Archive for the ‘Ars Technica Videos’ Category

War Stories: Thief’s intuitive stealth system wasn’t intuitive to design

December 2nd, 2018

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Lee Manansala. Click here for transcript.

Update: On November 30, 1998, gamers began to learn that being stealthy could be a viable strategy, too—that's because game developers at Looking Glass released the landmark first-person sneaker, Thief: The Dark Project. As writer Richard Moss outlined in his history of first-person shooters, Thief succeeded despite running counter to all the prevailing trends at the time. This happened in large part because "its intelligent enemies—who tried to flee when injured and responded realistically to both auditory and visual cues—opened the door to a wealth of emergent design possibilities."

Earlier this year, Ars caught up with Looking Glass founder Paul Neurath to hear about how he and the team developed that groundbreaking AI. And with the game's 20th anniversary happening this weekend, we're resurfacing that interview. The above video and accompanying story first ran on February 20, 2018, and they appear unchanged here.

Older PC gamers who were playing games in the late '90s and early 2000s likely have a soft spot in their hearts for Looking Glass Studios. The company's two best-known properties are Thief and System Shock, though Looking Glass was also responsible for the visually stunning Flight Unlimited and, of course, Ultima Underworld. Although financial troubles at publisher Eidos Interactive (caused in part by the development of the hilarious money pit that was Daikatana) led to the eventual dissolution and sale of Looking Glass, the studio left an outsized footprint on the history of PC gaming through its excellent games.

The Thief series in particular—or at least the first two games—resonated with audiences. The phrase "innovative gameplay" is a laughable cliché in 2018, but Thief really did have innovative gameplay when it was released—other FPS titles had explored stealth-focused gameplay before, but none had managed to so completely capture the experience of sneaking. More, Thief took the unusual (for FPSes at the time) approach of incentivizing the player to not murder everyone and everything in the level—brutality, in fact, was actively punished by the game's scoring system. Sneaking through an entire level without detection became a more important goal than wiping out guards.

But it turns out the tightly coupled gameplay mechanisms that enabled players to so easily understand how hidden they were from the CPU's prying eyes was nowhere near as intuitive to design as it was to use. We sat down with Looking Glass founder Paul Neurath, who was involved heavily in Thief's design and development, to get the scoop. And even though he didn't take any rips from a wolf bong, he did have some juicy info on how Thief and its signature sneaking came to be.

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Video: How an 11th-hour decision made Aliens versus Predator a classic

November 20th, 2018

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

Welcome to the latest edition of "War Stories," where we sit down with video game developers and cajole them into talking about the gameplay design elements that almost broke their brains. In this episode, we're chatting up Tim Jones, the lead artist and producer of 1999's Aliens versus Predator.

Jumping on the brand wagon

The Aliens versus Predator brand is a childhood fever dream brought to life—who hasn't had playground arguments over who'd win in a fight between some of the biggest and baddest bad guys of them all? The idea of watching supernal figures battle it out is both fun and endlessly attractive, because everyone likes a spectacle, and the biggest spectacle of all comes from watching one irresistible alien force slam into another unmovable alien object. Sparks fly, things explode, and we're happy.

The "Aliens versus Predator" concept first appeared in graphic novel form, but it was catapulted into mainstream consciousness by a series of films in the 2000s. Though definitely spectacular in the most literal sense of the word, the movies all ultimately fall short in just about every other area; only the first, released in 2004, is (arguably) watchable without the aid of alcohol or other drugs.

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We’ve run wild on the Switch version of WarFrame—and it’s solid

November 16th, 2018

Video shot and edited by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

If you had asked us a year ago whether the Nintendo Switch would ever deliver a shooter on par with the online team-questing of Destiny, we would surely have laughed you off. A solid, connected, shooting-filled 3D game for Nintendo's handheld? Go back to Mario Kart, dreamer.

But the past year has seen developers unlock serious power—and reasonable compromises—in impressive Switch ports. Now, one of the industry's best Switch wranglers, Panic Button, has worked its magic on the free-to-play multiplayer shooter WarFrame, out this week on the platform.

Ahead of the launch, we had the opportunity to sit with the combined brain trust behind WarFrame on Switch—a producer at series creator Digital Extremes and the head of Panic Button's porting team—and rap about what they made happen. We also went hands-on with the results and enjoyed the tweaked options laid out, including joystick sensitivity, button mapping, and—a rarity on the Nintendo Switch—a field-of-view slider, which first-person junkies will surely appreciate.

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Formula E’s new season is going to be much faster, as this video shows

November 15th, 2018

(video link)

Exactly a month from today, Formula E starts its fifth season. A lot will have changed compared to the sport we saw at season four's finale in Brooklyn this summer. When the first race of the season—which takes place in Saudi Arabia, proving Formula 1 has no monopoly on holding races in problematic places—gets underway, it will do so with an entirely new race car, one that solves some of the complaints from skeptics of this all-electric series.

The second-generation Formula E car has double the battery capacity, sporting 56kWh versus 28kWh for the first-gen machine. So those mid-race pit stops to change the car are a thing of the past. And the cars have gotten faster, too, as the video above shows. Audi factory driver Lucas di Grassi is behind the wheel of the original Formula E Spark-Renault SRT_01, as raced in season one. To his right is BMW factory driver Antonio Felix da Costa, equipped with the new Spark SRT05e. As you can see, the new car is a lot more interesting to look at than the old model's "generic single-seater" styling.

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Video: The people who helped make Star Control 2 did a ton of other stuff

October 26th, 2018

Video shot by Sean Dacaney and edited by Evan Watkin. Click here for transcript.

Earlier this week, we brought you our War Stories interview with Star Control & Star Control 2 creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III, wherein the two designers discussed issues that almost derailed the games during their development. But our talk with the Two Guys from Frungytown spanned several hours—and gave us plenty of fuel for at least two more videos.

As our conversation with Paul and Fred went on, they kept name-dropping the most amazing folks who contributed to SC2—people like Starflight's Greg Johnson, Dungeons and Dragons artist Erol Otis, and Star Wars concept designer Iain McCaig. It became obvious that much like Alejandro Jodorowski's aborted fever-dream Dune projectSC2's development was built upon the work of a tremendous collection of absurdly talented people. Those folks have dispersed throughout the gaming industry and done fantastic work, acting like leavening in bread. (A big difference between SC2 and Jodorowski's Dune, of course, is that SC2 actually made it out of production.)

The video we've made out of this set of anecdotes is titled "Six Degrees of StarCon." We've pulled out a few of the most influential names involved in SC2 and looked at where they came from, what they contributed, and what else they worked on. There's a lot of fascinating history in here—and, as it turns out, Star Control 2 might just be the closest gaming analog to Kevin Bacon. Or at least to Paul Erdős.

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Video: How Star Control II was almost a much more boring game

October 23rd, 2018

Video shot by Sean Dacaney and edited by Evan Watkin. Click here for transcript.

Welcome back to "War Stories," an ongoing video series where we sit down with game designers and ask them to tell us about game development challenges that almost sank their projects. In previous instances, we've been lucky enough to get some time with the likes of Lord British (of Ultima fame) and Paul Neurath (of Thief), among others. This time, we've scored big: we tracked down the creators of the Star Control series—none other than Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III.

Star Control was a fun little Space Wars-alike, but it's the second game in the series that truly became famous. Star Control II is the last—and many would say best—entry in the sorely missed Starflight-style space exploration/RPG genre that flourished in the 1980s and '90s. That pedigree is strongly represented in the game's form—in fact, Ford and Reiche even had the assistance of Starflight alum Greg Johnson in fleshing out aspects of SC2's design and dialog.

Control them stars

For the few Ars readers who might not have played Star Control 2 (or its later open source re-release, The Ur-Quan Masters), it might be difficult to see why I'm so effusive in praising a game that turns 26 years old next month. And I admit to no small amount of personal bias here, as SC2 is one of my favorite games of all time. But the game is just so damn good—from the tight plotting, to the wonderfully written and varied alien dialog, and especially the beyond-addicting two player melee combat with hilariously unbalanced ships.

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Video: What to expect from the Oculus Quest

October 18th, 2018

Video edited by CNE. Click here for transcript.

When the consumer-level VR revolution came in 2016, it left behind a lot of potential consumers. That's because, as Ars editor Sam Machkovech puts it, "a lot of [existing VR] is very expensive or very underwhelming."

Oculus' upcoming Quest headset is setting out to be the middle ground between these two poles. Unlike most cheap, untethered headsets, the Quest offers full motion and hand tracking with its built-in cameras and included Touch controllers. Unlike high-end tethered headsets, it doesn't require external cameras or a connection to an expensive computer tower or game console; $400 will get you "all in" for self-contained VR starting in the spring.

Fresh from demoing Oculus Quest at the Oculus Connect conference in San Jose last month, Ars has put together a short video taking you through the pros and cons of the headset's compromises. Click through to hear some nitty gritty details about the system's hardware, comfort, frame rate, and what kinds of games we expect to see on the standalone device.

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Road tripping in a Ferrari 488 GTB: Worth the wait

August 12th, 2017

Although we usually pay for our own travel expenses, for this trip, Ferrari provided a night’s accommodation in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Video edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

LAKEVILLE, Conn.—Anyone lucky enough to be shopping for a mid-engined supercar in 2017 has quite the array of possibilities before them. There’s the Lamborghini Huracán, now also available with just rear-wheel drive. McLaren has its new 720S, the follow-up to the sublime 650S we were so smitten with.

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Road tripping in a Ferrari 488 GTB: Worth the wait

August 12th, 2017

Although we usually pay for our own travel expenses, for this trip, Ferrari provided a night’s accommodation in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Video edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

LAKEVILLE, Conn.—Anyone lucky enough to be shopping for a mid-engined supercar in 2017 has quite the array of possibilities before them. There’s the Lamborghini Huracán, now also available with just rear-wheel drive. McLaren has its new 720S, the follow-up to the sublime 650S we were so smitten with.

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Bosch took us for a ride in its level 3 autonomous car

July 18th, 2017

Bosch provided flights to Frankfurt and three nights’ accommodation for this trip to the Bosch Mobility Experience.

Video edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

BOXBERG, GERMANY—Are autonomous cars like buses? In one way, yes. You wait ages for a ride in one, and then all of a sudden several show up in short succession. In late June, we went for a spin in Jack, Audi’s level 3 autonomous test vehicle. Then, a couple of weeks later in Germany at the Bosch Mobility Experience, we got to sample another such vehicle.

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