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Enlarge (credit: Bungie, Inc.) In its first development roadmap update of 2018, Destiny developer Bungie is promising to rebalance Destiny 2's microtransaction and raids systems to give players more satisfying rewards that are less dependent on luck. In the lengthy development update posted Thursday evening, Game Director Christopher Barrett admitted up front that, currently, "the scales are tipped too far towards Tess," the owner of the game's much maligned microtransaction-fueled Eververse store. The Eververse was "never intended to be a substitute for end game content and rewards," Barrett writes. To that end, Barrett says the game will be shifting the item balance so desirable items like Ghosts, Sparrows, and ships can be earned directly as "activity rewards" for in-game actions rather than as random drops from Bright Engrams. Barrett also promises more "direct purchase options" and adjustments that will "allow players to get the items they want more often" without relying on the luck of the draw. These changes should start rolling out February 13.

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Frank Cifaldi / VGHF Gamers of a certain age probably remember that Nintendo worked with Maxis to port a version of the seminal SimCity to the brand-new SNES in 1991. What most gamers probably don't realize is that an NES version of the game was developed at the same time and cancelled just before its planned release. That version of the game was considered lost for decades until two prototype cartridges surfaced in the collecting community last year. One of those prototypes has now been obtained and preserved by the Video Game History Foundation's (VGHF's) Frank Cifaldi, who demonstrated the emulated ROM publicly for the first time at MAGFest last weekend.

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Enlarge / There isn't much obvious rhyme or reason to the game's puzzles, which turn a 10-minute level into an hour-long affair. Hello Neighbor won’t be the very last game I review this year. I can only pray that it will be the worst. As of now, the first-person stealth puzzler is the worst game I can remember covering in a long time. That’s a shame, because the premise is promising enough. It’s like a suburban take on Rear Window set in the world of Psychonauts’ Milkman Conspiracy. Empty, twisted cookie-cutter houses embody a cartoonish paranoia. The player character, a young boy presumably native to the breezy street where the game takes place, sees something he shouldn’t. His titular neighbor has shoved a shrieking somebody (or something) into his basement. It’s your job to learn who or what. All of this is implied through imagery. It has to be, since there isn’t really any dialogue in Hello Neighbor. There’s also no tutorial or anything like a basic breakdown of the controls, either. That quickly becomes a problem as you realize nothing works as it should, from avoiding your pursuer to stacking crates to sneak in through windows.

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Enlarge / In space, no one can hear you stream. Because the latency would kill you. (credit: NASA) When you're orbiting 400 kilometers above the Earth, getting to the movie-plex to watch the latest science fiction blockbuster is a bit of a drag. But the current crew of the International Space Station will still be able to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi, according to a report from Inverse—and they'll do so while in orbit. NASA Public Affairs Officer Dan Huot told Inverse that the ISS crew “will be able to watch it in orbit. Don’t have a definitive timeline yet." This is at least partially thanks to the improvements made in the ISS's communications systems in 2013. Those updates were intended to improve the "scientific output" of the space station, which once had to essentially rely on dial-up speed connections. The High Rate Communications System (HRCS) gave the ISS a massive upgrade in its downlink and uplink speeds—increasing the bandwidth of uplink from the ground to 25 megabits per second, making it qualify as broadband under FCC guidelines. The downlink speeds—the rate at which ISS can send data to ground stations—is a blazing 300 megabits per second. The high-speed networking gear and accompanying Ethernet upgrades were executed by the ISS's commander at the time, Canadian astronaut and interstellar rock star Chris Hadfield, and Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn.

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Enlarge In the months since PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds became an out-of-nowhere top-selling hit, the Battle Royale genre of last-man-standing free-for-alls has been surging in popularity. Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene, though, says he isn't too happy with the slate of "copycats" that have followed in Battlegrounds' wake. "There's no intellectual property protection in games," Greene complained to BBC Newsbeat recently. "In movies and music there is IP protection and you can really look after your work. In gaming that doesn't exist yet, and it's something that should be looked into." "Some amazing games pass under the radar," he continued. "Then someone else takes the idea, has a marketing budget, and suddenly has a popular game because they ripped off someone else's idea. I think it's something the industry needs to look into. You're protecting the work of artists basically. Games are art for a large part, and so I think it's important they're protected."

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Netflix Yesterday, Netflix quietly dropped a trailer (which is, for now, viewable only through the service) for an upcoming eight-part docuseries called The Toys That Made Us. Debuting on Friday, December 22, the project takes viewers back to perhaps the start of modern toy collecting—the 1980s. The series comes from producer Brian Volk-Weiss, who has worked with Netflix on a bunch of comedy specials and notably did the 50 Years of Star Trek documentary for the History Channel. And it arrives at a time when obsessive nerd culture documentaries are seemingly being produced at an all-time high: Robert Kirkman has been taking viewers into the back stories of major comic characters on AMC, the My Life in Gaming guys continue churning out looks at historic games like Night Trap, and early 2018 will have more The Toys That Made Us alongside docs like the Midway arcade game-focused Insert Coin. Presumably, like many of the creators of such docu-content, Volk-Weiss grew up during the era of these toys and has himself become...
Enlarge / Time to blow this taco stand. (credit: Brandon Readman) Thargoids. If you're a regular Elite Dangerous player, you know the name—they're the enigmatic insectoid Big Bad Guys of the Elite universe that series co-creator David Braben has been teasing us with for a few years now. As far back as early 2015, Braben has been answering our repeated questions of "Where are the Thargoids?!" with the same quiet refrain: "They are coming." Folks, they're here. And they do not like us. We don’t go to the Pleiades 2014's Elite Dangerous has its share of mysteries, and biggest among them are the Thargoids, who appear to focus their activities around the Pleiades Cluster. First encountered in 1984's Elite in their massively powerful and difficult-to-kill octagonal spacecraft, the series' lore says that humans were only able to defeat the technologically superior aliens via a biological weapon called the mycoid virus. But then, after a century of silence, the Thargoids crept back onto the stage. Almost a year ago, reports began to surface from players who had been ripped out of hyperspace by unknown enormous spacecraft that appeared impervious to all conventional attacks. A few months ago players learned that the unknown craft were indeed the Thargoids we'd been anticipating for so long and that the game's 2.4 update would focus on their return from wherever they'd gone.

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Enlarge (credit: Today, America Online Instant Messenger, better known by its acronym, AIM, went dark after more than two decades of faithful service. Those of us who came of age in the 1990s and early 2000s fondly remember the halcyon days of chat rooms, lolspeak, and away messages. We know that, while some of the Ars audience were 1337 sysops on IRC channels, for a lot of us, AIM was the primary way to connect with our friends online across town and around the globe. We asked readers on Twitter: would you share your AIM memories with us? Just a few sentences of what you remember most, what you got out of it, what, if anything, it taught you? The responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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Enlarge / The holiday season is always stressful, perhaps more so for the Alderson family. (credit: USA Networks) Warning: This story contains spoilers for S2 and S3 of Mr. Robot. Early in last night’s S3 finale, Elliot has engineered his way into an FBI mole’s apartment and must search for something. If he can find what the Dark Army has on this guy, he/Mr. Robot thinks, then maybe they can leverage that and take down the Dark Army. Drawers frantically open, paper and pictures toss about, and then…. Irving, the hacker collective’s fixer, calmly appears out of nowhere to flip through books on the FBI agent’s shelf. “I just finished this book. I got it on tape. I didn’t care much for the ending. Story can have a mediocre beginning, middle, and often times it does. But it’s always gotta have a ‘wow’ ending—otherwise, what’s the point?” he tells Elliot. “And whatever scheme you’re trying to come up with, it’s not going to change the inevitable.”

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Enlarge / Watch out for giant faces and TIE fighters! (credit: Disney) Spoiler-free assessment There are a lot of good things I expected from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but nuance wasn’t one of them. You can usually depend on this franchise to deliver zoomy action steered by easily recognizable good guys and bad guys, their motivations untainted by complexity. The possible exception would be The Empire Strikes Back, and The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson is obviously trying to evoke that film here. Luckily, The Last Jedi is not a reboot or recreation of The Empire Strikes Back, the way The Force Awakens was of A New Hope. Jedi turns our characters into multi-faceted people and takes the series in new and unexpected directions. Without giving away any of the plot, I can say that The Last Jedi’s greatest strength comes from its characters—and of course the actors who play them. Instead of giving us legendary heroes whose main job is to propel the plot, The Last Jedi focuses on our protagonists’ struggles with the same everyday problems that all sentient creatures face. They are conflicted, disappointed, and unsure what to do. They go on wild goose chases. They do the wrong thing, or the right thing for the wrong reasons. In other words, they feel realistically ordinary. Luke actually makes fun of his mythical reputation when the wide-eyed Rey (Daisy Ridley) begs for his help (Mark Hamill is...
Enlarge / Star Citizen's developers are flying into their own legal asteroid field, courtesy of Crytek. Star Citizen's lengthy and heavily crowd-funded development has been marked by numerous changes to the project's direction and scope, including a move from Crytek's CryEngine to Amazon's Lumberyard in late 2016. That change is now the focus of a lawsuit from Crytek, which accuses Star Citizen developers Roberts Space Industries (RSI) and Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) of copyright infringement and breach of contract. The complaint, filed in the US District Court for Central California, lays out how RSI agreed to work exclusively with CryEngine in a 2012 agreement, an agreement it says was broken when RSI moved to Amazon's Lumberyard engine in late 2016. In a blog post following that transition, RSI's Chris Roberts explained that Lumberyard was essentially a more promising fork of an earlier CryEngine build that fit better as a base for "StarEngine," his name for the "heavily modified" version of CryEngine the developers were then using. "Crytek doesn't have the resources to compete with this level of investment and have never been focused on the network or online aspects of the engine in the way we or Amazon are," Roberts wrote.

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Enlarge T-Mobile CEO John Legere announced today that the mobile phone operator intends to acquire TV service Layer3 TV and next year offer a TV service that lets you watch "what you want, when you want, where you want" without the "complete bullshit"—contracts, forced bundles, and promotional pricing that expires after a year—that typifies the services coming from traditional cable TV providers. Layer3 TV brands itself as "The New Cable." It currently operates in only a handful of markets, offering access to a wide range of HD and 4K channels (more than 275 in total), streamed using the highly efficient H.265 (also known as HEVC) video codec and a custom set-top box. It's a pure IP service—there's no tuner in the box, and it will connect over Wi-Fi—and to support it, Layer3 has built out a fiber distribution network and data center in Denver that handles transcoding shows into HEVC. It also has partnerships with Internet providers to provide the last mile connectivity. This private backbone network should mean that Layer3 doesn't suffer the kinds of issues that Netflix dealt with a few years ago when its links bought from Cogent became congested. While the distribution and compression technology are modern, the rest of the current Layer3 service looks quite traditional. Layer3 offers a basic package of about 150 channels—like regular cable TV, you'll get access to your local CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and PBS affiliates, among others—with...
Enlarge / Original sketches of Imperial Storm Troopers by artist Ralph McQuarrie. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Relax, this post contains no spoilers. While most Star Wars articles you'll see this week are focused on the soon-to-be-revealed adventures of Finn, Rey, Poe, and BB-8, today we've got a blast from the past to share with you—sort of. As any self-respecting nerd will tell you, the whole look-and-feel of the Star Wars universe owes a lot to Ralph McQuarrie. In 1975, George Lucas hired the conceptual artist to create the characters and worlds that then only existed on the pages of his scripts. So McQuarrie's paintbrush created the first images of C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, stormtroopers, and others, not to mention all those TIE fighters, X-Wings, and Y-Wings. His paintings and concept art heavily informed Lucas' filmmaking, and the director reproduced many of McQuarrie's pieces in Star Wars. But quite a lot changed between the earlier scripts McQuarrie was working from and the film that audiences saw in 1977. Stormtroopers used lightsabers. Luke Skywalker was a girl. And the Millennium Falcon looked very, very different. Now, thanks to the 2017 graduating classes of the DAVE School, we have an idea of what a 1975-era movie—"The Star Wars"—would have looked like:

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Enlarge / Just a few more revolutions until that next Powerful Gear. (credit: Bungie / Getty / Aurich) Destiny 2 isn’t the game its fans want it to be. That isn’t apparent from the game’s design, which seems to check every box a fan of the original would want. But a quick trip around the Internet shows just how much the sequel is failing to live up to many players’ expectations. Take this 390-comment thread about the state of Destiny 2, for instance. It reads like the pre-apocalyptic screed you’d find scrawled on a wall in any number of other video games. It got to be so bad that Bungie had to interrupt its Curse of Osiris PR plans to address the complaints. And now that Curse of Osiris is out, the fan reaction isn’t exactly getting better. That’s a shame, because Destiny 2 is a totally solid first-person shooter, taken in the vein of Bungie’s own previous games. In 40 or 50 hours you could get through every story mission, strike, raid, and a decent bit of the competitive multiplayer. That’s a good amount of content, especially compared to many other first-person shooters, and Destiny 2’s best-in-class action is enough to carry those hours forward enjoyably.

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Enlarge / Meet Thelma. Medical professionals can't seem to nail down what's happening in her brain... (credit: Fantastic Fest / Thelma) You might not see a more stunning film in 2017 than Director Joachim Trier’s Thelma, Norway’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. It tonally combines the unbridled happiness of a coming-of-age/first love film with the creepy stillness and angularity of arthouse horror. And aesthetically it unleashes sequences that will inevitably play silently on repeat at the hippest bar you can think of once Thelma hits a streaming service. With all that beauty, it’s a shame the film seems so reductive at first—forbidden love and a cursed child; a body horror like Carrie but set in Europe. Luckily, that impression proves to be as window dressing-y as the title character’s minimalist Nordic dorm room. With a dash of the supernatural and a mystery that ultimately reveals answers by excluding explanation, Thelma offers more depth (and fun) than the clichés of its film blurb would lead you to believe. Go to college, see the world Shy Thelma leaves her religious, conservative family in small-town Norway to pursue university in vibrant Oslo. The lifestyle proves to be quite different. Kids drink and go out late, they try weed and stuff. Accordingly, Thelma doesn’t seem to be connecting much if at all at first (but you’re making new friends on Facebook, her dad encourages). Worse, one...
Enlarge / A Ghost, but IRL. (credit: Amazon) From the Power Glove to Fallout 4's real-life Pip Boy, gamers have been pitched a lot of ridiculous hardware over the years. The Destiny 2 Ghost Alexa speaker and accompanying Alexa skill are no less ridiculous. The skill, which also works on other Alexa-enabled speakers, allows Destiny 2 players to ask questions like, "Who are the Red Legion," or "What should I do next?" and get answers back in the same voice they hear in the game. Amazon and game publisher Activision claim there are more than 1,000 lines to hear. Listed functions include telling you more about the game's lore, identifying your next activity, changing your equipped gear, or inviting other players to group with you. As far as we're aware, it's the first Alexa skill to connect directly into an online game. When Ars' Sam Machkovech tried the skill out, he wasn't impressed. For example, many query responses just cycle through several pre-canned messages, and the only gear management command that he discovered was, "Alexa, ask Ghost to equip my best weapon." It's entirely a gimmick, but would you have expected anything better? Also, sadly for those (very, very) few of us who preferred Peter Dinklage's performance as Ghost over Nolan North's, only North's voice is available. Most players will be quite happy to see Dinklage is not involved, though.

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Enlarge / Bigger weapons and clearer XP gains are coming to Destiny 2, along with private competitive matches. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, intrepid player-investigators caught Bungie misleading players about how much experience they were actually getting for repeated quests in the game. In the wake of that embarrassing revelation, Bungie last night posted a lengthy "State of Destiny 2" development post promising to be "more open" about the game's systems and offering a detailed roadmap of upcoming changes. "Our team has been reading feedback and working on updates to improve the game," Design Director Luke Smith and Game Director Christopher Barrett wrote in the post. "We’ve also been reading some tough criticism about our lack of communication, and we agree we need to be more open... We know it’s frustrating when there isn’t enough of a dialog with the development team. You have our commitment that we’re going to do a better job going forward." Addressing the XP system complaints specifically, Bungie explained that the hidden scaling for repeated missions was intended to "keep slower-paced activities as rewarding as high-intensity grinding without confusing variations in displayed XP values." That said, Bungie acknowledged "the silent nature of the mechanic betrayed the expectation of transparency that you have for Destiny 2."

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Enlarge / The pull of the Force is strong with things like an impeccably rendered Millennium Falcon. (I mean, gosh, that's purty.) But Star Wars: Battlefront II can't paint over most of its failings. (credit: EA / DICE) I've tried to give the new video game Star Wars: Battlefront II a fair shake, and I tried to do so through three types of fandom, at that. I really dig Star Wars—and I've generally appreciated when the series has expanded its universe in video game form. I'm a big fan of DICE as a creator of high-polish, massively multiplayer online shooters. And I thought 2015's reboot of the Star Wars: Battlefront game series was perfectly satisfactory as an accessible online action game. I kept all of these optimistic angles in mind as I booted the new game—and as I used my lightsaber of fandom to try to carve through its confusing economies. But that has been Scarif-massacre levels of difficult. Battlefront II ultimately lands as an adequate-but-forgettable combination of polish, bombast, and been-there-done-that shooter tropes. Even after EA's last-minute about-face, little about the total package makes me eager to recommend it to anybody looking for a family-friendly blaster, a Star Wars-worthy story, or a month-after-month dive into online team combat. One step forward, how many steps back? ...
Enlarge / Perhaps Star Wars: Battlefront II won't go down in flames after a major EA about-face. (credit: Electronic Arts) Just hours before Star Wars Battlefront II's retail launch Friday, Electronic Arts and developer DICE announced that they are "turning off all in-game purchases... and all progression will be earned through gameplay." The surprise announcement promises the ability to purchase in-game crystals (used to purchase randomized loot boxes filled with in-game items) will return "at a later date," but "only after we've made changes to the game." "As we approach the worldwide launch, it's clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design," DICE General Manager Oskar Gabrielson writes. "We've heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we've heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn't get this right." Venturebeat cites "sources familiar with the situation" in reporting that the major change comes after Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson conducted a phone call with Disney CEO Bob Iger about the game. EA acquired the lucrative exclusive rights to publish Star Wars-based games in 2013, a year after Disney purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion.

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It's a trailer! No, it's an avant-garde satire! No, it's an extended joke about masturbation! Wait, what? At last, Deadpool has given us the answer to the age-old question of how you tell fans everything about a new movie without actually telling them anything that happens in the movie. That's right—this is a completely spoiler-free trailer for Deadpool 2, in which all you'll do is watch Deadpool painting some happy trees and mighty mountains. Oh, and also? He'll be "whacking off" his paintbrush. Because Deadpool. This is actually an extended parody of the old Bob Ross TV segments in which the famed hippie dude with a floof of hair taught people to paint "happy trees." Just in case you think the teaser's too over-the-top, check out the real Bob Ross in the video below. It's hard to beat this guy in the stoner goofball department. Happy trees! The first Deadpool movie was a surprise hit, and it starred Ryan Reynolds as the hideously disfigured, superpowered "merc with a mouth." Reynolds is a longtime fan of the Marvel comics antihero Deadpool, and the role seems made for him. What's going to happen in this sequel, coming June 1, 2018? You know, stuff. Guns. Explosions. Snark. Don't worry about it. Just enjoy the view of those happy trees.

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