Ford is making new Broncos; mockumentary John Bronco has its ideal pitchman

The trailer for Hulu’s John Bronco.

John Bronco—Hulu’s new sub-40-minute mockumentary about a “lost” “Ford pitchman”—is a good idea, well-executed. What if you took the competent-idiot Southern charm of Justified‘s Boyd Crowder, but, instead of an Appalachian criminal, made the character the unlikely pitchman for a beloved classic SUV, who oozes over-the-top marketable machismo a la the Marlboro Man? And… what if you can get Walton Goggins himself to play the S.O.B? To call that comedic premise excellent, well, “It’d be like saying, ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter is just margarine…’ which I guess it is,” as one interviewee describes Bronco.

In case the title alone doesn’t explain the premise: sometime around the 1960s, Ford had a rugged SUV, called the Bronco, lined up for the masses. But it needed a way to sell this new contraption. The company decided it would enter a prototype of the vehicle in the Baja 1000, a famed off-road race. It needed someone tough enough to handle this beast of a vehicle and course, so it sought out whoever seemed to be the most rugged guy in the region—a rodeo champ named John Bronco. John Bronco chronicles the (to be clear, fictional) man’s rise, fall, and disappearance before trying to figure out where the legendary ad icon is now.

The team behind John Bronco—Director Jake Szymanski (HBO’s Tour de Pharmacy) and producer Marc Gilbar—started on the idea in 2019 but ultimately timed the project for maximum impact when they learned Ford had real-life plans to relaunch the iconic Bronco late this summer. According to The Ringer, the team met directly with Ford and earned access to the company’s marketing archives, which get mined thoroughly for aesthetic and pseudo-accuracy in the film. For instance: if you, too, were also born after the mid-1980s, maybe it’d be surprising to learn Doug Flutie had enough of a Q score to actually hawk cars for Ford in 1985 (though the original ad does not seem to end in tragedy).

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#cars, #gaming-culture

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The new adaptation of The Witches is almost too much fun

The trailer for The Witches

Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s fantasy novel The Witches begins with a simple declaration: “This is not a fairy tale.” Witches, the unnamed boy narrator claims, are real. They live among us, demons indistinguishable from real women, hell-bent on murdering children. The boy is matter-of-fact about this frightening reality, but also urgent—he is relaying the immediate threat of a global network of bloodthirsty child predators. It’s an intimate, conspiratorial opener, drawing readers in by whispering the secret truths grown-ups usually don’t want them to know: not only is the world not safe for the young, it’s unfair, treacherous, and cruel.

As the story progresses, the narrator recounts his fateful encounter with the wicked Grand High Witch—the big, bad boss of all the witches around the world—along with every witch in England, a run-in that shapes his life. While on vacation with his grandmother at a seaside resort, he stumbles into a hush-hush witch conference, where the Grand High Witch explains a plot to turn all the world’s children into mice. (The witches disguise themselves as a society against cruelty towards children.) In classic Dahl fashion, there’s a surfeit of jokes about bodily functions, an unkind depiction of a fat kid as a greedy idiot, and vividly drawn villains who speak in rhyme. The boy and his grandmother ultimately foil the witches’ scheme, but the ending is more melancholic than happily-ever-after: the narrator is transformed into a mouse by the witches; even after outwitting them, he cannot change back. He takes his predicament in stride, comforted by the knowledge that he won’t outlive the only person in the world who loves him, but still—it’s a children’s story where the hero is doomed to premature death. Dark! It’s a macabre, gripping tale, one which has remained a perennial favorite for kids since its debut more than 35 years ago. The Witches, like Dahl’s best work, taps into a wavelength that acknowledges the dark edges of childhood in a way that so much young adult literature does not: puerile and mean and honest. People who hate children think they smell like shit. Strangers with candy have bad intentions. Parents die. And sometimes kids do too.

The new adaptation of The Witches, out on HBO Max this week, doesn’t totally carry this brutal worldview forward. It begins with a monologue modeled after the book’s opener. It’s narrated over a slide show that even includes snippets of Dahl’s original text (including “Witches are REAL!”). But even though many of the words are the same, the tone is quite different. The narrator begins by sputtering out a cough, then says, “Alright, where were we?” as though he’s a substitute teacher trying to figure out which slide of the presentation he’s on. He also sounds unmistakably like Chris Rock. Because he is voiced by Chris Rock. No knock to Rock, who has an excellent voice—his “Lil’ Penny” commercials should be playing on a loop in the Louvre—but his jocular, bemused timbre here conjures a much different atmosphere than the book’s prologue. Instead of tugging viewers aside to offer a warning, it opens like a classroom lecture about something that happened long ago. It’s the first of many signs that this version of The Witches, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is a substantial departure in sensibility from its source material.

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Our PlayStation 5 has arrived—here’s what we can show you so far

This morning, the PlayStation 5 arrived at the Ars Orbital HQ, which means we’re allowed to say a few things—emphasis on “few”—as the new console’s November 12 launch date draws nearer.

First off, take a look… at the box! You can look as long and hard at the console’s box as you wish. As part of our console review agreement with Sony, we’re not allowed to share photos of anything inside the box yet, but we are allowed to confirm that there is indeed a working PlayStation 5 console in there. (Not cake.)

But we really can’t say anything else about its contents. Anything that resembles an “impression” is off limits at this point, so if your many questions haven’t already been answered by a Sony promotional video or social media post, we can neither confirm nor deny. (Our box absolutely pales compared to one of Sony’s lead hardware engineers tearing an entire PlayStation 5 apart.) At the very least, we can zoom in on the box’s fine text, which you’ll find in the above gallery.

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#gaming-culture, #playstation, #playstation-5, #ps5

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How Indiana Jones, Rambo, and others ended up in 1980s Czechoslovak text-adventures

The loading screen of the browser-friendly version of ‘Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square’ converted by Jaroslav Švelch and 8-bit veteran Martin Kouba.

Enlarge / The loading screen of the browser-friendly version of Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square, converted by Jaroslav Švelch and 8-bit veteran Martin Kouba. (Let’s officially consider this canon over Crystal Skull.)

Indiana Jones is caught behind the Iron Curtain. Specifically, the globe-trotting archeologist is in the former Czechoslovakia, a Soviet satellite state, and he’s fighting violent Communists, dodging water cannons, balancing on the edge of a crater, and running away from exploding bombs—the usual Indiana Jones stuff. But there’s no artifact this time. Instead, like many of the citizens toiling under the discredited regime, Dr. Jones simply wants to escape Czechoslovakia and return to the United States.

If you’re familiar with the Indiana Jones tetralogy trilogy, you know the situation above doesn’t come from the movie canon. Instead, this Jones adventure takes place in a clandestine video game that was released anonymously, then copied from one audio cassette to another. In 1989, students and dissidents had flocked to the center of Prague to protest Communism, only to be beaten and arrested by the riot police—an incident that took place during the lead up to the country’s historic Velvet Revolution. These individuals could not fight back in real life, so they’d later use their computers to get a fictional revenge. A Western hero, Indiana Jones, came to their rescue to teach their oppressors a text-based lesson.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square in Prague on January 16, 1989 puts the famous archeologist when and where the protests took place, video game historian Jaroslav Švelch, assistant professor at Charles University in Prague, Czechia, tells me. This title and others created by Czechoslovak teenagers in the late 1980s became part of the “chorus of activist media” that included student papers, rock songs, and samizdat—handwritten or typewritten versions of banned books and publications that circulated illegally.

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#features, #gaming-culture

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Nintendo’s new translation tune? What a Fire Emblem re-release means in 2020

Nintendo’s latest surprise announcement hinges on a different anniversary than the usual mascots like Mario, Link, and Pikachu: it’s for Fire Emblem, the turn-based strategy series that launched exclusively in Japan in 1990. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the game’s first 8-bit adventure is getting the re-release treatment, either as a basic digital version or with a deluxe, physical collection of booklets, maps, and more.

But there’s a funny thing about Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light. This 8-bit re-release has some emulation-like tweaks and perks, but this is otherwise not a remake. Up until now, its text-filled Famicom version never got an official translation and release for Western audiences. And unlike the rare cases where Nintendo produced, then shelved, a translated version of a Japanese game, this first Fire Emblem game was never advertised or teased to Western fans.

In any other year, we might look at this delightful throwback to a classic, Japan-only Nintendo game and briefly give the whole thing a thumbs up. But 2020 has been a weird one for Nintendo, so I’m tempted to take a closer look and ask: is this a sign of more unearthed translations to come?

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#fire-emblem, #gaming-culture, #nintendo

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PS5 will be missing some PS4 video-streaming apps at launch

It seems that many of the video-streaming apps on the PS4 won’t be available on the PlayStation 5 at launch. That’s a marked contrast to the Xbox Series X, where media apps designed for the Xbox One work seamlessly on the new hardware.

In a blog post this morning, Sony listed “some of the entertainment apps scheduled to hit the PS5 console on day one.” Those include:

  • Apple TV (new to Sony consoles, and also coming to PS4)
  • Disney+
  • Netflix
  • Spotify
  • Twitch
  • YouTube

The post also lists a few “additional streaming apps” that are simply “coming to PS5” with no mention of timing, including Amazon Prime Video, MyCanal, Hulu, Peacock “and more.” While the wording is a little vague, the implication seems clear that these apps, and others not listed, are part of the promised “more apps to come in the future” and are not expected to be ready for the PS5’s Nov. 12 launch. (Sony has yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica.)

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Narf! Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in first trailer for Animaniacs reboot

Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in Hulu’s reboot of the classic Animaniacs cartoon.

Readers of a certain age will have fond childhood memories of weekday afternoons spent in the company of the Warner siblings, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, the central figures of the hugely popular, Emmy-award winning animated series, Animaniacs. Now a whole new generation can appreciate their comic genius with Hulu’s revival of the show, slated to debut next month.

The premise of the original Animaniacs was that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were characters from the 1930s who were locked way in a water tower on the Warner Bros. lot until they escaped in the 1990s. Now they exist to wreak havoc and have fun. The format borrowed heavily from sketch comedy, with each episode typically featuring three short mini-episodes centered on different characters, connected by bridging segments. Other regular characters included two genetically altered lab mice, Pinky and the Brain, who are always trying to take over the world; Ralph the Security Guard; Slappy Squirrel and her nephew, Skippy; Chicken Boo; Flavio and Marita, aka the Hip Hippos; studio psychiatrist Dr. Otto Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse (also a common catchphrase); and a trio of pigeons known as The Goodfeathers.

As appealing to adults as to kids, the show was smart, funny, irreverent, and even educational, especially with its playful songs listing the nations of the world, for instance, or all the US states and their capitals—set to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw”—or all the presidents set to the “William Tell Overture.” (My personal favorite was “The Solar System Song,” complete with the obligatory joke about Uranus.) The writers were masters of parody, so much so that it became something of a badge of honor to be so featured. Honorees included A Hard Day’s Night, Seinfeld, Friends, Bambi, Power Rangers, Rugrats, and The Lion King, as well as the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore. And of course, the Goodfeathers segments invariably parodied characters from both The Godfather and Goodfellas.

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#animaniacs, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #reboots, #streaming-television

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Twitch blasts streamers with vague, unhelpful DMCA takedown emails

Twitch blasts streamers with vague, unhelpful DMCA takedown emails

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Streaming platform Twitch this week surprised many of its users when it sent out a huge batch of copyright takedown emails. These messages not only didn’t tell streamers what supposedly infringing content they posted, but it also said that Twitch had simply deleted content outright without giving users a chance to appeal.

Many Twitch “partners”—the folks who make actual money from their Twitch participation—received emails on Tuesday warning that some of their archival content was about to be deleted for violating copyright law.

“We are writing to inform you that your channel was subject to one or more of these DMCA takedown notifications and that the content identified has been deleted,” a screenshot of the email posted to Twitter by streamer Devin Nash reads. The email then goes on to recommend that users familiarize themselves with Twitch’s guide to copyright law before “normal processing” of DMCA notifications resumes on Friday (October 23).

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#copyright, #dmca, #gaming-culture, #policy, #takedowns, #twitch

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Quibi streaming service shutting down after less than 1 year

It's not a great tombstone, but... well, we'll just leave it at that. RIP Quibi.

Enlarge / It’s not a great tombstone, but… well, we’ll just leave it at that. RIP Quibi. (credit: Getty Images / Sam Machkovech)

Quibi, the video-streaming service designed to revolve around smartphone screens, is no more, according to The Wall Street Journal.

After launching only in April this year, with a $1.75 billion infusion of cash and the leadership of former NBC bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg, the service is ending as part of the closure of its holding company, Quibi Holdings LLC, according to “people familiar with the matter,” the WSJ says. The news was delivered directly by Katzenberg to the LLC’s investors on Wednesday, according to the report.

The writing appeared to be on the wall as soon as Quibi’s primary sales pitch—quick-burst videos designed to attract the average on-the-go smartphone user—fell apart all over the United States in the wake of coronavirus-related shutdowns. (People just weren’t watching videos on their phones as much this year while, say, commuting on crowded trains or going to and from schools and universities.) This issue was compounded by Quibi’s surprising lack of home-friendly ways to watch its content, with zero major launches on set-top platforms like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV.

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#gaming-culture, #quibi, #video-streaming

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AOC makes explosive Twitch debut with over 435,000 Among Us viewers

Just a normal discussion of video game murder with a sitting House member.

Enlarge / Just a normal discussion of video game murder with a sitting House member. (credit: AOC / Twitch)

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) drew more than 430,000 concurrent viewers to her first-ever Twitch stream Tuesday night.

Ocasio-Cortez’s 3.5 hour Among Us session—which she used in part to encourage viewers to vote—included fellow Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and popular streamers like Pokimane and Disguised Toast, who responded rapidly to an off-handed tweet invite on Monday. And just in case you were wondering, Omar tweeted out the specs of her (very nice) gaming rig.

The debut instantly made Ocasio-Cortez—who admitted to having little experience with Among Us beforehand—one of the most popular streamers on the Amazon-owned video streaming service. Her peak of 435,000 viewers put her in the top 20 most popular streams ever on the site, according to data gathered by TwitchTracker, an echelon that’s dominated by major gaming brands with massive marketing departments. As of this writing, the AOC Twitch account has over 571,000 followers, and her debut video clip has attracted over 4.73 million views.

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Amazon Luna is live, and it’s already out-streaming Google Stadia

Amazon Luna is live, and it’s already out-streaming Google Stadia

Enlarge (credit: Amazon)

Roughly one month ago, Amazon ended over a year of speculation by announcing the upcoming launch of Amazon Luna, its own dedicated gaming-in-the-cloud service. At the time, Amazon suggested that Luna would launch “next month” in the form of a limited public beta, meant to reach a tiny subset of interested users before a wider launch at an unspecified date.

“Next month” is right about now, and sure enough, Amazon began sending random invites on Monday to users who’d previously signed up. Somehow, I received an invite to my personal Amazon account faster than any formal “press” demo opportunity. I immediately signed up and logged in to see what Luna’s $5.99/mo tier will look and feel like when it launches to a wider audience in the near future. So far, I must say: It’s pretty darned good, but not perfect.

One more big-tech fish in the cloud-gaming stream

If you’re oblivious to the rising trend of cloud-streamed video games, catch up by checking out our previous coverage of major players in the space: Microsoft Project xCloud, Google Stadia, PlayStation Now, and Nvidia GeForce Now.

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#amazon-luna, #game-streaming, #gaming-culture, #geforce-now, #google-stadia, #nvidia-geforce-now, #project-xcloud, #ubisoft, #video-game-streaming

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Review: The Haunting of Bly Manor is a perfectly splendid ghost story

A young American woman fleeing her tragic past finds herself caring for two orphaned children on an English estate that she suspects might be haunted in the new Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor. Showrunner Mike Flanagan’s highly anticipated followup to 2018’s exquisitely brooding The Haunting of Hill House, this season is loosely based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw.

Granted, Bly Manor never quite reaches the same level as the exquisitely rendered Hill House, but it’s nonetheless a “perfectly splendid” ghost story that doubles as a quiet, thoughtful reflection on love and loss, in keeping with the oblique writing style of James. Between Doctor Sleep, Hill House, and Bly Manor, Flanagan has pretty much established himself as the reigning master of reinventing classic horror stories for a modern audience.

(Some spoilers for The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents, and The Turning. Only mild spoilers for Bly Manor; no major reveals.)

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #haunting-of-bly-manor, #mike-flanagan, #netflix, #streaming-television

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“Here we go”: Disney drops one last teaser for The Mandalorian S2

Pedro Pascal stars as the titular character in The Mandalorian, returning to Disney+ for a second season on October 30.

We’re just a little over a week away from the S2 debut of The Mandalorian, the Emmy-nominated, first live-action Star Wars TV series. And Disney+ has decided to whet our appetites with one last “special look” teaser for the series.

Created by Jon Favreau and starring Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin, the titular Mandalorian, the series takes place a few years after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. The basic premise is that, after the defeat of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, there was a period of chaos and lawlessness as a new government struggled to emerge from the wreckage. Pascal’s bounty hunter is “a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.”

The first season garnered 15 Emmy nomination for its eight-episode freshman outing. And it easily landed a spot on our top TV shows of 2019. “Favreau’s brainchild has proven to be a killer vehicle for the most Star Trek-like storytelling yet in a live-action Star Wars product,” Ars Tech Culture Editor Sam Machkovech wrote at the time. “Even better, its freak-of-the-week and brand-new-planet progression has been paired with a proper samurai story, as anchored by the religious, fervent, and conflicted Mando himself.”

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#disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #pedro-pascal, #streaming-television, #the-mandalorian, #tv-trailers

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New ex-Blizzard game studio formed to pick up a fallen RTS mantle

New ex-Blizzard game studio formed to pick up a fallen RTS mantle

Enlarge

It seems like every few months, we hear word of a new studio formed by Blizzard Entertainment veterans, which isn’t always newsworthy. But after a rough stretch for Blizzard’s roster of real-time strategy games, the latest cast of Blizzard veterans starting a new shop has put a bright new gleam in our figurative axe.

Frost Giant Studios made its formal debut on Monday, and it’s composed of serious names from the original StarCraft II team: its production director, lead artist, lead designer, and lead co-op designer. Those staffers are joined by the lead campaign designer of WarCraft III‘s expansion pack The Frozen Throne, along with a former Blizzard senior writer, a former Blizzard engineer, and a former Blizzard program manager.

As part of its announcement, Frost Giant made its mission clear via a single Twitter post: “We’re launching a new game studio to build the next great RTS!” That same slogan was repeated over and over in Frost Giant’s announcement video, with each of the company’s eight representatives offering some version of that language.

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#blizzard-entertainment, #gaming-culture, #starcraft, #starcraft-2, #starcraft-ii, #warcraft, #warcraft-3, #warcraft-iii

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Google Stadia’s free demos could prove the value of game streaming

Last June, Google first revealed that it would be selling individual Stadia streaming games as full-priced à la carte purchases. At the time, we lamented that this old-fashioned business model ignored the service’s greatest potential feature: convenience. The value of streaming media is often in the “ability to simply dive into a new work immediately, without having to think about whether it’s worth the marginal cost of an additional purchase,” as we wrote at the time.

Now, Google finally seems to be catching on to that idea, at least a little bit. Starting today, Google will begin offering time-limited, completely free demos for upcoming Stadia games, which can be played instantly in a Web browser simply by clicking on a link.

The program begins today with Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle, a 64-player competitive Battle Royale take on the classic maze game that evokes instant comparisons to Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35. You can try that game out right now just by clicking a link, with no downloads or installation required. While you will need a Google Stadia account to take part, you won’t need to sign up for a “free trial” of Google’s $10/month Stadia Pro subscription or even enter any payment information, Google says.

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Blast off with Scott Manley as he discusses his top 1,000 YouTube comments

Produced by Vara Reese, directed by Adam Lance Garcia, edited by Danny Behar. Click here for transcript.

After checking off a bucket list item by doing a video with LGR’s Clint Basinger last month, there was only one place we could go next: to space. And no creator occupies the intersection of space science, gaming, and sheer lunacy quite like engineer and physics master Scott Manley.

Manley’s videos are most often a mix of smarts and charm, delivered in a slow, calming Gaelic cadence. Manley’s videos run the gamut from space tech explainers to game reviews to physics thought experiments, and all points in between. He’s perhaps best known for doing ridiculous things in Kerbal Space Program (something I know a little bit about!). It’s pretty good odds that if you’re an Ars reader who already follows Scott, you were introduced to his channel by a KSP video.

As we’ve done now with a few different YouTubers, we booked some time on Scott’s calendar and then took him on a trip down his own memory lane, pulling up notable and much-upvoted comments from some of his standout videos to see if Scott could tell us a bit about the videos each comment came from. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a student of engineering, Scott’s recall remained excellent—and we learned quite a bit from him not just about physics but also about how sometimes the best-performing videos can be the ones you didn’t even plan on shooting.

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#1000-comments, #ars-technica-video, #ars-technica-videos, #feature, #features, #gaming-culture, #kerbal-space-program, #scott-manley, #video, #war-stories, #youtube

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PS5 will use downloadable updates to control game-by-game fan speed

Earlier this month, Sony gave us the first peek inside the PlayStation 5 in the form of a teardown video that examined the upcoming console piece by piece. Now, Japanese specialty site 4Gamer has posted an interview with the Sony hardware design engineer featured in that video, Yasuhiro Otori.

That interview (Google Translate, ResetEra user translation) goes into a lot of nitty-gritty detail on the design decisions behind Sony’s uniquely shaped console and focuses heavily on the unit’s heat dissipation technology. One of the most interesting tidbits on that score is an apparent plan to “optimize” the speed of the cooling fan on a per-game basis via downloadable system updates.

“Various games will appear in the future, and APU [accelerated processing unit] behavior data for each game will be collected,” Otori said. “Based on this, there is a plan to proceed with the optimization of fan control.”

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#cooling, #design, #gaming-culture, #ps5, #sony

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Review: Don’t call it a comeback—The Boys returns better than ever in S2

Superheroes abuse their powers rather than using them for good in The Boys, which just concluded its second season.

In my review of The Boys S1 last year, I called the Amazon Prime series “a wickedly funny, darkly irreverent adaptation” and “ideal late-summer therapy for anyone who has grown a bit weary of the constant onslaught of superhero movies.” I wasn’t alone in my love for the show: The Boys was a massive hit, and that success has continued with S2, which was the most-watched global launch of any Amazon series to date, pretty much doubling the show’s worldwide audience. S2 is even better than its predecessor, deftly tackling timely themes and hot-button issues, while never sacrificing all the biting satire and good, gory fun that we loved about S1. And can we just give Antony Starr an Emmy already for his stunning performance as Homelander?

(Spoilers for S1 below; some spoilers for S2, but no major reveals.)

The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. The most elite superhero group is called the Seven, headed up by Homelander (Starr), a truly violent and unstable psychopath disguised as the All-American hero, who mostly bullies his supe team into compliance. The other members include A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who boasts super-speed but has also become addicted to the experimental performance-enhancing substance called Compound-V. The Deep (Chace Crawford) can breathe underwater, thanks to having gills—voiced in S2 by Patton Oswalt during a hallucination sequence—and converse with marine creatures.

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #the-boys, #tv-reviews

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PlayStation 5 UI revealed: “Activity” shortcuts, picture-in-picture

Sony’s drip-feed of PlayStation 5 information continued on Thursday with a surprise reveal of the upcoming console’s “Control Center” interface. Sony has typically been bullish on updating its system menus between console generations, and the PlayStation 5 is clearly no exception.

The biggest feature revealed in this week’s video is “Activities,” a system-level companion to most consoles’ “trophy” or “achievement” lists. In the case of PS5, when you’re playing a supported game, you can tap into the Control Center to see levels, quests, or objectives that are available in your game (content you’ve already reached or unlocked, not spoilers). The idea is that you might have blown through a platforming level from start to finish but missed hidden items and collectibles needed to unlock a PS5 trophy.

Tap one of these Activity cards, and you’ll quick-load into the relevant part of the game (thus flexing the PS5’s NVMe 4.0 loading-time boosts) then be presented with a series of hints for any objectives or collectibles you’ve missed. At this point, if you’re a paying PlayStation Plus subscriber, you can tap these hints to see pictures or video to guide your way instead of grabbing a nearby phone or laptop to search for a user-made tutorial. Then tap an additional button to leave these hints open in picture-in-picture mode.

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#gaming-culture, #playstation-5

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Gaming chairs or work from home chairs? Ars tests two under $500

The Secretlab Omega (left) made a better first impression, but Anda Fnatic (right) won me over in the end.

Enlarge / The Secretlab Omega (left) made a better first impression, but Anda Fnatic (right) won me over in the end. (credit: Secretlab / Anda)

One of the most important accessories of every home office frequently gets overlooked: the chair. With this year’s COVID-19-related social distancing and mandatory remote work, many of us are spending a lot more time behind a desk at home than before—and without the right chair, that extra time can translate into discomfort or outright back pain.

I’ve never had much luck with “cheap” office chairs—a $350 mid-back office chair frequently turns into a throne of pain without sufficient extended breaks to get up and move around. Trendy Aeron chairs provide somewhat better ergonomic support for extended periods of seated work—but their $1,100 and up price tag is a little hard to swallow for many of us. This leaves the home office worker’s secret weapon—the gaming chair.

It has been my experience that you get more—and more comfortable—chair for your money when you shop for gaming chairs. They’re designed for maximum comfort and ergonomic support for long seating periods, and they’re generally designed to support larger and heavier people than office chairs are as well. And they need to do it within a reasonable budget.

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#amd, #cpu, #gaming, #gaming-culture, #ryzen, #ryzen-5000, #tech, #zen-3

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Microsoft will give GameStop a share of Xbox’s digital revenues

Microsoft will give GameStop a share of Xbox’s digital revenues

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Microsoft / Getty Images)

In a seemingly unprecedented deal, GameStop will now share in the lifetime digital sales revenue—including for full game downloads, DLC, and subscription plans—for any Xbox console sold through its stores. How much that arrangement will impact the bottom line for the struggling retailer is still an open and heavily debated question, though.

The first sign of this new revenue sharing arrangement actually came somewhat hidden in a press release GameStop issued last week, trumpeting a “Multi-year Strategic Partnership with Microsoft.” That announcement focused heavily on GameStop agreeing to use Microsoft’s cloud-based infrastructure for its back-end sales systems, and a deal for store associates to start using Microsoft Surface tablets going forward.

Buried in that press release, though, was a vague sentence that could be much more important to GameStop’s future: “GameStop and Microsoft will both benefit from the customer acquisition and lifetime revenue value of each gamer brought into the Xbox ecosystem.”

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#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #xbox

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Xbox Series X unleashed: Our unrestricted preview

If you’d like to estimate Microsoft’s confidence in its upcoming Xbox Series X console, start with the fact that the company gave us a console three weeks ago… and didn’t hang around to see what we’d do with it.

That’s not how cutting-edge hardware previews tend to work. There are supposed to be multiday events! And corporate handlers! And finger sandwiches! But mostly, there’s supposed to be control on the manufacturer’s part, in terms of swapping in new hardware or addressing failures the moment something might go wrong for a prospective critic. At such events, staffers may as well wear shirts that read, “We’re still working the kinks out on that.”

Obviously, the massive, in-person events didn’t happen this year. So what do you do as the industry’s game-console underdog in order to convince people that your $500 console is better than the other $500 console? One of Microsoft’s answers, apparently, was to drive a truck full of “PROTOTYPE”-labeled Xbox Series X consoles to critics’ homes far earlier than we expected.

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#features, #gaming-culture, #xbox, #xbox-series-s, #xbox-series-x

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Review: Healing and hope in Star Trek: Discovery’s third season

"The Federation isn't just about ships. The Federation is its people."

Enlarge / “The Federation isn’t just about ships. The Federation is its people.” (credit: CBS | YouTube)

The most frequent complaint levied against Star Trek: Discovery during its first two seasons was: “This doesn’t feel like the Star Trek I remember.” The critics did indeed have a point—from the outset, Discovery tried to lean into the modern streaming prestige-drama mold, while also retaining its Starfleet soul. Those two goals don’t necessarily align, and as a result Discovery sometimes seemed like a show that simply couldn’t make up its mind.

In its third season, however, Discovery has finally picked a side. The show is now all-in on venerating the optimistic, wide-eyed Federation fans want to remember from the ’80s and ’90s, and it’s bringing back the old planet-of-the-week format to do so. Now, the show’s inner conflict has taken a whole new direction: for a story all about leaping a millennium into the future to explore the strangest possible new world, Discovery for the most part plays it startlingly safe.

(Spoilers below for the first two seasons of Discovery.)

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#discovery, #gaming-culture, #reviews, #star-trek, #star-trek-discovery

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Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa take on vicious creatures in Monster Hunter trailer

Milla Jovovich plays Captain Artemis, who must battle monsters after being transported to a hidden world in Monster Hunter.

US soldiers must fight for their lives in a parallel world filed with gigantic, aggressive creatures in Monster Hunter, a forthcoming film adapted from the hugely successful global video game franchise of the same name. Die-hard fans of the games are already noting their displeasure with the trailer, which I get—let’s be honest, the trailer looks a little cheesy. But the film also co-stars martial arts star Tony Jaa of the Ong-Bak franchise, which in my book makes up for a lot of sins. And director Paul W.S. Anderson was the driving creative force behind the wildly popular Resident Evil film franchise.

The Monster Hunter games are Capcom’s second bestselling game series—behind the Resident Evil series—with more than 64 million units sold globally to date across all platforms. Anderson (Mortal Kombat) discovered Monster Hunter while visiting Japan in 2008, and adapting a film from the game world became his new passion project. With the hope of establishing another successful film franchise, he enlisted his own wife, Milla Jovovich (who starred in the Resident Evil films), for the lead role of Captain Natalie Artemis, a US solider who falls into the gaming world via a portal—Anderson’s plot device for introducing cinema audiences to that universe.

In the Monster Hunter role-playing games, players choose a Hunter character, along with custom armor and weapons. The characters don’t have intrinsic abilities, like traditional RPGs; rather, whatever abilities they have derive from the choice of weapons and armor. Those choices are basic at first, and players collect additional resources from their quests to conquer various monsters—including fashioning new assets from parts gleaned from the defeated creatures. In single-player mode, the Hunters are usually accompanied by a Felyne or sentient cat creatures known as Palicos for additional support.

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#entertainment, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #monster-hunters, #sony-pictures-entertainment

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Mario Kart Live is a fun, if flawed, excuse to race around the house

When we were first introduced to the concept of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit just last month, it seemed like one of the most clever implementations of “augmented reality” we’d ever heard of. A remote-controlled Mario Kart with a camera that lets you view your house as a virtual race course on your Switch? What could go wrong?

After spending about a week with Mario Kart Live in my house (complete with an eager six-year-old co-tester), I found a lot of imaginative fun in the novelty of this “real world” Mario Kart. Once the novelty wore off, though, the realities and annoyances of this particular “real-world” implementation left me wondering how much long-term appeal there is to the idea.

Smile, you’re on candid camera

Setting up Mario Kart Live is a relatively simple process. After downloading the free Switch app from the eShop, you simply point the kart’s camera at an on-screen QR code to pair it with the system over Wi-Fi (no external router or Internet connection needed). From that point on, you see an over-the-shoulder view from the kart’s camera on the Switch screen, though the kart itself is replaced on screen with an animated version.

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#gaming-culture

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One last Assassin’s Creed Valhalla test ahead of its November launch

Last week, Ubisoft offered me an opportunity to play its upcoming open-world quest game Assassin’s Creed Valhalla in an almost-retail state. This follows my 3.5 hours of preview gameplay in July, and honestly, the long and short of my combined tests is pretty simple: I like this game just fine. Ubisoft may very well have struck the right balance between new and familiar content in this follow-up to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a game we very much liked. As a result, I’m optimistic.

However, I’ve yet to see exactly how the good bits fit together in the final retail experience or whether the solid momentum and pacing I’ve seen thus far falls apart under launch-version scrutiny. (Or, obviously, whether the game will buckle or crash under the load of a massive open-world engine, all while launching on a zillion old and new platforms on November 10.)

In the meantime, I’ll take this moment to talk about some of the stuff I’ve noticed thus far while playing the PC version (as streamed to my home via Ubisoft’s private cloud services), then open the floor up to questions in our comments section in case I missed anything (which I probably did).

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#assassins-creed, #assassins-creed-valhalla, #gaming-culture, #ubisoft

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Amnesia and Soma creator Thomas Grip explains how he makes games terrifying

Video produced by Justin Wolfson, edited by Patrick Biesemans. Click here for transcript.

Welcome to “Scare Tactics,” a pilot for a video series that aims to explore how different creators make horror games. We see horror as a special genre—horror games aren’t always played for the same reasons as other games. They aren’t necessarily fun, and their reward often comes from overcoming one’s own fears, rather than from overcoming the game’s mechanics.

We’re starting the series by cozying up to Frictional Games cofounder Thomas Grip. To call the release of Frictional’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent a watershed moment in horror gaming would be a severe understatement—it launched the careers of many Let’s Play YouTubers and spawned dozens of copycats all trying the same scare-your-brains-out formula. The company is currently working on Amnesia: Rebirth, but Grip took time away from finishing Rebirth to take us through his philosophy and approach to horror game design.

(Along the way, he also shared some Rebirth previews with us, and our video above showcases a few Rebirth gameplay elements that haven’t been seen yet!)

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#amnesia, #amnesia-rebirth, #ars-technica-video, #ars-technica-videos, #features, #frictional-studios, #gaming, #gaming-culture, #pc-gaming, #scare-tactics, #thomas-grip, #video

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Review: Utopia is a very good series released at exactly the wrong time

It’s a rare TV series that gives me pause about even writing a review, but Amazon’s new sci-fi thriller Utopia turned out to be just that. Not because it isn’t good—on the contrary, I found it both entertaining and thought provoking. But there are several key elements of the central plot that proved disquieting enough (even for someone like me who is not generally squeamish) that I had to ponder the pros and cons of giving space to a show whose release perhaps should have been postponed by a few months, given current world events. (I mean, read the room, Amazon! Geez!) In the end, the pro arguments won out.

(All major spoilers are below the second gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)

As we reported previously, the series is a reboot of the 2013 British version, about online fans of a graphic novel called Dystopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel, Utopia, and this makes them targets of a secret organization. Amazon has kept the same basic premise (with a few tweaks) and swapped in an American cast. Per the official premise: “When the conspiracy in the elusive comic Utopia is real, a group of young fans come together to embark on a high-stakes twisted adventure to use what they uncover to save themselves, each other and ultimately humanity.”

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #tv-review

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Nintendo forces rebranding for adult entertainer “Pokeprincxss”

Here's hoping Nintendo doesn't also consider those tattoos an infringement on its intellectual property.

Enlarge / Here’s hoping Nintendo doesn’t also consider those tattoos an infringement on its intellectual property. (credit: DigitalPrincess/Tiktok)

Nintendo has issued a cease-and-desist order against a popular social media influencer for using Pokémon branding and imagery in her handle and products. But while the influencer formerly known as “Pokeprincxss” acknowledges her legal mistakes, she also feels she has been targeted by Nintendo for a very specific reason.

“Nintendo doesn’t want people to think I’m in any way, shape or form affiliated with them or that I have a partnership with them, and it all comes down to me being an adult entertainer,” the now-renamed “Digitalprincxss” says in a recent YouTube video addressing the issue. “Even though there are other people with ‘Poke’ in their name and they make money off it… I think it just literally has to do with me being an adult entertainer because they aren’t adult entertainers.”

Digitalprincxss boasts 1.9 million followers on Tiktok and significant followings on other public social media accounts. But she also hosts a subscription-based OnlyFans page, which charges $17 a month and promises “access to all my NSFW photos/videos that I post daily” and “uncensored content that I usually tease you with both on Instagram/Twitter.”

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#gaming-culture, #legal, #nintendo, #pokemon

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Judge denies request to force Fortnite back on iOS App Store pending trial

Artist's conception of competing lawyers from Apple and Epic Game focusing their legal arguments on the court. Metaphorically, of course.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of competing lawyers from Apple and Epic Game focusing their legal arguments on the court. Metaphorically, of course.

Apple can continue to block Epic Games’ Fortnite from the iOS App Store as the parties move to a trial, Federal District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said in a ruling issued late Friday.

In the 39-page ruling, Judge Rogers restates her previous finding that any harm Epic is currently facing to its Fortnite business, or to the game’s reputation, is self-inflicted on Epic’s part. The company brought about the current state of affairs when it issued a hotfix update offering a new Epic Direct Payments in-app purchase (IAP) system for Fortnite, a move that was in direct violation of its iOS App Store development contract with Apple.

“In short, Epic Games cannot simply exclaim ‘monopoly’ to rewrite agreements giving itself unilateral benefit,” Judge Rogers writes in denying Epic’s request for an injunction restoring Fortnite to the App Store. “The current predicament is of its own making.”

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#apple, #epic, #fortnite, #gaming-culture

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DiRT 5 and our first Xbox Series X “enhanced” tests: 120Hz saves the uneven ride

While I have been testing a pre-release Xbox Series X console for nearly a month, ahead of its November 10 launch, I have had very few new games to test on it. Most of my effort has revolved around its massive backwards-compatible feature set—as seen in a very long feature about how older games benefit from newer hardware.

Today, for the first time, I’m allowed to lift the curtain on a game made for Xbox Series consoles: DiRT 5, the latest drift-heavy racing game from Codemasters. What’s more, it is the first game I’ve ever tested for a bespoke game console with frame rates up to 120fps. That’s a substantial increase from the 60fps max of past console generations (and a big rally-car leap above the 30fps cap you typically see on current-gen games).

I want to be clear: DiRT 5 is not the best foot forward for Xbox Series X, and I’m not entirely sure it’s representative of the console’s next-gen promise. I urge you to keep an eye out for more next-gen game impressions before loading ammunition into your preferred “console war” cannon. But DiRT 5‘s first taste of 120Hz racing on a console, and what it takes to get there, is fascinating enough to merit an asterisk-covered preview.

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#codemasters, #dirt-4, #dirt-5, #gaming-culture, #xbox, #xbox-series-x

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In The Columnist, reading the comments isn’t bad—being a toxic online troll is

The trailer for The Columnist

Maybe this is too wonky for those outside of film nerdom to care, but 2020 has cemented a fundamental truth about festivals—international films are increasingly the MVP of this scene. Sure, at the highest of high profile events (Cannes, TIFF, Sundance, Telluride), you can reliably get a sneak peek at the titles showing up at the next Oscars ceremony. But for the rest of us who maybe only make it to one or two of these things that tend to be local affairs (shout out to Austin Film Festival and Fantastic Fest), a lot of the most interesting stuff available comes from abroad. Russia’s Zoology (now on Amazon Prime) took How Stella Got Her Groove Back and gave it a dystopian sci-fi setting in 2016. Sweden’s Border (streaming on Hulu) found a fantastic approach to examine national borders and how we treat others in 2018, and it played some of the same events as the gripping filmmaking of Denmark’s The Guilty (also on Hulu before the US version with Jake Gyllenhaal happens). And last year, anyone even remotely following the film calendar was aware of Bong Joon-Ho’s masterful Parasite (Hulu, again, really getting it done) rising up from the festival scene to the Oscars stage.

Our year of COVID-19 may only be strengthening this trend. Big US feature films with hopes for a theatrical run seem hesitant to participate in festivals that exist only as VOD. Small shorts looking to make a splash and find a deal for full-length productions have hit pause, too, preferring to save their “premiere” bargaining chip for a time when film festivals can bring industry folks together in person once more. But international films, some of which have already enjoyed theatrical runs in their home countries (last year or during a better pandemic response), simply come to festivals to find new audiences and maybe upgrade for a US theatrical run or a wider-reaching streaming service deal. That’s still happening in 2020. And in a year where US film fans may be starved for new titles to get excited about, we all need to hope the Netherlands’ The Columnist soon transitions from the festival scene to your preferred at-home screen.

Talk about relatable

Dutch newspaper columnist Femke Boot (Katja Herbers, Westworld) writes about the toxic aspects of online culture, which means anonymous haters on Twitter and Facebook or in comment threads just love her. All that bile seems to grow exponentially with each of Boot’s new columns or appearances. “We are all people, and we shouldn’t forget that,” Boot says while appearing as an analyst on some 24-hour news channel’s “Twitter: A Blessing or a Curse?” special. “Well, we also shouldn’t forget to recycle or to eat our vegetables,” responds her counterpart, a conservative fiction writer named Stephen Dood (Bram van der Kelen). His work, naturally, seems to often involve an awful lot of murder and violence against women.

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#gaming-culture

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NY Comic-Con: the Dark Man cometh in first trailer for The Stand miniseries

James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg and Alexander Skarsgård star in the new CBS All Access limited miniseries The Stand, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

It’s Stephen King’s world; we’re just living in it. During New York Comic Con, CBS All Access dropped the first official trailer for its ten-episode limited miniseries of The Stand, an adaptation of King’s sprawling 1978 post-apocalyptic fantasy novel about the aftermath of a deadly pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population.

(Some spoilers for the Stephen King novel below.)

The Stand is widely considered to be among King’s best work, with a sprawling cast of characters and multiple storylines. It’s also his longest, with the 1990 Complete and Uncut Edition surpassing even It in page count. King has said he wanted to write an epic dark fantasy akin to The Lord of the Rings, only with a contemporary American setting. “Instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg,” King wrote in his 1981 nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. “The land of Mordor (‘where the shadows lie,’ according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.”

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#cbs-all-access, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #stephen-king, #streaming-television, #the-stand, #tv-trailers

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RIP to Crucible, Amazon Games’ first PC shooter: 2020-2020

We've previously put these Amazon Games mascots behind prison bars; now, they're in flames. RIP, Crucible. We hardly knew ye.

Enlarge / We’ve previously put these Amazon Games mascots behind prison bars; now, they’re in flames. RIP, Crucible. We hardly knew ye. (credit: Amazon Games / Aurich Lawson)

As it turns out, Amazon’s idea of a Crucible couldn’t handle the intense heat and pressure of the games industry.

After launching in May of this year, Crucible, Amazon Games’ first large-scale shooter title for PC, will stop receiving updates and matchmaking support on November 9, the studio announced on Friday (at the exact end-of-week hour that bad game-news stories are typically sent to pasture). The company is taking the extreme measure of offering a “full refund” for any purchases made during the free-to-play game’s lifespan, and it’s directing customers to make refund requests through either Steam Support or Amazon’s own contact form, depending on where purchases were originally made.

This followed the game’s formal delisting from Steam in July, which followed painfully low concurrent player counts (as low as 200) that made it difficult for players to successfully matchmake with each other. Though the game launched with considerable attention, including a promotional blitz on the Amazon-owned game-streaming platform Twitch, it only briefly maintained a player population exceeding 10,000 users.

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#amazon-games, #crucible, #f2p, #free-to-play, #gaming-culture

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PlayStation 5 will only leave 10 old PS4 games in the back-compat dust

PlayStation 5 will only leave 10 old PS4 games in the back-compat dust

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Sony)

After tearing the PlayStation 5’s guts apart earlier this week, Sony confirmed nearly everything we’d like to know on Friday about how its new console, launching November 12, will interface with PS4 games via backward compatibility.

We should probably start with the big news that Sony has not cleared up just yet.

Today, we received our first indication that PlayStation 5 will ship with something known as “Game Boost,” which its Friday news post suggests “may make [select] PS4 games run with a higher or smoother frame rate.” This suggestion doesn’t come with a handy footnote pointing us to a list of affected games or features, however.

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#backwards-compatibility, #gaming-culture, #playstation-4, #playstation-5

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