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Jack Gardner
Dario Argento, the writer and director of the 1977 cult classic Suspiria (recently remade in 2018), has decided to turn his talents for visual storytelling to the world of video games with the help of Clod Studio. Argento got his start as a film critic before breaking into screenwriting, helping to pen the script to Sergio Leone's iconic spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West. From there, Argento went on to specialize in giallo film, a style and genre of film making that blends pulp thriller with horror and psychological drama. This landed him jobs collaborating with a number of great horror directors like George A. Romero on Dawn of the Dead. Director John Carpenter has frequently cited Argento's work as a major inspiration for the film Halloween.
 
Unfortunately, outside of a few breakout hits, many of the director's films failed to find a large audience and the critics of his time viewed his work as low-class. Luckily, many of them found cult followings and today many of them are held up as the finest examples of horror and giallo film making. However, in more recent years he's become less active due to age, but at 78 years old he still shows a passion for creating new films and has taken a liking to Clod Studio, becoming their artistic director. "Dreadful Bond is a project that's very close to my themes, to my films, to my dreams: it has something deep that struck me immediately. I got carried away on this new journey with Clod Studio," said Argento while explaining how he had fallen in love with what the game could be. 
 
Clod Studio itself is relatively new. It formed in Milan, Italy in 2016 and has been refining their idea of what Dreadful Bond might become since then, growing to over fifteen people in the years since. Their vision of a giallo-like game exploring issues both psychological and supernatural culminated in a Kickstarter that has unveiled both a short film created in-game with the direction of Dario Argento and a playable demo that allows players to explore Wharton Manor.
 

 
Dreadful Bond is an atmospheric, first-person dive into surreal horror. Players take on the role of a mysterious individual whose identity slowly reveals itself as Wharton Manor's estate is explored. The mansion, as one might imagine, is not a happy place. It's glory has long since faded and been replaced with a collection of horrible events that have left their marks strewn through its many rooms. The developers warn that the underlying horror of Dreadful Bond might strike people as an incredibly disturbing and possibly off-putting reveal. Their Kickstarter reiterates this point by saying, "We are serious about this: if you're not willing to face a disturbing truth, do not support this project!"
 
The mansion plays host to a variety of supernatural entities, visions, and memories. The memories play out in a unique style, they are projected onto walls as shadows. At the heart of all of this lies something called "Empuros," something that inspired the horrific acts that afflicted the people who entered Wharton Manor. The team describes the player's journey as an experience of that individual's personal hell, melding science and mysticism to concepts of love and death. 
 
One of the interesting stylistic choices for Dreadful Bond is the use of hyper-realistic environments mixed with the decision to make the entire production a black and white affair. It even makes use of a subtle film grain effect to harkens back to the game's roots in giallo cinema which also used black-and-white heavily during the 60s and 70s. The team at Clod Studio has created the game using a technique called photogrammetry in which they scan objects and environments that can then be reproduced in-game almost perfectly. Even the shadows seen in-game were captured from real actors performing the scenes. This lends the game a very grounded feeling and heightens the feeling of disconnect when supernatural events begin to occur.
 
The Kickstarter... might not make its goal. As of this writing, the project has only amassed a little over $24,000 of their $67,000 goal. Less than five days remain for the team to raise the remaining funds. However, the game appears to be far enough along that it seems inconceivable to me that it won't get made. It already has an impressive short film, "For Bridget," that you can watch below and a demo of Dreadful Bond has released that shows off a good chunk of the mansion. At the very least, I hope the world is blessed with the insanity that is a horror game created under the artistic direction of Dario Argento, one of the best horror directors working today. 
 
 
Honestly, if you are a fan of horror games, this should be on your radar. It looks like a lot of time and care has been poured into this project by a team that feels passionate about horror alongside the input of one of the greats of the genre. The presentation feels fresh and eye-catching. The subject matter seems bold and twisted. Even if this eventually comes out and receives some harsh criticism for elements we haven't seen yet, I have no doubt that Dreadful Bond will be incredibly interesting and unique in a genre that has contented itself with ripping off Amnesia: The Dark Descent for the past seven years. This could be a breath of fresh air in a genre that really needs it. 
 
The Kickstarter ends on the April 24, so be sure to back it if you find it interesting. Dreadful Bond, if successful (and hopefully even if it fails to succeed on Kickstarter) will release for PC and, possibly, PlayStation 4 in late 2020 or early 2021.
 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
Cuphead captured the hearts of gamers around the world when it released during the tail end of 2017. The distinctive, early animation art style in particular caught the attention of artists and fans, which has lead to an incredible partnership between the game's developer, Studio MDHR, and the incredible illustrator Uki Hayashi. With the help of Bottleneck Gallery, a number of illustrated prints have been made for sale that meld the game's wonderful aesthetic with Hayashi's unmistakably Japanese stylings. 
 
The print collection has been put togehter to pay homage to the Japanese titles that inspired Cuphead, the indelible classics that many continue to hold up today as gold standards for gameplay and aesthetic. Cuphead took the finely balanced side-scrolling shooting from games like Contra and combined it with jaw-dropping visuals, garnering almost universal acclaim. Three unique prints have been made by Uki Hayashi and been made available through Bottleneck Gallery. Each Giclee print sells for either $40 or $50 and, though there are three basic designs, each one has a color variant that plays with and changes the use of white in each design. You can view the full collection on Bottleneck Gallery's site.
 
Bottleneck Gallery hosts a variety of contemporary art and artists. It makes an effort to provide space to both new and well-known artists for events intended to build up the local community and benefit charity. It also focuses on bringing unique and interesting pieces of pop culture art to the masses with works ranging from Bob's Burgers enamel pins to incredible artistic renderings of iconic moments in cartoons, blockbuster movies, and more. 
 
Some mainstream critics maintain that Cuphead was one of if not the hardest games they have ever played. Despite that, or maybe because of it, Cuphead received some of the highest awards and scores outlets could bestow on a game, helping to propel the indie game's success around the world. Now, Cuphead is coming to the Nintendo Switch tomorrow, April 18.
 
Maybe it's a good time to pick up a cool art print while buying the game for the first, second, or third time?
 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
The console that will replace the PlayStation 4 has officially been glimpsed on the horizon. While none of the next-gen consoles have been officially announced, a number of details have come out regarding what they might be capable of achieving and what the gaming landscape will look like in the next few years. Now, tantalizing new information has been revealed about what Sony has been working on courtesy of Mark Cerny, the device's lead systems architect. 
 
In an interview with Wired, Cerny revealed a treasure trove of new information and even displayed the capabilities of one of the early development kit units that have been sent out to a number of developers currently working on titles for the next-gen system. Perhaps coming as a surprise to many, the name of the new console was not confirmed to be the PlayStation 5, though perhaps Sony's track record with their console naming convention would make that a safe assumption. The new machine won't be releasing this year and it might even be a 2021 release, but even so, what we know about it so far seems fantastic. 
 
Standing in stark contrast to the move away from physical media in Google's Stadia, Apple Arcade, and Microsoft's continuing inclination toward phasing out of discs, PlayStation's next console will play discs. In fact, due to its foundations resting in the design of the PlayStation 4, it will be backwards-compatible with physical PlayStation 4 titles. Also, the next console will support PlayStation's current iteration of PSVR, even if a new version of that hardware releases at a future date.
 
On top of that, the PlayStation 5 will possess the things people most expect from a new console: Improved GPU, an enhanced CPU, more memory, and a greatly increased storage capacity. These improvements will make the device able to support ray tracing, the hot new technique in game development that helps light to reflect more realistically in-game. Cerny expects that ray tracing will have wider applications as more developers make use of it, allowing an increase to audio quality, too.
 
However, the biggest feature the new console will bring to the table is a solid-state hard drive enhanced with proprietary software that makes it perform faster than anything available for PCs. Cerny demonstrated the "low-speed" development kit of the PlayStation 5 for Wired;  the dev unit performed 19 times faster than the PS4 Pro. It reduced load times on the same game from 15 seconds to 0.8 and was able to render the same files in a fraction of the time it took the current hardware. That improvement is largely due to the improved ability of the hard drive to pull data efficiently, aided by the specialized software. Though the current unit was connected to a 4K television, it will be able to output up to 8K resolutions. 
 
Though no new software or cloud gaming strategies were revealed during the interview, Cerny hinted that Sony has plans to compete with Microsoft and Google on that front. Perhaps PlayStation Now might merely be a test run for what the gaming giant has in store for the next generation of hardware? 
 
What features would you like to see included in the PlayStation 5 (or whatever it winds up being called)?
 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
Back in August of 2018, I put together a short campaign with Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition called Dragonguard as a part of Extra Life Tabletop Appreciation Weekend. For Game Day 2018, we released a second set of episodes and followed it up with a third set continuing the adventure. The last series of episodes ended on something of a cliffhanger, and after a short and rocky release schedule, the fourth session's episodes are ready for listening! Join Naomi Lugo (Nomsooni the druid), Marcus Stewart (Scratch Mangy the ranger), and Kyle Gaddo (Barphus the bard) as they don the armor of the illustrious Dragonguard, sworn to defend and protect the realm of Alterra from the dragons at its doorstep. Jack Gardner serves as the Dungeon Master, guiding our heroes through their journey.
 
Dispatched to the small town of Verne, the party began investigating rumors of draconic activity in the area. Learning of a kobold encampment deep within the Morrithil Wastes, they made their way into the vast swampland only to find a largely abandoned village built in the shadow of an ominous dragon skeleton. Encountering a number of old and infirm kobolds in the heart of the town, our heroes learned of an impending attack led by the vengeful dragon, Fallowfell. In an effort to convince Sir Rothurt, Verne's leader, to take the threat seriously, the party made an attempt to rescue his recently kidnapped son, Charles. Risking life and limb, they were able to save Charles only to be met with the awful revelation that Fallowfell had allies in the town itself. Now, Nomsooni, Barphus, and Scratch attempt to consolidate their power in the areas outside of Verne only to find themselves in ever-deepening danger from draconic evils, cunning opportunists, mystical threats, and (of course) themselves. 
 
If you want to get a sense of how great a time tabletop roleplaying can be, you're invited to enjoy the adventure along with us. Here's to the amazing things the gaming community accomplished in 2018 and to the even greater things we will all do together in the years to come! You can listen to the new episodes below or start at the beginning with this handy SoundCloud playlist. 
 

 

 

 
Intro and Outro music:
 
"Furious Freak"
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well.
 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

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