Category Archives: Games

Informations About Virtual Touch Inside Technology That Makes VR Feel Real

In a series of experiments in the 1980s, Roland Johansson, a professor of physiology at Sweden’s University of Umea, demonstrated just how important touch is. In one, he filmed a woman picking up a match and lighting it in just a few seconds. Then he numbed her thumb, index finger and middle finger. Even though she could see the match, she couldn’t feel where the match was touching each of her fingers or when it was touching the matchbox, and that same simple task took 25 seconds.
“Virtual Sexology” pairs an adult star with a sex therapist to bring Masters and Johnson techniques to the porn-enlightened public
Touch is the most underrated of all of our senses. From walking to sitting to sleeping, you are constantly using your sense of touch to adjust your motions so that you complete the task you’re working on, whether that’s swiping your tablet screen to read this story, adjusting the chair you’re sitting on or picking up a mug to take a sip of coffee.

“Most of us have experienced a temporary loss of touch – perhaps when your leg falls asleep, or when we have local anesthetic for a dental procedure,” says Katherine Kuchenbecker, an associate professor of computer science, mechanical engineering and applied mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania, who is recognized as one of the leading authorities on haptics, or the science of touch. “That’s what current virtual reality is like: you can’t feel anything.”

After getting her PhD in robotics at Stanford, Kuchenbecker was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a way for virtual robots to “glance around any scene and accurately estimate how it would feel to grasp or step on all of the visible surfaces.” She did this using something she’s called “haptic photography – a way to capture how the surfaces feel to the touch and then recreate them.” In September 2014, she partnered with tech entrepreneur Steven Domenikos to create a compact device that introduces the sense of touch onto the digital world. Together they founded Tactai, with Domenikos as CEO and
Kuchenbecker as Chief Science Officer. After a couple years and a few million dollars in funding and grants, that device – the Tactai Touch – is almost ready for prime time.
“The lack of touch breaks the suspension of disbelief in VR,” says Kuchenbecker. “Your brain knows what to expect when you touch something.” Kuchenbecker’s work centers on the touch-based interaction between a person and objects that may be real, far away – touched through a remote-controlled robot – or entirely virtual.

Kuchenbecker’s lab has been working for years to create realistic haptic interfaces for virtual reality. These research-based systems are usually expensive, complicated, delicate – maybe even a little dangerous – but they let the user touch virtual objects that feel very similar to the real objects we all touch every day. Most people still haven’t been exposed to how good haptic experiences can be and how much touch feedback can add to an interaction.

But now that’s set to change. All of that research with expensive and complicated equipment led Kuchenbecker to focus on existing or low-priced technology that will open up touch to the masses. Tactai has created a prototype touch controller to work with existing virtual reality platforms like Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, though since touch is independent of the headset, any existing or future device will be able to use the technology.
Tactai VR Touch Controller

The Tactai Touch is a digital thimble that can recreate what it feels like to touch dozens of different objects.
The Tactai Touch controller looks like a high-tech thimble and clips onto your finger. It can be worn on any and every finger, but only one index finger is required to trick your brain into feeling things. “Most of our experience comes through our fingertips, with the index finger driving touch,” Kuchenbecker says. How users employ Tactai Touch will depend on what they’re doing. For example, shopping in VR can be done optimally with one index finger, but opening a virtual water bottle in VR would require a device on each index finger.

“Three devices per hand is a good option, and five devices per hand [one per finger] is an even more exciting configuration, where you could move all of your fingers independently and feel what they each are interacting with,”

Kuchenbecker says. “That might be nice when petting a virtual cat or playing a virtual piano. We will be working to determine what configurations make the most sense for the different applications we are pursuing.”
Kuchenbecker says that when you pick up an object like a pencil in real life you have pressure on two fingers, but if you’re wearing only one Tactai, the brain tricks itself into feeling pressure in the thumb even though you’re not wearing the device on that finger.

I was able to test out this technology at the Kuchenbecker’s U Penn lab. Sliding the Touch onto your index finger, it fits snugly but comfortably. It’s not unlike clipping on a pulse oximeter on your finger at the doctor’s office, which measures your heart rate and the level of oxygen in your blood.

Once my finger was hooked up, a bulky prototype headset was secured and Domenikos appeared in a white virtual reality room talking about the importance of touch. I looked to the right and saw a fully inflated football sitting on a counter next to a slightly deflated football. Using Tactai Touch, I can not only feel the detailed, worn leather texture of the football, but also the indentations of the slightly deflated football compared to the tightness of the air-packed football.
“I’ve always pushed my team for solutions that could get to the market in the next few years,” Kuchenbecker says. “Our solution is more powered by unique data and software, and the hardware is pieced together with off-the-shelf components.”

Kuchenbecker explains how the sense of touch is an extremely complex a network of cells that detect different types of physical contact – some tell you how hard you are pressing on an elevator button, while others react mainly when the interaction changes, like at the start or end of the touch or when something slips in your grasp. All of these sensations are constantly streaming to your brain. Even though the information is coming from a lot of different sources, your brain weaves it together into a consistent touch experience that you’re able to use to decide which piece of fabric feels nicest or type without looking at your fingers.

With that in mind, the Tactai software constantly reads where your finger is in space using sensors such as a camera on the headset or an external measurement system. Each time it has a new measurement, it figures out where your real finger is located in the virtual environment. If your finger is in virtual free space, the software commands the platform inside the device to move away from your fingertip, so you don’t feel anything. And if your finger is inside a virtual object, the software calculates a proprietary waveform – or Dynamic Tactile Wave – that makes the platform inside the device press into your finger and vibrate in a way that matches what you would feel if you moved your finger the same way over the surface of the corresponding real object. These calculations happen many dozen times per second so that the experience of the user is seamless.

The magic inside the controller comes in the form of two actuators, or mechanical systems. The first moves a platform in and out of contact with your finger and lets you know when you’re touching an object. Kuchenbecker says when you first barely touch something in VR, you will both see your virtual finger touch the object’s surface and feel the start of contact on the surface of your real finger. Even though the Tactai Touch can’t physically stop your finger from moving inside the object, the sensations on your fingertip give you the illusion that there is a physical object there. You can move your finger away and feel the platform leave your fingertip and then touch again and feel it again.

“As you press deeper into a solid object, the pressure on your finger increases accordingly even if it is nothing really there,” says Kuchenbecker. “Essentially, if the VR technology provides just enough information to suggest the presence of an object, your brain fills in the gaps of what isn’t there.”

“We employ pseudo-haptics [manipulating what you see in VR to match what we want you to feel] by never showing your hand going inside a virtual object says Kuchenbecker. “Instead, we make the finger stop right at the surface, while you are feeling the contact, to help persuade your brain that the object is there. In essence, we are distorting the displayed movement of the user’s hand to help strengthen the illusion created by the haptic feedback.”

The second actuator is a small vibration motor. Unlike the vibration motors in a cell phone, this one functions more like an audio speaker. It can output vibrations at a wide range of frequencies, to create vibrations that match those you feel every day when interacting with real objects. Kuchenbecker says that vibrations are how the brain recognizes texture.

“Your fingers can feel up to 1,000 hertz, which is a lower frequency than ears can hear,” Kuchenbecker says. “This enables the user to feel the textures when touching different virtual objects like rough stones and smooth paper and woven fabric.”

Kuchenbecker explains that if you drag your fingertip across different surfaces in a quiet room, you can hear the sound they produce. Corduroy would sound different from rough stone, terracotta, or silk, and you could also easily feel the difference between these materials. Similar to how you can hear the difference between different voices or different notes in a musical scale, your brain can separate tactile vibrations into the different frequencies that they contain. Each material has its own particular combination of frequencies for a given way that you are touching it (slow and soft, for example), and your brain quickly learns this response pattern from just a couple of seconds of interaction.

“Our technology recreates the blend of vibration frequencies for the way you are moving, so that we can fool you into thinking you are touching a real object even though it is VR,” says Kuchenbecker.

But what’s perhaps most impressive about Tactai’s technology is that it’s already affordable, with current prototypes costing less than $12 to make. And Domenikos says that if a large technology or consumer electronics company licenses their technology and manufactures it at a large scale, it could push costs even further down. Theoretically, Domenikos believes a tech giant could earn money on content and give away the device for below cost or even free, like Google has with Google Cardboard.

Backed by Tactai, Kuchenbecker and her lab have also begun to create a library of touch sensation data. By gathering less than a minute of data on an object like a table using a scanner, anyone can capture the important characteristics and put them into the library, meaning there will be plenty of content that works with Tactai. “We also take existing content and auto-recognize how it looks so you can reach out and touch it,” says Ilann Derche, head of device development at Tactai. “It takes minutes to convert existing video game objects to add touch. We recognize the object based on visual experience and apply textures from our database.”

Using proprietary algorithms, each feeling in the library is assigned Haptic Object Properties (HOPs). “Each HOP currently includes the softness of the surface, its texture, how difficult it is to move along the surface [friction], and how it feels when you tap on the surface,” explains Derche. “This is the key part of the process that results in making the object feel real, so that the user can touch, feel, grasp and interact with it.” The HOPs library currently has over 100 objects in it.

But there’s also another opportunity for this touch controller beyond existing headsets. Derche says Tactai is working on a virtual movie theater, where you can watch a video and pause it to check out a new pair of Nike shoes by feeling the texture of the shoes, lifting them in your hand, and even playing with the laces. And the company could reward consumers for doing that by offering a coupon. Tactai could also help educators, adding touch capabilities to the 2D and 3D multimedia tools that have become mainstream in classrooms.

And unlike the devices that researchers have been experiencing for several years, Tactai Touch isn’t a sci-fi wish. The technology is nearly ready for mass production today, just as companies are laying the groundwork for consumer VR platforms.

The power of touch is something we all take for granted, but it’s the fact that it’s so ingrained in everything we do that makes true touch in the virtual world a huge step forward. Just as some early adopters don’t want to leave VR games and universes – even at this early stage – Kuchenbecker believes Tactai Touch will make the illusion of virtual reality more like real life. It will allow shoppers to feel what that t-shirt they saw online feels like before clicking “buy,” or let gamers grip their goalie stick for better control as they attempt to keep the puck out of the net in a virtual hockey game. Tactai might finally bring the missing link to VR: true interaction.

Know More 5 Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Skyrim Special Edition

Skyrim: Special Edition – Bethesda’s re-issue of its 2011 hit fantasy game now enhanced for current consoles and PC – is here, and that means it’s time to agonize over creating a custom character one more time before dancing off into that wide open world to tell your own stories, possibly as a cat.

But what stories should they be? You can easily spend hundreds of hours in this game and there’s no shortage of things to do. Sure, you could just pick a compass direction and walk until the sun comes up on Turdas – stop laughing, that is a real and normal name of a day of the week in this world. Or you could enjoy a more guided experience that doesn’t end with you stumbling into a swamp by revisiting these five highlights of Skyrim.

Get drunk with a god in ‘A Night To Remember’

Everyone needs a drinking buddy. Sam Guevenne is randomly waiting in one of Skyrim’s many taverns to become yours. Have a few drinks with Sam and you’ll begin “A Night To Remember”, a quest about waking up with amnesia and a hangover that sends you across the land to piece back your memories. You’ll need to make amends for the hijinks of the night before by cleaning up a temple devoted to the goddess of beauty, getting a goat back from a giant, and disappointing the hagraven (a sort of witch/vulture hybrid) you swore you’d marry.

Most of these obligations can be short-circuited with a successful Persuade test if you don’t want to have any fun, but it’s more enjoyable to put in the work untangling the full story of your debauched adventure. The reward is being reunited with Sam and discovering the whole thing was a test – he’s actually Sanguine, the Lord of Revelry, looking to put a little more merriment into the world. He definitely succeeds at that.

Become best friends with a dog

There are many dogs in Skyrim worth befriending. There’s the noble hound Meeko in the woods on the edge of the Hjaalmarch who will lead you to the shack belonging to his former owner so you can uncover their tragic tale – just be careful not to let this become the beginning of your own tragedy as it did for Twitter user Patrick Lenton. Then there’s Vigilance, a tough war dog for sale at the Markarth stables, whose ferocity is improved by the spiced beef he eats (spoiler: it’s made of people).

But the puppy most worth befriending is Barbas, the talking dog who haunts the road leading out of Falkreath and triggers the quest “A Daedra’s Best Friend.” The two of you will trek through the ruins of Helgen, where your own adventure began, all the way to the foot of the Throat of the World and then down into the dungeon of Haemar’s Shame to help find his master. Alternatively, you can put off that quest in favor of keeping the unkillable magic dog with you as a chatty sidekick, as if you were a Disney princess in an iron helmet.

Catch M’aiq the Liar

Every Elder Scrolls game since Morrowind has featured a cameo by M’aiq the Liar. One of the Khajiit cat-people, he acts as a voice for the game’s designers, letting them crack jokes and respond to comments from fans.

M’aiq has an explanation for everything, including the drastically improved character designs compared to the previous Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion. (“M’aiq has heard that the people of Skyrim are better looking than the ones in Cyrodiil. He has no opinion on the matter. All people are beautiful to him.”) If you were wondering how he manages to appear in games set centuries after each other, there’s an answer for that too. (“M’aiq’s father was also called M’aiq. As was M’aiq’s father’s father. At least, that’s what his father said.”). Each time you meet M’aiq he’ll have something different to chat about, but first you have to catch him. There are many random encounters that occur on the roads of Skyrim, and not all of them are this friendly, which is probably why he’s such a fast runner.

Sail to Solstheim and fall into another dimension

Of the three Skyrim expansions, ‘Dragonborn’ was the highlight. Travel to the island of Solstheim and you could begin a whole new adventure in a land of giant mushrooms and floating jellyfish where a tribe of tiny blue people called Rieklings would take you in. The end result of that is basically the story you’ll ramble at young folks in your gin-soaked dotage, climaxing with “…and then they made me their chief!”

The most memorable part of Solstheim wasn’t actually on the island at all, though. Open one of its Black Books and you’re transported to Apocrypha, a plane of existence belonging to the Daedra of Knowledge. In Apocrypha passageways made of rustling, unquiet books float on an endless ocean of slime under a sky where the clouds are floating masses of tentacles. And the librarians? We don’t talk about the librarians.

Climb the Throat of the World

An obvious one, but for good reason. The Throat of the World is the mountain at the centre of Skyrim that you ascend as part of the storyline, meeting the monks of High Hrothgar and then climbing even further, pushing through the only snow in the land cold enough to kill you to reach its real peak.

Following the path of 7,000 steps up the Throat of the World is much more satisfying than hacking your way up a mountain by exploiting sideways jumps or riding a horse straight up a cliff, and the sidequest where you help an aged pilgrim by carrying a bag of supplies is touchingly ordinary – a favor almost anyone could do but one the Dragonborn finds time for. Plus, when you make it to the top the view is impressive, no matter which version of Skyrim you’re playing.

Informations About How Games Are Celebrating Halloween

In the old days, video games were locked into a sterile, offline threshold. Super Mario 64 is always Super Mario 64. There were no balance patches, special offers, or mods. The goal was to sell a few million copies and work on a sequel. Games weren’t supposed to last forever.

But in 2016, where so many games are free-to-play and aim for long-term, persistent growth, the universes we play in are changing all the time. Right now, publishers around the world are readying highly specific Halloween seasonal specials for their communities. Some are offering simple treats like new skins or experience bonuses, some are readying new bosses, and some are even coming up with new modes – complete with original art and voice-acting. In the past expansion packs took years to develop and cost as much as a full game itself, but now developers implement content that’s only meant to be played for a few days of a year for free. Here are 10 of the more notable Halloween events you can catch over the weekend.

Company of Heroes 2
I like how games care less and less about their perceived realism the longer they’ve been around. One perfect example: a few months after release, Rockstar went ahead and released a B-movie zombie variant for their otherwise very serious spaghetti western Red Dead Redemption. Company of Heroes 2 is a very good, very sober World War II RTS, but now you can paint your tanks with eyeballs and stitched flesh. You’ll also get double XP for the weekend!

Dead by Daylight
The popular-on-Twitch asymmetrical multiplayer survival game Dead by Daylight is probably the most straightforward Halloween game that exists. In it, a handful of hapless victims desperately try to survive against the onslaught of a murderous slasher villain. So naturally, Dead by Daylight is releasing some perfectly-timed DLC which lets you play as iconic Halloween killer Michael Myers, and his equally iconic victim Laurie Strode.

Destiny
We’re all expecting that Destiny 2 will be out in 2017, and maybe at that point Bungie will stop consistently adding new content to their foundational post-Halo experiment. But for now, this is still their baby. Destiny is renewing its end-of-October tradition with its far-future Halloween celebration, Festival of the Lost, which serves as an in-universe Day of the Dead analogue. Expect new quests, masks, items, emotes, and shaders. Apparently you can also do some trick or treating, and some curmudgeon hands out raisins instead of candy. Even in the far-flung future, there is still that house.

League of Legends
League of Legends is the most popular game on the planet, and when you have an entire multi-national company all committed to the same community, you can always expect some new fun stuff around the holidays. For Halloween 2016, League is adding new skins to their ridiculously expansive repertoire (Morgana, Tristana, and Teemo are the lucky ones this time.) Riot is also bringing back their popular “Doom Bots of Doom” mode, which is a co-op League variant that’s unexpectedly fun.

Gears of War 4
“Dodgeball” is one of my favorite variants in Gears of War multiplayer, and Gears 4 is bringing “Pumpkin Ball” for Halloween, which is basically a more hectic version of dodgeball on darker maps. The characters will also be sporting giant jack-o-lantern heads, which is the exact sort of macabre, industrial-metal ennui that Microsoft’s flagship dude-shooter excels at. If you’re going to put chainsaw bayonets on the gun, the players should also look like the bassist in Slipknot. Yeah Gears might not be for the faint of heart, but that’s probably the point.

Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar has made GTA Online their number one priority over the last few years, so naturally they’re introducing a Halloween-themed team-based multiplayer mode called “Lost vs. Damned.” The name is a clever nod to the Lost and Damned expansion story that was released for Grand Theft Auto IV back in 2009. Players will control angels and demons in an arena with an ultra-fast day/night cycle where angels have an advantage in the day and – you guessed it – demons are more powerful at night.

Heroes of the Storm
Pretty much every Blizzard property is getting something cool for Halloween, and their flagship MOBA is giving you extra XP till November 8th, as well as the chance to earn a Deputy Valla player portrait. There’s also a new mount (a giant floating eyeball pad) and a new skin for Xul on the way to the store, which makes sense given that he’s a necromancer. Also, whenever a team destroys a core, you get a special cameo from World of Warcraft’s Headless Horseman. Cross-pollination, people!

Madden 17
Madden 17’s Halloween tack-on isn’t nearly as comprehensive as some of the things other games are doing, but I’m still kind of tickled by how weird it is. I mean, it’s a football game. Does it really need holiday-specific itemization? Apparently so, because if you play Ultimate Team (Madden’s built-in collectible card game) from now until November 4th, you can get special “most-feared” player cards in packs. Those cards will turn into something special on October 30th, and personally I hope that means a version of Richard Sherman with an extra head or something.

Overwatch
Overwatch has been killing it with the seasonal events so far, starting with the Olympics-adjacent “Lucio Ball” back in August. For Halloween, you’ll have access to unique skins, sprays and poses, as well as a special cooperative “Brawl” game mode called “Junkenstein’s Revenge” that appears to be similar to the zombies mode from Call of Duty.

World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft maybe has the longest ongoing Halloween tradition in all of video games. Every year, players can celebrate Hallow’s End, letting you trick or treat at inns across Azeroth and the rest of the cosmos. Once you’re bored with that, you can go fight the Headless Horseman, who returns once a year to torment raid groups. It’s funny to think that once upon a time, World of Warcraft was the only game on the market doing seasonal events like this. How times change!

VR Feels Right at Home in Your Living Room

Amid all the confusion and excitement that surrounds virtual reality, PlayStation VR’s distinguishing feature is convenience. It sits on the couch where I play most video games, next to my controllers and my headphones. Unlike my HTC Vive and my Oculus Rift – which are devices I adore – PlayStation VR feels like a natural addition to my home video game ecosystem, rather than an invasive species.

Reviewing hardware is a video game critic’s most challenging task, because it feels like a distraction from the real job. Movie critics don’t spend their days weighing the merits of stadium seating and built-in cupholders. Music critics don’t tell you which speakers to buy. TV critics managed to review Westworld without opining on which TV set best displays it, or which cable provider has the best DVR.

Partly, though, that’s because you don’t have to buy a second television just to watch HBO. For historical, cultural, and (especially) business reasons, video game hardware determines more than how you play. It controls what you play. And when it comes to the new hotness of virtual reality, we’re in the earliest stages of a full-scale console war.

PlayStation VR, which goes on sale next week for $400, is the third major VR headset to be released this year, after the Rift and Vive. I’ve been playing with it for a week now. It’s actually my fourth virtual-reality headset, after the Gear VR, Vive, and Rift. Or is it my fifth, given that I’ve owned two different Gear VR units, one for a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 phone, and one for a Galaxy S6? Wait a minute, it’s my sixth, if I’m counting the Google Cardboard viewer the New York Times delivered on my driveway last fall, inside the blue bag that contains its Sunday print edition. And I just got a seventh VR headset in the mail that I haven’t had a chance to try, from a company that makes a kind of comfier foam version of Cardboard.

Almost all of these – some I bought for myself, others were given to me as review units – arrived within the past 12 months. More are on the way. Google announced its $79 Daydream View headset for Android phones on Tuesday. At trade shows like E3 and the Game Developers Conference, I’ve used VR headsets that track the movement of your eyeballs, that provide wider fields of view, even one that professes to measure your neural feedback.

It would be foolhardy to speculate about who’s going to “win.” I can’t tell you whether VR is a fad, and without access to your bank account, I can’t tell you whether you should buy a $400 unit (more if you don’t already own a PlayStation camera, the optional Move controllers, and a lot more if you don’t own a PlayStation 4 to plug it into). But I’m confident that the worst-case scenario for VR is that it’s going to be a really awesome fad.

The PlayStation VR headset is niftily designed. Against your eyes, the screen feels less like a set of goggles than its competitors do, because it descends from a headband that puts pressure on your forehead and skull instead of the entire front half of your face. The headband also reduces the embarrassing “VR face” imprint that can occur after a couple hours of wearing a Vive or a Rift, indentations that can make your neighbors think you’ve just returned from an offseason ski trip. The PlayStation VR screen itself can be pulled away, slightly, from your cheeks with the press of a button, which lets you glimpse your physical environment to grab a controller, or take a drink, without removing the entire apparatus.

The Vive and the Rift are superior in some ways. Sony’s Move controllers – which aren’t required, as most games play with a gamepad – aren’t nearly as precise as the Vive’s motion controllers or the Rift’s forthcoming Touch controllers. The Rift’s built-in headphones reduce the number of wires that hang down your back and make that system the simplest to put on and take off. The “screen-door” effect – a slight but visible latticework inside VR – is more apparent on the PSVR than it is on the Rift or the Vive. Fast-paced games like Driveclub and the futuristic tank warfare game Battlezone have noticeable motion blur.

Even so, playing with my Vive or my Rift always feels like an event that I have to prepare for – the video game equivalent of planning for a night at the theater. Even mobile VR systems like the Gear VR feel like special occasions. It’s not natural – yet – while playing a mobile-phone game to think, “You know what I should do instead? Go fish that plastic headset out of my office and play some VR!”

PlayStation VR fits into a video game routine that I already have. If I’m sitting down in front of my TV to play video games, beginning a quick round of Superhypercube or Thumper isn’t markedly more complicated than starting a conventional game.

The hardest part of setup was finding my moldy Move controllers and then waiting for them to charge. PSVR comes with a small processing unit that you plug into your TV and your PlayStation 4, and the VR unit itself takes up one of the two USB ports on the front of the PS4. (If you play games with a pair of wireless headphones, you’ll need to find a wired pair, or use the crummy earbuds that come with the unit.) There’s a brief firmware upgrade (of course). Then you turn on your PlayStation, press the power button on the PSVR headset, and you’re ready to go.

But to go where? To do what?

That’s still the central mystery of virtual reality. PlayStation VR comes with a demo disc with a surprisingly deep list of titles, including a few VR films, but after a couple days, you’re going to need to buy some games. (And if you think loading screens on your TV are dull, just wait until you watch a spinning wheel while you’re isolated in a VR headset.) My favorites on the demo disc tend to be abstractions and surreal noisescapes like Gnog, Harmonix Music VR, Rez Infinite, Superhypercube, and Thumper. Looking up and down from the inside of kaleidoscopic worlds has yet to grow old. If games are “cathedrals of fire,” in the British journalist Steven Poole’s phrase, then VR may be the first time the medium can genuinely capture the wonder and awe you feel when you’re standing inside a place like Notre Dame.

VR is the first video-game phenomenon since the Nintendo Wii that has me thrusting it upon nongaming relatives and friends.

There are more conventional video game pleasures. The demo for the on-rails shooter Until Dawn: Rush of Blood felt fantastically creepy when played with Move controllers, a cart ride past giant squealing pigs on meat hooks and vacant doll-people who wield video cameras. The comedic Headmaster looks great. The demo for Sony’s London Heist gangster vignette in VR Worlds (a sort of VR variety pack) is dull, but one of my favorite experiences in VR so far was just pretending to embody a mobster who did nothing but smoke a cigar in the full game’s second scene.

I’ve spent close to $3,000 this year on VR hardware and software. I threw a couple hundred dollars on a set of contact lenses this summer, just so my glasses stopped obscuring my peripheral vision in gogglesville. VR is the first video-game phenomenon since the Nintendo Wii that has me thrusting it upon nongaming relatives and friends.

That said, it’s a lot more expensive than a $200 Wii, and there’s nothing as easy and satisfying to play as Wii Sports. I’ve heard VR evangelists say that’s because this year’s headsets are like the first iPhone, and we need to be patient. I say that’s overstating matters by a few decades. The current slate of VR rigs are closer to those phone-book size car phones from the 1980s.

Still, the iPhone metaphor is instructive when it comes to game design. It took a while for the big studios to stop trying to cram twin thumbsticks onto our touchscreens, and the first couple years of VR development look to be similarly bumpy and experimental.

VR games with thumbstick navigation are also the likeliest to make you queasy. I rarely get sick while playing inside VR, but then I don’t get sick on theme park rides like roller coasters, or the barrel that spins around and sticks you to the wall as the floor drops out from beneath you. With one or two exceptions, however, every first-person VR game that has used conventional gamepad controls for navigation – controlling the camera and player movement with my thumbs, instead of my gaze – has made me start to sweat and feel ill.

That’s why VR games usually put you on rails, or place you in a vehicle (the tanks in Battlezone, the spaceships in Eve: Valkyrie), or give you a third-person perspective. First-person VR games tend to allow you to explore a limited space (even at room-scale, in the Vive) and then require you to teleport (think “blink,” if you played Dishonored) to move beyond it.

There are no VR games yet that allow you to explore a vast world and fall into it for dozens of hours, the way you do while playing Metal Gear Solid V, or Fallout 4, or The Witcher 3. It’s hard to know whether similarly huge games are a bad fit for VR, or whether the market is just too small to justify the kinds of budgets those games command.

An advertisement for PSVR bills it as “the future of video games,” which reminds me of the fantasizing, almost exactly 10 years ago, about what the Wii would mean for the future of big-budget, narrative video games. The answer turned out to be basically nothing. It’s an open question, as the Xbox head Phil Spencer once told me, whether virtual reality becomes the best way to play all video games, or whether it’s useful only in a limited set of genres.

Virtual reality, as a medium, is still toddling. And in these early days, its joys are a toddler’s, too. Approach it like a child, and you’ll gaze open-mouthed at figures that tower above you, you’ll giggle after reaching out and toppling a tower of blocks, and you’ll laugh as you finger-paint the walls and even the air.

Why Games Are Resurrecting the Eighties

No game understands the power of a beefy bass synthesizer better than Defragmented, released this past February. The indie-action RPG is built from the ground up on purple gradients and chilly neon. It’s Blade Runner from a top-down, shoot-’em-up perspective. You’re one man on a quest to topple a city-wide conspiracy, kicking cybernetic geeks off the street with tip of your Hailfire gun. On paper, it’s inspired by the cheesy cyberpunk VHS flicks of the Eighties, but in practice it borders on satire.

Defragmented is part of a generation of games embracing the bold, hyper-saturated, vectorized version of the Eighties that exists in our heads. There’s no official cultural nickname, but most people call it “synthwave.” It’s an aesthetic that gathered steam with the 2011 neo-noir epic Drive and the gloriously grubby 2012 video game Hotline Miami. A sleek, Reagan-less utopia, full of cliffside highways, hexagonal sunsets, and magenta video stores – it basically takes a few broad filmic touchstones and expands them into an entire aesthetic. There’s a general cognitive oversimplification the farther we get from a period of time. The Fifties and Sixties are a blur of pompadours, milkshakes, peace signs and sitars. It’s comfort food, a way to polish the past to distract us from a messy present. Thirty years later, the Eighties are getting the same treatment.

The first game to embrace the neon with a decent budget and major publisher support was 2013’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, an expansion to the fairly sober Ubisoft first-person shooter franchise. Blood Dragon recast Far Cry’s tropical island under a crimson sun. The very first level is a Predator homage, and the story is told through title cards you might expect from “All Your Base Are Belong To Us.” At every turn, creative director Dean Evans and his team were building an indulgent, patchwork version of their own childhood.

“The shooter genre sometimes takes itself very seriously and its attempt to delivering a dramatic narrative is sometimes at odds with its comedic gameplay reality,” he says. “[The Eighties] takes me back to a safe place. A time where my only worry was how long it took my Vic-20 computer to load or if there was enough ketchup for my chips. That decade and aesthetic still feels free and futuristic. It has this mix of comfort and optimism that’s impossible not to love.”

Evans adores this stuff, and Blood Dragon is his tribute; sewn from a childhood absorbing all the CRT-TV scanlines, darkwave, and malevolent artificial intelligence he could. But a surprising number of game developers working in that same pungent cyberpunk ennui don’t share his heritage. Defragmented writer James Johnston was born in 1993, long after the boom that brought us Pac-Man, Defender, Galaga and so many other iconic games of the era, and a solid 12 years removed from New Order’s first album. He’s not pulling from a primary source, his information is borrowed, and it makes his perspective on the decade more mythic and less tangible. In a sense, he and his team have learned to imagine the 1980s.

“The Eighties were a spectacular time, you can’t take one look at it and be like ‘okay, I get it,'” he says. “What we did is try to make Defragmented it’s own story. We still have plenty of neon, and we also have a lot of chiptune in our game, but chiptune was not an Eighties thing. I think we did a good job trying to create the new kind of Eighties.”

There’s plenty of contemporary art that reflects some authentic memories of the era – Halt and Catch Fire is a great TV show that captures the neurotic, unstylish personal computer boom. But it’s telling that so many millennials are getting inspired by an antiquity that hasn’t quite had its Grease moment yet – although Netflix’s Stranger Things certainly comes close. These kids were born into a world full of corduroy-wearing dads proselytizing about the purity of Woodstock and CBGB’s, but the Eighties are theirs to glamorize. Charles Blanchard designed Drift Stage, a searingly utopian arcade racer full of MIDI guitar solos and endless beaches. He’s 25, but like Johnston, found some unspoilable hipness in an era that doesn’t quite belong to him.

“The bold colors used in Drift Stage were meant to be a homage to the limited color palettes on old home computers like C64 and Amiga, which were often the first platform to revive ports of arcade racers,” he says. “It’s a very personal project that draws its inspiration from many, many sources. While I was born in 1991, I grew up watching reruns and syndicated TV shows from all eras, and the art style really reflects my personal nostalgia for that. The fact that it resonates with so many people is something that I can’t explain, but am very grateful for.”

The entertainment landscape in the Eighties was unabashed creative gold. No fear.

Most synthwave video games are coming from indie developers – small teams without the support of large publishers – and the lack of corporate involvement has kept these games remarkably thin on pastiche. Furi is an extremely difficult boss-battler with a killer soundtrack, ROOT is a tense, fully-vectorized first-person stealth adventure. Slipstream is basically a 2016 update of Outrun. Freshly minted genres are often so easily pegged. Wayfarers! Palm trees! Pinkish silhouettes! But right now creatives behind these projects all have unique, homespun takes on the same aesthetic.

It’s hard to know how long that will last. Tonally, synthwave is teetering between a kind of serenity and hamfistedness. The willfully cheeseball 2015 short film – and then Streets of Rage-inspired game – Kung Fury double-fisted the lampoon with a time-travelling Hitler and a sloppy, exceedingly obvious David Hasselhoff music video. “There’s no need to constantly wink and poke the audience to remind them about how ‘wacky’ or ‘crazy’ the Eighties were,” says Evans. “Just be true to the unbridled attitude of the time period.”

So far these game designers have avoided anything too ironic. Their love of this stuff might be strange, but it’s also genuine. No sappiness, no Hasselhoff jokes. Just a celebration of the delectable, irreplaceable vibe of a hot rod, and a highway, and an artificial sun hanging above an indigo city.

“Nostalgia is both an interesting beast and a double-edged sword. To dwell in the past can be considered negative but I don’t see why it can’t be a positive emotion, a rewarding experience and a tool to engage people,” says Evans. “The entertainment landscape in the Eighties was unabashed creative gold. No fear. It was a time that felt immune to focus groups where creators were in control of their creations without the fear of death by a thousand cuts. The summer of ’82 will never be forgotten. And let’s be honest, vectors and desert chrome are timeless wonders.”

More Informations About Arkane’s Prey Gets a Dark Sci-Fi Reset

Shown this past Thursday during the opening ceremonies of the 21st annual QuakeCon, Arkane Austin’s rebooted version of the alien-themed, 2006 game Prey looks to be a moody, freeform experience. You star as the primary subject of transhumanist experiments taking place on board a massive futuristic space station. Whether you are a man or a woman is up to you, but either way, your fate will be the same. Things, predictably, start going wrong almost immediately.

Not long before you take the reins as Morgan, the player character of Prey, the Talos 1 space station was taken over by aliens. You’ve seen them in the latest gameplay trailer – wispy clouds of inky black. In the demo, the first hostile encounter is with a mimic, a small shadow that can transform itself into objects in the environment. In other words, even that trash can in the corner might have a bone to pick with you. Stay cautious.

“What you’re trying to do initially is peel back the layers of mystery,” said Ricardo Bare, lead designer at Arkane Austin. “Who am I, and why am I here?” And, of course, where did all these aliens come from? From there the experience will spiral into something open-ended and complex, a first-person narrative experience blending stealth, combat, quiet exploration, and even a bit of psychological horror.

The prevailing wisdom has been that Arkane has been working on Prey since at least 2013, and that the project began as a reboot of the troubled sequel to the cancelled 2006 first-person shooter developed by Human Head Studios. According to Raf Colantonio, Arkane’s co-creative director, however, those rumors don’t hold much water.

“We were never working on a game related to the original Prey,” he said. So why go with the name? “As far as the high concept goes, it made sense,” Raf said. “We do a specific kind of game – player-based games where simulation is important, and in this case, we wanted to do one in space. It made sense for us to call it Prey,” adding: “It’s a cool name.”

Games that prize player choice and complicated, overlapping sets of game systems to mess with are often called “immersive sims”: past examples include Dishonored, Thief, Deus Ex – and the genre traces its origins all the way back to the original System Shock in 1994.

The Talos 1 is a vast complex, an enigmatic place that’s haunted by an alien menace with its own set of systemically implemented behaviors and agenda. To combat them, you’re given transhuman abilities, some of which imitate the aliens themselves. At times, the player uses the same abilities as the mimics, turning into coffee cups and pieces of junk, using the disguise to avoid violence or move through tiny, otherwise inaccessible pathways.

Immersive sims, Colantonio and Bare told me, are rare creatures in the industry, difficult and complex to make and somewhat inaccessible for the casual player. For Arkane, though, these games hold intrinsic value. They’re hoping Prey, with its space station in the middle of disaster and the eerie alien menace – Bare described them as “almost paranormal seeming” – will showcase the beautiful alchemy of the immersive sim’s complexity.

Oh, and those mimics? Don’t get comfortable just because you’ve been through an area before and think you know where they are. “That’s not scripted,” said Bare. “That’s an AI behavior. They scan the environment and go, oh, there’s 10 different things I can turn into here, and they pick one. It can even happen that you mimic something to hide, and then a mimic can come up and mimic you.”

More Informations About Mafia 3 Video Game Scored Kick Ass Sixties Soundtrack

Until now, the Mafia crime games from 2K have tended towards the spats-and-Tommy-guns flavor of Prohibition-era Chicago gangsters, drawing on genre movies like The Untouchables. But Mafia 3, due October 7th, is set in 1968 in the New Orleans-themed fictional city of New Bordeaux, with a story that’s mainly concerned with the escalating war between the black and Italian mob, but also touches on era-appropriate issues: racial tension in the South, the Vietnam War. And thanks to creative director Haden Blackman, a music obsessive, it has a soundtrack to match, packed with 100 carefully curated songs from the era, from rock to blues to soul.

Viewed through the eyes of young, black Vietnam vet Lincoln Clay, the game is primarily an action-packed, drivey-shooty game punctuated with well-written scenes of people swearing at each other. So, a bit like Grand Theft Auto then, except with more of a historical perspective and social conscience. And unlike GTA’s radio stations, the music in Mafia 3 is used movie-style, to punctuate dramatic moments.

“From the outset we knew we had to have a kick-ass soundtrack,” Blackman says. “Our approach was very much that we have to make sure it’s an amazing soundtrack, because that will lead to an amazing game.”

“The first song I knew I wanted to get into the game is a pretty obscure one,” Blackman says. “A song called ‘Desperation’ by Steppenwolf, which I knew from their greatest hits album or whatever. It’s this very moody Steppenwolf song that’s very different than anything else that you know them for.” The song is first used for an emotional scene between Lincoln and Father James, who is a Catholic priest that helped raise him. “He’s kind of an Old Testament guy, so he totally understands Lincoln’s war against the mob,” Blackman explains. “He supports it up to a point, but he warns Lincoln about the cost of this war. Not just in terms of the people that might die, but also on his soul. That’s a hard moment for Lincoln and we have ‘Desperation’ playing in the background.”

Very often a game team will draw up a wish list of music, only to be told by the suits in legal that it was impossible to get any of them. The Mafia 3 team have been extremely lucky. “There were artists that I thought there would be no way we’d ever get, and yet they came through,” Blackman says. “So Creedence, the Rolling Stones, we have the Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Elvis. Honestly, I was doubtful that we’d be able to get this wide spectrum of Sixties artists.”

“I really wanted to get ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ in, and ‘Paint It Black’ obviously, because it’s such a Vietnam-era song. And then Sam and Dave. It was really important to me to get some representation from Sam and Dave because I could see driving to that, being in combat to that, applying it to cinematics or story moments. Their music is so versatile.”

Selecting the tracks wasn’t just a case of the team sitting around with Spotify open on their computers searching for cool Sixties tracks. Some tunes were picked to help set the gritty, Southern mood of the game, but there were others that were chosen with very specific illustrative purposes.

“We have a moment where you’re chasing down this guy called Uncle Lou who’s the mobster that runs the French Ward,” Blackman explains. “You’ve cornered him on this river boat, which has exploded and you’ve both been thrown into the Bayou. We begin as the lights come up on the cinematic. Lincoln regains consciousness and sees that Lou is trying to struggle his way out of the swamp. That’s when we bring up Creedence’s ‘Green River’ and then that music continues into the gameplay without a break. The song really fits the tone of the moment. It gets you into the right kind of mentality where you’re this kind of stalker moving through the swamp.”

In an unusual narrative device, the game is framed as a tourist video being watched in 2016, about the events of 1968 and Lincoln’s actions. “That gives us a lot more latitude in terms of what music we can include,” Blackman says. “When I look back on some of this music, the way I encountered a lot of it without even realizing it is through covers. There’s a song in the game called ‘You Belong to Me’ from the Duprees. They weren’t the first ones to perform it but that’s the version we have in the game. I actually was introduced to that song through the Misfits version of it,” he says, describing the raw cover of the song from the band’s Project 1950 album.

“We have a moment in the game where you hear the Duprees version and it’s a really dramatic moment between two characters. It’s playing on a radio in the background and it’s very fitting of the moment. Then later we have a really powerful turning point for one of those characters and you hear just a brief snippet of the Misfits version. There’s something really special about the thunder of the Misfits doing this song that’s very poetic and powerful.”

More Informations About Fall Video Game Preview 2016

This year’s lineup of fall video game releases runs the gamut from quirky, hand-drawn indie games to huge, sprawling epics that have been in development hell for more than a decade. It’s a year when beloved franchises like Battlefield and Call of Duty are reinventing themselves in completely new settings, virtual reality is pushing into the mainstream, and sports games are no longer satisfied with just simulating what happens on the field.

There are hundreds of games vying for our attention across consoles and the PC between now and the end of December. Here’s a guide to 21 that should be on your radar over the next few months.

‘ReCore’ (Xbox One, PC – September 13)

After an atmospheric intro in 2015, ReCore looked a little iffy during this year’s E3 show in June, but its pedigree can’t be denied. With a sci-fi post-apocalyptic story penned by ex-Bungie alum Joseph Staten, directed by Mark Pacini of Metroid Prime fame and produced by legendary Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, the team behind ReCore is approaching supergroup status – it just needs Tom Morello on guitar.

‘NBA 2K17’ (Xbox One, PS4 – September 20)

If you’re a hoops head who also plays games, it’s likely a moot point – you’re going to cop NBA 2K17. Rest assured, though, that 2K doesn’t seem to be mailing it in this year. Expect some pretty big gameplay changes, like refined shooting mechanics, a more precise and rewarding dribbling game, and a fatigue scheme that better simulates the ebb and flow of athletic performance over the course of a game. Also, for the first time in years, the 1992 USA Dream Team returns, including Jordan, Barkley, Bird, and even Coach K himself, Mike Krzyzewski.

‘Destiny: Rise of Iron’ (Xbox One, PS4 – September 20)

The most compulsive online game this side of Azeroth gets a new installment in September, and it’s just in time. Destiny has lain fallow since The Taken King expansion dropped almost a year ago, and it’s been the longest drought in history for Bungie’s shared-world shooter. When Rise of Iron hits in late September, expect all the standard stuff you’d demand of a Destiny expansion: a new raid, an increased level limit, and a whole bunch of new gear. Perhaps the real treat for Destiny heads, though, is a deeper look into the game’s foundational lore. It’s a fact that the more obscure a game’s lore, the thirstier players are the decipher it, and Destiny is as opaque as it gets.

‘FIFA 17′ (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3 – September 27)

You’d think after 23 years of making FIFA games that they’d start running out of new stuff to add, but this year’s game takes a bold step in the shape of a new mode called “The Journey.” Much like Spike Lee’s questionable “Livin’ Da Dream” in NBA 2K16, this brings a big dose of story and drama into the game’s usually-dry career mode. Working with Manchester United forward Anthony Martial and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez, EA Sports has crafted what they claim is an authentic representation of life as a player both on and off the pitch. Whether that includes dating reality TV stars remains to be seen.

‘Forza Horizon 3’ (Xbox One, PC – September 27)

If you are inclined towards fast cars but find racing sims like Forza Motorsports 6 unconscionably dull, its younger, hipper cousin Forza Horizon 3 is absolutely aimed at you. Blending the less conventional elements of other racers like Burnout Paradise, Need for Speed, and Test Drive it provides a huge open world (in this case, a big chunk of Australia), then fills it with 350 drool-worthy cars to collect. It’s the only game out there that’ll let you step out of a rare Lamborghini Centenario and straight into a Warthog from Halo.

‘Mafia 3’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – October 7)

Video games have a lousy track record when it comes to tackling delicate social issues, particularly those around race, but Mafia 3 creative director Haden Blackman believes he can change that. An award-winning writer for his work on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed in 2008 and the Batwoman comic book in 2010, Blackman’s specialty has always been taking grand concepts and making them intimate character pieces. His vision for Mafia 3 puts it in the New Orleans-themed fictional city of New Bordeaux in 1968, and tackles a racially charged mob war from the perspective of a young, black Vietnam vet. “We knew we had a responsibility to address the fact that there were (and still are) race issues in the country,” Blackman says. “The Sixties were such a turbulent time, especially in the South, we would have been totally tone deaf and failed horribly had we not acknowledged it in some way.”

The Reason You’re Still Playing Video Games With Super Nintendo

Fall 1990, ground zero for the modern games industry. The six-year-old Nintendo Entertainment System (eight if you count the time since its Japanese launch), with its box-like chassis and dated visuals, looked like a relic of another era. Nintendo’s arch-rival Sega was killing it with the Genesis, thanks to an aggressive philosophy of price cuts and in-your-face advertising. In Japan, the pricey (but powerful) Neo Geo console loomed on the horizon, promising unparalleled arcade performance, while the consumer electronics giants were all tinkering with CD-ROM technology to bring interactive movies to the home.
Then Nintendo changed everything.

Launched in Japan in November 1990 as the Super Famicom, the SNES represented a whole new approach to the console business. It was not an attempt to elongate the lifespan of an older machine like the failed Intellivision II or Atari 7200, neither was it a completely fresh start like the Genesis or Neo Geo. Designed by NES architect, Masayuki Uemura, the Super Nintendo continued the ethos and brand image of its predecessor without obsessing over backward compatibility.

When fans started queuing outside electronic stores throughout Japan on November 20th, they knew they were getting an entirely new platform, not some continuation or add-on; yet they were assured that the experiences they loved – Mario, Zelda, Metroid – would all be returning. In his seminal book, The Ultimate History of Videogames, Steve Kent writes about the chaos that hit when it was clear only 300,000 units would be available. “All of Tokyo was slowed down by the crowds,” he wrote. “The pushing and shoving were so chaotic that the Japanese government later asked Nintendo and other video game companies to restrict future hardware releases to weekends.” What these consumers were witnessing was the birth of the modern sequential console business, where each generation of hardware is related but discrete. This is where the future started.
It was a slower start in the U.S. When the Super Famicom launched as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System on August 23rd, the Sega Genesis had over 100 titles, a lower price point, and an infamous line in TV commercials that had kids all over the continent yelling, “Sega!” at each other, replicating the screamed brand identity that ended every ad. Though the SNES never quite beat the total sales of its rival in the United States, while Sega had attitude and credibility, Nintendo had craft and artistry. With its two custom graphics chips and powerful audio unit, the Super Nintendo was built to an industrial design philosophy that valued beautiful audio-visual performance over sheer processing grunt. This was not a console designed to simply replicate the experience of going to an arcade, it was a machine intended for a whole new era of broad, complex gaming experiences.

The shape and structure of games changed. This was obvious in the very first title, Super Mario World, which further expanded the whole notion of a scrolling platformer with its vast array of interconnected environments, varied enemies and plethora of new skills and features. Pilot Wings too showcased a new form of console game – half action, half simulation – with graded levels of player challenge and expertise designed to test for months as you pitted your hang glider skills against increasingly unforgiving courses. The great role-playing game producers discovered grand new narrative possibilities in the systems’s rich color palette and musical synthesis. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound and Dragon Quest V, all had their roots in the NES era, but their creators revelled in possibilities the SNES provided, writing rounded characters and orchestral scores.

These were narrative adventures of true emotional depth and aesthetic charm – and alongside the likes of Super Metroid and Super Castlevania IV, they taught modern game studios like Bioware, Blizzard and Naughty Dog how to think about story, pace and structure in longform design. Their innovations are still being discovered and explored in the indie community, via the “Metroidvania” and retro RPG genres. “For me, these were the first games to show how deep an experience gaming could provide,” says Graham Smith of DrinkBox Studios, creator of the 2014 SNES-inspired brawler Guacamelee. “They pushed design and narratives much farther than the previous console was able to; they created a real emotional experience for the player, elevating what games could strive to be.”

The SNES was a platform for experienced Nintendo craftspeople. It teased miracles from old cohorts like Capcom (Street Fighter II, Breath of Fire, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts) and Konami (Contra III, the Castlevania titles, International Superstar Soccer), and it opened up fresh avenues for Western developers like Acclaim, Interplay and Rare. “The NES and Gameboy were similar in the way the architecture was set up, in the number of sprites, the character cells, et cetera,” explains Chris Sutherland, lead programmer on the Donkey Kong Country titles, now working on SNES-inspired adventure, Yooka-Laylee. “Nintendo clearly thought, well if we take the NES architecture but make a bigger chip, we can give you twice as many colors, more sprites on screen, less limitations: it literally was a Super NES. By then, developers were wringing all sorts of stuff out of the NES, so when they moved on to the SNES it was easy – they knew all the tricks already, they didn’t have to relearn everything from scratch.”

Furthermore, the stability of the platform allowed creativity to flourish, so while Sega muddied the legacy of the Genesis with its attachments, updates and the Saturn – its underpowered follow-up – the SNES was able to boast astonishingly assured releases to its dying days. Even when the PlayStation arrived in 1994, heralding a brave new era of 3D polygonal graphics, the SNES was still dropping masterworks like Chrono Trigger, Yoshi’s Island and Harvest Moon. “For me, the SNES was a joy to work with,” says veteran coder, John Pickford, who, while working at Software Creations in Manchester in late 1990, received the first SNES development kit outside of Japan. “What really struck me about the SNES was that it was truly designed for making fast 2D games. Whilst it’s true the CPU was quite slow – and I later learned it was deliberately under-clocked due to an aborted NES compatibility mode – this wasn’t really a huge problem.”

That’s because the dedicated graphics chips did all the hard work of drawing the images to the TV screen, allowing the CPU to focus on raw data like where the Mario sprite was in relation to the rest of the objects in play. “For a ZX Spectrum coder like me, that almost felt like cheating!” says Pickford.

The SNES, then, occupied a unique place in the history of games, straddling the inventive chaos of the Eighties and the technological confidence of the Nineties. It closed the era of pixel art and computer-generated music, and welcomed 3D visuals with the Super FX chip, (which was housed in the game cartridges themselves). If there is no classic Super Nintendo title in your past, if you did not willingly submit hours of your life to Super Mario Kart, Star Fox or Street Fighter II Turbo, a game designer you respect certainly did. Blizzard started out making interesting hybrid role-playing platformers like Lost Vikings and Blackthorne on the console. The creators of Cave Story and Shovel Knight hark back unselfconsciously to the era. Naughty Dog founders Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin cite the character platformers of the SNES era as a major influence on Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. “We were most derivative of Donkey Kong Country,” he admitted to industry news site Gamasutra. “That was the game that we really looked at, if you look at the way the levels were structured.”

Ryan Lee of Cellar Door Games, the creators of Rogue Legacy, is keen to emphasise that the influence of SNES games is about more than their quaint pixelated visuals. “We had a huge soft spot for the RPGs from back then,” he says. “The great thing about them was how varied they were in their gameplay. People remember the story, the music, etc. But people don’t give enough love for how much depth there was to their combat systems. They were much more nuanced in their design compared to many RPGs nowadays which, to me, feel superficial.”

The SNES taught us that home consoles could be more than home arcades or toys – they could be an accessible medium for story and experience – for everyone. You play the games you do because someone somewhere played something on the SNES.

Everything You Need to Know About PlayStation Pro

g3No doors were blown off. No presses were stopped. Yesterday’s invite-only “PlayStation Meeting” in New York had less in common with the excitement of a new console reveal than with a mid-cycle Apple iPhone event – with which it happened to share the date. Shortly after Tim Cook’s brain had waited patiently on stage for its host’s Carpool Karaoke ordeal to mercifully end, Sony was doing its best to build excitement for it’s own mid-cycle refresh of the world’s number one selling video game console, the PlayStation 4. Along with a slimmer version of the current PS4 (that’s unhappily less capable than its equally slim new rival, the Xbox One S) Sony Interactive Entertainment President and CEO, Andrew House revealed the faster, more powerful PlayStation 4 Pro, which will retail at $399 when it launches November 10th. Here’s a primer.
What is it?
The PlayStation 4 Pro is the brainchild of Mark Cerny, lead system architect for PlayStation and technical MVP of at least three generations of Sony games including Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted and Resistance. It features a new three-layer case design, a more powerful graphics processor and a faster CPU, along with a bigger, 1TB hard drive. All of which is in the service of two things: the 4K future of your television and the soon-to-be-strapped-to-your-face future of Virtual Reality.

Why now?
Traditionally, console makers like Sony have been on a mission to drag out the life of a single piece of hardware for as long as possible between generations. The original PlayStation lasted six years, the PS3 seven before they were superseded. What’s changed is the technology inside, which used to be bespoke and pricey but is now basically the same, off-the-shelf stuff that sits in every PC, tablet and notebook. That and a tech consumer that expects their phones to be updated every two years. That’s made it a much easier sell, and even a necessary step in order to keep up with the current trend towards ever more high definition content (4K TVs) and games that demand virtually photorealistic graphics.

What does it mean for my games?
Quite a bit. The enhanced graphics and 4K output means that games you already own, as well as any new titles released after the PS4 Pro is launched, will either be running smoother (faster frame rates), running with much more detail (in 4K) or at the very least, running with enhanced color depth – thanks to the addition of High Dynamic Range, or HDR. To prove the point, at yesterday’s reveal, Sony re-introduced a number of stunning-looking games – from the open-world sci-fi adventure of Guerrilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn, to the zombie apocalypse of Days Gone from Sony’s Bend Studio, to Ubisoft’s hacker fantasy, Watch Dogs 2, and finally a surprise all-new in-game demo of Bioware’s forthcoming Mass Effect Andromeda – all running in 4K with HDR color.

What does it mean for movies and TV?
If you have a 4K TV and broadband, the PS4 Pro will take advantage of the limited (but growing) Netflix library of 4K content via a new Netflix streaming app. Marvel’s new Luke Cage series will be compatible, as is the Netflix original series and caterpillar mustache showcase Narcos. Sony also has its own catalog of 4K movies that live under its ‘Ultra’ brand. Bafflingly, despite Sony owning the Blu-Ray format, the PS4 Pro won’t be able to play 4K Blu-Ray discs – something the new Xbox One S can do. Either Sony doesn’t believe its own disc format has a future, or it’s simply assuming that the kind of people that will pay $399 for a mid-cycle refresh of a games console they already own are cutting edge enough to have long since left the confines of physical media for the world of streaming.

What if I don’t have a 4K TV?
Thanks to the wonders of something called super-sampling, where the PS4 Pro takes the 4K image data and shrinks the image to fit a standard HD screen, even a 1080p image should look a wee bit sharper. But the real benefit will be in how games run. If the PS4 Pro detects a standard HD TV, it will know to push its power towards increasing the frame rate and dabbing extra detail into the world, such as extra blades of grass in a field or more realistic flowing locks on the head of your favorite hero. Or slightly more realistic identical gray backpacks in The Division.

What does this have to do with PlayStation VR?
Because VR works by giving each eye its own HD TV, virtual reality is power-hungry – effectively asking the PS4 to draw everything on the screen twice. Though Sony has promised that all PSVR games will run smoothly on the vanilla PS4, the extra processing power that the Pro brings to the party is going to mean enhanced – and certainly less motion-sickness-inducing experiences, thanks to increased frame rates.

How does it compare to Microsoft’s forthcoming 2017 Xbox One update, ‘Project Scorpio’?
Given that it’s arriving an entire year earlier, not well. Microsoft has already stated that its PS4 Pro equivalent will have both faster chips and more raw processing power thanks to its silicon being a generation newer. What this means in practice is too early to say, but both systems will handle 4K gaming with HDR color so the real differences are likely to be in the smoothness of the images and the amount of detail the designers can bake into their creations. Still, neither Sony nor Microsoft want to see inferior versions for their legacy consoles, so this will have to be handled carefully – it’s one thing to see every leaf on a tree in 4K on PS4 Pro, but another to find that on an old PS4 the tree has been replaced by a sign that says ‘tree here’ because the aging processor can’t hack it.