Latest Image Comics masterpiece lands in world of lucid dreams and regrets

Sci-fi stories often tantalize us with visions of travel to other worlds—and the promised glory that accompanies such journeys. Turning this familiar trope on its head, Afar, a new graphic novel from Image, written by Leila Del Duca and drawn by Kit Seaton, suggests that such dreams might be more nightmarish than we expect—at least initially. It challenges the premise that extra-planetary travelogues must revolve around the acquisition of mastery or power. Instead, the shifting worlds of Afar remind us that we are never less in control than when we leave the familiar behind.

Early in the book’s first chapter, a young woman named Botema begins to suspect that she is not entirely herself when she sleeps. Each time she closes her eyes, she unwillingly leaves her own post-apocalyptic milieu—a world of arid deserts and ancient technology—behind. No mere tourist, she occupies other bodies as she travels. To her horror, she often takes on monstrous forms. “I think I travel to other planets when I sleep,” she finally confesses to her brother.

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Review: Cry Havoc an intriguing sci-fi “dudes on a map” throwdown

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com—and let us know what you think.

On first inspection, Cry Havoc looks like any number of similarly grim and gritty science fiction board games. It comes with a stash of plastic soldiers, robots, and aliens, and its artwork paints a world in tones of mud, fire, and gun metal. If you’re expecting a quick fix of hectic, dice-chucking combat, though, you’re going to be disappointed, because the game offers a much more thoughtful take on the concept of planetary conquest.

(credit: Portal Games)

Cry Havoc hands players command of rival factions competing to colonise a newly discovered world. Playing as aggressive and expansionist humans, merciless and powerful machines, or elusive and enigmatic aliens known as the Pilgrims, you’ll attempt to claim victory by seizing control of territories and exploiting them for their resources (in the form of shiny plastic crystals).

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A major Nintendo policy change has saved at least one Switch game

With the Nintendo Switch’s newness starting to fade, interest in the new console has begun to shift toward its upcoming wave of “bigger” games. These include a gussied-up Mario Kart 8, the brand-new fighting series Arms, and a new Splatoon game that is finally looking more like a sequel than a last-gen port. But something interesting is quietly bubbling within the world of Switch games—though, sadly, I don’t mean Nintendo’s catalog of classic Virtual Console games.

What’s bubbling up is just about as good, however: frequently updated games. And in one case, those updates have transformed at least one major Switch game from “maybe try” to “must buy.”

Patchwork

Nintendo spoke at length at a late-February event about how its Nintendo Switch platform will make certain development tasks easier for game makers. The participating “Nindies” game makers on hand echoed that statement. At the time, they mostly spoke about the ease of translating games from other platforms, whether through a major engine like Unity and Unreal or through their own custom-built engines.

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We’ve been missing a big part of game industry’s digital revolution

Last year, the Entertainment Software Association’s annual “Essential Facts” report suggested that the US game industry generated $16.5 billion in “content” sales annually (excluding hardware and accessories). In this year’s report, that number had grown to a whopping $24.5 billion, a nearly 50-percent increase in a span of 12 months.

No, video games didn’t actually become half again as popular with Americans over the course of 2016. Instead, tracking firm NPD simply updated the way it counts the still-shadowy world of digital game sales. This “restatement” of the US game industry’s true size helps highlight just how much the game industry at large has transitioned from a business based on physical goods to one dominated by digital downloads and online purchases.

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Valve asks for phone numbers to confirm Dota 2 player identities

Dota 2 maker Valve is taking serious action to cut down on the prevalence of smurfing—using a secondary account in order to to play against opponents of a lower skill level. Starting next month, Dota 2 players will need to have a unique, valid phone number associated with their account to take part in the game’s ranked matchmaking pool.

Ideally, the move would ensure that a single person can only have a single Dota 2 account, so highly skilled players couldn’t pretend to be novices in a ranked match. Unranked play will be unaffected by the change.

Valve says that “online services that provide phone numbers are not allowed,” so potential workarounds to create a new “valid” number shouldn’t work. In North America, data from the FCC-backed NANPA can help determine the source of any such online phone numbers, but it’s unclear whether Valve will also be able to confirm international numbers in a similar way.

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American Gods may have finally nailed the modern-fantasy formula on TV

AUSTIN, Texas—TV pilots ain’t what they used to be, as the Netflix model takes much of the weight off a first episode’s shoulders. Series can take their time revealing characters, unfolding plots, or even having much plot take place in a single episode.

Weirdly, the first hour-long episode of Starz’ new American Gods series feels like a relic of that older era—in all of the best ways. This is TV built to stun, with equal parts momentum and cautious pauses, and it won’t embarrass fans of its source material. The Neil Gaiman novel of the same name has no shortage of mystery, intrigue, and surprise in its first few dozen pages. Starz’ take on the book manages to follow its every major plot thread to a satisfying degree, all while setting into motion a solid framework for how we should expect the modern-fantasy epic to unravel.

Vikings soaked in corn-syrup blood

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Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3 review: Twilight struggle

Dawn of War 3 is a pretty obvious callback to the original Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, the game that first interpreted the grim darkness of the far future through real-time strategy. It features the requisite base and unit building and resource collecting you’d expect from a real-time strategy game, but it’s still not quite the pure, old-school expression of that formula you might expect.

Dawn of War 2’s extremely ambitious (though somewhat flawed) campaign was sort of like a multi-character Diablo with loot and branching missions. That plan is gone altogether in the latest iteration. In its place is the linear story of Acheron, the Wandering Planet, and the three factions Warhammer 40K faithful should probably expect at this point.

The Space Marines—specifically the Blood Ravens sect from previous Dawn of War games—contend with the Eldar (space elves) and Orks (space orcs) across Acheron over access to a powerful artifact. If you’ve ever read, watched, or played a Warhammer story before, you can probably guess how that goes. We find out the godlike weapon is more than it seems, temporary alliances are formed, people get betrayed, and war… dawns.

What is slightly different about Dawn of War 3‘s plot is that you don’t just play the Space Marines. The campaign alternates, level to level, between the three central species. They’re even represented by returning faces from past games, like Farseer Macha and Gorgutz ‘Ead ‘Unter. If you’ve been dying to know what Macha has been up to in the 13 years since the first Dawn of War, this is your chance.

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Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3 review: Twilight struggle

Dawn of War 3 is a pretty obvious callback to the original Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, the game that first interpreted the grim darkness of the far future through real-time strategy. It features the requisite base and unit building and resource collecting you’d expect from a real-time strategy game, but it’s still not quite the pure, old-school expression of that formula you might expect.

Dawn of War 2’s extremely ambitious (though somewhat flawed) campaign was sort of like a multi-character Diablo with loot and branching missions. That plan is gone altogether in the latest iteration. In its place is the linear story of Acheron, the Wandering Planet, and the three factions Warhammer 40K faithful should probably expect at this point.

The Space Marines—specifically the Blood Ravens sect from previous Dawn of War games—contend with the Eldar (space elves) and Orks (space orcs) across Acheron over access to a powerful artifact. If you’ve ever read, watched, or played a Warhammer story before, you can probably guess how that goes. We find out the godlike weapon is more than it seems, temporary alliances are formed, people get betrayed, and war… dawns.

What is slightly different about Dawn of War 3‘s plot is that you don’t just play the Space Marines. The campaign alternates, level to level, between the three central species. They’re even represented by returning faces from past games, like Farseer Macha and Gorgutz ‘Ead ‘Unter. If you’ve been dying to know what Macha has been up to in the 13 years since the first Dawn of War, this is your chance.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments