Archive for the ‘Features’ 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)

24-inch iMac review: There’s still no step three

June 6th, 2021
The 2021, 24-inch iMac with Apple's M1.

Enlarge / The 2021, 24-inch iMac with Apple’s M1. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Much has been written about people embracing nostalgia for comfort during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the new 24-inch iMac’s bright colors and simplistic design, Apple seems to be indulging in the pangs of nostalgia, too.

But the new iMac’s nostalgia is only skin deep. Inside, it has arguably the most advanced CPU currently sold in consumer devices: the M1. This chip is equally at home in an iPad and a Mac, yet the M1 delivers performance that rivals or beats some of the best desktop chips available in some cases.

Even though the M1 offers enough performance to attract power users, this new iMac isn’t really for them. Rather, the 24-inch iMac is first and foremost about simplicity. It’s a computer that promises users they won’t have to think about how to configure or maintain a system. It’s a computer that’s more concerned about fitting into the room than it is about taking you somewhere else.

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Posted in 24-inch iMac, all-in-one, apple, Apple M1, Apple silicon, desktop, Features, Gadgetology, iMac, M1, Mac, MacOS, review, Tech | Comments (0)

WWDC 2021: What to expect from Apple’s next keynote

June 3rd, 2021

Apple kicks off its annual developer conference, WWDC, with a keynote presentation on Monday. As was the case last year, WWDC will be an online-only affair, but don’t let that fool you: We think this is going to be an eventful keynote. Expect multiple interesting announcements for users living in or following Apple’s ecosystem of hardware, software, and services.

The focus of WWDC is almost always on Apple’s software, and rightly so. This is an event primarily meant to engage with developers and encourage them to create new software experiences for Apple’s various platforms.

For that reason, we should, of course, expect detailed information about the new versions of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

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Posted in apple, Apple M1, Apple M1X, Apple M2, Apple silicon, Features, homeOS, homeOS 15, iMac, iOS, iOS 15, iPadOS, iPadOS 15, M1, M1X, M2, Mac mini, MacBook Pro, MacOS, macOS 12, Tech, tvos, tvOS 15, watchos, watchOS 8, WWDC 2021 | Comments (0)

Review: Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti is a powerhouse—but good luck finding it at $1,199 MSRP

June 2nd, 2021

Nearly nine months ago, the RTX 3000 series of Nvidia graphics cards launched in a beleaguered world as a seeming ray of hope. The series’ first two GPUs, the RTX 3080 and 3070, were nearly all things to all graphics hounds. Nvidia built these cards upon the proprietary successes of the RTX 2000 series and added sheer, every-API-imaginable rasterization power on top.

An “RTX”-optimized game ran great on the line’s opening salvo of the RTX 3080, sure, but even without streamlined ray tracing or the impressive upsampling of DLSS, it tera’ed a lot of FLOPs. Talk about a fun potential purchase for nerds trapped in the house.

Even better, that power came along with more modest MSRPs compared to what we saw in the RTX 2000 series. As I wrote in September 2020:

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Posted in AMD, amd radeon, Features, Gaming & Culture, NVIDIA, nvidia rtx, rtx 3080, rtx 3080 ti, Tech | Comments (0)

Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary and the soft, squishy science of language

May 28th, 2021
Artist's impression of either understanding being achieved or intergalactic war being incited, I'm not sure which.

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of either understanding being achieved or intergalactic war being incited, I’m not sure which. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Andy Weir’s latest, Project Hail Mary, is a good book that you’ll almost certainly enjoy if you enjoyed Weir’s freshman novel The Martian. It’s another tale of solving problems with science, as a lone human named Ryland Grace and a lone alien named Rocky must save our stellar neighborhood from a star-eating parasite called “Astrophage.” PHM is a buddy movie in space in a way that The Martian didn’t get to be, and the interaction between Grace and Rocky is the biggest reason to read the book. The pair makes a hell of a problem-solving team, jazz hands and fist bumps and all.

<em>Project Hail Mary</em> product image

Project Hail Mary

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

But the relative ease with which Grace and Rocky understand each other got me thinking about the real-world issues that might arise when two beings from vastly different evolutionary backgrounds try to communicate. PHM‘s otherwise solid commitment to science leans a bit here on what we might call the “anthropic principle of science fiction,” after the more well-known general anthropic principle. To wit: Rocky and Grace can communicate well with each other because it serves the story, and if they couldn’t, the book would be shorter and less interesting.

I get it—that’s how storytelling works. I don’t want to sound like a bitter basement-dwelling critic throwing shade at a bestselling science fiction author. But PHM is like The Martian in that it’s about solving problems realistically. From my nerd basement throne, it feels like the softer sciences of linguistics and anthropology (or perhaps xenolinguistics and xenoanthropology) don’t get the same stage time as their more STEM-y counterparts like physics and relativity.

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Posted in andy weir, book, book review, feature, Features, Gaming & Culture, Linguistics, novel, problem solving, project hail mary, science, science fiction | Comments (0)

Knockout City is the best team-deathmatch game we’ve played in years

May 26th, 2021

Knockout City is the best team-deathmatch game I’ve played in years. It celebrates and elevates the genre’s roots in ways that make me think I’ve somehow reinstalled my old Voodoo2 GPU. And the game elevates this familiar format all under the guise of family-friendly dodgeball.

I wish describing an online game like that was enough to guarantee its success. But as I’ve learned over the years, a great online game can fail without a boisterous playerbase, an adept publishing hand, or good reasons for friends to keep playing with each other.

So I’m left with two obstacles: convincing you that Knockout City is worth your time, and convincing you that EA isn’t going to get in the way of its success.

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Posted in EA, Electronic Arts, Features, Gaming & Culture, knockout city, velan studios, vicarious visions | Comments (0)

Unsolved Mysteries: Quantum Leap’s Don Bellisario on the fate of Sam Beckett

May 25th, 2021

Produced by Adam Lance Garcia, edited by Ron Douglas. Click here for transcript. (video link)

Fresh from our talk with Warhammer remembrancer Dan Abnett on the unsolved mysteries of the Warhammer universe, we now turn our attention to a science fiction property with a bit less grimdark: the one where a polymath with an eidetic memory invents time travel and things go, as they say, a little kaka. Grab your handlinks and step into the imaging chamber because it’s time to talk about Quantum Leap.

We were lucky enough to snag some time with legendary TV producer Donald P. Bellisario, whose name has graced the closing credits of some of the most influential and popular TV shows of the ’80s and ’90s—including Airwolf, Magnum, P.I., and of course Quantum Leap. Though he’s now retired, Bellisario gamely agreed to allow an Ars film crew—with props!—into his California home to badger him with occasionally obscure questions about what is easily the best time-travel show ever to grace television.

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Posted in ars technica video, Ars Technica Videos, don bellisario, feature, Features, Gaming & Culture, oh boy, quantum leap, unsolved mysteries, video | Comments (0)

Eternally five years away? No, batteries are improving under your nose

May 24th, 2021
What year, again, does Mr. Fusion show up to compete with Tesla et al?

Enlarge / What year, again, does Mr. Fusion show up to compete with Tesla et al? (credit: Universal Pictures)

It’s hard to write about battery research around these parts without hearing certain comments echo before they’re even posted: It’ll never see the market. Cold fusion is eternally 20 years away, and new battery technology is eternally five years away.

That skepticism is understandable when a new battery design promises a revolution, but it risks missing the fact that batteries have gotten better. Lithium-ion batteries have reigned for a while now—that’s true. But “lithium-ion” is a category of batteries that includes a wide variety of technologies, both in terms of batteries in service today and the ones we’ve used previously. A lot can be done—and a lot has been done—to make a better lithium-ion battery. In fact, gains in the amount of energy they can store have been on the order of five percent per year. That means that the capacity of your current batteries is over 1.5 times what they would have held a decade ago.

Lithium-ion batteries have evolved, whether you noticed or not. Here’s how.

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Posted in Features, Lithium batteries, lithium-ion batteries, science | Comments (0)

The Ferrari Portofino M, reviewed

May 21st, 2021
You might associate the Florida Keys with Crimson Jihad, but this red is actually called Rosso Portofino.

Enlarge / You might associate the Florida Keys with Crimson Jihad, but this red is actually called Rosso Portofino. (credit: Elle Cayabyab Gitlin)

A couple of years ago, Ars got to spend a rather enjoyable morning with a Ferrari Portofino on a very deserted, very twisty Californian road. It was revelatory, demonstrating that this entry level Ferrari—sometimes unfairly maligned because it has back seats and a retractable hardtop—was capable of delivering the goods in terms of driver engagement. That’s good; you’d hope that even Ferrari’s most affordable road car would be fun to drive.

Now there’s an uprated version, called the Portofino M (for Modificata). This gets a small bump in power and a brand-new eight-speed dual clutch transmission. There’s now a more permissive race mode, too, and that retunes the onboard electronic systems that both flatter and protect the driver. But the Portofino is also supposed to be one of Ferrari’s most versatile vehicles, thanks to those (admittedly rudimentary) back seats and folding hard top. And so the Portofino M—base price $226,000—gains some extra convenience features, including a suite of advanced driver assistance systems and the option to have ventilated seats.

I concluded my 2019 Portofino review praising its handling on that sinuous ribbon of asphalt, but I left my time with the car none the wiser with regards to its ability at more mundane tasks. After all, this is the closest thing Ferrari builds to a daily driver. And evidently, this practicality was on Ferrari’s mind again when it organized the first US drive of the Portofino M. There were no winding mountain roads this time, nor a race track upon which to really push the Modificata to the limite.

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Posted in cars, climate change, Features, ferrari, Ferrari Portofino M, Florida Keys, Grand Tourer, hemingway, polydactyl cat | Comments (0)

2021 iPad Pro review: More of the same—but way, way faster thanks to M1

May 19th, 2021

Apple’s new iPad Pro is better than its immediate predecessor. It’s a little more versatile, and it’s a lot faster. Like most good sequels, it offers more of the same, but the characteristics you love have been amped up enough to grab your attention all over again.

The major storyline in this sequel is that the new iPad Pro uses the same system-on-a-chip as that found in recent Macs—the M1. This marks the first time that one of Apple’s mobile devices is running on the same silicon as its laptops and desktops. The choice of SoC also means that all the R&D effort that went into making the M1 efficient has arrived on a new platform with performance improvements in tow.

It’s fair to say that the iPad’s move to the much-talked-about M1 is not as monumental as the Mac’s. After all, the M1 isn’t as different compared to the A12Z chip that was in the prior iPad Pro as it is compared to the Mac’s Intel processors.

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Posted in 11-inch iPad Pro, 12.9-inch iPad Pro, apple, Apple M1, Apple silicon, Features, ipad, ipad pro, iPadOS, M1, Mini LED, Tech, Thunderbolt, thunderbolt 3, USB 4 | Comments (0)