TIME health

Playing Tetris Will Make You Forget You’re Hungry

andromache / Flickr

Video games replace the brain's wishful craving for food and cigarettes.

Pull out your old Gameboys! The next great fad diet is here, and it’s Tetris. In a new study, scientists found that playing just three minutes of the block-stacking game can reduce cravings for things like food, alcohol, and cigarettes.

In the experiment, 119 test subjects were told to rate the strength of any cravings they were having, measuring its “strength, vividness and intrusiveness.” Then, the subjects were asked to play a game of Tetris, but for some of the group, the game purposefully didn’t load. The others played the game, then everyone was asked to rate their cravings again.

“Participants who had played Tetris had significantly lower craving and less vivid craving imagery,” a 24 percent reduction, the experiment found. Scientists argue that the game blocks cravings because it replaces the brain’s daydream imagery of burgers and frosty beers with relentlessly falling blocks—“by playing Tetris, just in short bursts, you are preventing your brain creating those enticing images and without them the craving fades,” Plymouth University’s Professor Jackie Andrade told PsyBlog.

As anyone who has played Halo or Angry Birds knows well, video games are great distractions. Other studies have found that games can actually work as pain reducers by focusing patients’ attention on something other than how much they’re hurting.

Unfortunately, the Tetris study did not determine if those cravings would return while playing a snack-filled game like Candy Crush.

TIME Video Games

OnLive’s Second Act: Cloud Gaming That Piggybacks On Steam

OnLive

For $15 per month, CloudLift streams a sliver of your PC game collection.

OnLive, the company whose cloud gaming service flamed out spectacularly in 2012, has reemerged with something new.

The company is launching CloudLift, a $15 per month service that lets you stream PC games that you already own onto laptops, Android devices and televisions. CloudLift hooks into your Steam account, and any games that Cloudlift supports will then be available for streaming.

The idea is that you no longer have to choose between local and cloud-based gaming. When you’re at home with your powerful desktop PC, you just play through Steam as usual. But when you’re on your tablet or lightweight laptop, you can stream the games instead. OnLive’s servers do all of the high-end processing, so you can play the latest PC games without having a powerful machine handy.

In theory, it’s a great idea, because it appeals to people who already have lots of PC games and don’t want to re-invest in an OnLive collection. But OnLive’s original incarnation was also theoretically great. It fell apart with the execution, and I’m skeptical about whether CloudLift can avoid the same fate.

In the past, I never had a smooth experience streaming games through OnLive. Every time I tried, the input latency became frustrating, and stutters or outright service interruptions were commonplace. A quick test on my 30 Mbps connection still felt a little laggy, but not unplayable for games that aren’t too twitch-oriented. (I plan to play around with it more over the next several days.)

OnLive will also need to ramp up its list of supported games quickly if it wants to justify that $15 per month cost. At launch, only 20 games are supported, most of them from smaller publishers. Not a single game on the list comes from Activision, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Take-Two, Bethesda, Capcom, Konami, Square Enix or Sega.

OnLive Chairman Gary Lauder told Engadget that the company has streamlined its process for adding new games, and that “dozens” more games are on the way. But we’re talking about an entity that in 2012 had to lay off more than half its staff and transfer all assets to a new company just to avoid bankruptcy. It’s hard to feel good about OnLive’s promises without explicit support from more publishers. A lack of publisher support was another big reason that OnLive faltered in the first place.

To make things even harder for OnLive, the company is no longer alone in this business. Sony recently announced PlayStation Now, which will stream PS3-and-older games to the company’s consoles and portable devices. Nvidia is building a streaming service called Grid, which the company could eventually license to game publishers or distributors. Valve is working on in-home streaming for Steam, so even if players can’t access games from outside the house, they could still play on other devices besides their main PC gaming rigs. Nvidia has already built similar functionality into its Shield gaming handheld.

As it did years ago, the technology has heaps of potential. And considering no other company has managed to put people’s existing game collections in the cloud, I’m hoping OnLive can make CloudLift work. It’s just not going to be easy.

If you’re an existing OnLive user, the company’s Netflix-style PlayPack service is sticking around, giving you a selection of older games for $10 per month. A la carte purchases and rentals are gone, but users can still access any games they’ve already bought.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Batman: Arkham Knight Is Going to Be All About the Batmobile

WBGamesUK / YouTube

The next Arkham game is real, and Rocksteady's been working on it all along.

When I think Batman, I don’t think Batmobile, unless I’m thinking about the silly-looking Adam West thingamajig, or the slick, overwrought version Tim Burton cobbled together back in 1989, and that Chevy basically used to hype its Chevy Impala for ages (alright, I admit I loved it when I was 17).

So when Sefton Hill, Rocksteady’s director of the just-unveiled new Batman Arkham game, says that the game’s pièce de résistance is Batman’s ride, I’m a little nervous, because like I said: not what I think about when I think about Batman.

But I am sold on Rocksteady doing more Batman games, because where the studio created something terrific and daring with its 2009 bolt-from-the-blue, Batman: Arkham Asylum, it elevated the series to masterfulness with Batman: Arkham City — one of the best games, superhero or otherwise, I’ve ever played.

People who don’t engage with superhero games or even much care for open world ones played Arkham City. People who have no investment in the Batman mythos (or who, like me, have little use for the comic industry’s commodification of the postmodernist horse it’s been beating since Alan Moore’s subversions) played Arkham City. If you haven’t played Arkham City, you might as well be telling me you haven’t played BioShock 2, Dark Souls, Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, Persona 4 or Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s not a game you miss.

Judging from Game Informer‘s overview, it sounds like the new game, dubbed Arkham Knight, takes place a year after Arkham City‘s events. Rocksteady says it wanted to do a next-gen version for its third (and apparently final) Arkham outing, so it outsourced Batman: Arkham Origins for last-gen platforms to keep the series rolling for commercial reasons, rolled up its sleeves, and got to work on Arkham Knight — ostensibly the conclusion of what Rocksteady’s now calling its Arkham trilogy.

Let’s talk metrics. According to Game Informer, Arkham Knight‘s sandbox play-space, still situated in Gotham City as you’d expect, is “five times” the size of Arkham City‘s map. Rocksteady adds, however, that the focus is on making that play-space more detailed. The days of slipping into a deli in the middle of nowhere and striking up an arbitrary, procedurally generated conversation with a contextually-aware but otherwise game-irrelevant A.I. shop owner, say about recent events in the neighborhood for whimsy’s sake, are probably decades away, but it’s nice to see a developer working to flush out the usual prettified facades.

What else. The game is single-player only (thank goodness). The game’s cutscenes and gameplay are of a piece now: the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are powerful enough to keep everything seamlessly in-engine. Kevin Conroy is back as the voice of Batman (though I thought Roger Craig Smith did a fine job in Arkham Origins, and would have welcomed him back here). And it sounds like you can use certain gadgets, say throwing out zip lines, more dynamically, instead of looking for narrowly defined usage zones.

Combat’s been diversified, but not further complicated, so think alternative maneuvers, not fussier mechanics. And there’s the Batmobile, which sounds like Rocksteady’s making a noir version of Car Wars: vehicle use is for much more than city traversal, up to and including locking onto and lobbing missiles at enemy vehicles.

As for your nemesis this round, it won’t be the Joker. That’s my takeaway, anyway, and thank goodness. That story and character have played out in this timeline. If you’re reading this Rocksteady — and minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t played Arkham City — if you reanimate the Joker’s corpse, or play it all off as a trick, Sherlock-style, I’ll be very unhappy. Fingers crossed the shadowy Bat-like character silhouetted in the Game Informer piece really is someone new, as claimed, and not just a story stunt involving Joker clone cells and Days of Our Lives-caliber shenanigans.

Arkham Knight is due for PlayStation 4, Windows and Xbox One on October 14.

TIME Home entertainment

GameFly Gets Into Mail-Order Movie Rentals

Gamefly

Beta program lets users rent DVDs and Blu-ray discs at no extra charge.

Netflix’s DVD business is about to get some competition from GameFly, which is testing mail-order movie rentals on top of its existing games service.

GameFly confirmed to VentureBeat that it will offer DVDs and Blu-ray discs to subscribers, with a beta program beginning on April 4. Customers with a two-disc or higher game rental plan will get into the beta first, and movies will count against their disc limit at no extra charge. GameFly’s game rentals are twice as expensive as Netflix’s movie service, though, starting at $16 per month for one disc at a time.

Combining game and movie rentals seems like a no-brainer, but no one’s been able to make it work so far. Blockbuster added games to its mail-order DVD service in 2010, but the effort was widely panned for having a three-month delay on new releases. (Blockbuster finally scrapped the entire mail-order service late last year, while also closing all of its U.S. stores.)

Netflix also planned to add game rentals a few years ago, as part of an ill-conceived plan to create a separate company for the mail-order business, called Qwikster. The Qwikster spin-off never happened, and game rentals died along with it.

The problem with game rentals is that they’re much more expensive to carry than movies, with most new games selling for $60. GameFly is in a better position to add movies because the costs are lower, and customers are already paying a higher price for game rentals.

As VentureBeat points out, GameFly’s biggest weak point is its limited supply — and resulting long wait times — for newer games. Subscribers may feel burned by the company’s investment in movies rather than more games, but at the same time, movie rentals can help fill in for the summer doldrums when there aren’t many new games coming out.

The future isn’t exactly bright for optical media, as streaming video services take over and game consoles make a bigger push into downloads. But at least console owners still have a DVD player in the living room; GameFly is giving itself one more way to ride the wave while it lasts.

TIME Video Games

Zynga Wants You Back with New Farmville, Words With Friends and Poker

Zynga

What's Facebook? Zynga's new games are all about phones and tablets.

If you could just stop playing Candy Crush Saga for a minute, Zynga would really like you to get back into Farmville, Words With Friends and Poker now.

As such, the company is announcing revamped versions of its hit games for mobile devices:

  • FarmVille 2: Country Escape has you raising crops in a coastal setting on phones and tablets. It connects with the web version of FarmVille 2, has a common rewards system and adds “Social Control” options so you don’t have to spam all your friends and family with your progress. It also works offline.
  • Words With Friends is getting a dictionary, leaderboards and detailed statistics. Players can switch to the new version and have all their in-progress games and history carry over.
  • Zynga Poker will be faster and more responsive, and will learn how good of a player you are to match you up with people of equal skill.

Things haven’t been going so well for Zynga. A few years ago, Zynga dominated Facebook gaming with hits like FarmVille and CityVille, but the company hasn’t been able to sustain that success, and declining user numbers have led Zynga to lay off hundreds of employees over the last year. On mobile devices, Zynga hasn’t been as dominant, and one of its biggest efforts to buy into the space–with the $200 million purchase of Draw Something makers OMGPOP–was a spectacular failure.

The trio of revamped games are a clear attempt by Zynga to refocus on mobile. In fact, the company’s blog post announcing the games doesn’t mention Facebook at all. Still, Zynga will need more than few warmed over classics to recapture the enthusiasm of its Facebook heyday.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Gadgets

Business Card Plays Tetris, Might Be for Sale Soon

TAKE MY MONEY!

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The above video showcases a credit card-sized whatsit with a built-in screen, control pad and two buttons. It plays Tetris! If you’re not convinced by now that we’re either at or very near the pinnacle of human ingenuity, I’m not sure I’d ever be able to convince you otherwise and I’m not sure it’s worth your time to keep reading this. We should amicably go our separate ways.

For the rest of you, this project is called Arduboy. It’s about a millimeter and a half thick and apparently packs north of nine hours of battery life. Its creator, Kevin Bates, created the proof-of-concept you see in the above video and has plans to roll out a Kickstarter campaign to sell these things, complete with a website where people can share other types of software and games they create for Arduboy.

Bates writes on his site that he wants to use Kickstarter to raise $820 to cover licensing costs. I write here that he’ll probably be able to raise that amount faster than he can clear the first level of Tetris. He’ll also probably have to sell the cards without a game loaded onto them to avoid legal issues, though.

No word on how much a final version would cost, but you can visit Bates’ website to read more about how the project came together, complete with photos of the Qdoba and REI gift cards he used to test some of the early builds.

My business card plays Tetris [YouTube via The Next Web]

TIME Video Games

The Final Fantasy XIV PS4 Beta Is Live, and Anyone Can Join

Square Enix

Beta testing is live for phase one.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn arrived for PlayStation 3 and Windows last September. After some early launch problems with glitchy servers, it settled into a kind of groove. It’s been in that groove pretty much since. And while it’s not trying to reinvent the MMO — who is these days? — it went over well with critics.

Picture everyone at Square Enix heaving sighs of relief, because failing twice to get this flagship MMO off the ground might well have broken the company. The initial game, released back in 2010, was a dreadful mess — arguably the first dead-serious mainline Final Fantasy flub ever. Square Enix’s reaction matched that level of seriousness: the company scrapped the game, tripped over itself apologizing, then spent the ensuing three years nose to the grindstone overhauling everything. When April 14 rolls around and Final Fantasy XIV launches on PlayStation 4, both versions will have been in development, collectively, for over half a decade (and probably well over, at that).

Yesterday, Square Enix made the beta version of the PS4 version available on the PlayStation Network. It’s free, and anyone can join. I pulled it down last night: it’s 11GB, and took around three hours on my entry-level (16 Mbps down) Comcast business line.

I haven’t played much, and since this is still the same game, the only reason to play if you’re coming from the PS3 is the massive visual upgrade, but a few thoughts: They haven’t fixed the kludgy PC mouse interface, where you’re using the gamepad to push a tiny hand-pointer around the screen like it’s 1995 and we’re playing X-COM on the original PlayStation. You can tab around with the d-pad, sure, but how much trouble would it have been to create a login overlay specific to the console version — a version that used the face buttons like any other self-respecting console game? I guess my bigger concern is that at 1080p, the text is so small it’s darned near illegible. Try playing this using Remote Play on your Vita (yes, it’s supported) if you dare.

A few notes about the beta, which the company’s running in two phases: The first was supposed to last from February 22 to March 3, but it started late, so I imagine it might run later than next Monday, as originally scheduled. Then the game goes on hiatus for a month, before a second test phase, currently set to run from April 4 to April 7. As noted, the PS4 version launches on April 14.

For phase one, you’ll be unable to use existing characters if you’re already a FFXIV player (the game’s running on cordoned-off beta servers in Japan), though the final version will support cross-platform play with both PS3 and Windows players. When phase two rolls around, you’ll be able to use those preexisting characters, and, presumably, your accomplishments will then roll forward to whatever version(s) you opt to play thereafter.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Music

This Ancient Chinese Instrument Was Made to Play the Super Mario Bros. Theme

Right down to the sounds of collecting coins and mushrooms.

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We’re assuming that when the musical instrument known as the sheng was invented in China thousands of years ago, no one knew that it would one day be used to play a magically spot-on version of the Super Mario Bros. theme music. But here we are.

At a recent concert in Taipei, Taiwan, a performer treated her audience to the classic video game tune, complete with all the nuanced sound effects, played entirely on the sheng. It’s pretty bizarre to hear that modern music coming from such an ancient instrument, right? Well, keep in mind that the instrument this performer is playing isn’t in itself ancient, but evolved from something ancient. Slate explains:

This particular sheng could very well have been engineered specifically to sound like an old Nintendo. It’s not like it was unearthed by archaeologists and when they played it, the mystical thread that binds all things Asian was revealed at last. The oddity here isn’t how much an ancient instrument sounds like modern technology, but how much a modern instrument echoes ancient video game technology.

It’s still pretty amusing to think of ancient Chinese emperors hanging out playing Super Mario Bros. in their opium dens.

TIME

The Sundance of Indie Games: Welcome to IndieCade

IndieCade tirelessly culls through countless games, bringing you the best being developed today.

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Each year, more and more independent game makers are trying to make their mark. IndieCade has stepped in to separate the wheat from chaff, curating and identifying the best that independent gaming has to offer.

The annual international festival began in 2005 in Bellvue, Washington, when less than a 100 developers in the US were creating independent games. As the indie gaming scene grew, so did the festival, eventually moving to Los Angeles.

In 2013, the festival added IndieCade East, a more intimate festival based in Queens, NY at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Producer: Corey Protin, Editor/Cam Op: Derek Lartaud, Cam Op: Justin Damiano

TIME Video Games

The Thief Launch Trailer Has Everything, Including Electric Guitars

Not your parents' Thief, and that's probably fine.

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As videos go, the Thief launch trailer plays it safe and standard, resembling the sort of melodramatic workup you’ve seen a zillion times during the previews deluge at a movie theater, including the uplifting, rockin’ tune that kicks in about a third of the way through (in this case, see 0:50). You half expect the thunder-throated voiceover to go something like “In a time, when good men carried blackjacks, a hero emerges…”

We’ve come a long way from November 1998, when Looking Glass Studios’ Thief: The Dark Project felt like creeping through a gothic glass darkly, where the tenebrous stone passageways and starless crypts and brilliantly bleak sound effects gave the impression — or it did me, anyway — that the game world itself was a dim veil hung over a starless mystical void.

Eidos Montreal’s Thief-the-reboot looks both grander and splashier, trading the original game’s sepulchral atmosphere for less abstruse narration and parkour-style scampering over soaring rooftops that give the sense of looking at a negatives reel of someone playing Mirror’s Edge.

If you hold with the notion that lighting strikes twice — and it certainly struck for developer Eidos Montreal with Deus Ex: Human Revolution — there’s plenty to be excited about when this one launches for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One next Tuesday, February 25.

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