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Microsoft Announces This Year’s Indie-Packed ‘Summer of Arcade’ Line-Up for Xbox 360

Microsoft Announces This Year’s Indie-Packed ‘Summer of Arcade’ Line-Up for Xbox 360  (photo)

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Puzzlingly, top-tier video games tend to get really scarce in the summer. (This June, with “Infamous 2,” “Shadows of the Damned” and other games has been an anomaly.) Maybe it’s because publishers want buyers to spend their cash on the highly hyped releases that flood retail from September to December each year, or they think that players’ vacations take them away their consoles.

Whatever the reason, Microsoft’s taken advantage of video games’ dog-day doldrums for the last few years, and packaged promising downloadable games into a programming block called Summer of Arcade. It makes use of the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live service to digitally deliver a handful of games The featured titles have been a mix of big studio games and indie efforts and last year’s standouts included “Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light” and “Limbo,” a title that’s gone down as an all-time classic.

While this year’s roster was revealed at E3 2011 a few weeks ago, it was still up in the air as to when Xbox owners would be able to get their hands on them. Microsoft’s just announced availability for the five titles for this year’s SoA and it looks like the months of July and August will be a lot more bearable for fun-starved gamers. All of the games will cost 1200 Microsoft points, or $15 in real-world money. And if you get all five, a sixth game–the retro-styled hack-n-slash “Crimson Alliance” by Certain Affinity–can be downloaded free as a bonus.

The Summer of Arcade game that’s gotten the most buzz has been Supergiant Games’ “Bastion.” It’s the story of a hero called the Kid who’s trying to restore the Earth after an event called the Calamity breaks it up into a series of floating archipelagos. The pulpy narration by a mysterious, gravel-voiced dude is dynamic, meaning that it responds to what you’re doing in the game. The gameplay’s a top-down blend of action and RPG elements, done up in hand-drawn art that makes “Bastion” immediately appealing. Leading the charge on July 20th, it looks like it might be the alpha game of the bunch.

“From Dust” comes by way of UbiSoft, and revolves around a unique terraforming mechanic with lush visuals. It’s the creation of beloved designer Eric Chahi, who’s best known for his classic PC game “Out of This World.” “From Dust” belongs to the god game category, a strategy-based genre once dominant on PC, and it should reintroduce a whole new generation of players to what it’s like to shape a planet to their whims. Look for it on July 27th.

“Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet” hits on August 3rd from developer Michel Gagne and the Fuelcell Games studio. Its blend of artsy silhouettes and old-school side-scroller design has had indie game watchers hankering for months, so it’s great to see it finally rolling out in a significant way.

I’ve already previewed the fourth SoA game a little while ago and can honestly say I haven’t been able to stop thinking about “Fruit Ninja Kinect” since I tried it out. Its August 10th release date can’t come quick enough. Daddy needs to slice some citrus.

Finally, Signal Studios’ “Toy Soldiers: Cold War” blends first-person action and tactical challenge in a game that lets you run wild in a playground made up of the war-crazy pop culture of the 1980s. Imagine all the insane conflicts that you created with your action figures and their vehicles in the form of a modern-day, hi-def video game and that’s what you’ll be getting on August 17th.

Whether you get all of the Summer of Arcade titles or just grab a few, chances arre you’ll be throwing your support behind games made with singular vision and intense commitment. Fifteen dollars is a quarter of the price of a disc-based game, and the perfect price to take a chance on something different. Even “From Dust”, which has the power of major publisher UbiSoft behind it, might have a hard time if it had to entice would-be purchasers from a store shelf. So, pick out a Summer of Arcade and have a fling with it. It could be an unexpected gem.

Which Summer of Arcade title gets you all sweaty? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

“The Black Eyed Peas Experience” to be Ubisoft’s Next Kinect Dance Game

“The Black Eyed Peas Experience” to be Ubisoft’s Next Kinect Dance Game  (photo)

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Whether you love them or hate them–and if you’re under 12, you probably hate them–there’s no denying that the Black-Eyed Peas are a pop musical force to be reckoned with. They’ve conquered the charts, sullied the Super Bowl and are more commercial than you can shake a Blackberry at.

Of course, they were going to get a video game.

Announced over the weekend was the existence of “The Black Eyed Peas Experience,” a new dance game in the works for Xbox 360 and the Wii. It’s following up on the mega-success of “Michael Jackson: The Experience,” which has sold three million units. Ubisoft‘s created a juggernaut out of dance games and their flagship title in the category has sold about 14 million games over multiple releases.

The game will work much as UBi’s other dance titles, with players mimicking the movements and/or lip-synching with either the 360’s motion-sensing Kinect camera or the Wii remote. Now, I’m about as far from a BEP as you can get, but I liked the first few releases before Fergie joined the group. Fans of that era may remember that the Peas actually started off as dancers, so it’ll be interesting to see if any of their choreography and songs from that era makes it into the game.

“The Black Eyed Peas Experience” game: Best Worst Thing Ever or Worst Best Thing Ever? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

The U.S. Supreme Court Grants Video Games First Amendment Protection

The U.S. Supreme Court Grants Video Games First Amendment Protection  (photo)

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Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association–the landmark case that could’ve changed the way that video games get sold and developed–finally got an opinion handed down today. In the last day of the Supreme Court’s current session, the Justices ruled 7-2 in favor of video games, declaring that interactive entertainment should enjoy the same freedom of expression as books, film and other works of cultural production.

The core issue was the supposed danger of video game violence in titles rated Mature. California politician Leland Yee wrote a bill–later signed into law by the Governator– that would’ve made the sale or rental of such games illegal in the state. But the Ninth Circuit Court of California struck down the law as unconstitutional, saying that it restricted free speech for video games. Things moved to the Supreme Court last year with arguments made in November. Today’s decision marks the probable end of an era where legal recourse could be sought against games’ sensationalized power as evil entertainment. The opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia says, in part:

And whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, “the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment’s command, do not vary” when a new and different medium for communication appears.

The quotes in that piece of the opinion come from the landmark Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson case, which cemented the medium of film as one deserving First Amenment protections. The Court’s opinion goes on to say that other cultural forms haven’t been cordoned off the way that Yee’s law proposed for video games:

California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read–or read to them when they are younger–contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.” The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 198 (2006 ed.). Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. Id., at 95. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven. Id., at 54.

High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. The Odyssey of Homer, Book IX, p. 125 (S. Butcher & A. Lang transls. 1909) (“Even so did we seize the fiery-pointed brand and whirled it round in his eye, and the blood flowed about the heated bar. And the breath of the flame singed his eyelids and brows all about, as the ball of the eye burnt away, and the roots thereof crackled in the flame”). In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. Canto XXI, pp. 187-189 (A. Mandelbaum transl. Bantam Classic ed. 1982). And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island. W. Golding, Lord of the Flies 208-209 (1997 ed.).

The pro-gamer constituents were worried about Brown v. EMA, thinking that the Supreme Court as a judicial body trapped in amber, so focused on legal precedent and constitutionality that they might be out of touch with modern-day media. But, as seen above, the Supremes’ decision actually called out past instances where categories of creative works were held up as socially dangerous in laying down precedent for their decision. Excerpts from the opinion reference penny dreadfuls, choose-your-own-adventure books and the 1950s comic-book juvenile delinquency witch-hunt driven by Fredric Wertham. So, if the Justices do live in a bubble, it’s at least a porous one.

Reactions from interested parties have run to type. Yee’s office issued a press release saying:

“Unfortunately, the majority of the Supreme Court once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children,” said the law’s author, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco). “As a result of their decision, Wal-Mart and the video game industry will continue to make billions of dollars at the expense of our kids’ mental health and the safety of our community. It is simply wrong that the video game industry can be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jennifer Mercurio, VP & General Counsel of the Entertainment Consumers Association. In a statement from the ECA, Mercurio says, “We had hoped that we would see this decision, and it’s been a long time coming. That being said, there will probably be one or two legislators who attempt to test these new parameters, and the ECA will continue to fight for the rights of entertainment consumers.”

Of course, today’s decision doesn’t mean that it’s okay for you to go get seven-year-old Johnny a copy of “Shadows of the Damned.” It just means the ssytems that are already in place–those ESRB ratings on the front of every box and parents’ common sense–work well enough to prevent the collapse of society. This may not be the end of the culture wars as regards video games, but this latest chapter will certainly tilt discussions about video games’ social worth towards the positive.

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