer Keen Games tries its hand at the third in this Diablo-like fantasy about racing around a giant map, whacking enemies and vacuuming loot. Expect multi-classing, of course, but also “always on” cooperative play for up to four that’ll either draw on fellow players, or — if you’re playing offline — sub in computer A.I. ones.

    August 5 / PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Risen 3: Titan Lords

    Developer Piranha Bytes’ Risen series — generally lauded for its thoughtful world-building but plagued by technical issues — has struggled to find its footing after the studio’s acclaimed Gothic games (1 and 2, anyway). Risen 3: Titan Lords marks the studio’s third post-Gothic roleplaying outing, this time promising that “every decision changes the course of the story” (a promise easily made, but perhaps most consistently delivered by this studio).

    August 12 / PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Tales of Xillia 2

    If you haven’t played Tales of Xillia, you’ll probably just find Tales of Xillia 2 confusing. If you have played Tales of Xillia (and you enjoyed it), this direct sequel is aimed squarely at you, transpiring a year later and resurrecting the series’ real-time battle system, that — unique to this duology — allows characters to combine their attacks in linked mode.

    August 19 / PS3

     

  • Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition

    What else is there to say about this two-year-old dark fantasy monster-masher? It’s Diablo III (plus the Reaper of Souls expansion), arguably as it ought to have been from the start: sans real money or gold auction houses.

    August 19 / PS4, Xbox One

  • Madden NFL 15

    I won’t pretend to love football, but ignoring Madden is like standing next to a speeding freight train with your fingers in your ears, so let’s run through the feature list: improved defensive play, further refined natural-sounding broadcasts, a “player lock” camera, an indicator to help you tell whether you can make a non-aggressive tackle, jumbotrons that now use dynamic camera footage, and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is this year’s cover athlete.

    August 26 / PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

  • The Sims 4

    The Sims 4 continues longtime developer Maxis’ evolution of EA’s mega-bestselling franchise, sprucing up the visuals and nipping and tucking classic world-building features. You’re still essentially babysitting a bunch of babbling sims through a cartoonish approximation of village life, though the character building tools are more granular, and Maxis says its emphasis on emotional states will lend character story arcs more depth.

    September 2 / PC

  • Stronghold: Crusader II

     

    Long before the “tower defense” genre existed, developer Firefly Studios was building games about constructing actual towers and ramparts with elaborate fortifications, then hurling waves of attackers at you to test your architectural mettle. Stronghold: Crusader II is 12 years coming, replete with new units and real-time 3D physics, and this time sporting the option to manage your castle with another player cooperatively.

    September 2 / PC

  • Destiny

    Destiny is the summer’s (and perhaps even the year’s) biggest kahuna, the game everyone’s been hearing about for ages, the implication being that it’ll revolutionize gaming as we know it. It probably won’t, but it’s by Bungie, it feels distinctly Halo-like, and it showed well enough when I demoed it at E3: a highly polished, open-world, quasi-solo-multiplayer shooter that’ll work to keep your attention by dropping you onto Guild Wars 2-like playgrounds, routinely trotting out new and varied things to do.

    September 9 / PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

  • NHL 15

    For NHL 15, EA’s souping-up the notion of hockey as a full-contact sport. If you’re playing next-gen, the new “collision physics” system support secondary collisions, player pileups (involving all 12 players here) and scrambles for the net. That emphasis on improved physics extends to puck play, which EA’s touting as substantially more granular. The rest is mostly next-gen window dressing: all 30 NHL arenas meticulously rendered, thousands of models making up arena crowds and more realistic physics-impactive clothing.

    September 9 / PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

TIME Video Games

The Hollywood Cinematographer Has a New Job Path: Video Games

Lights. Camera. Press start.

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Video game developer Ready at Dawn has been working on The Order 1886 since 2010, and it’s tentatively scheduled for a 2015 release. The Order drops players into an alternate Victorian-Era reality torn apart by a vicious war between mankind and a subset of humans: the “Half-breeds.” The game recasts the familiar humanity versus ‘other’ story with a steampunk twist, though what sets this game apart is the development team’s film-style ambitions.

“We wanted to show gamers what the next-generation of gaming would be like,” said Ru Weerasuriya, the CEO and Creative Director at Ready at Dawn. “So, for us, it not only meant cool gameplay, but it also meant that we needed to build a new experience. And what we’ve done with this game is what we coin as filmic … We’ve used [techniques] that are very movie-like … to build the game.”

Film has had over a century to develop as an art-form, while video games have had a mere four decades. Early filmmakers and film theorists experimented to understand the psychology of editing and the subconscious effects of cinematography. Take Lev Kuleshov’s famous experiments with the “cutaway,” for instance (as seen below). In the 1920s, Kuleshov alternated various shots of objects (a bowl of soup, a baby doll), and intercut them with the same shot of an emotionless actor’s face. Each time audiences believed that the actor’s emotional expression had changed, even though it hadn’t. Now, video game designers are looking to build off these pre-existing film techniques to slash the medium’s maturation time in half.

It’s no secret that video games have always aspired to be similar to film. We’ve seen games add complex narratives to gameplay mechanics, the addition of long and intricate GGI driven cutscenes, and the implementation of Hollywood motion capture to bring actors like Ellen Page and Kevin Spacey to life inside games. The Order, however, looks to experiment with an aspect of motion pictures that is much more subtle and impactful: Cinematography.

“We decided to replicate the attributes of physical lenses used in photography and cinematography in our game engine, such as a lens’ specific depth of field or focus,” Weerasuriya said. “This also meant that we had to recreate the “imperfections” found in physical lenses that we often take for granted. Lens curvature, chromatic aberration, vignette and lens dirt are just a few examples. In games, we often have the tendency to see everything through a perfect window, which is very much unlike what people have been accustomed to seeing in other visual media through the lens of a camera.”

If the final product is anything like the demonstrations shown by developer Ready at Dawn at E3, then this could be another pivotal step in the medium’s maturity. Many video games have been a sterile CGI representation of life, but by borrowing from the art of cinematography the medium can begin aspiring to be more.

Cinematography is all about the art of subconscious manipulation and subversion. By design, audiences are meant to be oblivious to the techniques that are manipulating them to feel sad, angry, or excited during a film. The audience may feel that the antagonist is powerful, without realizing that it is the camera’s upward angle, the telephoto lens implemented by the cinematographer, and the red splash of light on the character’s shoulders put there that made them feel as such. The Order 1886 is delving into this art of subconscious manipulation in hopes of providing a more realistic experience.

“The strange thing is that although many people might not be able to pinpoint the technicalities of everything they see through a regular lens, once we remove the attributes and imperfections that make a certain shot feel ‘real,’ they will automatically know that something is off with the shot,” Weerasuriya said. “Replicating the correct glass and the imperfections that come with it, as well as the lighting and other film techniques we use, are what make our visuals feel familiar and grounded in reality.​”

Realism is not the intent of all video games, of course. Gamers and critics alike have expressed worries that bringing Hollywood aesthetics to games can be confining, criticizing the use of passive cinematic cutscenes in an interactive medium. The development team claims this isn’t The Order’s filmic ambitions, however. Cutscenes actually flow smoothly between exposition and gameplay without jarring shifts from one graphically polished reality, to another that looks visually mismatched. With any luck, The Order’s cinematic roots will make for a more consistent experience — one that doesn’t periodically jolt you out of the game world.

For more of the inside scoop with Ready at Dawn’s CEO and Creative Director Ru Weerasuriya, check out the video above.

TIME

Here’s How to Play Titanfall Totally Free This Weekend

Screenshot from publisher Electronic Arts and developer Respawn Entertainment's massively-multiplayer first-person Xbox One shooter Titanfall (also for Xbox 360 and Windows). Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts is launching a new program that lets gamers play a title for free for a set time period, starting with Respawn’s widely acclaimed shooter Titanfall. The massive game publisher’s program is dubbed Origin Game Time. Users of the company’s Origin game service will be allowed to play the full versions of select titles for free for as long as there’s time on their Game Time clock. The Origin Game Time clock begins when a user starts the game for the first time and counts down from there. Titanfall will be available to play for 48 hours. EA’s announcement follows the launch of Steam’s annual summer sale.

[Polygon]
TIME Video Games

LEGO’s Newest Games Will Absolutely Blow Your Mind

LEGO Fusion, which combines tablet games with physical bricks to blend kids' digital and physical worlds.
LEGO Fusion Town Master LEGO

This might be the coolest thing LEGO's done since that movie

LEGO, makers of everybody’s favorite toy plastic bricks, announced its latest creation Thursday: LEGO Fusion, which combines tablet games with physical bricks to blend kids’ digital and physical worlds.

TIME got a demonstration of one of the tablet games, which works like this: You play the mayor of a town who’s charged with building houses, stores and other structures for residents to enjoy. To put together a building in the digital game, you have to use a special version of LEGO’s physical bricks, then scan your real-life creation into the mobile app.

While the software was still in beta at the time of the test, it ran well and accurately scanned TIME’s creations, effortlessly transporting them from tabletop to tablet. Kids (and adults!) playing the game will be able to share their creations online with far-flung friends or nearby siblings, or visit other LEGO cities to get ideas for their own digital downtowns.

Three other LEGO Fusion games include a racing game in which you build and race LEGO cars, a tower-defense game and a resort designer, which feature similar idea-sharing multiplayer features.

Ditte Bruun Pedersen, a senior design manager at LEGO’s Denmark-based Future Lab, told TIME the idea behind LEGO Fusion is to “use tablets to help kids be creative” and “loop from the physical to the digital [worlds],” as kids will have to use both the tablet and the real-life bricks to make progress in the games.

The LEGO Fusion apps, which will run on Apple iOS or Android, will be free to download, while the corresponding physical brick sets will go on sale in mid-August for about $35 each.

TIME Video Games

The Sweetest Video Game Sale of the Summer Is Finally Here

Valve's summer sale just kicked off, and the preliminary lineup already sports relatively recent triple-A titles marked down over 80%.

Valve’s Steam video game summer sale just went live at 1:00pm ET. This is Valve’s annual summer discount run that reaches across its substantial catalog of PC, Mac and Linux games, running from June 19 through Monday, June 30.

Today’s deals are already pretty big, like Firaxis’ superlative X-COM reboot, XCOM: Enemy Unknown for $8.49 (marked down a whopping 83%), CD Projekt’s roleplaying opus The Witcher 2 for $3.99 (down 80%), Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3 for $7.49 (down 75%) and the standalone expansion to Ironclad’s phenomenally well-crafted real-time strategy game, Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, is $8.99 (down 80%).

Drop down the page and you’ll spy Valve’s “Flash” sales, running at shorter intervals, currently including the best first-person parkour (FPP!) game ever made, Mirror’s Edge, $4.99 (marked down 75%). Swing even lower and you’ll find Valve’s vote-a-thon section, whereby logged-in Steam members can pick which games they’d like to see go on sale next. And if you’d rather not dawdle waiting for the game you want to buy to go cha-ching, Valve lets you add it to a personal wish list, then notifies you when it’s available at a discount — a feature Valve notes you can use after the sale, too.

The clock’s ticking, counting down to the next round of deals, which arrive 24 hours from today’s 1:00pm ET kickoff.

TIME Video Games

With Its Fire Phone Demo, Amazon Revealed It Still Doesn’t Understand Gaming

Amazon

Like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos confused the idea of gesturing with substance when he tried to show of the new Fire Phone's gaming prowess.

You may have noticed no one’s saying much about Amazon’s new gee-whiz Fire Phone as a gaming device. Amazon itself gave gaming short shrift during the phone’s unveiling yesterday, clipping out all of a minute and a half — from a presentation that ran to nearly an hour and a half — to demonstrate something Jeff Bezos called Tofu Fury.

In the game, you maneuver a little headband-toting cube of pugnacious soy through ordinarily laid out 2D levels with a dash of depth. Tilt the Fire Phone this way or that and your perspective on the 2.5D imagery shifts as if the phone were a tiny shadow box.

You can see the demo in the below video at the 53:45 mark:

“I think you can probably imagine what the dynamic perspective technology can enable for gamers,” said Bezos as he coasted sedately through the demo, qualifying it as “one very quick thing” at the outset, as if to assure the audience he’d move speedily through this show of frivolity. In those four words, he may have unwittingly conveyed all we needed to know about his and Amazon’s vision of gaming on the Fire Phone.

Then he held up Tofu Fury and started moving the phone. The perspective shifted. He moved it some more. The perspective shifted some more. The level sat there, looking like any other level in a platform game. No one ooh’d or ahh’d. The audience was either stunned to silence or as bored as I was. This was Amazon’s vision of cutting-edge gaming on its debut phone? Nintendo’s 3DS with one of its dual screens and all the controller buttons lopped off?

“What you can do here is look around on this image,” said Bezos, demonstrating that feature some more. You can’t look “everywhere,” as he claimed, just slightly left or right, up or down, maybe 45 degrees (at best) from head-on. Bezos explained your job was to rescue Fortune Kitty, a pinkish, catlike cookie crisp. The audience finally reacted by chuckling. I was still, at this point, hoping Bezos might illustrate some interesting new game idea, something that actually took advantage of the motion sensors in a way that factored in the gameplay somehow. But no, he just swiped to indicate the direction he wanted tofu-Jet-Li to move, then watched as the soy block hopped nimbly from point to point, collecting most of a line of blue orbs and landing on the next level down.

“We’re gonna call that good enough, but notice how I can look around!” said Bezos, obsessed with the notion that looking around — even when it has no meaningful gameplay purpose — could sell the idea. It didn’t. To paraphrase the late Douglas Adams, Amazon’s idea of gaming on its Fire Phone hung in the air exactly the way bricks don’t.

Maybe if he’d demonstrated a first-person game where you had to tilt the phone to look around corners, or a puzzle game where seeing what’s on the other side of something helped you calculate the solution. Even then, I’m as leery of this approach to gaming on smartphones as I’ve long been about stereoscopic 3D in movies, TVs and on Nintendo’s 3DS, where it’s actually been the inverse of its technological promise: all surface, no depth.

To be fair, I’m making a mountain out of a molehill: Fire Phone v1.0, with Firefly and its hooks into Amazon’s mercantile backend, is arguably a zillion other things before it’s a games platform. It hardly needs games or a clever gaming interface angle to work. If I suggest that Jeff Bezos doesn’t understand or frankly care all that much about making fireworks in gaming-dom, I’m not sure he’d disagree. Bezos, like Steve Jobs before him, must at least understand that smartphones like the iPhone or Fire Phone won’t have booths the size of city blocks dedicated to them at trade fairs like E3 anytime soon. You’ll probably never play a game like Grand Theft Auto V — a game that earned $1 billion in just three days, clinching the world record for fastest-selling entertainment product across any medium — or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on a 4.7-inch screen.

None of that’s news. The problem’s not that anyone wants those games on a smartphone, it’s that Amazon seems not to know how to play up its technology’s strengths. It should have demonstrated a game that actually took advantage of the Fire Phone’s “dynamic perspective” technology. It should have showed off meaningfully motion- or perspective-related gameplay. It didn’t. Instead, its CEO simply panned around an ordinary-looking game — one I’d be just as mechanically comfortable playing on an ordinary iPhone.

TIME e3 2014

The New Alien Is Exactly What Horror Should Be Like

Calling all Horror Junkies: Your new fix is not on the silver-screen, but rather under the thumb of a joystick.

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Fans of the original Alien might be jaded by news of alien game tie-ins: since 1982 there have been over 30 Alien video games on everything from the Commodore 64 to the current generation of gaming consoles. SEGA’s last adaptation, Alien: Colonial Marines, was released just a year ago to poor reviews. The game was filled with bugs, and failed to capture the terror of the original film.

Despite all of that, SEGA’s next release, Alien: Isolation, is of a different breed then its predecessors. Rather than relying on the worn genre of the first-person shooter, this Alien is pure survival-horror. Set 15 years after the first movie you take control of the protagonist Amanda Ripley, who uses her wits to survive to against just one Xenomorph.

The most visceral horror, whether it be a motion picture or interactive entertainment, is subtle and uses different techniques to put the player at unease. Based on SEGA’s E3 demos, the game’s developers seem to understand this.

“Sometimes a huge part of horror is actually not being able to see to see the thing that is hunting you,” lead designer, Gary Napper, said.

With any luck, we’ll finally have an Alien game worth playing when Alien: Isolation releases on October 7th. Though, fans of the franchise have all the right to continue staying skeptical. For more of the inside scoop on the game from Lead Designer Gary Napper, check out the video above.

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