The ‘World’s Most Powerful Console’. A clear marketing line if we’ve ever heard one. But, it’s also the best way to describe the Xbox One X. And if we’re being totally honest - whilst also showing our age - we haven’t been this impressed with a console in terms of raw high-end game performance since the days of the Neo Geo.
But whereas that beast from the 1990s was the opposite of affordable, the Xbox One X offers the equivalent output of a high-end gaming PC at a fraction of the cost.
With the recent release of the Xbox One X and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro last year, gaming in 4K (or resolutions higher than 1080p) has more than become a reality – it’s now quite affordable. With that in mind we’re approaching this review of the Sony X80E UHD TV from the perspective of console gaming with Sony and Microsoft 4K capable hardware - that being the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X.
At a glance the X80E shares the same minimal aesthetic as the rest of Sony’s 2017 line-up of TVs, right down to the very cool aluminium frame and stylish stand. Like most modern displays the X80E can either be wall-mounted or sit on a cabinet or desk. At 5.8 cm thick at it’s chunkiest point it’s not the slimmest unit available on the market but isn’t exactly bulky either. The build quality, as expected coming from Sony is excellent and as such feels way more premium than other cheaper displays in this size range.
As a 4K TV primarily used for PS4 Pro and Xbox One X gaming, the main concern when looking at a display comes down to whether it can handle a 4K image at 60Hz – which the X80E does. This is especially important for PS4 Pro and Xbox One X owners because quite a few entry-level displays as only go so far as 50Hz – making the refresh rate sub-optimal for gaming. That isn’t the case here, and with HRD-10 support the Sony X80E has clearly been designed with gaming in mind, and will work in a plug-and-play fashion with either of the two premium 4K consoles.
Recently I got to play Sea of Thieves for the very first time. And what immediately stood out was just how different it was to anything I’d played before. And afterwards I had the opportunity to chat at length with Rare's Joe Neate about the game. So pull up a chair, pour some grog, adjust your eye patches, and enjoy this interview with Rare about all things Sea of Thieves.
AusGamers: With studios that have been around for a while people assume that it's the same people that are there after 20 years or more, but that's not how the industry works. I'm assuming the culture at Rare was established a long time ago, but Sea of Thieves feels different to just about everything we’ve seen before.
Joe Neate: Rare has been around for 32 years now and it's a studio that has always grown and evolved to kind of look at what new trends are emerging in the industry or kind of where player tastes are going and almost changing what they make and what they do to meet that. If Rare did just make the same stuff over and over they probably wouldn't still be around. Because player trends change, and player tastes change, I think what has always stayed true to Rare is that every game they make reflects the people who worked on it. So, the team's sense of humour, the culture of the studio, the values that Rare has. And so, every Rare game that you've grown up playing will have had a sense of humour, and it would have made you smile, -
AusGamers: There's a very British and dry sense of humour throughout all of Rare's history.
Joe: For sure. With Sea of Thieves, how we do that in the modern age, and a very different game than something that Rare has made before has been interesting. We've got this multiplayer game. We give players the tools to almost create their own humour. So, firing stuff out of cannons, getting drunk, and um, being able to be sick, and throwing up into buckets and throwing up on each other. All those things. It's almost like the difference between improv comedy and stand-up comedy. A game that delivers the jokes to you and tells you the jokes and makes you smile is like a stand-up comedian. Whereas in improv comedy, it's very much situational and dependent on the kind of tools you're given. But it's still funny.
Last week the Belgium Gaming Commission launched a probe into the realm of the Loot Box as seen in numerous games. The goal? To see if they constitute gambling, specifically citing Overwatch and the recent release of Star Wars Battlefront II as examples. Well, the results are in. And according to a few select Belgians, yes they're a form of gambling.
With the Google translation of the findings being, "The mixing of money and addiction is gambling." Belgium's Minister of Justice Koen Geens chimed in, saying, "Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child."
With the next step to look at banning them all together. This finding is in stark contrast to the American ratings board ESRB which came to the conclusion that Loot Boxes were not a form of gambling.
Where Joab chats to Overwatch's Principal Game Designer Geoff Goodman and Lead Character Artist Renaud Galand about the new map, BlizzardWorld. The happiest place on earth, or whatever version of earth we find in Overwatch. Great insights into its creation so be sure to check it out.
Fan service at its best.
AusGamers: Were people eager to work on the map as fans of Blizzard?
Renaud Galand: Absolutely. I think that, that actually shows in and of itself because we have a lot of artists who actually worked on the map who worked on StarCraft, worked on World of Warcraft, worked on Diablo and they were super-excited to be able to work on that map.
Geoff: It's also cool, like, Blizz... Blizz is a big company but everyone knows each other so we're all "let's get art the director from Hearthstone over here and he can come over and check it out", everyone was sort of helping us out, "This isn't quite right," or "what do you think about this?" So it's kind of just this whole fun process the whole time, like there's little Easter Eggs everywhere.
Renaud: Oh my god, so many! So many. I don't think we have a map that's had that many Easter eggs.
We're in the midst of a sale storm at the moment, with Black Friday coming to Australia in a big way thanks to the border-less nature of online digital sales. And our friends at the home of DRM-free goodness GOG.com have a number of great deals with over 300 titles discounted, and for the next day or so a free copy of MDK for everyone!
From a design perspective when you break down some of Sea of Thieves' mechanics, from having one person steer the ship, another navigate, and someone else fending off attackers, you get the sense that you'll need a crew of friends heading into the experience. But developer Rare has purposefully kept its alpha testing and design in the realm of having strangers team up, work together, and figure it all out.
Speaking with Executive Producer Joe Neate, it's something that has played an important role in creating Sea of Thieves. By having a game that should be playable on your own, connecting with others. And how all of that is linked to the simple idea of creating an experience that makes you smile - which helps foster strong emotional bonds with other players. Strangers.
"You will smile and laugh playing Sea of Thieves," Joe Neate tells me. "That's purposeful, because one of the key challenges and opportunities for a game like Sea of Thieves: bundling strangers together and getting them to have a great time as a crew. Then ultimately, hopefully making friends on Xbox Live, and everything. So, putting those things in there that make you smile has been deliberate. When you smile with someone, or laugh with someone, a stranger in any environment, you end up bonding with that person and becoming friends. We very much made that decision to do the same thing with our mechanics. Even musical instruments, the fact that I start playing and it's fun to watch the animations and everything. But if you start playing, the music syncs up, it makes you smile. It makes you laugh. There's no mechanical value to a feature like that, but there's an emotional value."
In order to test this aspect, and huge part of Sea of Thieves, Rare didn't allow people to simply bring in their friends when they were let into the alpha tests. "I think the number one challenge we set ourselves was that we knew friends playing together would have a great time." Joe explains. "Our challenge was ‘Can we make a game that bonds strangers together?’ Because not everyone's gonna have friends coming into this game and into this world. That's why we've been running a technical alpha since December last year. We started with 1000 players and 140,000 have been invited in. But we purposefully didn't, when we filtered the people coming in, we didn't allow people to bring their friends. Even though people were like "Come on, let me bring my friends in! I want to play with my friends." It was like "No. We want to test. Can you bond with strangers?"
"We can look at our telemetry and go 'These players have played together. Have they become friends afterwards?' One of our top players that we checked a few months ago, there's a lady called BlondieButGeeky. That's her Gamertag. She's a big Xbox fan. She came into our alpha and after about three months, she'd made 42 new friends from play the game. The next one had like 36."
Invariably the cynic in all of us will point to the volatile nature of playing online with random people, and how they just might, well, be a dick and troll instead becoming a valuable member of the crew. The secret to Sea of Thieves lies with its setting, pirates and the high seas. Something that Rare used to inform everything, from finding treasure using a dusty old map through to dealing with toxic behaviour.
"We wanted to put our own spin on this aspect of multiplayer gaming. To not necessarily look at what other games are doing, but look at what's right for Sea of Thieves," Joe adds. "You can't kick a player out of your game. You can lock them in the brig and then if that player continues to be toxic, you can mute them, so you don't have to hear them anymore. That player must choose to quit the game."
"That's a real psychological shift from, well, if you get your kicks out of being a toxic player, which some people do. Then it's almost like a badge of honour if they get kicked out of the game. With the brig mechanic, you have to choose to leave. You can stay locked in there too, and if they want to mute you, you're literally just there admitting defeat. It's managing player behaviour and everything else."
Fascinating stuff, and be sure to check back tomorrow for our full interview with Joe Neate about all things Sea of Thieves.
Mem-chanical? Yeah, that's in reference to this being a membrane keyboard from Cooler Master, but with keys designed to operate along the same lines as a mechanical keyboard. A hybrid if you will. Hence the fancy descriptor. Today's hardware review comes from our very-own Hogfather.
Turns out it's a bit of a misfire from the usually solid hardware maker. A shame because Cooler Master's full mechanical offering is an exceptional keyboard.
Unfortunately, the vaunted Mem-chanical switching was plagued with issues, at least with our review board. Some keys, notably the main Enter key and the DEL key, the click fail rate was bad enough that I had to retrain myself to primarily use the number pad enter key instead. While the clicking mechanism itself felt great, the result was that the imprecise underlying mushiness of the membrane was actually amplified. This would often lead me astray as to whether a keystroke had been registered, making effective use difficult and at times frustrating.
Sure, Skyrim is the game that keeps on giving. Or showing up everywhere. But that's because it's one of the all-time great open world RPGs. And when we first saw it teased for the Nintendo Switch a while back, the idea of portable Skyrim was just too good to pass up.
And now, alongside the great DOOM, the Switch is two for two in receiving great ports of Bethesda classics. As Alex 'Pikamus' Andreadis explains.
Skyrim, you may have heard about it. The Elder Scrolls part flying V - ala The Mighty Ducks. One of the all-time great open world RPGs in the same way those kids were good at ice hockey. The Nintendo Switch version of the 2011 classic is based on the recently released Skyrim Special Edition (2016) that featured all official content released for the game plus fancy new enhanced visuals for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. So, that means Skyrim for Switch includes the full game, all the DLC, and around about seven million hours of gameplay.
Give or take.
So far, I’ve put at least 20 hours into the Switch version and mostly in handheld mode. And it's something that I don’t intend to put down any time soon. Or at least this train finally makes it to my stop. Anyway, after not playing the game for many years, and foregoing the Special Edition release last year in lieu of the Switch version – playing it again after all this time feels fresh. Especially when I decided to mix it up and forego my usual wizard of wizardry awesomeness and finally experience Skyrim as a different class.
Sonic's back! Well, he kind of always comes back so no real need for an exclamation point. but anyway, fresh for another dose of collecting rings and taking down Dr. Eggman across PS4, Switch, and Xbox One, comes the all Sonic adventure - Sonic Forces. A game that also lets you create your own Sonic hero.
Which the game ends up placing almost all its focus on.
Sonic Forces doesn’t so much switch up the formula as it feels content in presenting byte sized classic Sonic-style stages that can be completed in a few minutes. Stages that either play out from a 16-bit side-on perspective or the endless-runner third-person viewpoint first seen in Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast.
But, where it differs and offers a new spin on the age-old and somewhat spotty history of Sonic games is the introductions of a make-your-own Sonic character. Which, when not controlling the blue hedgehog, take centre stage. Sonic Forces immediately doubles down on this make your own Sonic approach, where in addition to getting to choose what animal you want to be you also get a choice of weapon or ability. Which in turn adds a bit of variety to the levels, but usually no more than shooting fire instead of electricity.
There's no two ways about it, the follow up to The Witcher 3 is going to be a big deal. And developer CD Projeckt RED have grand ambitions for what it has stated will be its biggest game to date. There is even word that it will feature some sort of online component - to which the developer has taken to Twitter to calm any concerns.
Of the games as a service and microtransaction variety.
.@PrettyBadTweets Worry not. When thinking CP2077, think nothing less than TW3 — huge single player, open world, story-driven RPG. No hidden catch, you get what you pay for — no bullshit, just honest gaming like with Wild Hunt. We leave greed to others.
THQ Nordic have sneakily released a new Titan Quest expansion called Ragnarök, a completely new adventure based in the realm of Norse mythology. Which is, well, awesome because Titan Quest still remains one of the great action-RPGs that doesn't have the word Diablo in the title.
New story act with dozens of new quests
Brave the realms of the Celts, the Northmen and the Asgardian gods in the largest act to date
Revisit the other acts to find new items and secrets
New 10th Mastery
Become a Runemaster, a magical warrior fighting with both, spells and weapons
Combine newly learned with existing masteries for a total of 45 combinations
New experience curve
Reach level 85 and maximize your character’s potential
New weapons and gear
Find new and powerful gear, from colorful Celtic shields to famous weapons of Germanic legend.
New relics and charms for crafting, and a new option to improve even legendary items.
New thrown weapons strike the balance between range and speed!
New Enemies and bosses
From the denizens of Germany’s dark forests to the forces of Asgard itself.
Improved character customization
A wider variety of regional styles and color dyes
Finally: wear pants!
Technical and QOL improvements
New shaders and graphical effects
Improved ragdoll physics
Improved UI and combat feedback for total information
Improved control customization
Improved modding tools
Biggest Act yet? Very cool, as are all the new additions and quality of life improvements. So be sure to head on over to the Steam Page now.
A non-mechanical membrane gaming keyboard? Could it actually be, you know, good? Long story short, and to answer that question by referring to the new Razer Cynosa Chroma keyboard, the answer is yes. For reals.
Thanks to the new Razer synapse software, great feel, and per-key RGB lighting, the Cynosa Chroma is a winner.
In the age of mechanical keyboards, it’s easy to forget that maybe someone might be looking for a more affordable gaming keyboard. Or, a non-mechanical alternative. One that doesn’t sacrifice features or build quality just to shave off a few dollars off the RRP. Razer’s new Cynosa Chroma certainly fits the bill, and even though it’s a non-mechanical membrane keyboard - it’s perhaps one of the most comfortable and premium-feel affordable entries we’ve ever seen.
Yeah, add in the new Razer Synapse software - which is step in the big step in the right direction for the hardware maker -and the Cynosa Chroma far exceeds its price point in terms of value. Plus, it’s just an all-round solid keyboard.
Join us on a chronological journey as we go through some of the highlights from three decades of the studio responsible for the brilliant Total War. With Creative Director Al Hope and Executive Producer Mike Simpson's input we also journey into the worlds of Halo, Alien, and Vikings.
Of humble port beginnings to large-scale warfare between races of fantastical creatures and beings.
Established in 1987, English developer Creative Assembly is best known as the studio behind the long running Total War series of strategy games. A series that recently took a break from historical recreations of warfare with the release of the excellent Total War: Warhammer. But to get to that point, and today, was a long journey. One of discovery too, with the earliest days of the studio spent porting titles to the MS-DOS platform. 1989 saw the first of these to hit the market with the release of Blood Money, Baal, and Stunt Car Racer on DOS.
“We’ve gone from four people working above an estate agent in Horsham to over 500 across three state-of-the-art studios,” Creative Director Al Hope tells me. “Back in 1987, when Tim Ansell founded Creative Assembly, he was just one-person porting PC games. We are now the UK’s leading games studio. In a lot of ways not much has changed, the spirit behind our work is still the same.”
One of our mainstay wordsmiths, Adam "Griz" Mathew, was sent out to Ubisoft Montreal not so long ago for a lengthy, in-depth behind-the-scenes look at Far Cry 5's development. Today he's emerged with a piece describing aggro and dangerous turkeys that are only trumped by (literal) ball-biting wolverines.
Here's a snippet of what he got from this particular part of his time with the team at Ubisoft Montreal.
“We weren't sure what we'd find in Montana, animal-wise,” says Fournier. “When we went out driving at dusk, we saw green eyes popping out at us from everywhere. I got scared, to be honest. Especially because earlier that day I'd been taking photos of these special bins designed to keep bears out. That's when you know you need to be careful of where you are and what you're doing.
“Obviously [bears are in this] along with aggressive wolves and more placid creatures like ducks and trout. For me, the one that will surprise most players is how aggressive the turkeys are. It's super vicious and is going to attack you. It knows thanksgiving is coming. Skunks are also interesting as they'll spray you in your face, which will limit your vision and affect your shooting.
“King of the beasts, in my mind, is the wolverine. It's the most vicious thing ever and can really, really do a number on you. I mean, when you look at them, they're a 20 to 15 pound animal, but it's the only carnivorous animal out there that has to eat meat every day. So it will seriously go one on one in a face-off against a bear for one little piece of meat. It just doesn't care.”
Specifically, according to a story posted by Gamespot (via VTM News), they're looking into the loot boxes for Overwatch and Star Wars: Battlefront II given the random nature of their content, which may fall under the requirement for a special permit for games of chance in the country.
According to a handful of reports around the investigation, the reason is that the Belgium Gaming Commission's charter specifically outlines games of chance as not like any other kind of economy and that their very existence can "cause people to become addicted to gambling and cause them to lose a great deal of money".
The loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront II, as we've mentioned in our in-depth review, do have game-changing affects for general gameplay, however, Overwatch's loot drops don't follow any sort of pay-to-win model, which may affect the outcome of Blizzard's massive title at the conclusion of the investigation. If found in breach of the charter, both Blizzard and Electronic Arts could face major fines or, worse still, the removal of their games from sale in Belgium altogether.
This does raise a lot of questions around games, competitive multiplayer gaming and feature creep on the whole. It'll be interesting to see if there's a precedent set here, and if other territories jump on board. Especially when tying the service practice to premium products punters already pay full retail price for.
With the Star Wars Battlefront II Reddit AMA now over, there's a disclaimer on the page "Yes, they are answering, but half of the time they're being mass-downvoted, so the answers can be hard to find." Which should clue you in to just how forgiving people are about the game this week. In fact, one might draw the conclusion that The Empire is more beloved.
Here are some of the responses from the development team. Bear in mind, the down-votes are somewhat justified as the answers are mostly the opposite of candid, sounding more like prepared statements.
On the negative press reaction to the loot crate system.
I think this concern has come through loud and clear. We're going to continue adjusting the crate systems, content, and progression mechanics to hit a point that gives players a great, balanced experience at all skill levels. We're working on expanding the number of ways that players can progress, putting more control in their hands and providing more options and choice in the way people play. There's not much in the game that we wouldn't revisit to improve the game for as many players as possible.
On reports that it will take thousands of hours to unlock most of the items.
We've seen the speculation about how long it takes players to earn things - but our averages based on the Play First trial are much faster than what's out there. But as more players come in, that could change. We're committed to making progression a fun experience for all of our players. Nothing should feel unattainable and if it does, we'll do what it takes to make sure it's both fun and achievable. As we update and expand Arcade mode, we'll be working towards making sure that players can continue to progress without daily limits.
On the Star Card balance and players dominating due to better items.
Our matchmaking system will rank players who do well against other players that do well. If they wreck players in one game, the next game they'll be put against other players with similar skill. That's the intent. We're going to look at cases like these as they're likely indicative of matchmaking errors. This is potentially occurring because the servers are still populating, since the game only just released.
We're finishing rolling all the versions of the game out around the world this week which will affect server populations and matchmaking. Once that's complete we'll be working on updating the matchmaking logic to address situations like these.
On the lack of traditional squads as seen in Battlefield.
I don't believe in just taking a feature from one game and tossing into this one. We've tried it several times and it doesn't work that way. We don't have the same levels as Battlefield, our environments and what you expect from the planets we build are different, nor do we have the same game modes for the same reason. That being said, we're currently prototyping an update to our spawn waves that allow parties to stay together and spawn on each other. No timeline yet, but we'll let you know.
On the flip side it's good to see DICE and EA responding to the feedback, so fingers crossed it means the Battlefront II we see in 2018 is a lot different to the one we see today.