Archive for the ‘Gaming & Culture’ Category

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a great introduction to tactical RPGs

August 28th, 2017

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It’s a bit odd that Mario’s first completely fresh appearance on the Nintendo Switch isn’t a traditional run-and-jump platform game but a novel foray into the tactical RPG genre. It’s even odder that Mario has to share that debut with Ubisoft’s incredibly annoying (yet ostensibly popular) Rabbids. Oddest of all, Nintendo’s iconic mascot largely takes a back seat to those over-the-top, screaming humanoid rabbits in the game.

Sure, Mario might get top billing in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. All told, though, it feels like Mario and crew were thrown into an existing Ubisoft game midway through the process. The game’s plot, to the extent that it exists, uses a stolen “SupaMerge” device that literally fuses crazified Rabbids with well-known Mario antagonists like Donkey Kong and Piranha Plants, while merging “good” Rabbids with good guys like Mario, Luigi, and Peach to create completely new unholy abominations. There’s also an intelligent Roomba named Beep-o that explains all this with a lot of wordy exposition that the other characters’ wordless vamping for the camera can’t really convey.

While Mario staples like coins and mushrooms make appearances, Ubisoft’s characters and design aesthetic seem to win out most of the time. Heck, the Mario characters can’t even jump without help from an ally, which is practically treasonous in a Mario game. This isn’t really a knock against a title that maintains strong (if silly) visual and gameplay themes throughout. Just don’t go in expecting a Mushroom Kingdom adventure in the vein of the Paper Mario or the Mario and Luigi games.

Take your positions

Anyone familiar with the positional battles in a game like XCOM, Fire Emblem, or Final Fantasy Tactics will recognize the same essential DNA in Kingdom Battle. While there are some perfunctory and simplistic coin-collecting and block-pushing puzzles forced in between the fights, the bulk of the game involves taking turns moving characters around a grid-based map so they’re in place to attack the enemy while avoiding the incoming counter attacks.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, Mario, Nintendo, rabbids, Switch, Ubisoft | Comments (0)

Now Dell has a mixed reality headset, and the XPS 13 has 8th-gen Intel CPUs

August 28th, 2017

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Dell has a wide array of products under its name and brands, including Alienware, but the company has never had its own mixed reality headset until now. Dell announced the Dell Visor ahead of this year’s IFA conference, along with a number of updates to its XPS and Inspiron systems. Most notably, all of Dell’s updated laptops and convertibles will have 8th-generation Intel processors, making them some of the first devices to launch with the new CPUs later this year.

Dell jumps into mixed reality

Dell has made a number of VR-ready desktops and laptops, but now it has its own VR headset to go along with them. The company’s first mixed reality headset looks most like HP’s or Acer’s headset, with an oval-shaped ring that fits around your head with an attached, goggle-like viewfinder. The head-wrapping ring adjusts easily using a thumbwheel that expands and contracts the sides, similar to adjusting the length of a pair of over-ear headphones. With the ring opened just wide enough for your head, you can tilt the viewfinder up to put the device on, then snap it down into place when you’re ready to enter a mixed reality experience.

Overall, the Visor feels less cumbersome on your face than an Oculus Rift. With no external sensors needed, it’s also easier to set up than an HTC Vive. Users will still need to draw a five-by-seven-foot boundary for their mixed reality situations to live in, but that’s done by simply hovering the headset over your boundary lines. The Visor connects to a compatible PC through a single USB Type-C connector, and you only have to manage that one cord, so it creates less of a mess around your PC. Similarly to HP’s and Acer’s headsets, it has 1440×1440 panels for each eye.

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Posted in ar, dell, dell visor, Gaming & Culture, inspiron 5000, inspiron 7000, mixed reality headset, Tech, VR, xps-13 | Comments (0)

Ingrid Goes West revels in everything wrong with Instagram celebrities

August 27th, 2017

Enlarge / Taylor (Elizabeth Olson) and Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) pose for an Instagram shot, to celebrate becoming besties. (credit: Neon)

Ingrid Goes West is one of those indie flicks that flies just beneath the radar, the subjects of its savage satire just a little too obscure for the usual comedy treatment. But you shouldn’t miss this brilliantly-acted takedown of Instagram fameballs, competing for followers and likes in the sunny sellout city of Los Angeles. Unhinged, funny, and sad by turns, this movie gets to the heart of what’s wrong with social media—and why it destroys people’s lives.

Ingrid is a social media addict whose fragile self-esteem is built on whether internet celebs “engage” with her on Instagram. As the film begins, we discover that she’s recently been institutionalized after stalking and attacking a woman who replied to one of Ingrid’s comments—and then never wrote to her again. The gleefully maniacal Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec, Legion) manages to play Ingrid as the pathetic object of broad satire, while also humanizing her. Yes, Ingrid is a fame-obsessed stalker, but she’s also suffering from mental illness in the wake of her mother’s death.

When she’s recovered enough to leave the institution, the first thing Ingrid does is charge up her sparkle-encrusted phone and start looking for a new “friend.” Her targets are all young women with huge followings whose lives are full of smiling “friends,” quirky designer clothes, cool decor, and locally-sourced avocado toast. Quickly she finds her latest prey: Taylor (Elizabeth Olson), an up-and-coming fashionista with a cute dog and a taste for expensive housewares. Using a modest inheritance from her mother, Ingrid creates a new Instagram account under the name Ingridgoeswest, and relocates to Taylor’s LA neighborhood.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, ingrid goes west | Comments (0)

Experimental rocker EMA talks VR, the Dark Web, and hiding behind screens

August 26th, 2017

Enlarge / Portland’s Erika M. Anderson, better known in experimental-music worlds as EMA, talks to Ars in July 2017. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

PORTLAND, Ore.—After a recent evening of dinner and drinks with artist/musician Erika Anderson, I was taken to a stranger’s apartment, then asked to put on a VR headset and lie on a floor. I did as I was told, without any explanation of what was about to happen. I could hear muffled giggling in the room through my headphones as a VR scene opened up above me.

I had landed in an alternate reality of technicolor skies while laying on what appeared to be a massage table. The VR experience invited me to look to my left, where I saw a mirrored reflection of “myself.” I had become a brightly colored naked woman. Then, the ponies appeared. Little pink ponies began slowly prancing in my direction, and once they reached my virtual body, I could feel something in real life—like little hooves—”running” over my arm just as they appeared in VR.

A few hours earlier, I had asked Anderson, better known to indie and experimental music fans as the critically acclaimed EMA, to show me around her current hometown of Portland in whatever way she pleased. I did this in part to talk about her brand-new, well-reviewed album, Exile in the Outer Ring, but also about her dabbling with technology in the public sphere and what her future tech-related plans might be. I should have known that her Portland tour would somehow combine computers, art, discomfort, and insanity. I just didn’t think it’d lead me to an impromptu VR animal-massage experience on a dirty apartment floor.

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Posted in EMA, erika m. anderson, Gaming & Culture, indie rock, noise rock | Comments (0)

The best new board games from Gen Con 2017

August 26th, 2017

Last weekend, we strapped on our most comfortable walking shoes, checked our gaming wishlist twice, and jumped headlong into the self-proclaimed “best four days of gaming”—the annual Gen Con tabletop gaming convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year’s 50th-anniversary show was extra special: turnstile attendance for an estimated 60,000 con-goers reached a record-breaking 209,000, and for the first year ever, the con sold out well before the doors opened on Thursday.

With approximately 500 exhibitors, over 19,000 ticketed events, and entire convention halls and stadiums filled to capacity with board games, roleplaying games, miniatures games, and everything in between, Gen Con is a lot to take in. We couldn’t get to all of it, but we skipped sleep, meals, and general mental well-being to bring you what we see as the best of the show.

Below are the 20 board games we think you should be paying attention to going into the last few months of the year (cube-pushing Eurogame fans will want to tune in again in late October when we hit the giant Spieltage fair in Essen, Germany). Most of the games below will be coming out over the next several weeks and months, but because of the vagaries inherent in board game releases, exact dates are hard to pin down. Your best bet is to head to your local retailer, boardgameprices.com, or Amazon and put in a preorder for anything that catches your eye. And if you missed it, be sure to check out our massive photo gallery of the show.

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Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture | Comments (0)

We say happy birthday to Goldeneye 007 by looking at my 20-year-old review

August 26th, 2017

Enlarge / Happy birthday, Goldeneye 007! (credit: Rare)

Hours of sniping through snow and low frame rates, along with grenade-launcher game slowdowns and shouts of “Temple shotties,” turn 20 years old today. N64 first-person shooter classic Goldeneye 007 launched in the United States on August 25, 1997, and it’s hard to turn in any direction on the Internet today without finding someone posting an appreciation for it.

But how many of those appreciations are as old as the game?

Behold: my very first employer, the Dallas Morning News, celebrated the occasion today by republishing my own launch-week review of Goldeneye 007. In August 1997, I was a junior in high school who had been contributing to the paper’s “Electronic Adventures” column for about a year, which was chock full of high school and college students willing to accept ridiculously low pay in exchange for early access to modern games.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, Goldeneye 007 | Comments (0)

Final Fantasy 15 on PC: Has Square Enix lost its way, or do graphics really matter?

August 25th, 2017

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In a tech demo, which debuted at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in May, famed Japanese developer Square Enix recreated a cinema-quality, computer-generated character inside of a video game. Nyx Ulric, voiced by Aaron Paul in the CGI film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, had been previously been confined to the silver screen, where the complexity of producing of detailed computer graphics is offloaded to vast farms of computers one frame at a time (each taking hours to render), before 24 of them are pieced together to create a single second of film.

With top-of-line PC hardware from Nvidia (the server-grade Tesla V100, no less), Square Enix pulled character models and textures from the film, and displayed them in real-time using Luminous Studio Pro, the same engine that powers Final Fantasy XV on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and—with the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition in 2018—PC. Like any good tech demo, Kingsglaive is as impressive as it is impractical, featuring authentic modelling of hair, skin, leather, fur, and lighting that no PC or console on the market today can display (at least in 4K).

The Xbox One X, Microsoft’s “most powerful console in the world,” sports around six teraflops of processing power (FP32, for those technically inclined) to push graphics at 4K resolution—that’s four times the number of pixels as a typical HD television. The Kingsglaive tech demo requires over 12 teraflops of processing power, more than is found in Nvidia’s $1000/£1000 Titan Xp graphics card.

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Posted in AMD, Final Fantasy VII Remake, final fantasy XV, Gaming & Culture, NVIDIA, PC gaming, Square Enix | Comments (0)

Destiny 2 finally feels like a game I might want to get hooked on

August 24th, 2017

Enlarge / The Interceptor is baaaaack. (credit: Bungie)

BELLEVUE, Wash.—We’re finally close to knowing what Destiny 2 will feel like when it launches on September 6 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles.

Close, but not quite. The online shooter’s developers at Bungie hosted a major preview event last week, just down the block from its offices in the Seattle-area city of Bellevue, and the assembled press was invited to turn on capture equipment for a limited amount of gameplay. This comes with some limits, and as a result, this preview is more about the video of what we captured than about our thoughts and feelings on what’s being shown here.

Destiny 2: A world-premiere look at blasting through the new European Defense Zone (which I accidentally called the Earth Defense Zone in the narration, apologies.) (video link)

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Posted in destiny 2, Gaming & Culture | Comments (0)

Destiny 2 finally feels like a game I might want to get hooked on

August 24th, 2017

Enlarge / The Interceptor is baaaaack. (credit: Bungie)

BELLEVUE, Wash.—We’re finally close to knowing what Destiny 2 will feel like when it launches on September 6 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles.

Close, but not quite. The online shooter’s developers at Bungie hosted a major preview event last week, just down the block from its offices in the Seattle-area city of Bellevue, and the assembled press was invited to turn on capture equipment for a limited amount of gameplay. This comes with some limits, and as a result, this preview is more about the video of what we captured than about our thoughts and feelings on what’s being shown here.

Destiny 2: A world-premiere look at blasting through the new European Defense Zone (which I accidentally called the Earth Defense Zone in the narration, apologies.) (video link)

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Bungie prioritizing “simulation” over frame rate for console Destiny 2

August 23rd, 2017

Our own Mark Walton plays Destiny 2 at 4K and 60 fps on PC.

Here at Ars, we spend a lot of time talking about how developers deal with the trade-offs between resolution, frame rate, graphical detail, and simulation complexity they face at the top end of modern console and PC hardware. Quite often, the first-blush “wow factor” of more pixels and higher frame rates wins out in this constant balancing act. For Destiny 2, though, Executive Producer Mark Noseworthy says the team prioritized the complexity of the game itself over hitting a frame rate higher than 30fps.

In a Twitter thread back in June, Noseworthy said that the CPU limits on current consoles mean the game had to scale back to 30fps “to deliver D2’s AI counts, environment sizes, and # of players.” In the latest issue of Edge magazine (excerpted by WCCFTech), Noseworthy expands on the reasoning behind that choice:

It’s about the simulation of the Destiny world. Thirty AI at once, large open spaces, six players, sometimes with vehicles, and dropships coming in; that’s where we’re using the CPU.

Could we make a Destiny game that ran at 60fps? Yes, but the space would be smaller, it would be less cooperative, and there’d be fewer monsters to shoot. That’s not the game we want to make.

First and foremost, we’re trying to make an incredible action game. We don’t feel we’ve been held back by the choices we’ve made about world simulation versus frame rate; in fact, we think we’re offering a player experience you can’t have elsewhere because of the choices we’re making.

Put like that, the trade-off doesn’t sound like a bad one. Yes, a game that’s locked to 30fps looks markedly worse than one running at 60fps or more, all things being equal. The resulting lack of smoothness is especially noticeable in a reflex-based shooting game like Destiny 2 (though the server’s internal tick rate has arguably more impact on how the game feels). That said, a smoother Destiny 2 with fewer simultaneous enemies and fewer player characters in smaller battle locales would probably be noticeably worse to play, too. As long as the game can run steadily at a playable 30 frames per second, without dips, that sounds like a perfectly acceptable trade.

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Posted in 4K, Activision, Bungie, destiny 2, frame rate, Gaming & Culture, pc, Resolution | Comments (0)