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‘Ape Out’ and ‘Baba Is You’ demonstrate the depth of simplicity – TechCrunch

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The games we see advertised the most aren’t necessarily the best representatives for what has become an incredibly diverse medium. Yearly AAA installments and massive open worlds are all well and good, but simplicity is rarely on display — which makes two recent releases, Ape Out and Baba Is You, all the more delightful.

Both are, in a way, very simple games, but from that simplicity arises complex and enjoyable gameplay concepts that can entertain (or frustrate) for hours. It’s a refreshing reversal of games that appear complex but ultimately have very little depth.

Ape Out is certainly the more simple of the two, at least in gameplay terms. You’re an ape — a great ape. A gorilla, to be precise. And you have gotten out.

The smooth top-down action has you navigating a procedurally generated office patrolled by gun-wielding ne’er-do-wells. To prevent further ape blood from being spilled, you can either punch them — usually fatal, as you are strong — or grab them, which causes them to fire their gun. Then you can throw them into a wall. That’s pretty much it!

A few things elevate the game beyond the apparently arcade-level concepts here. First is a distinctive visual style that combines a sort of watercolor or chalky effect with starkly monochrome characters and surroundings, making gameplay elements highly distinctive and recognizable while giving a definite look to the whole world.

The controls are also smooth and largely predictable, letting you confidently move through the world without worrying whether you’ll catch on something or whether your lunge will reach a guy — if you’re not sure, it’s exciting rather than frustrating. Well-spaced checkpoints make you master an area before passing on, but don’t feel punitive, and new enemies and obstacles are introduced gradually and logically.

But the music is the most striking bit. A base beat of jazz drums accompanies each stage, growing in intensity as you progress to the next level (it can take as little as 20 or 30 seconds to do so), and every action adds a beat or cymbal crash to the mix. The responsive music makes it feel like a real soundtrack to your acts, while also spurring you on to greater ones.

As Penny Arcade pointed out, Ape Out is fun and original from the moment you pick it up. There’s no boring tutorial, problematic dialogue, poorly characterized protagonist, obscure and frequently revised gameplay elements, and no “ludonarrative dissonance.” In other words you never think “wait, would an enraged ape really do that?” (By the way, it’s definitely violent — but in an absurd comic style, not graphic and horrible.)

Baba Is You is simple in a different way. Its graphics and simple grid-based movement place it in company with The Adventures of Lolo or similar block-pushing games from the ’80s and ’90s. The complexity of this game, however, comes from a mind-bending twist along the lines of Portal and The Witness: the rules of the game are actual blocks that you move around as well.

It sounds weird, but that’s the game: In addition to rocks, water, walls and various other items, there are blocks defining the actual rules of that level with a crude, blocky logic, such as “flag is win” and “rock is push,” meaning you win if you touch the flag and rocks can be pushed.

Perhaps the flag is embedded in an inaccessible fortress of walls, though. No problem. A couple pushes mean that now “rock is win” — so just go touch a rock and the level is complete. Or perhaps if you can reach it, the rule “wall is stop” can be shifted, letting you walk right through them to the flag.

The simple, cute graphics let you focus on the seemingly limited, yet actually maddeningly diverse, ways of combining and shifting the blocks of the level. “Eureka!” moments are elusive things, as the creator seems to have a knack for predicting how you might think and putting roadblocks in the way of obvious solutions. But there is that amazing feeling that you’re a genius when you come back to an “impossible” level and see it with new eyes, solving it in a handful of seconds. That’s the complexity of simplicity — a single breakthrough that takes half an hour to arrive at.

I won’t lie, though: Baba Is You is hard. It’s hard as hell. In the forums are puzzle fiends shame-facedly admitting they can’t beat the 6th level, or facepalming after a hint is offered. It’s easy to develop a mental block and never get past it — but fortunately the game is fairly open, letting you take on the first few puzzles of various themed areas of the map rather than making you clear one before moving on to the next. This isn’t a game you’ll be done with in an afternoon.

Both Baba Is You and Ape Out cost less than $20 (on PC and Switch right now), in the sweet spot between the shovelware under $10 and “full” retail games twice the cost. Both are unique and created with obvious care and attention to detail. And neither ever requires more than two or three minutes of your time — though you can, as I did last night, lose hours just as easily as you would in a AAA title. This is simple done right.

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There’s something seriously wrong with Homelander in The Boys S3 trailer

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An uneasy peace will be shattered in The Boys S3.

The Boys is coming back to Prime Video for its third season, and the streaming platform has released the official trailer. Our crew of misfits had arrived at some closure in their battle against the “supes” and gone their separate ways at the end of the second season. But it looks like that uneasy peace is about to be shattered, given the number of exploding bodies and glowing laser eyes showcased in the trailer.

(Spoilers for S2 below.)

As I’ve written previously, the show is based on the comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but are corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. The most elite superhero group is called the Seven, operated by the Vought Corporation, which created the supes with a substance called Compound V. The Seven is headed up by Homelander (Antony Starr), a violent and unstable psychopath disguised as the All-American hero. Homelander’s counterpart as the head of the titular “Boys” is Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a self-appointed vigilante intent on checking the bad behavior of the Seven—especially Homelander, who brutally raped Butcher’s wife, Becca (Shantel VanSanten).

The second season ended with a bloody showdown that saw the demise of Becca as well as the mutilation of Homelander’s supe squeeze, Stormfront (Aya Cash), who turned out to be a Nazi disguised as a “patriot.” Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) and Starlight (Annie Moriarty) successfully blackmailed Homelander into loosening his bullying stranglehold on the Seven. Meanwhile, the government cleared the Boys of all wrongdoing after they were publicly smeared as terrorists. A disillusioned Hughie (Jack Quaid) decided to try to fight the Seven through politics rather than violence and went to work for Congressperson Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit)—but he doesn’t know she’s actually a super-powered assassin with her own murderous agenda.

Enlarge / There’s something seriously wrong with Homelander—well, more wrong than usual.

YouTube/Prime Video

So what can we expect from the third season? We already knew that the first episode is entitled “Payback”—the name of an earlier Vought group of superheroes, loosely based on Marvel’s Avengers. Payback members include Eagle the Archer, who appeared in S2 of The Boys (played by Langston Kerman). He’s the one who recruited the Deep (Chace Crawford) and A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) to the Church of the Collective before the cult turned against him. A fictional Seven on 7 news report last summer informed us that Eagle had quit the superhero gig and is now trying to become a rapper.

Expect Payback to play a major role this season, since two other members are joining the cast: Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) and Crimson Countess (Laurie Holden). We also know that the third season will incorporate one of the comic’s most shocking storylines: Herogasm. In this standalone comic miniseries, the Boys infiltrate Vought’s annual superhero party, which turns out to be just one long weekend of kinky sex and drug use on a secluded island.

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Star Wars content flurry confirmed: New Disney+ series, film updates

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Enlarge / We already know plenty about the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi, launching later this month, but a lengthy feature out this week chronicles all the other Disney+ content coming soon from a galaxy far, far away.

Lucasarts

When it comes to learning about new Star Wars content, there’s really no beating a massive, feature-length look behind the curtain at Lucasfilm and Disney. This month’s launch of the simply named Obi-Wan Kenobi series has proven a good occasion to get such a peek, thanks to a sweeping—and at times, frank—documentation of all things Star Wars from Vanity Fair.

The article primarily follows the lead actors of Disney+’s four upcoming live-action Star Wars series, though it also covers the IP’s apparently rocky path away from feature-length films and toward serialized TV content (though, yes, it does get to films by the end). It includes an acknowledgment from Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy that the company’s constant return to the old well, which has included a recast Han Solo and a CGI-tinged Luke Skywalker, isn’t sustainable. When pressed about those attempts, she replied, “Now it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t do that.”

Put Thrawn on notice?

So while the new May 27 Obi-Wan series will return to popular characters and their original actors, the upcoming Disney+ material announced here leans toward expansions of characters who don’t necessarily date back to the original 1977 film. 2023’s Ahsoka will focus on the popular character from Clone Wars and reintroduced on The Mandalorian, and its premiere season will focus on a “continuous story” that will almost certainly involve the character’s refrain of hunting Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Andor, coming “late this summer,” stars Diego Luna as his Rogue One character Cassian Andor and will be helmed by longtime Bourne film series director Tony Gilroy. This “refugee story” will rewind years before the events of Rogue One to the character’s turning point from an anti-rebellion lone gun to a spy determined to stop the Empire’s rapid expansion, and it will revolve largely around the “adopted home” he takes up after his birth world is destroyed.

Lucasfilm tells fans to expect a third season of The Mandalorian somewhere between Andor and Ahsoka (meaning late 2022 or early 2023). Though details on that upcoming season are scarce, the Vanity Fair feature explores the debate original showrunners John Favreau and Dave Filoni had over whether to introduce an infantile, Yoda-like creature in the first season. We learn that Favreau was the one vociferously arguing in favor of “the child,” but the interview never says exactly what put Favreau’s vision over the top.

We do hear Favreau credit artist Chris Alzmann with the design of Grogu, at least. “There were a lot of different looks that popped up, and then we got one that finally clicked,” Favreau told Vanity Fair. “He had kind of a goofy, ugly look. We didn’t want him too cute.”

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Sony reportedly forces Insomniac to stay silent on abortion rights

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Enlarge / A few of Insomniac’s biggest franchises.

Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man developer Insomniac Games has made a $50,000 donation to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), and its parent company, Sony, will reportedly match that number. But those donations come amid public silence from both companies on the contentious issue and reports of internal drama surrounding a response to the Supreme Court’s reported efforts to overturn 1973’s Roe v. Wade precedent.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that PlayStation President Jim Ryan sent an email to staffers urging them “to respect differences of opinion among everyone in our internal and external communities” on issues such as abortion rights. “Respect does not equal agreement. But it is fundamental to who we are as a company and as a valued global brand,” Ryan reportedly continued.

That same email went on to share a more “lighthearted” and detailed story about Ryan’s cats’ birthdays, according to Bloomberg, a tonal disconnect that rubbed some employees the wrong way.

Following Ryan’s message to employees, The Washington Post reports that Insomniac CEO Ted Price sent an email to studio employees last Friday outlining the corporate donations to WRRAP. Sony will also match employee donations made through its internal charity portal and plans to reimburse employees who may need to leave the state to obtain abortion services, according to the report.

But Price’s email also reportedly detailed how Sony “will not approve ANY statements from any studio on the topic of reproductive rights.” That’s despite Insomniac sending nearly 60 pages of employee messages to PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst asking the company to “do better by employees who are directly affected” by any pending abortion decision. “We fought hard for this and we did not win,” Price wrote.

Price went on to address the sometimes awkward parent-child corporate relationship that has developed since Sony acquired Insomniac in 2019. “As far as our freedom of speech goes, while we do have a LOT of autonomy that often gets taken for granted, there are times where we need to acknowledge we’re part of a larger organization,” Price reportedly wrote. “For the most part, our ability to tweet has been unfettered. However, there are rare times when we’re in opposition (like this week) and [Sony] will have the final say.”

A wall of silence

Insomniac’s apparent forced public silence on this issue comes weeks after Bungie became one of a few companies to speak out in support of abortion rights. “Standing up for reproductive choice and liberty is not a difficult decision to make, and Bungie remains dedicated to upholding these values,” the company said.

Psychonauts developer (and Microsoft subsidiary) Double Fine and Guild Wars developer ArenaNet tweeted out similarly supportive statements in the days following Bungie’s move.

Activision put out a more neutrally worded statement regarding abortion rights last week, saying the company is “committed to an inclusive environment that is supportive of all of our employees” and that it “will closely monitor developments in the coming weeks and months.” Microsoft also said last week that it would “continue to do everything we can under the law to protect our employees’ rights and support employees” and pledged to pay for employee travel costs related to out-of-state abortion services.

But even limited public statements like those stand out as exceptions in the video game industry. The Washington Post found that 18 of 20 “major video game companies” it contacted about the issue did not respond to a request for comment.

Those companies may be receiving advice recommending them to stay away from the issue. The Popular Information newsletter recently reported on an email from major PR firm Zeno urging companies not to “take a stance you cannot reverse” on “subjects that divide the country.” On issues like abortion, Zeno wrote, “regardless of what [companies] do, they will alienate at least 15 to 30 percent of their stakeholders… do not assume that all of your employees, customers or investors share your view.”

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