Archive for the ‘Ars Technica Videos’ Category

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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Bay Area: Join us 2/13 to discuss a new hope for tech activism

February 11th, 2019
Leigh Honeywell is the founder of Tall Poppy and an activist. She has worked on security and privacy with major tech companies as well as the ACLU.

Enlarge / Leigh Honeywell is the founder of Tall Poppy and an activist. She has worked on security and privacy with major tech companies as well as the ACLU. (credit: Leigh Honeywell)

Over the past couple of years, we've seen a huge upsurge in activism within the technology community. From the walkouts at Google to labor organizing at Amazon, tech workers are starting to see a connection between their work and social issues. Engineer and entrepreneur Leigh Honeywell has been at the forefront of tech activism for many years, and at this month's Ars Technica Live on Wednesday, February 13, we'll be talking to her about activism in today's world and the politics of a life lived online.

Honeywell founded two hackerspaces (HackLabTO in Toronto, and the Seattle Attic Community Workshop in Seattle), created the widely circulated Never Again pledge, and now heads Tall Poppy, where she helps companies protect their employees from online harassment. The thread that runs throughout her work is the use of technology to create greater privacy and safety for people online. She'll discuss the growing resistance to the practices of corporations that profile users or sell their users' data, along with the rise of services that protect people from digital harassment.

Honeywell was previously a Technology Fellow at the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology and also worked at Slack, Salesforce, Microsoft, and Symantec. Leigh has a Bachelors of Science from the University of Toronto where she majored in Computer Science and Equity Studies.

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Video: Inside the artistic mind of Dead Space designer Glen Schofield

January 16th, 2019

Video directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript.

Our recent visit to Dead Space designer Glen Schofield's home to discuss the challenges of developing the horror classic left us with an enormous amount of footage to sort through. Glen was very generous with his time and allowed us more than simply a peek behind the curtain—we got a full tour through the man's artistic mind and processes.

This video is perhaps not as directly game-focused as our previous one, but Glen was brimming with words of wisdom for aspiring game artists—and aspiring artists in general. He tells of his professional beginnings, dutifully toiling away in the Barbie mines at Absolute Entertainment and getting the last laugh when he was promoted over other Barbie-eschewing coworkers. He discusses the artist's eye and how immersing oneself in art alters the way one perceives the world—an engineer might look at a machine and see in their mind the way the parts mesh and the gears turn, while an artist sees the machine and thinks of how to represent it on a canvas in terms of light and shadow. Both disciplines see things that are hidden or non-obvious to everyone else, and both require a blend of talent and training.

My mother is a painter and illustrator, and I hear many of the things she told me growing up echoed in Glen's advice. Artists see the world in a way that other disciplines do not, and the best artists—artists like Schofield—are able to create compelling images that draw the viewer in and allow them to experience some of the artist's own emotions.

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Video: Dead Space’s scariest moment almost dragged down the entire project

January 8th, 2019

Video directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript. Special thanks to Glen Schofield and Chris Stone for assistance gathering footage.

I need to get this out of the way right up front: the War Stories video crew here at Ars loves Dead Space. The game turned 10 years old this past October, and it's a near-perfect execution of the survival horror genre—the world, the sound design, and the mechanics are all spot-on, even after a decade. It's also one of the games we've had on our War Stories to-do list since the very beginning, and we're excited to finally have this video to share with you all.

Executive producer/creator Glen Schofield was fortunately just as excited to talk about the game as we are, and he invited us into his home to tell us the tale of how Isaac Clarke and the USG Ishimura came to be. Creating Dead Space required Schofield and team to create not just an entire original IP (complete with lore and world-building) but new game mechanisms and new ways to tell a story. The focus of putting the player directly into protagonist Isaac Clarke's somewhat clunky shoes affected every decision, and the resulting game managed to be refreshingly original while also paying respectful homage to other horror movies and games (most notably Event Horizon and Resident Evil, respectively.

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Video: Astronaut Scott Kelly teaches orbital mechanics with Kerbal Space Program

December 28th, 2018

Video shot and edited by Condé Nast Entertainment. Click here for transcript. (video link)

If you’re a frequent Ars reader, you’ve likely heard of Kerbal Space Program, the space flight/space crashing/space explosion simulator that lets you create your own vehicles, then fly them into orbit and perhaps even to other planets. Though silly and fun, KSP also works as a reasonably solid and wonderfully interactive demonstration of the vagaries of orbital mechanics—and that, dear readers, gave us an idea.

Astronaut Scott Kelly is most famous for spending an uncomfortably long time on the International Space Station, and he’s currently touring to promote his book about the experience. We got to talk to him briefly when he was at the office back in October, but I wanted to take things a little further. What if we could sit down with Scott—a real astronaut who has flown the space shuttle and everything—and get him to talk us through a (somewhat realistic, somewhat silly) launch in KSP?

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