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Tuesday, Mar 19, 2019

World of Warcraft Welcome Back Weekend

The World of Warcraft Website announces a "Welcome Back Weekend" for the MMORPG will kick off on Thursday, permitting everyone with an inactive account to spend a few days in Azeroth for free. Blizzard is also offering the chance to spend some money, should you choose, with their Welcome Back Weekend Sale. Here's word:
Join the Welcome Back Weekend March 21–24
Battle for Azeroth™ is in full swing, and everyone is needed on the front lines. This weekend, we’re upgrading all inactive World of Warcraft accounts, granting returning players full access to the game* and all their characters—including the Battle for Azeroth trial experience, for those who don’t own the latest expansion—through March 24.

Spread the Word!
As the war in Azeroth rages on, the champions of the Horde and the Alliance look to their in-game friends for help. Whether it’s levelling up for experience, gearing up for combat, or mounting up to see the world, World of Warcraft is always best enjoyed in groups, however big or small. If you have guildmates, friends, or family who haven’t been in Azeroth for a while, let them know they can play for free this weekend.

I.G.I Returning

Toadman Interactive announces the I.G.I. franchise will resume in 2021 with the release of a third game in this first-person shooter series that began in 2000 with the release of Project I.G.I., aka Project I.G.I.: I'm Going In. and continued in 2003 with I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike. The new game is not due for a couple of years, but they already offer a teaser trailer. While this does not show much in the way of gameplay, it does reveal it will be a prequel to the two previous games. There's more on their plans on the Toadman Website where they are soliciting suggestions. Here's the announcement:
Toadman Interactive is pleased to announce that the third game in the I.G.I. franchise will be released during 2021.

The title is a tactical stealth FPS and a prequel to the previous games that will uncover the origin story of the I.G.I. organization. Toadman has started the development of the game and is now in the prototyping stage. The team is really excited to have one of the original creators on board for the development and is looking forward to being able to share more as development continues.

I.G.I. was originally released in 2000 and the first two games sold over a million units combined. The games were developed by Innerloop Studios and the first game was published by Eidos Interactive, the second by Codemasters.

”I'm so psyched to announce that the prototyping is going well and we already have a fun base game to play in the studio. Today, we are releasing a teaser showing a glimpse of our prototyping and many things will improve as we continue the development. The reason we are sending out this update is so that we can allow enthusiasts to provide ideas and feedback when we are in the early stages of development. We want to hear from you fans to make sure you get to see the most out of this game,” said Robin Flodin, CEO of Toadman Interactive.
Continue here to read the full story.

Apex Legends Season One and Battle Pass Launch

Apex Legends Season One is underway and the first Battle Pass for the battle royale game is also now available as promised (thanks Don). EA's Answer HQ has three videos to illustrate the news, a Season 1 – Wild Frontier trailer, a Battle Pass trailer, and an Octane trailer to introduce the season's new character. There's also this post with a full rundown on the battle pass and their plans for the future. They summarize it with a TL;DR:
TL;DR Season 1 is about keeping it focused and allowing players to earn a lot of rewards at a great value (you even get the cost of the base Battle Pass back if you reach level 97). We’ll begin adding more and more innovations each season, as we evolve the Battle Pass.
Continue here to read the full story.

BioWare Offers Anthem Post-Launch Thoughts

A post on the BioWare Blog by Casey Hudson offers a post-launch update on Anthem, BioWare's mechanized action/RPG. He expresses their disappointment that the game suffered from so many issues at launch, and says that it's been their top priority to get things straightened out as quickly as possible. Here's where he talks about what they have done and will do about this, acknowledging that they understand why this will be met with some skepticism:
In these first few weeks, our Live team has worked hard on that, delivering over 200 improvements through patches and live updates, across stability, loot and progression, customization, and more.

We also continue to listen to your feedback, with more improvements to endgame loot and progression, game flow, and stability and performance coming soon – so there’s a lot more work that we intend to do. This is all a learning experience for us, and as we work to make sure the game is improved and perfected, we can’t emphasize enough how much we appreciate you staying with us. Especially because the next stage is where things really get exciting.

The Story is Just Beginning
As we move through this most difficult period of launching a new game and IP, we are also working on the things that will really show what Anthem is capable of – a series of world events, new story content, and new features, that all build towards the Cataclysm later this spring.

But we understand there is skepticism out there. We hear the criticisms and doubts. But we’ll keep going anyway, working hard every day on Anthem – an ever-changing world, constantly improving and growing, and supported well into the future by our team of passionate developers.

With Anthem we’re trying something a little different than we’ve done before. And likewise our upcoming games will be different from Anthem. But with everything we do, we focus on staying true to our mission, creating worlds that inspire you to become the hero of your own story. So what’s most important to us is you, the players who have supported us in this journey. And we’re excited to prove that with Anthem, the best is yet to come.

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock Expands

Sin and Sacrifice is now available on GOG.com and Steam, offering a new expansion for Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, the space strategy game based on the sci-fi franchise. This post explains that this concludes season one in the game, and it provides a Season One Finale Trailer to show off what to expect. Here's word:
The new expansion for Battlestar Galactica Deadlock marks the end of Season One: it introduces a brand-new story campaign with 11 story missions set after the original Deadlock campaign and Operation Anabasis. Telling the story of a pivotal point of the First Cylon War, the new campaign is a must-have for all Deadlock players. It will be the culmination of years of war for Lucinda Cain, the Agathon sisters and all the other members of the Daidalos crew. Will they endure the coming storm?

Sin and Sacrifice also adds a new Colonial Fleet radio chatter voice pack featuring over 1100 unique recordings. Its goal is to inject more drama and tension into the tactical battles, bringing your knife-edge encounters to life. Radio chatter is present both in combat, and during your cinematic replays, making your Battlestar Galactica fleet experience even more immersive.

On top of that, the expansion adds two new ships. On the Colonial side, you get the new Heracles Heavy gunship, dating back to the Imperial Wars, a heavy warship which emphasizes power over finesse. The Cylons get the new Gorgon, a mobile support carrier with advanced squadron repair and support functions.
Continue here to read the full story.

RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures Rolls Out

RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures is now available for Windows, after launching for Nintendo Switch. The PC edition of this casual installment in the theme park series is available exclusively (and procometitively) through the Epic Games Store. Here's a new trailer for the Windows edition and here are the details:
In RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures, players have three distinct game modes to build their entertainment empire — Adventure Mode (a spin on the classic Campaign mode), tricky Scenarios, and the open Sandbox. Over 120 wonderfully wacky rides, restaurants, and shops ensure parks burst with eye-catching action, and the intuitive coaster builder lets players create wild, death-defying coasters with ease. Four unique themed environments, along with water and terraforming options, ensure every park is distinct and exciting. A streamlined simulation and game economy allow players of all ages and skill levels to build the park of their dreams.
Continue here to read the full story.

Fate/EXTELLA LINK Released

Fate/EXTELLA LINK is now available for Windows and consoles, with the Windows edition offered through Steam. This sequel to Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star is on display in the launch trailer, and the announcement explains more:
Picking up right where the 2017 smash hit Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star left off, Fate/EXTELLA LINK adds 10 Servants to the original roster of 16. The high-speed action gameplay fans have come to know and love has been even further refined as players are tasked with battling their way through massive armies to protect the virtual world of SE.RA.PH at all costs. As in the PS4™ system version, players on Nintendo Switch and Steam will be able to engage in grand-scale 4-on-4 online battles, each assuming the roles of their favorite Servants.
Continue here to read the full story.

Into the Black

Link of the Day: Toy Story 4 - Official Trailer.

Google Announces Stadia, Their Streaming Service

Google made their big GDC announcement today, and it is indeed for their own game streaming service which they call Stadia. This revives the original promises rolled out with the first cloud gaming announcement, saying all the computation and rendering will happen on the back end, allowing high-end games to be played on any screen without a console or an expensive computer. An article on NBC news relates the details, noting games need to be developed for the platform: "Google needs game studios to build titles for Stadia. It says developers can build on its cloud or in their own studios. id Software is already building 'Doom Eternal' for Stadia and demoed it on stage. Another developer, Tequila Studios, showed its game 'Rime' running on the platform." Here's more:
Google explained a bit how it will work. The company said that if someone is watching a video of a game on YouTube, they could hit a button that says "play now" and jump right into playing the game themselves in as fast as five seconds. Today, gamers have to buy physical games or wait, often hours, for the game to download before they can play. Even then, they also need special hardware to play those games.

Google says Stadia will run on "any screen type" but it will work on desktops, laptops, TVs, tablets and phones at launch. There's no box at all.

"With Stadia, the data center is your platform," Google said. A gamer can start on one platform and then pick up where they left off on another devices, which means you might game on your computer and then continue on your phone when you leave the house.

People will be able to play with a keyboard and mouse or a special Stadia controller that Google will sell. It has a capture button that lets people share their games right to YouTube so that other people can watch. It also has a Google Assistant button, which gives access to the microphone for speaking to in-game features that developers will be able to build into their games.

Google said it will support 4K games at 60fps with HDR but that, in the future, will support games up to 8K resolution. Most people don't yet own 8K TVs and only the most recent gaming consoles from Microsoft and Sony currently support 4K HDR gaming.

AMD helps Google power Stadia's graphics rendering in the cloud. AMD shares were up about 7 percent on news that it was partnering with Google on Stadia.

More Gearbox Teasing

Another tweet from Gearbox says "Time to tease another game for PAX!" (thanks VideoGamer). It seems they are here to tease games and chew bubblegum, but they are all out of bubblegum: Said tease is a new image which seems to promote something related to Bulletstorm or Duke Nukem (or both). PAX East gets underway next week, so we should find out soon enough. Continue here to read the full story.

System Shock 3 Teaser Trailer

A new System Shock 3 teaser trailer offers a look at OtherSide Entertainment's upcoming continuation of the old school action/RPG series. This was part of the Unity Game Developers Conference keynote, confirming that the game will use the Unity engine, and more importantly confirms recent indications that development is soldiering on in spite of Starbreeze no longer publishing the game. The clip is very brief, but shows off some enemies, including the return of SHODAN, and The Verge says it is "pre-alpha in-engine" footage. Continue here to read the full story.

Heroes of the Storm Class Rework Coming

A new patch for Heroes of the Storm is now available on the Play Test Realm, with this article offering the patch notes. This shows that despite dropping esports support and shifting developers off the team, Blizzard is not done refining their MOBA. To address lengthening Hero League and Team League queue times, these modes are being combined into a single mode called Storm League. They are also rolling out a new game event, reworking a couple of heroes, and finally implementing the promised class rework that redefines how teams will be composed. The new roles are Tank, Bruiser, Support, Healer, Melee Assassin, and Ranged Assassin, and this article has specific details on how these work.

MS Introduces Variable Rate Shading

The DirectX Developer Blog introduces some new graphics technology called Variable Rate Shading, calling this "a scalpel in a world of sledgehammers" (thanks [H]ardOCP). Here's word:
What is Variable Rate Shading?
In a nutshell, it’s a powerful new API that gives the developers the ability to use GPUs more intelligently.

Let’s explain.

For each pixel in a screen, shaders are called to calculate the color this pixel should be. Shading rate refers to the resolution at which these shaders are called (which is different from the overall screen resolution). A higher shading rate means more visual fidelity, but more GPU cost; a lower shading rate means the opposite: lower visual fidelity that comes at a lower GPU cost.

Traditionally, when developers set a game’s shading rate, this shading rate is applied to all pixels in a frame.

There’s a problem with this: not all pixels are created equal.

VRS allows developers to selectively reduce the shading rate in areas of the frame where it won’t affect visual quality, letting them gain extra performance in their games. This is really exciting, because extra perf means increased framerates and lower-spec’d hardware being able to run better games than ever before.

VRS also lets developers do the opposite: using an increased shading rate only in areas where it matters most, meaning even better visual quality in games.

On top of that, we designed VRS to be extremely straightforward for developers to integrate into their engines. Only a few days of dev work integrating VRS support can result in large increases in performance.

NVIDIA Releases Ansel RTX and Freestyle

NVIDIA announces that the GeForce Experience Ansel RTX and Freestyle are now available through a new in-app version 3.18 update. The Ansel update brings a new version of the screenshot tool to over 200 games without requiring and SDK update, while Freestyle offers image adjustments that can be accessed on-the-fly from within games. Here's word:
NVIDIA Freestyle – Change The Look and Feel of Games In Real-Time
NVIDIA Freestyle gives you the power to customize the appearance of a game in real-time through the application of post-processing filters. Add sharpening, adjust color and contrast, or make your own filter by stacking and tweaking any of the 17 available filters.

GeForce Experience Update Adds New Creative Tools For Your Games
To apply Freestyle filters in any of the 200+ games currently supported, simply press Alt+F3 during gameplay.

Ansel RTX – Even More Tools and Features For In-Game Photos
Ansel RTX expands select Ansel Photo Mode features to hundreds of games, allowing you to add stackable filters, save in HDR format, and capture photos at up to 8K resolution using AI Up-Res on GeForce RTX graphics cards.

QUAKE II RTX

Here's more from team green, as an article on the NVIDIA website has details on the project to add RTX ray-tracing effects to QUAKE II. The centerpiece is Quake 2 real-time path tracing using RTX, a new trailer showing how a 22 year-old game can benefit from a new coat of digital paint. Here's a bit on what we're seeing and how this differs from the previous such project:
Running on a Vulkan renderer, with support for Linux, Quake II RTX is a pure ray-traced game. That means all lighting, reflections, shadows and VFX are ray-traced, with no traditional effects or techniques utilized.

“But what’s new with Quake II RTX compared to Q2VKPT?”, you ask. A lot. We’ve introduced real-time, controllable time of day lighting, with accurate sunlight and indirect illumination; refraction on water and glass; emissive, reflective and transparent surfaces; normal and roughness maps for added surface detail; particle and laser effects for weapons; procedural environment maps featuring mountains, sky and clouds, which are updated when the time of day is changed; a flare gun for illuminating dark corners where enemies lurk; an improved denoiser; SLI support (hands-up if you rolled with Voodoo 2 SLI back in the day); Quake 2 XP high-detail weapons, models and textures; optional NVIDIA Flow fire, smoke and particle effects, and much more!
Continue here to read the full story.

On Engineered Luck in Games

How Designers Engineer Luck Into Video Games on Nautilus is an interesting essay exploring the topic (thanks Max). It covers the "responsibilities and challenges of programmed luck" more than the mechanics, noting: "Lucky is fun, but too lucky is unreal. The resulting, on-going negotiation among game players and designers must count as one of our most abstract collective negotiations." This discusses lessons learned and applied in the casino industry, and in one fascinating bit, reveal how this is applied in free-to-play games to manipulate players into taking risks:
Persuading a player that he’s improving at a luck-based game in turn increases the likelihood that he’ll take on unfavorable odds. “For years the gambling industry has had the ability to track individual players, create robust historical profiles on customers, and employ algorithms that can tell when someone is likely to leave,” Schüll said. The operators of digital gambling machines have the ability to change payout odds in the middle of a gambling session based on these profiles, by giving a player a small payout in order to tempt him or her to keep playing. Many states have laws that forbid “luck” from being manipulated in this way. To get around that, casino operators dispatch so-called “luck ambassadors,” who go onto the casino floor and hand gamblers a cash bonus to keep them invested. Freemium games, which aren’t currently subject to the same legal strictures that bind the gambling industry, can freely give these bonus payouts during the game in order to make a player feel lucky—and so keep them playing and spending.

Call of Duty Mobile

Activision announces Call of Duty Mobile is coming westward as well as to China, more gamers a chance to answer the call on iOS and Android. The Call of Duty Mobile Home is where to sign up to keep up with this and gain access to a public beta that will launch in some regions this summer. Here's a trailer and here's a bit:
Activision in collaboration with Tencent today announced that Call of Duty®: Mobile is coming to previously unannounced regions, including North America, South America, Europe, and more. Call of Duty: Mobile is a new free-to-play game that brings together maps, modes, weapons, and characters from across the Call of Duty franchise, including Black Ops and the Modern Warfare series. Developed by Tencent’s award-winning Timi studio, exclusively for Android and iOS, the game features multiple game modes pitting players in head-to-head, competitive action as they test their skills against players all around the world.
Continue here to read the full story.

Morning Crowdfunding Roundup

Hardware Reviews

  • ASUS RT-AX88U (AX6000) router on Guru3D.
  • ASUS Zenith Extreme Alpha (AMD X399) Motherboard on TweakTown.
  • HyperX Cloud Mix Wireless Gaming Headset on AusGamers.com.
  • ID-Cooling Auraflow X 240 PCPU Cooler on TechPowerUp.
  • Lifted Productions The Game Head 70 Headset on Gaming Nexus.
  • MSI GeForce GTX 1660 GAMING X & VENTUS XS Graphics Cards on TweakTown.
  • Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU on TechSpot.
  • QNAP QSW-1208-8C-US 12-Port Unmanaged 10GbE Switch on Modders-Inc.
  • Zowie Divina S Series Mouse on TechPowerUp.

Out of the Blue

Hey, today kicks off March Madness! Apologies for being too ignorant of college hoops to set up a pool for this, as it would be at least as natural as the football pools we have. That said, good luck to those with rooting or betting interests. Here's hoping you picked the right upsets and don't bust your brackets, as that sounds pretty painful.

Painful Links: Thanks Ant.
Science: Scientists grow 'mini-brain on the move' that can contract muscle. Perfect for click farms. Thanks Slashdot.
A meteor exploded in the Earth's atmosphere with 10 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Aspirin to prevent heart attacks, strokes no longer recommended: AHA.
Media: ElectroBOOM - Rectifying a Bunch of Videos.
Photographer Captures Toys In Amazing Action Shots.
Dick Dale - Riders in the Sky.
Follow-up: NASA's New Horizons Reveals Geologic 'Frankenstein' That Formed Ultima Thule.
The Funnies: Adult Children.
Buni.