Rare Ltd., the storied game developer Microsoft bought off Nintendo for a hefty sum at the beginning of the century, has started to stir again. After years of developing poorly received motion-control games like Kinect Sports, all while members of the original staff left for other studios, rumors were swirling that the team will return to its classic series from the '90s. Conker, the foul-mouthed star of Conker's Bad Fur Day on Nintendo 64, actually popped up as a guest star in Xbox One game creator Project Spark. Just today a Reddit poster, verified as a former Microsoft employee, said that the company has been trying to get a new Conker game off the ground for some time. No time like the present to dig into Conker: Live & Reloaded for the original Xbox on JxE Streams.

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Nobuo Uematsu is distinguished amongst game soundtrack composers not just because of his work for Squaresoft in the '80s and '90s or his lustrous mustache. He's one of the few songwriters responsible for the way video games sound across the board, influencing other creators over 30 years. Square's Final Fantasy series, on which Uematsu was sole or primary composer for the first 10 games, molded how storytelling in games should sound. The synthesized minor key melody of series theme "Prelude," the ambient wash of Final Fantasy VII's "Opening/Bombing Mission," and hundreds of other songs are landmarks in gaming's aural landscape.

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Remember way back in 2009? Times were simpler then: Pittsburgh's Steelers were Super Bowl champions; Tiger Woods was caught having an affair; and I was playing a lot of Rock Band. You probably were too. Many millions of you were, anyway, and the plastic peripheral market was booming. In a few short years, the world went from zero to dozens of plastic guitars, keyboards, mics and drums per household, all in the name of games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. House parties quickly turned into Rock Band parties with surprising frequency. It was only another few short years before those games, and the peripherals they required, fell off a cliff. That was 2010, when Rock Band 3 launched.

It's been five years, and the world is apparently ready for more Rock Band. The folks behind the original Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises are back in the development seat and bringing Rock Band 4 to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 later this year.

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It's been a long road from where Valve started with VR. It was only a few shorts years ago that the company was letting select industry folk demo prototype VR hardware in its QR code-laden "Room." And now, Valve has its own consumer-facing VR headset, the HTC Vive; its own controller that looks like the space opera version of Sony's Move wand; and a positional-based tracking solution in Lighthouse VR. None of this has exactly caught us off guard -- Valve was always cagey when it came to questions of commercial hardware. But we weren't prepared for just how impressive the combination of all the VR tech truly is. In fact, our own Ben Gilbert called it the "best VR" he's experienced to date.

It's only fair, then, that Valve would want to look back on its own journey pioneering VR. And look back it did with a timeline of prototypes and R&D breakthroughs it had on display here at GDC. Care to take that walk down Valve's memory lane? Then treat yourself to the gallery below and be sure to head past the break for a video tour.

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If the news of Xbox games coming to HoloLens and Elite: Dangerous hitting Xbox One this summer wasn't nearly enough, Microsoft has a few other tidbits to share from this year's Game Developers Conference. First up: Redmond is bringing the Xbox Live SDK to Windows 10. It's part of the universal apps push that the outfit's making with its new operating system, and will give game developers of any size access to a "vast majority" of Xbox Live's services. It wouldn't be the first time Microsoft's done something like this, but let's hope it doesn't turn into another disaster like Games for Windows Live was. The post on Xbox Wire also mentions there will be a new tier of the company's online gaming service coming as well that specifically allows "any developer to engage with the Xbox Live community." We've reached out for clarification of exactly what that translates to.

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Currently, the HTC Vive is the only virtual reality headset that's part of Valve's Steam VR push. That's not because it's the only one, but because it's the only one we know about thus far. "You should think of the Vive as the first in the same way there are multiple Steam Machines," Valve president Gabe Newell told me this morning. In other words, Steam VR is an open platform supported by Valve. "We're building tools and hopefully they're valuable to hardware partners who want to do it. In some cases, we'll take the leadership role in shipping stuff. But we're really just building tools for other people to continue. So you'll see more headsets."

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I spent roughly 10 minutes with the final Steam Controller at GDC 2015, playing snippets of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, The Talos Principle and Unreal Tournament on various Steam Machines. The body of the controller is wonderful to hold. Two long, clickable pads running along the backside of the handles, right where a player's middle and ring fingers lie, would be a welcome addition to any existing gamepad. Plus, the final controller adds a single analog stick on the left side. This makes the design more familiar overall, but with a trackpad replacing a second analog stick, the final Steam Controller remains what it always has been: awkward.

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Steam Machines. Maybe you've heard of them. They're Valve's oft-talked about, rarely seen in the wild solution for streaming PC games to the fancy HDTV in your living room. And at GDC this week, the company brought us closer to the promise of that commercial reality with a display of all the various units you're likely to see hit retail by November of this year. As Gabe Newell told us, the variety of Steam Machines on offer, from the low-end $50 Link to the premium $5,000 Falcon NW Tiki, present a "good, better, best choice for consumers." But enough talk -- I know you just want to see the goods. So check out the gallery below for a trio of the Steam Machines Mr. Newell demoed for us, as well as a video just after the break showcasing an expanded selection coming later this year.

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Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones season 5

Wondering how much HBO's hyped-up standalone streaming service will cost you when it (hopefully) arrives this April? Considerably more than your Netflix subscription, it seems. The International Business Times hears that the internet-only offering, reportedly called HBO Now, will set you back $15 per month. That's not extravagant (your TV provider, if you have one, is paying roughly as much behind the scenes), but it reflects the company's view that this is a premium product.

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Valve president Gabe Newell at GDC 2015

Among the handful of announcements Valve made at this year's Game Developers Conference was a subtle and hugely important one: Lighthouse. What in the world is Lighthouse? It's the "base stations" referenced in Valve's VR headset announcement, and it's even more important than the incredibly impressive headset. Valve president Gabe Newell compares it to USB and expects it to fundamentally change how people interact with virtual reality. "Now that we've got tracking, then you can do input," Newell said in an interview with Engadget this morning. "It's a tracking technology that allows you to track an arbitrary number of points, room-scale, at sub-millimeter accuracy 100 times a second."

What that means for me and you is that Lighthouse puts your body into the virtual world with stunning precision. I tested it and can confirm: holy shit, yes, this really works. Want to reach out and touch something in VR? Lighthouse is how you'll do it.

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Last year was a mixed bag for fans of magical rings and short dudes with a penchant for going barefoot. On the one hand, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies was a disappointing close to the mediocre second Tolkien film trilogy. On the other, Monolith Games made one of the best pieces of Lord of the Rings-related fare in years in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Its thriving world and "Nemesis System," which has you intimidating, manipulating, and confusing an army of monsters, made it one of the first standout successes on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We're diving into "The Bright Lord," a brand new downloadable story campaign, on JxE Streams at 4PM ET.

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If you watched Microsoft's announcement of its Hololens augmented reality headset and wondered if you'd play Xbox games with it, well, wonder no longer. Today at its Game Developers Conference presentation, Redmond announced that games would be en route to the device and that the SDK should be available come its Build conference late April.

Don't miss out on all the latest from GDC 2015! Follow along at our events page right here.

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The Gallery: Six Elements is a magical fantasy exploration game created by Vancouver Island studio Cloudhead Games for Valve and HTC's new virtual reality headset, the Vive. It includes motion controls and a soundtrack by Elder Scrolls composer Jeremy Soule, and at first glance it's a truly gorgeous 3D, puzzle-solving experience -- the game's first trailer, released today, shows that much. The Gallery was successfully Kickstarted back in April 2013, where it was pitched as an Oculus Rift game. Perhaps sensing a hit, Valve jumped on Cloudhead early on in Vive's development, Creative Director Denny Unger says.

"Valve has been stellar," Unger says. "They brought us into the process very early and genuinely listened to what we had learned about the VR space since its 2013 rebirth. Valve shared a common goal with Cloudhead Games in that they saw a vision for VR that was tantamount to the holodeck. This is the closest we've ever been to breaking down the boundaries and letting users physically step into virtual worlds. It is the fracture point all sci-fi geeks have been waiting for. It's here and its incredible."

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"It's getting ridiculous."

Epic Games Chief Technology Officer Kim Libreri is tired of chairs -- and rocks, and grass, and trees -- in the games created in Unreal Engine 4, Epic's game development platform. It's not that he doesn't like everyday objects, he simply sees them as a collective issue to fix: They're standard, repeatable items that developers don't need to spend time making, since they already exist in a ton of other games. To that end, Epic is releasing on its UE4 Marketplace a set of detailed, photo-real assets and a system that places these items intelligently throughout game worlds, available for studios of all sizes.

"Once a chair's been made, there's no reason to make a custom version of that chair," Libreri says. "You might as well share it with the community.... It's mind-boggling when you think about how many games have made the equivalent of the Aeron chair."

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Last year, Epic Games Chief Technology Officer Kim Libreri and Unreal Engine 4 General Manager Ray Davis visited some friends at Lord of the Rings effects studio Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand. They only wanted a tour of the studio, but along the way they ran into Weta's head of R&D, Alasdair Coull. He mentioned that he was messing around with Unreal Engine 4, Epic's game development platform. Fast-forward to March 2015: Epic Games and Weta are showing off a virtual reality demo featuring the greedy dragon, Smaug, swimming through mountains of gold in the second Hobbit film, voiced in all his baritone glory by actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Smaug speaks directly to the person in the headset -- Oculus Rift's Crescent Bay model -- and his daunting size is on full display; 500 feet of red-scaled, deep-speaking Smaug.

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