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Microsoft launches Game Stack, brings Xbox Live to Android and iOS – TechCrunch

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Microsoft today announced a new initiative that combines under a single umbrella all of the company’s gaming-related products for developers like Xbox Live, Azure PlayFab, Direct X, Mixer, Virtual Studio, Simplygon and Azure. That umbrella, Microsoft Game Stack, is meant to give game developers, no matter whether they are at a AAA studio or working solo, all the tools they need to develop and then operate their games across devices and platforms.

“Game Stack brings together our game development platforms, tools and services like Direct X and Visual Studio, Azure and Playfab into a robust ecosystem that any game developer can use,” said Kareem Choudhry, the corporate vice president for the Microsoft Gaming Cloud. “We view this as a journey that we are just beginning.”

It’s worth noting that developers can pick and choose which of the services they want to use. While Azure is part of Game Stack, for example, the overall stack is cloud and device agnostic. Undoubtedly, though, Microsoft hopes that developers will adopt Azure as their preferred cloud. These days, after all, most games feature some online component, even if they aren’t multiplayer games, and developers need a place to store player credentials, telemetry data and other info.

One of the core components of Game Stack is PlayFab, a backend service for building cloud-connected games, which now falls under the Azure family. Microsoft acquired the service early last year and it’s worth noting that it supports all major gaming platforms, ranging from the Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch to iOS, Android, PC and web.

With today’s announcement, Microsoft is launching a number of new PlayFab services, too. These include PlayFab Matchmaking, a matchmaking service the company adapted from Xbox Live matchmaking, but that’s now available to all developers and on all devices. This service is now in public preview. In private preview are PlayFab Party, a voice and chat service (also modeled after Xbox Party Chat), PlayFab Game insights for real-time game telemetry, PlayFab Pub Sub for pushing content updates, notifications and more to the game client, and PlayFab User Generated Content for allowing players to safely share content with each other.

So while Game Stack may feel more like a branding exercise, it’s clear that PlayFab is where Microsoft is really putting its money as it’s competing with Amazon and Google, both of which have recently put a lot of emphasis on game developers, too.

In addition to these announcements, Microsoft also today said that it is bringing an SDK for Xbox Live to iOS and Android devices so developers can integrate that service’s identity and community services into their games on those platforms, too.

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WarCraft Arclight Rumble impressions: High production values, questionable costs

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Enlarge / Welcome to the mini-styled smartphone-RTS universe of WarCraft Arclight Rumble.

Blizzard

Blizzard Entertainment’s first real-time strategy game for smartphones, WarCraft Arclight Rumble, is slated to launch on iOS and Android later this year, with a tech beta going live sooner in various regions. Ahead of that launch, we were invited to test the game’s current version for a couple of days, and we can confirm that Blizzard is still pretty good at designing games for phones. (Even if they’ve brought at least one related gaffe upon themselves.)

In Arclight Rumble‘s case, however, a certain chicken-and-egg question comes up: When comparing this game to the wildly popular Clash Royale, exactly who is ripping off whom?

Both games overlap, as Blizzard’s new smartphone game adopts more than a few of Supercell’s well-trodden, touchscreen-friendly conventions. Yet Supercell’s game arguably borrows a lot from the original WarCraft series on PC—not just in its adherence to RTS traditions but also its medieval, primary-color aesthetic.

However you parse it, Arclight Rumble appears to add just enough depth to the smartphone RTS genre to stand out, though anyone new to this gaming space should brace themselves for a whole new universe of microtransactions. While not as aggressive as some of the smartphone world’s worst offenders, Arclight Rumble‘s approach will still be a tough sell to anyone who remembers buying WarCraft RTS games outright.

Familiar fare gets bigger, more strategic

If you’ve played Clash Royale, you know the drill. The game defaults to one-on-one faceoffs without any fog of war, and the object is to send troops from your side of the battlefield to your opponent’s to destroy an enemy base while protecting your own. Troops appear as cards, randomly shuffled into players’ hands from a deck, and players spend a battle-specific currency to turn those cards into active troops (or spells that can be cast by tapping on the screen). More powerful units cost more currency, and each unit type has strengths and weaknesses over others, so savvy players will generate and direct troops with that in mind in order to succeed. (Melee beats ranged, ranged beats aerial, and aerial beats melee.)

That entire paragraph could apply to either game mentioned in this article, so what’s different in Arclight Rumble?

Blizzard’s game better splits the difference between a smartphone card-battler and a PC RTS. Battlefields in Arclight Rumble are bigger, and they typically don’t fit on a single smartphone screen, thus requiring finger swipes to move your viewpoint between your base (bottom of the screen) and your foe’s (top of the screen). These arenas are vertically oriented, so it’s more of an up-to-down swipe to glance around, not left-to-right, which feels good in practice.

Unlike a classic RTS, players don’t rapidly click a mouse to issue commands, but troop management is also not as wholly simplified here as in Clash Royale. Arclight Rumble players can tap an arrow on the ground to tell troops which way to advance when a path branches, and they otherwise automatically march forward and target foes along the way.

Blizzard adds the RTS-like convention of putting control points and gold mines onto its larger battlefields. If your troops can successfully wear down a control point, it becomes yours, and some of them come with auto-firing catapults. Once you take over one of these, you can opt to spawn troops that much closer to your foe’s base. And gold mines can be smacked by any of your melee troops, including a low-cost miner character who comes as a default in your deck, no matter what other cards you put into it. You need gold to spawn new troops, but the miner, who costs only one gold, can quickly grab two gold pieces from mines that regularly regenerate near your base. (There’s also the strategic option to spend your allotment of gold to move troops toward enemies’ gold mines—especially for special troops that can be freely spawned outside of your control points.)

Increasing the game’s average map size and dotting each with control points is an interesting tweak to the fits-on-one-screen combat of Clash Royale, and mid-arena control strategy makes this game feel deeper than some of its peers. But such an expansion in scope exposes how simple these smartphone strategy games can feel once play hits a higher level. In particular, there’s no way to contend with Blizzard’s auto-targeting failures. As of press time, I’ve seen my melee troops turn around and react to enemies that have passed them by when two battling lanes criss-cross. This happens even when I’ve devoted my limited gold economy to a massive rush meant to bombard my foe’s base, my own defenses be damned. There’s no troop tag for “kiting” in this game, which might have indicated that enemies could lure my melee forces away from my objective.

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Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany goes green in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law trailer

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She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, starring Tatiana Maslany, starts streaming on August 17 on Disney+.

Marvel has released the first trailer for its latest spinoff series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and it looks like it will be a lot of fun. Bonus: Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as Bruce Banner/Hulk and teams up with She-Hulk, played by Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany. Marvel also announced that it has begun production in Atlanta on Echo, a nine-episode spinoff series centered on the deaf gang leader Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), who was introduced in last year’s Hawkeye.

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has described the series as a “half-hour legal comedy” (with superheroes) and said it would hew closely to John Byrne’s take on the character in the comics. That would be The Sensational She-Hulk series, known for its metafictional approach, in which She-Hulk occasionally broke the fourth wall, walking through ads and even arguing with Byrne as the writer. The character has been a member of The Avengers, the Fantastic Force, and S.H.I.E.L.D., and it’s expected that She-Hulk will eventually appear in the MCU films.

Per the official premise: “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law follows Jennifer Walters as she navigates the complicated life of a single, 30-something attorney who also happens to be a green 6-foot-7-inch superpowered hulk.” In addition to Ruffalo’s “Smart Hulk,” Tim Roth will reprise his role as Emil Blonsky/the Abomination from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and Benedict Wong will be back as Wong, most recently seen in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Jameela Jamil plays Titania, a super-strong rival of SheHulk; Ginger Gonzaga plays Walters’ best friend; and Renee Elise Goldsberry plays Amelia.

We saw the first footage from She-Hulk last November during Disney+ Day. The brief teaser featured Maslany and Ruffalo in an homage to the 1970s live-action Hulk series, with Walters uttering Bill Bixby’s trademark line, “Don’t make angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” This new trailer introduces us to Jennifer Walters (Maslany), a successful single lawyer who has just been asked to lead the superhuman law division of her firm. But then her cousin, Bruce Banner, gives her a blood transfusion, and she gains some of his Hulk abilities. Fortunately, he makes a great mentor, training her to channel her powers by focusing on her anger and fear (aka “the baseline of any woman just existing”).

We get a brief glimpse of Roth’s Blonsky in prison and in his Abomination form, as well as Jamil’s Titania. And it looks like She-Hulk will be trying to find Mr. Right (or perhaps Mr. Right Now), as we see her swiping through a dating app and carrying one of her dates to the bedroom, bridegroom style.

As for Echo, we’ve already met Maya Lopez, aka Echo, in Hawkeye. She was the deaf commander of the Tracksuit Mafia, capable of perfectly copying another person’s movements. And she was on a quest to discover the true identity of Ronin, the assassin who had killed her father. That put her on a collision course with Clint Barton/Hawkeye, who had hung up his Ronin gear for good.

When the two adversaries finally battled it out, Barton revealed that someone working for Maya’s boss wanted her father dead. That boss turned out to be Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio). In the Hawkeye finale, Kingpin escaped, only to be confronted by an angry Maya, who had learned the truth about her father’s murder. We heard a gunshot, but who was shot? And was it a fatal wound?

Enlarge / Alaqua Cox stars as Maya Lopez, aka Echo, first introduced in last year’s Hawkeye.

YouTube/Marvel Studios

The Echo series seems to be an origin story. Per the official premise, the character’s “ruthless behavior in New York City catches up with her in her hometown. She must face her past, reconnect with her Native American roots, and embrace the meaning of family and community if she ever hopes to move forward.” D’Onofrio will reprise his role as Kingpin, and we’ll even get to see Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, briefly seen (to fans’ delight) most recently in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Zahn McClarnon will play Maya’s deceased father, William Lopez.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law debuts on Disney+ on August 17, 2022. Echo is slated for a 2023 premiere.

Listing image by YouTube/Marvel Studios

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We made a PlayStation Plus explainer that’s better than Sony’s

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Layers upon layers.

Since Sony announced its upcoming transition to a new, multi-tiered PlayStation Plus subscription service in March, the company has tried to explain that service’s many benefits with thousands of (sometimes confusing) words across two blog posts and an FAQ. We have tried to break down those benefits with our own posts composed of thousands of more (hopefully less confusing) words.

As we’ve struggled to make sense of the new offerings, though, we’ve found ourselves wanting a more concise, readable summary that breaks down each tier of the new PlayStation Plus at a glance. And we figured if we wanted that kind of quick reference, some of our readers might, too.

So please enjoy this breakdown of the new PlayStation Plus, as clear and concise as we could make it without leaving anything important out. We’ll try to keep this post updated as Sony adds or clarifies new features.

Pricing/benefits summary

Essential Extra Premium
Monthly price $9.99 $14.99 $17.99
Quarterly price $24.99 $39.99 $49.99
Annual price $59.99 $99.99 $119.99
Two monthly downloadable games X X X
Cloud saves X X X
Online multiplayer access X X X
PlayStation Plus Collection (on PS5) X X X
Downloadable PS4/PS5 games X X
Ubisoft+ Classics game lineup X X
Downloadable PS1/PS2/PSP games X
Streamable PS3 games X
Streaming access to PS1/PS2/PS4/PSP games X
Time-limited game trials X

Essential tier benefits

Two monthly downloadable games

  • These are usually PS4 games these days, sometimes with PS5 enhancements
    • Since the beginning of 2020, PS Plus has offered 11 PS5 exclusives and 5 PSVR exclusives
  • You can access these games for as long as you maintain your subscription

Cloud saves

  • 100GB of cloud storage per console for PS4 and PS5
  • Limit of 1,000 save files for PS4

Online multiplayer access

  • No subscription is needed for free-to-play games like Fortnite.

PlayStation Plus Collection (on PS5)

  • A collection of 19 “classic” PS4 games that are playable on the PS5
    • Not available on the PS4
    • Full game list, which hasn’t changed since 2020, is available here

Extra tier benefits

Downloadable PS4/PS5 games

  • 62 titles announced so far, “up to 400” promised in March
    • 50 PS4 exclusives (playable on PS5)
    • 9 PS4 games with PS5 “enhanced” versions
    • 3 PS5 exclusives
    • 38 first-party titles, 24 third-party titles
    • Full list of titles announced so far available here

“Ubisoft+ Classics” game lineup

  • This isn’t the full 100-game Ubisoft+ lineup launched in 2019; it’s a cut-down version for PlayStation Plus owners
  • The “Classics” plan will launch with 27 titles and expand to 50 by the end of 2022, Ubisoft says
  • Full list of announced titles so far available here

Premium tier benefits

Downloadable PS1/PS2/PSP games

  • 28 titles announced so far, “up to 340” (including streamable PS3 games) promised in March
    • 19 first-party, 9 third-party titles
    • 9 PS1, 18 PS2, 1 PSP title(s)
    • Full list of titles announced so far available here
  • “Some” classic games will have “improved frame rates and higher-quality resolution compared to their original launch versions”
  • “Some” PS1/PSP games will also have new UI and save-anywhere/rewind capabilities
  • PS2 games announced so far will be “remastered,” though the specific meaning of that is unclear at the moment

Streamable games

  • Stream to a PS4, PS5, or PC
  • Streaming currently available in 19 countries, plus 11 more starting in June
    • Full list of streaming availability by country available here (scroll to the bottom)
  • 29 streamable PS3 titles announced so far
    • 21 first-party, 8 third-party titles
    • Not remastered
    • No downloadable versions for PS3 games
    • Full list of titles announced so far available here
  • Streaming for available PS1/PS2/PS4/PSP games was mentioned in Sony’s March blog post but was not specifically called out in its latest update
    • The fine print says that “streaming may not be available for certain games”
  • PlayStation Now currently has a much wider list of streamable PS2/PS3/PS4 games

Time-limited game trials

  • 6 titles announced so far
    • 2 first-party, 4 third-party
    • 2 PS5 exclusives, 4 PS4 titles with PS5 enhancements
    • Full list of titles announced so far available here
  • Trials will last two hours “for most games”
  • Trophies/save data from the trial carry over if you buy the game

Other notes

  • Remaining PlayStation Plus subscriptions will be converted to Essential subscriptions
  • Remaining PlayStation Now subscriptions will be converted to Premium subscriptions
  • If you have both PS Plus and PS Now subscriptions remaining, you’ll be converted to a Premium subscription for the length of the longer remaining subscription.
  • Some PS1/PSP games purchased as downloads will be downloadable for free on a PS4/PS5, even without a PlayStation Plus subscription

Planned transition timing

  • Asia (except Japan): May 24
  • Japan: June 2
  • Americas: June 13
  • Europe, Australia, New Zealand: June 23
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