Friday, 17 November 2017

Microtransactions gone from Star Wars Battlefront II

Star Wars Battlefront II launches today and many fans (myself included) aren't picking it up day-one. However, following weeks of heated debate surrounding pay-to-win, publisher EA has dropped microtransactions from the controversial sequel. At least for now.

"Our goal has always been to create the best possible game for all of you – devoted Star Wars fans and game players alike. We’ve also had an ongoing commitment to constantly listen, tune and evolve the experience as it grows," a blogpost from Oskar Gabrielson, general manager at EA game developer DICE, read. "You’ve seen this with both the major adjustments, and polish, we have made over the past several weeks.

"But as we approach the worldwide launch, it’s clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design. We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right.

"We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this."

In the wake of this news, will you be buying Star Wars Battlefront II? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Are microtransactions the dark side of gaming?

Matt Charlton delves deeper into the issue of loot boxes and microtransactions in the wake of the controversy surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II. Suggesting many gamers (myself included) may look to a resurgent Nintendo and its storied franchises this holiday season and beyond.

Guest post by Matt Charlton

Microtransactions have the potential to destroy this industry if they carry on the way they’re going!

Games used to be £30. You got everything. Recently, games were £50. £70 if you wanted everything.

Now, you get something for £50. More for £70 and everything else is a perpetual business model with moving goalposts.

Not to mention they will turn off the servers at some point. Probably in less than 5 years. At which point your £1500 on microtransactions is thrown in the bin.

I don’t like this direction and it’s putting me off investing in AAA titles on both the Xbox One and PS4.

I’d rather play on the Nintendo Switch now. Super Mario Odyssey was a masterpiece and a wonderful playthrough, which is still giving even after completing the main story. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beast that I’ve still only just scratched the surface of.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is great and with the addition of Rocket League, yesterday, Nintendo Switch is rapidly becoming a wonderful platform and a haven for avid video gamers of all ages and abilities.

DLC is fine. A pain, sometimes especially if it’s on a disc, but it’s fine.

Microtransactions for skins and shiny things that don’t really affect anything other than aesthetics, bearable.

Buying your way up a power and ability track with loot crates is a cancer and it needs to be taken out of premium games. It has no place in the industry and gamers are starting to revolt.

Hopefully, they will go away.

How do you feel about the state of microtransactions and an aggressive approach by some publishers? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Social media outrage over Star Wars Battlefront II

As a lifelong Star Wars fan and avid video gamer since the Atari age, I was excited about Star Wars Battlefront II in the lead-up to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

2015's franchise reboot was terrific fun and the notion of the sequel's single-player campaign from the perspective of the Empire, set in Return of the Jedi, was compelling.

However, the online controversy surrounding loot boxes and pay-to-win has extinguished that excitement to the point of cancelling a pre-order for Xbox One.

Whilst I own a PS4, I opted for the Xbox One version as it will be enhanced for Xbox One X. Space battles in 4K? Don't mind if I do. Well, actually I do mind if loot boxes and pay-to-win are involved. Star Wars Battlefront II purportedly costs £1,600 to unlock everything. The whole issue has left me yearning for the halcyon days of LucasArts...

Maybe I'll play the game on EA Access if I decide to resubscribe. This has not been a banner year for the publisher. Battlefront only adds salt to the wound in the wake of Mass Effect's hiatus.

Are you getting Star Wars Battlefront II? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Amazon announces prequel to The Lord of the Rings

In the wake of Disney announcing a live-action Star Wars series for its upcoming streaming service. Amazon has inked a deal to create a $250 million dollar prequel series to The Lord of the Rings with the option of a further spin-off.

“The Lord of the Rings is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen,” said Sharon Tal Yguado, head of scripted series at Amazon Studios. “We are ... thrilled to be taking The Lord of the Rings fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is searching for the next Game of Thrones. The Lord of the Rings is a good fit and mitigates risk with a pre-existing storied franchise.

“We are delighted that Amazon, with its longstanding commitment to literature, is the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings,” said Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins.

The Lord of the Rings has held me in its thrall since seeing Ralph Bakshi's animated adaptation in 1978. This was followed by Brian Sibley's lauded audio adaptation for BBC Radio 4 and most recently Peter Jackson's live-action trilogy. The Hobbit was, frankly, stretched too thinly and I've no interest in rewatching. If anything, I hope Amazon will retain the services of composer Howard Shore for its upcoming series.

Are you excited to see a prequel to The Lord of the Rings? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Win The Doctors: The William Hartnell Years on DVD

William Hartnell is the original Doctor Who and fans first embarked on an adventure aboard the TARDIS in An Unearthly Child on 23rd November 1963.

This year's Christmas special, Twice Upon a Time, sees David Bradley (Harry Potter) reprise Hartnell's iconic role in Peter Capaldi's regeneration story witnessing the debut of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor Who. So, this is a timely release.

The Doctors: The William Hartnell Years features the most comprehensive collection of interviews with the actors and creators who brought the world of Doctor Who to life.

- Includes a special tribute to WILLIAM HARTNELL (the First Doctor), containing messages from a host of stars and production staff from Doctor Who.
- Presented by voice of the Daleks Nicholas Briggs.
- This double DVD also features the best in-depth interviews ever undertaken with Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara), William Russell (Ian), Peter Purves (Steven) and Jackie Lane (Dodo).
- This 2 DISC special collector's edition is 5 hours of pure nostalgia, which will give you a whole new insight into the making of Doctor Who.
- Includes special introduction by Nicholas Briggs & Producer Keith Barnfather.

To celebrate the release of The Doctors: The William Hartnell Years, we’re offering one reader a chance to win a copy on DVD.

To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this simple question:

Which serial was William Hartnell’s last as the titular Time Lord?

A. An Unearthly Child
B. The Tenth Planet
C. The Web Planet

Please leave your answer in the comments below.

The competition is open to UK readers only and closes Friday, 24th November. The winner will be randomly selected and contacted soon thereafter. Good luck.

Pre-order The Doctors: The William Hartnell Years from Amazon. This is an affiliate link and as such, I may receive compensation for any referrals.

Special thanks to Koch Media for supplying the competition prize.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Doctor Who fan film: Velocity

Since Jodie Whittaker was announced as the new Doctor Who, I've noticed a surge in membership of my Whovians Facebook group.

Subsequently, a US-based member, actress Krystal Moore, posted a link to her fan film, directed by partner Chris Phillips who has previously worked for MTV and The Guardian newspaper, that is clearly a passion project.

Phillips is a British expat and returned to his native Essex to record the 10-minute short film. Coincidentally, I have family there, too.

"By now, the world knows the BBC recently cast British actress Jodie Whittaker to take over the role of The Doctor at the end of this December's Doctor Who Christmas Special," said Phillips. "But, my girlfriend Krystal actually started writing our fan film with a female playing The Doctor quite some time ago. Our fan film, with the female Doctor, is rather successful [based on] the response."

Doctor Who Velocity: A Fan Special.

"The Doctor regenerates and travels back to the 1500s in a freshly renovated TARDIS, to save England’s first convicted Witch, Agnes Waterhouse, from a fiery death. Can she overcome the oppression of The Witchfinder General and save the women of Chelmsford?"

Filming of episode two is already underway. So, be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel for further episodes. Moore mentioned that they're also working on an audio adventure for Christmas.

If you have a Doctor Who fan film you'd like to share, please contact me.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Disney to stream Star Wars live-action series

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story began as a live-action television series idea following the completion of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

George Lucas stockpiled scripts created with Ronald D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame. Whilst these scripts were never used, Disney inherited them when the company bought Lucasfilm in 2012.

The Mouse House has ambitions to challenge streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. What better way to launch a new service than with an exclusive Star Wars series? CBS All Access has seen success with this strategy by streaming Star Trek: Discovery.

Are you excited about a Star Wars live-action series? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Rian Johnson to create new Star Wars trilogy

Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn't in theatres until next month, but director Rian Johnson is already hard at work on a new trilogy for Disney.

“We all loved working with Rian on The Last Jedi,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm. “He’s a creative force, and watching him craft The Last Jedi from start to finish was one of the great joys of my career. Rian will do amazing things with the blank canvas of this new trilogy.”

“We had the time of our lives collaborating with Lucasfilm and Disney on The Last Jedi,” Johnson and Bergman said in a joint statement. “Star Wars is the greatest modern mythology and we feel very lucky to have contributed to it. We can’t wait to continue with this new series of films.”

It's been a turbulent time for the franchise in the wake of Rogue One reshoots and directors departing from Star Wars movies. Most recently JJ Abrams, who successfully rebooted Star Wars with The Force Awakens, has replaced Colin Trevorrow on Episode IX. So, this is a mission statement from the Mouse House and its belief in Rian Johnson.

The new Star Wars trilogy will be separate from the Skywalker saga.

Are you looking forward to a new trilogy? What stories would you like to see? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

First look at Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who

Fans have had their first look at Jodie Whittaker's new Doctor Who costume and TARDIS.

The costume possesses a Mork & Mindy vibe and a knowing nod to the Fourth Doctor's scarf, which has a nostalgic appeal for fans (myself included) who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s.

Whittaker will be taking over the titular role from current incumbent Peter Capaldi this Christmas. She'll be joined by new companions Graham, Ryan and Yasmin played by actors Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill respectively. Cole joins fellow Doctor Who stars Warwick Davis, David Prowse and Felicity Jones who've appeared in Star Wars.

Chris Chibnall, the creator of Broadchurch, replaces Steven Moffat as series showrunner.

Filming of series 11 is rumoured to begin soon for broadcast in late 2018.

What do you think of the new costume and TARDIS? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

N7 Day celebrating ten years of Mass Effect

The original Mass Effect trilogy began ten years ago today as an Xbox 360 exclusive and BioWare has teased a day of celebrations:

"This year marks 10 years since the release of Mass Effect. In that time, we’ve made friends, fallen in love, and travelled to new galaxies.

We’ve watched our community grow, as all of you shared your love of this universe, wore your N7 with pride, and told us stories about your Shepard and Ryder.

This N7 day, we’re celebrating how far we’ve all come together, and looking back on a decade of Mass Effect. Check back here next Tuesday, November 7, to see all the great surprises, offers, and giveaways we have in store as we celebrate #teN7.

Thank you for coming with us to the stars and beyond. It’s been a hell of a ride. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

On N7 Day 2016 I embarked on an original Mass Effect trilogy playthrough on Xbox One in anticipation of Mass Effect: Andromeda. All three award-winning titles were available on EA Access. Why EA didn't wait to release the bug-ridden Mass Effect: Andromeda until now speaks to the publisher's fixation with shareholder value and not creativity within the context of commercialism. EA's not unique in this and the approach has culminated in the microtransactions controversy of the past few months. However, I digress from celebrating one of my most cherished gaming franchises.

I was very late to the party, after winning an Xbox 360 S, and bought Mass Effect 3 in 2012. This was tantamount to watching Star Wars: Return of the Jedi first! A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back are regarded as superior by most fans and critics.

So, finally, I began FemShep's hero's journey from the beginning. It would cement Mass Effect's status as one of the greatest space operas in any medium. Combining the Battlestar Galactica reboot with Star Trek and Star Wars to peerless effect.

I laughed, I cried and didn't want the story to end. Literally, sat feeling emotionally sick at the conclusion in the early hours of the morning. Because character-driven storytelling was front and centre throughout a hundred hours or more. And, for the first time, there was a disabled character, in a video game, I could relate to...

What are your Mass Effect memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 6 November 2017

20th Century Fox fanfare before Star Wars: Episode IX?

Disney is rumoured to be in talks to buyout 21st Century Fox’s film & television properties! Sparking suggestions The X-Men will become a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

As a Star Wars fan, I'm hoping this would bring the Fox fanfare, synonymous with watching the original and prequel trilogies, back. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars movie, in the wake of Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, not to include Alfred Newman's iconic music.

Fox fanfare before JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019? This fan hopes so. But, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Is binge-watching Stranger Things a good thing?

In 2013 binge-watching was popularised by Netflix’s acclaimed House of Cards reboot. Andrew Lewin and I discussed the implications of watching a series in a matter of hours, not weeks. Rob Wainfur, the founder of The Bearded Trio, revisits the phenomenon in the wake of Stranger Things and Star Trek: Discovery.

Guest post by Rob Wainfur

‘Fake News’ has recently been named the word of the year by Collins Dictionary, but I really think the word should be ‘Binge-Watching!’ It seems to be not only the in-phrase at the moment but also the activity everyone is doing. Is that an indication that we are in the golden age of TV? Well, that may be a debate for another article, but I want to talk about the activity itself and explore why it’s become so popular.

With TV on-demand being such a popular way to watch your favourite show these days, it’s no surprise that binge-watching has become a big thing. With a whole season or, in some cases, a whole series available to watch when you like and how you like, the temptation to sit down and continuously watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine all the way through the Dominion War story arc, or finding out if Tim and Dawn will eventually get together in The Office, well the temptation is strong and the only dilemma is whether you devote the time to such a marathon?

For me, binge-watching is a rarity. Sitting down to watch more than two episodes of a one-hour show is a commitment, for me, and any longer and I start to have a feeling of guilt. That little voice inside me, just like the opening theme to ‘Why Don’t You?’ is telling me to switch off the TV and go and do something less boring instead. The longer I leave it, the louder that voice gets…

Also, if I don’t get that feeling of guilt when I feel I should turn my attention to something else such as another form of entertainment. Video games for instance. I love losing myself in games. The weird thing is I don’t tend to get that voice telling me to leave Skyrim alone after the third hour of playing. Is this because I feel like I’m achieving something? After all, even though I’m in a virtual world, I am completing quests, honing my alchemy skills or ridding the land of vampires. It’s all virtual, but my brain is satisfied with these activities. Watch TV for hours and the old grey matter starts to get twitchy.

The problem is that a culture has developed recently that being first to see something, read something or play something makes you popular. Social media is starting to dictate how I watch TV! I am being forced to binge-watch because of that dreaded word, spoilers! Yes, I know I can leave social media alone, but I just can’t! I run a number of websites and Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms are a fundamental part of my work. Leave them alone and the sites suffer. Therefore, avoiding these platforms is near impossible for me.

At the time of writing this, I haven’t started the second season of Stranger Things (yes, I’m the one). However, already I know the pace of the season, which episodes are good and where it dips and this was just from my Facebook timeline and an accidental dive down my Twitter feed. In fact, according to Netflix, Stranger Things season two has set a new record for being the most tweeted-about streaming show with a staggering 3.7 million tweets in just three days. With those kinds of numbers, you don’t stand a chance to avoid spoilers unless you binge-watch.

Binge-watching is here to stay. On-demand television has seen to that. Yet, it seems binge-watching is not enough now thanks to the connected world we live in. ‘Binge-racing’ is now a thing. The term coined by Netflix refers to watching a new season of a show within 24-hours of its release, and the streaming service actually says more than 8.4 million members have binge-raced shows.

This new trend is definitely not for me and for a few reasons. First, I like to savour the moment. I did binge-watch Stranger Things season one. Well, it was finished within three days. For me, that’s fast. But, after the final episode, I was disappointed. Not for the quality of the show, quite the opposite. I wanted more, to continue to be back in the eighties and enjoying the horror and innocence at the same time.

I’m diabetic, so when I have a rare sugary treat such as a piece of chocolate or a biscuit I make sure I savour the moment. I’m tempted to stuff the whole lot in my mouth, but I know I will appreciate the sweet flavours and get a longer release of endorphins if I just take my time. Surely this is the same with a good TV show?

Also, recent studies have shown that ‘binge-racing’ a show hampers your memories of the show and a second showing is needed to really enjoy the experience. Three days of Stranger Things may not classify as ‘binge-racing’ per se, but the reason I haven’t watched season two yet is I’ve decided to watch the first season again and I have to say I am enjoying it, even more, the second time around with an episode a night. I’m picking up on little details I missed the first time around.

I’m not condemning binge-watching! Everyone is different and so are viewing habits. But, it’s interesting to note how these habits are changing and whether we are being forced to follow to make sure we don’t get those dreaded spoilers. I even feel a little left out when I see my geek friends on Facebook are talking about the latest Daredevil episode and I can’t contribute. A small dilemma I admit, but still, it feels important for me as that is my community I like to mix with.

I guess ‘binge-watching’ is not a new thing. I remember ‘binge-reading’ being a thing when a new Harry Potter book was released. Queues of Muggles would be lining up at midnight to get their hands on the book as soon as it was released. I remember a news report in the morning where they interviewed some fans who said they had camped outside the shop, not gone home and read the book through the night so they could be the first to have read it. Surely this has to be detrimental to the enjoyment of the story and I wonder if the same can be said when watching TV? Do you miss out on savouring each episode? Soaking in the atmosphere or the biggest one for me, the anticipation.

Star Trek: Discovery is currently streaming on Netflix outside the US and is being released the old fashioned way, one episode a week. For me, I am so happy and relieved that this is the format they decided to go with. Instead of having a timeline discussing how the whole series went, now we are getting discussions on each episode and for me, it makes the universe you intend to be part of for an hour all that much richer.

I love on-demand TV. I could never go back to the way it was. The temptation is there to binge-watch and from time to time I will. Car Share season two was on BBC iPlayer right from the start and being only six half-hour episodes, I watched the whole season in one sitting. I loved it but felt disappointed afterwards that it was over. I could have let that enjoyment last over six weeks but like the kid inside me with a big bar of chocolate, I ate the lot. I should have felt happy, but instead, I felt disappointed. I wanted more. With entertainment becoming more on-demand should we be more disciplined? Is on-demand actually reducing our enjoyment of TV? With the world connected and seemingly wanting to share their opinions with the rest of us are we being forced down a road where getting a quick bang for our buck is the new way of watching TV?

How do you feel about binge-watching? Do you think it hampers your enjoyment of a series or actually enhances it? Do you prefer Netflix releasing an episode a week or all at once? Let me know in the comments below.

Rob Wainfur
Rob is the founder of The Bearded Trio website. A site dedicated to the works of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and John Williams. He has no issues binge-listening to John Williams.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Kathleen Kennedy teases the future of Star Wars

It's just over a month until Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theatres and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is looking beyond Star Wars: Episode IX, which concludes the current trilogy in 2019. Kennedy shared the following with The Star Wars Show.

"We're sitting down now, we're talking about the next 10 years of Star Wars stories. And we're looking at narratively where that might go. Future stories beyond Episode IX with these new characters. Rey, Poe, Finn, BB-8."

It's easy to envision a further trilogy and standalone movies featuring Rey, Poe and Finn. Assuming the beloved characters survive.

Book tickets to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi from Fandango. This is an affiliate link and therefore I may receive compensation for any referrals.

Which characters would you like to see in future Star Wars movies? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Darkness rises in The Last Jedi TV Spot

A new TV Spot for Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiered Thursday morning. It features new footage from Rian Johnson's upcoming sequel to The Force Awakens. Most notably Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) aboard the Millennium Falcon, which is goosebump-inducing.

Book tickets to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi from Fandango. This is an affiliate link and therefore I may receive compensation for any referrals.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in cinemas 15th December.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

C-3PO in international trailer for The Last Jedi

An international trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released on Monday and it contains new footage not shown in the previous trailer.

Fans get their first look at C-3PO. The prissy protocol droid's golden right arm, which was red in The Force Awakens, has been restored. There's new dialogue from Rey, asking for help, and extra clips of BB-8.

This latest trailer, again, suggests Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is fearful of Rey (Daisy Ridley). Does she turn to the dark side? This is a long-held theory I've had since The Force Awakens.

I'm increasingly convinced Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) will turn back to the light side and join Luke Skywalker to battle Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Rey in Episode IX directed by JJ Abrams. Maybe that's too obvious? Certainly, the new international poster suggests Rey's conflicted nature, which reprises Anakin Skywalker's journey to the dark side in the prequel trilogy.

Regardless, I trust director Rian Johnson with a sequel worthy of The Empire Strikes Back.

Book tickets to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi from Fandango. This is an affiliate link and therefore I may receive compensation for any referrals.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in cinemas 15th December.