Cult of the Wind dares you to fly imaginary fighter planes in childish dogfights

There’s a childish glee on display in the trailer for Cult of the Wind, a new multiplayer shooter almost completely devoid of the trappings of most shooters: no guns, bullets, explosions, or equipment. The game is played by a group of people reenacting great airplane battles of old, their arms stretched out behind them, their lips pursed in the sound of imaginary engine rumbles. It’s a brilliant spin on the weirder tropes of the genre like enemy respawns, timed rounds, and capture the flag. Turns out, when you make these things obviously part of a game for children, they make a lot more sense.

It’s a clever way to spin the phenomenon of Cargo Cults, but told from within a strange society and with an absolutely straight face. “In Cult of the Wind, players compete and cooperate in ritualistic multiplayer human dogfights, complete with imaginary weapons, pretend explosions, and airplane noises made with their mouths,” the site’s description reads. “Shower your friends in a hail of imaginary bullets and proclaim, ‘I got you! You have to lie down,’ to which they respond, ‘Nuh-uh, I have a shield.’”

It captures perfectly the feeling of playing with your friends as a kid, a sensation that is just impossible to feel again. No matter how hard you try, the other kids think you’re weird because you’re “an adult” and “don’t go to school here.” You get escorted off the property by security, but it’s just as well since you have to go to work to pay the rent.

The final game will include a level editor, character customization, and “weird noises.” Check out Cult of the Wind on Steam Greenlight for more details, as if you need them.

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The Guardian’s new US newspaper has a robot editor-in-chief

image There’s something a little different about the editor for The Guardian’s new monthly US print edition: there isn’t one. Set to launch Wednesday, #Open001 is being created using a proprietary algorithm rather than people (and we thought the media was…

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Spelunky world record beaten, $3,109,825 collected over four hours

It was less than two months ago that top Spelunky streamer Bananasaurus_Rex smashed through Spelunky’s £3,000,000 barrier to take the high score world record. It’s an achievement I thought would hold, thanks to the incredible luck of finding a plasma cannon and jetpack on the first two levels. It wasn’t to be, as now YamaYamaDingDong has broken that record by just $ 3,975. More impressively, he did the majority of the run without the level-blasting power of the plasma cannon.

You can watch the run via the archived Twitch stream. Be warned, though: it’s over four hours of highly methodical ghost shepherding, gem collecting action.

Thanks, Kotaku.

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Scientists are studying evolutionary concepts with robot mice

image Studying evolution is tricky — it’s a process that happens over countless generations and thousands of years, but the men tasked with studying it live less than a century. Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology have found one…

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Hong Kong Massacre’s trailer is absurdly bloody

In an age of vague naming, it’s reassuring to discover a game like The Hong Kong Massacre, which barely requires further elucidation. Nonetheless, we don’t get paid without some elucidation, so it’s a top-down indie shooter that caused a stir with its first screenshots on TigSource last month, and now it has a trailer. Inevitable comparisons to Hotline Miami aside, the most impressive thing about Hong Kong Massacre is how deftly it captures the chaotic, super stylish vibe of classic ’90s Hong Kong crime movies, but only using a few frames of animation.

Also: there’s the quite ridiculous amount of blood being splashed around. Each bullet seems to make the person it hits explode like a McDonalds strawberry milkshake that has been stamped on by a fat giant. Seriously, I can’t overstate how much blood there is on show here. Put on your best Patrick Bateman raincoat and see for yourself:

Paper flying through communal cubicles, windshields shattering, endless bullet time, and a figure in white wielding pistols akimbo: it’s effectively John Woo’s greatest hits on loop, which means I couldn’t love it any harder. Those geysers of blood also have a touch of Tarantino about them too, which is no surprise given how much he’s lifted from Asian action cinema. I’m also pleased to note that someone over at indie dev Vreski Games clearly has their priorities in order:

You can keep up with the game’s development at TigSource, where there’s an ongoing devlog with more stuff like this…

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The Elder Scrolls Online review

Every modern Elder Scrolls game has had a moment near the beginning where you step out into a new landscape and think I’ve never been somewhere like this before. In Morrowind it hit as you left Seyda Neen and realised that the road ahead went in two directions, and that you could follow either of them, and that each direction would take you on an entirely different journey through the world. In Oblivion it occurred when you escaped out onto the edge of Lake Rumare and saw the hills rise ahead of you along the road to Bruma. In Skyrim you emerged onto a mountainside with the Throat of the World on one side, the valley of Falkreath on the other, and a dragon in the skies above.

I have spent thirty hours playing The Elder Scrolls Online and I’m still waiting for that moment. I’m waiting for anything like that moment. I’m waiting for the point when this MMO sits up and makes a claim to be anything but familiar. This isn’t simply about whether The Elder Scrolls Online works as an Elder Scrolls game in its own right—it doesn’t, let’s put paid to that notion now—but whether it can justify being one of the most expensive games on PC. Those ‘stepping into the light’ moments weren’t just about showing off fancy new tech; they were a promise. You are going to have an adventure. This is going to be worth your time. It does not seem unjust or unrealistic to hold The Elder Scrolls Online to account along similar lines.

At the beginning of the game your character escapes from prison in the daedric realm of Coldharbour. Your soul has been stolen by the daedric prince Molag Bal, and with the help of some new allies you return to Tamriel as the Vestige, a Chosen One among a great many other Chosen Ones. From there you are looking at around a hundred hours of questing to reach the level cap of 50, with competitive play available from level 10 and story-advancing special missions occurring every five levels or so. This is an MMO of the prescriptive, content-driven sort: where Morrowind might have spurred you on with the promise of the unknown, The Elder Scrolls Online furnishes you with an experience you’ve already had if you’ve played a fantasy MMO in the last couple of years. Its happiest players will be the ones who are looking for a new leveling curve to surmount, and that’s fine in principle—but execution matters too.

Your character belongs to one of three factions, each presiding over a third of ESO’s truncated take on Tamriel. The Daggerfall Covenant stretches from High Rock in the northwest down to the northern half of Hammerfell. The Ebonheart Pact covers an area stretch from mainland Morrowind to the eastern part of Skyrim, and the Aldmeri Dominion includes the easternmost part of the Summerset Isles, Valenwood, and Elsweyr. Cyrodiil, the setting of Oblivion, sits in the middle as a dedicated player vs. player zone.

The geographical area the game covers is expansive, but don’t calibrate your sense of scale against the other games in the series. A limited draw distance and reliance on repetitive buildings and scenery makes the game feel substantially smaller than it looks on a map. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that every faction offers a single zone for players of a given level range: unless you commit heavily to PvP, you will be seeing a lot of the same sorts of environments. My journey from level 1 to 20 with a Daggerfall Covenant character took 26 hours, time almost entirely spent in green fields, grey cliffsides and brown cottages. Landmark Elder Scrolls locations like the cities of Daggerfall and Wayrest are much the same as each other. Dedicated fans of the series may have fantasised about visiting these places in a modern iteration, but I doubt they fantasised about visiting them like this.

The tasks you perform fall into familiar categories—kill lists, fetch quests, and simple object finding. A few quests have more of a social or riddle-solving aspect and these tend to be the better ones, particularly when they allow you to use the game’s basic persuade and intimidate skills to alter the course of events. Typically, however, you’re going to be running around fighting for the vast majority of your time in the game.

The combat system hybridises the traditional fantasy MMO ‘rotation’ system—where a player cycles through a particular series of skills and magical powers—with skill-based attacking and blocking closer to the singleplayer Elder Scrolls games. The vast majority of battles feel far more like the former than the latter: generally, encounters are forgiving enough that it doesn’t matter if you screw up a block or fail to use your abilities at the right time. This applies to stealth, too: every character can sneak about, but it’s faster, easier, and more rewarding to fight everybody you see.

The combat system gets better as the difficulty level rises. I’ve built my character into a sword-and-board frontline fighter, and in group dungeons that means taking the tanking role. In addition to the familiar parts of the job—hammering the ‘taunt’ key to make sure I’m the one getting hit, keeping my defensive bonuses up—I also have to watch out for special attacks I can parry or spells that I can rebuff with a well-timed block. Seeing a heavy overhand blow coming in, reacting and catching it on my shield with a heavy ‘thunk’ is a good feeling. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s a success for the game.

This case is specific to melee combat, however. Archery suffers for a lack of impact and lethality, and magic use makes the game feel far more like other MMOs—albeit ones where you have to keep your mouse over the goblin you’re currently igniting.

It’s a good thing, then, that the game’s skill system allows you to customise your approach to combat from the beginning of the game. You select skills by spending points in a range of disciplines, the majority of which are available to every player. Your choice of class at character creation grants you three sets of skills that nobody else will have, but beyond them you’re free to mix and match armour types, weaponry, and crafting disciplines as you will. It’s also possible to add new skill trees by joining organisations like the Fighters and Mages guilds, each of which have their own quest lines.

It’s also possible to be infected with vampirism or lycanthropy and gain access to new skill trees with appropriate benefits and drawbacks. This is a nice idea, and demonstrates the versatility of the skill system. It does, however, have an amusing and detrimental effect on the game’s tone: vampires and werewolves can pass on their curse to other players once per week, and it’s common to see players in cities offering large sums of money for the chance to get bitten. The idea is fine on paper, but crumples when exposed to actual players.

This is true elsewhere. One of The Elder Scrolls Online’s biggest weaknesses as an MMO is that it often becomes a worse game when large numbers of players are involved in the same activity. While questing in the High Rock area of Stormhaven I was directed to a monastery that was under attack by bandits. I was given two quests: put out six fires, and deliver healing to four injured monks. Credit for completing these objectives is only granted to the player that performs them, which means that I was put in indirect competition with every other player in the area—and given the linear nature of the game’s zone, that means a lot of other people.

The monastery might have been on fire, but there weren’t enough fires for everybody: which meant hanging around waiting for fires to respawn so that I could get the credit for putting them out. Badly-designed quests like this one are common, and even when your objective is more deftly constructed you are always aware of the conga-line of players waiting to do the exact same thing that you are doing. This takes the game to some strange places: I’ll never forget the time I traveled back in time in the guise of an ancient warrior only to find a room full of doppelgangers jumping about, dancing, and waiting for a boss to spawn. Immersive it isn’t.

Narrative isn’t necessarily important to an MMO, but The Elder Scrolls Online’s tepid writing and lamentable voice acting act to the severe detriment of the game’s atmosphere. A handful of actors play the majority of characters you’ll run into, Oblivion-style, and as a result I’m fairly sure that every quest giver in the Daggerfall Covenant is the same person wearing a different hat and beard. The storytelling is more adept in the main plotline, and later conversations between Alfred Molina’s Jagar Tharn, Michael Gambon’s Prophet and Jennifer Hale’s Lyris Titanborn have a bit of personality to them. You’d hope so, though, with that amount of talent involved.

That’s not to say that Bethesda’s astronomical casting spend has been entirely justified. Malcolm McDowell’s Molag Bal sounds like he’s very far away for reasons I don’t quite understand. Bill Nighy as High King Emeric sounds vaguely amused and unfazed by everything that happens; like somebody’s cool granddad having fun with the word ‘daedra’. At least he’s having fun, I suppose.

That’s the experience of leveling in The Elder Scrolls Online, then: you pick up prescriptive tasks from lifeless characters and join the queue to perform them with dozens of other players. There are treasures to discover and the odd optional cave to explore if you wander off, but the things you’ll see and the rewards you’ll uncover don’t really match up to the effort. The crafting system is well thought-out and expansive, but the abundance of materials and lack of a formal trading system means that there isn’t much of an economy to participate in. At its best, this is a decent iteration on a very familiar RPG format. At its worst, it’s boring.

For all of these reasons, The Elder Scrolls Online’s player vs. player mode is an oddity. It’s accomplished, coherent, and takes advantage of the engine’s ability to render lots of players without slowdown. It justifies the presence of the faction system, which elsewhere seems like a pointless restriction on your freedom of movement until it is lifted when you hit the level cap.

From level ten onwards, you can choose a PvP campaign to participate in. This is effectively your server or shard, given that the game otherwise lacks them. From there, all three factions battle to control a network of forts, resource camps and castles in Cyrodiil. The system resembles Guild Wars 2′s World vs. World combat, which is unsurprising given that both games have a common ancestor in Dark Age of Camelot. Participating in battles earns its own currency which is spent on siege equipment and castle repairs: even a disorganised army participates in a cooperative economy that encourages a strong sense of collective spirit.

The majority of encounters are decided by whichever side has the most bodies: an old problem with this form of PvP, and not something that ESO satisfactorily solves. What it does manage to do is to run well even as large groups clash together. You might not be able to see what’s going on, but by keeping your spells and abilities in play you can at least make yourself useful. Sieges tend to be more interesting than field battles because they encourage a variety of roles: ambushers waiting near postern doors, siege crews maintaining shields to protect their catapults and battering rams, assault teams waiting to go when the doors fall.

I’m a little concerned about the mode’s overall structure. With three factions fighting over a single (albeit large) map, offensives by a single party often struggle to overcome the opportunistic resistance offered by two factions fighting against a common foe. This creates a kind of eternal war around familiar flashpoint areas, although the presence of permanent objectives—Elder Scrolls that can be stolen to give your side a bonus—does provide a sense of who is ‘winning’ at a given time. After a while, however, I can see endless war wearing a little thin. Overall, though, it’s the game’s best feature. Unlike the rest of the game, where competent design can’t overcome patchy presentation, PvP allows spectacle to emerge naturally as players congregate, cooperate and clash.

It is, nonetheless, the exception. My enthusiasm for The Elder Scrolls Online’s competitive side doesn’t stack up against the time I have spent feeling drained by drab questing or restricted by a world ensconced in fog. This is an MMORPG of moderate scope with a few good ideas and the resources invested in it seem sufficient to expect new dungeons, daily quests and armour sets to collect at a decent clip for the next couple of months. If you’re tired of your current fantasy haunt and looking for somewhere to transfer your guild, this game may suit you for a time. For everyone else, though, I’d advise caution. There’s no game that I’d be happy recommending on the basis that it’s at best ‘okay’ for thirty-plus hours. ‘Okay’ isn’t good enough when you’re facing down this much of a premium, and I can’t imagine paying a monthly fee to visit somewhere I’ve been many times before.

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Microsoft offers early download of Windows Phone 8.1

image We get it. You want to download Windows Phone 8.1 as soon as possible just to see if Cortana is really as cool on a mobile device as she is in the Halo series. Or, perhaps it’s the new Action Center and swipe keyboard that strike your fancy. Whatever…

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This tiny generator can power wearable devices using your body heat

image Many wearables have decent enough battery life, but you know what’ll make them even better? If we never have to recharge them at all. That’s why researchers have been developing small power sources that can generate electricity using body heat,…

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Joystiq weekly wrap-up: Fire-breathing lizards, big bad wolves and giant robots

image Welcome to the first edition of the Joystiq Weekly Wrap-up, where we present some of the best stories and biggest news from our beloved sister-publication. After the break you’ll find, among other things, Pokémon, the Big Bad Wolf and the final word…

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Unreal Tournament review — February 2000, US edition Vol. 7 No. 2

Every Sunday, reviews editor Tyler Wilde publishes a classic PC Gamer review from the ’90s or early 2000s, with his context and commentary followed by the full, original text from the archived issue. This week, Unreal Tournament is reviewed in the February 2000 issue of PC Gamer US.

After yesterday’s Civilization: Beyond Earth announcement, it would have made a lot of sense to publish our 1999 review of Alpha Centauri, with one of the highest review scores we’ve ever given. This is not a review of Alpha Centauri. One, that’s so predictable. Two, I’m in a Boston hotel room (waking up after this) and I grabbed the wrong issue… February 2000 instead of April 1999. The consequences are usually much more dire when time travelers make mistakes, so let’s just be happy that we get to read about Unreal Tournament and that most of the world’s population was still born. Like, 99.9% at least.

What dates this review most (aside from a reference to Saved by the Bell) is the smallness of the FPS genre and the newness of broadband internet. The divide between the single-player campaigns of Doom, Quake, Unreal, and Half-Life and multiplayer-focused off-shoots like 1999′s Quake III Arena was growing, but with many still using dial-up modems, multiplayer-only shooters were rare. Starsiege: Tribes was well ahead of its time.

Bots were, somewhat briefly, the answer. This review almost entirely focuses its praise on the quality of Unreal Tournament’s bots as a way to fill the hole left by omitting labyrinths and switches.

It’s also funny in hindsight that the review criticizes the level design (fair, I think, but I’ve always been more of a Quake guy), then casually notes the “incredible editing tools.” I know, I know, Facing Worlds, but the amazing user-made maps are how I remember the Unreal Tournament series (still playing them in UT2K4 instagib). It makes me smile to think how far the accessibility of game development has come: those who once made Unreal Tournament maps can now build with Unreal Engine 4′s entire development kit for 19 bucks a month. Even as we lament the trend away from user generated maps, that’s progress. We still don’t have robot butlers, though.

***

Unreal Tournament review

Sick of the same old first-person shooter? Then welcome to the future of the genre!

Is anyone else disappointed by the new millennium? Aren’t we supposed to be in the middle of the Golden Future right now? Where are our hovertoilets? Where are all the cool new space-products we were promised (“Honey, could you get me a Space-Twinkie out of the Space-cupboard?”), and darnit, where’s the Robot Butlers? Really, is a Robot Butler too much to ask for?

I’d have to say that in the absence of evil scheming supercomputers like HAL 9000, the most compelling artificially intelligent foes we have available today are the computer AI bots in Unreal Tournament. Sure, they won’t fetch you a Wall Street Journal and smoking jacket while dishing out seventies slang, but these bots are a key factor in the evolution of a good game into a great one. In Unreal, the bots were an afterthought that helped you practice deathmatch (even though they weren’t much of a challenge), but in Unreal Tournament they’re the stars of the show.

Battles against bots have taken the place of the threadbare single-player storylines you’re used to seeing in first-person shooters. In fact, the single-player action in UT has more in common with Street Fighter II then it does with Half-Life. You don’t progress through a linear storyline; instead you fight your way through a series of firefights with increasingly ferocious bots. In a single-player tournament you’ll have to defeat bots in Deathmatch, Domination, Capture the Flag, and in an innovative Assault mode.

Unreal Tournament deathmatch is very similar to Unreal deathmatch. The weapons are almost exactly like the originals. In fact, the only real difference is the addition of a new energy weapon and a few tweaks to the old weapons. Like the original, the weapons are all very powerful and result in faster kills than you’ll find in any Quake game.

The deathmatch level design takes full advantage of the Unreal engine’s powerful editing tools. Thanks to this wealth of geometry, you’ll fight battles in futuristic Space-ships, atmospheric Space-Galleons, and creepy Space-castles. Each level is extremely detailed, which makes the game look great, though occasionally the complex architecture gets in the way of gameplay. For instance, in the deathmatch level called “The Peak,” you’ll occasionally run around the outside of a building on narrow passageways. If you drop off these walkways and die just by accident, you won’t care very much that the architecture looks cool.

This is an overall problem with Unreal Tournament. It seems as though many of the levels were designed with aesthetics taking priority over gameplay. If you compare the basic level design to id’s Quake III Arena, you’ll notice how often UT sacrifices substance for style. You’ll appreciate a beautiful level the first few times you play, but you’ll appreciate quality gameplay design every single time you play.

In the excellent Domination mode, you and a squad of friendly bot-buddies fight to gain control of three strategic areas. Domination allows you to really appreciate the bot AI. Even if you don’t tell them exactly what to do (you can command them very easily if you so desire), they still play intelligently. This mode is the most frantic of all because you simply can’t win it on your own, and you have to learn to trust. (Those of you who learned how to trust during one of those “very special episodes” of Saved By the Bell are ahead of the curve.) Coordination between you and your team’s bots seems a little strange until you realize that the bots are conforming beautifully to “human” responses in the firefight. It’s amazing.

Capture the Flag is maybe the weakest gameplay mode available, if only because it adds nothing to this very familiar style of play. For what it is, though—a standard Capture the Flag variant—it’s still great fun.

Assault is by far the most innovative and enjoyable mode in Unreal Tournament. The game gives you several objectives and you have to solve them before the clock runs out. If you beat the clock, the other team must accomplish the same goals faster than you. The quality of these levels is often hit or miss. Levels like the high-speed train, the Normandy assault, and a boat attack are great fun, while a few of the others are a bit too complicated to provide the same thrill. Again, examples of too much visual flair and not enough solid gameplay justification in the level design.

You’re most likely asking two questions right now. The first is “When will I be able to get me some of them Space-Twinkies?” and the second is “Is the game fun even when you’re just playing against bots?” The answer to the first is that you’ll just have to be patient and the answer to the second is a resounding yes. The bots play hard, talk smack when necessary, and pull your sorry Space-butt out of the Space-fire when you need them the most.

The bots also give the UT single-player game a longer life than any previous single-player mode in a first-person shooter. Long after you’ve finished the final chapter in Half-Life, you’ll still be having fun playing against these bots. By changing any number of their properties, you can make a botmatch play like an entirely new game. We’ve played camping matches, bloodthirst brawls, and even set up a few scaredy-cat bot hunts.

But no matter how good the bots are, they still can’t beat real, live competition. And thankfully, the Internet play in Unreal Tournament is dramatically better than that of its predecessor. No matter how well you play against bots, you’ll find it an entirely more enjoyable experience to take your skills up against humans online. While the online gameplay is not quite as fast as that in some of the current competition, it’s fast enough that it won’t drag down your deathmatch experience.

Thanks to its excellent single-player mode, much improved network code, and overall gameplay, we barely even have to mention UT’s gorgeous graphics, rumbling sound, simple interface, and incredible editing tools. Even though it doesn’t make us feel as futuristic as we’d feel on a hovertoilet, this game managed to exceed our expectations. Maybe the new millennium isn’t going to be all so bad after all.

Dan Egger

Category: Action
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: GT Interactive
Required: Pentium II 200, 32MB RAM, 120MB hard-drive space, 8X CD-ROM drive
We recommend: Pentium II 300, 64MB RAM, 605MB hard-drive space, 3D accelerator, 28.8 or better modem
Multiplayer options: Serial, Modem, IPX, TCI/IP, Free Internet play: HEAT.net, Maximum players: 32

Highs: The best first-person shooter AI ever; enviable network code; exceptional design.
Lows: Some of the levels are designed more for look than gameplay.

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