PS4 tricks, tips, and lifehacks you may not know

Now that you’ve finally scrounged up enough moolah to buy a PlayStation 4, you might want to know what else you can do with it besides playing games and movies. Amazingly, this eighth generation video game console is filled with all kinds of new age secrets that you can enjoy. You might want to put your current game on pause as we show you all kinds of tricks, tips, and yes, even lifehacks, that you probably didn’t know you could do with your PlayStation 4.

Charging your DualShock 4 with a phone charger

You’d be surprised at how many people didn’t know this: you can charge your DualShock 4 controller with most micro USB cables. This includes micro USB phone chargers that are used on most Android phones. This means you’re not limited to that way-too-short charging cord that originally came with your console. You know what else is awesome? You can charge your phone through your PlayStation 4’s USB ports. Most phones, whether Android or iPhone, should be able to charge by plugging the phone into one of the USB ports on the console. Some phones may charge faster than others this way, but it’s still pretty convenient. Nothing beats charging your controller and Android phone with the same cord.

Syncing your PlayStation 4 to your TV

Many smart televisions have the ability to sync up with your PlayStation 4, including (obviously) Sony’s BRAVIA big screens. All you’ve got to do from your main menu is go to Settings, System, and check the box for Enable HDMI Device Link. Your PlayStation 4 is then ready to accept commands from your TV, as long as it’s compatible. You can use your TV remote to scroll through the PS4 main menu and for apps like YouTube and Hulu. If you turn off your TV, the system should go into Standby mode. Likewise, if you turn on your console, it should turn on your television along with it. Of course, the effectiveness of the HDMI Device Link might vary depending on what’s connected to your PS4.

PlayStation App: using your phone as a remote/keyboard

Tired of using the on-screen keyboard whenever you have to type in your passwords, or messages to friends? Downloading the PlayStation App and syncing it to your PS4 allows you to navigate the menus from your phone and do all kinds of nifty tricks with your console. Best of all, you can input text from your phone, which is a lot speedier than typing with the DualShock 4. If you don’t want to use the controller or your phone for input, you can also use a computer keyboard and mouse. Just make sure the USB device is plug-and-play compatible (or, like, just not really old). For a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, you have to go to Settings, Devices, and Bluetooth Devices to sync the system up to the device (you might have to consult the device’s manual for more info). Sure as heck beats typing things in manually with a controller.

Voice Commands through your headset mic

For those jealous of the Xbox One’s voice command capabilities with the Kinect, the PlayStation 4 has a solid alternative. If you have your mic plugged into your controller, have a microphone-enabled headset synced, or have a PlayStation Camera connected to your PlayStation 4, you should be able to operate your console via voice commands. All you have to do is say the word “PlayStation” aloud and start barking out orders. It’s like having your very own video game butler! Except he sucks at doing laundry.

Downloading free PS Plus games for Vita and PS3 as well

Yes, we all know that the PlayStation Plus’ monthly pair of free PS4 games is great. PlayStation Plus is even more awesome if you have a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita to download the monthly games available for those as well. Even if you don’t have a Vita or PS3, you should make it a habit of getting their monthly free games through the PlayStation Store’s official website. For the most part, you’re not able to download them through your PS4’s access to the PlayStation Store and have to do this through a web browser.

As long as you’re subscribed to a PS Plus account, you should have access to all of the games you previously have gotten for free, including the PS3 and PS Vita titles. You should make it a monthly habit of getting those PS3 and PS Vita games for free in case you decide to get one of those consoles, so you have a slew of games to download and play for free right off the bat.

You can download pre-ordered digital games prior to release

While it’s nice to look at an entire collection of video games on your shelf, it’s quite convenient to download games from the PlayStation Store and enjoy them without ever having to set foot outside. Downloading games online reduces the amount of clutter at your place, but it also comes with another big bonus. Most digital games you pre-order from the PlayStation Store are able to auto-download early so that they’ll be ready to play once it hits midnight on the game’s launch date. Even if you go to a store doing a midnight release, you still have to take the time to make it back home and likely update the game upon first putting the disc in your system. Digital pre-orders can save you up to an hour or two of precious game time when it comes to the midnight release!

Share Play: playing together with a friend

Multiplayer gaming used to mean sitting next to a friend on the couch, playing on the same console. Online gaming changed all that…but the PS4’s Share Play brings it back. Let’s say you want to play against a buddy in Street Fighter V. You don’t both have to own a copy of the game in order to play. You can use the Share Play feature to let them play on your console as Player Two, and then hit Versus Mode together. Likewise, you can use Share Play just to hand over control of the game to your online friend, as if you handed them your controller in the same room. This is perfect for letting a friend get through a particularly difficult part of the game you might have trouble clearing.

Save controller battery life by dimming the DualShock 4 Light Bar

It’s true: the Light Bar on the PlayStation 4 is too bright and eats up your batteries faster than you’d like. Well, there’s a solution! Once you have your controller and console both turned on, just hold the PlayStation button down. You’ll want to select Adjust Devices on the popup menu and select the option to alter the brightness of your DualShock 4 Light Bar. Since the light doesn’t really do much, just turn the light intensity to Dim. We’re not sure how much battery life you’ll save exactly, but it will certainly make a difference in how long you can play before having to recharge.

Watching videos and movies on your PS4

The PlayStation 4’s Media Player app allows you to open various videos, music, and picture file types. While you can connect via a home media server (we suggest Googling how to connect to that), the easiest way to do this is through a simple USB drive (whether a flash or an external hard drive). Looking at pictures on your TV screen is as boring as it sounds, but being able to play videos on there is a mighty nice feature. You can watch your home movies or whatever videos you downloaded, just as long as they’re the right file type (not that we condone movie piracy or anything like that, but yeah you totally can…we’re not going to judge you).

Swap your PS4 hard drive for a larger one with more space

If you’re taking our advice about going digital for your video game library and downloading all of your purchases, you might want to consider swapping out your system’s internal hard drive for one with a higher capacity. This is so you can plug in a hard drive with much more space on it and you don’t have to worry about clearing memory all the time. Sony has posted some pretty elaborate directions on how to do this, and we don’t recommend doing this unless you’re tech savvy to some degree. Nevertheless, it’s nice getting a few extra terabytes in drive space. It can be a little bit pricey though, so be sure to do your research before you buy.

Add narrations/voice-overs to your gameplay

Being able to record your gameplay and post it up to social media is always fun, and a great way to brag to your friends about your skills. You know what’s even better? Adding your own commentary as you play. When you hit the Share Button to bring up the sharing screen, just hit Options and enable your mic (you can choose between your headset, microphone jack, or PlayStation Camera) for your video captures. It’s nice to add in your commentary live as you play, so you have more authentic reactions and things don’t feel as staged. But you’re also able to add in your commentary after the footage was already recorded. Just remember, you’re going to have to sit through your gameplay again in order to add your reactions and comments. Don’t forget you can have the PlayStation Camera film your face while you play as well.

Signing in via PlayStation Camera

If you’ve got a PlayStation Camera, you’ll be able to sign into your PSN account for your console just by facing the cam while turning on your PS4. While you might not want the world to see your gorgeous mug, it’s still a nice, high-tech feature that makes life just a tad bit simpler. Just remember, you need the camera to be able to see you, so keep a light on. You should keep a light on while playing in a dark room anyway, since it’s bad for your eyes, especially during marathon gameplay sessions. That’s two tips in one paragraph! You’re welcome.

Playing Spotify and MP3s while you game

Getting tired of hearing the same music while getting cursed out by preteens playing Call of Duty? Drown out those prepubescent insults with some better music. The PlayStation 4’s Media Player is able to play MP3 files for your music needs. Likewise, you’re also able to download Spotify and stream music from there. The music can actually continue playing while you have your game open. You’ll need to mute the in-game music of whatever you’re title playing, which you can usually do from the game’s options menu. After that, you can start fragging fools while playing whatever songs you’d like.

PS4 tricks, tips, and lifehacks you may not know

These are the best movies of 2017 so far

From sci-fi originals to kid-friendly fare, hard-hitting dramas to superlative horror, this year has already delivered a bumper crop of excellent flicks for film lovers. We’re still just a few pages into the calendar, but let’s take a quick look back at the best movies of 2017 (so far).

The LEGO Batman Movie

Trying to follow up The LEGO Movie was a tough proposition, and spinning off Will Arnett’s Batman could easily have backfired. The results could’ve faltered under the pressure of making this version of the character likable or interesting enough to carry a film, or buckled under the weight of all those DC Comics in-jokes and gags. Happily, The LEGO Batman Movie turned out to be one of the best family-friendly movies in ages, while packing in enough smart comic stuff to keep Batman geeks coming back for repeat viewings. Fun, wacky, and a rollicking adventure in the wild world of LEGO, the movie’s been showered with praise from critics who are calling it one of the best animated offerings of the year—and one of the best Batman movies ever.

John Wick Chapter 2

More than 15 years after The Matrix saga began, Keanu Reeves has reinvented himself as an action hero for a whole new generation. This sequel to his surprise 2014 action hit John Wick is a bone-crushing, R-rated thrill ride that finds Reeves’ namesake hitman pulled out of retirement to take on a shady international conspiracy. It might sound complicated, but it’s mostly just a setup for Reeves to kick a bunch of bad-guy butt. Critics say the film feels like a throwback to the simpler days of action movies, focusing on practical effects instead of distracting CGI. It’s also one of the most stylish films of the year, regardless of genre.

Patriots Day

Director Peter Berg’s dramatic retelling of the real-life 2013 Boston Marathon bombing stars Mark Wahlberg—making his third fact-based thriller with Berg—as a police sergeant thrust into the middle of the chaos and the ensuing investigation. Critics have praised Patriots Day (which also opened in limited release late in 2016) for managing to tell a compelling story without straying into exploitive tropes, and while some reviews question whether it’s too soon to bring this particular story to the cineplex, there’s no denying it finds Berg and Wahlberg in their wheelhouse.

Split

Pretty much no one saw it coming, but M. Night Shyamalan’s surprise hit Split is among the best films of the year. The taut thriller follows a group of young women abducted by a man (James McAvoy) with multiple personalities—whose struggle for dominance threaten to upend his plans…or make things even worse for his captives. Critics have hailed it as an unexpected return to form for Shyamalan, and a big part of the film’s buzz comes from its surprise twist (spoiler alert!) connection to his acclaimed Unbreakable. And it isn’t just the shocking final act that makes Split so much fun—McAvoy ties it all together with a tour de force performance.

The Founder

This true story tale follows Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) and the twisty real-life saga of how the McDonald’s fast-food chain was born. For those who’ve never stopped to consider the Big Mac’s origin story, it’s a surprisingly timely tale that delves into the dark side of the American Dream. Critics have praised Keaton for his multifaceted performance, and while some have noted that the movie might have dug a little deeper into its questions of capitalism, it all goes down about as easy as one of those Golden Arches meals.

Get Out

Point to a February horror movie on your average release calendar, and you’re probably singling out a pretty lame film—but there’s always an exception, and this year, Get Out is it. Helmed by debuting feature director Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), this horror/comedy hybrid follows the increasingly frightening misadventures of a young man (Daniel Kaluuya) venturing into the suburbs to meet his girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) parents. They have no idea he’s black, which feeds into the film’s creeping tension…but of course, that’s only the start. Thrilling as it is thought-provoking, this is one 2017 movie no film buff will want to miss.

Logan

Comics fans have loved Wolverine for decades, partly because the character has a dark, violent streak a mile wide—and although Hugh Jackman has played the X-Man just about perfectly, none of those outings have truly captured the grueling angst and berserker rage that help make his saga so poignant. That all changes with Logan, a loose adaptation of the Old Man Logan comics arc that finds our hero in a grim wasteland largely devoid of mutants, called upon to defend a mysterious girl (Dafne Keen) targeted by a passel of bloodthirsty villains. A brooding Western road trip with claws, Logan’s been hailed by critics as a fitting farewell for Jackman—and perhaps the best entry in the X-Men franchise to date.

Kong: Skull Island

It’s been a long time coming, but Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures knocked it out of the park with the new-look version of King Kong in Skull Island. The story follows a team of explorers and soldiers as they head off to a mysterious island that turns out to be the home of giant monsters. Critics have been raving about the film, which stars an A-list cast led by Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, and John C. Reilly, praising the aesthetics of the 1970s setting and saying it strikes the perfect balance of big stakes, dumb fun, and wildly enjoyable action. It also looks to set the stage for an eventual crossover with Godzilla that’ll set up the studio’s MonsterVerse. Skull Island is only the beginning.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy sent the MCU soaring into the Marvel Comics cosmos in 2014—and racked up some suitably sky-high box office grosses along the way, along with a slew of positive reviews. It was obviously only a matter of time before the gang returned for another outer space adventure, and while the reviews haven’t been quite as kind for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it’s still a solid follow-up—and a wildly entertaining ride in its own right. The original cast is back in action for a storyline that sees Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) faced for the first time with his absentee dad…who just turns out to be the godlike Celestial known as Ego, the Living Planet (Kurt Russell). As he did with the first installment, writer-director James Gunn has fashioned a perfect delivery mechanism for blockbuster thrills balanced against belly laughs and genuine emotion. Bring on Vol. 3 already.

Beauty and the Beast

Disney’s winning streak with live-action spins on their beloved animated classics continues with Beauty and the Beast. Everyone loves the tale as old as time, but everyone’s also already seen it—posing a challenge for director Bill Condon’s update, which uses a lot of the same music and is even, in some spots, essentially a shot-for-shot remake of its predecessor. How did this Beauty overcome its beast of a stumbling block? Partly by rounding up an incredible cast, with a live-action contingent led by Emma Watson and a crew of stellar voice actors that included Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, and Ewan McGregor. And then there are the resplendent visuals, which add a layer of painterly detail to a timeless love story that captured filmgoers all over again—and shattered box office records along the way.

Fate of the Furious

The Fast and Furious franchise lost a major star when Paul Walker passed away during the filming of Furious 7. And while Walker’s death added a poignant note to that film’s final act, it also left a major question mark hovering over the future of the series—one partially addressed by Fate of the Furious, which sends the saga hurtling into the post-Walker era. Continuing the series’ pivot away from street-racing action and toward heist capers fueled by thrilling (and ever more marvelously absurd) set pieces, Fate amps up the blockbuster destruction—as well as the soapy melodrama tying the ensemble cast together—with a story that sees the gang scrambling to understand a bizarre betrayal by leader Dom (Vin Diesel). Rumor has it the franchise could be nearing the finish line, but don’t worry: it looks like there’s a spinoff in the works, built around Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s characters.

Wonder Woman

After 75-odd years of whooping bad guy butt in the comics pages (and one supporting appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), Wonder Woman finally got her shot at solo blockbuster glory with 2017’s Wonder Woman—just in time to either make or break the emerging DC Extended Universe. No pressure, right? Happily, Wonder Woman did everything it needed to and then some, serving as an effective origin story as well as a superhero adventure that stood on its own as a standalone experience while continuing to lay the groundwork for the DCEU’s big team-up Justice League picture later this year. The reviews have been almost universally positive, and audiences have turned out in droves. Could we have a real battle for superhero supremacy at the box office between Marvel and DC?

Colossal

Directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), Colossal is one of the strangest giant monster movies ever made, and boy, is that really saying something. In this off-the-walls sci-fi flick, Anne Hathaway plays an alcoholic named Gloria who finally goes on one bender too many. Her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) kicks her out of their apartment, and she winds up back in her hometown, reconnecting with her bar-owning childhood friend (Jason Sudeikis).

So far so normal, but things get weird when Gloria drunkenly stumbles across a playground early one morning. The moment she steps into the tiny park, a gigantic creature materializes in Seoul, South Korea—a creature that mimics Gloria’s every move. Initially enamored with her new power, Gloria soon realizes her inebriated antics are going to get people killed, so she resolves to get her act together…and that’s when Colossal takes a hard left turn into unexpected territory, sending Gloria towards a final showdown with all the kaiju-sized demons in her life.

We don’t want to say much more about the plot—you’ll thank us later—but seriously, the film is worth watching for Anne Hathaway alone. Gloria is one of her finest performances, a role that allows her to run a range of emotions from insecure self-loathing to confident rage, with a bit of everything in between. Plus, the plot is so insane there’s no way you can sit this one out. Original, emotional, and surprisingly poignant, Colossal is the kind of movie that will leave you whispering to yourself, “Oh my God…zilla.”

Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was a pretty divisive movie when it hit theaters in 2012, and while the follow-up, Alien: Covenant, has its own detractors, we can say this about Scott’s third installment in the xenomorph franchise: it plays up the franchise’s horror element, there’s a ton of gore, and we get two Michael Fassbenders for the price of one. Seriously, what more does a sci-fi fan need?

Set in 2104, just a few years before the original Alien, this sequel-prequel follows the crew of the Covenant, a spaceship carrying 2,000 sleeping passengers, all waiting to wake up in a new world. Unfortunately, an accident along the way kills the captain, and when the new commander (Billy Crudup) picks up a strange transmission coming from a mysterious planet, he decides to change course.

Obviously, this guy has never seen a horror movie before, and despite the protestations of our Ripley-like protagonist (Katherine Waterston), the captain lands the ship—and soon, the crew finds themselves besieged by angry aliens. Admittedly, it’s nice to see the xenomorph back in action, but pretty much everyone agrees that this is Michael Fassbender’s movie. The actor is playing two androids here—one subservient, one Luciferian—and he steals the screen every time he gets into a debate with himself. Couple Fassbender’s presence with the facehuggers and the chestbursters, and it’s easy to see why critics are saying Alien: Covenant is the third-best film of the franchise.

Okja

From the brilliantly bizarre mind that brought us The Host and Snowpiercer comes a South Korean fable featuring a bubbly Tilda Swinton, a mustachioed Jake Gyllenhaal, and a giant CGI pig. This is the wild world of Okja, a film that starts off feeling like a G-rated kid’s adventure and ends up inside an R-rated slaughterhouse. It’s funny, shocking, and darkly cynical—exactly what you’d expect from director Bong Joon-ho.

Released through Netflix, Okja tells the story of a young girl named Mija (An Seo-hyun) who’s friends with a hippo-like “super pig” named, well, Okja. Together, the duo run, play, and love life together until the porker is captured and taken to New York City. Unbeknownst to Mija, her best friend actually belongs to the all-powerful Mirando Corporation, a business run by evil twins (both played by Swinton). Okja is their genetically modified creation, and they plan on turning the poor pig into the tastiest, most eco-friendly pork chops on the planet.

Of course, when Mija finds out what’s really going on, she sets out to rescue her buddy with the help of some bumbling animal rights activists (led by Paul Dano). Written by journalist Jon Ronson, Okja also features names like Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, and as we’ve already mentioned, a wildly over-the-top Jake Gyllenhaal. And in true Bong Joon-ho fashion, the film has quite a lot to say about the dark side of capitalism. Plus, it’s such a powerful film that by the time it’s over, even Ron Swanson would reconsider ordering a steak.

Baby Driver

With its eclectic soundtrack and insanely impressive stunts, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is one of the most exciting films of 2017. This souped-up action flick stars Ansel Elgort as a young crook named Baby, a kid who works as a getaway driver for a smarmy crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey). Suffering from tinnitus, Baby drowns out the constant droning with an incredible collection of iPods, and while he’s grooving to the tunes, Baby weaves in and out of traffic, dodging cars and avoiding cops by doing 180s in alleyways.

But Baby’s life gets a little more complicated when he falls head over heels for a beautiful waitress named Debora (Lily James). He wants to go straight, but Doc wants him for another job, one that involves working with a who’s who of psycho killers (played by Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm, and a wonderfully deranged Jamie Foxx). Needless to say, the robbery doesn’t go as planned, and Baby is forced to take a stand to save everything he loves.

Thanks to the movie’s emphasis on music, the action scenes are choreographed to the tunes on Baby’s iPod, with Edgar Wright using songs like “Tequila,” “Bellbottoms,” and “Hocus Pocus” to great effect. Crazier still, almost every stunt you see is real. With its dance-like action and its super cool characters, Wright’s sixth feature film is like a mashup between Singin’ in the Rain and Walter Hill’s The Driver, which means it’s got a little something special for everyone.

War for the Planet of the Apes

The conclusion to one of the best trilogies ever made, War for the Planet of the Apes expertly blends the book of Exodus with Apocalypse Now, resulting in a brutal Old Testament-POW story. In the fiery aftermath of the previous film, Caesar (Andy Serkis) has led his followers into the mountains, hoping to escape the wrath of man. But Caesar knows his apes can’t hide in the hills for long, so this primate Moses plans on leading his people to a new promised land, where they can avoid any future conflicts.

Unfortunately, humans aren’t quite as humane as apes. Led by a mad colonel (Woody Harrelson) on a mission, a group of soldiers attack Caesar’s colony, killing several of his loved ones. With his trusted allies by his side, Caesar sets out to get revenge, but instead, he finds himself on a quest to free his troop from a fortress-like prison. This sets up a Bridge on the River Kwai-style showdown between Caesar and the Colonel, escalating in an escape attempt and brutal battle that might end with the world becoming a planet of…well…you know.

Directed by Matt Reeves, War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect ending to an amazing trilogy, one that features yet another show-stopping performance from Andy Serkis. The English actor has created a character of Shakespearean proportions, and some believe he should get an Oscar nod for his motion capture performance. Really, the only bad thing about War for the Planet of the Apes is saying goodbye to Caesar.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

If you were to visit Rotten Tomatoes, you’d probably notice that, critically speaking, Spider-Man: Homecoming is tied with The Avengers. Both films share a whopping 92 percent approval rating—an impressive feat, but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After all, Homecoming is one of the most charming and entertaining films to ever swing its way into the MCU.

Starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker, Spider-Man: Homecoming follows the wannabe Avenger as he tries to fight crime and navigate high school at the same time. Even with the help of his good friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he’s still having a hard time impressing the girl of his dreams (Liz Allan). Of course, things get even more complicated when an honest-to-goodness supervillain shows up. Known as the Vulture (Michael Keaton), this winged baddie is the ultimate thief, and if Peter can bring him to justice, it could be his ultimate ticket into the Avengers.

Directed by Jon Watts, Homecoming even won over Marvel haters thanks to its John Hughes-high school vibe. And all that upbeat energy was largely thanks to Tom Holland, who’s kind of the perfect Peter Parker. Playing across from Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, and Robert Downey Jr., Holland more than proved he deserves to be a member of the world’s mightiest heroes, and we can’t wait to see him catching bad guys like flies in 2018.

Dunkirk

Without a doubt, Dunkirk is one of Christopher Nolan’s greatest achievements, right up there with Inception and The Dark Knight. In fact, you could make an argument that Dunkirk is his greatest film—some have—which is a testament to the nail-biting power of this World War II thriller.

Shot mostly with 65mm film on IMAX cameras, Dunkirk tells the story of a real-life retreat in 1940. Roughly 400,000 Allied troops were trapped on a French beach, completely surrounded by the Nazis, and the only thing keeping our heroes from home was the English Channel. Unfortunately, the beach was too shallow to accommodate military-sized vessels, so English civilians sprang into action, sailing to Dunkirk in their yachts and fishing boats.

It was an incredible historical moment, and Nolan does a masterful job of capturing the suspense. In true Nolan fashion, the story is divided into three interwoven narratives, all of which have their own unusual run times. Story number one takes place on the beach and lasts a week. Story two takes a day and follows a civilian (Mark Rylance) as he sails for Dunkirk. Finally, story three takes place over the course of an hour and follows the RAF pilots (led by Tom Hardy) as they defend the men trapped on the beach below.

Despite the time differences, the stories are all connected and even shed new light on the same events. And like a master, Nolan uses these three interlocking tales to put audiences in the middle of the battlefield. We feel like we’re actually there, trapped on the beach, desperately waiting for a boat to show up and take us home.

Atomic Blonde

What would happen if you combined Imperator Furiosa with John Wick? You’d probably get Lorraine Broughton, British superspy and badass hero of Atomic Blonde. Directed by David Leitch—who not coincidentally co-directed John Wick—this neon thriller takes place in the final days of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall is about to go down, but that doesn’t mean the cloak-and-dagger business is all done.

To the contrary, Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to Germany to retrieve a stolen list that contains the names of undercover spies. The list has fallen into the hands of the Soviets, and Broughton will have to bash a few skulls in her quest to discover the document. Along the way, she butts heads with an out-of-control James McAvoy and makes love to a sexy Sofia Boutella, all while “Cat People,” “Father Figure,” and “99 Luftballons” play in the background.

But really, the plot isn’t important. In fact, as the film goes on, it just gets more and more complicated. What is important is the crazy fight choreography: Broughton beats up dudes using everything from ropes to cooking pots, all while wearing the most stylish clothes imaginable. More impressive still, that’s really Theron throwing those haymakers. The actress did her own stunts for the film, adding a touch of realism to the brutal battle scenes.

In short, don’t expect something with the intellect of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Instead, prepare to watch Charlize Theron bash somebody in the face with a baton, which is the reason movies were invented in the first place.

It

Andy Muschietti’s It isn’t the first adaptation of Stephen King’s weighty novel. In 1990, Tim Curry made horror history by playing Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the Derry demon with a fondness for floating. But Curry’s version played on the TV network ABC, and now that Bill Skarsgård is wearing the makeup, are a lot darker and bloodier.

The first of a two-part tale, It tells the story of “The Losers’ Club,” a group of outcast kids who are beaten by bullies and plagued by horrible home lives. But when they’re together, these kids are pretty powerful—and they need as much strength as possible when they find themselves facing a flesh-eating clown. Led by Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), a boy who lost his little brother to Pennywise’s evil appetites, the Losers eventually head into the sewers to end the evil that’s been plaguing their town for years.

While you’ve got to give Tim Curry credit, Skarsgård takes the nightmare fuel to a whole new level. Of course, you can have the world’s most evil monster, but if you don’t have sympathetic heroes, then audiences just won’t care. Fortunately, the Losers are likable characters played by solid actors, and according to the critics, they truly have a bond with one another. Under all the gore and grime, behind the monstrous apparitions and evil sinks, there’s an actual heart beating in this movie…one that a creepy clown wants to tear out and eat.

 

These are the best movies of 2017 so far

Video game bosses nobody can beat

There are normal bosses, there are difficult bosses, and then there are impossible bosses. We mean that literally. Every once in a while, a video game throws an enemy at you that you simply can’t beat—at least, not without modding the game or cheating. Your actions don’t matter. No matter what you do, you’re going to lose.

But why? Sometimes, a character needs to stick around to progress the plot. At others, developers want to drive home just how powerful a certain character is—or how powerful the player’s character isn’t. Occasionally, an unbeatable boss fight occurs early in the game just to make that character’s ultimate demise feel so much sweeter. And, every once in a while, an invincible foe pops up just to mess with players’ heads (yeah, Dark Souls, we’re looking at you). When you go up against these particular big bads, don’t waste your potions, your ammo, or your time. Just give in. Surrender is the only option.

Bowser — Paper Mario

Mario beats Bowser. For over 30 years now, that’s just how it goes. But Paper Mario doesn’t play by the regular Mario rules—to start with, it’s a turn-based RPG, not a platforming title—and that includes its treatment of Mario’s biggest, baddest nemesis.

When Paper Mario begins, Mario and Luigi trek to Princess Peach’s castle for a party, but it doesn’t seem like the Toadstool monarch has much interest in socializing. After briefly mingling with Peach’s guests, Mario heads upstairs to talk with the princess herself. Things go well—Peach can’t wait to “relax” with Mario, once they’re squirreled away where nobody can interrupt them—but before Mario gets too lucky, the ground starts shaking and the entire castle floats into the sky.

It’s Bowser, of course, and when the King Koopa shows up to gloat, Mario gets ready to take him down. It should be easy. After all, he’s done it before. But in the past, Bowser didn’t have the Star Rod, which grants its owner’s every wish. Bowser uses the wand, making himself invincible, and there’s nothing that Mario or the player can do about it. Mario gets thrashed in the following battle, and spends the rest of the game collecting the power-ups he’ll need to survive the inevitable rematch.

Calo Nord — Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Like other BioWare RPGs, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is all about choices. Will you embrace the light side of the Force, or turn to the dark? Negotiate with the Tusken Raiders on Tatooine, or murder them all? And, most importantly, will your amnesiac Sith lord fall for Bastila Shan, Juhani, or Carth Onasi?

But even in a flexible game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you can’t do everything you want. There’s a story, and you have to play by its rules. As a result, no matter how much you might want to kill Calo Nord on Taris, you can’t. The bounty hunter still has a role to play. Oh, sure, you can try. After watching Nord dispatch a few members of the Black Vulkars in Javyar’s Cantina, you’re more than welcome to challenge him to a fight. Just don’t expect to win. Not only does Nord have a weapon that’ll end you in one hit, but he’s totally invulnerable. Allegedly, even cheating won’t get Nord out of the way (at first, anyway—after Taris’ destruction, you’ll meet Nord again, and at that point he’s totally fair game).

Kain — Final Fantasy IV

Impossible boss fights are a common trope in Japanese role-playing games, especially the early entries in the Final Fantasy franchise. More than almost any other game series, Final Fantasy titles tend to use their gameplay systems as storytelling tools—Garnet can’t cast spells when she loses her voice in Final Fantasy IX, for example—and Final Fantasy IV (originally known in the USA as Final Fantasy II) is the weirdest and most creative in this regard. An old man, Tellah, loses stat points as he levels up, to show that he’s getting older. When the main hero, Cecil, undergoes a spiritual transformation, his statistics reset and he starts back at level one.

And, of course, Final Fantasy IV uses impossible boss fights to show you exactly how powerful your opponents are. Kain isn’t a memorable character because of his spiky armor and sharp spear. He’s a memorable character because he starts as a member of your party, goes missing, and kicks your butt as soon as he shows up again.

Final Fantasy IV doesn’t just show you the fight, however. You play it, at least for a few seconds. While Cecil has time launch a couple of attacks, Kain does heavy damage, and the skirmish is over almost as soon as it begins. It’s a smart and quick way to send players a powerful message: Kain is much stronger than he was the last time you saw him. Don’t take him lightly.

Seath the Scaleless — Dark Souls

In addition to its moody atmosphere, clever level construction, and impeccable world design, the Dark Souls is most famous for being brutally hard. Still, even by Dark Souls standards, Seath the Scaleless is unusually sadistic. See, whenever Dark Souls players die, they lose souls (the game’s currency) and some of their humanity (a stat boost). If they want to recover the items they lost, players need to fight their way back to their corpses without dying again. Often, that’s easier said than done.

And yet, to defeat Seath the Scaleless, you have to die first. There’s no way around it. When you confront Seath the first time, the dragon is invincible. Even the best Dark Souls player won’t be able to beat him. Once he kills you—and he will—you’ll respawn in a prison cell. From there, you’ll be able to battle your way to the Crystal Cave, where you’ll be able to put Seath down for good. Hopefully, you won’t die along the way—otherwise, all those goodies you lost when Seath killed you the first time will be lost for good. Not cool, Dark Souls. Not cool at all.

Vile — Mega Man X

Mega Man’s pal Zero may not have the blue bomber’s name recognition, but the dude definitely knows how to make an entrance. Mega Man X opens with a tutorial level that acquaints players with Mega Man’s futuristic new home and his brand new abilities. After mastering dashing, wall-jumping, and blasting, players enter their very first boss fight…and lose immediately.

As it turns out, Mega Man isn’t much of a match for Vile, one of the rogue robots known as the Mavericks. It’s not even close. All Vile does is hop up and down and shoot slow-moving energy balls, and he still manages to bash at Mega Man until the plucky young robot is down to a single bar of life. That’s when Vile stops to gloat. Wrong choice. An energy charge flies in from offscreen and disables Vile, the electric guitars start to play, and Zero rushes to the rescue, hair flowing in the wind. Vile takes off—beaten, but not broken—leaving little doubt who the hero is. It might be Mega Man’s game, but Zero is the real star.

Zeus — God of War II

So, you’ve killed Ares. Big whoop. Offing the god of war and taking his place (which is how the first God of War ends) is one thing. Killing the god of war’s dad—who also happens to be the king of Olympus—is quite another. When God of War II kicks off, neither Kratos nor the player prove up to the task.

Of course, before the fight, Zeus stacked the deck in his favor. He took the form of an eagle, stole some of Kratos’ power, and used it to bring a giant statue, the Colossus of Rhodes, to life. As Kratos fights the statue, Zeus gives him a weapon—but in order to use the Blade of Olympus, Kratos needs to give up the rest of his divine power. He does and defeats the Colossus accordingly. That’s when Zeus reveals that he’s been behind the whole thing, and arrogantly orders Kratos to pledge allegiance to the king of the gods.

Kratos doesn’t, so Zeus picks up his sword and, after an extremely short boss fight, takes the former Spartan down—but not out. Kratos escapes from the underworld (for a second time) and teams up with the banished titans to get revenge on the god king—who is also, Kratos learns, his father. Awkward.

Gunther — Deus Ex

The whole point of the cyberpunk action-RPG Deus Ex is that, if you can try it, you can probably do it. While developing the game, veteran designer Warren Spector created a set of rules to guide Deus Ex’s development team, which included nuggets like “no forced failure” and “players do; NPCs watch.”

For the most part, Ion Storm met (and, often, exceeded) those goals. The game’s Battery Park segment, however, comes up short. After the protagonist JC Denton turns on the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition, he and his brother become public enemies number two and one, respectively. UNATCO goons, led by the cybernetic assassin Gunther Hermann.

So far, so good. But JC’s showdown against Gunther in Battery Park only has one outcome: JC surrenders, and Gunther remains alive. While JC can wipe out Gunther’s UNATCO soldiers, the big man himself is invincible. Fight too long, and he’ll just kill you. Escape isn’t an option, either. While clever fans discovered a way to jump over the barricades designed to keep players fighting, there’s no way to progress the story without giving in to Gunther’s demands. Deus Ex might be a game based on player choice, but in this scenario, there’s only one ending—and for JC, it isn’t a good one.

Ridley — Super Metroid

Classic Metroid nemesis Ridley is a mother-lovin’ dragon who leads a band of space pirates. By its very definition, that thing should put up one hell of a fight—and when Super Metroid opens, Ridley doesn’t disappoint. Shortly after dropping the last living Metroid off at the Ceres Space Colony, bounty hunter Samus Aran receives a distress call from the same facility. When she returns in Super Metroid’s opening moments, she finds Ridley lurking in the laboratory, the Metroid sample clutched in his talons.

You can fight Ridley, but you can’t beat him—after all, if Ridley doesn’t escape with the Metroid, there’d be no game. The best you can do is pummel him with bullets until he drops the container holding the baby lifeform (the other alternative is to just let him hit Samus until she runs out of energy). Either way, the result is the same. Ridley scoops up the Metroid he fumbled and starts the station’s self-destruct sequence, forcing Samus to drop everything and make a mad dash to the exit. Still, Ridley doesn’t get away scot-free—as he flees, Samus follows him, and the adventure properly begins once she touches down on Zebes and starts hunting her prey.

Fortune — Metal Gear Solid 2

You don’t beat Fortune. You merely survive her. See, it’s impossible to shoot Fortune. Every bullet misses. It seems like a superpower, but in reality, she’s too lucky. Really, really lucky.

That’s good for her, but isn’t great for Raiden, who faces off against Fortune early in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. While Fortune may be effectively impervious to bullets, she can still shoot with the best of ’em, and after a brief bout of mistaken identity she decides that Raiden is better off dead. Raiden, naturally, disagrees—and since he serves as the player’s character, you’re on his side by default.

On paper, Fortune should be easy. Her life bar is ridiculously short. During the battle, she practically begs Raiden to kill her. In true Metal Gear Solid fashion, it’s all a joke. The only way to make it past Fortune and continue Metal Gear Solid 2’s twisty plotline is to use the environment to your advantage, letting Fortune’s shots go wide until help arrives.

Pyramid Head — Silent Hill 2

The best horror villains can’t be killed no matter how hard the protagonist tries. That’s what makes them so scary. It doesn’t matter what you do to stop Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or Freddy Krueger. Everything you try is a temporary solution. Sooner or later, they’re going to find out.

Add Pyramid Head, the ostensible antagonist of Silent Hill 2, to the list. As James Sunderland quickly learns, the Pyramid Head can take a licking and keeps on coming back for more. Oh, sure, he can be hurt—he takes a bullet just like anything else—and, in fact, you’ll need to wound Pyramid Head more than once if you’re going to work your way towards Silent Hill 2’s conclusion.

But while you harm him, you won’t kill him. Despite James’ best efforts, Pyramid Head returns to plague him again, and again, and again. When James finally escapes, in fact, it’s not because he’s managed to put his stalking foe down. It’s because James finally manages to forgive himself, ending the Pyramid Heads’ purgatorial function. And so, the beasties happily impale themselves on their own spears, letting James proceed—but never letting him forget that, without that suicide, they would’ve won, and there’s nothing James could’ve done about it.

 

Video game bosses nobody can beat

Thor: Ragnarok Finally Solves Marvel’s Biggest Plothole

You know the Infinity Gauntlet? That big glove in the Marvel Cinematic Universe specifically designed to hold all six infinity stones and turn the wearer into basically a God? Well, eagle eyed Marvel fans have been confused by something about it for a while now and Thor: Ragnarok finally clears all that up.

Odin's Vault (Thor, 2011).

Odin’s Vault (Thor, 2011).

We first saw the Infinity Gauntlet in the background of Odin’s Trophy Room in the first Thor film when The Destroyer was popping off against the Frost Giants. Notice this one is a right handed gauntlet. Why is this important? Well, the next time we see the gauntlet in the MCU was in the Avengers: Age of Ultron mid credits scene.

Thanks puts on his gauntlet (Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015).

Thanos puts on his gauntlet (Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015).

In that scene we saw chirpy purple fella Thanos reach into a vault and put on the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos is going to be a big deal in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films because he’s really into Infinity Stones. So, in this scene we see that Thanos already has an Infinity Gauntlet BUT how can that be when we saw the Infinity Gauntlet in Odin’s Trophy Room?

Marvel’s Kevin Feige had previously said that were two Infinity Gauntlets in the MCU but didn’t say why.

Cate Blanchett as Hela (Thor: Ragnarok, 2017).

Cate Blanchett as Hela (Thor: Ragnarok, 2017).

Fast forward to Thor: Ragnarok and we see Hela strutting around Odin’s Trophy Room and revealing that a lot of the trophies are actually fake – especially the Infinity Gauntlet which she knocks over. This probably explains why it has replica Infinity Stones inside of it and why it’s a right handed glove when we see Thanos picking up a left handed glove.

Way back when they were making the first Thor, Marvel probably couldn’t have known that this little easter egg would end up being a bit of an annoying plot hole but now that’s all been cleared up so you can stop writing to Kevin Feige about it.

Thor: Ragnarok Finally Solves Marvel’s Biggest Plothole

10 Nintendo Innovations That Flopped

Nintendo is about to release its latest console, the Switch$299.99 at Amazon. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before—a hybrid portable and home machine that can be docked to a TV to play on the big screen or clipped into controllers to enjoy on the go. The initial software lineup is quirky, the hardware design is unique, and there’s a solid amount of hype for release day.

Here’s the rub, though: when Nintendo innovates, things don’t always go well. While we’re always supportive of companies trying to break out of the mold and do it differently, people don’t really love the big N for pushing the envelope. They love the familiar characters and adventures they grew up with.

So what’s driven Nintendo to be so relentlessly experimental? It’s hard to say. The surprise success of the Wii might be one reason, as well as a corporate philosophy that has long prioritized low cost and low-powered hardware over the latest and greatest. Sometimes that pays off, but sometimes it doesn’t. Here are 10 times Nintendo stepped outside of the box and paid the price.

  • R.O.B.

    1R.O.B.

    It’s easy to forget that when Nintendo released the original NES here in the States, video games were coming off an Atari-driven market crash that made them deeply unpopular to retailers. The company took serious measures to sell the console as a toy, and part of that was the inclusion of the Robotic Operating Buddy in with the package. The plastic R.O.B. was only used for two games—Gyromite and Stack-Up. One could argue that this “trojan horse” technique was smart for Nintendo, letting them fool their way onto store shelves, but the research and development that went into the weird little robot was almost entirely wasted.
  • 64DD

    264DD

    The Nintendo 64 was a decent entry into the modern era of gaming for the company. Super Mario 64 did a great job at transplanting Mario to the 3D world. But there was one issue: it still took cartridges while rival consoles had moved on to far more spacious CD-ROMs. Nintendo’s solution involved a piece of hardware that nobody wanted. The 64DD was a detachable disk drive that played its own games, but instead of using optical discs it used magnetic ones that only held 64MB of data. It came with a variety of creativity software, and you could take it online through a service called Randnet. Unfortunately, the promised software never materialized, with just 10 games being made for the 64DD before it was discontinued.
  • Nintendo 2DS

    3Nintendo 2DS

    It’s inarguable that the DS has been one of Nintendo’s most dependable products over the last decade or so. The two-screen portable has a deep library of software with some truly inventive titles. But when the company started releasing multiple iterations of the console, things got weird. We were fine with the 3DS, which added stereoscopic 3D and more processing power. The bigger-screen 3DS XL was also cool. But then the company released the 2DS and left us wondering who lost a bet. Eliminating the hinge that let you close the unit to protect the screens, it also removed the 3D functionality. Allegedly, this was to appeal to younger gamers, but it mostly just pissed people off.
  • N64 Transfer Pack

    4N64 Transfer Pack

    For a while, Nintendo was really into making its portable systems and home consoles talk to each other. It’s possible this philosophy is finding its final outlet in the Switch, but Nintendo bungled it hard with the N64 Transfer Pack. This clunky bit of hardware plugged into the console and let you insert Game Boy cartridges. It didn’t let you play them on your TV or anything, though—just transmit data back and forth from the system. It was sold with Pokemon Stadium and used to bring Pokemon from the cartridge into the game, but fewer than a dozen other games ended up using it, most for gimmicky purposes.
  • GameBoy Advance e-Reader

    5GameBoy Advance e-Reader

    The Game Boy line of portables was Nintendo’s cash cow for decades, so it was always trying to find new ways to cash in on it. With the collectible card market on fire during the early 2000s, the foundation was laid for one of the most annoying peripherals ever released. The e-Reader plugged into the cartridge slot of the Game Boy Advance and let you scan special cards (sold seperately) that would add things to your games—new levels, power-ups, etc. The process of scanning cards required each one to be scanned twice on each side to read, and they came in random packs so you could waste tons of money trying to get the cards you wanted. Nintendo only supported the device for a few years in America. (Image)

  • Virtual Boy

    6Virtual Boy

    When you look at the Nintendo staff who seem most interested in pushing the medium of games forward, one name that comes up over and over is Gunpei Yokoi. His hits are plentiful—the cross-shaped Control Pad and the original Game Boy, just to name a few. But his biggest miss stands as one of the company’s worst ideas—the Virtual Boy. On paper, it’s an amazing device: the first true 3D stereoscopic video game console. But in practice it was a bizarre, ungainly machine. It looked portable, but had to be rested on a table to work. And the single-color graphics were primitive even in 3D. Throw in serious eyestrain if you played too long and this experiment was dead right after it hit store shelves. Nintendo stopped selling it after less than a year.
  • GameCube - Game Boy Advance Link Cable

    7GameCube – Game Boy Advance Link Cable

    The Wii U wasn’t Nintendo’s first experiment with dual-screen gaming. Hell, the DS wasn’t either. In 2001, it released a cable that let you plug your Game Boy Advance into a GameCube and use it as a second controller with a screen. Most games that worked with it just used it to transfer content between console and portable versions of the game. A few used it to display maps. And then there was Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, a multiplayer game that required you to have a cable and a GBA for each person playing. Needless to say, this wasn’t a popular decision for people who just wanted to play the first new Final Fantasy on a Nintendo console in 10 years without buying a ton of crap. (Image)
  • GameCube Broadband Adapter

    8GameCube Broadband Adapter

    Nintendo’s ineptitude with online gaming has been well noted, but nothing beats how badly they blew it on the GameCube. The system didn’t come with any network capability, so they had to sell a peripheral to do it. That was the Broadband Adapter, which was released to coincide with Sega’s Phantasy Star Online. This wasn’t innovative in the greater console space—Microsoft and Sony had gamers online for years prior—but for Nintendo it was a big deal. Only one problem, though: it didn’t make any other games for it. Only three non-Phantasy Star titles were ever released. Even worse, hackers found a security code in PSO that let them connect to PCs and upload copied games and homebrew titles.
  • Wii Vitality Sensor

    9Wii Vitality Sensor

    The Wii was a trash pile of peripherals, with tons of weird useless plastic add-ons to make your Wiimote look like a fishing pole or a steering wheel or whatever. But one of the weirdest came from Nintendo itself. The Vitality Sensor was introduced at the 2009 E3 show, with promises that it would monitor your pulse while you played games and they would react accordingly. It wasn’t the only Wii-related fitness gizmo—the balance board that came with Wii Fit paved the way—but it was significantly weirder than anything else the company had announced. It promised to show games for it in 2010, but never did and eventually announced that the project was cancelled in 2013 due to technical issues.
  • Wii U

    10Wii U

    It’s inarguable that the Wii was a game-changer in the console space, proving that casual players wanted a seat at the table. But it also set Nintendo on the path it’s on now, prioritizing gimmicks over substance. When it came time to roll out the next generation of hardware, the company didn’t want to just do “more motion control.” So it went in a totally different direction, creating a controller with a tablet built in so you could play games on two screens. A similar experiment with the portable DS had been a huge success, but here’s the deal: those screens were right next to each other. Looking back and forth from your hands to the TV unsurprisingly didn’t catch on, and the console never found a market. The Wii U sold fewer than 15 million units worldwide over the course of five years—less than the PlayStation 4 sells in a single year.

10 Nintendo Innovations That Flopped

The 5 Best Video Game Prologues

Writers often harp on about the importance of the first ten pages of a book or screenplay. You only have ten pages to hook people, to reel them in and keep them stuck on the story you’re trying to tell. First impressions are the most important impressions.

 

Games are the same way. Some games just start off strong. They paint the perfect picture of the adventure ahead, while luring you in with the right kind of visual and narrative hooks. They set their grand stories up in unique and fascinating ways that, often times, outshine the rest of the game. These are 5 of the best prologues in games.

 

 

5. Wild ARMs 3

 

The Wild ARMs series has a bit of a pattern for its prologues. The beginning of each game is spent being introduced to the party of characters individually and watching the turn of events that unite them as a group for the first time. It’s fairly formulaic, but an easy to follow and reliable way to tell a good story. Wild ARMs 3 did this the best.

 

The four main characters – Clive, Gallows, Jet, and Virginia – all come from different corners of the dusty, decaying world of Filgaia. They all end up on a train for different reasons. Virginia and Gallows are simple passengers, Clive is hired to protect its mysterious cargo, and Jet looks to rob it. Another group of bandits stick the train up, and once they learn that its cargo isn’t simply money and valuables, the four band together to retrieve it and eventually save the world.

 

4. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

 

The demo for Metal Gear Solid 2 is one of the most memorable demos of all time. There was a great deal of replayability and it was a chock full of stealth action goodness. It also served as a half hour prologue to the Big Shell Incident and the only time you play Solid Snake in the title – a twist no one knew about until the game finally hit shelves.

 

When infiltrating a giant oil tanker in the Hudson River to check for signs of general nefarity, you get exactly what you were looking for: A giant, aquatic Metal Gear seemingly funded by the USMC. While exploring the tanker, you realize that it is also under attack by Russians, lead in part by Ocelot, who turns on his other conspirators promptly. He steals the Metal Gear himself and leaves the ship to sink in the river. Big Shell is built 2 years later to clean up the mess and cover for even bigger evil master plans.

 

3. Vagrant Story

 

This RPG was one of the last made by the old Squaresoft (before becoming Square Enix) and is often overlooked because of how late in the Playstation’s lifecycle it released. To miss this game is to deprive yourself of one of the best RPGs of the era. It had a highly Shakespearean script and a fast, film-inspired cinematography that is an early victory in the quest for making games more like movies.

 

Its prologue is short and completely skippable, but it’s not wise to ignore it. Important story details, like why protagonist Ashley Riot is on his mission in the first place, are revealed in it. After the Duke’s mansion is attacked, the VKP are one of the many agencies called to the scene to stop the madness. The Duke’s son is kidnapped by Sydney Losstarot, cult leader and terrorist, and your job is to chase him down and get the child back. Not so easy, since the villain leaves a giant wyvern behind to keep you busy.

 

2. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

 

Geralt’s adventures have brought put him into pretty tight spots before, but the beginning of the Witcher 2 might have been the closest he’s come of outright death by political agendas and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

You begin the game imprisoned, being interrogated by Vernon Roache about their king’s last moments, ones he had in Geralt’s company. As told in a set of flashbacks, the story of King Foltest’s death and the moments leading up to it are told with with a great deal of murder mystery TV show flair. An uncommon trope to call on for a fantasy game, but one that makes this opening stand out above many others.

 

1. Lufia & the Fortress of Doom

 

Lufia often gets overlooked, it being a JRPG not called Final Fantasy, but it’s a fate that isn’t quite fair for the series. Lufia had many qualities that have inspired many RPG’s since, like its sometimes devilishly difficult puzzles and blending platforming and action RPG elements to its tradition turn based gameplay elements. Though, the most stand out moment of the original Lufia is the first 20 minutes.

 

You take the role of Maxim, hero of heroes and his friends, as they storm the floating castle of a group of super evil demon lords called the Sinstrals. After exploring the dark fortification, you come across the even group and challenge them in combat. You manage to slay them after a series of arduous battles, but two of your party, including the leader Maxim, don’t make it out of the castle before it crumbles and falls back to Earth. You eventually take the role of a descendant of Maxim for the rest of the game, retracing his footsteps in order to stop history from repeating itself.

 

Being able to play the game’s most significant historical moment is a great way to get players invested in the task of stopping it from happening again. Maxim and his friends was such a compelling way to open the game, that their story became the focus of the sequel.


What other video game prologues were memorable? Leave them in the comments, or tweet @CurseGamepedia with your picks.

The 5 Best Video Game Prologues

Minecraft Update 1.62 Out Now for PS4 and PS3

Not one, but two new patches are now available to download for Minecraft on PlayStation 4 and 3. Minecraft update 1.62 and 1.61 were released to fix issues, and add support for the “Minecon Earth 2017 Skin Pack.” For more, check out the full patch notes.

Check out the full Minecraft update 1.62 and 1.61 patch notes below:

Minecraft update 1.62 patch notes

  • Addressed an issue that prevented invited friends from joining.

Minecraft update 1.61 patch notes

  • Added support for the Minecon Earth 2017 Skin Pack.
  • Minor bug fixes and improvements.

The last major Minecraft update was update 1.57, which added a ton of custom game types. You can view all of them below:

  • Added the “Custom” game type to the Battle Mini Game with a huge variety of new settings, including:
    • Enable choosing the number of lives per round that each player gets.
    • Now you can choose the number of rounds to play before the winner is selected.
    • Enable forcing map size.
    • A variety of different options to manage how players heal, and how quickly they get hungry.
    • Added the No Armor item set to Custom Battle games, an item set designed to keep the combat fast-paced and exciting.
    • Added the High Power item set to Custom Battle games, allowing you to play Battle with some of the most powerful items in Minecraft!
    • Decayed item set to Custom Battle games; every item breaks after a few uses, so you’ll need to keep moving.
    • Added the Food Central item set to Custom Battle games. Food is only found in the centre chests, and equipment only in the outer chests.
  • Added the “Custom” game type to Tumble Mini Game with a huge variety of new settings, including:
    • Enable choosing the number of lives per round that each player gets.
    • Enable choosing the number of layers and controlling the size of the layers.
    • Fireworks as a usable weapon in Custom Tumble games is now added to the game.
    • Splash Potions of Levitation as a usable weapon in Custom Tumble games is now added to the game.
    • Added Spectator Participation to Custom Tumble games

Minecraft update 1.62 is available now on PlayStation 4 and 3.

Minecraft Update 1.62 Out Now for PS4 and PS3

Doctor Minecraft

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the cube.

I’ve recently become addicted to Minecraft, like seemingly every small child I know. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner; I’ve played similar games – like Terraria and so on – and I always enjoyed playing with LEGO as a kid, but I just never managed to get hooked by Minecraft.

Maybe it was the terrifying number of crafting recipes that (until recently) you either had to memorise or Google; maybe it was my frustration at the less-than-ideal (to put it lightly) behaviour of the game’s creator; or maybe it was my lack of friends who wanted to hang out in a server with me. Whatever it was, I successfully avoided a Minecraft addition… until now.

Recently in Melbourne I visited ACMI, where one room boasts an impressive collection of films and videogames – and artefacts related to their creation. The room was overflowing with school children when I wandered through, and many of them were drawn to Minecraft. In fact, while I was watching, a group of students were busily modifying texture packs, of all things.

I understand now why so many children have been captured by this world: it seems to have something for everyone. It allows people to understand as much or as little of the system as they like, and still enjoy themselves within the space. Children who want to modify textures or create their own mods are welcomed, but those who want to explore, or fight, or create, or mine to bedrock are welcomed too.

This is epitomised by the group I play Minecraft with, each of whom have different approaches to play. Some enjoy action shooters, and find joy in playing Minecraft in survival mode, struggling through nights of killing (or avoiding) the various hostile creatures that roam the world. Others enjoy building new structures, so spend their time in creative mode, floating around and constructing impressive homes and monuments.

And just as Minecraft offers my friendship group an array of options, it offers them to me as well. It’s a space for me to go on (slightly scary) adventures with my friends, laughing with one another via voicechat, just as it’s a place for me to lose myself in methodical tasks while I’m the only one online. It’s a place to perfect my mining style, burrowing underground while watching television shows on my second monitor. It’s a complex fidget toy, giving me something to do with my hands and head that isn’t particularly strenuous. It’s a jigsaw puzzle, where the image I’m putting together is of my own creation.

Minecraft has become a sort of self-care for me. I often struggle to incorporate social interactions into my hectic schedule, but Minecraft has given me a way to spend time with people I care about inbetween commitments. Similarly, methodical and repetitive tasks are a coping mechanism for keeping my anxiety in check, and Minecraft offers a more interesting alternative to sitting with a bunch of grapes and pulling them, one-by-one, from their stems.

It’s also surprisingly accessible. It’s the little things: depending on the day, I might want challenging adventures or relaxing exploration, and the mode I choose can account for that. And as somebody who struggles with auditory processing, being able to adjust every part of the music and sound effects using separate sliders makes it so much easier to hear what I want or need to, without it being lost in a cacophony of other sounds. Minecraft may be an obsession for a lot of kids, but I can’t see why – it’s clever.

I understand Minecraft, and the people who play it, better now. The children playing this game have found a respite from their anxious minds, an adventure through which to socialise with their friends, and a platform for exercising their curiosity and practising all sorts of skills, and I’m honestly sad it took me this long to join the party.

Doctor Minecraft

Rocket League: Collector’s Edition Features Bonus DC Comics-Inspired Goods

For those that still haven’t picked up the game yet, Rocket League will see another retail release next month, with a Collector’s Edition that’s being distributed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. This is a pretty big deal, and with what’s just been announced in the package, fans may find some tremendous value in picking it up.

In a new blog post, the developers at Psyonix confirmed some special bonus goodies for the Collector’s Edition of the game when it releases on December 7th, and they’ll be worthwhile ones for DC Comics fans. That’s because the package features exclusive wheels based on the Flash. As you can see in the screenshots above and below, the wheels look distinctively like Flash logos. In addition, there will also be special Player Banners available, including ones featuring the DC Comics logo, as well as the Flash. (And you can name your vehicle “B. Allen” if you feel up to it.)

Rocket 2

The Collector’s Edition of the game will also come with plenty of great downloadable content on the disc as well, including DLC like Supersonic Fury, Revenge of the Battle-Cars and Chaos Run, as well as premium DLC battle-cars like the Aftershock, Marauder, Esper and Masamune. You’ll also find a cool limited Art Print created by Psyonix concept artist Jay Zhang.

Now for those that don’t wish to invest in a physical copy of the game – you probably already own it – there’s no need to fret. Psyonix has made it clear that owners will be able to purchase The Flash and DC Comics content in 2018, with a “future opportunity.” A date wasn’t given yet, but it shouldn’t be too far off. So, yes, you’ll get you crack at these goods as well, as they won’t be limited to this retail release.

The retail version of the game is set to sell for $29.99, which isn’t too bad at all considering what’s all included. It’s just for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, though – the Nintendo Switch version, which launches this Tuesday, will already have its fair share of exclusive content, including the Mario, Luigi and Metroid cars. There’s a possibility it could get the Flash goodies down the line, though. We’ll see what Psyonix has planned.

Rocket League is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, and releases this Tuesday for Nintendo Switch.

Rocket League: Collector’s Edition Features Bonus DC Comics-Inspired Goods

Metroid Prime 4 Being Co-Developed Alongside Bandai Namco Games

Nintendo blew our collective minds earlier this summer when it finally announced the return of the Metroid Prime franchise, with a fourth installment currently being developed for release on the Nintendo Switch. Today, though, we learned who the development team behind the game just might be.

According to this Reddit report, the team behind the forthcoming Prime revival could be none other than Bandai Namco Games. The team appears to be working alongside long-time Metroid series producer Kensuke Tanabe with putting the game together. What’s more, we could be seeing first footage of the project sooner rather than later.

Metroid Prime 4 should have something revealed with some in-game footage early next year from what I’ve heard,” the source noted. “I’m hearing that Direct in January particularly. Bandai Namco is developing the game for Nintendo.” That said, they did note they didn’t know specifically which studio at Bandai Namco was working on the game.

Now, take it with a grain of salt. Bandai Namco hasn’t said anything officially about the game (nor Nintendo), and it seems like a quirky choice for such a storied franchise. However, we’ve seen Bandai Namco work its magic on Nintendo franchise before. The developer worked on StarFox Assault on the GameCube several years ago, and also had a hand in development creating Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS – and Pac-Man’s in there as proof.

Some people have been wondering, “Well, why not Retro Studios?” A good question. But with the rumor that a new Donkey Kong game could be coming to Switch, they may be busy working on that.

If – and it’s a big if – this rumor does end up coming true, and we see first footage of Metroid early next year, Nintendo could be, ahem, Prime-ing it for a big 2018 release on the Switch. It’d make an ideal holiday seller, if it could be done in enough time. For now, though, we’ll just have to see what the company has planned, as it hasn’t announced too much of its line-up for next year yet, save for new Kirby, Yoshi and Pokemon games.

Metroid Prime 4 Being Co-Developed Alongside Bandai Namco Games

This Cancelled Justice League Game Could’ve Been A Game-Changer

I

t’s always funny to hear about what might’ve been with cancelled comic book game projects, like the moody Batman: Gotham By Gaslight game or the first-person Avengers video game that never came to be. But now, the team at Unseen64 have stumbled across one of the biggest projects to date that never got to see a release – a Justice League game that would’ve coincided with a film of the same name.

The 3D beat-em-up, under the project name Justice League Arcade, was in development for some time over at Double Helix Games – which also produced games like Killer Instinct (the first season) for the Xbox One and Capcom’s reboot of Strider for various consoles. It had a great concept in mind, enabling players to take control of different characters within the League, including Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, as they took on adversaries using a number of special techniques. For instance, Batman utilizing his items alongside his fisticuffs, and Wonder Woman using her Lasso of Truth to fling an enemy around, while also using throw moves and attacks.

The game, which was set for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii, was meant to be released alongside a film titled Justice League Mortal, which was in the works back in 2008 under the direction of George Miller – yes, the same man that brought us the incredible Mad Max: Fury Road.

Several complications came up between the film and the game, however. While Double Helix had invested a great deal of time into its fighting engine – similar in nature to Shiny’s The Matrix: Path of Neo – Warner Bros. kept delaying the project while it was trying to find an ideal location to shoot Mortal. The film was already reportedly set to have a $300 million budget, the largest in film history at the time, and it was looking for some place to give it some tax breaks.

Alas, they couldn’t find a deal to get the job done, and as a result, the film was scuttled in 2009 – and the game followed soon thereafter, though Double Helix was pushing to give it a separate release, feeling that it could attract a strong DC Comics audience.

But don’t be too sad for its loss. Double Helix was able to recover a great deal of its assets for release in a new game, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, which came out two years later for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii – tied in with the Lantern movie of the same name. The game fared pretty well, whereas the film, well, you know.

And now we’re seeing Justice League rise again, with a new film directed by Zack Snyder, set for release this Friday. And we’re getting good in-game content with it as well, as Injustice 2 will see some premium skins based on characters from the film.

Still, sigh. We can’t help but think how awesome a George Miller Justice League film would’ve been, as well as how Double Helix’s game would’ve ended up in its original form. You can see the gameplay in action in the video above, and dare to dream.

Justice League releases this Friday.

This Cancelled Justice League Game Could’ve Been A Game-Changer

Gal Gadot reportedly plays hardball, won’t sign on for ‘Wonder Woman’ again if Brett Ratner is still on board: NY Post

The much anticipated sequel to “Wonder Woman” may not star Gal Gadot, if filmmaker Brett Ratner remains on staff, according to a report from the New York Post.

The publication’s Page Six, citing an unnamed source close to Gadot, said the actress will not continue with the franchise so long as Ratner can profit. Ratner’s production company RatPac-Dune Entertainment helped to produce “Wonder Woman,” as part of a co-financial deal with Warner Bros.

Separately, The Los Angeles Times reported that the Burbank-based studio will not renew this deal with Ratner beyond 2018.

The film maker has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least six women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Ellen Page.

“Wonder Woman” has been a critical and box office success, garnering more than $821 million worldwide. A delay or recasting could imperil the momentum the movie created earlier this year, which sets the stage for “Justice League’s” debut on Friday.

“She’s tough and stands by her principles,” the source told Page Six. “She also knows the best way to hit people like Brett Ratner is in the wallet. She also knows that Warner Bros. has to side with her on this issue as it develops. They can’t have a movie rooted in women’s empowerment being part-financed by a man ­accused of sexual misconduct against women.”

Representatives for Warner Brothers did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Gal Gadot reportedly plays hardball, won’t sign on for ‘Wonder Woman’ again if Brett Ratner is still on board: NY Post

‘Justice League’ aims to break through $1 billion after a rocky year for DC movies

Justice League

Warner Bros. Pictures
Justice League

Warner Bros. has a lot riding on the release of “Justice League” next weekend following a rocky start for several franchises and a flurry of reports that’s left fans uncertain about future films.

Despite all this, analysts expect the superhero team-up movie to be a blockbuster. But better reviews, and a warmer response from audiences than some prior DC cinematic universe movies have garnered, could help vault “Justice League” over a major milestone.

“The difference between ‘love’ and ‘like'” could mean hitting $1 billion worldwide at the box office — or not, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

While last year’s “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” were both commercial successes worldwide, lukewarm reviews weighed on U.S. earnings, and neither managed to surpass $1 billion.

This summer’s “Wonder Woman,” DC’s first critical hit, broke records but also fell short of the high water-mark.

“Justice League” picks up where “Batman v Superman” left off. Following the death of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman recruit a team of heroes to fight an impending threat to the earth.

For DC, “Justice League” is a crucial piece of the puzzle, because the film is expected to establish several new characters who will star in spin-offs, including the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. It’s also a test of DC’s pivot from the grim and gritty tone of its first three films, to the hopeful, more light-hearted style of “Wonder Woman.”

Over the past month, tweets about the “Justice League” trailers have been 35 percent positive and just 4 percent negative, indicating that previews are generating the right kind of interest, according to marketing technology firm Amobee.

‘Fairly irresistible’

The release caps a choppy year, during which Warner retooled its DC comics strategy, modeled after the path Disney plotted for its multi-billion dollar Marvel superheroes series.

Fan websites breathlessly chronicled a steady drip of rumored cancellations, revised release dates and mixed messages from stars and filmmakers about which films would link up. Just this week, leading man Ben Affleck seemed to cast doubt about how long he’ll play Batman.

While there’s been much hand-wringing in the fan community over these reports, the typical movie-goer is more likely to take “Justice League” on its own merits, said Dergarabedian.

“The clarity of vision hasn’t been consistent, and I think that can be confusing to true fans,” he told CNBC. “But an average viewer says you’ve got Aquaman and Wonder Woman and all these great characters in one movie, and that seems fairly irresistible.”

The film is currently expected to earn $110-$120 million during its North American opening.

Those estimates should be closer to $135 million, argued Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. “Justice League” dovetails with Thanksgiving weekend, and faces little competition until “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” premiers in mid-December, he noteed.

Bock also anticipated little blowback from Affleck’s links to Hollywood’s sexual harassment scandal. “Justice League” is somewhat inoculated because it will draw fans of the individual characters, as well as movie-goers eager to see Wonder Woman in action again, he said.

Some Twitter users demand Ben Affleck step down as Batman one month before 'Justice League' debut

Some Twitter users demand Ben Affleck step down as Batman one month before ‘Justice League’ debut  

“The great thing for Warner Bros. is there’s something for everyone there, and that will help expand the brand,” he told CNBC.

Yet if “Justice League” wows audiences, there’s no upcoming DC movie to capture the goodwill dividend, at least not immediately. The next release is “Aquaman,” which Warner pushed back to December 2018.

In contrast, Marvel Studios will follow up this month’s hit “Thor: Ragnarok” with “Black Panther” in February, “Avengers: Infinity War” in May and “Ant-Man and The Wasp” in July.

That matters in the context of a tough time for Hollywood, as superhero movies were one of the only consistent winners in 2017.

Nevertheless, Jonathan Cohen, principal brand analyst at Amobee, thinks Warner Bros. is doing the right thing by stepping back and focusing on the quality of each movie, rather than trying to match the Marvel playbook at all costs.

“Once their house style is more codified, those connective flourishes will likely start organically reappearing in their superhero films,” he said.

‘Justice League’ aims to break through $1 billion after a rocky year for DC movies

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Spoiler Review: Marvel’s Funniest Film is Surprisingly Forgettable

No one would ever accuse the Marvel Cinematic Universe of being dark and serious, but with Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel goes into full-comedy mode, crafting their funniest film to date. Perhaps finally realizing how inconsequential and dry the Thor films have been, Marvel hired What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi and let him go wild. The results are laugh-out-loud funny, albeit with a caveat: Thor: Ragnarok cares more about landing a great punchline or sight-gag than it does about plot.

Is There Such Thing as Too Much Fun?

But perhaps we’ve reached a point with the MCU where plot doesn’t really matter anymore. Thor: Ragnarok’s overwhelmingly positive Rotten Tomatoes score (93% as of this writing) and bonafide box office success certainly seems to suggest so. This is slightly troubling. Even more so when you realize that Ragnarok has all the makings of something truly magnificent: a talented director, an incredibly charming cast, a pop art-infused color scheme that looks like it’s a combination of the art of Jack Kirby and parade of pinball machines lined-up on a boardwalk at sunset. Yet despite everything Ragnarok has going for it – and it has a lot – there’s a curious lack of weight to all it. The film’s fun nature is charming, but it reaches a point where you start to think Ragnarok is having almost too much fun, if such a thing is even possible.

Approaching reviewing Thor: Ragnarok this way seems like a journey down a dangerous path. “Can’t you just let the movie be fun?” might be the automatic reply to almost any criticism leveled against the film. Sure. There’s nothing wrong with fun. But is it really asking too much to want more? The Thor films have always been the weakest entries in the MCU. Even the troubled production that was Ant-Man delivered a more rewarding experience than the previous Thor films. Part of this can be chalked-up to tone. Thor is an inherently comical character, and star Chris Hemsworth has impressive comedic chops. But it took three films for Marvel to fully embrace the comedy elements of Thor.

The first Thor film, helmed by Kenneth Branagh with a Shakespearean touch, is a world removed from Ragnarok. It’s stuffy and dour in comparison. The ever-shifting tone of Thor plays hell with the character; we’ve now settled on Thor as a dumb blonde, a handsome oaf who is heroic when he’s not bumbling about. It suits the character well, but you can’t help shaking the sense that Marvel has had no idea just who they want Thor to be up until now.

These problems would be a lot less of a concern if this were the first entry in the series. But it’s the third. And what’s more, the film knows it’s the third entry: there’s literally nothing going on here to make Ragnarok stand out on its own in terms of storytelling. If you were to go into Ragnarok without having seen any other Thor or Marvel movie, you’d be absolutely lost as to what the hell is going on here. That’s weak storytelling. It’s the sort of approach that entrenches Thor: Ragnarok firmly into a middle-of-the-road bit of entertainment. It’s a brilliant distraction, but it could be so much more.

That said, when Thor: Ragnarok is working, it’s working really well. This is due almost entirely to the cast, who are individually stellar, and even better when working together. Almost every member of the main cast here has their own moments to shine, with some shining brighter than others. Even if Ragnarok’s script had been worse than it ultimately is, the film would still be worth it because it gave us the opportunity to spend time with these actors playing these characters. If only they had been able to come together in a better film.

Thor Ragnark Hela

“So much has happened since I last saw you!”

Thor: Ragnarok finds Thor, the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) returning to Asgard after a failed quest to locate missing Infinity Stones (remember those things?). Before his homecoming, he’s had a run-in with the demonic Surtur, who warns Thor that he will bring about Ragnarok – the destruction of Asgard and the Gods. Thor mostly laughs these threats off, defeats Surtur, and comes home to find Asgard much changed. Heimdall (Idris Elba), the former guardian of the Bifrost, has vanished and been replaced by the bumbling Skurge (Karl Urban). Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has forgotten his duties and spends his days lounging about. There’s a reason for this: Odin is actually Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in disguise.

Almost instantly (Thor: Ragnarok is allergic to taking its time), Thor and Loki head to earth to find Odin. Along the way, they encounter Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in a funny sequence that nevertheless feels absolutely pointless to the film itself as a whole, but is simply in place to tie-into the post-credit scene at the end of Doctor Strange. After their brief sojourn with Strange, Thor and Loki locate Odin, who warns them that their evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), whom they never even knew about, is going to return soon. Then he promptly dies.

Before we have any idea what the hell is going on, Hela arrives, smashes Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir, and sends Thor and Loki flying off into the galaxy. Hela arrives at Asgard and swiftly begins a reign of terror, assisted by a somewhat reluctant Skurge, who both wants to be powerful and famous but also clearly has qualms about murdering his fellow Asgardians.

Thor ends up on Sakaar, a planet strewn with garbage, and is quickly captured by the drunken Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, phenomenal), who transports a confused Thor to the palace of the planet’s head honcho, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, at his absolutely Jeff Goldblumiest). The only way Thor can win his freedom is by taking part in the Grandmaster’s gladiatorial matches and fight the Grandmaster’s mysterious, deadly champion. While still super-strong, Thor is hammerless, and thus not nearly as powerful as before. He agrees to fight anyway, and grows furious when he learns that Loki is on the planet too, living as a free man after having wormed his way into the Grandmaster’s good graces.

Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Heimdall has returned and is rounding up Asgardians and hiding them safely away from Hela, but it’s only a matter of time before Hela catches up to them. The only hope is for Thor to return and save the day.

Back on the Sakaar, the Grandmaster’s champion turns out to be none other than the Incredible Hulk, who doesn’t seem to remember Thor and promptly beats the shit out of him. Thor survives the brawl, however, and eventually convinces Valkyrie, a former Asgardian, to help him escape to save Asgard. The Hulk, transformed back into Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), comes along as well. Loki, ever the trickster, tries to turn on Thor, causing Thor to leave him behind. But since the MCU can’t decide what the hell they want to do with Loki, the character eventually has a change of heart and follows after Thor to help.

Back on Asgard, Thor and his new team – jokingly dubbed The Revengers – battle against Hela and her zombie army. Skurge has a change of heart, rebels against Hela, and is killed for his troubles. Thor is able to summon up his powers of thunder and lightning to best Hela, but she eventually proves too powerful and ends up causing Thor to lose one of his eyes. With all hope seems lost, Thor realizes the only way to stop Hela is to destroy Asgard completely. Loki unleashes Surtur, the demon from the beginning, who swiftly destroys Asgard as Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, Hulk, Heimdall and the surviving Asgardians head off into the galaxy aboard a huge ship.

Because That’s What Heroes Do: The Good

Valkyrie, Valkyrie, Valkyrie! Everyone in Thor: Ragnarok is a hoot, but let’s talk about Valkyrie, shall we? It cannot be overstated how wonderful Tessa Thompson is here. Thompson’s star has been on the rise ever since her break-out role in Dear White People, and with Thor: Ragnarok she gets to flex her acting muscles in a big blockbuster setting. A brawling, boozing ass-kicker, Valkyrie is now the best hero in the MCU. Valkyrie has a tragic past: she was once a warrior on Asgard, but Hela destroyed her entire army of female warriors, and left her disillusioned. Her arc in Ragnarok involves the character slowly coming around to be a hero again. Truth be told, there’s not a lot to Valkyrie on paper. What makes her so memorable, so remarkable, is Thompson’s charming, funny performance. The type of iconic scene-stealing that leads to deserved hyperbole. She’s like Han Solo and Snake Plissken rolled into one, and she steals every scene she occupies.

Thompson is tied for MVP of the film with Jeff Goldblum, who plays the sort-of-villain the Grandmaster. The best decision director Waititi made with the film is to point a camera and Goldblum and essentially tell him, “Do whatever the hell you want!” Goldblum has blossomed nicely into an elder statesman of weirdness, and he brings his distinct hemming and hawing to a deranged character with gusto. Every single thing Goldblum does here is incredible, garnering huge laughs with a wink or a nod. It’s a joy to watch him work.

Chris Hemsworth has great comic sensibilities. These have been teased with his Thor performances in the Avengers films, and exploited to great effect in Paul Feig’s unjustly maligned Ghostbusters reboot. Here, he gets to be funny throughout, while occasionally slipping into a more serious mode. But it’s the comedy that shines through the most, and Hemsworth portrayal of Thor as a dumb but ultimately noble character is charming.

The rest of the cast are also a treat. Mark Ruffalo’s constantly befuddled Bruce Banner is a lot of fun, and he and Hemsworth have surprisingly great chemistry together. Hiddleston’s Loki is good too, although his appearance here feels extraneous (more on that later). Cate Blanchett gets to ham it up as Hela, but she’s perhaps the performer most underserved by the script.

A brief word on Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins’ role here is little more than a glorified cameo, and his death scene, as written, is not nearly as emotional as the screenplay seems to think it is. But Hopkins sells it so well, bringing pathos and sadness to a throw-away part that could’ve easily been a quick bit of check-cashing. It’s a testament to his talent that he elevates the moment above the slapdash nature it truly is.

As mentioned a dozen times already, Thor: Ragnarok is funny. It’s funny as hell, in fact. This is less a superhero movie and more of a high concept comedy, loaded with jokes and physical humor that almost always lands. You can thank the hilarious Taika Waititi for that, who brings his comic sensibilities firmly into the MCU, with fabulous results. Waititi even gives himself a scene-stealing part as Korg, a laid-back rock monster. The comedy is what elevates Ragnarok above the other Thor films, and what also helps hide the threadbare story. You’re too caught up in hysterics to pay attention to how muddled the script by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost is.

The score, by Mark Mothersbaugh, is a synthwave dream, and the cinematography, by Javier Aguirresarobe, is often vibrant and eye-popping. This all combines to make Thor: Ragnarok one of the best-looking Marvel films, free of the parking lot gray color scheme that seems to be so prevalent in most of their other adventures (although Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still reign supreme in the Marvel cinematography department). Honestly, overall, Thor: Ragnarok is colorful, comedic fun. There’s nothing to hate here. But that doesn’t mean it all works.

Thor Ragnarok Loki

Like Smoldering Fire: The Not-So-Good

What the hell is Loki’s purpose in the MCU at this point? Not even the filmmakers seem to know. Late in the film, when Banner and Loki come face to face, Banner says, “Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?” “It varies from moment to moment,” Loki replies cheekily. Ha ha, get it? This character is kind of pointless and the film is acknowledging it! Hilarious.

Look, Hiddleston is very good at playing this part. He brings the right touch of aristocratic smugness to the role, but continually bringing Loki back again and again reeks of little more than fan service. The Avengers had Loki willing to commit genocide. Here, he’s mostly comic relief. That’s baffling. You could argue it’s character growth; that he’s evolved from the evil murderer he was to a more playful trickster, but it doesn’t quite work. He doesn’t seem like he’s evolved at all.

Villains have never been the MCU’s strongpoint. This was a problem that could’ve possibly been resolved in Ragnarok due to casting alone. Cate Blanchett is one of the best actresses working today, and giving her a chance to strut her stuff and ham it up as Hela, the Goddess of Death, adorned in a set of crazy antlers, was promising. Alas, while Blanchett gives it her all, Hela as a character is severely underwritten, to the point that there are long stretches of the film where you might completely forget about her.

Why does Skurge, a secondary character, have more character development and more of an overall arc than the main villain of the film? Skurge goes from comical bumbler, to hesitant accomplice, to ultimate hero. Yet he’s almost inconsequential to the plot, unlike Hela, who is supposed to be driving things. It’s disappointing. In truth, almost everything that happens on Asgard is disappointing here, and you get the sense that the film would’ve triumphed completely had it just removed Asgard entirely.

The problem is that at its heart, there are two different movies here. One is about Thor saving Asgard. The other is about Thor on the Grandmaster’s planet, regaining his confidence. These two would both work best on their own, but don’t quite fit together here. They could work, of course, if the script was willing to let them unfold organically. But there’s no room to breathe in Thor: Ragnarok. The opening section alone moves at a breakneck speed, jumping from one location to the next, with the hopes of quickly setting everything up without stopping to think. It’s exhausting. I’m all for brevity in Marvel movies, and superhero movies in general, which tend to be lengthy, bloated affairs – but Ragnarok is pushing it.

While the comedy that prevails all through Thor: Ragnarok is welcomed, there are times where the film is too frothy for its own good. At the end of the day, this film is about the end of Thor’s world. At least, his world as he’s known it for so long. One of the final scenes involves Asgard being blown to smithereens – a moment that should be played as tragic, yet is handled with a joke (an admittedly funny joke, but still one that seems out of place). The overall takeaway is that Ragnarok cares most about getting laughs, and everything else has to take a backseat to that. It’s an uneven balance.

Waititi’s skills as a comedy director are unquestionable – he’s one of the best in the biz. His action direction skills, however, leave a lot to be desired. The action scenes in Ragnarok are terrible. Even the big Thor/Hulk battle that was teased in all the trailers is lackluster and disappointing. There’s a scene where Hela quickly kills a bunch of Asgardian soldiers that is so devoid of energy and excitement that it almost looks unfinished – that perhaps this was just a special effects demo test that made its way into the final film. Ragnarok would’ve been better served if it had just found a way to forego action entirely and focused 100% on the banter.

Phase 1 of the MCU had a distinct problem: the films seemed like all set-up, with little individuality. It’s a problem Marvel has mostly gotten over recently, but Thor: Ragnarok finds them completely back in that set-up mode. Almost everything that happens here feels secondary to the fact that this is leading into Avengers: Infinity War, particularly the ending, which has Thor cruising off into the galaxy. The MCU films that work best are the ones that can stand on their own, as their own individual experiences, where cross-promotion is almost secondary. Ragnarok is not one of those films, and it suffers a bit because of that.

Beyond Asgard

Ultimately, Thor: Ragnarok is critic-proof. The film is already a hit, and also one of the best-reviewed MCU films to date. The simple fact is, people loved this movie. That’s fine. This is pinnacle escapism, at a time when escapism is much needed. This is the film equivalent of an exciting amusement park ride. When you’re on it, the thrill is there – excitement mingled with the sights and sounds of the carnival grounds whooshing by. Then you step off the ride, and move on, and the excitement fades. The memory dulls. The real world comes seeping back in.

Still, it’s almost impossible to dislike Thor: Ragnarok. The cast is too wonderful, the jokes too funny. It’s hard to fault any film that gives Jeff Goldblum a chance to do his thing while also making Tessa Thompson an even bigger star. This is ultimately the best of the three Thor films, but that’s not saying much. One almost wishes this had been the first film in the series, with a script more fleshed-out to set things up for future installments. Instead, as the third, it suffers, and grows ultimately forgettable.

Yet more adventures with these characters would be welcomed. Thompson’s Valkyrie in particular needs an entire franchise of her own, one where she can step out in front to be the lead rather than a supporting player. Hemsworth’s Thor is also worth spending more time with, although Ragnarok seems to confirm that the character works best when he’s a team player rather than a lead. While Ragnarok is focused on Thor, it’s never entirely Thor’s movie. It belongs, instead, to everyone – to the wonderful cast of vibrant, funny characters. Perhaps the real lesson here is what all these wonderful elements really needed is a better script; a script that was worthy of the performances.

Where does Thor: Ragnarok fit into the ever-growing ranking of the MCU? Somewhere in the middle. It’s funny enough, colorful enough, and entertaining enough to strike a chord, but it’s ultimately hollow. It’s a beautiful bauble on display that’s a treat to look at, but one that fades from memory as you move on to something else. In the end, I wanted more from Thor: Ragnarok. Perhaps that was foolish of me.

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Spoiler Review: Marvel’s Funniest Film is Surprisingly Forgettable

Thor: Ragnarok: How Marvel Conjured a Hela-Awesome New Villain

Long before the cameras started rolling on Thor: Ragnarok, the concept artists at Marvel Studios got together to do what they’ve always done: something Walt Disney called “plussing.” It’s basically a series of brainstorming sessions in which scores of possible designs are drawn up. “The thinking behind it is there isn’t a right answer,” says Jake Morrison, a Marvel vet who’s supervised visual effects on all three Thor films. “And any concept that you can [make] better, you should.”

During the plussing process, even a character like Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, who thundered about for four movies prior to Ragnarok, gets design adjustments. But when it comes to a new character like Cate Blanchett’s Hela—the Goddess of Death, and the first female villain of this cinematic universe—the number of alternate designs literally climbs into the hundreds.

“There’s never a moment where everybody is standing there, patting themselves on the back, and going like, ‘Wow, we made something incredible!’” Morrison explains. “Everybody is always going like, ‘How can we improve it? What’s a better version of this?’ So what that means is the sky’s the limit—especially when you have a character [with] a magical component.”

The social-media feeds of Marvel concept artists Andy Park and Ryan Meinerding are littered with character designs that didn’t make it to the big screen. (Did you know that Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 used to be yellow and more bug-like? Or that Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron was once Marvel’s literal golden boy?) Soon enough, they’ll probably show off nixed versions of Hela, too—once Marvel gives them the O.K. to release these alternate designs.

Morrison, who typically comes aboard a Marvel film as early as pre-production, describes the process of designing Hela as “a crazy free-for-all.” Why? Blame (or credit) the script: “She has to get stabbed in the suit, and then the suit heals around it. There’s a moment where her cape absorbs bullets . . . there were moments where we actually had the antlers”—their affectionate nickname for Hela’s battle headgear—“turn into face-mask shields and stuff like that, almost like samurai-style outfits.”

The team was initially inspired by the comic-book imagery of Jack Kirby—what Morrison describes as “the Kirby crackle” of lightning that illuminates a darkened Asgardian sky. But with Taika Waititi aboard Ragnarok, the director wanted to take the film in another direction: more Flash Gordon 2 than Thor 3. “Taika actually took all us heads of the departments into a screening room, and sat us all down, and had us watch Flash Gordon at one point,” Morrison says. Luckily, Kirby also dabbled in sci-fi stories like Amazing Adventures and World of Fantasy—so the team turned to those for inspiration as well.

Hela also comes with some baggage in the form of her very own dire wolf. In Norse mythology, the end-of-days that is Ragnarok involves a giant wolf named Fenrir devouring the sun. That doesn’t happen in Marvel’s interpretation of the concept, but our villain does get Fenris, a 35-foot-tall black beast with glowing green eyes.

“Having just done Ant-Man for two years, I can tell you that scale is one of the biggest challenges in any sort of storytelling,” Morrison says. It’s a matter of perspective: a movie can’t just blow up a standard-sized wolf because it would look fake, largely due to the amount of hair on a normal dog.

“So what happens is you have to maintain this plausible deniability where you go, ‘Well, actually . . . Fenris’s hair is maybe a little thicker than a normal dog,’” he says. “And then all of a sudden you end up with—and I’m just gonna pull numbers out of thin air—if you end up with, like, 10 million hairs on a typical dog, all of sudden you’re gonna have like 200 million hairs on this dog, because you can’t just make the hairs bigger.”

Courtesy of Andy Park/Marvel Studios.

The first image to be released from Ragnarok was concept art of Hela, antlers extended and standing with her back to the viewer as she prepares to unleash hell on the soldiers of Asgard. This became a keyframe for Marvel, a benchmark of sorts the production team used as a guide for the rest of the sequence.

“You start with that artwork, and then literally we start to do choreography with our stunt department,” Morrison says. The biggest question they had to answer: how does Hela fight? “Is it more of a wushu style?” Morrison asked himself. “Does she spin? We know she’s got to throw out these blades one after another, so maybe it’s more like wushu—but instead of holding the knives, you’re throwing the knives.” These questions help form the basis for the character’s own unique “language” of movement, he says, which the stunt team can feed off of.

For this film, Marvel developed what Morrison calls “the smallest, active motion-capture markers that have been made yet.” Instead of wearing the standard gray motion-capture suit, the crew placed those markers all around Blanchett’s Hela costume. The Oscar winner and her stunt double, Zoë Bell, were then filmed performing the majority of the sequences, and their movements influenced the C.G.I. wizardry that would come in post-production.

Her invasion of Asgard was a particularly tricky sequence that went through three fundamental reconstructions. “At one point, it was one continuous shot. I kid you not,” Morrison recalls. “We went a long way down the path with that . . . and actually it was a revolving camera as she tracked through and killed everybody.” In the end, though, they completely re-edited the sequence because they found it more “percussive” broken up.

Another challenge? The scene in which the wolf Fenris fights a hero in a waterfall, which was particularly difficult for the V.F.X. artists: not only did they have to animate millions of hair strands, but each needed to look convincingly damp. No wonder Morrison called the scene “absolutely cracked.” In the end, all their work comes back to the idea of plussing: “There’s no sacred cow, that’s for sure,” he says.

Thor: Ragnarok is now playing in theaters.

Thor: Ragnarok: How Marvel Conjured a Hela-Awesome New Villain

Minecraft Can Transform Your World Language Classroom

Do you speak Minecraft? If you don’t, I highly recommend taking a minute to ask your students about this popular computer game — now with an education edition. They will likely passionately describe adventures they’ve taken in this block-based open world, where the only limit to what they’re able to create is their imagination.

As a world language teacher, I’m always trying to find ways to leverage digital learning strategies to immerse students in the Spanish language and find engaging, meaningful experiences to be able to hone their language skills.

Game-based learning using Minecraft gave me the opportunity to design worlds where students can work and play together while communicating in Spanish.

I was inspired to use Minecraft while taking a course at Boise State University from Chris Haskell called “Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds.”

During this time, I learned that it is important to allow students to not only experience the gameplay, but also be able to contribute to it. To that end, many of my Minecraft worlds have been designed and created by students.

Getting Started with Minecraft in Your Classroom

For the other world language teachers interested in Minecraft in their classrooms, but are not sure where to begin, start with a short project.

For example, if you are teaching vocabulary and phrases related to describing a city or town, have your students write a paragraph in Spanish (or your world language of choice) describing their favorite city in the world.

From there, have them create parts of that city in Minecraft, narrating (in Spanish, French, etc.) a screencast tour throughout their city. Lastly, enable students to publish their screencast to an authentic audience via YouTube or even your learning management system (LMS).

At Wabasha-Kellogg High School, we use Schoology’s LMS. Using this, students are able to share their adventures and highlights with each other through the use of a Media Album, as well as comment on each other’s posts.

This also helps the students create a digital portfolio of their accomplishments in class and in-game.

How to Rev Up Game-Based Learning

While I’ve been happy with the results of these Minecraft projects in my classes, much more is possible to help push the boundaries of game-based learning and second language acquisition. One example would be creating a world where students could role-play the part of Spanish speaking citizens by starting a new civilization.

For more than a month, a group of students and I worked during lunch and after school to create what would become a multiplayer, role-playing game called “El Mundo de Leyendas.”

Together, we created a set of laws that govern this world, starting with our “golden rule”—every communication must take place in the Spanish language.

Each week students were tasked with a set of quests to complete, designed to challenge them to work together to first build and then defend their civilization against monsters.

The vocabulary and phrases were scaffolded — a process in which I demonstrate how to solve a problem and then step back — to keep students immersed in the Spanish language, while still being able to communicate and play the game.

In my class, students were also given the choice to learn within “El Mundo de Leyendas,” or continue to work on traditional assignments. This option resulted in a near 50-50 class split.

This afforded me the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of game-based learning using Minecraft on second language acquisition.

Measuring Game-Based Learning vs. Traditional Learning

With the game-based learning in my classroom, student engagement was up with a 100-percent completion rate of assignments (versus just over 70 percent of traditional assignments).

Ninety percent of students that participated in the game-based learning units consistently scored at least one level higher according to the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners.

The most impressive part of this success was that the game-based learning students outpaced their peers by at least one level, and sometimes even two levels in the modes of interpersonal communication and presentational speaking.

One of my students commented to an administrator, who asked why they thought that Minecraft was so effective in the Spanish classroom, “It’s the closest thing to being dropped in a country where everyone speaks Spanish.”

Students who completed the game-based learning units were more likely (80 percent) to take another year of Spanish either at the high school level or the university level than their traditional assignment peers (40 percent).

Minecraft is the perfect environment to allow students to express themselves more freely and spontaneously in the Spanish language.

If you would like to learn more about my Minecraft journey, check out my classroom’s YouTube channel. Also, take a look at my Minecraft lesson plans.

Minecraft Can Transform Your World Language Classroom

Marin teen’s Minecraft creation gets a spot in SF’s de Young Museum

Minecraft meets museum in the de Young’s latest exhibition – a virtual recreation of the ancient Mexican city Teotihuacan, designed with help from a Marin teenager.

The Minecraft recreation is part of the de Young’s “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire” exhibition, featuring artifacts from the Mesoamerican metropolis located 25 miles northeast of Mexico City. The wildly popular video game enables museum visitors to virtually walk the streets of the now crumbled city, before time wore its pyramids and pathways down to ruins.

The map marks the first time an American art museum has employed Minecraft – a block-building game released in 2011 – in its digital outreach efforts, de Young officials said.

Trevor Fox, a 14-year-old San Marin High School student with a knack for Minecraft, assisted in the creation of the digital map, which features major Teotihuacan landmarks like the Moon and Sun pyramids.

Marin teen’s Minecraft creation gets a spot in SF’s de Young Museum

Charity Minecraft marathon LoveTropics is raising money for DirectRelief

A group of Minecraft developers and streamers have organised a series of events to raise money for disaster relief. LoveTropics’ first event will raise money to assist with relief efforts in Puerto Rico following this summer’s hurricanes.

Check out our list of the best Minecraft mods.

LoveTropics is a weekend-long livestream marathon featuring a collection of Mojang developers, as well as Minecraft streamers, YouTubers and modders. Donors will be able to play alongside the streamers on a private server. The effort was inspired by Tropicraft, a topical Minecraft mod itself inspired by a trip its creators took to Puerto Rico in 2011.

Charity efforts will be donated to DirectRelief, who have been working on relief efforts throughout Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria landed in September. LoveTropics is hoping to raise $3,000 over the weekend of November 10-12. So far, two of the creators of Tropicraft, as well as streamers Darkosto and Wyld, and four Mojang developers, will be featuring over the weekend. LoveTropics’ stream will kick off at 20:00 GMT on Friday, November 10.

Charity Minecraft marathon LoveTropics is raising money for DirectRelief

The Incredible True Story of How a Florida Teacher Became Head of 1 of the Biggest Brands on Earth

Lydia Winters is living the dream.

As the brand director at Mojang, she’s responsible for maintaining all aspects of the massively popular Minecraft brand — from tiny collectible figurines to international events, Winters has her hands in pretty much everything. It should come as no surprise, then, that her work has landed her on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, or that she was named one of Sweden’s most powerful women in digital in 2016, or that on Nov. 18, she’ll be cohosting the company’s annual Minecon event with none other than the brilliantly funny Will Arnett. What will come as a surprise is how she got to where she is — and what her job entails on a daily basis.

I interviewed Winters by phone in October, and the first thing she told me — from her office in Stockholm, Sweden — was that she was born in Florida. “I have an elementary education degree, and I taught fourth grade in Florida for a year before I decided that I didn’t want to teach anymore — but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” she said, laughing. “I was just trying to figure it out, I was 21 or 22, and I started doing a lot of photography and shooting weddings, taking portraits of babies and kids.”

It was only after Winters did a photography workshop in 2010 that she was introduced to video blogging, the medium that would eventually land her in her current role. “I was making these really weird daily videos about a lot of random things,” she told me. “In the house that I lived in, I had baby turtles — so one day I’d be singing about baby turtles, and the next day I’d be like ‘I’m sick! I don’t know what to talk about!’ and the next day I’d be talking about cameras. It was always about different things.”

But despite the initial popularity of her work, Winters knew that she was very much living day to day and didn’t have a plan. After successfully raising $10,000 for breast cancer research (and shaving her head, as she promised to do if she hit her goal), she had begun to question the path her life was on once again. “I was like, ‘OK. Now I don’t have a job. I just shaved my head. I’m making videos and things appear to have gone terribly wrong. What do I do now?'”

After consulting with friends, she realized that the only way to get her life back on track was to try to do something consistent with her videos, to focus all of her energy on one single topic. Winters decided to focus on video games, but there was one problem: the only video game she’d ever played was Oregon Trail.

“My friends thought it would be hilarious if I played Minecraft from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know anything about playing games,” Winters recalled. “This was after I had done this Susan G. Komen 60-mile walk, and someone had given me a hot pink wig. So I was like, ‘OK. I’ll wear a pink wig, and I’ll call myself — I wanted to be Minecraftgirl, but that username was taken — I’ll be Minecraftchick.'”

So, with a pink wig and a second-choice username, Winters began the next stage of her post-teacher life: becoming the lovable woman behind the cult YouTube series The Misadventures of Minecraftchick.

The concept was simple; Winters learned how to play Minecraft in a series of heavily edited shortform videos, interspersed with snarky, self-deprecating commentary. But in a genius twist, Winters chose to film herself as she played, using the video of her facial reactions as an overlay over her gameplay — something that was unheard of in 2010. “Everyone who was doing a very standard, ‘this is my voice, and I am playing right now,'” she said. “I got so much flak for [showing my face]. Now, everyone does it. It’s weird if you don’t show your face when you’re playing, because it’s so much more fun to see someone’s expression and what they’re doing.”

“In the first video, I couldn’t even figure out how to walk,” Winters recounted. “I just opened [the game] on my screen, and was like, ‘I am starting this game. I’m so excited!’ And then I was clicking everything, and I’m like, ‘How do I move? I’m clicking the mouse, I’m using the arrow keys, and nothing is working.’ So I’m like, ‘OK. I’m going to google this. Pause!’ and then I come back and say, ‘AH! I figured it out. It’s W-A-S-D,’ which obviously I didn’t know as I had never played games. So of course then I’m like, ‘I can walk! I’m amazing!’ and I’m walking and walking and I go into water and I’m like, ‘Wait, which key do I use to swim?’ and then, of course, I drown.”

An innovative format may have made her videos stand out, but it was the combination of a severe lack of resources around how it was exactly that one actually was supposed to play Minecraft and her charming, quirky persona that really won YouTube viewers over. Winters says her “black and white commentary” — noting that she was from Florida, and as a result obviously knew how to swim even if her avatar didn’t — was what made the videos feel less like a how-to and more like a show. And that show format quickly started gaining followers; in the first week alone, she jumped from 0 to over 2,000 subscribers — and it’s then that she decided to up the ante to making daily videos. For five months, she made the videos every single day.

“I was going through a separation at the time,” she said, “and I was like, ‘Oh, man, I really don’t know what I want to do. I’m making these videos and it’s really fun, but I’m doing a lot of odd jobs on the side – little ad listings and writing for people, or editing or posting stuff – whatever friends had jobs to do, so I can support this pretty hobbyish thing.’ But I was gaining tons of subscribers and it was really fun. Every day, my dad would text me and tell me how many new subscribers I had, which was the sweetest thing.”

But in June 2011, Winters again began to question what she was doing. The revelation came while she was living with her ex-husband in her uncle’s trailer park house — “the most Florida story I can tell,” she said — and found herself once again struggling to get by. It’s then that she came up with the idea of going to video game conference E3 and interviewing the creators of Minecraft for her YouTube channel. She wrote them a cold email that said quite simply, “Hi, I’m Lydia. I’m a serious person. Here’s My YouTube channel. I used to be a teacher. If you need any help at E3, I can do whatever. I would just love to interview you for my channel. Super short, whatever you want.”

Carl Manneh, the former CEO of Mojang, wrote back with a much bigger offer: asking her to host the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Minecraft portion of their booth. Winters questioned whether she was qualified for the role, but with nothing to lose, she dyed her hair pink to match her online persona and flew to LA.

Winters instantly hit it off with the team from Mojang, and she aced the job she had signed up to do. But things took an altogether different turn after she ran into a friend from the internet. The friend had just applied for an art position at Mojang and asked Winters to introduce her to the team — a favor that she obliged — but Manneh informed the friend that the position wasn’t in the US and would require a move to Sweden. It’s here that Winters did the unexpected.

“Unplanned, I turned around and I said, ‘It’s too bad I’m not an artist because I would totally move to Sweden.’ And Carl was like, ‘We want someone to work with the community. Let’s talk more about this tonight.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And I walked away — I remember very vividly being in the LA Convention Center and trying to find some internet because I was thinking, ‘Where is Sweden? I know it’s in Europe, but is it in the middle?’ But then I googled it and was like, ‘That is SO far north. That is really far north in the world.’ But I thought it was all very funny, because obviously it was just a weird conversation and nothing else will come of it.”

Later that evening, Winters attended a mixer — and Manneh essentially told the Mojang team that they were bringing her back to Sweden when they went home. None of the staff could tell if he was serious, but for her part, Winters was over the moon. “I’m texting my mom like, ‘I’m going to move to Sweden, everyone who thought I didn’t have a plan.’ And she’s like, ‘What? No, definitely not.'”

It took until the last day of the event, however, for Winters to finally get a formal interview — and even after all that, she went home to Florida, thinking, “OK, this was all crazy, but they’re going to go back to Sweden — they’ve been swept up in this sort of very American craziness, they’re not going to follow through on this because it’s crazy and they don’t know me. We don’t know each other, and this is insane.”

Two weeks after E3 ended, Winters had been hired by Mojang full-time. Six months after accepting the job, she left Florida and started a new life in Stockholm, Sweden. And she’s never looked back.

A little over six years later, Winters still loves her job. Her American-ness and penchant toward talking (and talking loudly) made her an enormous asset to the Mojang team, composed mainly of Swedes who prefer, in her words, “next-level quiet.” The role that she took initially saw her looking after the community building related to the Minecraft brand but evolved to become a more senior role looking after all of the merchandising, events, and licensing as well.

“Each thing that has happened in the company has kind of always been like, ‘Well, I can do that,’ and you kind of raise your hand and think to yourself, ‘Actually, I don’t know if I can,'” she said, laughing. “But six years later I can spot the smallest detail in [something related to] Minecraft that is incorrect and people are like, ‘How did you do that?’ And it’s because I’ve looked at it, and I care about it, and I’ve seen it for so long. So the tiniest thing I can spot in a slide that was two slides ago, like, ‘Hold on. Can you go back a second?'”

There’s a reason that Winters has trained herself to spot these sorts of things, and it comes from the best imaginable place: for the love of what she’s doing and the people she’s doing the work for. “The amazing thing about Minecraft is that it’s way more than a game,” she said. “It’s a life-changing thing. It’s a way to spend time with people; it’s a way to communicate. It’s so big, and it’s so important that every day I’m like, ‘This is too important to screw anything up.’ I have to make sure everything is amazing, everything is perfect for this incredible brand that I get to have so much ownership over.”

Every day presents something new and different, and even she herself admits that no two days in a row are ever the same. I asked her to walk me through a typical day at the office, and what became immediately clear is that she really does have her hands in pretty much everything the company does. But naturally, there are some things that are set in stone.

One of those things is her morning routine. “I get up and work out with my personal trainer or at the gym, because I’m on the road to Minecon and I want to look very buff on stage,” she said, laughing. “After that, since I’m a very late person by nature, I’m always on the run from my apartment [to the office], which is on the South Island in Stockholm. My home is a 10-minute walk from work — but I can make it in seven minutes if I run. I’m usually running with a really delicious coffee that my partner has made for me, and I’m kind of spilling it and drinking it as I run into the office.”

On the day I spoke to Winters, she had kicked off her day with a three-hour meeting with one of Mojang’s merchandising partners, who pitched a whole host of new ideas for her team to consider. Winters, who said she was “maybe the eighth person hired at the company,” now has a team made up of product designers and project managers who help her with the approval process on each and every piece of merchandise. Her focus is making sure that everything that gets made has an extraspecial touch and “isn’t a label slap where the same artwork goes on everything.”

“There’s always a reason why something is positioned the way it is,” she said. “There’s a reason why a skeleton is being chased by a wolf [on an item] and it’s because wolves like bones and that’s kind of funny, because it’s something that would really happen. A little kid is not going to say, ‘I understand this shirt was very thoughtfully picked for me,’ but they may say, ‘Yeah, that is exactly what a skeleton does.’ And then there’s the adults who buy products, and you want them to go, ‘Wow, there was extra care put into this. This is more special than I thought it would be.'”

It’s not just animals and baddies that get a critical look, either. Minecraft used to predominately focus on a guy named Steve, and Winters was instrumental in getting a second main character, a female named Alex, added into the game as well. “I was like, ‘We have all this merchandise and it’s only a guy!’ and everyone was like, ‘No, Steve is genderless.’ And I was like, ‘He has a goatee. He is definitely a guy. He can be whatever gender he wants to be, but his name is Steve. How many Steves do you know that aren’t male?'”

Alex has red hair like Jeb, the lead designer, and green eyes like Winters herself — injecting a little bit of the Mojang personality into the game they spend so many hours each day perfecting. But she’s also a focal point for many of the conversations that Winters has with her merchandising partners on a day-to-day basis, pointing out the type of relegation that can happen to a female character without a critical eye: “If you’re not really careful and vigilant, Alex is always pushed behind Steve. Or she’s loving animals, and never doing any of the fighting. They both have to be shown in many different roles, because we have so many different players — on a daily basis, I’m talking about this, and looking at it constantly.”

The conversations that Winters has on a daily basis to avoid gendered typecasting are, in her eyes, crucial to putting forth the best possible version of the game to its users. One example of this is the struggle she went through with a specific brand who didn’t understand the importance of equally weighted roles for the “male” and “female” characters.

“There was a description of Steve and a description of Alex,” Winters said. “In the description of Steve, he was an architect, a designer, or a geologist or something. For Alex, it said, ‘She likes to build, explore, and mine.’ The two were sitting next to each other, and I was like, ‘Look at the difference between these two descriptions. You are saying that because Steve is male he has a job — Steve’s not an architect, he’s just a dude that builds. But if you’re going to say he has a job, at least use the same language for both of them. Either they both have jobs or they both like to do certain things.'”

Over the years, Winters has seen countless examples of Alex being mentioned with regard to fashion and Steve in relation to great careers and always puts the kibosh on it immediately. “You know that this will never go through,” she has told numerous clients, adding, “This isn’t OK. There’s no world in which we will approve this. Rewrite it. This not gender equal.”

The statement applies not just to descriptions of the two characters, but their positioning, the weapons they use, and the real-life models that are used to show off the goods that the company signs off on. In her mind, both characters should be portrayed as badasses — not one over the other. “I’ve had pink hair, I love pink, I love purple, I love animals,” she explained. “That’s fine, but there are also girls who don’t love any of that.”

It’s clear in looking at Mojang’s myriad offerings that these “soapbox moments from Lydia” have made a tangible difference — and an unexpected extra benefit is that it has also affected the workplace culture of Mojang as well. Winters, who once saw herself as a lone wolf hopping around doing whatever needed to be done, now has five people reporting into her and a whole lot more women standing by her side when she has these conversations.

“I was the first woman in the office, and then there were two of us — our CFO and I — and now, I’m happy to say, we have a huge amount of women working in the office,” Winters said, noting that she spent her lunch hour after the merchandising meeting doing a one-on-one with one of her direct reports. “They’re all amazing and incredible and save me so much time and have so many amazing ideas — and I’m transitioning into a better leader and a better boss because I take it very seriously, making sure that they’re developing as much as possible, just like I’m trying to.”

But she’s not just a manager and a brand champion. She’s also a brand ambassador, so Winters spent the afternoon before we got on the phone planning out the big reveal for this year’s annual Minecon: that she’ll be joined on stage with Will Arnett.

“It’s both the most exciting thing and the most panic-inducing thing I’ve ever done, because it’s like, whoa, this is the big leagues now – I’m going to be on stage with Will. And I think he’s amazing and I have for so long that I’m like, oh my god I’m going to pass out. And it will be so bad if I just faint,” she said, noting that while she may be fangirling out now, the most exciting part of him hosting is that he’s a huge fan of Minecraft himself.

“He was super interested in cohosting Minecon because he and his kids play together. And we always care about someone having a personal connection to Minecraft. I want everyone to play, but I get that it’s not for every single person — and there’s something really special about finding someone who’s not just awesome at what they do but they also like Minecraft, too.”

The rest of the hours of her workday are spent scripting and shooting the video Mojang will release to the public the following day. Minecon planning takes up a big chunk of the year — involving meticulous strategizing, researching, and surprising — and as a result her day-to-day workload is some combination of scripting, shooting, and merchandising. But that’s on top of the mentoring and managing she does, and the work she undertakes as part of Mojang’s leadership team. In short: it’s damn near impossible to sum up everything Winters does.

Even so, the excitement and energy that Winters brings to her job is palpable in everything she does — and it’s clear that she’s come a long way from her days in Florida, wondering what would happen next. Winters is now an inspiration to millions of women and girls around the world and proof that anything is possible so long as you put your full heart and mind into it and aren’t afraid of what might happen if you fail.

“I have yet to have a day where I’ve felt bored in over six years,” she told me, humbly. “So I feel like something I’m doing is right.”

The Incredible True Story of How a Florida Teacher Became Head of 1 of the Biggest Brands on Earth

How did a Spanish teacher boost engagement through Minecraft?

Dive Brief:

  • Wabasha-Kellogg High School (MN) Spanish teacher Glen Irvin writes for EdTech: Focus on K-12 that Minecraft enhanced his language teaching efforts by allowing him to build virtual worlds where students could create and interact with one another while practicing Spanish vocabulary.
  • Irvin suggests that educators looking to utilize Minecraft in their curriculum can test the waters with short projects when starting out, having them write, for example, sentences about a place using the language that they’re learning and then creating parts of that place in Minecraft. They can then create a virtual walkthrough that involves having them practice speaking that language in the narration.
  • Eventually, Irvin writes, he used Minecraft to create an immersive virtual role-playing game called “El Mundo de Leyendas,” in which students were required to communicate entirely in Spanish, and he notes that engagement with the Minecraft approach resulted in 100% assignment completion.

Dive Insight:

Minecraft has proven beneficial in a variety of learning environments in recent years due to its existing popularity with students and the malleability of its open-world sandbox design. Basically, the game is what the user makes it. To make things easier for educators, however, an edition specifically designed for the classroom is also available.

Perhaps the game’s greatest benefit is that no matter what primary subject is being taught through its lens, it also offers secondary learning opportunities for SEL and creative thinking. As a Getting Smart report detailed in August, 97.7% of teachers surveyed cited problem-solving as the top skill imparted by the game, with additional positive impacts on students’ creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, decision making, communication and empathy

How did a Spanish teacher boost engagement through Minecraft?