TIME Video Games

Check Out the New Halo 5-Themed Xbox One

It's the ultimate Halo 5 bundle, and not cheap.

Though sadly not a rethink (and shrink) of the bulky Xbox One games console, Halo enthusiasts have a new, albeit pricey, piece of memorabilia to consider when Halo 5: Guardians arrives in October.

For $500, you can kit out your entertainment center with Microsoft’s “Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians Bundle.” It’s a special version of the Xbox One etched with metallic blue accents and Halo-inspired military symbology, all wrapped around a 1TB hard drive and connected to a similarly skinned Xbox One gamepad.

You can preorder the system now, and it’ll be available on October 20, one week before Halo 5: Guardians ships on October 27.

You’ll also get Halo 5: Guardians (though only as a download), the Warzone REQ Bundle (basically a bunch of unlockable weapons and armors, skins and assassination animations for the new Warzone multiplayer mode), FOTUS-class armor (think spiky duds) with a special multiplayer emblem, a metallic Guardian model, the complete Halo: The Fall of Reach animated series, dossiers for the game’s Blue and Osiris warring factions, a Spartan themed SteelBook and the classified orders given to Spartan Locke, the newly introduced playable character who’s hunting for an AWOL Master Chief at the game’s outset.

For Master Chief buffs, take note that the Limited Edition’s gamepad is styled after Locke’s blueish armor. You’ll have to spend another $70 if you want the separately sold gold-and-green accented Master Chief gamepad.

TIME Video Games

5 New Things Xbox One Owners Should Be Excited About

Microsoft just made a bunch of announcements

The annual Gamescom 2015 conference in Cologne feels like the other shoe dropping after the barrage of E3 revelations in June. Microsoft led off Europe’s five-day video gaming trade fair (the show officially launches Wednesday and runs through Sunday) with a 90-minute Xbox-centric presser that included world premiere first looks at Quantum Break, Crackdown 3 and Scalebound, three keystone Xbox One exclusives due next year.

Here’s a recap of the press conference’s top revelations.

Quantum Break

The whole “best looking game you’ve ever seen!” thing may be one of gaming’s most tiresome cliches, but our first look at Remedy Entertainment’s temporally unhinged third-person tactical shooter Quantum Break suggests it’s a visual powerhouse. It stars Shawn Ashmore (from Marvel’s X-Men movies) both voicing and lending his exquisitely captured digital likeness to protagonist Jack Joyce, a guy who’s come unstuck in time. Think Max Payne (also by Remedy), only with a grander arsenal of tactical maneuvers when time slows or freezes, sort of like the “Time in a Bottle” sequence from X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Creative lead Sam Lake describes Quantum Break as “a game as well as in-game live action show, fused to form an entertainment experience that’s more than the sum of its parts.” Yeah, I know, we’ve heard that sort of claim endlessly, so wait and see. What’s most important is how it plays. I still have no sense for that, watching the trailer’s confusing, time-slowing special effects as they render the game’s battlefields both beautifully but at the same time chaotically malleable. Look for Quantum Break on April 5, 2016.

Crackdown 3

Next up, we caught our first glimpse of the Crackdown superhero sandbox franchise’s third installment, which confirmed it’ll be another sprawling bash-a-thon staged in another futuristic metropolis overrun by another destructive army of thugs. Microsoft’s trailer described the city as a “dynamic ecosystem with multiple moving pieces, a criminal hierarchy to be dismantled any way you choose,” which sounds as promising as such claims always do on paper.

The surprise takeaway involved the game’s revamped multiplayer mode: if you play Crackdown 3 online, the environments become “100% destructible,” rendered with “20 times the power” of a single Xbox One—a feat Microsoft’s apparently managing by channeling the cloud. And we’ll be able to test-drive those multiplayer claims starting next summer, says Microsoft.

Scalebound

I suppose someone telling a dragon to “use its words” in a fantasy comedy was inevitable. Looking past Scalebound‘s awkward narrative hipsterism, the demo confirmed that the game will indeed be a buddy-play hack-and-slash in which you control a human (with bow, magic abilities and dragon-like body armor) while issuing tactical orders to your dragon pal.

You’ll be able to “free explore a vast and mysterious world” on foot or from the back of your dragon (which we already knew), as well as play cooperatively with up to four others (which we didn’t). Look for Scalebound “holiday 2016,” says Microsoft.

Full DVR functionality on Xbox One

Finally! Microsoft’s adding full DVR functionality to the Xbox One, letting you record live shows on the fly. Better yet, the Xbox app on Windows 10 will let you stream DVR’d shows to any Windows 10 device as well as download said content to mobile devices for viewing on the go. You’ll even be able to schedule recordings (via the app) away from the Xbox One. Best of all, Microsoft says all of this will comprise a subscription-free service when it launches sometime next year.

Windows 10 on Xbox One

We knew it was coming this year, just not when, and while we’re still waiting for a firm date, at least we now have the month: Microsoft confirmed what it’s calling the “New Xbox One Experience,” powered by Windows 10, finally arrives this November.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Is About to Make ‘Gears Of War’ Fans Very Happy

2014 China Joy Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference In Shanghai
ChinaFotoPress—ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Hint: Backward Compatibility on the new Xbox One console

If you purchased all the Gears of War titles back when Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was still the latest console, fret not, it’s all going to be okay.

On Monday, the company made a two-part announcement: first, that it’s remastering the original game for the Xbox One, its newest console; and second, that players who purchase and play the new version before the end of the year will be able to play the rest of the series on the console through the upcoming Backward Compatibility feature.

This will apply for players who purchase either Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, or the Xbox One Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Bundle, the company said.

Moreover, once they unlock the titles through Backward Compatibility, they’ll also have access to features such as Game DVR, Snap, and screenshots, and keep all their previously-saved files, game add-ons, achievements, and play with their friends regardless of which Xbox console they’re using.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft CEO: Hololens Will Be Out ‘Within the Next Year’

The first version of the augmented reality headset will be geared toward developers and enterprise customers

Developers eager to get their hands on Microsoft’s long-awaited augmented reality headset received some good news on Friday, when CEO Satya Nadella told the BBC that the first version of the HoloLens will be available “within the next year.”

The only catch is that the first version of Microsoft’s HoloLens will be geared more toward “developers and enterprises,” Nadella said in the interview, which means average consumer will likely have to wait a little bit longer to buy a personal HoloLens. Nadella said a “commercial usage” version of the headset would be next in the pipeline. Still, as The Verge points out, Nadella’s latest comments on the HoloLens at least offer some insight into how soon it will be before the holographic computer product ends up in the hands of someone other than a Microsoft employee.

Of course, Microsoft still has big plans when it comes to HoloLens being available for gaming and other commercial uses. Earlier this summer, at E3 2015, the company hosted HoloLens demos featuring gameplay from such popular video games as Minecraft and Halo 5: Guardians. Microsoft has invested heavily in both augmented reality and virtual reality technology, which are two businesses that are expected to generate $150 billion in combined annual revenue by 2020, according to Digi-Capital, a research and advising firm.

TIME Video Games

There’s a Ridiculous Hidden Fee Inside Windows 10

It's tucked in an old stand-by that'll cost you now

Long before we had Angry Birds and Twitter to distract us at work, there was Solitaire on Windows. The card game has been a staple of Microsoft’s operating system for decades, but getting the full Solitaire experience on the newest OS may cost you.

The newly released Windows 10 features the Solitaire Collection, which includes several variants of the classic card game. However, unlike the version of the game you played at your grandma’s house in the ‘90s, Windows 10 Solitaire comes packed with advertisements. To get rid of the ads and earn some in-game currency (yes, this centuries-old game is borrowing from Candy Crush), users can pay $1.49 per month or $9.99 per year.

Read more: Windows 10 Reviews Are In—And People Love It

This actually isn’t the first time Microsoft has tried to get users to pay for Solitaire. A premium version of the game was also released for Windows 8, but the title wasn’t pre-installed in the operating system as it is in Windows 10.

It’s not that surprising that Microsoft is charging for Solitaire, considering that Windows 10 is free and the company is increasingly seeking revenue via ongoing subscription services instead of one-off software purchases.

TIME Gaming

You Can Make $50,000 a Year as a Video Game Coach

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ColorBlind Images—Getty Images

They can make as much as a minor league baseball coach

As the world of e-sports heats up, and players battle for prize money that can reach into the millions, the activity has given rise to a field of coaches who want to cash in on training these keyboard-using champions.

An e-sport coach can make anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 a year, which is pretty much in line with a minor league baseball coach, according to The Wall Street Journal.

One assistant coach of a group called Team Liquid, which competes in the “League of Legends” tournaments, told the paper he makes in the mid-$30,000s annually plus a performance bonus and health insurance. That’s not too shabby when you consider that the annual income for all coaches and scouts in 2012 was $28,360, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Coaches get paid good money primarily because their players have the potential to pull in large payouts, ranging between $35,000 and $120,000 a year depending on how good they are, and which games they play. The annual income doesn’t include the additional team winnings and benefits.

Read more about the world of e-sports at The Wall Street Journal.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft Is About to Make PC Gamers’ Dreams Come True

CHINA-US-COMPUTERS-GAMES-INVESTIGATION
Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images A control of a Microsoft's Xbox One game console is pictured in a shop in Shanghai on September 29, 2014.

Eventually you'll be able to play PC games on your Xbox One

We’ve known for a while that Xbox One owners can stream games from their console to their PC once they upgrade to Windows 10. But could they ever reverse the stream, letting players enjoy PC games on their Xbox One console? Microsoft’s Xbox division head Phil Spencer certainly thinks so.

“Those are absolutely in scope of things that we want to do,” he revealed to the Verge on Wednesday.

But the feature will take some coding before gamers can get their hands on it. Spencer cautioned that it could be a “little more challenging” than getting Xbox One games to stream to the PC. “But challenge is good,” he added. In other words, they’re working on it.

Read more: 10 Reasons Gamers Should Upgrade to Windows 10

[The Verge]

TIME Video Games

10 Reasons Gamers Will Love Windows 10

Or if you need just one reason, it's called DirectX 12.

Whenever I think about Windows 10, I hear Russell Watson belting the Star Trek: Enterprise theme song: “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here…” The muchballyhooed new iteration of Microsoft’s flagship operating system is indeed here, available July 29 for anyone bold enough to make the leap.

It’s a compelling proposition on paper: A free upgrade for anyone running Windows 7 or 8, and an interface overhaul rife with snazzy new features and tantalizing curiosities, many of them aimed squarely at gamers.

I use Windows for high-end PC gaming and that’s it. If you share that conception of Windows — as the beating heart of a souped up, console-shaming, uber-gaming powerhouse — you’re in good company.

But should gamers upgrade right away? To break that down and explore some of the less well-known angles, I spoke with Stardock CEO (and Windows insider) Brad Wardell, the guy behind recent PC games like Galactic Civilizations III and Sorcerer King, as well as up and comers Offworld Trading Company, Ashes of the Singularity and Servo. Here’s what he told me.

The number one reason gamers should consider Windows 10

DirectX is how games talk to your computer, the crucial “application programming interface” that rests like a byzantine traffic signal between the way a studio wants a game to look and play and the hardware under the hood. DirectX has been with us since Windows 95, and Wardell says DirectX 12, the dozenth iteration of the toolset, is as crucial a rethink as Windows 95 itself was when it debuted two decades ago.

“DirectX 11 and before were all made before we had multicore CPUs,” say Wardell. “So at the end of the day, all your games were talking to your video card via one core.” That, for modern CPUs now readily sporting four, six or eight cores, creates an enormous bottleneck. However fast your video card might be, that single-core limitation means games often wind up log-jammed by the CPU. It’s a head-scratcher Wardell says Microsoft’s finally solved with DirectX 12.

“In DirectX 12, every single one of your cores can talk to your graphics card simultaneously,” says Wardell. “So in our benchmarks, going from DirectX 11-optimized games, we’re seeing between 85% and 300% performance boosts.” Those kinds of leaps, any way you want to slice them, are huge.

Mind you, the game has to be written for DirectX 12, something you won’t see much of as Windows 10 launches. In fact Wardell believes his upcoming Kurzweilian homage, Ashes of the Singularity, a real-time strategy game and potential genre-upender that can juggle thousands of units simultaneously, will be the first. It’s due to be playable via Steam Early Access next month (It’s also, incidentally, the first game with a DirectX 12 benchmark, adds Wardell.)

But it’ll likely have company very soon. Wardell says it’s “not hard” to go to DirectX 12, and that his developers made the shift with relative ease. “These high-end games, like Unreal Engine or CryEngine, you know, your first-person shooters and such, they will probably have DirectX 12 versions very shortly. And when they arrive, we’re talking about a pretty huge, instantaneous performance boost.”

The older your system, the more DirectX 12 matters

It sounds counterintuitive, but Wardell told me the performance gains with DirectX 12 will be greater the slower your CPU is. That, to put it simply, is just a reflection of how big a deal activating all those idle cores turns out to be.

“The older your box, the better Windows 10 is,” says Wardell. “So if you have like a Core i5 [Intel’s mid-range CPU series] with a decent video card, you’ll actually see a bigger gain than if you have some monster Core i7 high-end CPU.”

Again, the game has to be DirectX 12 aware to benefit, but it’s a fascinating, hugely ironic Windows 10 wrinkle that its chief beneficiaries may be gamers running older multicore hardware.

DirectX 12 uses a lot less power

“Because it’s using all your cores, DirectX 12 uses a lot less power,” says Wardell. “Whenever you max out a core, you’re using a lot more power overall than if you’re distributing the load across multiple cores. So that means big power savings, especially for laptop gamers where battery life becomes a vital factor.”

The unanticipated flip side of this, Wardell tells me, is that DirectX 12’s core repurposing could actually harm extreme-end overclocked PCs. “Here’s a sneak preview of the first scandal,” jokes Wardell. “All these people who overclocked their machines could in theory wind up frying their computers, because with all those cores going all out, your PC’s going to run way hotter.”

Windows 10 turns your single video card PC into a twofer

How many video cards do you have in your PC? Think carefully (I didn’t, and told Wardell, who asked me the same question, just one). Wardell reminded me most modern PCs have at least two (not counting extremely high-end systems with cards run in tandem, in which case the number would be three or more).

“Everyone forgets about the integrated graphics card on the motherboard that you’d never use for gaming if you have a dedicated video card,” says Wardell. “With DirectX 12, you can fold in that integrated card as a seamless coprocessor. The game doesn’t have to do anything special, save support DirectX 12 and have that feature enabled. As a developer I don’t have to figure out which thing goes to what card, I just turn it on and DirectX 12 takes care of it.”

Wardell notes the performance boost from pulling in the integrated video card is going to be heavily dependent on the specific combination—the performance gap between integrated video cards over the past half-decade isn’t small—but at the high end, he says it could be as significant as DirectX 12’s ability to tap the idle cores in your CPU. Add the one on top of the other and, if he’s right, the shift at a developmental level starts to sound like that rare confluence of evolutionary plus the letter ‘r’.

DirectX 12’s benefits are going to be greater for PCs than consoles

Microsoft’s Xbox One is supposed to get Windows 10 at some point yet this year, but Wardell says DirectX 12’s benefits are mostly PC-centric. “This is going to make the PC pull away from the consoles quite a bit,” says Wardell. “It’s not that Windows 10 is so great, by the way, but that Windows 8 and below were nerfed. When the benchmarks start showing up in a week or so, it’s going to be so extreme, I think a lot of people are going to think they’re fake.”

It boots much faster than Windows 7

Windows 8 gamers—the small percentage who made that leap, anyway (Wardell says it’s around 23%)—you can just skip this one, because you’re already enjoying lightning-fast Windows boot times. But if you’ve been living on Windows 7 all this time, Windows 10’s startup times are slightly faster than Windows 8’s, and dramatically faster than Windows 7’s.

It handles windowed gaming much better than Windows 7

In the old days, PC games ran full screen or bust. Attempts to allow windowed gaming were slow or outright glitchy. Not so in Windows 8, and now, for those who’ve been biding their time running Windows 7, Windows 10.

“One of the things that’s a little subtle and not super-sexy, but I care about it, is that with Windows 10, and this is also a Windows 8 thing, you can run your game in a window and enjoy it with full performance,” says Wardell. “That’s a big deal for me, because let’s say I’m playing a game that’s not an action game, I can run the game as a full-screen window and just alt-tab and just instantaneously you’re on the desktop.”

You can stream Xbox One games to Windows 10 PCs

This one works day one, letting you pipe Xbox One games to a Windows 10 PC using Microsoft’s new game streaming technology (and also, like the Xbox One, capture your gameplay DVR-style in compatible games, then upload it to video sharing sites). Microsoft has also announced it’s working on the reverse, letting gamers stream PC games to the Xbox One console.

“I would totally be into that,” says Wardell. “I mean can you imagine what Fallout 4 for the PC is going to look like? Assuming [Fallout 4 developer] Bethesda doesn’t intentionally nerf it, the difference between the PC and console versions should be massive.”

You can see all your Xbox Live stuff

I have mixed feelings about this as a reason to upgrade, because it’s really just a social networking add-on: the option to scan your Xbox Live profile, gamerscore, achievements and so forth using the new Windows 10 Xbox Live app, as well as chat with your Xbox Live friends from your Windows 10 PC.

The downer, at least for me, is that it reinforces the distance Microsoft’s fallen from its lofty, now bygone Games for Windows push, back when the company boldly aspired to merge its Windows and Xbox ecosystems. Steam, at this point synonymous with PC gaming, pretty much eliminated hopes of Windows games feeding achievement stacks and gamerscores. Windows 10’s arms-around-the-Xbox-One strategy is still, in the end, about peering into the latter’s vibrant ecosystem from the outside.

It’s free

I’ve saved the most obvious and broadly hyped perk for last: If you own Windows 7 or Windows 8, upgrade versions or full, you can pick up Windows 10 for nada, so long as you do so by the end of July 2016 (it’s free to Windows 7 and 8 users for one year, in other words).

TIME Video Games

The PlayStation 4 Is Getting a Very Old-School Accessory

Hori
Hori Hori

The Tactical Assault Commander 4 comes out in October

Gaming blogs are buzzing about the newest accessory for Sony’s PlayStation 4: a keyboard and a mouse.

At least the product has a cool name: the Tactical Assault Commander 4. Made by the Japanese gaming hardware company Hori, the set is an update on the Tactical Assault Commander 3. And while the product is from a third-party seller, it’s officially licensed by Sony and has, right on the keyboard, a PlayStation-logo button. Among its 18 buttons and D-pad, there are designated keys for functions like “walk,” “quick,” and even “snipe.”

If the set reminds you of a PC, well, that’s the point. According to Hori’s product description, the set is “designed to replicate PC style gaming.” The mouse features a scroll-wheel in the middle, plus two small buttons on top and four other buttons on the side.

As sites like Polygon have noted, the Commander 4’s October 9 release date appears timed to align with the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, the next in a wildly successful shooter series.

The product is currently listed on Amazon UK, but not in the U.S., and has a pre-sale price of $86.35 pounds, or $135.04 USD. That may seem steep for a keyboard and a mouse that connects to the PS4 via USB cable, but if gamers determine the set enhances gameplay, expect it to be the new must-have item. It also works with PS3.

TIME Earnings

Nintendo’s Hottest Game in Years Is Saving the Company

Splatoon
Nintendo Splatoon

It's a whimsical reinvention of the online shooter genre

Nintendo returned a profit over its April to June quarter in part thanks to a super-popular shoot-em-up online game in which players squirt ink to claim rivals’ territory.

The Japanese game company announced a net income of 8.3 billion yen ($67 million) for the three months leading up to June 30, a turnaround from a loss of 9.9 billion yen year-over-year. Operating income for the quarter landed at around $9.3 million (1.1 billion yen).

A big reason for the more positive quarter is Splatoon, Nintendo’s entry into the world of online shooters. The Wii U game marks a cute reinvention of the genre, replacing bullets and gore with ink and lots of color. The family-friendly nature of the game has helped it take off — the company has sold 1.62 million copies since its May release. Splatoon ranked at number five in U.S. software sales in June, according to research firm NPD Group.

Other factors for the company’s success last quarter include strong sales of its Amiibo interactive figurines — the company has sold 14.7 million units since their introduction in the middle of last year — and the depreciation of the yen, which contributed foreign exchange gains totaling 10.8 billion yen.

The results are encouraging for Nintendo, which has suffered from a lack of third party studio support for its Wii U console. The company recently announced it’s working on smartphone games; it’s also developing a new console codenamed “NX.” All this comes after the recent death of company president Satoru Iwata and speculation on his successor. The company declined to divulge more details on the search for a new president in its earnings report.

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