Archive for the ‘Ars Technica Videos’ Category

The Greatest Leap, part 1: How the Apollo fire propelled NASA to the Moon

July 16th, 2019

Video shot by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for transcript.

Seated in Mission Control, Chris Kraft neared the end of a tedious Friday afternoon as he monitored a seemingly interminable ground test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft. It was January 1967, and communications between frustrated astronauts inside the capsule on its Florida launch pad and the test conductors in Houston sputtered periodically through his headset. His mind drifted.

Sudden shouts snapped him to attention. In frantic calls coming from the Apollo cockpit, fear had replaced frustration. Amid the cacophony, Kraft heard the Apollo program’s most capable astronaut, Gus Grissom, exclaim a single word.


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We asked, you answered: Rebecca Ford reviews your Warframe frames

June 26th, 2019

Video shot by Sean Dacanay, edited by Justin Wolfson. Click here for transcript.

About a month ago, Ars posted a couple of calls to action in our forums and on Reddit: we wanted to take your coolest Warframe designs and get them in front of the game's developers at Digital Extremes to see what the company thinks of the community's creations. Digital Extremes told us they don't have a great way of sorting through all the different player designs on the backend, so we asked you to show us what you got.

It took a bit to get things filmed, but this morning we're happy to present Digital Extremes Community Director Rebecca Ford with some analysis of the submissions. We last heard from Rebecca just about a year ago when we ran a video featuring her and game director Steve Sinclair answering questions about Warframe's lore and unsolved mysteries, but this time we had an extra ask for her: after dissecting some community frames and their build strategies, would she be willing to show us what she flies around in? (Spoiler: it's purple. Very, very purple.)

Thanks to Rebecca for being such a good sport and playing along—and also congrats to Warframers RekiSanchez, pacading, rytlocknroll, ninjakivi2, and Bedchuck for being picked. Special shout-out to ninjakivi2 for having an all-around awesome set of customizations—I particularly dug the giant pile of Ayatan sculptures. You're a decorator after my own heart.

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War Stories: How Subnautica made players love being hunted by sea creatures

June 5th, 2019

Directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Transcript available shortly.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting, game designer Charlie Cleveland had a goal: he wanted to make a game that wasn't built around guns and combat. The underwater exploration game he and the folks at Unknown Worlds Entertainment eventually built is a sleeper masterpiece—a game that manages to evoke awe and wonder while also not really requiring you to kill anything.

But getting from prototype to release took years of iterating, including an Early Access period for pulling in lots of player feedback. Cleveland's core idea was to build a game focused on what he calls "the thrill of the unknown"—created by giving players a seemingly depthless underwater world to explore and by filling that world with wonder and mysteries and "creatures" rather than "monsters." Cleveland names fellow designer Jenova Chen (of Flower and Journey fame) as a source of inspiration for Subnautica's emotionally driven design, and those influences are definitely visible in the way the game calmly and cooly reveals its secrets to players.

“It wasn’t missing combat—it was missing excitement

It seems perhaps a little silly to not have any guns in a survival/crafting game where the player is shipwrecked on an alien world (and, indeed, there are some gun-like tools that the player can eventually wield, including a stasis rifle that freezes creatures), but making it work required building an engaging world that gave players plenty to do. Being engaged turned out to be a lot more important than being engaged in combat, and so as the game iterated through design and Early Access, the developers came up with tons of extra bits to keep players busy.

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War Stories: How This War of Mine manipulates your emotions

May 30th, 2019

This video contains some minor spoilers for a non-critical location in the game.

Video shot by Dawid Kurowski, edited by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

Chances are good that you already have This War of Mine in your Steam library. The side-view, survival-horror adventure game is a perennial favorite on various Steam sales, and at least 4.5 million people have picked up a copy since its release in 2014. But as with many Steam sale titles, it's perhaps a bit less likely that you've played the game—and if you haven't, that's a shame, because it's damn good.

But it's also a hard game to experience—and I'm not talking about the difficulty level. This War of Mine's developers are Polish, and they come from a country and a culture that still bears the scars of post-war Nazi occupation. Lead programmer Aleksander Kauch explained that one of the primary things developer 11 Bit Studios wanted to do with TWoM was to bring the stories of his grandparents to life—to put players into a place where joy and normalcy have been replaced by starvation and bleakness, where there are no good choices, and where the biggest and best thing you have to hope for is that you might scavenge enough supplies to live a few more days.

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War Stories: Lucas Pope and what almost sunk Return of the Obra Dinn

May 21st, 2019

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

Lucas Pope is an important name in modern gaming—not only did he help bring us Uncharted and Uncharted 2, but he's also responsible for the indie smash hit Papers, Please, which managed to pack a surprising amount of storytelling and emotion into what is effectively a document stamping simulator.

But we're particularly fond of Pope's 2018 murder mystery Return of the Obra Dinn, where players must figure out what happened to all 60 souls aboard a ship that has turned up in port bereft of life (think sort of a mash-up of Clue and Event Horizon). The game's low-fi monochrome graphical style is meant to evoke 80s- and 90s-era Macintosh adventure games, and it works stunningly well—the stark polygonal shapes and 1-bit stipple-shading are instantly evocative of the era. (For me, firing up Obra Dinn triggers powerful memories of hours spent at my high school computer lab, eschewing real work to play a seemingly endless pile of HyperCard adventures. Though I fought on the side of the IBMs in the Great BBS Platform Wars of the early 90s, I just couldn't keep my paws off of those damn Macs.)

In Obra Dinn, players use a small device on or near each of the ship's 60 bodies to show them a brief moment in time where that person died, and the player must then make sure that the means of that person's death is properly recorded in a logbook. It's a mechanism that mixes together elements of logic puzzles and text adventures, and while Pope put a lot of time and thought into the pick-a-word sentence builder and the various semantic structures players might use to frame their murder-theories ("Tom knifed Bob" and "Tom stabbed Bob" and "Tom cut Bob" all have to be interpreted by the game as holding the same underlying meaning), there was one monster he wasn't prepared to face: localization.

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Video: Slay the Spire is a friendly game of death, but it was hard to get it right

May 2nd, 2019

Video directed by Justin Wolfson, edited by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

Normally, we devote our "War Stories" videos to established and classic games of old. So what is a 2019 video game doing here?

Anyone who asks this question about Slay the Spire, made by a three-person studio in Seattle, hasn't played this wonderful title. It's arguably the most addictive, accessible, and strategy-filled digital card game we've seen in years. So we wanted to talk to its dealers about the game's irresistible properties.

The result is the above interview, which is peppered with developer Mega Crit's insights (and at least one Easter egg). We're glad we sought out this younger team, because their answers revolved largely around the Steam Early Access system, which is still a pretty small drop in the bucket of game design history. Designers Anthony Giovannetti and Casey Yano sought a passionate community's help to solve the game's early design problems, and the community's use of Discord and Steam forums were critical not just for fixing Slay's early issues but also identifying them in the first place.

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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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Video: Taming the player-murdering machine that was MechWarrior 5’s level generator

April 3rd, 2019

Video shot by Sean Dacanay, edited by John Cappello. Special thank you to Piranha Games for providing MechWarrior 5 development footage. Click here for transcript.

First things first: No, you haven't been caught in a time warp and zapped six months into the future (at least, not that we know of). The subject of this "War Stories" episode is the unreleased MechWarrior 5, which is still on track for a September 2019 debut. This is the first time we've done a war story on a game that hasn't come out yet, but it also came with the opportunity to interview Jordan Weisman, the guy most directly responsible for the BattleTech universe and its giant stomping robots.

So we packed up our gear and flew off to beautiful Vancouver, where Mech5 developer Piranha Games is headquartered. Usually, pulling together a "War Stories" video involves a lot of brain-wracking and memory-hunting by the developers, especially for older games; this time, since we were interviewing developers still actively battling through the development process, all the wounds were still fresh and the memories vivid. We got to see a bit of the game in progress and hear some interesting tales about how one wrangles building-sized BattleMechs—and more interestingly, how one builds a world that can accommodate them.

The world’s the thing

MechWarrior 5 will see players hopping freely among a large number of planets in the Inner Sphere. As with many other games, developers at Piranha turned to automated tools in order to create those planets and populate them with realistic biomes and gameplay spaces. And, as with many other games, the quirks and features of those automated tools—and the levels they produced—ended up in turn defining a lot of the gameplay's shape and feel.

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The rise of tech-worker activism

March 1st, 2019

Video by Chris Schodt, production by Justin Wolfson. (video link)

In this episode of Ars Technica Live, we spoke with Leigh Honeywell, a security engineer who has worked at several large tech companies as well as the ACLU. She's been at the forefront of worker organizing in the tech industry, organizing protests against data-driven profiling and founding Hackerspaces in both Canada and the United States. Recently, she founded the company Tall Poppy to protect tech workers from abuse online.

We began by talking about how she created the Never Again pledge, signed by hundreds of tech workers, which was a direct response to President Trump's openness to tracking Muslims in the US using big data. She said it was a turning point when tech workers realized that the systems they built weren't just helping people. These systems could also be weaponized and used for surveillance and racial profiling. People signing the pledge promised to quit their jobs before designing a database for tracking Muslims or any other vulnerable group.

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Video: How Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun punished the computers of the day

February 26th, 2019

Video directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Paul Isackson. Click here for transcript.

When I was working at Babbage's in the mid-'90s, I recall there being three specific PC games that sat in the "coming soon" column seemingly forever—like, for years—and generated ridiculous amounts of pre-orders and buzz: Mechwarrior 2, the original Diablo, and the original Command & Conquer. As fate would have it, I worked the launches of all three of those games, and although they all were special, Command & Conquer was to me the most surprising to play.

I wasn't really big into the nascent real-time strategy genre at the time—perhaps unsurprising, since the "genre" prior to C&C's release consisted basically of Dune 2 and Warcraft, but C&C blew me away. I was never any good at it, but I was fascinated by it—the strategy game genre was undergoing somewhat of a renaissance in the early-to-mid-'90s, and adding real-time decision-making into the mix was a wild twist on what had become an established formula.

The original C&C was successful, but the sequels established a bona fide gaming dynasty. For this episode of War Stories, we've arranged a nicely technical chat with Westwood co-founder Louis Castle (who also worked on the studio's noir Blade Runner adventure) to dish on the challenges and issues the studio faced with developing Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, the direct sequel to C&C and one of the most well-regarded games in the entire series.

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