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Check out 31 mostly new Indie games coming to Xbox One

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If you’re tired of all this virtual reality news coming out of GDC and just want to check out some new games, the Xbox YouTube channel has posted 31 new trailers of upcoming indie titles. These games are all part of Microsoft’s indie publishing program, ID@Xbox, which has some booth space at GDC to show off the games.

Many of these are games I looked at in the IGF this year and it’s good to see them updated and getting console releases (Submerged, The Sun and the Moon, ClusterPuck 99). There are also a lot of titles I hadn’t heard of making their “console debut” on Xbox One. Of particular note is The Flame in the Flood which looks like a fantastically artsy rogue-lite set amongst a flood in a “forgotten post-societal America”. You can check out most of the games on the Xbox channel but I’ve included their bullet point listing after the break if you want to read some more.

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Microsoft has more than one Xbox 360 update planned for 2015

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Xbox Preview Program updates are nothing new if you follow Xbox’s Major Nelson or if you keep an eye on the Xbox press site. So I was about to scroll on by this latest Preview Program Enrollment headline when I realized it was for the Xbox 360. By this point I figured Microsoft was happy to leave their last-gen console to retire like a distinguished 55 year old; still around and doing well but not the topic of water cooler gossip like it used to be.

I’m happily mistaken — especially as Katy and I are using our 360s more than ever to play EDF — and happy to report that at least two new updates will be coming to the console through 2015. The first, which doesn’t have a solid release date yet, won’t bring glamorous new features but it may ease the pains of network troubleshooting for some users. Improved troubleshooting options will be added as well as a download/upload speed test utility.

The next update(s) are only promised by Major Nelson as “coming later this year”. While owners could sign up for the preview program in years past, this time around it’s more like a lottery. Major Nelson’s post details the new process.

Learn the language of your choice with this week’s Humble Bundle

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It’s not every day you can spend as little as a dollar to start learning a new language but today (or any of the next seven) is that day. The latest Humble Weekly Bundle features a bunch of games that are “Made in Japan”. Naturally, that includes bullet hell shooters, visual novels and turn-based strategy but it also includes InFluent.

I first found InFluent among the IGF entries this year and it’s got an interesting hook. Rather than sitting you in front of still images and memorizing flash cards, InFluent lets you explore a colorful 3D environment and poke at hundreds of common objects to learn their spelling and pronunciation. It appeals to my illogical fascination with Walking Simulators and might actually make me a little smarter. Also, you eventually unlock a tiny spaceship and fly through the rooms blasting specified objects in a time attack mode. That’s my kind of learning!

Buying it through the Humble Bundle gets you the game and your choice of one language pack. I really appreciate that it isn’t just the typical German, French and Spanish like so many language apps. You can choose from: Japanese, French, English, Italian, German, Swedish, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Bulgarian, Latin, European Portuguese, and Brazilian Portuguese. You can buy any of these languages as DLC for $4.99 a piece once you’ve mastered your first pick.

I’ll let you know if I learn any Korean from my time with InFluent but I may easily get distracted by Fairy Bloom Freesia that’s also in the bundle. I got the Cherry Tree High Complete Pack as well but I’m never going to touch that so to you who read all the way through this post, I have a gift.

Breaking down Sony’s huge PlayStation lineup

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At first sight this updated list of forthcoming PlayStation releases looks enticingly massive. The official blog post is pages long (even excluding the pages of comments below it) but once you take your personal tastes into account things shrivel quickly.

Not into min-eSports style competitive multiplayer?
Not wild about PC ports?
Not up for more twin stick arcade shooters?
Not hot for indie games?

That’ll cut out up to 70% of this list and you can ignore another chunk of it that covers recently released titles. What’s left for PlayStation fans to look forward to? By my estimate about 74 exclusive releases between PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and Vita. Only a dozen of those are likely to be major retail releases and surely some of these games are going to slip to 2016 or beyond.

The good news? If you’re a fan of anime/manga then PlayStation will treat you well. There’s a surprising number of games either based on or inspired by Japanese properties, most of which I’m unfamiliar with.  Sony also hasn’t completely cut off ties to a few oddball titles I was worried about. Both Shadow of the Beast and Everyone’s gone to the Rapture are, at least, mentioned on the list. The Last Guardian, however, is nowhere in sight.

It sure makes for a flashy blog post and headline as every other outlet copied and pasted the listing instantaneously. But really give it a look over for yourself and decide how many of these 220 titles you need a PlayStation console for.

A little brainstorm on Castlevania’s future

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I’ve had this idea for a Castlevania revival kicking around in my head for a while now but have never committed it to a post. This Kill Screen article about the series impossible architecture has finally motivated me to expand on it so let’s workshop this!

The title is about all I dreamed up, a portmanteau of terrible design: Constructslevania. Part Castlevania, part Mario Maker, you play as some entity summoned forth by Dracula to devise the next incarnation of his cursed castle. How about Death? Death makes sense, he’s already able to float around so he can move anywhere on the screen and keep the UI hidden out of view, probably in ‘Dracula’s Grimoire’ or some other book-like conceit. He’s also Death and it’s funny to picture him doing Dracula’s housework when he isn’t directly ruining another Belmont’s day.

A pop-up menu system would allow you to choose hundreds of room backdrops from the series past with tabs for obstacles, enemies, and decoration. All these would be governed by rules to make it feel more Castlevania appropriate. So no, you can’t fill every room with a framerate-breaking number of red skeletons, even though I think they did that once. Maybe there’s even a “holy intervention” phase where you have to place beneficial items or an algorithm that places the whippable torches. From here the gameplay can go a few different ways.

Similar to Tecmo’s Deception you could be designing the castle to watch AI heroes storm in and do their best to reach Dracula. Maybe he’s not fully revived yet and all they need to do is reach his coffin to show him a pointy end. Alternatively, you’re designing the castle for other live players to run through, possibly in a roguelike, one-shot fashion.

Restricted solely to AI heroes I think the game would lean more towards tower defense and would feel much less like a Castlevania game. Designed for live players it would be possible to lay out a more accurate Castlevania experience, maybe even one with save rooms, mid-bosses and puzzles.

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Maybe the Librarian would work better than Death? And who wouldn’t want to hide their own wall meat or lay Medusa head trap rooms?

Personally, I just want a new 2D Castlevania to explore and this would potentially offer a million clever combinations of famous locales and encounters. Building one would also be fun and I can picture players creating devious labyrinths and artistic masterpieces. Maybe it’s even possible to cram a new Castlevania story around other players creations. Konami could even offer new sprites, gear, and bosses for creators to work with. And the music! Having a jukebox of Castlevania’s classic themes to select and jam to is almost worth the buying price alone.

No doubt, this could easily be a money sucking, microtransaction, DLC onslaught with Konami charging for every individual sprite and sound effect. It could also result in an endless number of boring, broken or cookie cutter castles. I would still take all that potential for tragedy just to poke around in a new 2D Castlevania offering. There ya go Konami, have at it.

Promo Man: Klip Art

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How do you convey the gore and violence of Mortal Kombat 3 without printing just another ad filled with severed limbs and soaked with blood? You raid a clip art archive for images of painful looking torture devices. I think the solution was pretty elegant at the time, making for a much more memorable — even stylish — ad that implies the pain and torment of the game without showing anything.

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Sega Networks acquires and invests in more Mobile studios

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If any hopes were still smoldering that Sega’s new focus on the Western market with PC and mobile games was an elaborate smokescreen to hide a stunning return to form of wild Japanese creation, I’ve got a bucket of water for you.

Sega Networks, the mobile division of the ramshackle organization that is Sega proper, has announced some major acquisitions and investments today. Demiurge Studios, the team that most recently created Marvel Puzzle Quest is now wholly owned by Sega. The division has also established a majority share in San Francisco’s indie startup, Ignited Artists, and made a “strategic investment” in the UK studio, Space Ape Games.

Naturally, all three groups are mobile focused and while that isn’t my favorite platform to play games on, I’m willing to give this new effort from Sega a chance. There’s plenty of talent in the three studios and maybe (just maybe) they can take some old Sega IP and breathe new life into it. Failing that, maybe their Free-to-Play, microtransaction-filled castle defense games will bankroll a Sega product I’d be interested in. Say, a reboot of Doctor Robotnik where you’re capturing cute animals and turning them into Badniks.

We almost know more about SteamWorld Heist

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After SteamWorld Dig’s surprising debut on the 3DS in 2013 (and its subsequent hop to every other digital platform) fans have been eager to find out what would come next. SteamWorld Heist was first announced last September and since there’s been a terribly slim amount of news to go on.

It’s not a sequel. It’s set far into SteamWorld Dig’s future. Robots have set out into space in search of precious water. Something-something turn-based. Outer space exploration and survival. With music by Steam Powered Giraffe.

Almost another year later the steam powered news cycle is finally about to kick off. Members of Image & Form Games will be demoing SteamWorld Heist for the press and public throughout March. First at the Game Developers Conference (March 2-4), then at PAX East (March 6-8), then at EGX Rezzed in London (March 12-14). Finally they’ll take the game to New Jersey for the not-game-specific Steampunk World’s Fair on May 14-15.

So, come mid-March we should finally know a lot more about what SteamWorld Heist is and hopefully when to expect it on which platforms.

Promo Man: The Plot Thickens when Castlevania comes to Genesis

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One of the sore points as a Sega fan was missing out on Castlevania. Seeing Simon Belmont brandish his floppy whip and jump across huge swinging sprites in Super Castlevania IV always made me jealous.

But finally, in 1994, the series came to the Genesis and it was — oh, what is this!? It’s not even a Belmont? Some French guy? This… doesn’t look as fabulous as Castlevania IV or Dracula X.

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