Microsoft set to purchase Activision Blizzard in $68.7 billion deal

Microsoft set to purchase Activision Blizzard in $68.7 billion deal


Microsoft this morning announced plans to purchase gaming mega-publisher Activision Blizzard for a record-setting $68.7 billion. The move, when finalized, would bring franchises like Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and many more under the umbrella of the Xbox maker.

Today’s announcement follows on Microsoft’s $7.8 billion acquisition of Bethesda, announced just 15 months ago. After some initial confusion about what that meant for Bethesda’s multiplatform titles, it has since become clear that most of Bethesda’s biggest franchises, such as Elder Scrolls, will not be appearing on competing consoles such as the PlayStation 5.

The same could definitely happen for Activision Blizzard’s big-name games. Microsoft notes in its announcement that Activision Blizzard games would become a part of its Game Pass program, which currently enjoys 25 million subscribers. “With Activision Blizzard’s nearly 400 million monthly active players in 190 countries and three billion-dollar franchises, this acquisition will make Game Pass one of the most compelling and diverse lineups of gaming content in the industry,” the company said. “Upon close, Microsoft will have 30 internal game development studios, along with additional publishing and esports production capabilities.”

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Oscar Isaac finally enters the MCU with official Moon Knight trailer

Oscar Isaac plays Steven Grant/Marc Spector, who becomes the conduit for an Egyptian god in Moon Knight.

Fans finally get to welcome Oscar Isaac to the MCU. As promised, Marvel Studios dropped the official trailer for its forthcoming series, Moon Knight, during the NFL Super Wild Card matchup, along with a new poster. Isaac plays the title role: a former mercenary with multiple personalities who becomes the avatar of an Egyptian moon god.

Moon Knight is one of the lesser known characters in the Marvel Comics pantheon. The son of a rabbi, Marc Spector is marked at a young age by the Egyptian moon god Khonshu to be the god’s avatar on Earth. But Khonsu is a supernatural entity with many aspects to his nature—and also exists out of phase with normal time and space—so forging a psychic connection with the human Marc has a bad effect on the young man’s mental health.

Marc develops dissociative identity disorder (DID), eventually becoming a mercenary with his buddy, Jean-Paul “Frenchie” DuChamp. He is hired by the ruthlessly amoral Raoul Bushman for a job, in which the latter kills an archaeologist who has uncovered an Egyptian tomb. Marc saves the archaeologist’s daughter, Marlene, leading to a major fight with Bushman. Marc loses the fight and is left for dead, but the locals carry him into the tomb and leave him in front of a statue of Khonshu. Khonshu revives and heals the dying Marc.

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#disney-plus, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #marvel-studios, #mcu, #mcu-phase-four, #moon-knight, #oscar-isaac, #streaming-television, #trailers

Fan does Blizzard’s job, releases remastered WarCraft III campaign files

A cinematic intro to the WC3 human campaign? That's cool. Too bad fans had to step in to create this, since Blizzard doesn't appear poised to add anything substantial to WC3R ever again.

Enlarge / A cinematic intro to the WC3 human campaign? That’s cool. Too bad fans had to step in to create this, since Blizzard doesn’t appear poised to add anything substantial to WC3R ever again. (credit: InsaneMonster)

WarCraft III: Reforged has not received a patch or official announcement since April 2021, and the game’s handlers at Blizzard have remained eerily quiet about anything previously announced for this so-called “remaster” of an RTS classic. Official matchmaking ladders, leaderboards, and user profiles never came to pass, prompting the game’s remaining community to cobble together its own solution—and that’s on top of the re-release’s utter lack of single-player updates. (To date, custom WC3 campaign files still aren’t formally supported.)

Thus, just as fans previously built their own online gameplay updates in the form of WC3Champions, so too has the game’s remaining community stepped up to make the single-player campaign better resemble Blizzard’s initial pitch for the project.

WarCraft III: Re-Reforged 2022 update.

WarCraft III: Re-Reforged is a fan-made project apparently led by a single designer who goes by the handle InsaneMonster. It received its second substantial update on Saturday, following its original January 2021 launch as a downloadable pack of WC3R campaign files. The project is now up to 10 in-game chapters: the five chapters of WC3‘s Horde-specific prologue, which already launched last year, and the first five chapters of its human-focused first act. You can now access both parts of Re-Reforged as free downloads at Hive Workshop (part one, part two).

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#blizzard-classic, #blizzard-entertainment, #gaming-culture, #warcraft-3, #warcraft-3-reforged, #warcraft-iii

iOS developer donates unexpected windfall from unrelated Wordle app

Last week, we wrote about the legal status of a spate of shameless Wordle clones that briefly clogged the iOS App Store with attempts to cash in on the trendy web game. Today, we get to focus on a story that’s almost the complete opposite of that, as the developer behind a pre-existing app named Wordle! is donating the proceeds from an unexpected windfall driven by the unrelated viral hit.

Developer Steven Cravotta wrote about how he created a game called Wordle! five years ago, at the age of 18, “mostly for fun, to sharpen my coding skillz, and maybe make a quick buck.” That game—which asks players to build as many words as they can from a set of letters in a strict time limit—drew about 100,000 free downloads in a matter of months before Cravotta “stopped updating and promoting the app,” he wrote on Twitter.

Imagine Cravotta’s surprise when the usual pace of one or two legacy downloads a day suddenly increased to a reported 200,000 downloads per week. That spike was the result of the popularity of the other Wordle, a daily in-browser word-guessing game created by Josh Wardle that happens to share the same name (and no other relationship).

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#gaming-culture, #wordle

Review: An archivist gets drawn into a spooky cold case in addictive Archive 81

Dina Shihabi co-stars as Melody Pendras, a documentary filmmaker whose fire-damaged 1994 tapes end up in the hands of archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie) in the Netflix series <em>Archive 81</em>. It's loosely based on a podcast of the same name.

Enlarge / Dina Shihabi co-stars as Melody Pendras, a documentary filmmaker whose fire-damaged 1994 tapes end up in the hands of archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie) in the Netflix series Archive 81. It’s loosely based on a podcast of the same name. (credit: Netflix)

A troubled archivist finds himself drawn into the mystery of a woman who disappeared two decades ago in Archive 81, a new horror series from Netflix. Technically, the show belongs to the found footage subgenre of horror, but tonally, this spookily addictive eight-episode series evokes classic supernatural horror fare like Rosemary’s Baby—exactly what one should expect when James Wan (of the Insidious and Conjuring franchises) is among the producers.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

The series is loosely based on the popular found footage podcast of the same name created by Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger, in which the creators play fictionalized versions of themselves. The podcast tells the story of Daniel Powell, an archivist who goes missing after taking a job with the Housing Historical Committee of New York State. After Daniel’s disappearance, his best friend Mark Sollinger finds hundreds of hours of audio tapes that Daniel had been archiving; the audio features interviews with residents in a high-rise building in 1994. Mark releases the tapes in the form of a podcast. The podcast is now in its third season.

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#archive-81, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #streaming-television, #tv-reviews

Tabletop Simulator removes global chat amid LGBTQ moderation controversy

Dice placement game Euphoria as seen in <em>Tabletop Simulator</em>.

Enlarge / Dice placement game Euphoria as seen in Tabletop Simulator.

Here at Ars, we’ve repeatedly noted that Tabletop Simulator is one of the best ways to play virtual versions of physical games across long distances. But developer Berserk Games is now facing controversy over its chat-moderation policies and alleged treatment of LGBTQ discussion. In response, the developer has now taken down the game’s global chat feature and announced a “renewed commitment to creating a culture that values inclusivity in board gaming and the world.”

Keep it on topic?

The recent controversy began when a player going by the handle Xoe posted an extensive Google Doc documenting what she called “the suppression of gay/trans identities” in Tabletop Simulator‘s global chat. The chat logs cited in that doc include numerous instances of temporary bans issued right after Xoe discussed her personal sexual or gender identity in the chat.

In those cases, moderators cited posted rules that “there is an expectation that discussion will be family friendly and centered around Tabletop Simulator, tabletop games, and chatting with other players.” Moderators specifically told Xoe that “discussing sexuality has no place in global chat” and that “Tabletop Simulator is about playing tabletop games, not a place to discuss sexuality, fetishes, politics [emphasis added]. Keep that to your private lobbies or public chats where these things are the topic at hand.”

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The underground network bringing Japan’s arcades to the US

The underground network bringing Japan’s arcades to the US

Enlarge (credit: Julian Berman)

Last October, Phil Arrington precariously balanced a dream on the cargo bed of his 2002 Ford Ranger pickup. It was a stupid dream, but it did not deserve to die on a dolly behind a beige warehouse.

Arrington was hunched over the dolly, gold chain dangling over a tight gray tee. Between his arms, leaned at a 45-degree angle, was a video game arcade machine; its title, MUSECA, could be glimpsed over his shoulder. The machine had come a long way—from an arcade in Tokyo to an anonymous warehouse in Osaka and then, after a long wait on a container ship outside Long Beach, California, to Arrington’s warehouse in San Pedro. Arrington effortfully wheeled the 6-foot-tall cabinet toward the pickup’s hatch. On the concrete 3 feet below lay a thin, blue blanket. Nearby, a phone was recording.

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#arcades, #gaming-culture, #museca

Harken back to the late 1990s with this re-creation of the dialup Internet experience

A demonstration of the late 1990s dialup experience using nearly period-accurate hardware, connecting to modern websites using outdated browsers over a 31.2kbit/s dialup connection. Be forewarned: page loads are in real time.

We all found our coping strategies for riding out the pandemic in 2020. Biomedical engineer Gough Liu likes to tinker with tech—particularly vintage tech—and decided he’d try to recreate what it was like to connect to the Internet via dialup back in the late 1990s. He recorded the entire process in agonizing real time, dotted with occasional commentary.

Those of a certain age (ahem) well remember what it used to be like: even just booting up the computer required patience, particularly in the earlier part of the decade, when one could shower and make coffee in the time it took to boot up one’s computer from a floppy disk. One needed a dedicated phone line for the Internet connection, because otherwise an incoming call could disrupt the connection, forcing one to repeat the whole dialup process all over again. Browsing the web was equally time-consuming back in the salad days of Netscape and Microsoft Explorer.

So much has changed since then, as the Internet has gone from a curiosity to a necessity, reshaping our culture in the process. As Liu noted on his blog:

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#archaic-technologies, #computers, #dial-up, #gaming-culture, #internet, #tech, #technology

Netflix cites “more entertainment choices than ever,” raises prices again

Netflix cites “more entertainment choices than ever,” raises prices again

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

On Friday, Netflix confirmed plans to raise prices for its video-streaming services in North America for the seventh time in 11 years.

Unlike many previous Netflix price hikes, this year’s bump hits all three subscription options. In the United States, the “basic” tier, which is capped at 720p and includes other limits, receives its first increase in three years, jumping $1 to $9.99 per month. The 1080p “standard” tier goes up $1.50 to $15.49 per month. And the 4K “premium” tier jumps $2 to $19.99 per month. Canadian customers can expect similar jumps in prices for all three tiers as well.

Netflix says the price increases will roll out in phases to existing customers based on their billing cycles, and all customers will get no less than 30 days’ notice before the higher prices go into effect. Brand-new customers must begin paying the higher prices immediately.

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#disney, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #hulu, #netflix, #video-streaming

Intestinal parasites plagued Jerusalem’s wealthy elite, toilet excavation reveals

A 2,700-year-old toilet seat made of stone revealed the poor sanitary conditions of a 7th-century Jerusalem luxury villa.

Enlarge / A 2,700-year-old toilet seat made of stone revealed the poor sanitary conditions of a 7th-century Jerusalem luxury villa. (credit: Yoli Schwartz, The Israel Antiquities Authority)

The wealthy, privileged elite of Jerusalem in the 7th century BCE were plagued by poor sanitary conditions and resulting parasitic intestinal diseases, according to a recent paper published in the International Journal of Paleopathology. An analysis of soil samples collected from a stone toilet found within the ruins of a swanky villa revealed the presence of parasitic eggs from four different species. The work should help document the history of infectious disease in the region, providing additional insight into the daily lives of the people who once lived there.

“The findings of this study are among the earliest observed in Israel to date,” said author Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, who is a leading researcher in the emerging field of archeoparasitology. “These are durable eggs, and under the special conditions provided by the cesspit, they survived for nearly 2,700 years. Intestinal worms are parasites that cause symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and itching. Some of them are especially dangerous for children and can lead to malnutrition, developmental delays, nervous system damage, and, in extreme cases, even death.”

Yes, it sounds gross, but archaeologists can actually learn a great deal by studying the remains of intestinal parasites in ancient feces. For instance, per Langgut, prior studies have compared fecal parasites found in hunter-gatherer and farming communities, thereby revealing dramatic dietary changes, as well as shifts in settlement patterns and social organization coinciding with the rise of agriculture. The domestication of animals in particular led to more parasitic infections in farming communities, while hunter-gatherer groups were exposed to fewer parasites and transmissible diseases given their nomadic lifestyle. This is even reflected in modern nomadic communities of hunter-gatherers.

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#antiquities, #archaeology, #archeoparasitology, #gaming-culture, #israel-antiquity-authority, #paleopathology, #science

PUBG maker sues mobile clone, Apple, Google for copyright infringement

Screenshot comparisons like these do make <em>Free Fire</em> look very similar to <em>PUBG</em>.

Enlarge / Screenshot comparisons like these do make Free Fire look very similar to PUBG.

Shortly after the 2017 release of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), creator Brendan Greene publicly aired his exasperation at just how many developers were releasing shameless clones of the game’s then-unique battle royale concept and how hard it was to stop those copycats. Now, PUBG‘s Korean publisher Krafton has filed a lawsuit against one PUBG clone it says has engaged in “rampant, willful copyright infringement” of the popular game.

In the lawsuit, Krafton alleges that mobile hits Free Fire and Free Fire Max “extensively copy numerous aspects of Battlegrounds, both individually and in combination.” Those games attracted over 100 million daily users at the end of 2020, according to the lawsuit, and brought in the majority of Singaporean publisher Garena’s more than $2 billion in revenue for that year.

Krafton also makes Apple and Google party to the suit for listing the infringing game in their mobile app stores and for ignoring a recent request to take them down. In addition, Google is allegedly liable for hosting YouTube videos showing Free Fire‘s infringing gameplay on its service.

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Humble subscription service is dumping Mac, Linux access in 18 days

Mac, Linux nostalgia will soon be a thing for Humble Choice subscribers.

Enlarge / Mac, Linux nostalgia will soon be a thing for Humble Choice subscribers. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Humble, the bundle-centric games retailer that launched with expansive Mac and Linux support in 2010, will soon shift a major component of its business to Windows-only gaming.

The retailer’s monthly subscription service, Humble Choice, previously offered a number of price tiers; the more you paid, the more new games you could claim in a given month. Starting February 1, Humble Choice will include less choice, as it will only offer a single $12/month tier, complete with a few new game giveaways per month and ongoing access to two collections of games: Humble’s existing “Trove” collection of classic games, and a brand-new “Humble Games Collection” of more modern titles.

Launcher cut-off: February 1, 2022

But this shift in subscription strategy comes with a new, unfortunate requirement: an entirely new launcher app, which must be used to access and download Humble Choice, Humble Trove, and Humble Games Collection games going forward. Worse, this app will be Windows-only. Current subscribers have been given an abrupt countdown warning (as spotted by NeoWin). Those subscribers have until January 31 to use the existing website interface to download DRM-free copies of any games’ Mac or Linux versions. Starting February 1, subscription-specific downloads will be taken off the site, and Mac and Linux versions in particular will disappear altogether.

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#gaming-culture, #humble, #humble-bundle

Raised by Wolves S2 trailer promises another wild, crazy (possibly maddening) ride

Amanda Collin returns as Mother in the second season of HBO’s original series Raised by Wolves.

We finally have the full trailer for the second season of Raised by Wolves, the visually striking, occasionally frustrating sci-fi series created by Aaron Guzikowski, with Ridley Scott serving as executive producer. The series returns to HBO Max on February 3.

(Spoilers for S1 below.)

As I’ve written previously, the series involves two androids serving as Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) figures on a strange virgin planet, Kepler-22b (an actual observed extrasolar planet), after Earth has been destroyed by the outbreak of a religious war. They are programmed to incubate, birth, and raise human children to rebuild the population and set up an atheist civilization to keep the human race from going extinct.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #raised-by-wolves, #ridley-scott, #streaming-television, #trailers

Ancient Peruvians partied hard, spiked their beer with hallucinogens to win friends

A vessel from the Wari site of Conchopata features the tree and its tell-tale seed pods sprouting from the head of the Staff God.

Enlarge / A vessel from the Wari site of Conchopata features the tree and its tell-tale seed pods sprouting from the head of the Staff God. (credit: J. Ochatoma Paravicino/M.E. Biwer et al., 2022)

Lacing the beer served at their feasts with hallucinogens may have helped an ancient Peruvian people known as the Wari forge political alliances and expand their empire, according to a new paper published in the journal Antiquity. Recent excavations at a remote Wari outpost called Quilcapampa unearthed seeds from the vilca tree that can be used to produce a potent hallucinogenic drug. The authors think the Wari held one big final blowout before the site was abandoned.

“This is, to my knowledge, the first finding of vilca at a Wari site where we can get a glimpse of its use,” co-author Matthew Biwer, an archaeobotanist at Dickinson College, told Gizmodo. “Vilca seeds or residue has been found in burial tombs before, but we could only assume how it was used. These findings point to a more nuanced understanding of Wari feasting and politics and how vilca was implicated in these practices.”

The Wari empire lasted from around 500 CE to 1100 CE in the central highlands of Peru. There is some debate among scholars as to whether the network of roadways linking various provincial cities constituted a bona fide empire as opposed to a loose economic network. But the Wari’s construction of complex, distinctive architecture and the 2013 discovery of an imperial royal tomb lend credence to the Wari’s empire status. The culture began to decline around 800 CE, largely due to drought. Many central buildings were blocked up, suggesting people thought they might return if the rains did, and there is archaeological evidence of possible warfare and raiding in the empire’s final days as the local infrastructure collapsed and supply chains failed.

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#archaeology, #beer, #chemistry, #gaming-culture, #hallucinogens, #history, #science, #wari

One of Nintendo Switch’s best puzzle games is now (mostly) free for 7 days

Usually, NSO trials like this feel like teasers for full-price purchases. This one is different.

Enlarge / Usually, NSO trials like this feel like teasers for full-price purchases. This one is different. (credit: Nintendo of America)

Nintendo mixes cool, weird, and ho-hum perks into its $20/year Switch Online subscription service, including one we don’t generally talk about: limited-time game trials. Other modern gaming services include this sort of thing, particularly “Days With Gold” on Xbox Live, and the idea is that subscribers can temporarily test unlocked retail versions of games for no additional cost.

Generally, these deals range from intriguing to annoying, though they’re at their worst when they feel like glorified advertisements for online games: Try a game for as little as 72 hours, get hooked, then buy it when the promotional timer runs out and locks the game. This week, however, a new deal exclusively for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers gets my wholehearted recommendation.

Starting right now—as of 1 pm EST today, January 13—the 2019 Switch puzzle game Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is fully unlocked for anyone already paying for the $20/year NSO service. Its free trial lasts for a little over seven days, expiring at 2:59 am EST on Friday, January 21.

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#ars-shopping, #captain-toad-treasure-tracker, #gaming-culture, #nintendo-switch

Report: Sony will use the PS4 to fill the PS5 supply gap

picture of Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S

Enlarge / L-R: Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

With the PlayStation 5 still hard to find at retail amid worldwide semiconductor shortages, Sony has canceled plans to discontinue the PS4, extending the system’s life through 2022.

That’s according to a Bloomberg News report citing “people familiar with the matter” who say that Sony told assembly partners that it had planned to discontinue the PS4 at the end of 2021. Instead, the company now plans this year to produce a million units of the older console, which uses less-advanced chips that are easier to source. Sony could adjust that number based on demand.

For context, the PS4 sold 1.7 million units in the first nine months of 2021, according to financial reports, compared to 8.9 million PS5 units in that same time.

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Prime Video releases red-band trailer for Legend of Vox Machina animated series

The Legend of Vox Machina is based on the hugely popular livestreamed Dungeon & Dragons-based web series Critical Role.

Rowdy misfits-turned-mercenaries become unlikely heroes in the red-band trailer for The Legend of Vox Machina, a new adult animated fantasy series coming to Prime Video.

The series has an inspiring origin story. A group of professional voice actors used to get together to play Dungeons & Dragons, and when actress Felicia Day (Eureka, The Guild) heard about the game, she invited the actors to play in a livestreamed format for her YouTube channel, Geek & Sundry. (Day herself played a guest role as a human wizard named Lyra.) Voice actor Matthew Mercer served as Dungeon Master, and the campaigns took place in a fictional world he created called Exandria. The web series Critical Role was born.

Eventually, the folks at Critical Role formed their own production company and split from Geek & Sundry in February 2019, streaming new shows on their Twitch and YouTube channels and launching a spin-off comic book. Episodes typically run for three to five hours, and between 30,000 to 40,000 people watch live each week. Add in VOD and YouTube, and most episodes garner around 1 million views each week, making Critical Role a bona fide media mini-empire.

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#amazon-prime, #animated-series, #critical-role, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #legend-of-vox-machina, #rpgs, #streaming-television, #tabletop-games, #trailers

Wordle and IP law: What happens when a hot game gets cloned

And you thought the tweets were annoying...

Enlarge / And you thought the tweets were annoying… (credit: Aurich Lawson)

On Tuesday afternoon, searching for “Wordle” on the iOS App Store turned up a small handful of apps aping the name and gameplay of the simple word game that has gone viral in recent weeks. But none of those iOS apps were made by Josh Wardle, the Brooklyn-based software engineer who created the free web-based game last October.

Today, all of those copycat apps are gone, the apparent result of a belated purge by App Store reviewers following some social media attention. But this likely doesn’t mean the end of Wordle clones. Those quick removals paper over the complicated legal and social landscape surrounding copycat apps and the protections developers can claim on their game ideas.

Who owns “Wordle”?

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God of War on PC delivers nearly everything we’d hoped for

"Boy." "Yes?" "You are ready... for the PC port." (This image was directly captured by Ars from the game's PC build—as were most of the other images in this article, unless otherwise clarified.)

Enlarge / “Boy.” “Yes?” “You are ready… for the PC port.” (This image was directly captured by Ars from the game’s PC build—as were most of the other images in this article, unless otherwise clarified.) (credit: Sony Santa Monica)

While headlines have suggested that Sony’s PlayStation division is more invested in the PC gaming space than ever before, its track record of releases thus far has been a bit shaky, even if the future looks promising. Sony’s combined PC-porting studios stumbled in mid-2020 with Horizon: Zero Dawn, although the company eventually massaged that game into decent shape months later. Meanwhile, Days Gone arrived in 2021 with a solid number of PC-specific bells and whistles. That’s only two bona fide PlayStation “hits” on PC thus far, leaving plenty of popular series missing.

Sony continues its PC-porting streak in 2022 by announcing two more titles. The first, 2018’s God of War reboot, is emblematic of the company’s PS4-game-porting aspirations. (Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, coming later this year, is the second.) Sony Santa Monica provided preview code for God of War‘s PC port a full four weeks before the game’s $49.99 launch this Friday on Steam, the Epic Games StoreHumble, and other PC gaming storefronts. Based on what I’ve tested thus far, that level of confidence is warranted.

Tiding PC players over before the non-PC Ragnarök

God of War official PC port trailer.

Before digging into God of War‘s PC specifics (and my recommendations for settings and toggles), let’s recap why I care about a port of a four-year-old PS4 game. When the God of War reboot arrived in 2018, the series’ original run had accumulated a mix of baggage and fatigue that cooled my initial expectations. It didn’t take long for Sony Santa Monica’s gorgeous, massive, emotional adventure to change my tune, and the game finished third on Ars’ 2018 best-of list.

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#ars-shopping, #features, #gaming-culture, #god-of-war, #pc-port

Overwatch-themed Lego set on pause amid Activision abuse allegations

This Lego set will no longer be launching on Feb. 1 as originally planned.

Enlarge / This Lego set will no longer be launching on Feb. 1 as originally planned. (credit: Jay’s Brick Blog)

The Lego Group has decided not to release a new Overwatch 2-themed Lego set as planned on February 1, halting the product at least temporarily as the company reviews its wider relationship with the embattled game publisher.

In a statement reported by fan sites like BrickSet and TheBrickFan, Lego Group says that it is “currently reviewing our partnership with Activision Blizzard, given concerns about the progress being made to address continuing allegations regarding workplace culture, especially the treatment of female colleagues and creating a diverse and inclusive environment.” As that review continues, the company says it will “pause” the planned release of set 76980, themed after the Overwatch 2 Titan, which was first leaked last month. It’s currently unclear how long that “pause” will last or if the set will see an eventual release given Lego’s internal partnership review.

The partnership between Overwatch and Lego dates back to 2018 and encompasses nearly a dozen building sets and kits themed after characters and scenes from the game. Activision Blizzard separately signed a deal with Hasbro in 2018 for exclusive rights to license Overwatch toys, among many other branded licensing deals for the popular game.

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Why is Zynga worth a whopping $12.7 billion? (Hint: It’s not FarmVille)

The company that publishes <em>Grand Theft Auto</em> now owns all of these goofballs, too...

Enlarge / The company that publishes Grand Theft Auto now owns all of these goofballs, too… (credit: Zynga)

Major console game publisher Take-Two has acquired social and mobile gaming giant Zynga for a whopping $12.7 billion in cash and stock, marking the deal the largest acquisition of a single gaming company in history.

That might seem like a ludicrous price if your familiarity with Zynga is limited to FarmVille, CityVille, and other Zynga games that came to dominate the “social gaming” fad of the early 2010s (and led to the creation of some excellent books, if I do say so myself). But while the original FarmVille merely limped along until 2010, Zynga has successfully transitioned into a casual mobile gaming powerhouse by spending billions of dollars on acquisitions like Gram Games (1010) and Small Giant Games (Empire & Puzzles) in 2018, as well as Peak Games (Toon Blast) and Rollic (Go Knots 3D) in 2020. Last year, the company even dipped into PC games with the acquisition of Torchlight studio Echtra Games.

With those companies gathered under the Zynga umbrella, the company now attracts over 168 million monthly users and made $706 million in revenue in the latest reporting quarter.

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#gaming-culture, #mobile, #take-two, #zynga

Gruesome Viking “blood eagle” ritual is anatomically possible, study finds

Thorbjørn Harr played Jarl Borg of Götaland in the first two seasons of the History Channel series <em>Vikings</em>. Spoiler alert: He met with a gruesome death via the legendary "blood eagle" ritual. The ritual may have been a myth, but a new study shows it is anatomically possible.

Enlarge / Thorbjørn Harr played Jarl Borg of Götaland in the first two seasons of the History Channel series Vikings. Spoiler alert: He met with a gruesome death via the legendary “blood eagle” ritual. The ritual may have been a myth, but a new study shows it is anatomically possible. (credit: History Channel)

The History Channel series Vikings is a fictional account of legendary Norse hero Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), who was born a farmer and became a Scandinavian king. Early in the series, a rival leader named Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr) of nearby Götaland leads an attack on Ragnar’s men and even convinces Ragnar’s brother to betray him. Borg doesn’t get an easy death when his schemes ultimately fail and he is captured. Ragnar performs the blóðǫrn (“blood eagle”) on Borg, a gruesome process of ritualized torture and execution allegedly carried out during the Viking Age (c. 750–1050).

The series prides itself on being as historically accurate as possible, which is a challenge, given that much of what we know about the Viking Age comes from epic poems telling of their achievements in spoken form, finally written down centuries later. That’s especially the case with the blood eagle ritual, which has long been dismissed as mere legend—whether because of repeated misunderstandings during translations of the poems or perhaps a desire by Christian scholars to portray the pagan Vikings as barbaric.

(Warning: some graphic anatomical descriptions follow.)

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#anatomy, #archaeology, #gaming-culture, #human-anatomy, #science, #vikings

Ars readers gave over $40,000 in our 2021 Charity Drive

Giving a little joy.

Enlarge / Giving a little joy. (credit: xJasonRogersx / Flickr)

One month ago, we asked readers to donate to a couple of good causes in our 2021 Charity Drive sweepstakes. And boy, did you deliver. With the drive now complete and the donations all tallied, we can report that Ars Technica readers gave an incredible $40,261.71 to Child’s Play and the EFF in the last month. That doesn’t quite set a new record, but it surpasses our total charity haul for every annual charity drive except 2020. All told, total Ars Charity Drive donations since 2007 now total over $435,000. Well done, Arsians!

Thanks to everyone who gave whatever they could. We’re still early in the process of selecting and notifying winners of our swag giveaway, so don’t fret if you haven’t heard if you’re a winner yet. In the meantime, enjoy these quick stats from the 2021 drive.

  • 2021 Fundraising total: $40,261.71
    • Total given to Child’s Play: $15,919.90
    • Total given to the EFF: $24,341.81
  • Number of individual donations: 359
    • Child’s Play donations: 166
    • EFF donations: 193
  • Average donation: $112.15
    • Child’s Play average donation: $95.90
    • EFF average donation: $126.12
  • Median donation: $51.80
    • Median Child’s Play donation: $50.00
    • Median EFF donation: $66.95
  • Top single donation: $4,000 (to EFF)
  • Donations of $1,000 or more: 7 (!)
  • Donations of $100 or more: 134
  • $5 or less donations: 3 (every little bit helps!)
  • Total charity donations from Ars Technica drives since 2007 (approximate): $435,126.83
    • 2021: $40,261.71
    • 2020: $58,758.11
    • 2019: $33,181.11
    • 2018: $20,210.66
    • 2017: $36,012.37
    • 2016: $38,738.11
    • 2015: $38,861.06
    • 2014: $25,094.31
    • 2013: $23,570.13
    • 2012: $28,713.52
    • 2011: ~$26,000
    • 2010: ~$24,000
    • 2009: ~$17,000
    • 2008: ~$12,000
    • 2007: ~$10,000

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#charity, #gaming-culture

Wordle is the word: Why Ars is hooked on a free, accessible web game

Wordle is the word: Why Ars is hooked on a free, accessible web game

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

My favorite gaming discovery from the end of 2021 is probably Wordle—even though I had to decipher a cryptic social media puzzle to figure out what this popular new game actually was.

As 2021 came to a close and I bundled up beneath blankets due to an apparent omicron infection, I sought out simple entertainment that I could share with friends. Because of my fatigue and unease, breaking down plot threads in TV series like The Book of Boba Fett or Succession felt like too much.

An outburst of green, yellow, and gray squares on friends’ daily feeds got what little attention I could spare. What were these patterns? Why were fewer rows of boxes apparently better? And how come my favorite smart people were obsessed with it?

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#babble-royale, #gaming-culture, #word-games, #wordle

Alan Tudyk’s awkward alien is humanity’s only hope in Resident Alien S2 trailer

Alan Tudyk is back as an alien who crash-lands on Earth in the second season of SYFY’s Resident Alien.

An alien (Alan Tudyk) disguised as a small-town doctor must figure out how to rescue his new human friends from an invading army of his fellow aliens in the trailer for the second season of Resident Alien, SYFY’s critically acclaimed dramedy based on the Dark Horse comics created by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse. This gem of series easily made our list of the best TV shows of 2021.

(Some spoilers for S1 below.)

As I’ve written previously, Tudyk’s alien (with an unpronounceable name) takes on the identity (and form) of small-town doctor Harry Vanderspiegle, and promptly gets roped into investigating a local murder. Harry’s mission is to wipe out the human race for the good of the planet, but he finds himself wavering in his resolve the more time he spends in the small town of Patience, Colorado.

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#alan-tudyk, #gaming-culture, #resident-alien, #syfy, #television, #trailers

Radeon RX 6500 XT is bad at cryptocurrency mining on purpose, AMD says

AMD's RX 6500 XT.

Enlarge / AMD’s RX 6500 XT. (credit: AMD)

AMD will begin selling its latest budget GPU, the Radeon RX 6500 XT, on January 19th. Its retail price is $199. But the ongoing GPU shortage, caused in part by cryptocurrency miners and scalpers who are snapping up every card they can get, has made it mostly impossible to get any graphics card at its list price over the past year. 

Whether the 6500 XT will be any different depends partly on supply, but AMD has also apparently designed the card to make it deliberately less appealing to miners while retaining its usefulness as an entry-level graphics card. Speaking to journalists in a press roundtable earlier this week, AMD Radeon VP Laura Smith talked about how the 6500 XT had been “optimized” for games (a transcript from a now-apparently-deleted PCWorld article is preserved here).

“We have really optimized this one to be gaming-first at that target market,” Smith said. “And you can see that with the way that we configured the part. Even with the four gigs of frame buffer. That’s a really nice frame buffer size for the majority of AAA games, but it’s not particularly attractive if you’re doing blockchain-type activities or mining activities.”

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#gaming-culture, #tech

Sega cites fan backlash in surprisingly cautious take on gaming NFTs

Sega is thinking long and hard about whether it wants NFTs to become part of its brand image.

Enlarge / Sega is thinking long and hard about whether it wants NFTs to become part of its brand image.

Non-fungible tokens have become the buzziest of concepts among big-budget game publishers these days. While Ubisoft is the only big-name publisher to actually roll out in-game NFT items thus far, everyone from Square Enix to EA and Take-Two has expressed varying levels of enthusiasm for the idea. Even aging gaming brands like Konami and Atari have used NFTs as a way to quickly cash in via artificially rare digital collectibles.

So it was somewhat notable when Sega used a recent management Q&A to take a much more skeptical position on the industry’s NFT mania.

To be clear, Sega isn’t completely rebuking the idea of NFTs in its games. The company said it “would like to try out various experiments, and we have already started many different studies and considerations” in the space, including so-called “play-to-earn” games.

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#gaming, #gaming-culture, #nfts, #sega

Amazon’s Fallout TV series is about to enter production

A screenshot from <em>Fallout 4</em>, the most recent main entry in the game franchise.

Enlarge / A screenshot from Fallout 4, the most recent main entry in the game franchise. (credit: Bethesda)

Amazon Prime Video’s adaptation of the Fallout franchise of video games is entering production this year, and its two lead writers have been named, according to reports in Deadline and Variety.

It was previously known that Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (who worked together on HBO’s Westworld) would be executive producers, and Variety and Deadline both report that Nolan will direct the first episode of the show.

But Nolan and Joy will not be the primary creative leads on the series. Rather, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner have been attached as showrunners.

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#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #bethesda-game-studios, #bethesda-softworks, #fallout, #gaming-culture, #geneva-robertson-dworet, #graham-wagner, #jonathan-nolan, #lisa-joy

Final reminder: Donate to win swag in our annual Charity Drive sweepstakes

Final reminder: Donate to win swag in our annual Charity Drive sweepstakes

Enlarge (credit: CanStockPhoto)

If you’ve been too busy playing the best games of 2021 to take part in this year’s Ars Technica Charity Drive sweepstakes, you’re running out of time to donate to a good cause and get a chance to win your share of over $1,600 worth of swag (no purchase necessary to win). The deadline is 11:59 pm EST tonight (Friday).

Over the past few weeks, over 300 readers have contributed almost $38,000 to either the Electronic Frontier Foundation or Child’s Play as part of the charity drive (EFF is now leading in the donation totals by about $8,000). That’s still a bit off from last year’s record haul of over $58,000, but it’s quickly approaching the previous record of $38,861.06 set in 2015.

If you’ve put it off this long, don’t do so any longer! There are only a few hours left to get your entry recorded and help a good cause at the same time.

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Study: 1960 ramjet design for interstellar travel—a sci-fi staple—is unfeasible

Artist's impression of the Ramjet propulsion system proposed in 1960 by physicist Robert W. Bussard

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of the Ramjet propulsion system proposed in 1960 by physicist Robert W. Bussard (credit: NASA)

In Poul Anderson’s 1970 novel Tau Zero, a starship crew seeks to travel to the star Beta Virginis in hopes of colonizing a new planet. The ship’s mode of propulsion was a so-called “Bussard ramjet,” an actual (though hypothetical) means of propulsion which had been proposed by physicist Robert W. Bussard just a decade earlier. Now, physicists have revisited this unusual mechanism for interstellar travel in a new paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica, and alas, they have found the ramjet wanting. It’s feasible from a pure physics standpoint, but the associated engineering challenges are currently insurmountable, the authors concluded.

A ramjet is basically a jet engine that “breathes” air. The best analog for the fundamental mechanism is that it exploits the engine’s forward motion to compress incoming air without the need for compressors, making ramjet engines lighter and simpler than their turbojet counterparts. A French inventor named Rene Lorin received a patent in 1913 for his concept of ramjet (aka, a flying stovepipe), although he failed to build a viable prototype. Two years later, Albert Fonó proposed a ramjet propulsion unit to increase the range of gun-launched projectiles and eventually was granted a German patent in 1932.

A basic ramjet has three components: an air intake, a combustor, and a nozzle. Hot exhaust from fuel combustion flows through the nozzle. The pressure of the combustion must be higher than the pressure at the exit of the nozzle in order to maintain a steady flow, which a ramjet engine achieves by “ramming” external air into the combustor with the forward speed of whatever vehicle is being powered by the engine. There is no need to carry oxygen on board. The downside is that ramjets can only produce thrust if the vehicle is already moving, so they require an assisted takeoff using rockets. As such, ramjets are most useful as a means of acceleration, such as for ramjet-powered missiles or for increasing the range of artillery shells.

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#bussard-ramjet, #gaming-culture, #interstellar-travel, #physics, #ramjet-propulsion, #science, #science-fiction

GameStop stock takes off as plans for NFT marketplace come into focus

Gamestop promotional image reads Power to the players, creators, and collectors.

Enlarge (credit: GameStop)

Two of 2021’s strangest trends are coming together Thursday evening as GameStop’s stock surges on a report that it is working to establish an NFT and cryptocurrency marketplace alongside partner game developers and publishers.

The news, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, suggests GameStop has a 20-person unit working on the online marketplace, set to launch later this year, which will offer in-game goods as supply-limited, cryptographically signed NFTs. In addition, the Journal’s sources suggest GameStop may be preparing to invest “tens of millions of dollars” in crypto-related companies, including the development of games that use the blockchain.

Shares of GameStop stock, which today closed at its lowest point since last March after a six-week slide, were up sharply in after-hours trading immediately following the report. As of this writing, the stock’s value had increased over 30 percent in a little more than an hour after the market closed, bringing to mind images of the “meme stock” rallies of last January.

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#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #meme, #nft, #stock

E3 makes months-in-advance call to skip convention halls in 2022

Hands put on medical gloves in front of an E3 logo.

Enlarge / On Thursday, E3 made an incredibly early call about its 2022 incarnation. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

If anyone thought 2022 might be the year of E3’s physical, in-person comeback, its creators and showrunners have bad news for you. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) confirmed on Thursday that it will not proceed with a traditional exposition floor plan for E3 2022, an event that, in previous years, was the games industry’s biggest coming-out party of the year. Worse, organizers have yet to commit to an online-only version, as we saw in 2021.

The ESA’s official explanation, first offered to VentureBeat, is “the ongoing health risks surrounding COVID-19 and its potential impact on the safety of exhibitors and attendees.” When asked directly about whether E3 will return to last year’s online-only format, ESA representatives declined to answer. Instead, they suggested that the organization is “excited” about such an option.

Ars Technica’s attempts to contact the ESA’s E3 news line, which was live during its E3 2021 period, bounced back on Thursday as undeliverable.

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#e3, #electronic-entertainment-expo, #gaming-culture

Moonfall trailer is gloriously ridiculous

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson co-star in director Roland Emmerich’s latest film, Moonfall.

Hello, police? I’d like to report a murder—the sacrifice of credible science on the altar of entertainment, as evidenced in the latest trailer for Moonfall. It’s the latest epic disaster blockbuster from director Roland Emmerich, in which the Earth’s existence is threatened by the Moon getting knocked out of its orbit and into a collision course toward Earth.

Look, I love me some Roland Emmerich. Independence Day (1996) is top-notch entertainment, and while his Godzilla (1998) was widely panned by critics, it featured a world-weary Jean Reno as a French scientist constantly bemoaning the lack of decent coffee in America, which was worth the price of admission alone. But in recent years, the director has pivoted to what can only be called climate-change inspired “disaster p*rn,” with over-the-top films like 2009’s 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

Both films made big bucks at the box office, despite mixed critical reviews and dings for their sloppy use of science. In fact, The Day After Tomorrow frequently winds up on people’s lists of most scientifically inaccurate films. That’s not a deal-breaker so long as the film is entertaining. As screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff pointed out at the film’s Berlin premiere, “This is a disaster movie and not a scientific documentary, [and] the film makers have taken a lot of artistic license.” Thus far, Emmerich has shown a talent for pushing an audience’s willing suspension of disbelief to the limit without crossing the line into utter ridiculousness (or at least, audiences will be having so much fun, they’ll cheer on the ridiculous aspects with glee).

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#entertainment, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #lionsgate, #moonfall, #physics, #roland-emmerich, #science

Konami looks to cash in on NFT mania with digital collectible collection

No, see, <em>this</em> copy of the image isn't worth anything, because it's not on signed on the blockchain...

Enlarge / No, see, this copy of the image isn’t worth anything, because it’s not on signed on the blockchain…

Konami became the latest gaming company to jump on the non-fungible token bandwagon Thursday with the announcement of the Konami Memorial NFT Collection. But rather than focusing on in-game cosmetics or supply-constrained virtual land as some other publishers have, Konami is simply offering a small set of NFT-backed artwork and music drawn from the Castlevania series in honor of its 35th anniversary.

Konami’s collection includes 14 individual NFTs representing five songs from the NES Castlevania games, six short videos showing off special item use in the first Castlevania, two pieces of hand-drawn promotional art from Circle of the Moon, and a unique piece of “Dracula’s Castle” pixel art inspired by the games. Each item in the collection is a “one of one” cryptographic signature that will be posted on the Ethereum blockchain after an OpenSea auction set to start on January 12. Those auctions have an effective reserve price of one “wrapped Ethereum,” or about $3,350 at today’s market value.

The NFTs will represent the associated digital collectible, whose “minting” is linked to Konami’s verified account to help establish provenance. Konami also promises that an “NFT with the exact same data will not be resold, but similar NFTs tied to the same game title may be resold in the future,” making them “unique” on the blockchain (even if the underlying images and sounds are endlessly copiable).

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#collectibles, #gaming-culture, #konami, #nfts

Meltdown prediction: Intellivision Amico doesn’t seem long for this world

A look at a very weird year for a retro-minded game console that may or may not exist by the end of 2022.

Enlarge / A look at a very weird year for a retro-minded game console that may or may not exist by the end of 2022. (credit: Intellivision | Aurich Lawson)

Most of Ars’ end-of-2021 gaming coverage focused on the best stuff made during a bizarre year of delays and chip shortages. But there’s one other matter to wrap up before moving wholesale into 2022: my prediction for the biggest gaming product to not last past the end of this new year. Somehow, that prediction doesn’t involve NFTs.

When I first stumbled upon the Intellivision Amico in 2018, I was intrigued. This home-console concept looked like a unique entry into the resurgent “retro console” sector; it had an unusual touchscreen controller and designs on resurrecting Mattel’s classic Intellivision brand. Comparatively, companies like Nintendo had stopped manufacturing retro-friendly throwback consoles, leaving a gap in the market for a brand like Intellivision to potentially capitalize on.

Between recognizable licenses and a few decent games in its original sizzle reels, I wondered if this modest system might have a shot. (I was optimistic about many more things in 2018, of course.)

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#ars-deathwatch, #gaming-culture, #intellivision-amico, #retro-games, #retro-gaming, #vaporware

Activision goes to court to stop Call of Duty cheat software

A shot of the "3D radar" feature Activision is trying to stop with its lawsuit.

Enlarge / A shot of the “3D radar” feature Activision is trying to stop with its lawsuit.

Activision has filed a federal lawsuit against German cheat makers EngineOwning and associated individuals for “trafficking in technologies that circumvent or evade anti-cheat technologies used by Activision to protect the integrity of [Call of Duty] games.”

EngineOwning charges 13 euros per month or more for subscription access to individualized suites of cheating tools designed for Call of Duty games—and also Battlefield, Titanfall 2, and Star Wars Battlefront. The software promises abilities like automated aimbots, auto-firing triggerbots, “2D radar” that shows enemy locations on the HUD, and “3D radar” that can track and display opposing players even behind cover.

EO promises its software is undetectable by automated tools, including Activision’s recently launched Ricochet kernel-level anti-cheat tools. The software also includes built-in tools to make cheating less obvious to human moderators and recording software, making users “look like a legit player.” The company separately sells “hardware ID spoofer” software that promises to get around hardware-based bans in Call of Duty and other games.

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Sony confirms PlayStation VR2’s specs, first official game

It's not much to look at, but at least the name is official.

Enlarge / It’s not much to look at, but at least the name is official. (credit: Sony)

Sony’s trickle of information about its future in virtual reality continued on Tuesday with the surprise announcement of an unsurprising name: PlayStation VR2. Thankfully, the name comes with a dump of specs that confirm Sony’s aspirations to deliver one of the most robust VR systems yet on the consumer market.

The upcoming VR add-on, which will require a PlayStation 5 to function, is still missing crucial stats like a release date, a price, or even a photo of what the primary headset will look like. In some ways, it’s reminiscent the Meta Quest 2 (formerly Oculus Quest 2), as it includes a comparable pixel resolution (2,000 x 2,040 pixels per eye, or roughly 15.7 percent more than Quest 2’s per-eye count), a comparable field-of-view of 110 degrees, and a comparable “inside-out” array of cameras that will track a user’s space without requiring an external device like the original PSVR‘s webcam.

It’s thinking (and watching)

We previously knew that PSVR2 would require a hardwired connection to PlayStation 5 consoles, unlike the default wireless freedom of Quest 2. Today, however, Sony revealed two potentially huge differentiators over its VR headset competition: haptic feedback, and internal eye-tracking.

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#gaming-culture, #meta-quest-2, #oculus-quest, #oculus-quest-2, #playstation-vr, #playstation-vr-2, #psvr, #virtual-reality

Nvidia expands the RTX 3000 series with new high- and low-end GPUs

Nvidia's "next BFGPU."

Enlarge / Nvidia’s “next BFGPU.”

Nvidia used its CES “special address” today to tease the company’s top-of-the-line RTX 3090 Ti GPU alongside other GPUs and a completely new class of “dual format” gaming monitor aimed at esports pros.

The 3090 Ti, which Geforce Senior VP Jeff Fisher referred to as the company’s “next BFGPU,” will include a hefty 24GB of G6X memory, capable of up to 21Gbps of bandwidth (Nvidia called it the “fastest ever” in its GPUs). That will help the card push out an impressive 40 Shader-Teraflops, 78 RT-Teraflops, and 320 Tensor-Terfalops, Fisher said. Pricing and release date info weren’t discussed, but more details will be available “later this month,” he added.

Elsewhere in the RTX line, Nvidia announced the RTX 3050, a $249 GPU available starting January 27. Sold in the presentation as an upgrade to the aging GTX 1050 budget workhorse, the 3050 sports 2nd-generation RT cores and 3rd-generation tensor cores using Nvidia’s Ampere architecture. That will let it run AAA games like Doom Eternal and Guardians of the Galaxy at 60 fps or higher with DLSS on, even with ray-tracing enabled, Fisher said. The 3050 will be capable of 9 Shader-Teraflops and 18 RT-Teraflops and come with 8GB of G6 memory.

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#gaming-culture, #gpu, #graphics-card, #nvidia, #rtx

AMD’s RX 6500 XT provides $199 entry point for desktop GPU line on Jan. 19

AMD’s $199 RX 6500 XT could be a decent budget GPU—if you can find it

Enlarge (credit: AMD / YouTube)

At a CES press conference this morning, AMD announced the RX 6500 XT, a budget version of the 6000-series line of desktop gaming GPUs launched in 2020. The new card will be available on January 19 starting at $199—if you can find it amid continuing chip shortages, that is.

AMD is touting the 6500 XT’s “fastest sustained GPU clock rates ever” at 2.6 GHz, the inclusion of 16 compute units with ray accelerators, and the card’s 16MB of Infinity Cache, which can provide faster effective bandwidth to other components. Other 6000-series cards sport anywhere from 32 to 80 compute units and 32 to 128 MB of Infinity Cache, making the 6500 XT a decidedly low-end option (as if the price wasn’t enough of a clue). Still, the card should provide frame-rate boosts of 23 to 59 percent over the aging RX 570 on popular games running at 1080p, according to AMD’s presentation.

AMD also announced a new line of RX 6000S chips specifically focused on “light and thin” gaming laptops (i.e., those weighing less than 4.5 pounds). The three chips in this line are being optimized with efficiency in mind and should be able to provide 80 to 100 fps gameplay at “high” detail settings for recent “AAA and esports titles,” according to AMD.

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#amd, #budget, #gaming-culture, #gpu, #graphics-card

The hunt is on for a “new Eden” in Snowpiercer S3 trailer

Sean Bean is back as Mr. Wilford in the third season of Snowpiercer.

We finally have a full trailer for the upcoming third season of Snowpiercer, and the power struggle between Layton (Daveed Diggs) and Mr. Wilford (Sean Bean) is heating up in earnest. There is also a glimmer of hope for humanity, as Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) managed to make a map to a rumored “new Eden” before presumably perishing in the harsh environment outside the train.

As I’ve written previously, Snowpiercer is TNT’s TV adaptation of the 2013 film of the same name, directed by Bong Joon-ho, about remnants of humanity trying to survive an ice age inside a 1,001-car train. The train is run by a reclusive transportation magnate named Mr. Wilford, who has separated the passengers according to class and has a nefarious plan to ensure life on the train remains sustainable. The TV series is set seven years after the climate catastrophe that produced the “Freeze.”

S1 ended on a cliffhanger twist: the re-appearance of Mr. Wilford (Sean Bean), along with Melanie’s presumed-dead daughter, Alex (Rowan Blanchard). S2 delved into the complicated relationships, political machinations, and shifting political loyalties that inevitably arose with Wilford’s unexpected return. Bean’s portrayal of Wilford gave the series the charismatic, larger-than-life (human) villain it needed to really raise the emotional stakes.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #snowpiercer, #tnt, #trailers

“Virtual unwrapping” lets us peek inside Amenhotep I’s 3,000-year-old mummy

Royal mummy of Amenhotep I, the second pharaoh of the 18th dynasty,, at Cairo Museum, Egypt.

Enlarge / Royal mummy of Amenhotep I, the second pharaoh of the 18th dynasty,, at Cairo Museum, Egypt. (credit: Patrick Landmann/Getty Images)

Amenhotep I was an Egyptian pharaoh best known for building numerous temples and inspiring the formation of a funerary cult after his death. His mummy, first discovered in 1881, has never been opened, because conservators were reluctant to damage something that had survived in such pristine condition. Now, scientists have succeeded in “virtually unwrapping” the mummy of Amenhotep I, providing us with our first look inside, according to a paper published last week in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

In the process, the authors disproved their own hypothesis that those who restored the mummy sometime during the 21st dynasty (1069 to 945 BCE) did so in order to reuse the royal burial equipment for later pharaohs. Instead, Amenhotep I’s mummy seems to have been lovingly restored after being damaged by tomb robbers.

“This fact that Amenhotep I’s mummy had never been unwrapped in modern times gave us a unique opportunity: not just to study how he had originally been mummified and buried, but also how he had been treated and reburied twice, centuries after his death, by High Priests of Amun,” said Sahar Saleem of Cairo University, the radiologist of the Egyptian Mummy Project, who co-authored the paper with Zahi Hawass, former minister of antiquities of Egypt. “By digitally unwrapping the mummy and ‘peeling off’ its virtual layers—the facemask, the bandages, and the mummy itself—we could study this well-preserved pharaoh in unprecedented detail.”

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#21-days-of-christmas, #amenhotep-i, #antiquities, #archaeology, #egyptian-mummies, #gaming-culture, #science, #virtual-unwrapping

Square Enix signals major push into “blockchain gaming” mania

Which popular Square Enix franchises will be graced with a blockchain-based marketplace full of user-created items?

Enlarge / Which popular Square Enix franchises will be graced with a blockchain-based marketplace full of user-created items?

Square Enix President Yosuke Matsuda used a New Year’s message this weekend to telegraph the company’s interest in “blockchain gaming” and “decentralized games” as “a major strategic theme for us starting in 2022.” Specifically, Matsuda sees the blockchain as a way to give players “explicit incentives” to create “major game-changing content” and profit from those “creative efforts.”

While Matsuda puts the current majority of players in a “play to have fun” camp, he writes that he foresees “a certain number of people whose motivation is to ‘play to contribute,’ by which I mean to help make the game more exciting.” Most traditional games rely on “personal feelings as goodwill and volunteer spirit” to motivate that kind of user-generated content, Matsuda writes, which is “one reason that there haven’t been as many major game-changing [pieces of] content that were user generated as one would expect.”

But Matsuda sees “advances in token economies” giving players “explicit incentives” for creating in-game content, providing “a tangible upside to their creative efforts.” This will lead to more content being created, in turn attracting more “play to have fun” players and resulting in “self-sustaining game growth,” in Matsuda’s vision.

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#blockchain, #blockchain-gaming, #gaming-culture, #nfts, #square-enix

Concept Nyx is Alienware’s take on a household gaming server

Concept Nyx on RGB stand

Enlarge / RGB not included. (credit: Scharon Harding)

It’s not uncommon to have multiple gamers living under a single roof. But what happens when all those gamers want to play at the same time? Wi-Fi mayhem, arguing over who gets to use the best hardware, and, often, separation as family members retreat to their respective gaming caves. Alienware is looking into that solving that problem, with one powerful, mysterious computer.

An R&D project announced today, Concept Nyx is essentially a household server with enough computing power to allow multiple people to stream PC games off it simultaneously. I checked out a prototype in person and saw it powering two gaming sessions at one time—one user fragging on a non-gaming laptop, and another on a larger screen fit for a living room.

Alienware showed me two gamers playing at once but its lab is currently testing Concept Nyx with four gamers playing concurrently. A spokesperson told me there’s “basically no performance drop” when adding a person, but the demo wasn’t long enough (under 10 minutes) to confirm that for me.

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#alienware, #game-streaming, #gaming-culture, #gaming-pc, #tech

A “war of experts”: revisiting the infamous 19th century Flores Street poisonings

Two recovered and restored portraits of 19th century Portuguese physician Vicente Urbino de Freitas, suspected of poisoning several of his wife's family members in the "Crime of Flores Street"—Portugal's first major forensic case.

Enlarge / Two recovered and restored portraits of 19th century Portuguese physician Vicente Urbino de Freitas, suspected of poisoning several of his wife’s family members in the “Crime of Flores Street”—Portugal’s first major forensic case. (credit: Ricardo Jorge Dinis-Oliveira, 2019)

On January 2, 1890, a Portuguese man named Jose Antonio Sampaio, Jr., died in terrible agony while staying at the Grand Hotel de Paris in Porto, Portugal. The son of a wealthy and highly respected linen merchant, Sampaio Jr. showed signs of poisoning in his final hours, including blood in his vomit. He was attended by his brother-in-law, a physician named Vicente Urbino de Freitas.

Sampaio Jr. was nonetheless buried without incident, and the family might have grieved their loss and moved on. But in late March, Sampaio Jr.’s son and two nieces suddenly became ill after eating almonds with liquor and coconut and chocolate cakes, which had arrived at the Sampaio house on Flores Street via a mysterious package. The children’s uncle, the aforementioned de Freitas, prescribed lemon balm enemas. While the girls recovered, 12-year-old Mario Guilherme Augusto de Sampaio died in spasms and convulsions on April 2.

Once again, the symptoms were consistent with poisoning, and suspicion soon fell on de Freitas. He was arrested, tried, and convicted in 1893, although he maintained his innocence for the rest of his life. This was the infamous “Crime of Flores Street” and it made headlines around the world. The case continues to fascinate Ricardo Jorge Dinis-Oliveira, a forensic toxicologist at the University of Porto, more than 130 years later, because it gave birth to forensic toxicology studies in Portugal and still informs present-day Portuguese medico-legal procedures. It’s also one hell of a story: “It will certainly make a good movie,” Dinis-Oliveira wrote.

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#12-days-of-christmas, #chemistry, #flores-street-poisonings, #forensic-toxicology, #forensics, #gaming-culture, #history, #poisoning, #science

HBO Max rings in a raunchy new year with Peacemaker red band trailer

Peacemaker explores the continuing story of the character that John Cena reprises from James Gunn’s 2021 film The Suicide Squad.

It’s a brand new year, and HBO Max has kicked it off with a shiny new red-band trailer for Peacemaker.

As we’ve reported previously, the eight-episode spinoff series is set after the events of Gunn’s 2021 filmm The Suicide Squad—specifically after the post-credits scene, in which we learned that Peacemaker had survived what had appeared to be a fatal shooting. The first teaser dropped in October, showing Peacemaker (aka Christopher Smith) being recruited by Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) for another mission in order to avoid going back to prison.

Once again, he’s basically an assassin, but at least he’s only killing bad people (maybe). He gets assistance from warden John Economos (Steve Agee) of the Belle Reve penitentiary, NSA agent and former Waller aide Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), and new team member Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks). The cast also includes Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) as Peacemaker’s crusty father, Auggie Smith, who thinks his son is a “nancy-boy”; Freddie Stroma as Adrian Chase (aka Vigilante), a district attorney who fights crime and has rapid-healing abilities; and Nhut Le as Judomaster

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #james-gunn, #peacemaker, #streaming-television, #trailers

Noblewoman’s tomb reveals new secrets of ancient Rome’s highly durable concrete

The Tomb of Caecilia Metella is a mausoleum located just outside Rome at the three mile marker of the Via Appia.

Enlarge / The Tomb of Caecilia Metella is a mausoleum located just outside Rome at the three mile marker of the Via Appia. (credit: ivioandronico2013/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Among the many popular tourist sites in Rome is an impressive 2000-year-old mausoleum along the Via Appia known as the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, a noblewoman who lived in the first century CE. Lord Byron was among those who marveled at the structure, even referencing it in his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage  (1812-1818). Now scientists have analyzed samples of the ancient concrete used to build the tomb, describing their findings in a paper published in October in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society.

“The construction of this very innovative and robust monument and landmark on the Via Appia Antica indicates that [Caecilia Metella] was held in high respect,” said co-author Marie Jackson, a geophysicist at the University of Utah.  “And the concrete fabric 2,050 years later reflects a strong and resilient presence.”

Like today’s Portland cement (a basic ingredient of modern concrete), ancient Roman concrete was basically a mix of a semi-liquid mortar and aggregate. Portland cement is typically made by heating limestone and clay (as well as sandstone, ash, chalk, and iron) in a kiln. The resulting clinker is then ground into a fine powder, with just a touch of added gypsum—the better to achieve a smooth, flat surface. But the aggregate used to make Roman concrete was made up fist-size pieces of stone or bricks

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#12-days-of-christmas, #ancient-rome, #archaeology, #biz-it, #gaming-culture, #geology, #geophysics, #history, #materials-science, #roman-concrete, #science

TV Technica 2021: Our favorite shows and binges helped us combat pandemic fatigue

Ars staffers picked their favorite must-watch TV shows of 2021.

Enlarge / Ars staffers picked their favorite must-watch TV shows of 2021. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Warning: Although we’ve done our best to avoid spoiling anything too major, please note this list includes a few specific references to You, Midnight Mass, Resident Alien, Post Mortem, Snowpiercer, Lupin, His Dark Materials, and Wellington Paranormal, among others.

Months of lockdown in 2020 meant fewer films but more quality TV content than ever before—much of it from streaming platforms rather than traditional broadcast television. Many of those shows were already in the pipeline, however. We feared the inevitable production shutdowns would result in fewer offerings for 2021, as the industry reckoned with rising production costs and the continued fallout from a pandemic that just keeps dragging on. And on.

Fortunately, while there were indeed some hiccups, we still had plenty of fantastic television on hand to take our minds off the grim daily reality, ranging from established franchises and quirky newcomers to imaginative adaptations and several foreign offerings that proved to be surprise breakout hits. With apologies to the many great series we just didn’t have room for on this year’s list, here are our favorite TV watches and binges for 2021, in no particular order:

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#best-of-2021, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #television, #tv-technica

Ars Technica’s favorite films in 2021—whether projected or streamed

Ars Technica’s favorite films in 2021—whether projected or streamed

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

When it comes to films in 2021, Ars Technica readers have been more likely to express their feelings about the logistics of seeing new offerings this year than about the films in question.

We get it. The past year-plus of world-shaking change has been a stern reminder that some stuff works just fine in our homes, which includes films—a fact that movie studios and massive theaters alike are uneasy about. Some companies embraced this reality for the entirety of 2021, committing to simul-launched films in theaters and on streaming platforms in the United States. Others toyed with the idea before backing off. Still others would rather not admit until at least 30 or 45 days after a film’s launch that you might have a masterfully calibrated 4K screen and spatial surround-sound system in your home, variants be damned.

Still, we get into such a tizzy because the films in question remain fascinating and exhilarating, no matter how, where, or when we watch them. At Ars, our critical eye continues drifting toward a substantial range of “nerd”-appropriate cinema. This year, the best stuff ranges from mainstream comic- and sci-fi-inspired blockbusters to meticulously designed cult/horror madness to documentaries that explore the dire consequences of travesties like pseudoscience or climate change.

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#dune, #film-of-the-year, #film-review, #film-reviews, #films-of-the-year, #frank-herbert, #gaming-culture, #movie-review, #movie-reviews

Could we build a synthetic digestive system for Vision to make him more human?

The birth of Vision in <em>Avengers: Age of Ultron</em>. Scientists have proposed a possible artificial digestive system for the synthezoid, although new technologies must be developed to make it a reality.

Enlarge / The birth of Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Scientists have proposed a possible artificial digestive system for the synthezoid, although new technologies must be developed to make it a reality. (credit: Marvel Studios)

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2020, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: How to build a synthetic digestive system for Marvel’s Vision. Bonus: assessing the health status of five Avengers to determine how their health will fare as they age.

The folks at Marvel Studios aren’t the only ones who like to imagine What If…? Inspired by Marvel’s Vision, two scientists reviewed the current state of soft robotics to determine whether it would be possible to build an artificial digestive system for the synthezoid, describing their work a paper published earlier this year in the journal Superhero Science + Technology.  (It’s an open access journal published by TU Delft “that considers new research in the fields of science, technology, engineering and ethics motivated and presented using the superhero genre.”)

Hey, inquiring minds need to know! It’s not just a fun exercise in a more positive form of nerd-gassing, either. The authors note that humanity in general would benefit from advances in such systems, with applications in organ replacement and clinical treatments for patients with chronic digestive issues. 

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#12-days-of-christmas, #avengers-age-of-ultron, #biology, #biomimetics, #digestive-system, #gaming-culture, #marvel-studios, #marvels-avengers, #marvels-vision, #science, #soft-robotics, #superhero-science

Riot Games to pay $100 million to settle gender discrimination lawsuit

Riot Games to pay $100 million to settle gender discrimination lawsuit

Enlarge (credit: Chris Delmas | Getty Images)

Riot Games has settled a class-action lawsuit for $100 million. Filed in 2018 by two female employees and later certified as a class-action, the lawsuit accused the studio of discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal pay.

Under the terms of the settlement, Riot Games will pay $80 million directly to women who have worked at the company from November 2014 through to the present, including full-time, part-time, and temporary employees. The remaining $20 million will go to attorneys’ fees.

In addition to the $100 million payout, Riot Games will enact workplace policy reforms. These include the creation of an application pipeline for current or former contractors to apply for permanent positions and more transparency regarding salaries for job applicants.

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#gaming-culture, #gender-discrimination, #lawsuit, #policy, #riot-games