Babylon’s Fall Beta Highlights Slick Combat and Nothing Else

Imagine a chair. Like, a really good chair. The kind of chair that your Pop-pop used to have. The one that he would sit in for hours watching Mel Brooks films and sipping on his “adult juice.” This chair has everything you need. Soft cushions, a heating pad, reclining mode, and excellent lumbar support. Now, start to strip away all of its components, remove everything that doesn’t serve its function as a chair. What you’re left with is a hunk of mass that you can sit on. That’s how I’d describe Babylon’s Fall in its current state: Technically a chair.

Platinum Games recently held a closed beta event for Babylon’s Fall, where players got a brief peek at what the game looks like and feels like. The Bayonetta developer is highly regarded as a development studio that focuses on high-speed and visceral combat that’s filled with flamboyant flair. The beta test for Babylon’s Fall strips away most of everything that Platinum Games is known for, and mainly showcases its combat, with very little fanfare.

Without the stylized art, unique characters, or a sense of progression, Babylon’s Fall is currently difficult to grasp. If the final game adds everything Platinum is known for, then this could be another hit for the studio. If it doesn’t, it could wind up being a shadow of the studio’s better games.

Build your fighter

Babylon’s Fall is about heroes venturing into the Tower of Babylon to confront the evils that reside there. I think? Knowing very little about the game, I went into the beta test to try and see if I could learn more about the story and the world that encapsulates it. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I was dropped into an underwhelming character creator and was told to pick a lineage for my character with very little context. Each lineage has unique abilities, but since most of them overlapped with each other and I didn’t know what “tethering” means here, I felt completely in the dark.

After character creation, I entered the hub city that was populated with other players but had very few NPCs to interact with. This made the hub feel very hollow. There were plenty of spaces, rooms, and buildings that will clearly have important characters to interact with, but for now, it was just empty space. The only characters I could interact with were a shop owner that I could sell my equipment to and the quest giver, who would not give me a quest and instead just directed me to interact with the quest board right next to them.

This was clearly deliberate, as the developers wanted us to just focus on the main core of the game: Going into a quest and fighting. The quests themselves are a collection of fighting stages separated by some weak platforming puzzles. Once a player gets to a fighting stage, they are welcomed by scores of enemies or a boss, or sometimes both. This is where the beta test really begins and introduces the players to the Gideon Coffin, which is basically the magical reason why players can use four weapons at a time. Each weapon is assigned to a different button or trigger and will do different things depending on where you slot them.

For instance, a sword in the light attack slot will be your main weapon to attack, whereas a hammer assigned to a trigger will do a devastating area-of-effect (A0E) attack at the cost of the player’s spirit meter. Depending on how a player customizes their weapon loadout will determine the kinds of combos that they can execute. There are plenty of ways to do that, and many combinations that can fulfill a variety of playing styles.

Party of players in Babylon's Fall fighting enemies.

It did feel good to figure out what weapon loadout worked best for me. It felt great using two hammers on my triggers to wreak major AoE damage to initiate combat before flowing seamlessly into a flurry of light attacks from my sword and then picking off enemies with my bow in my heavy attack slot. I could execute aerial combos with ease and do devastating damage if I timed my attacks correctly. If you’re familiar with the combat styles of other Platinum Games’ titles, then this should be an easy flow to get into.

No progress

However, once you take a step further and look at what else the game has to offer, you might be disappointed, as there really wasn’t anything else there. The enemies aren’t as inspiring as usual Platinum foes, and their rudimentary tactics were blatant and easy to exploit. The combat encounters do very little to differentiate themselves from each other. Besides the occasional flyer or ranged enemy, each encounter feels exactly like the last. There really isn’t a reason to change up tactics, as any combo will generally work on an enemy. The platforming aspect of the game isn’t engaging yet and feels like it’s only there to fill time.

After completing a quest, I was showered with new gear options to outfit my character. In the beta, there was some room for customization, but nothing out of the ordinary. There were options for lighter armor for faster dodging or heavier armor for more defense. The weapons only offered raw stat increases, which made progression feel dull. The only reason why I would grind for new gear is to make sure your damage numbers go up. There was nothing to look forward to, or a build to plan.

Characters face off in Babylon's Fall.

Games like Monster Hunter Rise fall into a similar rut, but have built-in mechanics to help hide these shortcomings. Rise offers raw increase in gear, but also has passive effects that can drastically alter playing style. Not only that, but thanks to the A.I. of the monsters, each hunt feels dynamic. Even if you are hunting the same monster, with the same party, the same gear, and the same location, the fight can be completely different thanks to the actions of the players and the monster they fight. In Babylon’s Fall, there is nothing dynamic happening in the fights. They start to blend together, which leads to mindless grinding.

My experience with Babylon’s Fall felt like a showcase of combat and nothing else. It simply highlighted the actual mechanics of combat and how it feels to execute them. Fortunately, the combat feels good (as you’d expect from Platinum), but everything surrounding it lacks character so far. No bells, no whistles, no over-the-top characters, and no colorful lights. Without those hallmarks, Babylon’s Fall’s combat doesn’t seem like enough to hold my attention. However, if those other components are lurking deeper beyond the limits of the beta, then this game has the potential to be something special.

Editors’ Choice

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Devolver Digital Showcase Highlights Seven Indie Games

Devolver Digital showcased seven indie games that are releasing under its publishing wing, including the samurai side-scroller game Trek to Yomi, as well as the fast-paced hack-and-slash game Death’s Door.

Devolver Digital continued its time-honored tradition of having its own showcase during the week of E3 via another video filled with games, chili dogs, and strange humor.

The most notable highlight among the indie slate is Trek to Yomi, a side-scrolling samurai game. It follows Hiroki, a young warrior who sets off on a journey to protect his village and the people he cares about. The game is completely black-and-white with a film filter on it to give the game an old samurai movie aesthetic. Trek to Yomi is planned on being released in 2022.

The stream gave another look at Death’s Door, which appeared at Day of the Devs this week. It’s a fast-paced isometric hack-and-slash game all about quick destruction and reclaiming a soul that was stolen from you. The trailer was filled with quick spell-slinging action, visceral swordplay, interesting characters, and a lovely looking parasol. Death’s Door will be available on July 2o this year and is available to pre-order now.

Demon Throttle, another highlight, takes eight-bit bulletstorm gameplay back to modern consoles. Digital Devolver has teamed up with Special Reserve Games once again to create a physical version of the game that is only available for a limited time. Demon Throttle is releasing only on the Nintendo Switch as a physical version in 2022.

It wouldn’t be a Devolver show without an announcement that seems like a joke, but isn’t. Devolver Tumble Time is a free-to-play mobile game that will release sometime this year. Little was revealed about the game, but it seems to be a puzzle game of sorts and will be free to play with monetization incentives.

Editors’ Choice

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AI Weekly: China’s massive multimodal model highlights AI research gap

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.

This week, researchers at the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence (BAAI) announced the release of Wu Dao 2.0, a multimodal AI model capable of generating text indiscernible from human-crafted prose — and more. Containing 1.75 trillion parameters, the parts of the machine learning model learned from historical training data, Wu Dao 2.0 is 10 times larger than OpenAI’s 175-billion-parameter GPT- 3.

Wu Dao 2.0 is the latest example of what OpenAI policy director Jack Clark calls model diffusion, or multiple state and private actors developing GPT-3-style AI models. For example, Russia and France are training smaller-scale systems via Sberbank and LightOn’s PAGnol, while Korea’s Naver Labs is investing in the recently created HyperCLOVA. Clark notes that because these models reflect and magnify the data they’re trained on, different countries care about how their own cultures are represented in the models. The Wu Dao 2.0 announcement, then, is part of a general trend of nations asserting their own AI capabilities via training frontier models like GPT-3.

Wu Dao 2.0, which arrived three months after version 1.0’s March debut, is built on an open source system akin to Google’s Mixture of Experts, dubbed FastMoE. Mixture of Experts, a paradigm first proposed in the ’90s, keeps models specialized in different tasks within a larger model using a “gating network.” BAAI says Wu Dao 2.0 was trained with 4.9 terabytes of Chinese and English images and text both on clusters of supercomputers and conventional GPUs, giving it more flexibility than Google’s system because FastMoE doesn’t require proprietary hardware.

Wu Dao 2.0’s mulitmodal design affords it a range of skills, including the ability to perform natural language processing, text generation, image recognition, and image generation tasks. It can write essays, poems, and couplets in traditional Chinese, as well as captioning images and creating nearly photorealistic artwork, given natural language descriptions. According to Engadget, Wu Dao 2.0 can also power “virtual idols” and predict the 3D structures of proteins, like DeepMind’s AlphaFold.

“The way to artificial general intelligence is big models and big computer,” BAAI chair Dr. Zhang Hongjiang said in a statement. “What we are building is a power plant for the future of AI. With mega data, mega computing power, and mega models, we can transform data to fuel the AI applications of the future.”

AI nationalism

Wu Dao 2.0’s release comes during a surge in tech nationalism globally, particularly in China and parts of the Eurozone. Last November, China imposed new rules around tech exports, with the country’s Ministry of Commerce adding 23 items to its restricted list. Following Nvidia’s announcement that it intends to acquire U.K.-based chipmaker Arm, the majority of U.K.-area IT experts said the government should intervene to protect the country’s tech sector, according to a survey from the industry’s professional body (The Chartered Institute for IT).

Former U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios, among others, has suggested state adversaries are pursuing uses of AI technologies that “aren’t in alignment with American values.” In February, the White House said it would bump non-defense-related AI investment to $2 billion annually by 2022, while U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed an increase in the amount of federal R&D spending to $300 billion over four years. And a U.S. Senate panel last month approved the Endless Frontier Act, pending legislation that would authorize more than $110 billion for basic and advanced technological research over five years.

But U.S. superiority in AI is an increasingly dim prospect. France recently took the wraps off a $1.69 billion (€1.5 billion) initiative aimed at transforming the country into a “global leader” in AI research and training. In 2018, South Korea unveiled a multiyear, $1.95 billion (KRW 2.2 trillion) effort to strengthen its R&D in AI, with the goal of establishing six AI-focused graduate schools by 2022 and training 5,000 AI specialists. And China, whose AI Innovation Action Plan for Colleges and Universities called for the establishment of 50 new AI institutions in 2020, is expected to leapfrog past the European Union within the next several years if current trends continue.

BAAI is funded by the Beijing government, which put 340 million yuan ($53.3 million) into the academy in 2018 and 2019 alone. A Beijing official pledged to continue support in a 2019 speech.

In March, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt urged lawmakers to ramp up funding in the AI space to prevent China from becoming the biggest player in the global AI market. Schmidt suggested doubling the nation’s budget for R&D in AI each year until it hits $32 billion in 2026. Citing the U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, Schmidt also said lawmakers need to incentivize public-private partnerships to develop AI applications across government agencies.

“The government is not today prepared for this new technology,” Schmidt told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, noting that the use of AI to produce and spread harmful information poses a “threat to democracy” and could ultimately be used as a weapon of war. “We believe this is a national emergency and a threat to our nation unless we get our act together with respect to focusing on AI in the federal government and international security.”

So how might the U.S. make up for lost ground, despite the many challenges ahead? Last July, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report outlining what it believes must happen for the U.S. to advance “industries of the future,” including AI. PCAST recommended driving opportunities for AI education and training, in part by securing pledges to scale investments for training and education of the U.S. workforce in AI; developing AI curricula and performance metrics at K-12 through postgraduate levels and for certificate and professional programs; creating incentives, recruitment, and retention programs for AI faculty at universities; and increasing National Science Foundation and Department of Education investments in AI educators, scientists, and technologists at all levels.

Last August, in a step toward these goals, the White House established 12 new research institutes focused on AI and quantum information science. But the release of Wu Dao 2.0 highlights the work that must be done before the U.S. can close the AI gap with other world superpowers.

For AI coverage, send news tips to Kyle Wiggers — and be sure to subscribe to the AI Weekly newsletter and bookmark our AI channel, The Machine.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle Wiggers

AI Staff Writer


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Tech News

Missed Google I/O 2021? These are our highlights

Today we’re taking a peek at what Google revealed on day 1 of Google I/O 2021. This is generally the day when Google reveals the bulk of their public-facing news for devices and software, and this year was no different in that respect. Google reminded the world that their heart is in organizing the world’s information and making said data valuable to all users, starting with a conversation with a paper airplane.

Below you’ll see a “a few things to know about Google I/O 2021” from Google. This video shows what the event is all about, and what Google’s goals are in continuing to run the event here in 2021 and beyond.

Google LaMDA natural language tech

In Google’s demonstration of LaMDA, the company showed how they’ll be able to allow Natural Language conversations happen between humans and basically any target. They had a conversation onscreen with the planet Earth. They had a conversation onscreen with a paper airplane. This is just the beginning.

Google Search AI, AR, skin condition check

Google demonstrated how they’ll work with AI-powered search action to diagnose skin conditions for the everyday individual. This is just the beginning of a wild, wild future in Google Search bringing more AI and AR power to the user through the future.

Google Smart Canvas

Google delivered another layer of power and connectivity between working software with Google Workspace and Google Smart Canvas. The biggest bit seemed to be tying Google Meet in with onscreen collaboration work, making the whole Google Smart Canvas environment seem rather natural.

Security and Privacy

Google reminded us that their current way of working is making the most of the data users provide them. They’re attempting to “do more with less data”, starting with automatically activated Auto-Delete for all new accounts.

Google also revealed that they’d be building out Chrome password manager and would be making certain privacy is key to all users that choose to sign in. And again – all NEW users will have their user data deleted after a set number of months by default, unless they tell Google they’d like said data deleted sooner.

Google Photos updates

Google Photos just reached its end-of-free-ride situation for Google Pixel devices. The first Google Pixel smartphones were sold with the suggestion that users could upload unlimited photos and video to Google Photos forever. That wasn’t entirely true – not forever, anyway.

Now Google is releasing new features at this key moment in time to make the service so extremely appealing that it’s difficult to imagine NOT using the app, and the space. They’ve revealed interpolation between photos and a set of features for deleting or hiding subjects or time periods.

Material Design expands with “Material You”

Google revealed Material You, a design concept and expansion of Material Design. Material You will be implemented on Android devices first – on Google Pixel devices first – and will eventually make its way to all Google hardware. With Material You, the color scheme of the device is selected by the user, and can be seen throughout the UI of the device – and potentially inside 3rd-party apps, too. Google also delivered some new foldable phone tools for developers with Android 12.

Google teams with Shopify

Google revealed Shopping Graph and a selection of shopping tech features and tie-ins with artificial intelligence and monitoring abilities for retailers. The user will have an easier time finding what they want to buy and buying what they want – or that’s the goal. Google is teaming with Shopify to make their easy shopping future a reality.

Digital car key, Fast Pair expansion

With Android 12 we’ll get digital car key integration with major brands like BMW. Fast pair will also expand, working with vehicles and devices like Apple’s own Beats earbuds and headphones.

Android Automotive OS

Google and GMC showed a demo of Android Automotive OS as it took over a GMC Hummer EV’s dash. Your car is your phone and your phone is a car… sort of.

Google Project Starline

The most interesting piece of hardware shown at Google I/O 2021 had to be Project Starline. This is an experimental system of machines that allow users to video chat with one-another with a layer of reality not possible before now.

With Project Starline, one user sits near a device that consists of a special display, 3D sensors, and camera tech, and chats with another person in a different location with a similar device. Each user sees the other with an unprecedented layer of 3D-scanned and formed reality.

Samsung Tizen and Google Wear OS combined

Samsung and Google are mashing Tizen OS and Wear OS together for one super-powered mobile operating system for mobile wearable devices. See how Wear OS got an upgrade in a major way, starting this week.

It’ll be interesting to see how other companies respond to Google delivering a software that’s as much Samsung’s as it is Google’s, “bringing the best of Wear and Tizen into a single, unified platform.” Google Watch with Tizen has already been guaranteed three years of updates right out the gate.

Android 12 Beta 1 and GSI

If you are a developer, you can access Android 12 Beta 1 for your smartphone now. Even if you are not a developer, you can, potentially, load said software to your smartphone. It’s still in test mode, not past beta, but it’s available.

Google Assistant upgrade

With new Google Assistant Capabilities, users will be able to jump into apps with far greater ease than ever before. Shortcuts allow the jump, and editing shortcuts is set to be simple.

Google quantum computing

Google revealed their quantum computer roadmap with a goal of a real-deal, useful, functional, productive quantum computer ready to roll inside the decade. They revealed their Santa Barbara, California facility for the first time ever, noting that this will be the location where Google will both run a quantum data center and manufacture quantum processors.

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Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is getting some huge changes: These are the highlights

BioWare and Electronic Arts are gearing up to re-release the Mass Effect trilogy as the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition next month, and that’s shipping with a bunch of different enhancements. Today, BioWare is detailing many of those enhancements, particularly the ones that are being applied to the first game in the trilogy.

If you’ve tried to play the original Mass Effect recently, you know that the game is definitely showing its age and could use some upgrades to bring it to the same level as its predecessors, and it seems that’s precisely what BioWare is delivering in the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. The changes BioWare detailed today mostly concern gameplay changes, with the studio saying that it will delve into the visual changes for the trilogy in an update next week.

All of the gameplay changes today were listed in a very lengthy blog post, and while there are too many to list here, there are quite a few that stick out to us. For instance, in the first Mass Effect, Shepard can now sprint while out of combat, which will make getting around a lot easier. BioWare has also mapped Shepard’s melee attack to a button this time around – before, Shepard would switch between ranged and melee attacks automatically based on how close enemies were, and as you can imagine, that was pretty annoying.

We’ve also got improvements to Medi-gel usage and inventory management to look forward too, along with the fact that all weapons can be used by any class (though specializations will still remain class-specific). We’ll also be able to command our squadmates independently of one another – just as we could in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 – and that alone could change the way we play through the original Mass Effect.

We’ll also get some long-desired changes to the way the Mako handles. I personally didn’t mind the Mako as much as some apparently did, but if you’re in the group of people who hated driving that thing, you’ll probably be pleased to know that it’s being changed in the Legendary Edition. Handling has been improved to make the Mako slide around less while driving, and camera controls have been improved for easier aiming. The shields on the vehicle will recharge faster, and we’ve even got a new set of thrusters that we can use to speed things along.

Those are all changes that are just coming to the original Mass Effect, but Mass Effect 2 and 3 are getting their share as well. In Mass Effect 3, BioWare says that it has rebalanced the Galaxy at War portion of the game to make it so that the Galactic Readiness rating is no longer impacted by external factors such as the Mass Effect 3 companion app that launched alongside the original game or the multiplayer mode (which sadly won’t be included in the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition).

Galactic Readiness, however, will be impacted by the amount of content you complete across the entire trilogy. According to BioWare, if you just jump into Mass Effect 3 without playing the other two games first, you’ll need to complete “just about every option available in the game to be eligible for an ending that doesn’t result in massive galactic losses.” Of course, if you actually want to see an ending where the galaxy is woefully under-prepared for the Reaper invasion, it looks like simply jumping into Mass Effect 3 and speeding to the end is the way to do it.

What we’ve talked about here really just scratches the surface of what BioWare revealed today, so if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, be sure to read through the company’s entire blog post to get every nitty gritty detail. We’ll keep an eye out for those details about the graphics upgrades coming to Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, which is out on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on May 14th.

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