TIME Video Games

Everybody Is Freaking Out About What Might Happen at 3PM Today

US-IT-CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW-CES
ROBYN BECK—AFP/Getty Images Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich (L) and Gabe Newell, co-founder of game-maker Valve, discuss Intel's role in Valve's gaming development, during Krzanich's keynote address at the 2014 International CES.

Third day of the third month at three pm...

Today may be an auspicious day—if Internet gamers have anything to say about it.

At the annual Game Developer’s conference, legendary game maker Valve is scheduled to talk about its future plans. Earlier, the company announced a new virtual reality headset in partnership with Taiwanese phone giant HTC, the Vive. But the timing of the company’s sessions—the third day of the third month—has some speculating (or at least hopeful) that a sequel to one of its most popular titles might be announced.

The most wished for announcement is likely Half-Life 3, the rumor follow up to 2004’s critically acclaimed and commercially blockbuster Half-Life 2. The title has reportedly been in development for more than a decade. But no one outside the company’s Bellevue, Washington-based headquarters knows for sure. Other possibilities include Portal 3, a sequel to the best-selling 2011 game Portal 2.

Expectations may have already boiled over, though. The company said it would be focusing on hardware this year. And the presentation scheduled is supposed to be focused on the use of physics in game. It isn’t slated to be helmed by Valve boss Gabe Newell. But a nerd can always dream.

TIME Gadgets

We Finally Know Who’s Making Valve’s Virtual-Reality Headset

The HTC Vive should be out by the end of the year

Gaming company Valve dropped the news last week that it’s working on a virtual-reality platform akin to the Oculus Rift, but it wasn’t clear who was making the system’s hardware. Now we know: HTC on Sunday announced the HTC Vive, a joint HTC-Valve virtual-reality headset that’s due out by the end of the year.

HTC says the Vive has the “most immersive experience of any VR package,” thanks to a full 360-degree field of vision and 90-frame-per-second video capabilities. The company is also working on wireless controllers for the headset, which, given the Valve partnership, will probably be marketed primarily as a gaming device—games like shooters are a natural fit for the VR experience, and the Vive will be compatible with Valve’s SteamVR virtual-reality platform.

Still, games won’t be the only offering on HTC and Valve’s Vive headset. HTC is partnering with several content providers, including HBO, Lionsgate and Google, for other virtual-reality content like movies.

It still isn’t clear how much the HTC Vive will cost or what content will be available on the platform upon launch. A developer’s edition is due out this spring.

TIME Video Games

This Is the Incredible Game President Underwood Is Obsessed With in House of Cards Season 3

It's called Monument Valley and it's pretty great

Francis Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian character on the Netflix series House of Cards, has always allowed himself a few good video games. These have tended toward the violent, first-person-shooter variety. But in Season 3, which became available on the streaming service on Friday, a beautiful, somewhat esoteric indie game for mobile devices becomes a minor plot point.

That game is Monument Valley, created by UsTwo. The title—available here for Android and here for iOS— was ranked one of TIME’s 10 best games of 2014. Here’s a description of the game by its designers, part of which Spacey alludes to in the show:

In Monument Valley you will manipulate impossible architecture and guide a silent princess through a beautiful world. Monument Valley is a surreal exploration through fantastical architecture and impossible geometry. Guide the silent princess Ida through mysterious monuments, uncovering hidden paths, unfolding optical illusions and outsmarting the enigmatic Crow People.

Or as TIME’s reviewer put it: “Monument Valley celebrates non-Euclidean geometry, beautifully bizarre architecture and the art of silent storytelling. Combine royalty with optical trickery, trajectory-fiddling with bonsai pruning, aesthetic contemplation with tactile interaction and you wind up with something like designer ustwo’s delightful, enigmatic puzzler.” Worth checking out, no matter where you are on the road to world domination.

TIME Video Games

Nimoy’s Greatest Performance Had Nothing to Do With Star Trek

Sega

'Seaman' did not become a blockbuster, but a cult hit

The world is eulogizing the great Leonard Nimoy after the 83-year-old actor passed away Friday. To be sure, the man best known as Spock in various incarnations of Star Trek had a long and varied career. People will be remember the ways in which he influenced, moved or made them laugh for weeks to come.

To me Nimoy’s greatest performance was in what, for most, will seem a minor footnote. In the late-1990s, he provided voice-over narration for one of the strangest, most wonderful experiments in video game history: Seaman. Released for Sega’s Dreamcast console, the Japanese game put a virtual pet in the care of players who were charged with feeding, nurturing and guiding its evolution from sea to land. You could talk to the creature through a microphone accessory plugged into the Dreamcast’s controller and, eventually, he would begin talking back. It was strange.

But also delightful. The game, which Nimoy welcomed you to every time you booted up with a joke or piece of advice, did what emerging (if flawed) technology does best, giving you a sense of what might be possible. A lot of the time it didn’t work correctly, or at all. (Voice-recognition was much less sophisticated, not to mention the lackluster processing power of Sega’s ill-fated console.) But the game was a kind of equation with wonder as the chief variable. And Nimoy’s voice lent the whole thing shape and credence, turning what might have been a trifling experiment into something pretty grand.

You can see gameplay and some of Nimoy’s work here.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hollywood is less diverse than its audiences — and it might be hurting the bottom line.

By Austin Siegemund-Broka in the Hollywood Reporter

2. Facebook’s new suicide prevention tools finally get it right.

By Ashley Feinberg in Gizmodo

3. How will we understand the power of the bacteria in our bodies? Meet the crowdsourced American Gut project.

By American Gut

4. The road to artificial intelligence begins with computers mastering video games like a human being in the 80s.

By Rebecca Morelle at BBC News

5. Salting roads and plowing snow is inefficient and costly. A smart algorithm can save cities millions.

By Marcus Woo in Wired

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Video Games

The Surprising Reasons People Buy the PlayStation 4, Xbox One or Wii U

Sony Launches PlayStation 4 In Japan As Console Retakes U.S. Retail Lead Over Microsoft's Xbox One
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images The first customer to purchase the PlayStation 4 (PS4) video game console holds the box at the launch of the PS4 console at the Sony showroom in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.

New data offers a few head-scratching reasons why consumers buy

Infometrics guru Nielsen just published the results of an inquiry into why people are buying the latest game systems from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. The results are surprising in part.

Consider the following chart, which breaks the decision-making variables impacting each system into “factors” ranked by survey respondents:

Nielsen

The chart’s results are weirder than they appear at first. Take resolution, the number of horizontal by vertical lines output as video signal, and constitutive of the number of pixels onscreen. Several first-wave, multi-platform games ran at higher resolution on the PlayStation 4 than the Xbox One, owing, everyone in the media’s assumed based on anecdotal developer chitchat, to disparity between the two systems’ processing power.

The presumption is that slight visual differences shouldn’t matter, that you’re just being slavish to detail if you’re obsessed with subtle pixel differentiation. Yet there it is, the topmost reason for buyers of Sony’s console.

And what’s “Blu-ray Player” doing as PS4 factor number two? The Xbox One’s just as capable a Blu-ray system. Is this telling us something about a Microsoft messaging failure? Or wait—isn’t packaged media all but dead? Whether people are really watching scads of Blu-rays on their PS4s or this is just the psychological “want the option” factor is unclear.

“Game Library” is another head-scratcher. The Xbox One’s library is just as big and just as critically acclaimed as the PlayStation 4’s, while neither system offers native backward compatibility. Is this indication of a preference for the kinds of exclusives Sony’s system offers? And looking across the way at Nintendo, what’s the difference between “Game Library” (PS4) and “Exclusive Games/Content” (Wii U)?

I’m also a little confused about “Brand,” which tops the Xbox One’s factor column. Sony’s PlayStation-as-brand is, judging by platform sales across all systems, far better known than Microsoft’s Xbox—unless it’s more a Microsoft versus Sony (than PlayStation versus Xbox) thing.

And what does “Innovative Features” refer to? Xbox One Kinect, a peripheral the company yanked from the system before its first anniversary? SmartGlass integration? The bifurcated operating system (and Metro-styled interface)? Or the list of features the company wound up retracting in the wake of controversy over player privacy and digital rights management?

What this more likely confirms is that perception remains nine-tenths ownership.

TIME Video Games

This Computer Learned How to Totally Devastate You at Pong

Iowa Town Plans To Launch Video Game Hall of Fame And Museum
David Greedy—Getty Images A version of Pong is played on the orignial Magnovox Odyssey 200 during the launch party for the International Video Game Hall of Fame and Museum on August 13, 2009 in Ottumwa, Iowa.

And that's a huge development for artificial intelligence

Need a new gaming buddy? Just call DeepMind.

The artificial intelligence company, owned by Google, has developed an algorithm that can learn how to play almost 50 classic arcade games nearly from scratch, according to a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The system can learn titles from Pong to Space Invaders after getting the same instructions no matter which game it’s about to learn, a big improvement from computers programmed from the get-go to master single games like chess.

While this research sounds like it’s all fun and games, it has big implications for artificial intelligence. According to Nature, DeepMind uses a combination of AI technologies based on the human brain that let it learn from experience as well as respond to rewards—in this case, high scores in video games—much like people respond to a jolt of dopamine. That means DeepMind could give researchers new insight in how to replicate human brain functions in digital code.

Still, DeepMind’s software isn’t about to destroy all your high scores. Nature points out it has trouble with maze games because it “struggles to link actions with distant consequences,” not unlike most of your buddies in high school. And for now, it can’t take what it learns from one game and apply it to another similar title.

Google bought DeepMind in January of last year for a reported $650 million.

[Nature]

TIME apps

The 5 Best iPhone Games You Should Play This Week

Alto's Adventure, Grudgeball and Swap Heroes 2 are our favorites

Had enough Candy Crush and looking for some fun new games to play on your iPhone? Here are five favorites TIME rounded up this week.

  • Alto’s Adventure

    Alto's Adventure
    Alto's Adventure

    While magnificently designed, Alto’s Adventure is also a rare runner game that incorporates objectives other than simply moving forward and earning points. Play as the snowboarder Alto and make jumps on difficult courses while leading your team through the frozen wilderness — and don’t forget to rescue those llamas.

    Alto’s Adventure is $1.99 in the App Store

  • Bob’s Space Adventure

    A modernized 8 bit-style arcade game in which you take a character through space to blast aliens. The developers have even organized a championship with a cash prize, so as you go fight off wave after wave of baddies before finally being outnumbered, you might actually put yourself in the running for a cool $100,000.

    Bob’s Space Adventure is free in the App Store

  • AdVenture Capitalist!

    Adventure Capitalist
    Adventure Capitalist

    AdVenture Capitalist! is a great little game about humble beginnings at a lemonade stand. Gradually grow your operation until you’re at the top of the capitalist chain. If you’re any good, you’ll be able to expand your empire to include other shops and operations — just remember to keep track of them all. It’s SimTower for the capitalist set.

    AdVenture Capitalist! is free in the App Store

  • Grudgeball: Enter the Chaosphere

    Grudgeball
    Grudgeball

    Grudgeball: Enter the Chaosphere

    Play as the characters of Cartoon Network’s much-adored Regular Show in the dangerous game of Grudgeball. Picture it as a game of dodgeball against all of your camp counselors. You can fire at opponents, block their balls, and counter-attack. However, the real fun is unleashing each character’s special Grudgeball move, as well as playing against friends using the same device.

    Grudgeball: Enter the Chaosphere is $2.99 in the App Store

  • Swap Heroes 2

    Swap Heroes 2
    Swap Heroes 2 Swap Heroes 2

    One of the more endearing RPGs available for iOS, Swap Heroes 2 has players assemble a team of heroes to go on quests. The game is slow-paced, but as you engage in a series of battles against opponents and complete a variety of missions, you start to feel like a ringleader of an old school gaming squad. It’s not as customizable as most console-based role playing games, but it has plenty of options for choosing your own path toward the final battle.

    Swap Heroes 2 is $2.99 in the App Store

TIME Video Games

The Order 1886 Review: Sony’s Exclusive Blockbuster

Ready at Dawn

Ready at Dawn's latest revisits the "interactive movie" concept with mostly positive results

“When you play a game, one moment you’re just controlling it and then suddenly you feel you’re in its world,” said Nintendo luminary Shigeru Miyamoto in a recent interview, adding that playing a game is thus “something you cannot experience through film or literature.”

What to make of developer Ready at Dawn’s gloomy, Victorian, supernatural pastiche The Order: 1886 then, a game that frequently takes player control away?

On the one hand, The Order: 1886 is an interactive drama (or what we might have called an “interactive movie” back when Under a Killing Moon and Phantasmagoria were in vogue) that spends Hideo Kojima quantities of time in the driver’s seat. It’s a kind of participatory film with occasional bursts of third-person action, in other words. But are games only games when we’re manipulating the action? Is player agency the be-all, end-all? Or is there something potentially fascinating when simply watching what happens is a large part—or most—of the experience?

All I can tell you is that I generally enjoyed The Order: 1886‘s hybrid approach to whatever it is we want to call what we’re doing these days when we play/receive/experience/watch a game. In fact the more I delved into Ready at Dawn’s Arthurian legend retelling, the more I appreciated the way the studio seemed to know just the right moments to step forward and tell its story, then back away to let you maneuver through its James Bond-meets-Nikola Tesla ballistic scenarios for yourself.

Ready at Dawn

If there’s one thing The Order: 1886 does very well, it’s providing that sense of continuously inhabiting a detailed world. Call it a PlayStation 4 tech demo if you like, it’s still an achievement: the render complexity of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within finally realized in realtime, any lingering benefits of pre-rendered cutscenes extinguished in one gorgeously shaded and illuminated swoop.

Sometimes that leads to overindulgence. You can pick up items and glean vague plot-related details, for instance, but they’re window dressing (and at best worth a few PlayStation 4 trophies). The Order: 1886 isn’t an adventure game where you sleuth for clues to solve puzzles, but hefting objects for admiration’s sake alone feels like a missed opportunity. I spent a fair lot of time perusing doohickeys, papers and photographs, finding nothing gameplay-related, and wondering if I’d missed the point (or joke).

But there’s undeniably something more intimate about this sort of carefully controlled, story-emphatic, single-player approach that’s absent from freeform games: the shifting abilities (sometimes you can walk, run, climb, shoot, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all together) that ironically increased my involvement with my surroundings, and the way the studio uses the game’s slower pace to unpack the characters and plot.

Ready at Dawn

Not that Ready at Dawn’s design choices are unimpeachable. The story, however well told, feels a bit too Underworld in an era of hackneyed monster mashups. The quicktime events are as derivative and lifeless as quicktime events have ever been, and the only minor innovation–having to swing the camera around to unmask which button to push–feels like a pointless tack on.

That goes double for all the repetitive input. Game studios still haven’t figured out that asking players to jam on a button to make whatever mechanism work (like moving an elevator) is a cliched and frankly impoverished substitute for actual interactivity. If, for instance, you’re going to make sending Morse Code integral to the game, great, but if you’re just asking me to tap out a few letters on a control surface once and for novelty’s sake, then as Hume said, to the flames.

I’m also a little conflicted about the game’s gunplay. A few of the weapons are halfway interesting (in particular a monstrous thing that lets you fire combustible powder, then ignite it with a followup flare). The enemies are more than competent, and the difficulty spikes satisfyingly brutal. But there’s something a little formulaic about the way enemies appear during these sequences—like pop-ups in a carnival game, the deadlier heavies arriving only after you’ve passed a threshold, making battles less about learning to react shrewdly than pattern recognition.

Ready at Dawn

But then I also love the way low cover obscures your view during shootouts, encouraging you to seek taller cover (you can see more, standing and shooting around corners), or to find cover that’s a mix of both so you can alternate fluidly. I love that snipers won’t shoot until you pop up, that if you’re not using cover judiciously bullets can hit and knock you into the open, that shotgunners flank at close range and that you can dodge grenades.

A word about the ending, which didn’t work for me. As spoiler-free as possible, I can say it comes down to a choice, or the lack of one, and at the only point I wanted the freedom to choose. I get that Ready at Dawn needs to tell its story, that as far as its concerned the choice made is the only one possible, but boy oh boy that ending…it’s the one place where auteurism and agency feel most like matter touching antimatter, and not in an artsy or revelatory way.

Some players are going to buck Ready at Dawn’s approach no matter what I say, and by all means steer clear if “interactive drama” isn’t your thing, but I submit that’s the wrong place to raise bulwarks. The Order: 1886 has flaws enough without conflating personal taste and flawed presumptions about game design—though it’s also a promise, assuming Ready at Dawn gets the go-ahead to make a sequel, of what this sort of author-player partnership could yield, better tempered, down the road.

3.5 out of 5

Review using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Read next: This Museum Is Building a Video Game Hall of Fame

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TIME Video Games

This Museum Is Building a Video Game Hall of Fame

US-ART-MOMA-VIDEO GAMES
Emmanuel Dunand—AFP/Getty Images An employee plays the video game Pac-Man (1980) during an exhibition preview featuring 14 video games acquired by The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, March 1, 2013.

And it'll be in Rochester, New York

The Strong museum has collected more than 55,000 video games and related artifacts from the history of gaming — but only a few titles will be inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame, which the museum officially launched on Tuesday.

“Electronic games have changed how people play, learn and connect with each other, including across boundaries of culture and geography,” said G. Rollie Adams, president and chief executive of The Strong museum in Rochester.

Gaming enthusiasts can nominate their favorite titles via the Strong’s website until March 31. An international committee of tech journalists and scholars will then select games based on their longevity, global reach and iconic status. Lacking those qualities, a game can still make the cut if it had a notable influence over other games or “society in general.” Not the most scientific measure, but a fun exercise in ranking nonetheless.

Winning titles will be unveiled at an induction ceremony at the Strong in June.

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