Archive for the ‘Gaming & Culture’ Category

Why $249 is an unsustainable price for the first all-digital Xbox

April 16th, 2019
Microsoft needs to give customers a better deal to convince them to give up discs for good.

Enlarge / Microsoft needs to give customers a better deal to convince them to give up discs for good. (credit: Dazzied / Flickr)

Today's announcement of the previously rumored "All-Digital Edition" of the Xbox One S is one of the few instances when a redesigned version of a home console is, from a features perspective, strictly worse than the version that came before it. The removal of the disc drive means the All-Digital Edition can't play Blu-Rays, DVDs, or old disc-based games you (or GameStop) might have laying around, and it won't let you resell any games you might buy for it. The new box isn't even any smaller, even though the bulky optical drive has been removed.

Microsoft intends to make up for this loss of features with a lower price point for the new unit, which will sell for a $249 MSRP starting May 7. But that suggested price point—while technically lower that the official $299 MSRP for a 1TB Xbox One S bundle—doesn't seem likely to convince many people to invest in the disc-free console future.

An old low price?

To understand why $249 is such an odd MSRP for this new, less-capable Xbox One, we have to look back at the history of Xbox One pricing. After a higher-than-expected $499 launch with a bundled Kinect, the Xbox One saw some relatively rapid price reductions after the 2014 Kinect unbundling. By September 2016, players could already get into the Xbox One ecosystem (with a bundled game) for the low, low price of $249.

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Everything we know about the first discless Xbox One, coming May 7 for $249

April 16th, 2019

The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition will be the first major home console in the disc-media era to ship without an optical drive, Microsoft has confirmed. The new system will launch on May 7 in the United States and bears such a resemblance to the existing Xbox One S that they share an identical outside shell and motherboard, only with a plastic blocker where the disc drive's slot used to be.

In an interview with Ars Technica, Microsoft's Platform and Devices GM Jeff Gattis confirmed an MSRP of $249, which includes the discless console (currently only in "bone white"), one matching Xbox One controller, an internal 1TB hard drive, and three bundled game-download codes: Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, and Forza Horizon 3. This model will launch "in most Xbox One markets" on May 7, Microsoft says, and all existing Xbox One accessories will be compatible with the All-Digital Edition, owing to its identical motherboard.

Gattis explained that this price point will "pass the value of removing the disc drive onto the customer." I asked him, however, how he reckons that with the fact that, as of press time, most retailers list existing Xbox One S bundles (complete with at least one pack-in game) at a $249 price point.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, xbox one s, xbox one x | Comments (0)

Video: Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s horror relied on a bit of cheating

April 16th, 2019

Video shot and edited by Justin Wolfson. Click here for transcript.

2010 video game Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an obvious candidate for our eventual "best games of the '10s" list, owing to its revolutionary take on interactive horror. The indie game ushered in a new era of horror gaming, thanks in part to its brief, focused scope and its utter lack of weapons or combat. But how did the designers at Swedish game studio Frictional Games pull off Amnesia's scariest stuff?

The mouth of madness

In our video interview, Grip talks about how Amnesia came about after the completion of a creepy puzzle-platformer series called Penumbra. That series was built upon a physics system that let players pick up, stack, and contend with objects in the world in order to proceed, and Friction wanted to follow those games with a "good horror" experience, inspired in part by Konami's Silent Hill series.

The studio's original thinking for Amnesia revolved around forcing players to survive with a very old-school system of a life bar, but play-testing revealed that this focus either annoyed players or didn't scare them. The above interview delves a little more into experiments with things like a light-and-dark hiding system and how the game's "sanity" meter originally worked like a traditional "hit points" counter.

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Posted in amnesia, amnesia the dark descent, Ars Technica Videos, ars video, Features, frictional games, Gaming & Culture, horror, war stories | Comments (0)

Sony’s PS4 successor sports 3D audio tech, faster SSD storage

April 16th, 2019
Sony’s PS4 successor sports 3D audio tech, faster SSD storage

Enlarge (credit: Sam Machkovech)

Sony hardware architect Mark Cerny has revealed the first official details on "the as-yet-unnamed console that will replace the PS4" in an exclusive story offered to Wired reporter Brian Rubin.

While Cerny was not ready to talk about details like a price or release date, he did tell Wired that the coming console will not be ready by the end of 2019. All indications are this console won't be another PS4 Pro style mid-generation upgrade, but instead what Cerny calls a "fundamental change" in what is possible with a game console.

Cerny did go into some detail on the system's hardware configuration, which will include an eight-core AMD Ryzen CPU, built on the 7nm Zen 2 microarchitecture, and an AMD Radeon-based GPU with ray-tracing support. Aside from graphical benefit, Cerny hinted that the ray-tracing GPU will also include a "custom unit for 3D audio," that can similarly trace in-game sound back to its source. That unit will allow for a more immersive surround-sound-style experience that Cerny says won't require any additional hardware outside of your TV speakers.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture, PlayStation, Playstation 4, ps4, ps5, Sony | Comments (0)

OpenAI bot crushes Dota 2 champions, and now anyone can play against it

April 15th, 2019
Screenshot of a fiery video game monster.

Enlarge / Shadow Fiend, looking shadowy and fiendish. (credit: Valve)

Over the past several years, OpenAI, a startup with the mission of ensuring that "artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity," has been developing a machine-learning-driven bot to play Dota 2, the greatest game in the universe. Starting from a very cut-down version of the full game, the bot has been developed over the years through playing millions upon millions of matches against itself, learning not just how to play the five-on-five team game but how to win, consistently.

We've been able to watch the bot's development over a number of show matches, with each one using a more complete version of a game and more skilled human opponents. This culminated in what's expected to be the final show match over the weekend, when OpenAI Five was pitted in a best-of-three match against OG, the team that won the biggest competition in all of esports last year, The International.

OpenAI is subject to a few handicaps in the name of keeping things interesting. Each of its five AI players is running an identical version of the bot software, with no communication among them: they're five independent players who happen to think very alike but have no direct means of coordinating their actions. OpenAI's reaction time is artificially slowed down to ensure that the game isn't simply a showcase of superhuman reflexes. And the bot still isn't using the full version of the game: only a limited selection of heroes is available, and items that create controllable minions or illusions are banned because it's felt that the bot would be able to micromanage its minions more effectively than any human could.

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Posted in Artificial intelligence, cloud, dota 2, Gaming & Culture, machine learning, OpenAI, Tech | Comments (0)

Report: “All Digital” Xbox One coming May 7, for €229 in Europe

April 15th, 2019
Display box for video game console.

Enlarge / The purported box for an "All Digital" Xbox One S. (credit: WinFuture)

Following a November report on Microsoft's plans for a disc-free Xbox One S option, new reports suggest that new hardware will arrive on May 7 and sell for €229 in Europe.

Thurrott.com's Brad Sams, who has been reliable on Microsoft-related hardware rumors in the past, this weekend pointed to reporting from German site WinFuture which "confirm everything I have reported so far." That report includes purported shots of the "All Digital Edition" of the Xbox One S and its European packaging. The hardware displayed there looks identical to the existing Xbox One S—right down to the sizing—save for the lack of a hole for the disc drive on the front panel.

The reported packaging for the 1TB system includes logos for first-party title Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, and Forza Horizon 3. It's unclear if those games will be bundled with the hardware or simply included as part of a potential Xbox Games Pass subscription.

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Posted in digital, dowloads, Gaming & Culture, microsoft, xbox one s | Comments (0)

Winter is here: humans rally as Night King advances on GoT S8 debut episode

April 15th, 2019
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) brings Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) home to meet the family at Winterfell.

Enlarge / Jon Snow (Kit Harington) brings Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) home to meet the family at Winterfell. (credit: HBO)

Winter is here! The first episode of the hotly anticipated final season of HBO's Game of Thrones aired Sunday night, and it proved a solid, if not scintillating showing. There were reunions galore, a bit of sniping and tension, a nifty new opening credits sequence, and the dragons (the true stars at this point) got plenty of screen time.

(Spoilers for first seven seasons; mild spoilers for last night's episode.)

Based on George R.R. Martin's best-selling epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, HBO's Game of Thrones long ago outstripped the novels in terms of plot, although the author had some early input in shaping the TV series' broad narrative arc. We've seen plenty of sex, blood, and horrifying death over the course of seven seasons, and now it's time for the end game. This being George R.R. Martin, there's no guarantee of a happy ending.

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Posted in Entertainment, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones season 8, Gaming & Culture, HBO, reviews, Television, television review | Comments (0)

Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote film finally hits the big screen after 25 years

April 14th, 2019
Jonathan Pryce stars as an aging Spanish cobbler who becomes convinced he is Don Quixote in Terry Gilliam's film, <em>The Man Who Killed Don Quixote</em>.

Enlarge / Jonathan Pryce stars as an aging Spanish cobbler who becomes convinced he is Don Quixote in Terry Gilliam's film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. (credit: YouTube/Warner Bros.)

It's been 25 years in the making, but The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, director Terry Gilliam's tribute to the classic Spanish novel, has finally hit the silver screen. The project has foundered and been revived so many times, it became a poster child for Hollywood's notorious development hell, with a reputation of being cursed. But Gilliam persevered, and while the finished product isn't exactly a masterpiece, it definitely reflects the singular vision of one of our most original filmmakers.

(Mild spoilers for the film and Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century novel below.)

Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote is inarguably one of the most influential works of Spanish literature. The book is written in the picaresque tradition, which means it's more a series of loosely connected episodes than a plot. It follows the adventures of a nobleman (hidalgo) named Alonso Quixano who has read far too many chivalric romances and becomes convinced he is a knight errant. With his trusty peasant sidekick, Sancho Panza, he embarks on a series of random tragicomic adventures, with the Don's hot temper frequently getting them into scraps. (Sancho usually gets the worst of the beatings and humiliations.) Don Quixote is the archetype of the delusional dreamer, tilting at windmills and believing them to be giants, preferring his fantasy to mundane reality.

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Posted in Don Quixote, Entertainment, film, film reviews, Gaming & Culture, Terry Gilliam | Comments (0)

Who had the most merciful death on Game of Thrones? Science has an answer

April 13th, 2019
You know nothing, Jon Snow—like, maybe wear a hat when conditions are freezing in the North. Even if it musses up your luscious locks.

Enlarge / You know nothing, Jon Snow—like, maybe wear a hat when conditions are freezing in the North. Even if it musses up your luscious locks. (credit: HBO)

Warning: This story contained some mild spoilers from the first six seasons of Game of Thrones.

The world of Game of Thrones may be fictional, but that doesn't stop its fans from heatedly arguing about all the possible underlying science, because nerd-gassing about one's favorite science fiction is a time-honored tradition. Just how hot is dragon's breath? Is there a real-world equivalent of wildfire? What's the best and worst way to die? And how fast would Gendry have to run back to the wall to send a raven to King's Landing requesting help?

These and other scintillating topics are discussed in a forthcoming book by physicist (and uber-fan) Rebecca Thompson, Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones. The book comes out in October from MIT Press, but as we gear up for the premiere of the final season Sunday night, Thompson graciously gave us a sneak preview into some of the burning science questions she investigated.

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Posted in Biology, books, chemistry, Game of Thrones, Gaming & Culture, HBO, Physics, science, Television | Comments (0)

How a mobile game is reopening a hidden chapter in Taiwan’s history

April 13th, 2019
Some imagery from the mobile game, <em>Unforgivable</em>.

Enlarge / Some imagery from the mobile game, Unforgivable.

Thirty years ago, the grandfather of a Taiwanese-American NYPD detective named Danny Lin was thrown off a cliff in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The killing took place during what is known today as the White Terror, a 40-year period of violent political suppression and martial law in Taiwan in the middle 20th century. The killer was never identified. Bent on solving his grandfather’s cold case and prompted by the admissions of a mysterious Japanese-Taiwanese woman in a Manhattan ramen restaurant, Lin travels to Taiwan. He knows little about the place, only that, somehow, he must find answers.

Until the last couple of decades, this kind of story, focused on Taiwan’s brutal authoritarianism under military rule, would have been a touchy topic in Taiwan. Today, though, Detective Lin’s saga is the fictional plot behind Unforgivable: Eliza, a popular augmented reality game played on a smartphone, similar to Pokemon Go. The game unfolds as a digitally enhanced tour of New York and then Taipei, with bright manga-esque presentation.

Unforgivable was penned by the Taiwanese-American crime novelist Ed Lin (Incensed, Ghost Month, One Red Bastard) and developed by Allen Yu, the 34-year-old Taiwanese founder of Flushing-based Toii Inc. For these game makers, Lin’s story has been a way to get a new generation to engage with the country’s past. Their efforts parallel a larger trend of younger Taiwanese people exploring their parents’ and grandparents’ lives under military rule.

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Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, History, Taiwan, unforgivable, white terror | Comments (0)