‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ trailer is a treat for ‘Voyager’ fans

CBS has shared the first trailer for Prodigy, its first-ever fully computer-animated Star Trek series. The clip introduces us to the show’s cast of disparate characters. They’re stuck on what looks like a mining colony and trying to find a way to escape. As it just so happens, they discover a grounded Starfleet vessel known as the USS Protostar, and it’s their ticket to adventure.  

Before the trailer ends, a familiar voice declares, “We’ve only just begun.” Star Trek: Prodigy will see Kate Mulgrew reprise the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway, albeit in holographic form. If you live outside of the US, you can see the clip on the official Star Trek Twitter account. We’ll note here CBS Viacom also shared a trailer for the second season of Lower Decks. Star Trek: Prodigy will debut this fall on Paramount+, before it eventually airs on Nickelodeon.

Facebook’s cloud gaming service hits iOS devices as a web app

Facebook has become the latest company to offer a cloud gaming service on iOS, only once again you won't access it through the App Store. Starting today, you can visit the Facebook Gaming website to add a Progressive Web App (PWA) that acts as a shortcut to the service on your iPhone or iPad. To do so, visit the platform's website and tap the "Add to Home Screen" option from the Safari share sheet.

It's not an elegant solution, but it's the same one employed by Amazon and Microsoft. When Apple tweaked its guidelines last September to allow for cloud gaming clients on iOS, it said games offered in a streaming service had to be individually downloaded from the App Store. That's a requirement both Microsoft and Facebook said was not congruent with how every other platform treats cloud gaming services.

"We've come to the same conclusion as others: web apps are the only option for streaming cloud games on iOS at the moment," Vivek Sharma, Facebook's vice-president of gaming, told The Verge of today's launch. "As many have pointed out, Apple's policy to 'allow' cloud games on the App Store doesn't allow for much at all. Apple's requirement for each cloud game to have its own page, go through review and appear in search listings defeats the purpose of cloud gaming."

The process of adding the web app is complicated enough that Facebook includes a short how-to when you first visit its Gaming website on Safari. You also have to know to navigate to the company's website in the first place. The reason for that is the App Store guidelines prohibit developers from using their applications to direct individuals to websites that feature alternative payment systems to those offered by Apple, and you pay for the in-game purchases offered in Facebook Gaming titles through Facebook's Pay platform.

Here’s everything EA announced at its Play Live 2021 event

Electronic Arts held its EA Play Live 2021 event today. During the approximately 40-minute presentation, we got a first look at Grid Legends, a new entry in Codemasters' ongoing racing franchise that will feature a single-player story with live-action performances. Lost in Random, the upcoming Tim Burton-inspired action-adventure game from Fe developer Zoink Games, also got a release date. It's coming out on September 10th on current and last-generation consoles, as well as PC. For Battlefield fans, EA offered a look at 2042's new Portal mode that will allow fans to create their own custom match types that they can share with the game's community.       

But EA saved the best news for last. In a short teaser, the publisher confirmed Motive Studios is working on a remake of Dead Space for PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and S. In addition to more modern graphics courtesy of Dice's Frostbite engine, EA promised gameplay improvements, as well as new story and character elements. 

‘Dead Space’ is being remade for PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC

Dead Space is getting a new chance at life. EA revealed a teaser trailer for a remastered version of the original Dead Space, showing off a terrifying necromorph-infested environment and not much else. Motive Studios is developing the game, and it's heading to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and S, and PC. 

Here's how EA describes the new endeavor on YouTube: "The sci-fi survival horror classic Dead Space returns, completely rebuilt from the ground up by Motive Studios to offer a deeper and more immersive experience. Harnessing the power of the Frostbite game engine and next generation consoles, this remake brings jaw-dropping visual fidelity and improvements to gameplay while staying true to the original."

EA says the new version of Dead Space will include improved story, characters and gameplay mechanics.

The original Dead Space came out in 2008 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, and it became an instant classic. The series taps into a space-based brand of horror, with terrifying alien creatures around every corner, creative weaponry, and the constant threat of crushing isolation. All of this should be even spookier on current hardware.

There's no word on a release window for the remastered Dead Space just yet.

Spotify and Giphy are ‘enhancing’ GIFs with music

Have you ever seen a musician's GIF and heard the song in your head? You won't have to leave things to the imagination for much longer. Spotify and Giphy have partnered to effectively give GIFs a soundtrack. Find an artist's GIF on their official Giphy channel and you can tap a "listen on Spotify" button to visit that artist's Spotify page. The hope, of course, is that you'll be inspired to stream a hot new album after watching a looping animation.

A handful of artists are already using the Spotify-Giphy tie-in, including Doja Cat, The Weeknd and Nicki Minaj. You'll find it both on the web and in Giphy's mobile app.

This is ultimately about translating GIF views into money for artists. Stars may be more likely to share clips from their latest music videos if they know they'll get more plays for their latest tracks. Even so, it might be helpful if a GIF gives you an earworm that won't go away until you stream a song and get it out of your system.

Twitter Spaces may soon offer voice manipulation effects

Twitter scrapped Fleets, but it hasn't given up on audio. A new voice manipulation update is reportedly in the works for Spaces, the Clubhouse-style talk rooms introduced in December. The so-called "Voice Transformer" was first outed by social media researcher Jane Manchun Wong, who tweeted that it would let you change your pitch or add echo to your audio. Soon after, software miner Steve Moser — who recently leapt to fame by unearthing new details about Netflix's gaming feature — revealed several different effects. The list includes Bee, Cartoon, Helium, Incognito, Karaoke, Microphone, Phone, Spatial, Stadium and Stage.

If getting people to tweet was a slog, convincing them to talk is probably even harder. In that sense, the voice-warping feature may push reluctant users, or those self-conscious about their voice, to give Spaces a try. The goofy nature of some of the effects could even help to create a less serious, and hopefully, more inviting environment.

It's also a feature that many people will be familiar with having encountered voice filters on Snapchat. Word of the Twitter Spaces update arrives just as Clubhouse has gone wide and shortly after Spotify's own expansion into voice chat with its Greenroom app. Not to mention, Facebook's launch of a Clubhouse clone. All four platforms will have to keep things fresh if they want to win the audio chat battle.

Facebook finally blocks ‘vaccines kill’ hashtag

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted fresh scrutiny of social media's response to the anti-vaccine movement. But, even in the face of criticism from the White House, a new report claims Facebook is still failing to delete even the most incendiary misinformation. As recently as last week, posts containing the hashtag #VaccinesKill were still active on the social network, according to CNN

It was only until the news publication warned the company of the lapse that it blocked the posts behind a message that read Facebook is "keeping our community safe." To make matters worse, the same hashtag was banned by Facebook-owned Instagram almost two years prior. That action followed Facebook's pledge to crack down on vaccine falsehoods, including bogus claims that they cause autism and other diseases, in the midst of a measles outbreak in New York.

This time round, the threat is even greater. With the world still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and cases of the Delta virus rising in the US, Facebook's latest slip-up will only draw more concern from policymakers. Just days ago, President Biden lambasted the company and other social networks by suggesting their failures were debilitating the vaccination drive. “They’re killing people,” Biden said.

In its defense, Facebook has previously noted that it's taking down more erroneous anti-vaccine information than ever before. In October, it banned ads encouraging people to avoid getting vaccinated, following that with a wider clamp down on anti-vaccine claims. 

The company told CNN that it did not take action against the #VaccinesKill hashtag in the past as it did not meet its threshold. Facebook explained that it determines whether a hashtag violates its policies by looking at numerous factors, including the type and spread of content it is appearing in. "Now, the #vaccineskill hashtag on Facebook violates our policies against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines and we've blocked it from search," the spokesperson said.

At the same time, users are finding new ways to bypass the social network's misinformation rules. In May, some people began weaponizing Facebook's custom profile frames to display false vaccine claims, forcing it to take them down.

Twitter starts testing Reddit-like downvote button on iOS

Some Twitter users on iOS might see a new button that looks like Reddit's downvote button in people's replies. That's part of the social network's latest experimental feature designed to give it more insight on what kind of replies users find relevant in a conversation. According to Twitter Support's announcement, the goal is to be able to gather enough data, so the platform can work on ways to surface more relevant responses. In long threads, for instance, the best replies don't always show up immediately and might be buried underneath tons of other people's tweets.

The random testers who get the feature might see different versions of it. Some may see upvote and downvote buttons, while others might only see a downvote button right next to Twitter's heart/like option. A third version will show testers thumbs up and down buttons instead. The number of downvotes a reply gets will not be visible to the public, and users' downvotes will be visible to them alone. Meanwhile, upvotes will show up as likes. 

At the moment, votes won't change the order of responses similar to how Reddit buries replies that get a ton of downvotes. As Twitter User Researcher Cody Elam explains in a series of tweets, the experiment's purpose isn't to shame users, but to give "people the power to privately voice their opinion on the quality of replies" and to give the company a "more nuanced feedback." He added: "We’re hoping to learn more about the quality of replies that people vote on and if voting is a feature that people find valuable."

This isn't the first time Twitter started testing the Reddit-like feature. A few months ago, the social network started experimenting with Facebook-style emoji reactions that also included upvote and downvote buttons. 

Netflix’s ‘The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf’ trailer is, shockingly, full of monsters

After sharing a short teaser earlier in the month, Netflix has released a full trailer for Nightmare of the Wolf, its upcoming animated Witcher movie, and shared details on the voice cast. Theo James, known best for his leading role in the Divergent series, voices protagonist Vesemir, years before the Witcher became the mentor of Geralt of Rivia. 

James also voiced the character in season one of The Witcher. “Vesemir grew up as a servant on a nobleman’s estate, working long days for too little coin,” Netflix writes of the charming monster hunter. “He yearns to break free of his social standing and to explore the Continent to find his destiny.”

On his adventure, he’ll meet a sorceress named Tetra, who we see throughout the trailer. If Tetra’s voice sounds familiar, it’s because she’s voiced by Dota: Dragon’s Blood actor Lara Pulver. Rounding out the main cast are Mary McDonnell as Lady Zerbst, a Kaedweni noblewoman, and Graham McTavish as Deglan, a Witcher from the Skellige Isles. Notably, McTavish will play Redanian spymaster Dijkstra in season two of The Witcher.

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf debuts on Netflix on August 28th. It will give fans of the fantasy franchise something to watch before season two of The Witcher starts streaming on December 17th.

‘Aliens: Fireteam Elite’ is an arcade shooter for the online era

There’s a moment in the 1986 Aliens film when Bill Paxton’s character, William Hudson, turns to his crewmates and says, "Man, it's a shooting gallery down there." After playing though the preview of Aliens: Fireteam Elite, I can say it feels like the developers really took this line to heart. Like, really.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is an online, co-op, third-person survival shooter from Cold Iron Studios, and it’s been in development for the past six years. Cold Iron was actually bought and sold four times starting in 2018, bringing its mysterious Alien-based game along for the ride. In the end, Cold Iron has cut a deal with 20th Century Studios to self-publish Aliens: Fireteam Elite, and it’s due to hit Steam, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles on August 24th, priced at $40.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite
20th Century Studios

I had the chance to play a preview build of Fireteam Elite that included access to two of the four campaigns, and four of the five character classes: gunner, technician, demolisher and doc (the final class is recon). Each campaign consists of three missions filled with AI-powered Xenomorph hordes, with three difficulty levels unlocked from the start. Every mission requires three players, and empty team slots are filled by bots named Alpha and Beta, which honestly end up functioning more like mobile turrets than actual teammates.

So, after playing hours of the preview with friends and bots alike, here’s my conclusion: Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a generic survival shooter with old-school arcade DNA. Fireteam Elite feels like an online, updated version of light-gun games like Area 51 or House of the Dead, complete with repetitive environments and sloppy hit boxes. The game is competent, but not dynamic. To put it simply — man, it’s just a shooting gallery down there.

To be fair, that’s what survival shooters are all about. Enter a new area, prepare your defenses, kill the swarm, rinse and repeat. The thing is, Fireteam Elite deploys this formula in such a rigid structure that missions quickly become predictable, no matter how many bugs show up. What’s more, the generic sci-fi environments blend together after a few playthroughs, and tricks like falling ceiling panels and sudden bursts of steam lose their effectiveness well before the first mission is over.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite

Fireteam Elite fails to build tension. With such a transparent gameplay structure, any feeling of pressure or horror has to come from the xenomorphs themselves, and frankly, they’re often not smart enough to make this happen. The swarms rarely feel unmanageable and the specialized xenomorphs, like spitters or jumpers, routinely behave in non-threatening ways. This unpredictability ends up being more adorable than scary. Plus, I have to note that my game crashed three times in about seven hours of play.

That’s not to say the AI is trash altogether. Cold Iron says it’s already resolved some of the movement issues the xenomorphs were experiencing in the preview build, and it really is impressive to see dozens of inky black aliens bounding down the hallway, each on its own path but out for blood, and the game is built around these moments. The xenos stumble around corners like dogs on a tile floor, and details like this add much-needed personality to the waves.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite
20th Century Studios

The game’s most exciting moments come at the end of each mission, during the final swarm. These are long standoffs with waves of xenomorphs, including spitters, prowlers, bursters and giants that hunt down a single crew member at a time. I’ve found the technician and doc to be particularly useful in these moments — the technician has a turret that recharges after it’s been destroyed and shock grenades to keep the xenomorphs at bay, while the doc has an incredibly handy healing circle.

This is where the most strategizing takes place, even if it is mostly just turret talk. There are chests containing consumable weapons, health and on-demand ammo refills at each final battle, meaning your whole team will start off well-equipped and they’re free to spray and pray. This is good, considering the reticles on most of the weapons are generous, and crowd control is the name of the game, not accuracy. 

Aliens: Fireteam Elite
20th Century Studios

There are a few bright spots in Aliens: Fireteam Elite. The soundtrack is a James Horner-inspired orchestral situation and it’s a constant reminder of the game’s cinematic 1980s roots; it does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to setting the mood. Plus, the game’s RPG elements — including character, loadout and weapon customization, and challenge cards — add a necessary layer of depth to otherwise straightforward missions.

I wasn’t expecting Fireteam Elite to be as narrative-driven as the films or as moody as Alien: Isolation, but I had hoped for something like Left 4 Dead meets Dead Space, and this ain’t that. Instead, Aliens: Fireteam Elite feels like a theme park ride in video game form. The monsters aren’t really threatening, but the crowds certainly are. And, of course, it’s more fun with friends.