Archive for the ‘Gaming & Culture’ Category

Review: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart doesn’t reinvent the franchise—and that’s OK

June 8th, 2021
No, it's not fan-fiction. It's just Rivet.

Enlarge / No, it’s not fan-fiction. It’s just Rivet.

In the run-up to the launch of the PlayStation 5, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart was placed front and center as a game that would embody the promise and potential of the new console hardware and its high-speed SSD storage. Early gameplay footage focused on the titular heroes flying through portal-like holes torn in the sky to be transported seamlessly to completely new environments. Those sequences packed in new scenery and enemies loaded nearly instantaneously from storage.

Playing through Rift Apart more than nine months after that first reveal, the overwhelming “wow factor” of those through-the-rift transitions still holds up. But after the novelty wears off, the rifts start to feel like a flashy gimmick that’s not really necessary to sell an otherwise solid entry in this time-tested run-and-gun franchise.

Rivet and Clank?

(Note: This section contains some significant spoilers for characters and locations that are revealed partway through the game. Skip ahead to the next section if you want to go into the story fresh.)

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Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, Insomniac, playstation 5, ps5 | Comments (0)

Nvidia and Valve are bringing DLSS to Linux gaming… sort of

June 8th, 2021
Three different logos, including a cartoon penguin, have been photoshopped together.

Enlarge / Tux looks a lot more comfortable sitting on that logo than he probably should—Nvidia’s drivers are still proprietary, and DLSS support isn’t available for native Linux apps—only Windows apps running under Proton. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Jim Salter / Larry Ewing / Nvidia)

Linux gamers, rejoice—we’re getting Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling on our favorite platform! But don’t rejoice too hard; the new support only comes on a few games, and it’s only on Windows versions of those games played via Proton.

At Computex 2021, Nvidia announced a collaboration with Valve to bring DLSS support to Windows games played on Linux systems. This is good news, since DLSS can radically improve frame rates without perceptibly altering graphics quality. Unfortunately, as of this month, fewer than 60 games support DLSS in the first place; of those, roughly half work reasonably well in Proton, with or without DLSS.

What’s a DLSS, anyway?

Nvidia's own benchmarking shows well over double the frame rate in <em><a href="https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/02/metro-exodus-a-good-single-player-game-to-usher-in-the-pc-ray-tracing-era/">Metro Exodus</a>.</em> Most third-party benchmarks "only" show an improvement of 50 to 75 percent. Note the DLSS image actually looks sharper and cleaner than the non-DLSS in this case!

Nvidia’s own benchmarking shows well over double the frame rate in Metro Exodus. Most third-party benchmarks “only” show an improvement of 50 to 75 percent. Note the DLSS image actually looks sharper and cleaner than the non-DLSS in this case! (credit: nvidia)

If you’re not up on all the gaming graphics jargon, DLSS is an acronym for Deep Learning Super Sampling. Effectively, DLSS takes a low-resolution image and uses deep learning to upsample it to a higher resolution on the fly. The impact of DLSS can be astonishing in games that support the tech—in some cases more than doubling non-DLSS frame rates, usually with little or no visual impact.

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Posted in dlss, Gaming & Culture, linux, Linux Gaming, NVIDIA, proton, Steam, Tech | Comments (0)

These forged 17th-century music books went undetected for a century

June 8th, 2021
Considered as a set, the three books Penn State musicologist Marica Tacconi found to be forgeries nonetheless preserve 61 genuine compositions by 26 Italian composers, all written during the period from 1600 to 1678.

Enlarge / Considered as a set, the three books Penn State musicologist Marica Tacconi found to be forgeries nonetheless preserve 61 genuine compositions by 26 Italian composers, all written during the period from 1600 to 1678. (credit: Michel Garrett, Penn State)

Penn State musicologist Marica Tacconi wasn’t planning on discovering forged music books when she started her sabbatical research at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice in 2018. But when she encountered an embellished, leather-bound music book ostensibly from the 17th century, something about it struck her as off. Subsequent analysis showed that her instincts had been right: the book was an early 20th-century forgery, as were two other music books, supposedly from the same period, that she examined in the collection. Tacconi gives a full account of her investigations in a recent paper published in the Journal of Seventeenth Century Music.

The Marciana Library acquired the music books—catalogued as MSS 740, 742, and 743—in 1916 and 1917 from a musician and book dealer named Giovanni Concina. But before Tacconi undertook her analysis, the books had neither received much scholarly attention nor been studied as a set.

At first glance, the books appear genuine enough. Per Tacconi, the worn leather and the paper look and feel authentic, as does the music calligraphy. They exhibit the mild deterioration and occasional wormhole one would expect with 17th-century tomes. MS 740 bears the coat of arms of the influential Contarini family in the bottom margin and again at the end of the manuscript. MS 742 is a bit smaller, with richly decorated pages, including illuminated initial capital letters for each composition. There is a bookplate on the first flyleaf for Caterina Dolfin, a prominent late-18th-century figure in Venice who hosted salons and intellectual soirees. MS 743’s binding and ornate style are nearly identical to MS 742, and the first page also features the Contarini coat of arms.

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Posted in Baroque, Gaming & Culture, History, illuminated manuscripts, music, music history, musicology, science | Comments (0)

Schumacher, Senna, and co-op multiplayer are new additions for F1 2021

June 7th, 2021
This year's installment of the official Formula 1 game, <em>F1 2021</em>, arrives on PCs and consoles on July 16.

Enlarge / This year’s installment of the official Formula 1 game, F1 2021, arrives on PCs and consoles on July 16. (credit: Codemasters)

If you’ve ever wanted to race with Formula 1 legends like Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna, your wish could come true later this summer—sort of. The iconic drivers and their driving styles have been put into F1 2021, which arrives on consoles and PCs in July.

“We’ve always spoken about ‘wouldn’t it be cool to have as your teammate the drivers that we all remember?’ And that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Lee Mather, franchise game director at Codemasters, who briefed Ars on the new game recently.

Mather’s team started programming the game’s AI to race like the sport’s current stars in last year’s F1 2020. “We put so much time and effort and science into how you do driver ratings [for F1 2020] and how you manage those on a race-by-race basis. So we built the data [ranking different attributes for each of the current F1 drivers] and then we updated every three or four grands prix,” Mather explained.

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Posted in cars, Codemasters, EA Sports, Electronic Arts, F1, F1 2021, Formula 1, Gaming & Culture, Michael Schumacher, racing game | Comments (0)

Woman in Motion tells story of how Star Trek’s Uhura changed NASA forever

June 6th, 2021

Actress Nichelle Nichols’ role as a NASA ambassador to bring diversity to the space program is the subject of the documentary Woman in Motion, now streaming on Paramount+.

Actress Nichelle Nichols will forever be remembered for playing Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series—one of the first Black women to play a prominent role on television—as well as engaging in the first interracial kiss on scripted television in the US. Less known is her equally seminal role as an ambassador for NASA  in the 1970s, working tirelessly to bring more diversity to the agency’s recruitment efforts. That work is highlighted in Woman in Motion, a new documentary directed by Todd Thompson that is now streaming on Paramount+.

Thompson himself was not a hardcore Star Trek fan growing up, although he had seen most of the movies and was certainly familiar with Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura. His producing partners were fans, however, and when they told him about Nichol’s contributions to NASA, he decided it was a story that had to be told. Over the course of production, he interviewed dozens of people about how Nichols inspired them, and also spent a considerable amount of time with the actress herself, now 88.

“She’s the definition of Hollywood royalty for me,” Thompson told Ars. “How she carries herself, how she treats others, how she engages with you—she’s so incredibly magnetic. What she did was so paramount to giving us a blueprint of where we need to go, how we need to be, if we’re going to make any sort of progress here on Earth and beyond the stars. I was very humbled by the responsibility to tell her story and tell it the right way.”

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Posted in documentary, film, Gaming & Culture, NASA, Nichelle Nichols, paramount plus, science, space, Star Trek TOS, uhura | Comments (0)

“Deleted” Nintendo floppy recovered 26 years later, full of Earthbound secrets

June 4th, 2021
Amazing what can be found on decades-old disks full of "deleted" files.

Enlarge / Amazing what can be found on decades-old disks full of “deleted” files. (credit: Video Game History Foundation)

The golden-age rebirth of console gaming, largely spurned by Nintendo’s mega-success, has remained a lucrative era for conservationists. There’s a whole community out there rushing to find documents, disks, and hard drives from the ’80s and ’90s before they’re savaged by time and bit rot. Yet sometimes, those old storage standards’ limitations can work out in game historians’ favor.

On Friday, the Video Game History Foundation announced its restoration of a single Nintendo-related, 3.5-inch floppy disk, as discovered by original Earthbound translator Marcus Lindblom in 2018. The story sounds a lot like ones we’ve heard in the past, where someone from the gaming industry cleans out an attic or a storage unit only to find disks that they think are lost to time.

In Lindblom’s case, he thought the Earthbound disk he’d discovered was lost to his own younger stupidity. At one point he learned, after putting it into an older computer, that he’d deleted the disk’s contents to save other work on it. He donated the disk to VGHF with fingers crossed that they could work their magic, which they apparently did. As it turns out, only one small file had been saved to the disk after its “deletion,” thus leaving most of the original magnetic tape untouched. Forensic recovery tools managed to recover every single disk sector, revealing the SNES RPG’s “complete” scripting files for English and Japanese text, along with related code for event triggers in the game.

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Posted in Earthbound, Gaming & Culture, Mother | Comments (0)

Hugh Jackman recovers lost memories best kept hidden in Reminiscence trailer

June 3rd, 2021

Hugh Jackman stars as a man who helps clients recover lost memories in the sci-fi thriller Reminiscence.

A solitary man living in a dystopian near-future helps people recover lost memories and ends up uncovering a violent conspiracy in Reminiscence, a sci-fi thriller that feels like a cross between classic film noir and ambitiously heady fare like Memento and Inception. That’s no surprise, as it’s the feature film directorial debut of Lisa Joy, co-creator (with husband Jonathan Nolan) of HBO’s critically acclaimed series Westworld.

Per the official premise:

Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a private investigator of the mind, navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories. Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson). A simple matter of lost and found becomes a dangerous obsession. As Bannister fights to find the truth about Mae’s disappearance, he uncovers a violent conspiracy and must ultimately answer the question: how far would you go to hold on to the ones you love?

During a virtual event on Wednesday, Joy said she was inspired to make Reminiscence after finding an old photograph among her grandfather’s belongings. The picture was of an unknown woman her grandfather had never mentioned to anyone in the family. “It made me start to think about memory and our lives in general,” she said. “And the moments that maybe pass by, and maybe disappear—they don’t stay with us, those connections necessarily—but that meant something, that changed us and touched us. And how nice it would be able to go back to these memories fully for a moment, to live that life and feel the way you felt when you experienced them.”

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Posted in Entertainment, film trailers, Gaming & Culture, hbo max, Hugh Jackman, lisa joy, Warner Bros. | Comments (0)

Sony’s “generations matter” mantra crumbles: Gran Turismo 7 will be cross-gen

June 3rd, 2021
We've since touched up <EM>GT7</eM>'s last significant advertisement, as per this week's platform update.

Enlarge / We’ve since touched up GT7‘s last significant advertisement, as per this week’s platform update. (credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment / Aurich Lawson)

On Wednesday, Sony published a wide-ranging interview with the head of its PlayStation Studios division, arguably to set expectations ahead of the usual barrage of mid-June game announcements and reveals. In Sony’s case, setting expectations now requires telling fans which console to expect future games to land on—especially in a world where chip shortages have made it tough to purchase the company’s new and very popular PlayStation 5.

This week’s PlayStation announcement marks a change for multiple games that had been previously advertised as PlayStation 5 titles. We have now learned that God of War: Ragnarok and Gran Turismo 7 are officially coming to both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. The news follows last week’s confirmation that Horizon: Forbidden West will also launch as a cross-gen game.

While the God of War sequel’s backward-compatibility status was unclear, the Gran Turismo 7‘s announcement comes as a big surprise, since it was revealed to the world in June 2020 with a loud “get ready for next gen” tagline, followed by an outright declaration six months later that the game would be a “PlayStation 5 exclusive.” Both video advertisements for the anticipated racing game revolved around intense reflection effects that take material properties and car surface warping into account. While Sony Interactive Entertainment has yet to detail exactly how the game’s tech works, what we’ve seen so far will likely hinge on next-gen processing power, perhaps with ray-tracing or double-rendered geometry.

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Posted in cross-gen, Gaming & Culture, Gran Turismo, gran turismo 7, playstation 5 | Comments (0)

No Man’s Sky gets the world’s first VR-DLSS performance boost—let’s test it

June 3rd, 2021
Promotional image for VR game No Man's Sky.

Enlarge / No Man’s Sky added a bunch of trippy stuff this week, including rideable mounts. We love mounts. But we also love frames, so hence, we’re analyzing the game’s newfound use of DLSS, specifically in its punishing VR mode. (credit: Hello Games)

Over the past few years, Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super-Sampling (DLSS) standard has largely delivered on its magical promise: smoother gaming performance and crisper imagery, all based off of zillions of machine-farm computations to predict 3D game visuals. (You can see comprehensive DLSS breakdowns in my reviews of the RTX 3060 and RTX 3080 Ti.) The catch remains that your computer needs a compatible Nvidia “RTX” GPU to tap into the proprietary standard, which has become an ever-tougher pill to swallow in a chip-shortage world.

Still, if you run a DLSS-compatible game on an Nvidia RTX GPU, the performance gains can range from a solid 25 percent to an astonishing 90 percent—usually with greater returns coming from higher resolutions. Up until this week, one demanding PC-gaming use case has somehow not been a part of the DLSS ecosystem: virtual reality.

The default pixel resolution on popular headsets like Oculus Quest 2, Valve Index, and HP Reverb G2 often surpasses an average 4K display, and those headsets also demand higher frame rates for the sake of comfort. Thus, the DLSS promise seems particularly intriguing there. When DLSS works as advertised, a given game renders fewer pixels. This is when Nvidia’s RTX GPUs leverage their “tensor” processing cores to fill in the missing details in ways that, theoretically, look better than standard temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) methods.

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Posted in dlss, Gaming & Culture, no man's sky, nvidia dlss, steamvr, Tech | Comments (0)

Physicists unlock multispectral secrets of earliest color photographs

June 3rd, 2021

French physicist Gabriel Lippmann pioneered color photography and snagged the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physics for his efforts. But according to a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lippmann’s technique distorted the colors of the scenes being photographed. Physicists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland were able to determine the nature of that distortion and developed a means of reconstructing the original spectrum that created the plates.

“These are the earliest multi-spectral light measurements on record so we wondered whether it would be possible to accurately recreate the original light of these historical scenes,” said co-author Gilles Baechler. “But the way the photographs were constructed was very particular, so we were also really interested in whether we could create digital copies and understand how the technique worked.”

A physics professor at the Sorbonne, Lippmann became interested in developing a means of fixing the colors of the solar spectrum onto a photographic plate in 1886, “whereby the image remains fixed and can remain in daylight without deterioration.” He achieved that goal in 1891, producing color images of a stained-glass window, a bowl of oranges, and a colorful parrot, as well as landscapes and portraits—including a self-portrait. (Fun fact: Lippmann’s laboratory protégés included a promising Polish physics student named Marie Skłodowska, who went on to marry Pierre Curie and win two Nobel Prizes of her own.)

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Posted in chemistry, color photography, Gabriel Lippmann, Gaming & Culture, history of science, optics, Physics, science | Comments (0)