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    Immerse yourself in the next generation of sound with Logitech's G560 LIGHTSYNC PC Gaming Speakers!

    NewsDen of Geek Commerce
    May 1, 2018

    Logitech G’s G560 LIGHTSYNC PC Gaming Speakers feature LIGHTSYNC tech: an exclusive next-gen technology fueled by Logitech Gaming Software (LGS). With LIGHTSYNC, you’ll see your in-game actions shown off through intelligent RGB lighting that fills your gaming area with approximately 16.8 million possible colors, creating an unmatched level of enjoyment and immersion.

    LIGHTSYNC is currently compatible with many of your favorite games (over 300 as of now), and its library is constantly growing. It’s also a breeze to setup custom lighting profiles for each game you own, and you can use the Screen Sampler feature to splash colors across four different zones regardless of if you’re gaming, watching videos, surfing the web, or anything in-between. For music buffs, you’ll have access to gorgeous rainbow lighting effects emanating front and back of the speakers while you play your songs.

    LIGHTSYNC is just one of the many benefits that come with the G560 LIGHTSYNC PC Gaming Speakers. In addition, they offer 240 Watts Peak and 120 Watts RMS of raw power, providing exceptional clarity through the two satellite speakers in conjunction with deep, thundering bass thanks to the down-firing subwoofer. There’s also DTS:X Ultra surround sound, which provides amazing positional audio through a 3D soundscape, further enhancing realism in games. That means you’ll hear enemies sneaking up from behind, gunshots echoing off canyons, waterfalls cascading from above, and swords clanging against your allies’ shields. DTS:X Ultra is also a boon for multichannel music, as it turns 5.1 or 7.1 encoded tracks into a multi-dimensional soundscape.

    Looking for an easy way to connect multiple devices? No problem. You can use USB, 3.5mm, and even Bluetooth. Even better, Logitech G’s Easy-Switch tech lets you seamlessly swap back and forth between up to four connected items. With LIGHTSYNC support, high-end construction, topnotch positional audio, and versatility and ease in connecting numerous devices, it’s as good a time as ever to upgrade your system to the G560 LIGHTSYNC PC Gaming Speakers.

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    Totalbiscuit says that he now knows he doesn't have long to live.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 1, 2018

    Longtime YouTube personality John “Totalbiscuit” Bain is retiring from video game criticism following a drastic decline in his health.

    In 2015, Bain announced that he was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer and was given a life expectancy of 2-3 years. While chemotherapy was able to stop the spread of cancer and reduce the size of his tumor, the tumor remained in his body and started to grow again. Last month, Bain began experiencing severe back pain that he later found was related to the tumor. Bain recently discovered that he is not eligible for a clinical trial and that he is starting to come to terms with the fact that he does not have long to live. 

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    “That will most likely be my last health update, unless some miracle happens or we do indeed find a trial that can do something despite the damage to my liver,” said Bain via Reddit. “I’d ask people not to speculate about how long I might have left...I’ve already exceeded the ‘usual’ lifespan of someone with my condition so whatever numbers people come up with are just that.”

    Bain has also announced that he will no longer publish game critic videos, which means the end of his popular "WTF Is?" series. Instead, Bain will focus his efforts on his podcast and a new video series in which he plays co-op games with his wife, Genna. John hopes that Genna might continue some of these series after he is gone. 

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    “I fully expect The Co-optional Podcast to go on and I love the thought that once I’m gone, the channels will go on in my absence, hosted by the person who knows me best and has been with me for the better part of my adult life,” said John Bain. 

    Even though he is only 33, Bain has made a name for himself as one of the most popular video game critics on YouTube. He's also had the opportunity to announce in games like StarCraft and World of Warcraft. Famous for his outspoken nature and for emphasizing consumer protection, Bain was also a well-known PC gaming fan who usually started his reviews by exploring a game's graphical settings. 

    We wish Bain and his family the best as they enter this incredibly difficult period in their lives. 

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    This new model should help Nintendo address a growing problem with the Joy-Con.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 1, 2018

    New patent filings suggest that Nintendo is working on an improved version of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con. 

    This filing with the Federal Communications Commission seems to detail the development of a new model of Joy-Con designed to fix some of the issues that users have reported using the Nintendo Switch's left Joy-Con. While Nintendo has previously addressed these reported problems via some software updates, it now appears that they are working on a permanent solution via a hardware release. 

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    It seems that the problem itself is caused by the original placement of the antenna within the left Joy-Con. This new Joy-Con will seemingly alter the position of that antenna in a way that should improve its connectivity issues. 

    At this time, there's no word on when Nintendo will release this new model of Joy-Con. Actually, there's currently no word on whether or not these will be marketed as an entirely new model of Joy-Con or whether or not they will simply replace the current models being sold. Nintendo has also not stated whether or not they will be replacing defective Joy-Cons with these new models or whether they will continue to repair them as usual.

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    Nintendo had previously noted that the number of complaints and repair requests they received related to the left Joy-Con issues were consistent with the usual number of repair requests they receive whenever they launch any new piece of hardware. However, some believe that we're just now beginning to see the extent of the issue now that Switch owners have been using their Joy-Cons for awhile and that there are so many more Switch units out there. 

    Regardless, the status of this filing seems to suggest that Nintendo acknowledges that there is a problem that is best addressed via a hardware fix rather than through a simple series of software updates. How, exactly, they will address those issues once this new model of Joy-Con is ready to manufacture remains to be seen. 

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    The head of Xbox says to expect some Xbox JRPGs at E3.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 1, 2018

    Following his acknowledgment that the Xbox division needs to do more to encourage the development of original titles, Xbox head Phil Spencer is now addressing Microsoft's struggles to attract Japanese developers. 

    In response to a question on Twitter regarding whether or not we can expect to see any JRPGs for Xbox on display at E3 2018, Spencer replied "As of now, yes. Things can change but like last year I wanted to make sure we supported our Japanese publishers on our stage and this year we are working to do the same. It's important to us."

    Check out the Logitech G560 LIGHTSYNC PC Gaming Speakers, A New Level of Immersion

    Historically, Microsoft has struggled to promote the Xbox in Japan. While some have stated that their failure to make a dent in that market is due to Japanese consumers' desire to only play on Japanese-made consoles, Spencer himself has stated that he believes it has more to do with Microsoft's failure to encourage the development of the types of games that traditionally sell well in Japan (including JRPGs). This latest update from Spencer suggests that they are actively addressing the problem and will be ready to show more at E3 2018. 

    On the topic of courting more Japanese developers, Spencer also spoke about his personal interest in doing more with Sega. 

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    "Sega has a lot of good franchises that would be cool to see come over," said Spencer in regards to a question about the Yakuza franchise coming to Xbox. However, Spencer stopped short of actually confirming that Sega is working to bring any existing - or new - franchises to Xbox.

    Some fans might remember that Microsoft had previously struck a deal with notable Japanese developer PlatinumGames to work on an exclusive action title called Scalebound. However, Scalebound was confirmed to be canceled in early 2017. Since then, Microsoft hasn't announced any major new titles from Japanese developers. 

    We'll see if that changes at E3 2018. 

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    A fan's years long quest to totally remake Half-Life is almost finished.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 1, 2018

    Black Mesa, the famous fan remake of Half-Life, is finally nearing completion. 

    The latest update from Black Mesa's creator reveals that he is almost ready to release the mod's "Xen engine." This update will not add any new content to the game, but it will implement textures and lighting effects utilized in the game's next major content update. The plan is to get the game ready for the long-awaited "Xen" update that will finally add the last section of the original Half-Life to Black Mesa

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    Black Mesa's developer states that there will likely be one additional engine update added to the game before the remaining Half-Life content is added to the mod. However, there is no word on when that engine update will be released or what it will consist of. 

    Half-Life's final levels have proven to be especially tricky for Black Mesa's developer. In a 2016 update, they noted that the final area of the game required significantly more work to remake than any other section of the 1998 classic. 

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    "We want to do Xen the justice it deserves, and have it be the definitive climax to the Half-Life 1 story. To do this we have completely redesigned and expanded the Xen levels to what we think Valve would have done without the limitations of the time," said Steam user Adam-Bomb regarding the struggles to remake the final section of Half-Life

    For those who don't know, Xen is the alien world that players are transported to at the end of the original Half-Life. When Black Mesa was first released in 2012, this final portion of the original game was not included. It's no mystery why that section of the game is taking so long to remake. Xen is the rather infamous low-point of the original version of Half-Life. Its collection of jump puzzles and generic world design compromised nearly every element of Half-Life that made it a true classic.

    There's been no confirmation regarding how, exactly, Black Mesa will fix Xen, but most fans are expecting the Black Mesa version of the area to be largely unrecognizable. 

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    The world's biggest soccer competition is coming to FIFA 18 with a surprise World Cup update!

    News John Saavedra
    May 1, 2018

    FIFA 18 is getting a free World Cup update that will bring all the official players, teams, uniforms, and stadiums of Russia 2018 to the game. You'll even be able to play with the official match ball and raise the authentic FIFA World Cup trophy if you're able to go all the way. The update is coming to XBO, PS4, PC, and Switch on May 29, just a few weeks before Russia 2018 commences on June 15.

    You'll be able to play through the entire World Cup tournament on your own, of course, but can also play through the tournament online against other players. The World Cup is also fully customizable, meaning you can choose whichever nations you want to participate. Assuming you're a U.S. soccer fan, you may want to consider this option...

    The popular Ultimate Team mode is also getting a World Cup update. In the normal UT mode, the way you create chemistry between your players is by matching the teams and leagues they're originally from. For World Cup Ultimate Team, nationality and confederation will be a far more important component to creating the proper squad.

    This is the first time since Mexico 1986 that there won't be an official FIFA World Cup video game on the market. EA has been developing the World Cup games since France 1998. The free update approach certainly comes as a surprise, but it's at least a good thing for soccer fans' pockets. 

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    If you ever dreamed of owning Mega Man 2 and Mega Man X cartridges, but weren't around for the original releases, you're in luck!

    News John Saavedra
    May 1, 2018

    Mega Man celebrated his 30th anniversary in 2017, but it seems that 2018 is his year. Not only is Capcom releasing Mega Man 11, a brand new installment in the main series, later this year, but it's also dropping the Mega Man X Collection, which collects the first six games in the X series as well as brings the racing game, Mega Man Battle & Chase, to North America for the first time ever. 

    Add to that awesome list of Mega Man goodness a new cartridge release of the NES' Mega Man 2 (arguably the best game in the entire series) and the SNES' Mega Man X. Capcom has partnered with iam8bit to create special edition cartridges that are playable on both their native hardware and on retro consoles currently on the market, such as the Retron.

    Check out the Logitech G560 LIGHTSYNC PC Gaming Speakers, A New Level of Immersion

    That said, if you want one of these cartridges, you're going to have to act fast. There are a limited number of each cartridge -- 7,500 "Opaque Light Blue" carts for Mega Man 2, 7,500 Opaque White for Mega Man X. There are also "Translucent, Glow-in-the-Dark Blue" carts that are, but iam8bit is only making 1,000 of those. 

    You won't even know which cart you get until you open the cart's packaging, which comes with "foil, gloss, and embossments." It's basically luck of the draw. The good thing is that you can already pre-order these carts. Unsurprisingly, they run $100 each. Still, that's cheaper than the $680 these go for on eBay...

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    Treasure's classic, mind-boggling 2D shooter Ikaruga is being revived for the Nintendo Switch, it's confirmed...

    NewsRyan Lambie
    May 2, 2018

    In the 90s and 2000s, Japanese developer Treasure blazed a trail with some truly spectacular action games. From Gunstar Heroes on the Sega Genesis to Gradius V on the PlayStation 2, their games were loud, colourful, and full of quirky personality (check out Bangai-O, an explosive mech shooter about collecting fruit).

    Treasure have been rather quiet for the past few years (their last release was 2014's Japan-only Gaist Crusher God), but their existing games haven't been forgotten. And here's the evidence: nearly 17 years since its creation, 2D shooter Ikaruga is making a welcome return on the Nintendo Switch.

    Although Ikaruga looks like a conventional vertical scroller, bullet hell-type experience, Treasure throw in a bit of strategy. The player's ship is able to switch polarity between light and dark; in dark mode, the ship can absorb black bullets but must avoid white, and vice versa. Shooting enemies of the same colour will also destroy them with fewer hits and yield more points.

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    Even in practice, it takes a little getting used to, especially in the heat of battle. But Ikaruga's one of those odd games where, once you click into its frenzied groove, the switching of polarity and avoiding (or absorbing) of bullets becomes second nature - which is just as well, because this is one incredibly tough shooter.

    Ikaruga is making its way to the Switch courtesy of Nicalis (the publisher who brought us the recent re-releases of Cave Story and The Binding Of Isaac), and the shooter is, we have to say, a great choice for Nintendo's plucky little console. Not just because the whole polarity thing mimics the Switch's versatile console-handheld set-up, but also because, thanks to the separate screen and detachable Joy-Con, you'll be able to enjoy Ikaruga as it was meant to be played: on a vertical display.

    Ikaruga's due for release on the Switch eShop on the 29th May. Now, let's just hope Treasure's been quietly beavering away on another frantic shooter over the past four years...

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    Everything we know about Red Dead Redemption 2, including latest news, release date, trailers, and much more!

    News Den of Geek Staff
    May 2, 2018

    Red Dead Redemption 2 is the story of outlaw Arthur Morgan and the Van Der Linde gang as they rob, fight, and steal their way across the vast and rugged heart of America in order to survive.

    The studio said of the game in a press release that Red Dead Redemption 2 is "an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland. The game's vast and atmospheric world will also provide the foundation for a brand new online multiplayer experience."

    Here's everything else we know:

    Red Dead Redemption 2 Trailer

    This new Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer reveals a few new details about the story. Check it out below:

    You can check out the first two trailers below:

    Red Dead Redemption 2 Release Date

    Red Dead Redemption 2 will be released on October 26, 2018, according to a new post on the Rockstar Games website. That post also includes an apology for the game's late release, a few new screenshots, and the promise that more information is coming soon. 

    Red Dead Redemption 2 Story

    Here's the official synopsis of the game:

    America, 1899.

    The end of the wild west era has begun as lawmen hunt down the last remaining outlaw gangs. Those who will not surrender or succumb are killed.

    After a robbery goes badly wrong in the western town of Blackwater, Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang are forced to flee. With federal agents and the best bounty hunters in the nation massing on their heels, the gang must rob, steal and fight their way across the rugged heartland of America in order to survive. As deepening internal divisions threaten to tear the gang apart, Arthur must make a choice between his own ideals and loyalty to the gang who raised him.

    Red Dead Redemption 2 Screenshots

    Rockstar has released new screenshots from the game. Check them out below:

    Red Dead Redemption 2 PC Version

    The good news is that publisher Take-Two thinks very highly of the PC market. The bad news is that they don't sound like they're preparing to port Red Dead Redemption 2 to PC when it releases next year. 

    During a recent investor's call, Take-Two president Karl Slatoff stated that "The great news is that the PC market is vibrant for us. It’s a great market for us. It’s a big market. It’s a core market in consumers that are highly engaged. It’s a predominantly digital market, which also removes friction in terms of ongoing engagement with a consumer. So, for us, the PC market as a company is very important and very exciting and something we focus on."

    That's the great news. The bad news is that Take-Two was directly asked about the possibility of Red Dead Redemption 2 coming to PC and CEO Strauss Zelnick responded by stating: "Any updates about any of our titles will come from our labels."

    That being the case, it's possible that Rockstar could decide to put the work in for a PC port, but it's doubtful that it will release alongside the game's console versions.

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    A collection of Destiny music from composer Marty O’Donnell is finally being released...much to O'Donnell's surprise.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 2, 2018

    Bungie plans to release a previously unreleased collection of Destiny music from former composer Marty O’Donnell.

    Titled Music of the Spheres, this eight-part musical compilation was originally intended to be released when Destiny first launched in 2014. However, Bungie ended up ending their working relationship with O'Donnell that same year which seemingly caused a bit of an issue in terms of their ability - or willingness - to release the album. 

    Check out the Logitech G560 LIGHTSYNC PC Gaming Speakers, A New Level of Immersion

    Since then, a Destiny fan named Owen Spence has been trying to put together the album himself based on leaked music tracks. Someone actually sent him a leaked copy of the entire music collection last year, and Spence put it online for all to enjoy. However, Bungie sent Spence a cease-and-desist letter last weekend which informed him to take down his leaked copies of the album as they intended to publish an official version of the collection. 

    While Bungie was quite pleasant in the letter - they even thanked Spence for his work - the drama doesn't quite end there. When Bungie informed the Destiny subreddit of their intentions to release the album, Marty O'Donnell himself joined the conversation and registered his surprise that nobody informed him that this was happening. In a subsequent e-mail to Kotaku, O'Donnell confirmed that he had no idea Bungie intended to release the album and stated that "I’d love to stop being snarky about Bungie, but they just can’t seem to stop insulting me."

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    At the heart of this drama is the album itself. While the mystery surrounding its canceled release is responsible for much of the hype surrounding it, Music of the Spheres is an important piece of Destiny's history as it features some never officially released tracks from O'Donnell as well as some of the music that he infamously worked on with Paul McCartney. It's a shame it wasn't originally released as intended, but we're happy to hear that it will see an official release now. 

    At this time, there is no word on when the compilation will debut or how much it will retail for. 

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    Nintendo's new president believes that the company can produce more Pokemon Go sized hits.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 2, 2018

    Shuntaro Furukawa, Nintendo's recently named new president, plans to expand the company's mobile gaming division.

    "From what I can see, smartphone games are the ones I want to expand the most," said Furukawa to Japanese media outlet, Nikkei. "The idea that something will emerge that transforms into something big, in the same manner as game consoles, is the defining motive of the Nintendo business."

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    Retiring Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima expanded on that a bit by stating that "Pokemon Go, which transformed the story and gameplay for the smartphone, became a huge realization." Furukawa also referenced the success of Pokemon Go by noting that he can't say whether or not there is another Nintendo mobile game in the works that has the potential to become as big as that one. 

    When Furukawa was first announced as Nintendo's new president, some speculated that his relative youth would be an advantage for Nintendo in terms of the company embracing new ideas. An expanded mobile division is certainly something that a younger president of a major video game company might be particularly interested in. However, Furukawa isn't solely interested in Nintendo's mobile gaming future. He's also very interested in expanding sales of the Switch to regions that Nintendo previously hasn't covered.

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    "For over 30 years, we have been selling in comparatively the same regions that include Japan, the U.S. and Europe," said Furukawa before adding that he'd like to start selling the Switch in the Middle East as well as Southeast Asia. 

    It's certainly a fascinating time for Nintendo to undergo a leadership transition. The Nintendo Switch continues to be a sales phenomenon and Nintendo's mobile division is beginning to expand into more projects not based on existing properties. We've previously suggested that both those factors could lead to Nintendo ceasing to release traditional handheld devices, which seems to be an even more likely possibility following this most recent update. 

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    Destiny 2 gets a bad rap, but the science-fantasy world and its fans keep me rooting for it.

    Feature Megan Crouse
    May 2, 2018

    Even as many fans’ interest in the game wanes, I’m still rooting for Destiny 2 to dust itself off and become the game it was always meant to be. Of course, it’s been hard to stand in Bungie’s corner.

    Destiny 2's problems have been meticulously chronicled: a stagnating Crucible fails to hold PvP players and Twitch streamers in the days of Fornite and Overwatch. Twitch streamers are leaving Destiny for other games. Players are finding other online pastimes, other first-person shooters. BioWare’s upcoming hefty science fiction world Anthem could be either a poorly-timed Destiny clone or a Destiny-killer. Not to mention that Destiny 2's early progression system controversy didn't do the game any favors at launch...

    Even while I’m discouraged that Destiny has become such a cautionary tale, I can see how it got that way. I’ve drifted away to other games myself, games which feel more like a valuable use of my time or are just a more fun and rewarding way to relax. Bungie struggles to fit itself into a redemption narrative in part because the studio started with so much goodwill and is still cashing out on it with what some would call an unfinished sequel that still doesn't have some of the basic features of the original.

    With the price of games so high, players deserve to get what they pay for, and it’s understandable that players do not want to blindly support Destiny if there are other games they simply find more satisfying elsewhere. Destiny has failed to reward players in meaningful ways as well as provide players with the experience they fell in love with in the first place. For example, making super abilities relatively difficult to charge up in Crucible meant that the core PvP experience felt like a military shooter more than the beloved arcade shooter bursting with astrophysics-powered magic.

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    Destiny will always be the game that dominated several years of my life, though, as well as the way I met some of my friends. Because of that, it’s especially disheartening to see it considered an odd has-been of a game now, a world hanging on by a thread of the memory of what the series once was.

    However, Destiny 2 does have strengths that keep me interested. The campaign has stronger character arcs and more humor than the original. The magic abilities are well-animated and vivid, the gunplay is exceptional, the space fantasy version of our own solar system is a great way to combine the familiar and the magical.

    Mystery is built into the game at every level -- from the jaunty, punchy, sometimes deeply emotional flavor text to the missions and characters themselves. The Exos see a stone fortress when they die and find themselves in a nightmare world of endless war not so dissimilar to the one they wake up in in the next resurrection. That’s the kind of worldbuilding that latches onto the imagination. So too do the sentient Warminds, thousand-year-old artificial intelligence residing in underground bunkers and controlling networks of satellites capable of either protecting or destroying the life left on Earth after the last interstellar war.

    The Curse of Osiris DLC was short and but went in some cool new directions with its narrative, introducing an alternate timeline and letting the player interact with a legendary character from the game's lore who had never before appeared on screen. The relationship between Ikora Rey and her former mentor, Osiris, was also a decent emotional hook and Bungie even released free tie-in comics that expand on their relationship -- a sign that the studio is at least interested in expanding the ways it tells its stories.

    Curse of Osiris felt a bit empty and unsure of its own identity, though. Osiris made hundreds of computer-simulated doubles of himself, but the real story of his relationship with Ikora felt less emotionally engaging than the victorious engram-opening at the end of a Strike. Just as the original Destiny's Rise of Iron was about looking back on a glorious, nostalgic past, Curse of Osiris was about looking forward to an uncertain future populated by murderous robots and one man’s number-crunching clone-children. The Guardian saved the present day, but those alternate futures are still out there, showing a dead, dark world without any Guardians in it. Bungie is facing a similar time of uncertainty. 

    On May 8, the second expansion, Warmind, will show what Destiny 2 can do next. For me, it’s a promise: I’ll have a reason to play again, even if only for a short time. I’ll have more lore to talk about, more flavor text to analyze and over-analyze. The new PvE activity, Hive Escalation Protocol, is Destiny 2’s version of Court of Oryx, a tiered horde mode. Tiered PvE provides varied activities with the opportunity to quickly earn engrams, giving players the traditional risk-and-reward gamble that Destiny 2’s random engrams and Eververse store haven't provided. Story-focused players have something to look forward to as well, with Guardian Ana Bray searching for answers about her family in the Martian space station they founded. 

    As this recent fan survey showed, lore-focused fans want to feel like we’re visiting consistent, interesting characters when we play. The Taken King, generally regarded as the best of the original game’s expansions, holds on to its crown by offering fan favorite characters, a mechanically interesting Raid, and a humorous and coherent story. A common refrain among fans is the plea for a Destiny 2 expansion the size of The Taken King -- that at least provides as much story as that expansion.

    The Taken King built on what had already been put in place in The Dark Below. The prince of the Hive was dead, but now players faced a Hive king and the chance for revenge for the generation of Guardians the Hive had almost exterminated. Ultimately, Warmind will have to prove what kind of future Destiny 2 will have. 

    I've spent the first few months of 2018 meeting a friend for Iron Banner, mostly chatting about our lives and the newest piece of lore. The energy of being able to travel to post-apocalyptic Earth or the strange moon of Titan with my friends keeps me rooting for Destiny, hoping that people don’t give up on it completely in between playing the many other games currently occupying the shooter and adventure genres. It has been joyful for me to discover the sea beast swimming under Titan’s methane ocean or to get lost in conversation about Destiny’s characters and the game's mysterious lore.

    Bungie needs to hold up its own side of the deal, though. The studio needs to give players enough to keep us coming back. Changes have been slow to come by, but there are signs that Bungie is listening. The studio held a "community summit" on April 20 that allowed YouTubers, Twitch steamers, and other high-profile fans give developers feedback directly, and the consensus seems to be that players feel heard and positive. Whether Bungie makes the necessary changes or not, I’ll be here waiting to say I kept rooting for the potential the Destiny franchise showed back in its first iteration.

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    Red Dead Redemption 2 will indeed feature original series protagonist John Marston years before his own adventure.

    News John Saavedra
    May 3, 2018

    The latest trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2 finally confirms that John Marston will appear in the highly-anticipated sequel. (Shout out to IGN for catching this!) A younger Marston shows up about halfway through the trailer. From the picture above, it looks like he's just received his scars -- they make him look pretty badass in the original game -- and is in quite a bit of trouble. 

    In case you need a refresher, Marston was the protagonist of the first game, which takes place in 1911 in the final days of the Old West. The upcoming sequel is actually a prequel and is set in 1899, so Marston is still rolling with the Van der Linde gang at this point. In fact, his crimes with this notorious gang are what sets the events of the original game in motion.

    In Red Dead Redemption, Marston has finally been caught by the shady Bureau of Investigation and will only be granted amnesty if he tracks down the remaining members of the Van der Linde gang. One of the outlaws he has to track down is Dutch Van der Linde, the leader of the gang. We won't spoil how that turns out. Dutch also appears in Red Dead Redemption 2, which gives us a look at how his gang became so infamous in the West. 

    Arthur Morgan, Dutch's right-hand man, is the protagonist of RDR2. While we don't know too much about him, Rockstar did release a new synopsis that gives us a few hints about his story in the game:

    After a robbery goes badly wrong in the western town of Blackwater, Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang are forced to flee. With federal agents and the best bounty hunters in the nation massing on their heels, the gang must rob, steal, and fight their way across the rugged heartland of America in order to survive. As deepening internal divisions threaten to tear the gang apart, Arthur must make a choice between his own ideals and loyalty to the gang who raised him.

    Sounds like Morgan will be making many of the same tough choices Marston faces years later. We'll find out for sure when Red Dead Redemption 2 arrives on Oct. 26 for PS4 and XBO.

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    We look at the story behind some of the finest Star Trek videogames to date: Elite Force, and its sequel...

    FeatureJames Hoyle
    May 3, 2018

    This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

    And it had all started so well. When Activision and Viacom signed their agreement in mid-1998, Star Trek was going strong. Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager were on the air, the Next Generation crew had enjoyed a huge hit in theatres with First ContactInsurrection was on the verge of release. Expectations of the deal were high. The New York Times estimated that it could generate $600 million in retail sales. It was heralded as an unprecedented agreement granting Activision the right to make and sell videogames based on the Star Trek franchise for 10 years.

    But only five years and ten published games later, Activision and franchise-owner Viacom were suing each other, each accused of breaching the agreement.

    Although the deal was therefore cut short, the Activision era of Star Trek videogames was nevertheless full of gems that even today are considered among the very best that the franchise has to offer gamers. This is the story of two of them, Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force and Star Trek: Elite Force II.

    First-person shooting in a Star Trek setting

    “The best diplomat I know is a fully-activated phaser bank” – Montgomery Scott, 2267

    The first game by Activision was Presto Studios’ rushed sequel to the Insurrection film, Hidden Evil, released to negative reviews in 1999. It was soon followed by Armada (a warmly-received real-time strategy game from 2000), the all-but-forgotten ConQuest Online, and the Colony Wars clone for PS1, Invasion.

    But the publisher also wanted a Star Trek first-person shooter. To create it, Activision turned to its newly-acquired studio Raven Software, known for the Heretic and Hexen titles.

    “My initial reaction was, ‘You can’t make Star Trek a first person shooter!’,” remembers Raven’s Michael Chang Gummelt. “That kind of constant, mindless action just didn’t fit Star Trek. I couldn’t even imagine Captain Kirk running around blasting scores of enemies with a phaser rifle for hours on end.”

    “We went out of our way to make sure that the shooting parts felt justified,” he says. “We even had a couple [of] Star Trek-like twists in there, like the Etherian level, that kind of addresses that concern even within the context of the story.”

    Although for Gummelt the games that best captured the Star Trek spirit were Interplay’s 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites, “we did the best we could within the confines of the genre we were working in, I think.”

    “Most of the team were Star Trek fans,” recalls the game’s project lead Brian Pelletier. “And I too grew up watching and playing Trek with my brothers and friends.”

    “We still did a fair amount of research and I visited Paramount several times,” he adds. Pelletier mined their archives, saw the Voyager sets, and spoke with the show’s art staff.

    The idea was conceived by Raven co-founder Steve Raffel. “It was a story he had been working on for a prior game that was cancelled and it fit really well,” says Pelletier. “We needed a believable reason within a Star Trek setting for a combat squad. It didn’t make sense to use the stars of the show, who are high-ranking and critical to running Voyager, as soldiers... So the Hazard Team idea seemed a logical device to balance a shooter game mentality with Star Trek sensibilities.”

    Originally, the Hazard Team was to be founded by The Next Generation’s Worf, but the setting shifted to Voyager during development and Tuvok took on Worf’s responsibilities.

    Gummelt is credited with the screenplay. “I was working full time, or more, as a programmer on Elite Force, so all the writing I did was after hours at home,” he reminisces. Gummelt had previously written Star Trek fan fiction and it was agreed that he should have a go at writing the game. He would go on to have a hand in all aspects of story development and level design, from storyboarding through to the voice recording sessions. “Ultimately I wrote 800 pages of dialogue for Elite Force,” and being a programmer, he argues, helped because he knew how the voiceovers would be integrated into the game. It all really was “a dream come true” for Gummelt, “to basically come up with my own Star Trek crew!”

    This crew, along with the renowned bridge officers of the starship Voyager, become trapped in a mysterious region of space known as the Forge. They are not alone, for Hirogen, Malons, Klingons, and Borg are all trapped with them. Voyager must escape before it is taken apart by scavengers or falls victim to the evil plans of the dangerous and mysterious Vohrsoth.

    There are similarities between Elite Force and the Animated Series episode The Time Trap, which Gummelt does not remember seeing until later. “I think both that episode and our story were obviously influenced by the same idea: the Bermuda Triangle and the Sargasso Sea,” he says.

    The narrative provided logical reasons for Voyager to encounter Klingons. Thrillingly, the unusual setting also allows players to board and explore a Mirror Universe Constitution-class vessel of the TOS era. “That... was tricky legally because Activision didn’t have the rights to TOS games,” says Gummelt. As part of an earlier agreement, Interplay held those rights until 2002. “But I think they worked out a deal where they could use it.”

    “Paramount approved these because they fit logically into the story and didn’t mess with the established history,” Pelletier explains. “We decided right away that we wanted to include numerous identifiable Trek visuals for a greater sense of immersion in the Trek universe.”

    “The weapons, the tricorder, the ship, the enemies, the characters. It felt like Star Trek. It was so much more than just an FPS with Star Trek trappings,” enthuses Gummelt.

    “My favorite aspect of the game,” Pelletier states, “was during the down times between missions, where I could wander around Voyager and talk to other characters. I found it enjoyable getting to know their personalities. This was so different from any other real-time game at that time.”

    Characters old and new

    “Is the crew always this difficult?” – The Doctor, 2371

    The success of the game depended on its characters as much as the environments. “We couldn’t add aliens to the ship that the show hadn’t already shown,” Gummelt laments, “which was frustrating for me as I was trying to create a diverse crew. I had a Deltan, an Orion, and an Andorian in the Hazard Team at one point, if I recall. Those ended up becoming Jurot ([from] Betazed), Telsia (Human), and Chell (Bolian).” Chell was a character carried over from the live-action series in which he had a minor role.

    “I really wanted diversity in the personalities, so wrote bios on all of them,” Gummelt continues. “Chell was the nervous, insecure one; Chang was the quiet stoic but deep-thinker; Jurot was an interesting mix of Vulcan stoicism and Betazed empathy; Foster was the good soldier, by-the-book; Biessman was the loud-mouth braggart and bully; Telsia was tough and stubborn and passionate; and Munro was the talented risk-taker and natural leader.”

    “The interactions, banter, and relationships between these characters was my favourite part of writing Elite Force,” says Gummelt. “If you walked around and listened to the conversations they were having and talked to everyone, you could get a good feel for how they were reacting to the events in the story, how they felt about you and each other. For instance, if you listen, you can tell that Chang and Jurot were developing a romantic relationship together. And, of course, Telsia and Munro were falling for each other as well.”

    In that regard, the Star Trek of videogames was bolder than the Star Trek of film and TV often proved to be. “I’m very proud that we went ahead with the decision to let you play as a male or female protagonist,” Gummelt says. “Most games at the time weren’t doing this and it was a lot of extra work. But Raven and Paramount all backed us on this – and, in the spirit of Star Trek, were fine with letting the romance with Telsia be either heterosexual or homosexual depending on your gender choice.”

    As for writing the established characters from the series, such as Tuvok and his determined captain, Kathryn Janeway, “I felt like I knew the characters so well already,” says Gummelt. “It just came naturally.”

    All of the leads bar Jeri Ryan leant their voices to the game, though Ryan’s was added later as part of the Virtual Voyager expansion pack that also allowed for freer exploration of the ship.

    “They all knew their parts perfectly and needed no direction other than us letting them know the context of the scene,” Gummelt relates. “And I even got a few compliments from some of the cast members about my writing. One even said I should come write for the show, which was pretty cool.”

    Pushing the technology

    “I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!” – Montgomery Scott, 2258

    “Originally we were going to do it in eighteen to twenty-four months,” recalls Gummelt, “but I think we needed a six-month extension. It was more difficult than other games because this was the first time we would be using the Quake III engine.”

    Since Quake III was a multiplayer game, the programming team led by James Monroe added an entire single-player engine onto the Quake III foundation. On top of that, Joshua Weier and Gummelt wrote from scratch the language used by the designers to script the events and cinematics.

    “I wrote a camera system that you would control like a director,” explains Gummelt. It would be, “Give me a tracking medium shot of these two characters as they walk down this hallway,” rather than, “Place camera at XYZ with an angle of P,Y,R.”

    There were other challenges. “A limitation we had was lip syncing,” says Pelletier. “We had a lot of talking characters and the real-time character models, although advanced for the time, were still too limited for creating mesh facial animations and in our early tests they looked like muppets talking. Our solution was creating a series of face textures for all characters that had mouth movements and facial expressions to play as 2D animations on the head, synced by the voice actor audio files.”

    Yet the “biggest challenge” according to Pelletier was the AI for the away team. “We had a lot of trial-and-error to find the right balance to make them act smart and natural, like following you, and getting out of your way, being able to detect enemies and shoot at them (but not be too good that the player has nothing to shoot at).”

    Not every challenge was overcome. “My least favorite thing were some of the boss battles,” Gummelt reveals. “I don’t think they turned out as good as we would have liked, to be honest.”

    Release and reaction

    “It was... fun” – James T. Kirk, 2371

    Elite Force was released on PC in September 2000 to an excellent reception from critics and fans. “I was expecting better sales than what we got,” admits Pelletier. But sales were good.

    The game was accompanied by a loose comic book adaptation and, later, a PS2 port undertaken by Pipe Dream Interactive in 2001.

    “The PC is its true form,” says Pelletier. “I didn’t have much expectation for the console port, but was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out considering the challenge.”

    Gummelt is less equivocal: “The PC version was absolutely superior. The PS2 port just couldn’t do everything we could do in the PC version.”

    However it was played, the game quickly became a favorite of many among the plethora of Star Trek titles. Pelletier credits “the dedication of an amazing development team and producers who were passionate about Star Trek, and our driving goal of creating something fans and non-fans would enjoy.”

    Activision subsequently released the Star Trek games Away Team (2001), Armada II (2001), Bridge Commander (2002), and Starfleet Command III (2002) – all, with the exception of Away Team, highly-regarded. But they also pursued rounding up the Hazard Team for another adventure.

    A second outing

    “You really want to head back out there, huh?” Leonard McCoy, 2263

    Raven was busy with Jedi Knight II and so Activision went in search of another developer for the Elite Force sequel. Chris Stockman worked at Ritual Entertainment in Dallas, across the hall from the company which Activision had gone to see. “That studio’s leadership,” Stockman recalls, “had made everyone dress up in Starfleet uniforms to illustrate to them how hardcore they were. That stunt backfired.” When the meeting was over, Activision “walked across the hall and, basically, offered it to us on the spot. We still had to go through the usual pitch process, but the game was basically ours if we wanted it.”

    And they did. “When I found out Activision was looking for someone to take the reins of Elite Force,” says Ritual’s Jon Galloway, “I knew I had to try to be that guy! So I worked really hard on a pitch – with help, of course.” Already a fan, Galloway nevertheless spent the next eighteen months watching every episode of every series at least twice.

    In preparation, Stockman, who became design lead on the project, played through the first game “multiple times to really digest how Raven had tackled the IP”. But settling on the story wasn’t easy.

    Like the Raven team before him, Galloway (the game’s project lead) had to reconcile the FPS tradition with Star Trek’s peaceful ethos. “Everyone had their own ideas of how it should work – and a few that were pretty adamant that it shouldn’t work. I actually tried to get them to make more of an ‘Action Adventure’-style game,” he says, referencing Uncharted. “But nobody wanted that much of a departure from the original.”

    The first story Galloway got approved, he says, “was about a group of Federation separatists who stole a starship and crashed it into Starfleet Academy.” He wanted it to be M-rated. Outside events intervened. “9/11 happened and some people involved with the project got spooked with the idea and similarities, and we were forced to rip it apart and quickly recraft a whole new story.” This was to be, as Galloway describes it, “a much safer, Teen-rated story with some kind of mass-produced baddies so we weren’t killing what looked like humans for the entire game.”

    “I mean, I get it, sort of,” Galloway explains. “The Star Trek license was expensive, so you need to play it safe and just make some fun games that appeal to a wider audience.”

    With deadlines looming, Activision brought in an outside writer to help the team. Together, they fashioned a story which would take the Hazard Team from Voyager to the Enterprise-E, just in time to help the legendary Captain Jean-Luc Picard navigate his way through an interplanetary dispute and a Romulan plot.

    Taking place after the events of the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis, the Enterprise is missing the characters of Riker, Troi, and Data, all for obvious reasons. Yet, B-4, Dr Crusher, Worf, and La Forge are also absent.

    “We had zero knowledge of the Nemesis story during development,” Stockman says. Activision “basically told us who we had access to”.

    “Some of the story was worked around who we were able to get signed-on,” Galloway explains. Patrick Stewart was attached from the beginning. “In the game, he sounds like the Captain Picard we all know and love, so I always felt like he had put himself into the role.”

    “Patrick Stewart was incredibly professional and a pleasure to work with,” Stockman remembers. “So was Dwight Schultz, Tony Todd, and the rest of the cast.”

    “I was so busy managing the game, I delegated the VO directing to Chris [Stockman],” Galloway shares. “I was pretty jealous – I really did want to do it.”

    As for what those mass-produced enemies would be, Ritual needed something achievable in the time-frame available. “We had to work fast,” says Galloway. “We needed something we could get away with being rather dumb but in larger it became cloned, genetically-engineered bugs made in the ruins of an ancient culture.” Galloway sees the premise as “familiar territory for Star Trek” and reminiscent of the Next Generation episode The Quality Of Life. “We have a planet which is capable of mass-producing an endless supply of increasingly-difficult enemies.”

    Improving on the previous voyage

    “Change is the essential process of all existence” – Spock, 2268

    Just like the original, Elite Force II was built on the foundations of Quake III. “The engine was heavily modified...with enhanced particle and FX systems, and lots of animation and rendering improvements,” says Galloway. “We pushed the engine pretty hard.”

    There were many new features, including minigames, added for the sake of variety. Munro now has a tricorder to play with, he can move more freely around the ship, or roam the surfaces of strange new worlds. As Galloway says, “I wanted it to feel like you were really playing a day in the life of a Starfleet officer. You wander around the ship, you engage with others – or just listen to their funny conversations – and sometimes you have to do your job, put on the red shirt, and go shoot some stuff.”

    “For some people, the idea of working on a licence title is appalling and the antithesis of creativity,” says Galloway. “So I really wanted to make sure that the team could express themselves.”

    This led to the inclusion of secret areas, collectible starships, and even fantastical monsters made up of wooden crates. “Chris Stockman is a huge Miyamoto and Nintendo fanboy. I am pretty sure that this influenced this particular aspect of the design,” says Galloway. “Everyone on the team got on-board and helped make adding their own little secrets a part of development.”

    “I also wanted to play with the fourth wall – the idea that, at the end of the day, you are really just another actor on the Star Trek TV set,” Galloway continues. “And a few of these secrets made a nod to those ideas.”

    Also new were dialogue choices. Stockman had played the No One Lives Forever games during the pre-production phase of Elite Force II and was, he says, “quite enamoured with their dialogue choice sequences. I used these sequences as inspiration for when the player interacted with the two female love interests in the game. We also changed the game’s ending slightly based on who you interacted with the most.”

    One thing missing this time around, however, was the ability to play as the female Alexandria Munro. “It was talked about pretty regularly,” says Galloway, praising the original for “a pretty innovative move at the time in a white male-dominated industry."

    “And then what do they do? Turn around and hand EF2 to a bunch of perma-boys who have played too much Duke Nukem. We get frat boy Munro playing two chicks at once – one a co-worker and the other a sexy genius alien whose everyday wear is a space bikini and chiffon.

    “But I think I recall the main reason being that it cost too much, considering that it didn’t add to the length of the game.”

    The deal breaks down

    “Don’t believe them! Don’t trust them!” – James T. Kirk, 2293

    “We were pushed pretty hard to design and create a game that would score a 7.5 or better on Metacritic – and we crunched like mad to make that happen,” says Galloway. “I basically lived at the office for the last year.”

    “From the story snafu early on until the day we shipped, we were very accommodating,” reveals Galloway of Activision’s demands. “We rolled with a lot of punches.” Eventually, Galloway says, he “felt kind of battered.”

    It looked like it had all been worth it, with great reviews upon launch. “We met – and exceeded – all of our goals,” asserts Galloway. “I guess if I had a do-over, I would cut half the content and polish the experience more because, to be honest, there were a few things in EF2 that were a bit superfluous,” he admits. “The game wasn’t perfect. It had its flaws, but it was the very best we could do with the time and money we had.

    “But then we found out that Activision didn’t even burn a lot of copies... Then, all of a sudden, we discover that Activision is suing Viacom over the Star Trek licence. What a bummer!”

    Activision’s assessment was damning. “Through its actions and inactions, Viacom has let the once proud Star Trek franchise stagnate and decay,” said the remarkable statement Activision released on 1 July 2003. The company’s court filing from the day before asserted that “Activision cannot successfully develop and sell Star Trek video games without the product exploitation and support promised by Viacom.” The franchise’s latest film, Nemesis, had tanked, with no plans for future instalments. The only Trek series then on television was the much-maligned Enterprise, teetering on the brink of cancellation. Many were wondering if Star Trek, after ten feature films and nearly seven-hundred episodes, should be retired.

    Despite the fact that their agreement did not commit Viacom to producing a specific amount of Trek-related content, Activision argued that Viacom was in breach of contract for not giving Star Trek proper nourishment. The games publisher considered the deal terminated and sued for damages. Viacom, for its part, denied neglecting the property and countersued. The parties settled in secret and the licence passed to other publishers.

    “What it felt like,” continues Galloway, “was a conspiracy, because there was, over the years, lots of chatter that most Star Trek games were mediocre. So EF2 was a hard push: ‘Look, we can create a...[game] that is well-designed, scores well on Metacritic, gets great reviews, and has good retail marketing – but doesn’t sell! Why? Well, because the licence is stagnant, Viacom hasn’t put out any new TV shows or enough movies to keep it popular - it’s not our fault.’” For Galloway, it was a “very surprising and really frustrating” turn of events. “After all of that crunching to get it done, it was pretty deflating to have it just be dead in the water because of publishing squabbles with Hollywood.”

    The consequences went further than a sense of disappointment. “We easily should have had another project and continuing success with that team,” Galloway suggests. “Instead, within weeks of launch, we had several rounds of layoffs and it was a tragedy.”

    “But then again,” Galloway reflects, “that scrappy team, that had never made a game together before EF2, disbanded and those folks got propelled into successful careers... My career hasn’t suffered because of EF2’s failure. But I do carry some anguish over that game, because ultimately I was responsible for it from beginning to end, and there is so much of my DNA mixed in with its creation. It really was my weird sci-fi baby.”

    Elite Force II was the last Star Trek game released under Activision’s tenure. It was a good note on which to end. “Players and fans alike,” remembers Stockman, “had incredibly-low expectations.” It made him “happy to have exceeded them in almost every way imaginable”.

    “What’s craziest to me,” expresses Galloway, “is that people are still creating mods for the game! So I guess there are people out there still playing it.”

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    The excellent Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is now compatible with Steam.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 3, 2018

    Valve is adding official support for the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller to Steam. 

    "We’re pleased to announce that the latest Steam Client Beta adds support for the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller," said Valve in a blog post on Steam. "We think it is a great device with a feature set that pairs nicely with your Steam catalog. The d-pad is ideal for fighting games and platformers and the gyro enhances aim in your action/FPS titles."

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    Yes, if you use your Pro Controller on Steam, you'll be able to take advantage of the controller's gyro functionality. That's quite the nice feature for several games if you prefer to use a controller for PC action titles. It should also work very well for platformers. 

    In order to update your Steam client to support the Switch Pro Controller, you'll need to opt-in to the Steam Client Beta and enable global support by checking the option for "Switch Pro Configuration Support." You'll also find a setting that will enable you to use Nintendo button layouts in your games. 

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    While Steam supports quite a few controllers, adding support for the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is a pretty good get for PC gamers. Sure, it's a bit difficult to convince someone to go out and spend $70 on a controller for their PC - and the Switch Pro's controller is nowhere near as good in terms of battery life as the Wii U's - but the Switch Pro controller is a very solid piece of hardware. 

    It's should also be noted that it's always been possible to use the Switch Pro controller on PC thanks to its Bluetooth functionality, but that method has always led to some latency and connection issues. Now that it's officially been added to the Steam system, those issues should be far less frequent. 

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    Pikachu may have slimmed down over the years, but the original design for this Pokemon was inspired by the chubby cheeks of a squirrel.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 3, 2018

    Atsuko Nishida, one of the Game Freak employees that helped design the original Pokemon, revealed that Pikachu's initial character design was based on a squirrel and not on a mouse as the game suggests.

    “At that time, I was really into squirrels,” said Nishida to Yomiuri in a slightly bizarre interview. "I wanted the character to have puffy cheeks. Squirrel tails are cute (so I wanted it to have a tail). However, I wanted the character to have a lightning element, so I made it shaped like lightning.”

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    The telltale sign of Pikachu's squirrel influence is certainly the puffy cheeks that Nishida mentions. While the original version of Pikachu is a little more round than the average squirrel - unless that squirrel is super prepared for winter - you don't really have to break your brain to see who it does look much more like a squirrel than a mouse (which Pikachu is classified as within the game). 

    Actually, it seems that Pikachu's cheeks were intended to be the source of its electric abilities. 

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    “For example, when hamsters stuff themselves with food, their entire bodies become round, right?" said Nishida regarding Pikachu's electric abilities. "But for squirrels, it’s just their cheeks.”

    While the most fascinating part of this story might just be how obsessed Nishida was with squirrels - we really hope she eventually just bought a squirrel pet - it is interesting to look back and see just how much Pikachu's design has changed over the years to incorporate more mouse elements. The original version of Pikachu featured in Pokemon Red and Blue was quite chubby and very short. Over the years, though, he slimmed down and grew slightly taller. The turning point of his design was certainly the character's starring role in the old Pokemonseries. 

    In any case...there you have it. Pikachu is based on a squirrel. Looks like we can close the books on that one and finally rest our weary heads free of the great worries of the wide world. 

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    Utomik allows PC gamers to access over 750 games for a low monthly fee.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 3, 2018

    PC game streaming service Utomik has ended its beta period and has now officially launched. 

    "Founded in 2014 by a small team of dedicated Dutch gamers, Utomik is a pioneering startup based in The Netherlands and California with offices in Eindhoven and Los Angeles," reads the official statement from Utomik regarding the service's launch. "It is one of the first subscription-based gaming platforms to hit the market. We are proud to be an integral part in bringing the Netflix and Spotify model to the world of video games."

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    At present, Utomik boasts a library of over 750 games. Supported developers include studios like Warner Bros. Games, Disney, SEGA, THQ Nordic, Epic Games, Curve Digital, IO Interactive. The roster of available titles is actually quite impressive as subscribers will be able to access games like the Batman Arkham series, Saints Row IV, Metro: Last Light, Borderlands, Knights of the Old Republic, and titles in the Lego games series. Utomik has also announced that they've struck a deal with IO interactive that will bring the Hitman series to the service in the near future. 

    Utomik costs $7.99 a month for a single user while multi-person homes can pay $9.99 a month to access a four-person Family Plan. The service is also currently offering a 14-day free trial. 

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    The way the service works in terms of actually playing the available games is quite interesting. Considering that video games are slightly more difficult to stream than movies or TV shows, Utomik doesn't exactly let you just instantly hop between games included on the service. However, there's really not much of a delay at all from the time that you click on a game from the time that you start playing it. That's because the service downloads a small part of the game to your computer when you click on it and then downloads the rest of the title as you are playing. 

    Utomik is certainly one of the most interesting PC game streaming services out there. It certainly seems to justify signing up for a 14-day free trial in order to see if it's for you. 

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    Microsoft boasts about how much time gamers spend on their Xbox ahead of E3 2018.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 3, 2018

    Xbox users have spent almost 1 billion hours playing backward compatible games. 

    That figure comes from Microsoft's Xbox Wire which has published some Xbox related statistics ahead of E3 2018. Among them is a brief mention of the nearly 1 billion hours that players have spent on backward compatible titles. Not included is any reference to which games are the most popular or what the exact figure is for the number of hours played. Complicating that figure is the fact that Microsoft will not disclose current Xbox One sales figures. The company instead opts to use "engagement" as their primary metric for gauging success. 

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    However, let's say that there are about 35 million Xbox One units floating out in the wild (which is a reasonable estimate based on available information). Let's also say that the exact number of hours that Xbox gamers have spent playing backward compatible titles is about 975,000,000 (though it could easily be more). Using those rough estimates, we could guess that the average Xbox user has spent a little under 30 hours playing backward compatible titles. That's not an exact figure by any means, but it gives you an idea of what these numbers mean on a user by user basis. 

    Microsoft also boasts that Xbox users have spent over 4 billion hours on games released through the ID@Xbox program.

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    These numbers should help add a little fuel to the debate regarding backward compatible games. You would think that allowing gamers to play titles that they already own on modern consoles would be a universally good thing, but not everyone sees it that way. Sony has previously stated that they just don't think that the demand for that feature is big enough to justify the amount of hardware and software modifications that would need to be performed to make the PlayStation 4 backward compatible. Nintendo, meanwhile, has seemingly made quite a bit of money selling previously released games as new titles. 

    As we inch towards the next console generation, it will be interesting to see how some of the industry's major players approach the subject of backward compatibility with their next hardware releases. 

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    On his way out of EA, the former director of Madden suggests a different future for the series.

    News Matthew Byrd
    May 3, 2018

    Rex Dickson, former creative director of the Madden NFL franchise, has announced that he is leaving EA.

    "This decision was made after many discussions with other leaders on the team," said Dickson on Twitter. "We collectively agreed this was the best path forward for everyone involved. This is as much for me and my family as it is about giving the team, the community and the Madden franchise a chance for a new direction."

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    Dickson is quick to throw cold water on any speculation that this decision is based on any "drama or deeper story." He thanks EA and Tiburon for the opportunities they gave him and for the hard work of all the employees at the companies. 

    The particularly interesting part of this announcement, though, is the implication that the Madden franchise might head in a new direction. Reports indicate that Dickson worked on the upcoming Madden NFL 19, so you shouldn't expect to see anything radically different in that title. What happens beyond that, though?

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    Given that we do not know who will replace Dickson as creative director, it's a little difficult to answer that question at this time. However, we did see Madden NFL 18 change things up slightly by placing more emphasis on the game's surprisingly great "Longshot" story mode. Is it possible that future games in the franchise could emphasize those story elements even more by offering an expanded single-player option?

    That's always possible, but before anyone starts picturing a completely different Madden franchise, consider that such changes don't happen overnight (or even over the course of a year). It's entirely possible that a new creative director will have their own ideas, but it's also likely that they will be someone who has worked on the Maddenfranchise for quite some time. That being the case, we imagine that any changes to the Madden franchise will be gradual rather than drastic. 

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    The 1981 arcade game featured in Avengers: Infinity War is a tough-as-nails side-scrolling space shooter with a lot of heart.

    Feature John Saavedra
    May 3, 2018

    If you were gaming back in 1981 and went to see Avengers: Infinity War last weekend, then you might've been caught by surprise by a particular easter egg in the movie. Angsty, teen Groot is a marvel to behold on his own, as he rolls his eyes and snaps back at Star-Lord whenever the captain gives him an order, but he's made twice as enjoyable when he pulls out his Defender handheld game.

    In true Guardians of the Galaxy fashion, the new Avengers film pays homage to one of the staples of '80s culture: the arcade scene. The Defender cabinet was a staple of arcades in the early '80s. Released in 1981 by Williams Electronics, the cabinet was quickly followed by a handheld electronic game from Entex. The handheld might actually be the ultimate way to play this arcade space shooter since it featured a speed control knob that allowed newbies to adjust how fast the game scrolled. 

    Surely, a seasoned Defender player like Groot wouldn't need to slow the gameplay down, but I did when I ran to my local arcade to try out the game so prominently featured in Infinity War. Unfortunately, I was given no such mercy. Instead, I jumped into a surprisingly fast sidescrolling bullet hell with amazing colors and shocking sound design. 

    Even as a child of the 90’s, it’s impossible to ignore Defender’s beautiful arcade cabinet, which teases a grand sci-fi setting that, of course, doesn’t translate to what’s actually featured in the game, but it’s enough to build a story around. Certainly, the design of Defender’s starfighter could hook any longtime Battlestar Galactica fans into a fantasy of Cylon-blasting action.

    It’s impossible to ignore Defender’s obvious influences: Taito’s Space Invaders and Atari’s Asteroids, classic space shooters from the late ‘70s arcade scene. In fact, Williams originally set out to design a game very similar to Space Invaders’ vertical shooting, but the team felt that it was too derivative. Asteroids’ gameplay was deemed a worthy subject to build on the foundation of the Space Invaders to create a game that was faster paced (and more enjoyable) than its influences.

    I jumped into a game of Defenderand was immediately taken with it. Its best feature is the open-endedness of the map, which covers the starry skies above an unknown planetscape. As you zoom through the level, enemies -- bug-like sprites reminiscent of Space Invaders’ baddies -- appear in front and, most intriguingly, behind you. Luckily, Defender allows you to reverse the direction of your ship so that you can scroll left and take out the bugs on your left. It's a simple mechanic we take for granted today but works wonders for a game like Defender, which brings with it a speed more akin to modern bullet hells than its contemporaries.

    Defender demands that you switch between left and right at frantic speeds. You have to keep your fingers on the "Reverse" button and on the thrust at all times. The joystick also allows you to move up and down the screen so that you can dodge enemies and laser fire. Enemies most often try to crash into you in suicide runs that became increasingly more difficult to evade. There's also a handy hyperspace button that can get you out of trouble in a bind (emulating the best Han Solo moments), but a jump can go wrong at random and you lose a life -- I find this last bit an interesting little element that adds to the unpredictability of each level. After all, it's not like you'd really have time to course a jump. 

    The easiest way to beat a level is to defeat all the aliens on the map, although later levels also introduce rescue missions, as you rush to rescue astronauts from the unnamed planet's surface. Failure to save the astronauts results in the destruction of the planet and the level being populated with a swarm of mutants that you have to survive in order to move on to the next stage. All in all, there's enough complexity here to keep players invested. 

    If you grew up in the '90s or later, you'd have to be forgiven for never having heard of Defender, which never quite made a successful transition to the home console market. In the years after its initial launch, the game was ported to the Apple II computer, several Atari systems, the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum, and others. But Defender has never had a meaningful presence on modern consoles. A remake of the game, titled Defender 2000, was released for the Atari Jaguar in 1996, the year that console was discontinued due to low sales. The franchise's final foray into a console release was the 2002 remake for PS2, Xbox, GameCube, and GBA. 

    A sequel was born just months after the arrival of Defender. Known as Stargate, this sequel added new enemy ships as well as a handy cloaking device that could protect your starfighter in a bind. While this game had no direct connection to the movie and TV franchise of the same name, it did introduce Stargates to the side-scrolling action, adding an element of time travel that could be used to get through the levels faster. 

    Strike Force was a 1991 "reimagining" of the game by Midway in an attempt to modernize the title. This game's biggest contribution to the Defender experience was two-player mode. Strike Force also featured power-ups and special weapons, which you could pick up from the planet's surface. You also had the ability to drop commandos onto the ground so that they could rescue astronauts or shoot enemies. Despite the new additions, this modernization from Midway never really made a splash in the arcade scene or on home consoles. 

    This all brings us back to Groot, whom, despite his nasty teenage attitude, is wise beyond his years. Wise enough to pick up a game well worth your time, even today. I certainly look forward to zapping some more bugs at my local arcade very soon. 

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