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June 20, 2019

U.S. gamers are getting their Hogwarts letters of acceptance a bit earlier than expected.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the free Pokémon Go style mobile Harry Potter game from Niantic, is now available for download in the U.S. Niantic had previously announced the game would launch on June 21st, making its availability on Thursday a nice surprise for American players. The Verge notes that mobile games of this kind typically launch across the world gradually over the course of several days.

Like Pokémon Go, Wizards Unite is an augmented reality game, meaning it overlays the game's elements onto the real world. Just as players use their phone's camera for Pokémon battles in Pokémon Go, Wizards Unite utilizes a player's camera as they cast spells. The game also has players hunt for items and encounter magical creatures, and it makes use of real world locations similar to the way Pokemon Go does, Polygon notes.

Niantic, which worked with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the game, held an open beta for Wizards Unite in Australia and New Zealand, and it received more than 100,000 downloads, VentureBeat reports. Although Pokémon Go's 2016 launch was infamously bumpy, Gamespot writes that "what's evident about Wizards Unite, though, is how much Niantic has learned from its early struggles with the game's predecessor."

After Wizards Unite, plenty of more games of this ilk are coming, with a Pokémon Go style version of Minecraft also on the way from Microsoft. Polygon last month described this game, Microsoft Earth, as "a lot like Pokémon Go, except deeper, richer, more ambitious and more technically advanced." A closed beta for Microsoft Earth will take place this summer. Brendan Morrow

June 11, 2019

It was a big day for Nintendo fans on Tuesday as the company showed off footage from some of its most highly-anticipated sequels, revealed an unexpected Super Smash Bros. fighter, and more — although for Animal Crossing fans, there was a bit of bad news.

Nintendo held its E3 Nintendo Direct conference on Tuesday and debuted footage from the next Animal Crossing game, which will be released on Nintendo Switch and titled New Horizons. The game evidently takes place on a deserted island, with Tom Nook now offering a getaway package which, as usual, will lead players to rack up horrifying amounts of debt.

But while the next Animal Crossing was originally slated for 2019, Nintendo on Tuesday announced the game will now come out in March 2020.

Also revealed on Tuesday was footage from Luigi's Mansion 3, which is set at a haunted hotel where "things take a dark turn." The sequel introduces several new gameplay mechanics including "Gooigi," a goo version of Luigi that can be used to access locations he can't on his own.

Nintendo additionally floored everyone with the announcement that Banjo-Kazooie is coming to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, meaning the beloved characters owned by Microsoft is returning to Nintendo after starting off on Nintendo 64. The conference ended with the reveal that a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild is in development, with just a small teaser shown off at the very end to send increasingly hyped fans out on the highest possible note. Brendan Morrow

October 3, 2017

Rather than divide us, sports must unite us, they said — and the NBA delivered Tuesday, announcing changes to the All-Star Game that do away with the event's usual format of splitting teams based on geography. Rather than field one team from the Western Conference and one team from the Eastern Conference, the league announced that players chosen to be team captains will be allowed to draft their own teams from a pool of All-Stars.

It works like this: Twelve players will still be selected from each conference as All-Stars. Five players from each conference will be selected per a weighted vote that is 50 percent fan choice, 25 percent player choice, and 25 percent media choice; these are the available starters. The top vote-getter in each conference will be a team captain. Head coaches from each conference will then select seven reserves, for a total of 14 available bench players.

Then, the fun begins: Each team captain will be able to draft his starters and reserves, playground-style, from the pool of chosen players, rather than have the teams be determined by only weighted vote and conference allegiance. That means the days of the Golden State Warriors packing four players onto one squad for the West may be over; current teammates may end up facing off, while old rivals could find themselves once again sharing a uniform.

Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, acting as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, pushed for the change, ESPN reported. The new format will debut at the 2018 All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, with starters announced Jan. 18 and reserves announced Jan. 23.

In the meantime, let your mind whir with the possibilities. Kimberly Alters

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