Games Inbox: PS4 unveiling 5-year anniversary, Burnout Paradise Remastered, and Halo 6 hopes

The morning Inbox wonders if Insomniac will ever make a Resistance 4, as one reader is very impressed by a Jet Set Radio tribute album.

To join in with the discussions yourself email [email protected]


Grand unveiling

Never mind Star Fox, I’ve got another anniversary for you. It’s five years to the day since the PlayStation 4 was unveiled! Obviously it’s didn’t come out until November, but this was the week that Sony first announced it, although if memory serves they didn’t actually show the box (which always seemed weird, because it turned out to be… just a box).

I think it’s fair to say that things have gone well with Sony since then, although like many I attribute their success more to Microsoft’s own unveil event later in the year. It is crazy to think that it’s going to be five years this Christmas though and that some generations have barely lasted that long in their entirety. It’s gone so quick, but I put that down to the first two years being so weak with too few proper next gen games.

The obvious question then is when Sony announces a PlayStation 5, especially as it seems sales of the PlayStation 4 have peaked – if only just. Personally I give it two years tops before Sony starts dropping hints at least. And I do expect it to be a proper next generation console and not a PS4 Pro Plus.

Will that one be online-only perhaps? I could see that happening. I bet it’ll emphasis streaming as well, maybe cloud computing too if that actually does become a thing. It should definitely come with a PlayStation VR 2, which I would be all for. So I don’t agree that there’s no need for one, even if the improvement in graphics is slowing.

As an Xbox 360 owner who switched to PlayStation 4 I’ve been very happy with the machine and I reckon the next next generation is already Sony’s to lose.


Faster than a speeding accountant

Very glad to see Burnout Paradise Remastered confirmed, but I’ve gotta say it’s almost a little scary to see how quickly EA react to trouble. They knocked Star Wars: Battlefront II’s loot boxes on the head before the game was even out and they’ve set-up this remaster just months after Need For Speed Payback crashed and burned.

Now I know a remaster doesn’t take as long as a full game, obviously, but March seems awful quick to me. Does that mean they commissioned it before Payback came out and they were expecting it to flop? Talk about having faith in your own product!

I know it never made sense for them to have two street racing series going at the same time but I always thought Burnout was the better of the two, and now that Need For Speed is dead I hope the true challenger can prove itself.


Children of all sizes

The more I hear about Nintendo Labo the more I’m convinced it’s going to be huge for them. I know I will definitely be getting the Variety Kit at least for my girl, as she’s already fascinated by the Switch and I think this will blow her mind. My concerns, like everyone I suppose, is whether the cardboard will break too easily, but I guess there’s only one to find out on that.

I do like the idea of being able to customise the toys, and the ones they did at the event you went to are super cute. Basically it seems like a mix of Lego, video games, and just craftwork. Which seems like a great thing for stimulating kid’s minds (and upsetting hardcore gamers).

I’m not so sure about the robot though, just because it’s more expensive but only one thing, that seems to have less uses. I’m also not clear how it works with people of different sizes. Do you have to swap and replace parts with different sized people?

GC: The length of the straps are changed by wrapping or unwrapping the cord that connects to the pulleys. It’s super low tech but it seemed to work fine, to the point where we were using exactly the same set-up as a little kid.


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Lost in the PS3 era

I too am curious to see what Sony will come up with for this E3 and beyond, but I think that they’re in a better position than Nintendo because they haven’t burnt through their big names as quickly. I’d still be really happy to see a new WipEout, Ratchet & Clank, and LittleBigPlanet.

The one I wonder about though is Resistance. I know it wasn’t super popular last gen but I really liked the last game and feel another could really be something special. Now I come to think of it it’s mostly the PlayStation 3 era games that haven’t lasted, as I don’t expect we’ll be seeing anymore inFamous or Killzone games either.

Not so much worried about them, but I would like more Resistance.

GC: Developer Insomniac are currently working on the new Spider-Man game, so it’d be a long time till they’d be able to come out with anything else. And even then we’d expect more Ratchet & Clank over Resistance.


Old school chief

I can certainly sympathise with the reader saying that his love of Halo has been burned out of him by the last few sequels. The worst thing is with what Bungie are doing to Destiny I’m not sure wishing them back would be any better anyway (not that they would return, I suspect).

My only hope for Halo 6 is that it goes back to basics and out of its way not to play like other modern games. The problem with the multiplayer in the last couple is that you could just tell someone went around trying to see what ideas from Call Of Duty, and Battlefield, and whatever could be sneaked in round the edges and now the whole thing has lost its sense of identity.

And then they went and messed up The Master Chief Collection and I don’t whether younger gamers even realise how big Halo used to be. I’d love for it to be the definitive console shooter again, but I honestly don’t know if 343 have got it in them…


Much ado about nothing

I would just like to add more praise for Firewatch. Although I can understand GC’s perspective with their review I definitely think is a game worth picking up. The visuals of the American wilderness, especially the lighting is great. The tension and sense of being vulnerable in an isolated wilderness is palpable. Most of the reviews I have read which gave the game less than stellar reviews seem due to the reviewer’s disappointment with the ending. I appreciate the ending is not quite what the game initially seems to be presenting but I thought it was rather moving.

The player does come across items and areas which add to the backstory of those whose tragic tale becomes the narrative driving force at the end of the game. As it has been a while since I played the game I cannot be sure of this but I wonder if they were sometimes off the beaten track (Firewatch is a mini open world but quite expansive) which GC might have missed. Either way I recommend the game to those with combat fatigue or those who like ominous, tense games but do not want to soil their pants with fear (thanks Resident Evil 7).
Lord Leaping Lynx
PS: I really enjoyed the weekend feature on the Kingdom Come: Deliverance programmer. I managed to avoid this and the Gamergate scandal. It has only enhanced my view that social media sucks and comments sections should be struck from all websites. To quote from a Day Today sketch from a newsreader, ‘Your comments are in and they’ve been described as ‘tedious, boring and stultifying ill-informed’ so thanks for that’.

GC: It’s not so much the ending itself as the fact that the game sacrificed all the set-up and mid-game revelations in favour of another far less interesting plot twist. The storytelling techniques were excellent, and yet we found the story itself very unsatisfying.


Any port in a storm

I have to admit I’m getting increasingly confused as to the difference between a port, a remaster, and a remake. Especially as some sites seem to be using the words almost at random. I thought a port was like a conversion and was like moving a game to another format without changing anything.

But something like Bayonetta 2 seems to be in a kind of grey area where it’s mostly the same but does have some improvements. So I guess that’s why you called it a remaster. Can you clarify?

GC: Like most things there isn’t any hard and fast rule but a port is supposed to be exactly the same game, just working on another system. A remaster is the original game but modernised in some way – usually by increasing the resolution, frame rate, or improving some of the textures or object models. A remake is something created almost from scratch to resemble the original but featuring all new graphics and controls.


Catch up on every previous Games Inbox here


Video game connection

I need access to the hive mind for identifying an old toy I used to have. Well, two to be precise. It was one of those Max Skull-type toys – you know, Polly Pocket but for boys. There was a Star Fleet-style spaceship base for the human good guys where it was a ship that opened up, had other little ships inside and tiny, plastic dudes. Need to have them tiny, plastic dudes.

But the villainous, alien version was more interesting. It had this neon green play dough that was meant to be acid and green, gloopified humans who had fell victim to the stuff. I was always cautious to touch it as I thought it might melt me too. Still not sure it won’t after twenty-plus years. Maybe it’s very slow-acting, okay!?

Inside and out it looked like some sci-fi horror land of mutant vegetation. I also remember a purple lid that vaguely looked like a heater shield and it had a scary looking ‘S’ inside a circle engraved on it. Hopefully this jogs someone’s memory. Because this has been annoying me for ages now.

GC: Do you mean Monster Max? For which there was an excellent Game Boy tie-in by renowned 8-bit developers John Ritman and Bernie Drummond (with music by David Wise)?


Inbox also-rans

Count me in as another person that is really loving Celeste. It always amazes me that these little indie games that look like they had a budget of 2p are much better at telling a story then something with a gazillion dollar budget. (I admit I may have exaggerated in both directions a bit there.)

Since it was mentioned a few days ago I’d just like to make readers aware of this Jet Set Radio tribute album. If there’s ever a sequel I hope they come straight to this guy for the soundtrack. You can listen to it here.
Fancy Dan


This week’s Hot Topic

The subject for this weekend’s Inbox was suggested by reader Gannet, who asks what do you think is the most overrated video game?

You don’t have to think the game is actively bad, just not as good as its reputation suggests. But do try and describe exactly why it didn’t live up to your expectations and what it got wrong. Was it just a good game that was hyped up too much, or do you feel it has flaws that were brushed over in reviews?

Was the problem that you were expecting it to be one thing and it turned out to be something completely different? Or was there some other personal preference that meant you couldn’t enjoy it


Games Inbox: PS4 unveiling 5-year anniversary, Burnout Paradise Remastered, and Halo 6 hopes

Dragon Quest Builders review – make the switch from Minecraft

One of the best alternatives to Minecraft comes to Nintendo Switch, with a charming spin-off that’s not just for existing fans.

It’s always seemed odd that no major publisher has ever tried to copy the success of Minecraft. There have been plenty of indie clones, but the only thing that’s come close from a traditional games company is the low profile Lego Worlds. And now this. Whether you care anything about the Dragon Quest games is irrelevant, as this offers a substantially different experience to both its inspiration and its parent franchise. And it’s a game that works particularly well on the Switch.

What excited us most about this game, when it was originally released in late 2016, is that it’s by Kazuya Niinou, creator of Etrian Odyssey – which happens to be one of our favourites. Although we’re sure most Western gamers have probably never heard of it, or probably Dragon Quest for that matter. Even though the latter is the most popular role-playing series in Japan. But if you are a fan there is a story connection here to the very first game, since you play in an alternative version of its ending – where the evil Dragonlord and his monsters actually managed to win.

The unusually non-combative solution to this problem is to rebuild the land of Alefgard from scratch, mining resources and constructing buildings by hand. But although it is still a sandbox game, where you’re free to go and build whatever you want, there’s a properly structured story to follow and non-player characters to talk to and recruit. Plus, some of that ‘mining’ involves beating up classic Dragon Quest monsters and using their carcases to build your home.

Another clear distinction between Dragon Quest Builders and Minecraft is that this is purely a single-player experience. You’re cast as the arts and crafts equivalent of the chosen one, with the plot hinging on everyone else having forgotten how to create anything with their own hands. Which as demonic curses go is a new one on us. They’re all keen to learn though, and the initial hours have you building up your first village from nothing and having various characters come to move in and help.

Unlike Minecraft, you’re treated to some very specific tutorials, that show how for the most common materials you need venture only a little way out of town to mine ores from the ground or harvest the local vegetation for organic materials. As you can see, the entire world is constructed out of little Minecraft-esque cubes; leaving you free to make the minimum of environmental impact with your excavations or carve out a giant statute in the side of a mountain, depending on your preference.

Monsters are little more than a nuisance at first, but inevitably they end up being the source of some of the rarer items. The combat is real-time and reminiscent of the top down Zelda games, so nothing like traditional Dragon Quest games – or at least certainly not the first one. The stronger monsters are what encourage you to build a blacksmith and armoury, and from there new weapons and armour. Before long your village is not only teeming with people but a self-propagating factory for its own enlargement.

Dragon Quest Builders (NS) - the graphics are a bit blocky
Dragon Quest Builders (NS) – the graphics are a bit blocky

All of this is hugely charming and enjoyable. Dragon Quest Builders is not a fast action game, but is instead meant as a counter to such things. You’re rarely in much danger, or under any time constraint, allowing you to take the game at your own pace and digress into building things that have no real benefit to the main story. There’s an old-fashioned playfulness to the game that manifests not just in its lack of pressure or hand-holding but in the Nintendo-esque dialogue that’s entirely PG-friendly but still has flashes of wry, knowing humour.

And unlike most construction games it doesn’t get bogged down in complications during the end game. The crafting elements do get increasingly complex, but at the same time villagers start to help with the busywork, preparing chests full of restoratives and defending the village if it’s attacked. As you gain experience it’s they, not you, that are levelling up and earning more perks and abilities, which is a neat reversal of the usual role-playing formula.

Dragon Quest Builders review – make the switch from Minecraft

Minecraft players have built a city block by block that will blow your mind

Architecture can be a thing of wonder, as perfectly exemplified by the likes of the Sistine Chapel and the Taj Mahal.

But it seems that the list of building wonders in the world is going to have to add another must-see spot to its roll call, as a team of Minecraft players have created a truly breath-taking sight in the digital world.

Working on a simple Minecraft map, a group of players, Octovon, have crafted not just a building but a whole city – and it’s kind of amazing.

The enormous, sprawling metropolis is even the more impressive given that its built on a map that measures 2000×2000 blocks – that and it took them eight months to build.

Minecraft players have built a city block by block that will blow your mind
Working on a simple Minecraft map, a group of players, Octovon, have crafted not just a building but a whole city – and it’s kind of amazing (Credit: Timothy Chen)

And while the casual observer may just think that the city is just a facade, they’d be mistaken as Octovon have lovingly and painstakingly crafted custom interiors for each room on each floor of each building.

Now that’s what we call dedication (or obsession).

The city is fittingly called Octania, and features everything from skyscrapers to old-school apartments blocks. In fact, it’s a regular little melting pot, just like a real city.

What’s more, the images of Octovon’s work aren’t just screenshots, they’re epic renders done VFX artist Timothy Chen.

The feat is maybe not so surprising, however, when you find out that the collective are a bunch of (undoubtedly) talented architects, designers, and artists that just happen to love Minecraft.

More of the group’s work is available to view on their website.

Minecraft players have built a city block by block that will blow your mind

Certain Minecraft Players Can Now Test the Update Aquatic Features

If you’re a Minecraft Java player, you can now test the upcoming features and additions included in the Update Aquatic expansion that includes throwable tridents, sea turtles, and much more.

The sea-themed update that revamps the game’s vast ocean biomes is one that’s been previewed before and was discussed in more detail by Mojang’s creative communications assistant Tom Stone. After starting by reminding Java players that they could download a snapshot of the Update Aquatic content, a snapshot being the Minecraft equivalent of a test server that includes new content and changes, Stone spoke with some of the other Mojang employees to share more details on the update.

One of the first topics that were discussed was sea turtles, an animal that’ll be added in the Update Aquatic and has been improved since first being announced.

“They’re also bigger,” said Mojang’s Agnes Larsson. “Sea turtles are actually really big in real life and it felt like you should get the right feel. Now it’s actually a big turtle swimming around the ocean. It felt more majestic!”

Like other animals, players can corral the sea turtles into a certain area, preferably one with water and sand, and get them to reproduce. Sea turtles naturally love seagrass, another addition to the Update Aquatic, and will soon lay some cube-shaped eggs after mating.

“It will lay the eggs on its home beach,” Larsson continued. “You can move the eggs because the baby turtles that are hatched will also remember that position as their home beach.”

A much less adorable addition to Minecraft that’s also coming soon is the winged mob known as The Phantom, a mob that players voted on during Minecon. This flying green-eyed mob has some interesting spawn mechanics as well with the creature spawning after players have gone a certain length of time without sleeping.

“The Phantom spawns around players who haven’t slept for five in-game days, so it’s about an hour of gameplay,” said Mojang’s Jens Bergensten. “You have to be under the sky and it must be night for them to spawn. But they also spawn in The End in this snapshot, which I’m expecting… interesting feedback on!”

Update Aquatic for Minecraft does not yet have a release date.

Certain Minecraft Players Can Now Test the Update Aquatic Features

Gamevice Launches Special Minecraft Gaming Controller Bundle

Gamevice today announced the launch of a new Minecraft-themed controller bundle, which comes with a standard Gamevice controller, a Gamevice carrying case, and a code to download Minecraft on iOS.

For those unfamiliar with Gamevice, the company makes gaming controllers designed for the iPhone and the iPad. Gamevice controllers wrap around an iOS device, offering access to a d-pad, two joystick, and buttons to allow gamers to play iOS games with physical controls.

The Minecraft version of the Gamevice works with iPhone 6, 6s, 7, 7s, 8, and X models, along with Plus versions of those devices. At $89.95, the Minecraft bundle is $10 more expensive than the standard Gamevice controller, but the Minecraft iOS code is worth $6.99 and the carrying case is an added bonus.

“Minecraft is one of the greatest games of all time and playing Minecraft with Gamevice puts mobile players on equal ground with PC and console players. said Phillip Hyun, CEO, Gamevice. “Gamevice offers low latency and precision control, delivering a console quality experience to more than one thousand different games including Mojang’s masterpiece.”

The Gamevice controllers, Minecraft controller included, work with more than 1,000 iOS games, including several games that have been optimized for iPhone X.

The Gamevice Minecraft Bundle can be purchased starting today from Amazon.

Gamevice Launches Special Minecraft Gaming Controller Bundle

For the Stars of ‘Black Panther,’ Superpowers and Responsibility

For all its sci-fi sparkle and requisite fate-of-the-world stakes, the most salient aspects of Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” may be the most basic: It is the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist; the first to star a majority black cast; and in Ryan Coogler (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”), the first to employ a black writer and director.

Those distinctions may add up to a public relations victory for the blockbuster factory responsible for “The Avengers” and the rest of the $13 billion Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s a mixed one — to count the film’s racial milestones is to acknowledge the homogeneity of its predecessors. (There have been 17, since we’re counting.)

As often happened in the comic books, however, the house that “Iron Man” built can ably dismantle the very norms it once codified. And in that sense, “Black Panther” may punctuate an emerging trend. It follows the mold-breaking work of James Gunn’s stylish “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and Taika Waititi’s self-aware “Thor: Ragnarok,” suggesting — after 10 years of Tony Stark — that Marvel’s tolerance for risk might be growing along with its financial clout.

“Black Panther” is also, of course, a shrewd bet on the social and economic muscle of black filmgoers. Mr. Coogler’s film, based on an unsung 1960s creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, has inspired a level of anticipation that wildly exceeds the name recognition of its title character — owing, in part, to pent-up demand for a megabudget movie devoted to black life.

As with “Wonder Woman” last year, another movie that spoke to an underserved population at a moment of acute political anxiety, audiences have reacted with partisan fervor.

#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe and showing their support for the #BlackPantherChallenge (a spontaneous campaign to buy tickets and popcorn for children). The film recently broke the advance ticket sales record for any movie released in the first quarter, according to the online vendor Fandango, surpassing “The Hunger Games” and the 2017 live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast.”

The morning after a red-carpet premiere in Hollywood last month that left Twitter swooning, the stars, director and producer of the film gathered for a spirited conversation about their role in challenging standard depictions of the African diaspora on screen.

Taking part in the discussion were Mr. Coogler; Chadwick Boseman, who plays T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda; Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia, a Wakandan spy and T’Challa’s love interest); Michael B. Jordan (Erik Killmonger, an African-American adversary of Black Panther’s); Danai Gurira (Okoye, Wakanda’s greatest warrior); and Kevin Feige, a producer of “Black Panther” and president of Marvel Studios. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

I read a funny tweet the other day that said this movie is basically reparations.

[Rolling laughter]

CHADWICK BOSEMAN I still want my reparations! I still want my reparations!

RYAN COOGLER [laughing] I think only reparations can be reparations.


“I was like, ‘This is big.’ I had never been on a set with so many black people before.” — Lupita Nyong’o Credit Brinson+Banks for The New York Times

It’s silly, but is there a kernel of truth there for any of you? The idea that Disney and Marvel investing so much in a movie with a black cast and crew can count as something like restitution?

DANAI GURIRA What it does in such a beautiful way, to me, is it sets a precedent. We’ve read a lot of subtitles for German and Russian — we can read subtitles for African languages now. People can’t go back and say, “No, that’s going to be too hard, it’s Africa.” They can’t do that. And that is so thrilling to me.

MICHAEL B. JORDAN It couldn’t have been done on a bigger level. If Marvel is behind it, then it’s gotta be O.K. Moving forward, everybody’s going to start to have the courage to tell bold stories that people didn’t think were lucrative, didn’t think that anybody wanted to see. All of that, I feel, is getting ready to dissolve.

BOSEMAN It has to.

GURIRA No, it will.

COOGLER What I’ll say is, this is my second time working in the studio system, and they say it’s the studio system, but it’s really the people system. It’s who’s running the studio? How are they running it? When you look at Disney with [Tendo Nagenda, executive vice president for production at Walt Disney Studios, and Nate Moore, a producer at Marvel Studios and an executive producer of “Black Panther”], it’s a place that’s interested in representation, not just for the sake of representation, but representation because that’s what works, that’s what’s going to make quality stuff that the world is going to embrace, that’s what leads to success.


“A lot of times, being [a black man] in Hollywood, when you get material you’ll read it and you’ll be like, ‘That’s not us.’” — Chadwick Boseman Credit Brinson+Banks for The New York Times

Kevin, there’s long been this idea in Hollywood that movies with black casts don’t perform well internationally. Does that end with “Black Panther”?

KEVIN FEIGE I certainly hope so. One thing I would always remind Ryan of when we would talk about humor and entertainment value in the film was that the biggest statement this movie can make is to be a success around the globe. And I think he’s delivered a movie that’s going to do that, and that disproves [beliefs] that had maybe never been true but had never been tested.

For the actors, what did joining this film mean to you and how did it feel different from other movies you’ve done?

BOSEMAN I’ve done other films that have had historic significance because of what has happened in the past, but this not only refers to the past, it sets the stage for where we’re going.

GURIRA I’ve had a passion for telling African stories for a really long time, being American-born and Zimbabwe-raised. That biculturalism is something that I try to address in my work as a playwright [her 2016 drama “Eclipsed” was nominated for a Tony for best play], but nothing can address it like a Marvel movie. I had a childlike glee after my meeting with Ryan — I kind of floated around, found my car somehow. You think you’re alone in the struggle until you meet someone and then you think, “Oh wow, we’re all in it together? And y’all are doing this already? And I just have to be in it?” It was just so beautiful.

LUPITA NYONG’O Seeing it yesterday, I’m even more excited about the celebration of pan-Africanism, because this movie is really about a contemporary Africa relating very intimately with a contemporary America via the characters of Black Panther and Killmonger. We’re talking about some really deep issues that we don’t often voice but we all feel. [Ms. Nyong’o was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents and raised in Kenya.]


“You think you’re alone in the struggle until you meet someone and then you think, ‘Oh wow, we’re all in it together?’” — Danai Gurira Credit Brinson+Banks for The New York Times

BOSEMAN A lot of times, being [a black man] in Hollywood, when you get material you’ll read it and you’ll be like, “That’s not us.” When I got the initial call from Kevin Feige, my hope was that they would have the courage to give Black Panther its true essence and put somebody behind it that would have my same passion for what it could be. And they did that.

On set, did you have that feeling of “This is important” or did you just try to do good work like normal?

COOGLER I learned a skill from playing football. I was a wide receiver — they throw you the ball, you can’t drop it. So I learned that you gotta tune everything else out.

If I get to set and there’s a hundred black people on the side of a waterfall and Lupita is dressed in this adornment and Danai is dressed in this adornment and they’re like, “Hey Ryan, do I stand here or here?” I can’t think, “Ah, this is amazing, I’m making ‘Black Panther’ and there’s all these black folks on screen!” I really gotta tell Danai that she needs to move over here, and I gotta tell her five reasons why she’s gotta move over here, because she’s gonna wanna know ’em! [Laughter]

But seriously, I grew up reading these comic books and watching all these movies. If I really thought about the fact that I’m making one of these things right now, with people I know and love, I would break down emotionally. I wouldn’t be no good to anybody.

NYONG’O A moment when I really felt a vibration was when we were shooting [the waterfall scene]. There were hundreds of extras and we were all in these traditional clothes and there were all the tribal colors and drumming, and between takes, the drummers started riffing to [Snoop Dogg’s] “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” The whole crowd started to go [sings the melody] and we were all dancing as Ryan figured things out below.


“Moving forward, everybody’s going to start to have the courage to tell bold stories that people didn’t think were lucrative.” — Michael B. Jordan Credit Brinson+Banks for The New York Times

In that moment, I was like, “This is big.” I had never been on a set with so many black people before and we were all so focused and I could feel a vibration in the air. We all felt so privileged to have an opportunity to be a part of this moment in history.

Michael, one of the interesting complexities of the film comes from Killmonger’s identity as an African-American, which contrasts against T’Challa’s African-ness. What did you want to bring to the character?

JORDAN Ryan [and I] started getting into the back story of where he came from and how his upbringing really affected his personality, his outlook, his rage, his agenda. We felt like we could show where Erik is coming from and make people feel why he is so angry, why he is so lost. He doesn’t know who he is, but he knows the answers are out there.

BOSEMAN For me, [Killmonger and T’Challa] are two sides of the same coin — African and African-American. As an African-American, if you’re disconnected from your ancestry and your past, you have this conflict that comes from that and so there is a healing experience that is possible because of that.

COOGLER The fracture that Killmonger has, that’s the fracture I lived with my whole life. I’m from a place that I’d never been to and that nobody who I loved had been to because they couldn’t afford to go [to Africa. Mr. Coogler grew up in Richmond in Northern California]. So I would hear stories from them about this place that they didn’t even know anything about, and those stories were a counterbalance to the awful things that we did hear about them.


“The fracture that Killmonger has, that’s the fracture I lived with my whole life. I’m from a place that I’d never been to.” — Ryan Coogler Credit Brinson+Banks for The New York Times

In the movie, Wakanda disguises vast technological resources from the world, and white people who aren’t in the know refer to it dismissively as a primitive backwater. That’s a very real view that a lot of people hold about Africa, as recent comments attributed to the president made clear. What do you hope will be the effect of introducing audiences to this counternarrative about the continent?

COOGLER The narrative about the continent that we know is actually a fairly recent narrative, if you think about human history. It’s a narrative that was born out of what happened when the countries of Africa were conquered.

But the truth is that some of those places that people might refer to as backwaters — and these recent comments definitely aren’t the first time somebody has said something like that — were the cradle of civilization. They were the first places to do anything that we would consider to be civilized.

All the structures that we built in Wakanda, they’re taller structures of what you’ll find in Africa. Some of them we switched up — instead of mud we used [the fictional supermetal] vibranium — but those are buildings that you’ll really find in Mali, in Ethiopia, in Nigeria.

I spent about three weeks in Africa [doing research for “Black Panther”] and I truly felt that seeing it for myself was necessary for my growth as a human being. That experience made me not only capable [of writing] this film, but it made me whole as a person.

For the Stars of ‘Black Panther,’ Superpowers and Responsibility

Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America

The Grand Lake Theater — the kind of old-time movie house with cavernous ceilings and ornate crown moldings — is one place I take my kids to remind us that we belong to Oakland, Calif. Whenever there is a film or community event that has meaning for this town, the Grand Lake is where you go to see it. There are local film festivals, indie film festivals, erotic film festivals, congressional town halls, political fund-raisers. After Hurricane Katrina, the lobby served as a drop-off for donations. We run into friends and classmates there. On weekends we meet at the farmers’ market across the street for coffee.

The last momentous community event I experienced at the Grand Lake was a weeknight viewing of “Fruitvale Station,” the 2013 film directed by the Bay Area native Ryan Coogler. It was about the real-life police shooting of Oscar Grant, 22, right here in Oakland, where Grant’s killing landed less like a news story and more like the death of a friend or a child. He had worked at a popular grocery, gone to schools and summer camps with the children of acquaintances. His death — he was shot by the transit police while handcuffed, unarmed and face down on a train-station platform, early in the morning of New Year’s Day 2009 — sparked intense grief, outrage and sustained protest, years before Black Lives Matter took shape as a movement. Coogler’s telling took us slowly through the minutiae of Grant’s last day alive: We saw his family and child, his struggles at work, his relationship to a gentrifying city, his attempts to make sense of a young life that felt both aimless and daunting. But the moment I remember most took place after the movie was over: A group of us, friends and strangers alike and nearly all black, stood in the cool night under the marquee, crying and holding one another. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know one another. We knew enough.

On a misty morning this January, I found myself standing at that same spot, having gotten out of my car to take a picture of the Grand Lake’s marquee. The words “Black Panther” were on it, placed dead center. They were not in normal-size letters; the theater was using the biggest ones it had. All the other titles huddled together in another corner of the marquee. A month away from its Feb. 16 opening, “Black Panther” was, already and by a wide margin, the most important thing happening at the Grand Lake.

Marvel Comics’s Black Panther was originally conceived in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, two Jewish New Yorkers, as a bid to offer black readers a character to identify with. The titular hero, whose real name is T’Challa, is heir apparent to the throne of Wakanda, a fictional African nation. The tiny country has, for centuries, been in nearly sole possession of vibranium, an alien element acquired from a fallen meteor. (Vibranium is powerful and nearly indestructible; it’s in the special alloy Captain America’s shield is made of.) Wakanda’s rulers have wisely kept their homeland and its elemental riches hidden from the world, and in its isolation the nation has grown wildly powerful and technologically advanced. Its secret, of course, is inevitably discovered, and as the world’s evil powers plot to extract the resources of yet another African nation, T’Challa’s father is cruelly assassinated, forcing the end of Wakanda’s sequestration. The young king will be forced to don the virtually indestructible vibranium Black Panther suit and face a duplicitous world on behalf of his people.

This is the subject of Ryan Coogler’s third feature film — after “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” (2015) — and when glimpses of the work first appeared last June, the response was frenzied. The trailer teaser — not even the full trailer — racked up 89 million views in 24 hours. On Jan. 10, 2018, after tickets were made available for presale, Fandango’s managing editor, Erik Davis, tweeted that the movie’s first 24 hours of advance ticket sales exceeded those of any other movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


From left: Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman and Letitia Wright in ‘‘Black Panther.’’ Credit Marvel Studios

The black internet was, to put it mildly, exploding. Twitter reported that “Black Panther” was one of the most tweeted-about films of 2017, despite not even opening that year. There were plans for viewing parties, a fund-raiser to arrange a private screening for the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, hashtags like #BlackPantherSoLit and #WelcomeToWakanda. When the date of the premiere was announced, people began posting pictures of what might be called African-Americana, a kitsch version of an older generation’s pride touchstones — kente cloth du-rags, candy-colored nine-button suits, King Jaffe Joffer from “Coming to America” with his lion-hide sash — alongside captions like “This is how I’ma show up to the Black Panther premiere.” Someone described how they’d feel approaching the box office by simply posting a video of the Compton rapper Buddy Crip-walking in front of a Moroccan hotel.

None of this is because “Black Panther” is the first major black superhero movie. Far from it. In the mid-1990s, the Damon Wayans vehicle “Blankman” and Robert Townsend’s “The Meteor Man” played black-superhero premises for campy laughs. Superheroes are powerful and beloved, held in high esteem by society at large; the idea that a normal black person could experience such a thing in America was so far-fetched as to effectively constitute gallows humor. “Blade,” released in 1998, featured Wesley Snipes as a Marvel vampire hunter, and “Hancock” (2008) depicted Will Smith as a slacker antihero, but in each case the actor’s blackness seemed somewhat incidental.

“Black Panther,” by contrast, is steeped very specifically and purposefully in its blackness. “It’s the first time in a very long time that we’re seeing a film with centered black people, where we have a lot of agency,” says Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds, a pop-culture site focused on sci-fi and comic-book fandoms. These characters, she notes, “are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology. We’re not dealing with black pain, and black suffering, and black poverty” — the usual topics of acclaimed movies about the black experience.

In a video posted to Twitter in December, which has since gone viral, three young men are seen fawning over the “Black Panther” poster at a movie theater. One jokingly embraces the poster while another asks, rhetorically: “This is what white people get to feel all the time?” There is laughter before someone says, as though delivering the punch line to the most painful joke ever told: “I would love this country, too.”

Ryan Coogler saw his first Black Panther comic book as a child, at an Oakland shop called Dr. Comics & Mr. Games, about a mile from the Grand Lake Theater. When I sat down with him in early February, at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, I told him about the night I saw “Fruitvale Station,” and he listened with his head down, slowly nodding. When he looked up at me, he seemed to be blinking back tears of his own.


Cover of Fantastic Four comic book from 1966, Black Panther’s debut. Credit Marvel

Coogler played football in high school, and between his fitness and his humble listening poses — leaning forward, elbows propped on knees — he reminds me of what might happen if a mild-mannered athlete accidentally discovered a radioactive movie camera and was gifted with remarkable artistic vision. He’s interested in questions of identity: What does it mean to be a black person or an African person? “You know, you got to have the race conversation,” he told me, describing how his parents prepared him for the world. “And you can’t have that without having the slavery conversation. And with the slavery conversation comes a question of, O.K., so what about before that? And then when you ask that question, they got to tell you about a place that nine times out of 10 they’ve never been before. So you end up hearing about Africa, but it’s a skewed version of it. It’s not a tactile version.”

Around the time he was wrapping up “Creed,” Coogler made his first journey to the continent, visiting Kenya, South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho, a tiny nation in the center of the South African landmass. Tucked high amid rough mountains, Lesotho was spared much of the colonization of its neighbors, and Coogler based much of his concept of Wakanda on it. While he was there, he told me, he was being shown around by an older woman who said she’d been a lover of the South African pop star Brenda Fassie. Riding along the hills with this woman, Coogler was told that they would need to visit an even older woman in order to drop off some watermelon. During their journey, they would stop occasionally to approach a shepherd and give him a piece of watermelon; each time the shepherd would gingerly take the piece, wrap it in cloth and tuck it away as though it were a religious totem. Time passed. Another bit of travel, another shepherd, another gift of watermelon. Eventually Coogler grew frustrated: “Why are we stopping so much?” he asked. “Watermelon is sacred,” he was told. “It hydrates, it nourishes and its seeds are used for offerings.” When they arrived at the old woman’s home, it turned out that she was, in fact, a watermelon farmer, but her crop had not yet ripened — she needed a delivery to help her last the next few weeks.

When I was a kid, I refused to eat watermelon in front of white people. To this day, the word itself makes me uncomfortable. Coogler told me that in high school he and his black football teammates used to have the same rule: Never eat watermelon in front of white teammates. Centuries of demonizing and ridiculing blackness have, in effect, forced black people to abandon what was once sacred. When we spoke of Africa and black Americans’ attempts to reconnect with what we’re told is our lost home, I admitted that I sometimes wondered if we could ever fully be part of what was left behind. He dipped his head, fell briefly quiet and then looked back at me with a solemn expression. “I think we can,” he said. “It’s no question. It’s almost as if we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we can’t have that connection.”

“Black Panther” is a Hollywood movie, and Wakanda is a fictional nation. But coming when they do, from a director like Coogler, they must also function as a place for multiple generations of black Americans to store some of our most deeply held aspirations. We have for centuries sought to either find or create a promised land where we would be untroubled by the criminal horrors of our American existence. From Paul Cuffee’s attempts in 1811 to repatriate blacks to Sierra Leone and Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa Black Star shipping line to the Afrocentric movements of the ’60s and ’70s, black people have populated the Africa of our imagination with our most yearning attempts at self-realization. In my earliest memories, the Africa of my family was a warm fever dream, seen on the record covers I stared at alone, the sun setting over glowing, haloed Afros, the smell of incense and oils at the homes of my father’s friends — a beauty so pure as to make the world outside, one of car commercials and blond sitcom families, feel empty and perverse in comparison. As I grew into adolescence, I began to see these romantic visions as just another irrelevant habit of the older folks, like a folk remedy or a warning to wear a jacket on a breezy day. But by then my generation was building its own African dreamscape, populated by KRS-One, Public Enemy and Poor Righteous Teachers; we were indoctrinating ourselves into a prideful militancy about our worth. By the end of the century, “Black Star” was not just the name of Garvey’s shipping line but also one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever made.

Never mind that most of us had never been to Africa. The point was not verisimilitude or a precise accounting of Africa’s reality. It was the envisioning of a free self. Nina Simone once described freedom as the absence of fear, and as with all humans, the attempt of black Americans to picture a homeland, whether real or mythical, was an attempt to picture a place where there was no fear. This is why it doesn’t matter that Wakanda was an idea from a comic book, created by two Jewish artists. No one knows colonization better than the colonized, and black folks wasted no time in recolonizing Wakanda. No genocide or takeover of land was required. Wakanda is ours now. We do with it as we please.

Until recently, most popular speculation on what the future would be like had been provided by white writers and futurists, like Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry. Not coincidentally, these futures tended to carry the power dynamics of the present into perpetuity. Think of the original “Star Trek,” with its peaceful, international crew, still under the charge of a white man from Iowa. At the time, the character of Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was so vital for African-Americans — the black woman of the future as an accomplished philologist — that, as Nichols told NPR, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself persuaded her not to quit the show after the first season. It was a symbol of great progress that she was conceived as something more than a maid. But so much still stood in the way of her being conceived as a captain.

The artistic movement called Afrofuturism, a decidedly black creation, is meant to go far beyond the limitations of the white imagination. It isn’t just the idea that black people will exist in the future, will use technology and science, will travel deep into space. It is the idea that we will have won the future. There exists, somewhere within us, an image in which we are whole, in which we are home. Afrofuturism is, if nothing else, an attempt to imagine what that home would be. “Black Panther” cannot help being part of this. “Wakanda itself is a dream state,” says the director Ava DuVernay, “a place that’s been in the hearts and minds and spirits of black people since we were brought here in chains.” She and Coogler have spent the past few months working across the hall from each other in the same editing facility, with him tending to “Black Panther” and her to her much-anticipated film of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” At the heart of Wakanda, she suggests, lie some of our most excruciating existential questions: “What if they didn’t come?” she asked me. “And what if they didn’t take us? What would that have been?”


From left: Chadwick Boseman and Daniel Kaluuya in “Black Panther” Credit Marvel Studios

Afrofuturism, from its earliest iterations, has been an attempt to imagine an answer to these questions. The movement spans from free-jazz thinkers like Sun Ra, who wrote of an African past filled with alien technology and extraterrestrial beings, to the art of Krista Franklin and Ytasha Womack, to the writers Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor and Derrick Bell, to the music of Jamila Woods and Janelle Monáe. Their work, says John I. Jennings — a media and cultural studies professor at the University of California, Riverside, and co-author of “Black Comix Returns” — is a way of upending the system, “because it jumps past the victory. Afrofuturism is like, ‘We already won.’ ” Comic books are uniquely suited to handling this proposition. In them the laws of our familiar world are broken: Mild-mannered students become godlike creatures, mutants walk among us and untold power is, in an instant, granted to the most downtrodden. They offer an escape from reality, and who might need to escape reality more than a people kidnapped to a stolen land and treated as less-than-complete humans?

At the same time, it is notable that despite selling more than a million books and being the first science-fiction author to win a MacArthur fellowship, Octavia Butler, one of Afrofuturism’s most important voices, never saw her work transferred to film, even as studios churned out adaptations of lesser works on a monthly basis. Butler’s writing not only featured African-Americans as protagonists; it specifically highlighted African-American women. If projects by and about black men have a hard time getting made, projects by and about black women have a nearly impossible one. In March, Disney will release “A Wrinkle in Time,” featuring Storm Reid and Oprah Winfrey in lead roles; the excitement around this female-led film does not seem to compare, as of yet, with the explosion that came with “Black Panther.” But by focusing on a black female hero — one who indeed saves the universe — DuVernay is embodying the deepest and most powerful essence of Afrofuturism: to imagine ourselves in places where we had not been previously imagined.

Can films like these significantly change things for black people in America? The expectations around “Black Panther” remind me of the way I heard the elders in my family talking about the mini-series “Roots,” which aired on ABC in 1977. A multigenerational drama based on the best-selling book in which Alex Haley traced his own family history, “Roots” told the story of an African slave kidnapped and brought to America, and traced his progeny through over 100 years of American history. It was an attempt to claim for us a home, because to be black in America is to be both with and without one: You are told that you must honor this land, that to refuse this is tantamount to hatred — but you are also told that you do not belong here, that you are a burden, an animal, a slave. Haley, through research and narrative and a fair bit of invention, was doing precisely what Afrofuturism does: imagining our blackness as a thing with meaning and with lineage, with value and place.

“The climate was very different in 1977,” the actor LeVar Burton recalled to me recently. Burton was just 19 when he landed an audition, his first ever, for the lead role of young Kunta Kinte in the mini-series. “We had been through the civil rights movement, and there were visible changes as a result, like there was no more Jim Crow,” he told me. “We felt that there were advancements that had been made, so the conversation had really sort of fallen off the table.” The series, he said, was poised to reignite that conversation. “The story had never been told before from the point of view of the Africans. America, both black and white, was getting an emotional education about the costs of slavery to our common American psyche.”

To say that “Roots” held the attention of a nation for its eight-consecutive-night run in January 1977 would be an understatement. Its final episode was viewed by 51.1 percent of all American homes with televisions, a kind of reach that seemed sure to bring about some change in opportunities, some new standing in American culture. “The expectation,” Burton says, “was that this was going to lead to all kinds of positive portrayals of black people on the screen both big and small, and it just didn’t happen. It didn’t go down that way, and it’s taken years.”

Here in Oakland, I am doing what it seems every other black person in the country is doing: assembling my delegation to Wakanda. We bought tickets for the opening as soon as they were available — the first time in my life I’ve done that. Our contingent is made up of my 12-year-old daughter and her friend; my 14-year-old son and his friend; one of my oldest confidants, dating back to adolescence; and two of my closest current friends. Not everyone knows everyone else. But we all know enough. Our group will be eight black people strong.

Beyond the question of what the movie will bring to African-Americans sits what might be a more important question: What will black people bring to “Black Panther”? The film arrives as a corporate product, but we are using it for our own purposes, posting with unbridled ardor about what we’re going to wear to the opening night, announcing the depths of the squads we’ll be rolling with, declaring that Feb. 16, 2018, will be “the Blackest Day in History.”

This is all part of a tradition of unrestrained celebration and joy that we have come to rely on for our spiritual survival. We know that there is no end to the reminders that our lives, our hearts, our personhoods are expendable. Yes, many nonblack people will say differently; they will declare their love for us, they will post Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela quotes one or two days a year. But the actions of our country and its collective society, and our experiences within it, speak unquestionably to the opposite. Love for black people isn’t just saying Oscar Grant should not be dead. Love for black people is Oscar Grant not being dead in the first place.

This is why we love ourselves in the loud and public way we do — because we have to counter his death with the very same force with which such deaths attack our souls. The writer and academic Eve L. Ewing told me a story about her partner, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago: When it is time for graduation, he makes the walk from his office to the celebration site in his full regalia — the gown with velvet panels, full bell sleeves and golden piping, the velvet tam with gold-strand bullion tassel. And when he does it, every year, like clockwork, some older black woman or man he doesn’t know will pull over, roll down their window, stop him and say, with a slow head shake and a deep, wide smile, something like: “I am just so proud of you!”

This is how we do with one another. We hold one another as a family because we must be a family in order to survive. Our individual successes and failures belong, in a perfectly real sense, to all of us. That can be for good or ill. But when it is good, it is very good. It is sunlight and gold on vast African mountains, it is the shining splendor of the Wakandan warriors poised and ready to fight, it is a collective soul as timeless and indestructible as vibranium. And with this love we seek to make the future ours, by making the present ours. We seek to make a place where we belong.

Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America

Minecraft teaches kids about tech, but there’s a gender imbalance at play

Arguments about “screen time” are likely to crop up in many households with children these holidays. As one of the best-selling digital games of all time, Minecraft will be a likely culprit.

In a recent survey of Australian adults, excessive “screen time” was rated as the top child health concern, but current time limit guidelines are not only criticised by some experts, but also not very achievable for many families.

Thankfully, more practical advice is on the way. We are starting to see research that looks beyond the number of hours spent playing to more meaningful studies about what children are actually doing in their digital playtime.

Our research contributes to this by studying the characteristics of children’s Minecraft play in Australia, shedding light on how kids access the game, assessing the social nature of play, and providing a reality check on claims of gender-neutrality.

Understanding the Minecraft phenomenon

Minecraft is as much a digital playground as it is a digital game. The player controls a character within a virtual environment that can be manipulated in various ways, with varying degrees of difficulty. There is no definitive goal and players are free to create and direct their own playful interactions with the landscape and its inhabitants – either on their own or with other players.

Since it was first officially released in 2011, more than 120 million copies of Minecraft have been sold. The game is one of the most searched terms on YouTube, and in 2016 an educational version was released for use in schools.

Despite these indications of its pervasiveness, no prior work had identified how popular it actually is with children in Australia.

Consequently, we surveyed 753 parents of children aged 3 to 12 living in Melbourne, and recently published our findings in New Media and Society, and the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Computer-Human Interaction in Play.

The results show that 53% of children aged 6 to 8, and 68% of children aged 9 to 12, are actively playing Minecraft. More than half of those play more than once per week.

It is now clear that Minecraft is no passing fad, but rather a new addition to 21st-century play repertoires. It is crucial that we form a detailed understanding of how children use the game and how this fits in with their overall “play worlds”.

Minecraft is a social activity

Reflecting the rise of the tablet computer in children’s digital play, more than 70% of children aged 3 to 8 primarily play Minecraft on a tablet. This falls to 50% in children aged 9 to 12, with a corresponding increase in PC-based play where more technologically challenging play is possible.

Despite the persistent myth that digital game play is a solitary activity, 80% of children in our sample at times played Minecraft with someone else – including siblings, friends, parents, other relatives or other players online. And nearly half most often played with someone else.

Although there is evidence that co-play between parents and children is one of the more effective ways to maximise the benefits of digital play, only 11% of parents reported ever playing Minecraft with their children.

Minecraft is not gender-neutral

The game’s creator claims gender ‘doesn’t exist’ in Minecraft, but our results show significant differences in rates of Minecraft play in boys and girls. kjarrett/flickr

Minecraft is often referred to as equally appealing to both boys and girls. The game’s creator, Notch, has claimed that “gender doesn’t exist” in Minecraft, and popular discourse commonly refers to young children’s digital play in titles like Minecraft as gender-neutral.

But our study shows that this does not appear to be reflected in actual player demographics.

We found that girls aged 3 to 12 are much less likely to play Minecraft than boys, with 54% of boys playing and only 32% of girls. This difference was greatest in younger children: 68% of boys aged six to eight in our study played Minecraft, but only 29% of girls.

This is important, because young children’s digital play is connected to the development of their confidence and literacy with digital technology.

What’s more, the players who most often play in the game’s more competitive “survival” mode are more likely to be boys. Girls are more likely to play in the game’s “creative” mode.

The research that supports campaigns like Let Toys Be Toys would suggest that this may be due to the broader marketing of digital games as “for boys”, even if Minecraft is for everyone.

The most striking gender difference was in relation to YouTube videos. While 32% of six to eight-year-old boys had watched Minecraft YouTube videos in the week prior to their parent taking the survey, only 9% of girls had. So not only is Minecraft play gendered, but so too is early immersion in the surrounding gamer culture.

Digital gaming can pave the way to careers in STEM

Children are increasingly required to bring iPads to school. The government (highlighting the benefits of STEM fields to the economy) casts the tech-savvy child a in central role in visions of “Australia’s future prosperity and competitiveness on the international stage”.

There is mounting evidence that Minecraft can be used to foster interest and skill in the kinds of areas that are relevant to STEM industry careers. And involvement with gamer culture is a likely inroad to interest in gaming and technological pursuits later on in life.

This is why the dominance of tablet play and the significant gender differences are so important. We need to look at why these differences exist and understand them in more detail.

It is only through this kind of information that we will be able to ask meaningful research questions and form advice for parents that maximises benefits of Minecraft play, while reducing any possible harms.

This work will ultimately mean that future advice is based more on the realities of children’s everyday practices and less on policing the clock.

In the meantime, we recommend checking out the “Parenting for a digital future” blog for practical tips on how to strike the right balance when it comes to managing screen time – including Minecraft play.

Minecraft teaches kids about tech, but there’s a gender imbalance at play

‘Minecraft’ Data Mining Reveals Players’ Darkest Secrets

Since Minecraft was first released in 2009, players have been building their own virtual worlds, erecting countless, giant statues of Pikachu and posting semi-obnoxious Let’s Play videos on YouTube. You’d think that by now, we would have seen everything Minecraft has to offer, but some of the game’s most personal, heartfelt, and tragic stories remain buried on dead servers.

Minecraft player Matt B., whose Reddit username is “worldseed,” is data-mining old servers in search of players’ darkest secrets. (He spoke to us anonymously, saying that he preferred to keep his online and offline identities separate.) Matt wrote two programs in Java: BookReader.jar and SignReader.jar. These applications scan a Minecraft map for every book and sign left behind by players. They then dump all these messages into a text file that Matt can search for terms like “treasure.” Each log entry contains the exact in-game coordinates of the written document.

A few days ago, he founded the MinecraftDataMining subreddit and, so far, has enlisted around 30 volunteers in his efforts to dig up love letters, diaries, and bad high school poetry.

“A lot of the material is just cute little slice of life things,” Matt told Motherboard over Discord. “But it can be kind of depressing.”

Minecraft players can write anything they want on in-game books and signs. As expected, many of these notes are related to things players do in the game. There are recipes for healing potions and written notices that one player has intruded upon another player’s property. But occasionally Matt stumbles across something remarkable.

Discoveries range from the utterly bizarre, like the diary written from the perspective of a chicken found buried underground, to discarded documents of loneliness and grief. In one instance, Matt found what appears to be a player’s suicidal thoughts in a cave hidden below a house on a server that has been closed for five years.

“If I kill myself tonight: the stars will still disappear,” one of the signs read. “The sun will still come up, the Earth would still rotate, the seasons would change…”

Another data mined sign led to what appears to be a memorial of a friend of a player who passed away. Matt was able to use the information from the monument to locate the person’s obituary. “RIP Charlie,” the signs read. “Student, Gamer, Friend…No one here knew him, but I will never forget.”

Not all the signs are so somber. One series tells the story of a missed connection. A player has stopped playing the game, only to return to find their online friend now away.

“I don’t think you guys are ever coming back… ~kat 11/10/15,” the sign reads.

“Hey, it’s Zmoney. Yeah. we’ve all stopped playing Minecraft :/,” another sign replies.

Matt’s data-mining efforts were inspired by an unsolved mystery from his days treasure-hunting in Minecraft. Around 2011, a player reportedly hid a treasure chest containing 64 diamonds somewhere on the Aperture Games Minecraft Server. But the chest never turned up, and the lore of unclaimed loot lingered in the back of his mind for the next seven years.

In hopes of finding the missing jewels, Matt wrote the two programs in Java.

When he went to the chest, someone had already raided it. Though half of the diamonds were gone, he had found something more valuable: all the written communication that remained on the server.

Minecraft is enormous, with each game map covering a surface area of four billion square kilometers. Because of the map’s sheer size, the majority of these correspondences might never have come to light otherwise. Matt said the excavation of a server can net anywhere from 20,000 to 450,000 written documents in the form of books and signs.

To pinpoint unconventional signage, Matt uses keyword searches for provocative terms such as “If you are reading this,” “Hate myself,” and “RIP.” If something catches his eye, he opens the server map and has a look around.

“I don’t mean to gawk or anything,” said Matt. “But if I hadn’t found this stuff, nobody would’ve ever seen it again.”

‘Minecraft’ Data Mining Reveals Players’ Darkest Secrets

Elon Musk shows off Falcon Heavy’s Roadster-loving artificial astronaut

Elon Musk is in Florida getting ready for the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, the first-ever flight of the big new space freight beast. He’s making some final inspections of the cargo, it seems, including a new addition to the cherry red Tesla Roadster that’s going to be on board in the cargo area atop the rocket.

Said new addition is a dummy wearing one of SpaceX’s swanky new astronaut uniforms. Musk’s so-called “Starman” evokes the David Bowie tune that’s going to be playing on the Roadster when it’s launched, hopefully all the way up to space, during Falcon Heavy’s initial test mission on Tuesday at 1:30 PM ET.

SpaceX’s cargo for this one is easily among the most fun things ever put into space, and it’s both symbolic of how this helps Musk achieve his larger mission of reducing human ecological footprint on earth, while simultaneously making sure we can spread our wings and become a truly interplanetary species when the time comes, too.

We’re actually also in Cape Canaveral to witness and report on the historic launch, so stay tuned this week for updates as we near the momentous first journey of this gigantic orbital rocket.

Elon Musk shows off Falcon Heavy’s Roadster-loving artificial astronaut