Cubic Castles: A Free-to-Play Sandbox MMO That's Like Minecraft, but...

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Minecraftbut. That's the term that Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Alice O'Connor recently coined (in the same vein as roguelike) to save us all from having to say "It's like Minecraft, but..." one more lousy time. It might just be my favorite piece of gaming shorthand since "Abilitease".

Cubic Castles (a new free-to-play game that you can snag on Steam, the iOS App Store or straight from their website) is one such Minecraftbut, with an emphasis on building, crafting, puzzle platforming, and easily shared massively-multiplayer worlds. The problem with writing about Minecraftbut's is that defining one thing based largely on how it's different from that other thing is a difficult and often unhelpful way to explain any thing. There's a comparison to be made... But it's much better just to see the thing in action for yourself.

With that in mind, I did a dreadfully unprofessional (it's been a loooong week, you guys) stream of Cubic Castles earlier today so I could share the experience with you. Check it out:

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Iris' Most Anticipated Game Releases for Fall-Winter 2014

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Summer can be pretty slow when it comes to games... And just about everything else. It's hot, it's humid, it's sticky, it's sweaty, and it feels like there's just nothing new and exciting to play. So every now and then when the weather and the restlessness are equally unbearable, I like to close my eyes and think of all of the releases I'm anticipating this fall. Pretty much as soon as August ends I know I'll be on a roller coaster of releases straight through to Christmas, and I absolutely can't wait. Here are the ten games I'm looking forward to the most in what remains of 2014:

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Try Out This Shortcut for Super Cute Sims in The Sims 4 Create-A-Sim Demo

Sims 4 Sibling Trick
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I'm going to share a clever trick for The Sims 4 that a friend pointed out to me this weekend, in case you're having any trouble creating the perfect sim. Although the game itself isn't out yet, last week the Create-a-Sim demo launched for everyone on Origin. It's the perfect opportunity to hone your character-customizing skills with the new tools and techniques the game will provide. They're fairly intuitive, but it's still pretty easy to find yourself in a position where you're not 100% satisfied with the sim in front of you. Something's just a little bit off, and you aren't quite sure how to fix it. That's where the trick comes in.

Here's how you can use The Sims 4's Genetics feature to fudge your way to a cuter sim face:

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Just How Big is Procedural Space Exploration Game No Man's Sky Going to Be? Well...

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

It would take a person five billion years of non-stop exploration to spend one second on each of the possible 18 quintillion plus planets in the upcoming game No Man's Sky. At least, that's what Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray told IGN at Gamescom last week as he explained their choice to generate the game's universe based on a 64-bit number rather than 32-bit. 

That kind of scale seems jaw-dropping, but even more so when you compare it to something a little more familiar. For example, Second Life sims...

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Life is Strange: The Developers of Remember Me Are Back With a Game About Time Travelling Teenagers

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

For me, one of the most exciting pieces of news out of European game industry conference Gamescom this week has been the next project from DONTNOD Entertainment, the team behind Remember Me. Life is Strange is being pitched as a story about teenage girls, relationships, and time travel, and here's why I can't wait to get my hands on it:

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Here's How the Developer of Gunpoint Confronted a So-Called Ripoff of His Popular Infiltration Game

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Tom Francis is a game journalist turned indie developer who evidently has a solid sense of humor. Last year he released Gunpoint, a highly acclaimed 2D game about stealth, confrontation and office-building infiltration. This year, Francis caught wind of a game named Ronin that looked suspiciously similar to his own, and whose creator brazenly referred to it as a "Gunpoint ripoff". So Francis did what anyone would do: He recorded a video of himself playing Ronin because, in his words, "it's really fucking cool."

Francis is quick to point out in his blog post on the subject (which bears the slightly deceptive title "It's Time I Did Something about This 'Gunpoint Ripoff'") that Ronin isn't actually ripping off Gunpoint at all. The inspiration there is clear, but as far as Francis is concerned Ronin is a game that stands on its own, and Gunpoint was designed to inspire in the first place. He writes:

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80 Days Delivers the Smart Steampunk iOS Travel Sim You Never Knew You Wanted

80 Days (1)Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Transit. That's when I typically bring my phone up for gaming. I'll flit between email, Twitter and a short gasp of play like Threes if it's a jaunt to the mall, something more substantial if I'm expecting to be out for a while. It's mostly a means of distraction while I'm away from the more rooted experience of gaming at my desk. With that in mind, the irony that Jules Verne inspired iOS game 80 Days held my attention while I was entirely stationary isn't lost on me.

From the gaslit streets of London to clear skies over Cairo, carried by the groaning legs of the ambulatory marvel of Agra or a boat permeated by the scent of overripe bananas, the places you go and the ways you get there are only ever half the story...

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Finally, Anyone Can Access The Sims 4 Create-A-Sim Demo

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The Sims 4 Create-A-Sim Demo, released one month ago to select accounts on EA's digital distribution plaform Origin, is now finally available to everyone. The demo offers players a peek at character creation and customization tools in The Sims 4, and allows them to share and browse created sims online. Currently players can only create young adult sims, and clothing options appear to be limited compared to the full version used in videos and press material. Even so, it's a useful way to get a feel for the new customization systems that will be offered when the game is released this September.

Here's how to pick up the demo for yourself:

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There's More Than Modding Behind This Incredible Skyrim Screenshot

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Every so often I like to check in on Jay Faircloth, my absolute favorite Skyrim screenshot artist -- and if you still hesitate to consider people who take game screenshots "artists" then you're clearly not familiar with his work. Faircloth, who also goes by Anaphiel in modding circles, is constantly tweaking his game to his own high standards (as he shared with NWN back in 2012) to the point that much of what he does is never released publicly. He retextures, remaps, remodels, and generally wrings every last drop of graphical potential out of the popular game. 

Even so, several of his latest pictures (including the one shown above) are as much the result of a happy accident as they are his own modding prowess. As he explained on Flickr:

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Here's Why The Sims 4 May be Downright Unpalatable to Virtual Builders (and How EA Can Fix It)

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I have a lot of questions about The Sims 4. There are things I'm worried about, things I'm excited about, but above all a slew of things I still have no idea about at all. As time creeps slowly forward towards release, all I want to do is finally get my hands on it to satisfy all those needling little unknowns. 

One popular and outspoken Sims content creator had the opportunity to do just that at a recent Creator Camp, an official event designed to familiarize and promote the upcoming game to the franchise's most ardent (and productive) fans. She went in to Creator Camp with one question on her mind, and came out with some unpleasant answers...

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