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Bethesda E3 2016 Wrap-Up

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Bethesda-E3-2016-announcement

This was Bethesda’s second year at E3, and once again they came out swing and firing all weapons, specifically flak guns and laser rifles. Here’s a run-down of what went on at the Bethesda conference this year.

First, as mentioned, was the unveiling of Quake: Champions, the inevitable follow-up to Doom and the continuation of the legendary multiplayer series. Details on Quake: Champions were a bit sketchy as it’s still early, but what Bethesda implied is that it’s a return to form for the series, with classic arena shooting action. They also clearly knew their market for this game, as many of the technical details pertained to the PC crowd, like 120hz refresh rate and uncapped frames.  Not content to just announce the game, they also announced further E-Sports support for Quake, expanding their already existing QuakeCon, as well as teasing more info about the game at their August conference.

Speaking of Quake, and by extension Doom, new content was announced for the already venerable shooter. While the new multiplayer content -like their first paid DLC that adds a new demon and new maps- mostly fell on deaf ears the one new item of note was the expanded tools for Snapmap, including greater support for singleplayer missions. There’s also going to be new game-modes and Snapmap items added,  such as a new take on single-flag CTF, all for free in the coming months.

Doom isn’t the only game getting new content, as Fallout 4 and Elder Scrolls: Online both got new announcements.  ESO, which is apparently a lot bigger then people thought, will be receiving it’s long awaited Dark Brotherhood DLC, adding a new faction and quests to the game. Also upcoming is the addition of ESO’s One Tamriel system, where after leaving the tutorial area all players have the same access to the world’s content, removing the need for leveling to play together. We’ll have to wait a while to see how this is actually implemented and how it effects gameplay.

Teaser image for Fallout 4's next expansion pack: Nuka World

Teaser image for Fallout 4‘s next expansion pack: Nuka World

From massively online to massively offline, new content was announced for Fallout 4 in the form of three new DLCs. First was the Contraptions pack for settlements, letting you add weird machines like factories and marble tracks. No doubt this will add even more hours to the game’s most popular feature next month after its release. Also coming up later this summer is the ability to build your own vault in the Vault Tech pack, which brings a lot of the vault-dwelling charm of the mobile game to the big screen. Finally, and most importantly, was the tease for the second expansion pack, known only as Nuka World and shown with a brief trailer taking place in a pre-war amusement park. No release date, unfortunately.

Continuing with Fallout, new content was announced for Fallout Shelter, the massively popular mobile game, soon to be available on PC as well. There’s more, since the next major update will also introduce quests and locations to explore to the game, letting the player finally leave the vault with their dwellers to search for loot and new dwellers to bring home.

Speaking of different screens, Bethesda has decided to throw their hat into the VR race with the tease of Doom and Fallout 4 on HTC Vive some time in 2017. Personally the thought of Doom in VR makes me queasy with motion sickness, but maybe they’ll have that worked out by next year.

And now the announcement everyone saw coming: Skyrim HD. Wisely the footage was mostly taken from the console versions, as many on PC consider their game already superior, but the new texture work and lighting does lend a lot to the aging RPG. Speaking of PC, like Fallout 4 before it, PC mods will be making their way to Skyrim on consoles, so good for them.

Finally two new announcements from Arkane studios. First was a tease of their upcoming project Prey. Long time fans will recognize that:

1) Prey already existed in 2006 as a sci-fi shooter
2) This isn’t Prey 2

Indeed, this is a use of the name with nothing to do with the series beyond that. Arkane teased it as a psychological thriller shooter with a hint of time distortion for good measure. Details are few right now, but it’s supposed to come out next year, so here’s hoping for more info soon.

Finally ending the show was Arkane’s coup de grace, with actual gameplay footage of Dishonored 2. The demo was extensive, mostly showing off the powers of Emily, a new possible playable character. Emily is every bit as skilled as her father, Corvo, was, with a variety of powers like her Far Reach, which extends a tentacle to pull Emily away, or other things near. Also shown off was Mezmerize, which distracts whoever is close enough, Domino which chains NPCs together so that what happens to one happens to all, and the mysterious Shadow Walk that turns Emily into a cloud of smoke, all of which are upgradeable through a new skill tree system.

Emily Caldwin. Empress by day, assassin...also by day.

Emily Caldwin. Empress by day, assassin…also by day.

We also got an extended look at the new location of Karnaca, an island city very distinct from Dunwall. Arkane were pretty proud of their new Void engine, and the trailer looked great. Whether or not that’s what we actually get in November remains to be seen, but what can’t be denied is the new level of freedom the locations offer. Arkane have teased a new level of verticality, an impressive feat for the sequel of one of the most mobile first-person games ever made. Also shown was new gameplay ideas like a time-bending mission that sees the player jumping back and forth between time-lines. Once again there are dozens of ways to complete missions and the game encourages exploration and exploitation.

Overall, not a bad show. The Elder Scrolls Online stuff, as well as the trailer for Elder Scrolls: Legends, a not-Gwent/Hearthstone/whatever card game failed to impress, but the new content for DoomFallout 4, and Skyrim HD, plus the extended look at Dishonored were more then enough to keep us entertained.

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.

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Let’s Discuss the Revamped Sonic the Hedgehog Design

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The internet has breathed a collective sigh of relief following the release of a new trailer for the upcoming Sonic The Hedgehog movie. Some leaks a few weeks back that turned out to be correct showed the design that we see but the trailer shows a lot more of the new redesign of the world renowned video game character. The movie has been the subject of much attention-mostly negative- after the initial trailer was released six months ago. The first trailer (which initially announced a release date of November 2019) was incredibly poorly received due to the odd design choice for the titular character. With small eyes, a tiny snout and human teeth, the original design was weirdly realistic and resembled an odd humanoid rather than the blue cartoon hedgehog that we all know and love.

The first design for Sonic looked a bit like a child in a Sonic the Hedgehog suit. Creepy to say the least.

The new trailer shows off a brand new look for Sonic which is far more in sync with what we already know for the character. He is definitely an animated character, with the exaggerated features that he has always had in every other iteration. The movie itself still looks cheesy as hell but it looks like a tolerable, even kind of enjoyable sort of cheesy.  The controversy surrounding the terribly received first Sonic design has been so prolific that some even argued that the whole thing has been a marketing ploy and that the character was never meant to look as bad as he originally did. Whatever the case may be in terms of what went down behind the scenes of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, it is clear that even if the film is terrible it will attract a substantial audience of people just curious as to how the whole thing is going to turn out. As a fan of Sonic since the 90’s when I was little, I’m probably going to be one of those people.

Sonic is now appropriately cute, fluffy and more in line with his usual style.

I’m still kind of hoping it can break the curse of the video game movie-like Detective Pikachu did- but alongside the aforementioned cheesiness, it looks like a pretty generic movie aimed at kids rather than diehard fans of the Sonic franchise. Flop or not, at least Sonic is looking far more adorable and less like he might murder you in your sleep. It also shows how the filmmakers were willing to listen to their audience and implement changes following feedback. Incredibly vocal feedback at that.

The comparison between the two designs shows just how much the animators have worked to create a brand new Sonic. Their hard work has certainly paid off.

Sonic the Hedgehog is due for theatrical release on February 14th, 2020.

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Anamanaguchi – [USA] (Album Review)

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Few acts boast such renown amongst uber-nerdy video game enthusiasts as Anamanaguchi. Unveiling their debut EP ‘Power Supply’ in 2009, the Chiptune pioneers have pushed their unique brand of 8-bit powered Rock and Pop across various releases, including 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game soundtrack, and 2013’s Kickstarter funded 22 track LP ‘Endless Fantasy’. And with ‘Endless Fantasy’ being their last LP (excluding their stuffed to the brim ‘Capsule Silence XXIV’ compilations), to say fans have anticipated ‘[USA]’ is an almighty understatement.

Six years is a while, so has Anamanaguchi’s latest batch of tracks been worth the wait? Seasoned fans Harry and Kyle are on the scene to offer their takes, from how ‘[USA]’ stacks up against the band’s other offerings, to its effectiveness as an artistic whole.

Background With Anamanaguchi

I first heard Anamanaguchi around 2010. At the time I was neck deep in my Slipknot phase (a phase I’ve yet to grow out of judging by how much I replayed ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ this year), so their goofy electronic schtick didn’t tick my boxes. But as time passed I developed a stronger fondness of them, so much so that I enthusiastically backed their 2013 LP ‘Endless Fantasy’ on Kickstarter. Now I’ve seen them live twice, followed their progress over the years, and can proudly proclaim my superfan status. – Harry

The late 2000s saw a shift in pop culture: suddenly, geek chic was all the rage. G4 was at the height of its popularity, pixel art infested countless pieces of media, and video games were undeniably cool. Few other pieces of media encapsulate this cultural zeitgeist more than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. Based on the popular comic by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the Scott Pilgrim game featured Anamanaguchi’s crunchy pixelated Rock sound, which melded perfectly with the colorful 16-bit beat-em’-up gameplay. Older Anamanaguchi albums are more than just music: they’re a trip back in time to a brighter, more innocent era of pop culture and gaming. – Kyle

Introducing [USA]

I was excited for ‘[USA]’, but that’s stating the obvious based on my prior words. The LP kicks off with its titular track, introducing affairs with an amalgamation of predictably glitchy bleeps ‘n’ bloops. It’s straight up Anamanaguchi, their Chiptune flair intact. This is good, as Anamanaguchi sans Chiptune is like spaghetti sans sauce (still awesome, but lacking a key ingredient). “USA” is chanted as instrumentation morphs stylistically, crescendoing in dynamics and tempo, and setting the stage for the lead single.

“Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)” is an LP highlight. Stepping out the gate with Vocaloid-y singing, an aesthetic of grandiose gorgeousness is speedily cemented. This later juxtaposes with the rapid-fire rhythms of Luke’s drumming and manic synthesizer arpeggios that run around like an 8-bit-ified (Sega Master System) Sonic the Hedgehog. This mental meld of melody, Drum and bass, and all manner of other musical magic finally sinks into a sea of atmospheric spookiness, concluding in an out of left field (yet utterly engaging) way. “Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)” avoids predictability through each and every beat of its journey, but nails catchy accessibility to a tee. A masterclass in creative songwriting, it sets ‘[USA]’s’ bar sky high. – Harry

The weeks to ‘[USA]’ releasing were positive ones, marked by enticing singles like “Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)” and “Air On Line”. Anamanaguchi’s distinct Rock-flavored Chiptune style had undergone a stylistic shift in the band’s 2013 release ‘Endless Fantasy’, where the band shed off some of its punk flair in favor of dreamier synth tones. In the six years between LP releases, Anamanaguchi experimented with singles and EPs featuring sonic palettes characteristic of modern J-Pop (“Pop It”, “Miku”). While the band stretched its legs with poppier beats, it did mark a further departure from the traditional Rock-oriented sound that had defined much of their earlier work.

‘[USA]’ in many respects displays a return to Anamanaguchi’s roots. Tracks like “On My Own (feat. HANA)” and “Air On Line” boast driving guitar riffs, thumping drums, and fluidly complex intricacies. Yet, it’s more than clear that Anamanaguchi has evolved beyond their geeky beginnings to cultivate an airy soundscape of bright pastel colors and crystal clear tones. It doesn’t always hit the mark, but the highs that ‘[USA]’ can reach prove that the guys have still got it. – Kyle

Negative Bits

Unfortunately, said sky high bar is scarcely met again throughout the rest of ‘[USA]’. Plenty of tracks, like “The C R T Woods” and “Overwriting Incorporate”, are serviceable, but fall short of the laser focused compositional direction and melodic magnificence that Anamanaguchi are so super slick at. ‘[USA]’ suffers from banality, with tracks like “Tear” and “We Die” meandering noisily without focus, and big chunks (particularly the interlude-like tracks “Speak To You [Memory Messengers]” and “Apophenia Light [Name Eaters]”) feeling akin to ‘Capsule Silence XXIV’ cuts (i.e. decent demos, but not kickass LP standouts). – Harry

Much like Harry, I found a large chunk of the album rather dull to get through. Admittedly, Anamanaguchi has an undeniable talent for their synth instrumentation. However, what pushes their work beyond generic electronic music is their ability to anchor that instrumentation to a melodic through line built on catchy hooks and unexpected turns. “Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)” is one of the few tracks that manages to pull off this floaty, ethereal sound because it moves forward with purpose and constantly engages your curiosity. The same can’t be said for several of the other synth-heavy tracks, too lost in their own sound to offer anything truly engaging. – Kyle

Positive Bits

Nevertheless, there are flashes of brilliance here. “Sunset By Plane (feat. Caroline Lufkin)” is Anamanaguchi firing on all cylinders, delivering energetic poppy bombast in spades. Porter Robinson’s co production is evident in “Air On Line”, resulting in a smooth stomper of happy hooks. “B S X (feat. Hatsune Miku)” incorporates choppily glitched-out singing from the iconic Vocaloid, serving as a pseudo-sequel to the 2016 single “Miku”. “On My Own (feat. HANA)” sees Anamanaguchi’s Chiptune/Pop/Rock melting pot bubbling away again. And speaking of Chiptune, it’s wonderful to hear mountains of 8-bit eccentricity throughout ‘[USA]’, proving even as their sound matures, Anamanaguchi still celebrate where they came from with beaming pixelated smiles. – Harry

As a whole, ‘[USA]’ still deserves a place worthy of praise in Anamanaguchi’s discography. Porter Robinson only collaborated with the band for “Air On Line”, but his style bleeds wonderfully into tracks like “Up to You (feat. meesh)” and “Sunset By Plane (feat. Caroline Lufkin)”. The kawaii-infused J-Pop rhythms and hooks are infectiously catchy, but don’t let that fool you: Anamanaguchi haven’t lost their edge. “B S X (feat. Hatsune Miku)” and “On My Own (feat. HANA)” show that the band can reach back into their deep musical pockets and bring out their signature hard Chiptune Rock to surprise you with something intimately familiar. – Kyle

Final Thoughts

In typical Anamanaguchi fashion, ‘[USA]’ is ambitious from start to finish. ‘Endless Fantasy’ is bloated, but stylistically spot on, whereas ‘[USA]’ trims the fat, but gets a little lost in its journey. Glistening gold sits alongside stale pies, and that description is a fitting metaphor for elements of ‘[USA]’: it’s odd, and doesn’t make much sense (and perhaps that in itself is a metaphor for the real life USA?).

Still, when Anamanaguchi’s latest is good, it’s really good, and there’s bundles of genius in the 8-bit boys yet!

Check out, stream, buy or consume ‘[USA]’ in your preferred capacity by clicking HERE!

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Star Wars Fan Films Embrace the Essence of A Galaxy Far, Far Away

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There is no doubt that dedicated fans are capable of creating brilliant, fan-made content, but the Star Wars fan base has a habit of going above and beyond in making incredible works of art that often surpass official entries in the franchise. Two relatively recent short fan films — one released last week, the other released in March of this year — are great examples of this.

The first is a 1970s/80s-style cartoon from YouTuber Wilkins Animation called Dark Empire Episode One: The Destiny of a Jedi. This animated short is incredibly reminiscent of classic cartoons — so much so that it is difficult not to feel a pang of nostalgia upon watching it. The style gives off a He-Man vibe due to the quirky animation, stellar voice work, and vibrant colour scheme. The story is set after The Return of The Jedi as Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO embark on a mission to save Luke and Lando, who are stranded on war-torn Coruscant. I won’t spoil anything in case you want to check it out for yourself, but the story is engaging, and I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to see more when it came to an end.

Have a watch below if you want to see more, and to check out Wilkins Animation’s Patreon to support their work, click here.

The second fan made film is a slightly older (from March 2019) one called Battle of the Dreadnoughts, by YouTuber EckhartsLadder. The film is significantly shorter than the 12-minute Dark Empire cartoon, clocking in at about three and a half minutes. It depicts a space battle between the New Republic’s Viscount Class Star Defender and the Empire’s most dangerous of all its weapons, the Eclipse Super Star Destroyer. Battle of the Dreadnoughts may be short, but it is astounding in quality. Upon my first viewing, I was certain I had accidentally clicked on a scene from the movies rather than a fan-made project. The accuracy, attention to detail, and sheer scale blew my mind and — as with the Dark Empire animation — left me wanting more from the content creators involved.

Check out EckhartsLadder’s Patreon here and their Twitch account here.

There is no doubting the talent of the Star Wars fan base, but these two films in particular are incredible works of art both in their own right and as Star Wars fan projects.

For more Star Wars, have a read of our Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer breakdown.

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