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Review: Gritty techno-thriller Code 8 is a surprise breakout hit on Netflix



Robbie Amell and Stephen Amell star in Code 8, a Canadian sci-fi film currently making waves on Netflix.

One of the surprise breakout hits on Netflix during the coronavirus shutdown is Code 8, a Canadian science-fiction film funded entirely through a crowdfunding campaign. It’s set in an alternate timeline in the 1990s, where people with superhuman powers face severe discrimination and economic hardship. But this isn’t a cheap rip-off of the X-Men franchise. Code 8 is a smart, gritty, techno-noir thriller that is equal parts X-Men, District 9, and classic heist movies (Ben Affleck’s The Town is probably closest in tone and themes).

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Directed by Jeff Chan, Code 8 began life as a short teaser film of the same name, produced by cousins Robbie Amell (star of the forthcoming Upload) and Stephen Amell (Arrow) in 2016. They launched an Indiegogo fundraiser that year to make a feature-length version and soon raised $2.4 million. By December of last year, when the film was officially released, they had raised $3.4 million altogether, with the extra funds going to cover promotional and distribution costs, as well as perks for the more than 30,000 individual contributors (many of whom are named in the very long credits sequence). The film grossed only $150,000 in theaters but has found a second life on Netflix, where it currently ranks in the Top Ten in terms of viewership.

An opening montage lays out the film’s basic premise with deft strokes. So-called “Powers” emerged at the dawn of the 20th century and are soon required to register their abilities with the government. “Electrics” have electrokinetic abilities, “Pyros” can control fire, Brawns have super strength, “Readers” can read minds, “TKs” are telekinetics, and so forth. Initially, Powers are key workers in the economy, helping build Lincoln City (aka the “City of Tomorrow”)—at least until the rise of mechanization in a Second Industrial Revolution ousts them from their once-valuable jobs.

By the 1990s, Powers are essentially second-class citizens, forced to eke out a bare existence taking on random work off the books. Many turn to crime out of necessity. A powerful syndicate known as The Trust is dealing a novel drug known as Psyke, derived from the spinal fluid of Powers. Meanwhile, the Lincoln City government is debating implementing a new law banning Powers altogether, as a police force reliant on drones, facial recognition, and armed android “Guardians” attempts to stamp out the Psyke trade.

That’s the big picture, but Code 8 is all about the personal narratives, notably the story of Connor Reed (Robbie Amell), a young Class 5 Electric trying to raise enough money to pay for a life-saving operation for his mother Mary (Kari Matchett), whose brain tumor is causing her to lose control of her cryogenic powers. Connor’s father (also an Electric) was killed while committing a robbery when the boy was only five, and Mary has done her best to keep him from following in his father’s footsteps. But desperation leads Connor to join forces with a small team led by a TK named Garrett (Stephen Amell). Their mission: to steal some chemicals for a local crime lord and Reader named Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk). Things do not go smoothly.

I’ll admit to some skepticism going into the film—the premise seemed hopelessly derivative—but Code 8 quickly won me over with its thoughtful, character-driven depiction of marginalized, increasingly desperate people caught in an impossible situation. That includes police officer Park (Sung Kang), who, for personal reasons revealed later in the film, is still capable of seeing Powers as human beings—even as his bigoted partner, Davis (Aaron Abrams), hurls slurs and suggests planting evidence to frame a key suspect. “Life hits you hard enough, you’re gonna start hitting back,” he observes in one prescient exchange.

Both Amell cousins deliver strong performances, as does much of the cast, especially Matchett as a dying Mary Reed, and Kyla Kane as Nia, a Healer with a Psyke addiction, forced to work for Marcus to pay off her father’s debt. The production quality is generally quite good, which is impressive given the film’s limited budget, and the plot moves quickly, while still allowing enough time for introspective moments. Best of all, the film knows better than to give us an easy happy ending, which would have cheapened all the effort screenwriter Chris Pare devoted to striking just the right tone of bleak resignation. All in all, it’s well worth watching.

Code 8 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Listing image by Vertical Entertainment/Netflix

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Judge’s order slaps Roblox player with permanent game ban



Enlarge / A court order has led to a longtime Roblox player being banned from the popular game.

Aurich Lawson | Roblox | Shark Fin Studios

A lawsuit filed by the Roblox Corporation, the operator of one of the most popular online games in the West, concluded last week with a rare order from a US District Court—that a defendant must be permanently banned from an online video game and its associated services.

The dubious honor goes to Benjamin Robert Simon, better known to the Roblox community as Ruben Sim, who had previously received an IP-based Roblox ban after allegedly violating the game’s terms of service. Simon operates a Roblox gameplay and criticism YouTube channel, which currently has 849,000 subscribers.

$150,000, not $1.6 million

The judgment, which came as a stipulated order agreed upon by both the plaintiff and defendant, also requires Simon to pay $150,000 to Roblox. Exactly how that number breaks down based on the suit’s allegations is unclear, but the original suit says that Simon posted a threat in October 2021 that apparently targeted that year’s Roblox Developers Conference. The tweet included a threatening statement without a clear indication of either satire or comedy and said, “San Francisco Police are currently searching for notorious Islamic Extremist [name redacted]. If you see this individual at RDC please call 911 immediately.” The post included a hyperlink to a video titled “SOMEONE BLOW UP ROBLOX NOW,” which had been deleted from YouTube in 2015 but was temporarily re-uploaded, and that video (now once again offline) included direct threats to the Roblox Corporation.

The September 2021 lawsuit (PDF) alleges that this post—along with a follow-up post saying, “Don’t come to RDC tomorrow”—contributed to the company putting the event into “a temporary lockdown while local police and private security conducted a search to secure the facility.” The lawsuit also alleged that this disruption cost Roblox Corporation “over $50,000.”

The January 14 judgment (PDF), which Ars Technica has reviewed, does not include a line-by-line accounting of Roblox Corporation’s many allegations about Simon’s activities related to Roblox, and the only other claim with a firm number attached references Simon’s alleged repeated efforts to evade Roblox’s bans, use the service, and share videos of his exploits. Roblox Corporation says that it spent “over $100,000” to “investigate and block” Simon’s repeated ban evasions. The final judgment is far less than the $1.6 million Roblox Corporation originally sought.

No legal precedent established

The suit says that Simon “repeatedly posts libelous statements about Roblox’s founder and CEO, attributing false statements and conduct to the CEO that Defendant Simon knows to be false and which he makes with intent to cause injury to the reputation of the CEO and of Roblox.” This, among many other allegations, might have been explored further with screenshots or archived social media posts had the suit gone to trial, though in the end, both parties agreed to the terms of the US District Court’s judgment.

In the case of some allegations, Roblox Corporation’s lawsuit includes extensive chat logs that were hosted by Simon’s YouTube channel as proof of his history with ban evasion and violations of Roblox‘s terms of service. Other allegations, including the ones about Roblox‘s CEO and about graphic imagery allegedly uploaded by Simon to Roblox‘s servers, are not accompanied by text or image evidence in the suit’s initial filing. Simon has agreed to delete any social media content that violates the terms of the court order. The original lawsuit sought the total deletion of Simon’s social media accounts and presence, but the final court order includes no such demand.

As a stipulated order agreed upon by both parties, this lawsuit’s conclusion does not establish a legal precedent for users who violate an online service’s terms of service, get banned, and evade that ban in one way or another to return to the game or app in question.

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Picard and Guinan have a warm reunion in S2 trailer for Star Trek: Picard



The second season of Star Trek: Picard premieres March 3, 2022 on Paramount+.

It has been a long, pandemic-fueled wait, but the second season of Star Trek: Picard is almost here, and we now have an official trailer. In addition to seeing Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) encounter his mischievous former frenemy, Q (John de Lancie), fans’ hearts will warm to see the retired Starfleet captain reunite with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), the El-Aurian bar hostess from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

As I wrote in my review last year, the series is set 20 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. The first season opened with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) having retired to the family vineyard. His bucolic existence was interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious woman named Dahj (Isa Briones) who pleaded for his help. Alas, Picard failed to save her. She was killed in front of him by Romulan assassins belonging to a radical sect known as the Zhat Vash, who is dedicated to eradicating all artificial life forms. Picard discovered that Dahj was actually a synthetic—technically Data’s “daughter”—and she had a twin sister, Soji, who was also in danger.

Resolved to save Soji, Picard asked Starfleet for a ship, but he had been gone a long time, and his entreaties were rebuffed. Never one to admit defeat, Picard amassed his own scrappy crew over the next few episodes for his unauthorized rescue mission. The crew included Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a skilled thief and pilot of the ship La Sirena; Raffi (Michelle Hurd), a former Starfleet intelligence officer and recovering addict; Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill); and a Romulan refugee, Elnor (Evan Evagora).

Enlarge / Seeing Guinan and Picard together again gives us some warm fuzzies.


Some details about the second season have been trickling out over the last year. We know, for instance, that even though Picard’s consciousness is now in a synthetic body, the show will still explore themes of dealing with the last stage of one’s life, the nature of connectedness—hence the return of Q and Guinan—and Picard’s struggle with his own personal history, which will include time traveling to the past. Per the official synopsis:

Picard takes the legendary Jean-Luc Picard and his crew on a bold and exciting new journey: into the past. Picard must enlist friends both old and new to confront the perils of 21st century Earth in a desperate race against time to save the galaxy’s future—and face the ultimate trial from one of his greatest foes.

Patrick Stewart personally invited Whoopi Goldberg to reprise her role as Guinan in S2 during an appearance to promote S1 on The View in January 2020. Paramount dropped an initial S2 teaser in April last year, on First Contact Day, that strongly hinted that fan favorite Q—an extra-dimensional being with power over time, space, the laws of physics, and reality itself—would return and that the second season would play with time. A one-minute teaser dropped last July, giving us our first look at Q.

Q (John de Lancie) is up to his old tricks.
Enlarge / Q (John de Lancie) is up to his old tricks.


That teaser also showed us that time has been broken in S2, with many significant changes. We saw Elnor and Raffi fleeing for their lives, Soji dressed all in white, Rios in a snazzy new Federation uniform with new insignia, and Agnes Jurati in civilian garb. Also, Seven of Nine awoke in an unfamiliar apartment, and when she looked in the mirror, her Borg implant was gone.

The full trailer has some of that same footage, and more. It opens with Picard ruminating on the moments that still haunt him, “moments upon which history turns.” Then, he wakes up in a different timeline, with Q welcoming Picard to the “road not taken.” The Federation doesn’t seem quite so noble as the version we’ve known in the past, and what is that mysterious blue substance in a vial that Q gives to Altan Inigo Soong (Brent Spiner)?

The Borg Queen (Annie Wersching) is also back and might be to blame for some time shenanigans that transport Picard and his crew back to 2024. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans will understand the significance of that year, detailed in the two-part episode “Past Tense.” It’s the year of the Bell Riots, a protest and crackdown that proved so violent that America embarked on a course of social and political reform that ultimately led to the formation of the Federation. So messing with that point in the timeline could have some serious repercussions.

Annie Wersching plays the Borg Queen this time around.
Enlarge / Annie Wersching plays the Borg Queen this time around.


Desperate for someone who can help him understand what is going on with the divergence in time, Picard walks into a bar that just happens to be run by Guinan—perhaps a bit less posh than Ten Forward, but still plenty cozy. “I’m gonna need some tea. Earl Grey. Piping hot,” Guinan says, wearing a truly spectacular red hat. She warmly embraces her old friend, assuring him, “I believe you have one final frontier yet to come.”

The second season of Star Trek: Picard premiers on Paramount+ on March 3, 2022. A third season filmed concurrently, so we’ll be getting even more adventures from the crew of La Sirena.

Listing image by YouTube/Paramount+

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Here’s why some games aren’t “verified” for Steam Deck compatibility



Enlarge / The Steam Deck, from Valve.

Back in October, Valve laid out the specific review guidelines that a Steam game would have to follow to earn an optional “Deck Verified” badge on its Steam Store page. Now, the results of the first of those verification reviews are starting to leak out, and they’re showing some minor input and interface issues across a handful of games running on Steam Deck.

While the Deck Verified badges have yet to show up on the Steam Store itself, the metadata surrounding the program is already being added to the Steam backend for some titles ahead of the Steam Deck’s planned launch next month, as picked up by services like SteamDB. Of the 86 games with verification review results so far, 41 have at least one issue preventing them from receiving a full “Verified” badge.

First, the good news: Almost all of those un-verified games are still rated as “Playable” under Steam’s guidelines. Only five reviewed games so far have received the dreaded Steam Deck “Unsupported” badge from Valve. Four are virtual reality games, which fail for the simple listed reason that “Steam Deck Does Not Support VR Games.” The fifth, Persona 4 Golden, seems to fail because in-game videos use a problematic Windows Media Player codec that could be difficult to implement through Steam Deck’s Linux Proton compatibility layer. “Valve is still working on adding support for this game on Steam Deck,” the game’s metadata says.

Every single “Playable” or “Verified” game, on the other hand, has a “default graphics configuration [that] performs well on Steam Deck.” That lines up with Valve’s July promise that the Steam Deck will be able to run “really the entire Steam library” at 30 fps with the device’s native 800p resolution.

Not perfect, but still “playable”

The common issues that differentiate a “Verified” game from a merely “Playable” one on the Steam Deck often amount to input annoyances. In 15 of the 36 “Playable” titles identified so far, for instance, a launcher or setup tool “may require the touchscreen or virtual keyboard or have difficult-to-read text,” according to Steam.

There are also 14 games identified so far in which “entering some text requires manually invoking the on-screen keyboard” and 11 that “require use of the touchscreen or virtual keyboard or a community configuration.” A total of 13 games don’t support “external controllers for the primary player,” which could be a problem if you want to plug in your own device via USB.

For some Steam games, this kind of external input won't work for primary player control on the Steam Deck.
Enlarge / For some Steam games, this kind of external input won’t work for primary player control on the Steam Deck.

Visual interface problems are also relatively common in the first batch of Deck Verified reviews. Unreadably small text has been identified as a problem in nine titles, while 14 “sometimes show mouse, keyboard, or non-Steam-Deck controller icons” when played on the Deck.

The Deck Verified program also goes out of its way to identify games that require an Internet connection either for first-time setup (11 titles so far) or throughout single-player gameplay (nine titles). This is a notable issue for Electronic Arts games, which require the use of the third-party Origin client on top of Steam’s own DRM and could make playing on the go more difficult.

While this initial list of Steam Deck compatibility problems is far from a randomly chosen scientific survey, it’s still an interesting look at the small issues that are likely to affect some titles when the hardware launches. It will be interesting to see how many “Playable” titles issue updates to achieve full “Verified” status after the Steam Deck is in players’ hands.

Keep reading for details on the 86 games that have been reviewed for the Deck Verified program as of this writing.

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