Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite game music, movies at the box office, and more.
Before Avengers: Infinity War was out this weekend, I felt like I was trapped in this non-stop cycle of pop culture hell. It felt like half the articles in the entire world were predictions revolving the superhero epic—Who would die? Who would live? What new suits would Iron Man bring to the fray this time?—and it was nauseating in the build-up to what was billed as "the most ambitious crossover event of all-time." The hype shined through though, as Avengers: Infinity War made quite a bit of money over its debut weekend.
The upcoming season of Fortnite Battle Royale is doing the same thing basically, but internally. And Epic Games is dealing with its own breed of hype machinery for the hotly anticipated Season 4 of its game, only with an extra dash of cleverness.
It all started a few weeks ago, when players first spotted a comet in the sky. In most games, whatever happens in the skybox is negligible. In triple-A games, it's usually pretty particles and sunsets and what have you. In other games, the skybox is nothing but the sky, glistening or darkening according to the time of day. Future updates for games are hardly teased in skyboxes, until Fortnite Battle Royale.
The sight of the comet—yes a measly, little comet—has incited speculation, fan theories, curiosity, and excitement these past few weeks. Sometime after, when a dainty sign with a comet illustrated on it showed up at the contentious Tilted Towers area of Fortnite Battle Royale's map, players' conspiracies grew even bigger. They even started destroying the towers with their own pickaxes and hosting wakes, assuming that whenever the comet landed (as presumed by the new sign), it would destroy the city.
Since Tilted Towers kinda sucked anyways (too crowded, traversing buildings remains a chore), it wouldn't be missed by many. But still, players have found reasons to celebrate its probable impending doom, even if it's just for the duration of Season 4. It's like holding a funeral for someone that's not even dead yet, and the eventual deceased is the one throwing the celebratory party.
Still, how Epic Games has ramped up the release for Season 4 is something I've hardly seen across most ongoing games. For example in Overwatch, updates like new characters and maps, as well as events, are telegraphed outside of the game itself, usually in the form of tweets and once a full-fledged ARG (that even tip-toed in-game a little bit). Every now and then future updates are teased in-game, such as miscellaneous character posters, Doomfist's wreckage upon Numbani's airport lobby, and so on. But largely, the teasing is left to outside of the multiplayer game. Elite: Dangerous has probably come closest to Fortnite Battle Royale's method of teasing new content from within the game itself, with aliens being discovered last year, declaring war, and even evolving into a formidable foe. It was horrifying to see such a peaceful and surprising encounter turn so sinister over the months.
Of course, the comet in Fornite Battle Royale is signifying a very specific thing: the looming release of Season 4 of Fortnite Battle Royale, and with it, likely many new skins in tow. With Season 3 of Fortnite Battle Royale, players were able to buy into the game's "Battle Pass" at a base or premium tier, and the more they played (or purchased tiers with real money), the higher the tier they reached. Tiers had rewards, including a lovely John Wick-themed skin, and players adored the refreshed take on the Battle Pass for Season 3.
There's no word on if Season 4 will change much to the current system. The theme for the Battle Pass seems largely different from the astronaut-focused Season 3, teasing an image that gives off a superhero vibe. (How timely!) In all likelihood, Season 4 of Fortnite Battle Royale will have new skins for players to work or buy their way towards, depending on their feverish dedication and wallet size.
I hope the comet isn't the end of Fortnite Battle Royale's shenanigans. Video games, especially in our day and age where every game is becoming an ongoing service, could use more nods to players about future content. All too often, patches come and go. Expansions and updates are teased with a Tweet and a blogpost and nary more. The comet has shown that Fornite Battle Royale's fanbase cares immensely about the game, and will scribble down whatever crazy theories that pop up in their brain to explain away its appearance. In a way, it's brought the community closer together in a way that most games only hope they can do. In altering the game to have a seemingly living world with some sense of mystery, Fortnite Battle Royale's unassuming map became more than just a battlefield to blast away 99 other players. It's been truly engrossing, on the "what if" level, for a short time. And I doubt it'll be the last puzzle of the battle royale's lifespan either.
This Week's Notable Releases
- Fortnite Battle Royale: Season 4 [May 1]: Fortnite Battle Royale's new season debuts this week. From what we know, it has something to do with that dang comet in the sky, will probably involve superheroes in some way, and will undoubtedly have new skins too. Here's to hoping there's a cool equivalent to Season 3's John Wick-inspired skin again.
- Total War Saga: Thrones of Brittania [May 3]: The widely adored and critically acclaimed strategy series Total War Saga is releasing its first spin-off this week. Thrones of Brittania takes the familiar real-time strategy formula to 878 AD, with players managing either the Vikings, the Welsh, the Anglo-Saxons, and so on. Players will be able to forge treaties and go forth with wars, defining the future of Britain.
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze [May 4]: Tropical Freeze was one of many underrated games that graced the Wii U. Finally though, over four years after its initial release Tropical Freeze is venturing beyond the limited console, and will be released on the Nintendo Switch this Friday. Ol' Donkey and Diddy are finally getting their due.
- Princess Maker 5 [May 4]: The Princess Maker raising simulation series has always been pretty niche. In the last couple years, the first two games in the series (including the excellent Princess Maker 2) got remasters on Steam. Princess Maker 3: Fairy Tales Come True was later released on Steam as well. Princess Maker 5 will join its predecessors' company this week, previously only being released on PC, PS2, and PSP in Japan and Taiwan.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Hope (Wild ARMS)
Hey! It's the 20th anniversary of the North American release of Panzer Dragoon Saga, God rest its battered soul. But I never got to play Panzer Dragoon Saga for reasons that should be obvious, so I'm going to commemorate music from another birthday boy / girl: 1997's Wild Arms for the PlayStation.
Like Panzer Dragoon Saga, Wild Arms' legacy got run over by Final Fantasy VII. Unlike Panzer Dragoon Saga, however, the game received many sequels and is quite easy to find and install as a Sony PSOne classic. Maybe you should. It's not the most modern RPG out there, and Lord above, are its polygonal battle scenes ever wretched-looking. But I'm damned if it doesn't have one of the loveliest RPG soundtracks on the PlayStation. Its opening tune, "Hope," offers a heartfelt introduction to the game's odd, silent protagonist, Rudy. You hear it maybe once or twice in the game. There you go. Even the "throwaway" tunes in Wild Arms are wonderful.
Fun trivia: When Note Block Beat Box was a separate feature, I wrote an in-depth analysis of Wild Arms' overworld theme, Lone Bird in the Shire. What's the tune got to do with Clint Eastwood and Ecstacy of Gold? Everything and nothing. Read and be educated.
Mike's Media Minute
And like that, Disney has a different franchise at the top of its slate. Well, sort of. Avengers: Infinity War did its duty this weekend, introducing audiences to the full might of Thanos and closing out the domestic box office with $257 million. That put it ahead of the previous record holder, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which hit $247.9 million in December of 2015. Infinity War still has a ways to go in terms of beating The Force Awakens overall, as that film reached a total of $2 billion at the box office, but it's a great start.
It also cements Marvel Studios as the crown jewel in Disney's amazingly impressive slate. If you jump to the opening weekend all-time chart on Box Office Mojo, six of the Top 10 films are from Marvel Studios. On the all-time worldwide chart, three of the Top 10 films are from Marvel: The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Black Panther, with Infinity War likely joining that list in a few weeks and Avengers 4 still waiting for next year.
But Disney is fine either way. If you look at either of the previously-linked charts, you'll see that the House of the Mouse has a strong stranglehold on the top spots, between Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney's growing live-action adaptations, like Beauty and the Beast. That's likely not changing anytime soon, with The Incredibles 2, Solo, Mary Poppins Returns, Captain Marvel, Avengers 4, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Frozen 2, and Star Wars: Episode 9 all coming by the end of 2019. Hell, I skipped over films in that list and Disney will soon own Fox's slate of films, including Avatar.
I guess this is our media future. (It's not really, as Netflix, Amazon, HBO and others step in to fill the gaps with very impressive films and series on their own.)
Caty’s AltGame Corner
The latest edition of the Ludum Dare game jam had a delightful theme: combine two incompatible genres. The results are expectedly hilarious, with Animal Crossing mixed with jumpscare horrors to Dance Dance Revolution-infused roguelike. My personal favorite though came in the form of a genre crossover I never could have predicted: gardening and pinball.
Pinball Gardner is an adorable pinball game where the player plays pinball and earns money in the process. That money can then be spent to buy specific crops to plant, such as a carrot, and once the plant is grown, the player can harvest it for more money and make room for a new crop to take its place. It's a simple, sweet game from developers Kiana Mosser and Matt Fisher, and you can download the quaint game for free on itch.io for PC.
This Week's News and Notes
- Can you believe it's nearly already May??? Where did this year go???
- Avengers: Infinity War released this past weekend, and boy, it sure did make a whole lot of money. We all saw it (except for our colleagues in the U.K.), and I think I'm pretty much done with pop culture movies for the near future. It was exhausting, but I think it would have been more hard-hitting for me if I liked more Marvel movies than just Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther, and Thor: Ragnarok. (This past year has been good for Caty Actually Enjoying Marvel Movies That Weren't That MGS2-Like Captain America One.) Last week, in honor of its release, we even tracked down all the major heroes in Avengers: Infinity War's first appearances in games.
- On Friday, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was officially revealed after a billion leaks. I got to play some if it at its reveal event in Los Angeles. While I found the demo a little dull and too linear (as a fan of the combat alone in its predecessors), it's weird to see Lara be backpedaled into this regressive characterization. Overall it's an admittedly interesting premise—tackling the destructive consequences of tomb raiding—but it feels like something the first game should have been. I guess that's what happens when you switch development and writing teams for the third entry in a trilogy.
- There's a new Harry Potter mobile game in the wild, and unfortunately, it's not good. Nadia wrote about it last week, writing "accio blatant money-grab!" As someone who played it during a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Los Angeles and back to San Francisco, I agree with her assessment.
- At last, the time has come to marry all our friends: Stardew Valley's upcoming multiplayer is now in playable beta on Steam and GoG. My crops are thriving and my pores are clear.
- It's the 10th anniversary of Grand Theft Auto 4. It's a game that contributor Doc Burford argues doesn't really hold up as a game, but still boasts one of the most realistic open worlds of all-time.
- Mike reviewed the spin-off Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, a game designed for the most hardcore of Total War fans.
- As you may have gathered from the micro-essay above, Season 4 of Fortnite Battle Royale is hitting Earth like a comet tomorrow. My partnere's gotten really into Fortnite as of late, so I'll probably be watching him dive into the new skins as I play Splatoon 2 on my Switch or something.
- Random Monday Musing: There was a scene in Westworld last night that reminded me of SpyParty. I guess that was cool, even if that show is still pretty bad. I don't know why I keep watching it. I should just stick to Riverdale, another bad show that at least has the audacity to be entertaining and campy.
- The USgamer Podcast: On last week's USgamer Podcast, Caty, Nadia, and Mike break down the latest PS4 exclusive: God of War; and don't worry, it's spoiler-free! On another note, we're putting The USgamer Podcast on hiatus. (Dry your tears, we're bummed too.) We'll be candid about why: it was a huge time sink for us. It'd take a couple hours every Wednesday for the three of us to record (plus self-editing to take out all those pesky coughs and sniffles), and then it'd take another couple hours or so for Kat to edit it all together and publish it. That's about four people of our five-strong editorial staff away for a podcast that frankly wasn't performing too well. We're all sad to be shelving it for now, but hopefully when we're able to bring it back, it'll be better than ever! In the meantime, we still have Axe of the Blood God and our weekly stream with good ol' Mike (and whoever joins him)!
- Axe of the Blood God: In this week's Axe of the Blood God, Nadia and Kat get super off topic, but somehow manage to talk about Super Robot Wars, Persona 5, and Radiant Historia. Subscribe here!