Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

I played 11 Assassin’s Creed games in 11 years, and Odyssey made them all worth it

March 24th, 2019

I've been a dedicated fan of the Assassin's Creed video game franchise for 11 years. It hasn't always been a happy relationship. While the early games captured my imagination and introduced me to whole new modes of gameplay, the series' middle years were laden with misfires, feature bloat, and other serious problems.

I often look at fans raging against the companies that make their favorite franchises—Bethesda or Blizzard are the two most common targets I see—and shake my head in bewilderment. "If you hate their work so much, why don't you just play something else and let everyone else enjoy their games? It's not like there's a shortage of great games to try," I say.

But as I looked back on more than a decade of playing Assassin's Creed games to write this article, I for the first time kind of understood loving something so much that its stumbles make you feel not just disappointed, but a little mad.

Read 73 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in Assassin's creed, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Features, Gaming & Culture, Ubisoft | Comments (0)

Earth is (always has been) round, so why have the flat-out wrong become so lively?

March 22nd, 2019

For posterity's sake, here's Are' recent look at reality vs. belief about the shape of the Earth. Click for a full transcript.


Until the 17th century, the Fens—a broad, flat swath of marshland in eastern England—were home only to game-hunters and fishermen. Eventually, though, their value as potential agricultural land became too enticing to ignore, and the Earl of Bedford, along with a number of “gentlemen adventurers,” signed contracts with Charles I to drain the area, beginning in the 1630s. A series of drainage channels were cut, criss-crossing the wetlands of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. The plan was a qualified success; a vast area was now farmable, though wind-powered pumps were needed to keep the water at bay.

The most notable feature of the Fens is their pancake-like topography. It’s said that if you climb the tower of Ely Cathedral on a clear day, you can make out the silhouette of Peterborough Cathedral, some 30 miles to the northwest. Indeed, one could see even further if it wasn’t for the curvature of the Earth.

Enter one Samuel Birley Rowbotham, a 19th-century inventor and quack doctor who went by the name “Parallax.” Rowbotham believed that the Earth was flat, and that the Fens were the perfect place to prove it. In particular, he set his sights on the Old Bedford River, one of the 17th-century drainage cuts built under the tenure of the Earl of Bedford. The river—it’s really a canal—runs straight as an arrow for some 22 miles, from Earith, Cambridgeshire, to Downham Market, Norfolk, where it meets the River Great Ouse.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in Features, flat earth, science | Comments (0)

Hands-on with the new $399 Oculus Rift S: More pixels, zero webcams, better fit

March 20th, 2019
Behold, the Oculus Rift S, the VR company's newest wired PC headset produced by Lenovo. From this angle, you can see four of its five built-in sensing cameras, including two in the front, two on the sides (slightly pointing down), and an upward-facing sensor.

Enlarge / Behold, the Oculus Rift S, the VR company's newest wired PC headset produced by Lenovo. From this angle, you can see four of its five built-in sensing cameras, including two in the front, two on the sides (slightly pointing down), and an upward-facing sensor. (credit: Kyle Orland)

SAN FRANCISCO—One thing was conspicuously missing from the Oculus demos at GDC 2019: cameras.

You need at least two (if not three) of the company's signature webcams to run its PC headset, the Oculus Rift. Those cameras are not great. They come with funky, oversized stands. They're not as effective at sensing a headset as the HTC Vive's "dumb" infrared boxes. And they must be plugged into a PC, which creates a certain kind of cord hell and requires a PC with plenty of spare USB 3.0 slots.

So, as we filed into this week's demo center of mock "living room" spaces, complete with VR headsets, the lack of Oculus cameras was apparent. Indeed, it was a statement.

Read 36 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, GDC, gdc 2019, htc vive pro, oculus quest, oculus rift, oculus rift s, virtual reality, VR | Comments (0)

Guidemaster: The best Windows ultrabooks you can buy right now

March 20th, 2019
Guidemaster: The best Windows ultrabooks you can buy right now

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Buyers looking for premium Windows laptops today have plenty of choices; every few months sees some splashy launch of a new high-end PC. Ultrabooks have become the standard design for most premium Windows laptops, and they represent the best of what companies like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft have to offer in terms of design, power, and innovation.

If you're looking for a thin-and-light laptop that's still powerful enough to handle work and play with ease—and doesn't run macOS—a Windows ultrabook is what you want. But not all ultrabooks are created equal. That's why Ars has tested some of the most popular Windows laptops to see which are worthy for consideration as your next high-end notebook.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Read 54 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in convertibles, dell, Features, Gadgetology, guidemaster, HP, Laptops, Lenovo, microsoft, Tech, ultrabooks, Windows | Comments (0)

D-Wave 2000Q hands-on: Steep learning curve for quantum computing 

March 18th, 2019
A child writes on a whiteboard cluttered with equations.

Enlarge / Algorithms, a complicated work in progress. (credit: Getty Images)

Editor's note: I realize that I do not correctly calculate the Bragg transmission in either the classical or the quantum case, however, it is close enough to get an idea of the differences between programming a classical and a quantum computer.

Time: non-specific 2018. Location: a slightly decrepit Slack channel.

"You know Python?"

Read 36 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in D-Wave, Features, quantum annealing, science | Comments (0)

It’s time to start caring about “VR cinema,” and SXSW’s stunners are proof

March 16th, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas—You may love, hate, or shrug at the idea of virtual reality, but one niche is still unequivocally devoted to the format: film festivals. The reasons aren't all great.

Because VR usually requires one-at-a-time kiosks, it invites long lines (which film festivals love for photo-op reasons). These films also favor brief, 10-15 minute presentations, which are the bread-and-butter of the indie filmmaking world. And the concept reeks of exclusivity—of the sense that, if you wanna see experimental VR fare, you need to get to Sundance, Cannes, or SXSW to strap in and trip out.

But—seriously, hear me out—VR filmmaking at its best replicates the experience of live theater in a really accessible way. (I've been saying this for years.) You can't watch something like Hamilton on DVD and expect the same impact. And when a VR "film" is done right, with smart technical decisions at play, it really meets (or, sometimes, exceeds) Broadway's best without requiring a flight to New York or a ticket lottery.

Read 43 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, htc vive, oculus go, oculus rift, SXSW, SXSW2019, virtual reality, vr films | Comments (0)

The Ars Technica System Guide, Winter 2019: The one about the servers

March 14th, 2019
The Ars Technica System Guide, Winter 2019: The one about the servers

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

In the last Ars System Guide roughly one year ago, we took a slight detour from our long-running series. Rather than recommending the latest components focused on a particular niche like gaming or home entertainment PCs, we broadened our scope and focused on ideology rather than instruction and outlined what to look for when building a great desktop PC.

This time around, we're playing the hits again. The Winter 2019 Ars System Guide has returned to its roots: showing readers three real-world system builds we like at this precise moment in time. Instead of general performance desktops, this time around we're going to focus specifically on building some servers.

Naturally, this raises a particular question: "What's a server for, then?" Let's broach a bit of theory before leaving plenty of room for the actual builds.

Read 46 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in Ars System Guide, Features, server, system guide, Tech | Comments (0)

Fitbit Inspire HR review: A worthy $99 investment in your health

March 12th, 2019
Fitbit Inspire HR review: A worthy $99 investment in your health

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Apple may be dominating the wearable space, but Fitbit isn't far behind. Long before Apple even made smartwatches, Fitbit made fitness trackers for all types of people who would like to become healthier or advance their training to the next level. And as of late, Fitbit's $129 Alta HR surpassed others as our favorite simple-yet-powerful fitness band that could work for almost anyone.

But now, Fitbit is retiring the Alta HR and replacing it with the new $69 Inspire and $99 Inspire HR fitness trackers. These devices are meant to not only fix some of the shortcomings of the Alta HR but to also attract users who have never worn a wearable before. There are plenty of those people, and Fitbit is betting that a good portion of them don't want a smartwatch and would jump at the chance to spend less on something that's just as capable when it comes to fitness.

We recently spent about a week with the Inspire HR to see for ourselves if Fitbit had taken what Ars saw as the best tracker out there and in fact made it better. And perhaps more importantly to this fitness brand, how compelling is this new wearable for newbies?

Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in alta HR, apple watch, Features, Fitbit, fitness tracker, Gadgetology, inspire, inspire HR, Tech, versa, versa lite | Comments (0)

A brief history of Wi-Fi security protocols from “oh my, that’s bad” to WPA3

March 10th, 2019
Netgear's RAX-120 router.

Enlarge / Netgear's RAX-120 router. (credit: Netgear)

Thanks to upcoming developments in Wi-Fi, all of us connectivity-heads out there can look forward to getting familiar with new 802.11 protocols in the near future. Ars took a deep look at what's on the horizon last fall, but readers seemed to have a clear request in response—the time had come to specifically discuss the new Wi-Fi security protocol, WPA3.

Before anyone can understand WPA3, it's helpful to take a look at what came before it during The Dark Ages (of Internet)—a time with no Wi-Fi and unswitched networks. Swaths of the Internet today may be built upon "back in my day" ranting, but those of you in your 20s or early 30s may genuinely not remember or realize how bad things used to be. In the mid-to-late 1990s, any given machine could "sniff" (read "traffic not destined for it") any other given machine's traffic at will even on wired networks. Ethernet back then was largely connected with a hub rather than a switch, and anybody with a technical bent could (and frequently did) watch everything from passwords to Web traffic to emails wing across the network without a care.

Closer to the turn of the century, wired Ethernet had largely moved on from hubs (and worse, the old coax thinnet) to switches. A network hub forwards every packet it receives to every machine connected to it, which is what made widespread sniffing so easy and dangerous. A switch, by contrast, only forwards packets to the MAC address for which they're destined—so when computer B wants to send a packet to router A, the switch doesn't give a copy to that sketchy user at computer C. This subtle change made wired networks far more trustworthy than they had been before. And when the original 802.11 Wi-Fi standard released in 1997, it included WEP—the Wireless Encryption Protocol—which supposedly offered the same expectations of confidentiality that users today now expect from wired networks.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in Biz & IT, Features, Tech, WEP, wi-fi, WPA, WPA3 | Comments (0)

Blizzard has handed Diablo 1’s keys to GOG, and you can buy it right now

March 7th, 2019
Blizzard has handed Diablo 1’s keys to GOG, and you can buy it right now

Enlarge (credit: Blizzard / Aurich)

Two years ago, Blizzard announced its intention to release a series of remastered classic games, and so far, the company is making good on that promise. StarCraft Remastered launched as a solid, faithful recreation in August 2017, while Blizzard is still currently working on World of WarCraft Classic and WarCraft III: Reforged.

That leaves one classic-minded Blizzard fanbase in the cold: the Diablo fans. These are the fans who, to some measure, let Blizzard have it after seeing the unveil of smartphone-only "freemium" game Diablo Immortal in place of any "Diablo IV" news at BlizzCon 2018. Which is to say: the word "Diablo" is a touchy one as of late.

Which brings us to today's seriously surprising news: Blizzard has just put Diablo 1 on sale digitally, a first for that 1996 game, with no prior announcement. It's not a remaster, per se, but it does come with some quality-of-life updates and is Blizzard's first DRM-free game launch in years.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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