No Longer a Rookie, Bryce Harper Wants to Welcome You to The ShowHe was the first teenager to make an All-Star Team in nearly 30 years and the first ever to do it as a position player. His team made the postseason, and he was the National League's rookie of the year.

Bryce Harper had a pleasant introduction to The Show this year. Sony hopes you'll have one next year, too.

Harper, today the first officially announced candidate for an MLB 13 The Show cover to be voted on by fans, might be the current baseball player who most embodies the fantasy offered by the PlayStation 3's award-winning simulation: 18-year-old can't-miss phenom beats up the minor leagues, goes to spring training his second year, makes the parent club soon after.

It happens every spring.

"When you're younger, you always dream of being in a video game, or being on the cover," Harper said by telephone last week, during a photoshoot framing him for the prospective cover. "Winning a World Series would be the top-notch goal, but off the field, this is something very cool."

But his candidacy is an allegory for MLB 13 The Show for other reasons, too. This year, MLB 13 The Show will introduce a "Beginner Mode" that, if it lives up to its description, will help newcomers and set-in-their-ways-veterans handle baseball's complicated ritual of patience and explosive action.

It won't be a downgraded difficulty setting, said Ramone Russell, Sony San Diego's community manager for MLB The Show. It's going to be a tutorial meant to prepare you for live play at standard difficulty. Beginner Mode will be a series of exercises in both hitting and pitching. As a hitter, for example, you'll see what fastballs look like, then fastballs relative to a changeup and a breaking ball, and gradually be introduced to all of them, thrown to all parts of the strike zone (and outside.) On the other side of the plate, pitching will teach a player the fundamentals of location and mixing deliveries.

This is intriguing to me, because I've always felt MLB The Show, despite its demanding realism, was secretly one of sports gaming's most accommodating franchises, thanks to a very deep, customizable control scheme that has gone back years. If you know how to look for it, you can fully automate acts you're bad at, such as fielding or baserunning, and drive up the difficulty in pitching, or hitting, to challenge what you're good at or enjoy most, and minimize the phases of the game where you're the weakest.

MLB The Show's 'beginner mode' isn't a difficulty setting; it's meant to be a tutorial for newcomer and veterans alike.

Thing is, most folks don't approach a sports video game that way. Either they don't know the options, or pride causes them to select the game's second- or third-highest difficulty setting (veteran and all-star, respectively). Fully implemented, The Show's controls are intimidating. I couldn't sit here and tell you how to steal second base in the game, for example. Neither could Harper, who has stolen home in real life (the first teenager to do so since 1964, for that matter.).

"It's really hard; in video games you can't really steal bags," he said. "The catcher is always pretty on the money."

"Beginner mode" however, will focus largely on pitching and hitting; simplified baserunning controls in the game's Road to the Show career mode should help out those who have sound baserunning fundamentals in mind but have difficulty keying them up in the heat of the moment.

Fielding is also going to get a different treatment in the mode's often disorienting first-person view. In whole-team play, a new accuracy mechanism will be implemented to take the background dice-roll out of fielding outcomes. There'll be a "sweet spot" in the fielding meter commensurate to his ratings—loading up and hitting a throw in the "sweet spot" will open up more spectacular animations depending on the difficulty of the play and the player's attributes. Other games have handled this in similar fashion, notably MLB 2K, the Xbox 360 exclusive that won't be appearing next year once 2K Sports' deal with the league expires. The PlayStation 3 is the only console that will feature a new baseball simulation next year.

Harper, for his part, says when he plays video game baseball he's usually fooling around, having a good time with friends. The game is a simulation of his job, after all. Harper's approach to hitting in the game is not at all similar to how he handles the task in real life. And, lnown for a cannon arm in right field, he hasn't gunned out anyone from that position in the video game. But, "I have from center field," he quickly adds.

What's toughest for him, both in game and in reality, is facing the inhuman speed of the game's hardest throwers: Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds came to mind. So did Stephen Strasburg, though he's Harper's teammate on the Nationals. (The comment did make me ask Harper if he'd ever faced Strasburg at full speed for any reason, even in practice. "Oh, no, never," he said. Paying both players' contracts, no sane management would want Harper facing Strasburg at full strength, nor vice versa.)

Russell said hitting timing will be adjusted slightly in MLB 13 The Show to give batters a more satisfying payoff on solid contact. "You're going to see more offense like you do in real life," he said, addressing criticisms that The Show's rigorous contact physics last year made the game a station-to-station game of base hits for most novices. "If you square up on a fastball, it's going to be hit harder than it was before," Russell added. "People are going to be very surprised."

Other upgrades Russell described involved a complex formula in the game's franchise mode, whereby team payroll—i.e., management's willingness to spend—will expand or contract relative to the team's success, and not just because a team made the playoffs or won a World Series. Teams like the Padres will never spend like teams like the Yankees, and vice versa. But especially in Road to the Show, if you end up in a small market or a perennial loser, and take them to a breakout season, you have a reasonable hope of seeing management spend for a supporting cast to get your club further into October, without stranding you there until you become an unrestricted free agent. (I have no idea how this accounts for the Miami Marlins' behavior.)

Player development in Franchise will now be influenced by scouts which have their own ratings—spotting hitting and pitching talent and appraising both. It introduces a human element to the development process. "These guys could end up being wrong," Russell said.

A new postseason mode, and presentational support for it, plus a new booth team comprising returning announcers Matt Vasgersian and Eric Karros with newcomer Steve Lyons, round out the new upgrades Sony San Diego is discussing so far. But probably the most striking presentational changes will be seen in Road to the Show. Russell said the mode is going to be more oriented to a first-person experience this year, removing booth commentary when your player is on the field, augmenting ambient noise, and discarding immersion-breaking camera angles.

"We're trying to refocus things back to on you and your player," Russell said, "hearing the onfield chatter, the base coaches telling you to get back, the crowd boing you or chanting your name, being a first-person baseball experience."

MLB 13 The Show will release in March. Other candidates for its cover will join Harper in announcements to come.


The Dark and Gritty Criminal Case Could Use a Little More EnergyCriminal Case, a new police procedural from Pretty Simple, threatens to be one of the most engrossing hidden object games on Facebook. Now if only I could play for more than five minutes at a time.

Criminal Case places the player in the shoes of a police detective tasked with solving a series of crimes utilizing the time-tested investigative technique of clicking on random items scattered about the crime scene. They'll deliver evidence to the lab for analysis, have corpses autopsied, interrogate suspects—it's a rather meaty example of the genre. Sometimes it's human meat.

This is a game I want to spend hours playing. The unfortunate energy system won't let me.

At the moment my max energy is 110. Investigating a crime scene costs 20, and normally takes less than 30 seconds. The points I earn investigating are used to fill each locales five stars. Stars are the currency used to do just about everything else in the game. Question a suspect? That costs a star. Search a victim's clothing? That's another star.

I'm at the end of my second investigation. I am out of stars, and I don't have enough energy to play the core hidden object portion of the game. There is nothing I can do except pay for energy or wait for it to slowly refill. Once I reach a point in a game where there is absolutely nothing I can accomplish, it makes me want to move on to something more productive.

Maybe I just need more friends. I only have two on my team so far, so the free energy gifts aren't exactly flowing freely. Perhaps that's the key.

One thing is clear: between this game and the addictive Magical Ride, Pretty Simple is proving itself to be a social game developer worth watching. I suppose that's something I can do while I wait for my energy to refill.

Criminal Case [Facebook]


I went to the Spike Video Game Awards last Friday and... found the Ecto 1? Yes, the car from Ghostbusters was parked in the lot of Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, next to the Green Hornet's Black Beauty.

I don't know why.



FarmVille 2 Prized Animal Improvements: Everything You Need to KnowWhile many FarmVille 2 players love collecting animals, there was always the dread of running out of useful adult animals when they become "Prized." At the beginning of the game's life cycle, Prized animals were arguably worthless, rewarding players with just a few coins and XP when tended. Finally, they've been completely overhauled to reward players with premium items each time they're fed.

To be especially clear, baby animals haven't been changed, and you'll still need to feed them Bottles in order to turn them into Adults. Also, Adult animals will continue to produce basic items like Milk Bottles or Eggs, depending on the animal. Once an animal becomes Prized, it will now require Feed to actually tend (this was not the case before), and you'll receive premium ingredients as a reward for keeping these Prized Animals around.

FarmVille 2 Prized Animal Improvements: Everything You Need to KnowYou can check the materials the each animal will create by looking at their improved listings in the store. The White Chicken, for instance, its Adult item hasn't changed from the White Egg. But at the Prized level, a White Chicken will produce Brown Eggs instead. You can also see a detailed view of how many XP you'll receive when tending each kind of animal, along with hw long before they're ready again. (For the White Chicken, that's five minutes.) You can even see how many times you'll need to feed the animal before it becomes Prized, if you like to plan ahead.

As you might quickly notice, the timers on some animals has been changed, and some animals look to take much longer to become Prized than it did before. This all helps make Prized animals more valuable than before, and encourages players to keep them around after an animal is fully grown. Stay tuned for other game-changing updates to FarmVille 2, but for now, check out the rest of the details about Prized Animals on the FarmVille 2 blog.

Play FarmVille 2 on Zynga.com Now >

More FarmVille 2 Coverage from Games.com

Holiday Tree Part 1 Guide
Winter Holiday Crafting Recipes Guide
Village Grocer Guide

What do you think of these changes to Prized Animals in FarmVille 2? Will you be more likely to keep Prized Animals now that they give off premium ingredients? Sound off in the Games.com comments!

Republished with permission from:
FarmVille 2 Prized Animal Improvements: Everything You Need to KnowBrandy Shaul is an editor at Games.com


You Can Vote For BioShock Infinite's Reversible Cover Art Today Ken Levine, the creator of BioShock, announced that BioShock Infinite will have a reversible box art. But that's not all.

You can actually vote on which you want to be featured on the opposite side of your box.

Maybe the official box art isn't marketed for you, but the reverse side could be. Personally, the three up top are my favorites, with the right-most being what I'd vote for.

You Can Vote For BioShock Infinite's Reversible Cover Art As of this writing, the number one voted design is a solo Elizabeth, which to me seems too simple compared to the many other gorgeous ones. Let's go fix that!

And the other two options:
You Can Vote For BioShock Infinite's Reversible Cover Art You Can Vote For BioShock Infinite's Reversible Cover Art


Let me tell you: if the zombie apocalypse ever becomes a real thing, I sure as shit hope I have a Wii U Game Pad that not only tells me the precise location of all zombies in my vicinity, but that could also drop me hints from survivors (hopefully not asshole survivors).

And zombies that die after a simple boop on the head? That's the cherry to my zombie apocalypse cake. I imagine swinging a sword viciously through even the squishiest of zombie skulls would soon get tiring.

The effects and zombie makeup in TJ Smith's video might not be up to par with some of the higher production quality you've seen on other videos we've posted here, but the Super Mario + ZombiU concept is too creative to not share.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: The Kotaku Review "I've found it is the small things, every act of normal folk that keeps the darkness at bay," Gandalf the Grey says somewhere near the middle of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. "Simple acts, of kindness and love."

The Hobbit is not a small movie, but it is filled with small people doing small things. And it's those simple acts—Bilbo Baggins diving into a gang of marauding orcs, dwarves washing dishes in the Shire, Gandalf sharing a pipe with a fellow wizard—that make Hobbit feel weighty and memorable, even when it outstays its welcome. They're moments that keep the darkness at bay.

Like Lord of the Rings before it, Hobbit is a long, bloated affair, more concerned with grandiose spectacle than nonsense like "flow" or "pacing." But it's captivating nonetheless, a thrill ride of a movie stuffed with orcs, trolls, goblins, and other nasty Middle-Earthian buggers that need to be hacked and slashed up in as many ways as possible.

Hobbit, set 60 years before the opening of Lord of the Rings, shows us a more peaceful version of Middle-Earth. Sauron is gone (or asleep, or in a coma or something), Dark Riders aren't really a thing yet, and a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is content to sit in the Shire and stare at books all day. Of course, that would make for a dreadful movie, so Bilbo is quickly disturbed by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a bunch of dwarves, who need to hire a burglar to help them reclaim their ancestral mountain home.

Hobbits with no experience fighting or stealing might not seem like a good fit for a journey like this, but the dwarves—led by the stoic Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who somehow oozes cool despite being, you know, a dwarf—appeal to Bilbo's sense of adventure and eventually convince him to come along, some 45 minutes after the movie starts. This extended introduction could have probably been cut in half, but you could voice similar gripes about the whole movie, which clocks in at close to three hours. It's a bloated affair.

But where Lord of the Rings was dreary and morbid, dripping with foreboding even at its most lighthearted moments, Hobbit is odd and whimsical.

Bloat should come as no shock to anyone familiar with director Peter Jackson's sweeping style, of course. Expect long scenes, plenty of eye-popping camera pans and helicopter shots, and more than a few moments that feel like endings, but don't quite hit the mark yet. Also expect many of the same (grand, excellent) musical cues and tracks that you heard your last time in Middle-Earth; composer Howard Shore is back with more old songs than new. The Hobbit feels quite familiar in many ways.

But where Lord of the Rings was dreary and morbid, dripping with foreboding even at its most lighthearted moments, Hobbit is odd and whimsical. There are big bad enemies, sure, but none quite as terrifying or insurmountable as the dark lord Sauron (who gets a shout-out or two). And the action scenes in The Hobbit feel Disney-like and consequence-free. "Oh, there's no way one of these dwarves could ever get seriously hurt," you might think. "They're so goofy!"

I could have done without some of the goofier dwarf moments—yes, we get it, Bombur is fat—but Hobbit kept me enthralled even during its slowest chunks. A few particular scenes in Rivendell (that I won't spoil) border a little close to fanservice, but it's fascinating to see some familiar characters interact in unexpected ways. There's plenty of tension, plenty of emotion, and plenty of set-up for the next two movies that will conclude the Hobbit trilogy.

Audiences will undoubtedly have much to say about the polarizing 48 frames-per-second mode that has apparently triggered a nationwide headache epidemic. All I have to say is that it's awful, and weird, and I hope it goes away for good. I didn't get any headaches, but I never quite got used to the soap opera-like effect. It exaggerates camera movements, makes the world feel slower, and perhaps worst of all, it's a distraction. Instead of thinking about rings and dragons, my mind focused on the strange aesthetics and exaggerated camera movements. Jackson may think 48fps helps bring you into Middle-Earth, but I think it helps take you out.

That said, no cinematic gimmick can take away from Martin Freeman's performance as Bilbo Baggins, which is simply outstanding. He is charismatic, debonair, and somehow both cowardly and courageous at the same time, adding aplomb and weight that Old Bilbo (Ian Holm) never quite pulled off. His facial quirks and cockeyed looks steal every scene, including the much-beloved Riddles in the Dark (which also wore out its welcome).

Ian McKellen's Gandalf is just as grand and noble as he always was, and it's refreshing to spend more time with the old Gandalf the Grey, a man who questions himself and even shows weakness from time to time. This is a younger, less wise Gandalf, a far cry from the divinely confident Gandalf the White we saw for most of Lord of the Rings. He isn't quite as omniscient or powerful as he is in Return of the King, and that's a good thing.

Then there's the other wizard. Barely a footnote in Tolkien's novel, Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) plays a more significant role in An Unexpected Journey, which would be okay if he wasn't an irritating cross between Jar-Jar Binks and Luna Lovegood who seems to have come straight out of a focus group. ("Kids like drugs, right? Can we make it so he's on drugs?")

Radagast's scenes are thankfully short and ultimately harmless, though I fear he'll be more important as the Hobbit trilogy continues. While a wizard like Gandalf is undeniably flawed, he is also elegant and dignified. Radagast, on the other hand, is a hyperactive ball of moss-covered energy that will make you wonder whether anyone can get into the White Council these days.

Some will inevitably complain that The Hobbit feels too much like Lord of the Rings, and yes, there is a lot of sampling here. There are a lot of callbacks, a lot of references, a lot of familiar moments and endless last-minute rescues. But this is an excellent film on its own, a supremely entertaining, if somewhat messy hodgepodge of action, comedy, groundwork, and all sorts of fantastical references.

Like Fellowship of the Ring, An Unexpected Journey has to set much of the stage for what we'll see in the next two movies, and it does this well: I can't wait to see what will happen with the dragon, or the shape-shifter Beorn, or the battle of five armies. But Hobbit stands out for one reason—none of the protagonists in Lord of the Rings have held a candle to Freeman's Bilbo. And it is Bilbo, the smallest character in this very large movie, whose simple acts make The Hobbit a spectacle well worth watching.

Want a second opinion? Check out Kirk's (more negative) take:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: The Kotaku Review

The Hobbit Feels Like A Video Game. That's Not A Good Thing.

"That movie sure felt like watching a video game."
As I walked out of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey earlier this week, that statement was bouncing around in my head. More »


These Are Some Surprisingly Sexy Skyrim Shoes When you think Skyrim shoes, you might think dusty boots and clunky metal footwear. But these are something else.

I don't normally wear gamer gear because they're completely conceptually bland. Riddled with logos and ugly prints for the most part.

But these Keds restyled by crispiniscool to look Skyrim-themed are actually pretty nice (check the link for more photos). And I don't even usually like fur on my clothes! But that color scheme, that dragon, and those leather laces? I'd be into it.

(Via The Elder Scrolls)


Remember Back When Kids Fought Off Alien Invasions? This iPhone Action Game Does. Lots of retro-styled platformers can be found in the Games section of Apple's App Store. Most of them play like crap. Developers can ape the look and sound of old-school jump-and-shoot games, but that amounts to nothing if control doesn't feel right.

Mutant Mudds gets all of the above—music, visuals and game feel—perfectly right.

Players control an average but heroic kid tasked with blasting gooey alien invaders to bits in the platformer made by Jools Watsham's Renegade Kid dev studio. The pixellated look of Mudds and its chiptune soundtrack managed to charm—and not annoy—me but the game's real revelation was in how sharp it felt to play.

Mutant Mudds already has versions on the 3DS and PlayStation Vita PC. With d-pads and face buttons for input, they control in a way that's closer to the platformers of the NES era. But the new version on iOS can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the ones on those devices. Control over the arc of a jump is surprisingly precise and I rarely felt like I made a misstep because of poor button-mapping. The levels and enemies all move to according tightly-tuned patterns and the inputs are good enough to let you slip in and exploit them without falling into a spiral of frustration.

Moreover, Mutant Mudds pulls off clever tricks with screen depth with spots where you can play in the extreme back- or foreground of a level. It's a nice feature that shows off a technological trick that old-school consoles But even when newfangled gimmicks are there to dazzle, a game's inputs need to do what you want when you want. Mutant Mudd's fun is built on a rock-solid foundation that merges great thinking from the past and present. A damn sight cheaper than 8-bit games ever were, but just as fun.

Mutant Mudds [$0.99, iPhone & iPad; Apple App Store]


Capcom: Street Fighter x Mega Man “Is Not Meant to Be the Cure for All That Ails Mega Man Fans” Mega Man is a saint to legions of fans, martyred because of the sins of an apparently clueless parent company. To fans of Capcom's robotic hero, the lack of a Mega Man game for so many years is proof that the Japanese publisher is evil. The past weekend's announcement of the free, fan-developed Street Fighter x Mega Man seemed to shift opinion a bit, though, and many hope that it will herald a wave of Mega Man love from Capcom.

I had the chance to ask some questions of Seo Zong Hui—who's primarily responsible for the fact SFxMM even exists—and Capcom exec Christian Svensson about how the game came about and what the future might hold. Will there be more Blue Bomber in the future? Read on and find out.

Kotaku: What was the inspiration for this project? Were you working on it before getting in touch with Capcom?

Hui: I really wanted to get into the games industry, but I am currently working on a degree in electrical and electronics engineering. I wanted some practice with game programming, so I decided to make something for practice. I managed to find some images online for Mega Man, and made something from it just for programming practice. At that time, 8-bit pictures were popular so I made some gifs of Street Fighter in the same style to test the response from the community and used Ryu as a test on the game engine I was building on. The results were great and I decided to continue working on it. Many of my friends who tried it were very impressed, and that motivated me as well… having support from friends and fans is something that's very important to developers.

Capcom: Street Fighter x Mega Man “Is Not Meant to Be the Cure for All That Ails Mega Man Fans” In 2010, after a single stage was built, I decided to show it on the Capcom forums and ask for their opinions on the game, and if its allowed at all. Unlike many of the existing game companies, Capcom is very open to fan productions even though there were no job or project offers back in 2010. In 2012, this year, I decided to attend EVO 2012 to talk to Capcom in person. I believe what Bruce Lee said, "if you do not ask, the answer would always be no." Hence, I started approaching every single Capcom staff that I could find. I found Christian Svensson from Capcom, showed him a demo and he liked the idea so I passed him two copies of the game for him to bring back to the company. After I returned to Singapore, about a few weeks later, the project got greenlit and I started working on the game full time. Lastly, I must add that as much as people think that this game was built in a short amount of time, lots of work was done and many considerations were in place over the past few years before the project was officially underway.

Kotaku: Were there specific games in the Mega Man and Street Fighter canons that inspired you? Capcom makes a lot of crossover fighting titles. How are you trying to make this one stand apart from games like Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom or Street Fighter x Tekken?

Hui: This game, unlike most of the X or VS series, is an action game rather than a fighting game. I wanted to highlight what it would be like if classic Street Fighter characters were to be bosses.

Capcom: Street Fighter x Mega Man “Is Not Meant to Be the Cure for All That Ails Mega Man Fans” Kotaku: What made you choose this particular graphical style for Street Fighter x Mega Man?

Hui: This style is something that's popular with Mega Man fans and the fighting game community. It's something more manageable and yet rare and unique these days.

There is a lack of classic games that work well today, and I believe that as much as the game development scene is evolving, we should always look to the past and keep some of that essence alive. I hope to be able to do my part and help keep retro games alive today and in future.

Kotaku: Which Mega Man character was the hardest to model into fighting game mechanics?

Hui: Chun-Li was difficult because she was kind of similar to Ryu, in that I made her based on how she is played in Street Fighter IV as well as some aspects from Street Fighter II. I wanted her to be one of the easier bosses as well, so beginner players would be able to pick up and enjoy the game in some way too.

Kotaku: How did you try to recreate the feel of Street Fighters characters in 8-bit form?

Hui: First of all, I had to consider all existing moves that the characters have in all games that they have ever appeared in. I then looked through many videos and animations and resized them for reference and sketched them on Paint XP (or something as simple) and tested the animations. If there were no sufficient gimmicks to make them a Mega Man-ish boss, I would research animes and more videos and see if they ever had a suitable move for the game. Finally, they are tested in the game after it is programmed.

Capcom: Street Fighter x Mega Man “Is Not Meant to Be the Cure for All That Ails Mega Man Fans” Kotaku: Is this game something that you expect to satisfy fan craving for new Mega Man games?

Svensson: As a Mega Man fan, I'd hope that it's something that scratches one type of itch. A new game, with new mechanics, bosses and weapons is a great thing. Free is even better. That said, it is not meant to be the cure for all that ails Mega Man fans. For that to happen, I know we need something more.

Kotaku: What if it doesn't whet fans' appetite? What are Capcom's plans for a standalone Mega Man game?

Svensson: Alas, on that front, I'll need to keep you in suspense. We're still having many conversations about the future of the franchise and I hope to have more news to share at some point during the 25th Anniversary celebrations in 2013.

Kotaku: Why release the game for free?

Svensson: Two reasons, really. First, we want to continue to expose as many people as possible to the awesomeness that is Mega Man. Being free extends reach not just to fans, but it can hopefully create new fans for us as well.

Second, we haven't had enough Mega Man in recent years. We know fans are anxious for new games and while we could have charged for this, we felt it would do more good with the fan base to just make this game a gift. Call it an early Christmas present!

Kotaku: Is Capcom open to other fan-created projects like this? Does SF vs MM have to perform to certain expectations to make future fan games happen?

Svensson: Honestly, I'm not sure. This was an exceptional fan effort that we engaged with early in development. From a concept standpoint, the marriage of two key franchises that were both to be celebrating 25th anniversaries is a rare occurrence.

Is this something we could see ourselves getting more involved with in the future? Maybe. Fans are passionate and amazingly talented and I don't want to close the door on that possibility, but at the same time, we aren't likely to be soliciting folks to submit concepts on a regular basis.