Since the release of Skylanders Cloud Patrol for iOS last year, fans of Activision's toys-meet-games franchise have been clamoring for a more direct way to interact with their precious plastic playmates than entering in a cold, impersonal numeric code. Tomorrow's release of Skylanders Battlegrounds finally gets a Bluetooth summoning portal into players hands, along with a game that puts it to excellent use.
There's a reason Battlegrounds was selected to be included as a code in the Skylanders Mobile Starter Pack. The first two mobile offerings, Cloud Patrol and the recently-released Lost Islands, use the Skylanders toys in a fire-and-forget fashion. Players need only place their figure on the portal once to register it, and that's it.
Skylanders Battlegrounds, on the other glowing circle of plastic, is an board-meets-action game. At any given time the player can have two different Skylanders in battle. The Bluetooth portal allows those two Skylanders to be swapped out at will.
One can certainly use the portal as they do with the other iOS Skylanders games, registering their toys and then putting them back on the shelf. The creatures under your control are always just a menu away. Using the portal actively just adds a deeper level of interaction to the game, bringing the experience much closer to that of its console cousins.
The portal can also be used to port your figures into Lost Islands and Cloud Patrol, perfect for stupid folks like me that threw away their web codes after opening their toys.
The Battlegrounds game itself isn't too shabby either. The player maneuvers about a hex-based map, clearing it of treasure and enemies before moving on to the next map. Entering the same hex as an enemy unit transports the players' Skylanders to a battle map where they fight waves of enemies in real-time. Players manuever their champions around the map, tapping enemies to begin auto-attacking. Each Skylander has special powers they can learn through gaining experience, adding some depth to the battle system.
It's fun. It's even more fun with the Bluetooth portal.
Skylanders Battlegrounds will be available tomorrow on iTunes for the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch for $6.99. The Skylanders Battlegrounds Mobile Starter Kit comes with the Bluetooth portal, three figures and a code for downloading the game for $49.99.
Now that the world has moved on from making giant sharks float around by the magic of fancy air, we can move onto more interesting things like Portal personality cores.
Thinkgeek are selling two variants of the item you see above, Wheatley or Space, for $20 each. Sadly, they're not remote-controlled. They're basically glorified balloons. But they're glorified Portal balloons.
Last month Runescape creator Jagex promised to bring fast-paced combat racing to Facebook. What they've actually delivered in Carnage Racing is better than that, and it's all thanks to portals.
The game call it phase shifting. I call it portals. As you do laps around the various tracks in Jagex's social racer, performing tricks and shooting powerful weapons at the competition, a gauge slowly fills on the right side of the screen. Once you're full you can drive towards one of the many warp spots scattered about the track, press the space bar, and whoosh.
Whoosh is the official sound of going through a portal.
Suddenly you're way ahead of the pack, unless of course they use portals, or hit you with the Warp gun and create a personal portal ahead of you. It's complicated.
Pressing the space bar with a full phase shift meter is also a means to avoid enemy weapons. It turns the world a pleasant shade of blue as well.
This nifty phase shifting mechanic also means that the developers didn't have to worry about making circular tracks. Just place a warp at the end that takes you back to the beginning and presto! Lazy, or brilliant? Yes!
Carnage Racing has a goal-oriented single-player mode to help get players up to speed, but the real meat is in multiplayer. Players can take on random opponents, challenge their friends in real-time or post their score and give their contacts a day to do better. Win in-game cash, customize your car, upgrade your weapons — all the fun bits of console combat racers are right here, for free.
It might not be Need for Speed Most Wanted, but Carnage Racing is definitely miles ahead of any other racing-type games on Facebook. Indeed, it might be too hardcore for the average Facebook gamer to handle, but I'm sure you folks will do just fine.
Carnage Racing [Facebook]
Valve has opened the voting for the second annual Saxxy Awards, celebrating cinematography in Team Fortress 2, and a winner shall be crowned on Nov. 30. Why so soon? Well, because the best overall winner is going to be announced at the Spike Video Game Awards on Dec. 7, and the video is going to be shown live.
In that case, my vote is for this four-minute, 45-second retcon of the history of the Saxxy Award (above), and the revelation of its creator, mostly because the whole shebang is 15 seconds under the 5 minute limit and would require Spike to devote 1/20th of its broadcast time to a fan film. The voting page is here. Get to it.
Saxxy Awards [Steam]
Master Source Filmmaker user Zachariah Scott returns once again with an amazing piece of work, this time crossing the world of Team Fortress 2 with that of Godzilla.
It's... look, I'm starting to think Zachariah Scott isn't one man, and that he's instead a complex computer program nestled beneath Valve headquarters, devoted entirely to designing and rendering terrific movies at record speed.
Picking up on a weird increase in trades for "earbuds", a rare item in the game, his investigations led him to discover a closed Steam group that was involved in highly suspicious item trading. The report is a lengthy and surprisingly fascinating read, but for the time-starved, let's cut to his tl;dr hypothesis:
tl;dr A group of Russians bought >5,000 Keys from Store today using illegitimate credit cards and bought few hundred Buds from TF2 Outpost at an ridiculous price of 28-30 Keys (The average yesterday was 25.5 Keys). They have been doing this for quite a long time and their activity today is alarming.
One motive for this could be the hilariously bizarre (if unlikely) possibility that Russian gangsters are using Team Fortress 2 to launder dirty money. Another, more likely outcome is that a band of crims have got hold of some stolen credit cards, and are spending the cash on rare TF2 items they can re-sell.
It might not be tear-worthy, but it's certainly a touching account of the Team Fortress 2 characters coming together in a moment of need. And that song ain't half bad either.
Remember when you first finished Half-Life 2: Episode 2? The excitement? The shock? You were ready to set out with Alyx at your side, ready to show those alien bastards who's boss. The trilogy, and with it, the Combine's rule over Earth, would end soon.
Except it didn't. At the time of this writing, almost five years have passed since the supposed release date of the final installment in Gordon Freeman's saga. Half-Life 2: Episode Three was slated to arrive Christmas 2007. It didn't. As the weeks and months went by, confused fans tried to glean whatever information they could from Valve, but, by and large, they were unsuccessful. The company remained silent.
In this Kotaku Timeline, we follow the fans' process of dealing with Valve's silence, cataloging their forays into leaked code, and their communications with the developers. We detail the ways the gaming press interacted with Valve over the years, and list what little has been revealed. In addition, we will keep watch over the game, and take note of any events, good or bad, in the months and years to come.
There were no mentions of the final episode—called Half-Life 3 by some—between 1999, when Valve registered the domain halflife3.com, and 2006. But then, announcements were made, and names were dropped. And so this is where our timeline begins...
GTTV: Episode 3. What do we know about it? What can you tell us?
Gabe: From our point of view there's enough newness in there that we want to sort of spring it on people and say "here's a bunch of things you've never seen before" — we have multiple of those.
GTTV: And that's graphically, or in terms of the gameplay, or...
Gabe: There's stuff that visually hasn't been in games before, and there's certainly a bunch of game elements, on the order of Portal, that have never been done before.
GTTV: So even better than the portal gun?
Gabe: Oh yeah.
GTTV: Really? New gameplay paradigms?
Gabe: Uh-huh. I think that we're really happy with how the Orange Box did, and we'd do an Oranger Box next time, certainly.
Steamcast: Alright, first question: this is one of the most commonly asked questions that we had received and we've tried to format it into something you might be able to answer: you'd kept Episode 3 under incredibly heavy wraps thus far; we'd like to know why have you chosen to adapt such a reclusive approach this time around, as opposed to previous releases. Was it based on the reception you'd received about letting out too much info prior to Episode 2, or just something completely different?
Gabe Newell: I think that what's going on, you know, we're sort of always experimenting, we're always trying out different kinds of things, and that has positive as well as negative consequences for ourselves and for the community—so if you look at our different products, we're trying out these different rhythms. (Ed.: Here Gabe talks about how Valve handles updates for Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead.) Right now, the Half-Life 2 episodes themselves are on a third sort of rhythm, and, you know, we think it makes sense for the product and for what we're trying to do there. The reason that we're not talking about anything is mainly that we don't have anything to say; it's not like we decided we released too much information, it's just that if we had information that we were in a position to deliver to people, we would—and right now we don't have anything to say about it. It really is a consequence of these different rhythms to release schedules we're trying out. (...) So, Ep 3 is sort of victim to our willingness to experiment, and as soon as we have stuff that we're ready to say about Ep 3, we will.
Steamcast: Alright, fair enough.