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Game

Microsoft confirms its recent Series X update lets Xbox One discs be played offline

Xbox’s online DRM has been one of the biggest issues with Xbox Series X consoles, as outages and other issues have left players with no access to purchased games. Another big complaint is that cross-platform Xbox One disc games have been inaccessible offline, even with games that don’t require a connection. Now, a new update means you won’t be forced to do an internet check or download from an Xbox One disc anymore, engineering lead Eden Marie confirmed in a tweet.

Users started noticing the change recently, but it has been in place since the 2206 update earlier this summer, Marie said. “We examined data since Series X|S launch & determined the online compatibility check isn’t needed in the vast majority of cases for Xbox One discs. Some games may still need to be updated online after install to ensure the best experience,” she added.

What was the problem before? The issue essentially revolved around Microsoft’s Smart Delivery system. Previously, when you inserted various types of Xbox One/Xbox Series X game discs on a new-gen console, it wouldn’t install the game straight from the disc — rather, it would install an updated version via the internet. This, despite the fact that Series X consoles are perfectly capable of playing most Xbox One games directly (the main exception being Kinect games).

What this means it that you can now play many games offline that are branded “Xbox One,” “Xbox One/Xbox Series X,” “Xbox Series X/Xbox One” and “Xbox Series X.” However, you can’t play original Xbox or Xbox 360 games without updates, as the data “can’t be used directly,” according to Eden. (Most of this doesn’t apply to the Xbox Series S, of course, because it doesn’t have a disc drive.)

There are a few other exceptions as well. For instance, some disc games known as “stubs,” like Forza Horizon 5 or Halo Infinite, don’t contain the full version of the game — so you’ll need a connection for those. You’ll also need the internet to download the latest versions of games, along with expansion packs, etc. And Series X consoles require an account, so you’ll need to be online at least once to set that up. Still, the update is a good step and means you’ll be able to play a lot more games in the not-so-rare event that Microsoft’s servers go down.

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Game

Riot Games’ Catalog Can Now Be Played on Epic Games Store

Players will be able to play Riot Games titles like League of Legends and Valorant through the Epic Games Store. In addition to that, Riot and Epic are collaborating to bring Jinx from the upcoming League of Legends animated series to Fortnite.

League of Legends, Valorant, Teamfight Tactics, and Legends of Runeterra are now available to download on the Epic Games Store. When a player downloads these games on the Epic Games Store, they will also download the Riot Games launcher so they can directly access these games.

On the Fortnite side, Jinx from League of Legends is entering the world of Fortnite to help kick off the collaboration. Players will be able to purchase a Jinx skin in the in-game store along with Jinx-themed back bling, loading screens, sprays, and pickaxe. This will be the first official time a League of Legends‘ character will be featured in a game outside of Riot Games.

This crossover coincides with another collaboration that Riot Games has. The upcoming animated series Arcane is releasing on Netflix Saturday, November 6. This series takes place in Zaun and Piltover, two connected cities found in the world of Runeterra, where League of Legends takes place. Jinx will be a main character in Arcane, alongside her sister, Vi. Other characters that have been confirmed in the series are Heimerdinger, Caitlyn, Jayce, and Viktor.

Jinx and her related items will be available in Fortnite starting at 8 p.m. ET today, November 4. Act 1 of the animated series Arcane will be available at 10 p.m. ET on November 6.

Editors’ Choice




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Tech News

Roguebook is the most polished roguelike deckbuilder I’ve played

Roguebook is a delightful little deckbuilding roguelike from developer Abrakim Entertainment SA, the makers of Faeria.

While the genre’s become a bit saturated over the last few years, Roguebook has a lot going for it. For starters, legendary game developer Richard Garfield – the creator of Magic: The Gathering – was involved in the creation and development of the game.

What really caught my eye, however, was the fact that this is one of the few games that’s had its release date moved up. It was originally slated for release later this year, but it’ll be available on 17 July.

Up front

Roguebook takes the roguelike premise (you die a lot and have to start over often, but you gain experience with each playthrough that aids in your overall progress) and combines it with card collecting and turn-based combat.

Game play involves traversing an occluded hexagonal map to collect various items and power-ups on your way to confronting a big, bad, boss. Combat is engaged by approaching an icon where you’ll be transported to a battle screen.

You play entirely at your own pace, there’s never a countdown timer or short window of opportunity to react. In that way, it plays a bit more like a card scrapper than your average roguelike, but we’ve seen this formula before in similar independent games.

What sets Roguebook apart is its polish. This is a game that plays smart and rewards players of all skill levels. What I like most about it is that literally everything you do (or don’t do) matters.

The great

Few games nail learning curve like Roguebook does. There were a few tense moments in the beginning where I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be doing, but the game does a great job of letting you fail your way to understanding.

This is an incredibly easy game to play, but with each successive defeat I felt like I’d exponentially increased my strategic knowledge. There are depths to Roguebook’s gameplay that will take dozens of hours to truly discover.

And, like most roguelikes, this one has incredible replay value.

The dev team has set the bar perfectly when it comes to challenge as I found myself cheering over close-fought victories more than a few times during my first full play-through and eager to dive back in after each defeat.

A screenshot from the game Roguebook

The good

Sound values are great and the story is intriguing. The basic premise is that you’re stuck in a book and you have to fight your way out. But this particular book is a special one. It exists in the same game universe as Faeria so players familiar with the previous title will enjoy the continuation.

Make no mistake however, you don’t have to play one to enjoy the other. Where Faeria was mostly a multiplayer showdown game, Roguebook is a single player experience.

I was also intrigued by the character mechanics. You choose a team of two heroes from a team of four distinct characters. Each one is very nuanced in both their gameplay and overall lore and attitude. The voice acting is limited to battlefield shouts, but they’re well executed and enjoyable.

A screenshot from the game Roguebook

The not so good

Roguebook is too short. I know it’s a roguelike and beating it over and over is sort of the point, but I dashed through in about an hour and a half on my first play through. And by the time I’d unlocked all the characters, I was already wishing there were more.

I like almost everything about Roguebook, I just wish there were more of it. The levels are a bit sparse and there isn’t much in the way of build up. Most of the mileage you’ll get from this game comes from the joy of becoming powerful in different ways. But there needs to be more levels and bosses to wield that power at, and more allies to dress up with gear and items.

I was also unimpressed by the graphics. They’re a bit… mobile-friendly… for my taste. I will say they stand out as bright and super easy to read. But without looking at a screenshot right now, I honestly can’t remember exactly what most of the game looks like. Nothing really stood out except the enemy designs (top marks for whoever drew those up).

A screenshot from the game Roguebook

The bottom line

Roguebook’s a pretty good game right now and well worth the purchase. If it gets post launch support and additional content it’ll be a must-play. I can’t think of a more polished roguelike than this one. The one time my game crashed, I was able to continue where it left off. 

From the moment you click “new run,” almost nothing gets in the way of you having fun. It plays fast and fun and it had me saying “just one more run and I’ll write the review” for hours.

Roguebook launches on Steam and all major consoles on 17 June.

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Tech News

The Oblivion — Afterlife is the creepiest VR game I’ve ever played

All sorts of creatures exist in Paradox Interactive’s World of Darkness (WoD), and none so intriguing as the ghostly wraiths.

If ever there were a franchise rife for exploring in the immersive world of virtual reality, it’s Wraith: The Oblivion.

For those unfamiliar, the World of Darkness is a vast gaming universe created in the early 1990s for use in table-top and live-action roleplaying games. Its most popular franchise is “Vampire: The Masquerade,” but there are other creature-centric properties in the universe that focus on monsters ranging from werewolves to mummies.

The premise

You won’t need prior experience with WoD games to know what’s going on. Here’s the setup: you’re a ghost and you’re trying to figure out what the heck happened. You’re stuck in a mansion and worse ghosts than you are trying to make you even more dead. Have fun.

That may sound simple, but I’d actually call it elegant. You’re a ghost. That means you’re not here to chew bubble gum and kick ass or save the town from zombies. Your job is just to survive long enough to find out what happened.

At its core, Afterlife is the polar opposite of those games where you explore lush natural environment in order to find clues as to… the disappearance of the magic stars or something random like that. Here, you’re trying to explore a creepy-as-hell mansion while learning about your wraith powers.

The experience

I put emphasis on powers because, at no time during the wraith experience did I feel powerful. I just felt slightly less weak as some of the game mechanics unlocked.

I won’t spoil anything for you because this is a rare game where the less you know about the story and how the gameplay works, the more enjoyable it will be. But there are a few things you should be aware of before you even consider playing it.

This game isn’t scary because cats jump out of closets or creepy zombie-people suddenly pop up out of nowhere when you least expect it. There are some heart-pounding moments, but it’s mostly the oppressive, haunting, bleak atmosphere that makes it spooky.

Afterlife sucks the life out of you. It pulls your soul taut against your skeleton and whispers “only a few more hours to go, can you do it?”

You’re given a mystery that, over time, feels like your own.  And then you’re exposed to death, murder, suicide, and almost nothing good or positive for the six to eight hours it takes to complete the game.

The payoff here is that you get to live inside of a horror movie. And, if that’s your thing, it completely rocks.

Brass tacks

This is a VR game. Nine out of ten VR horror titles use jump scares and mind-grating sound effects and music to make things creepy. If you’re looking for a shallow jump-scare experience, keep looking. This one uses evocative imagery and storytelling to be scary.

For my money, it’s far more terrifying to walk beneath hanging corpses that sway when you bump into them, with no apparent context, then to have a knockoff of the ghost from “The Ring” pop out of a cupboard.

To that end, you’ll spend a large amount of time in this game running and hiding. There’s no combat to speak of; you either get away or get your ass kicked. There is a method by which you can slow and stun enemies, but I won’t get into that because it’s tied into the story, which was a lot of fun learning as I went.

Credit: Paradox

I was surprised at how comfortable the game was, as far as motion sickness and other VR discomfort goes. There’s not really any flying, leaping, falling, or spinning in this game. Things can get disorientating, but movement is comfortable and there are several options to increase comfort if certain styles of first-person VR movement bother you more than others.

The graphics are somewhere between good and great. They’re better than most of what’s out there, but not as good as titles developed exclusively for high-end VR headsets. I actually played it on Oculus with my original Quest and it looked fine. I didn’t get a headache from straining my eyes thanks to some excellent scaling choices made by the devs.

It looked good on Quest. On Quest 2 and PC-tethered headsets it should look even better.

The audio was also good, not great. It’s hard to nail spoken dialogue for VR because our brains perceive things differently when we’re immersed in a 3D space. That being said, the sound effects, music, and voice acting in Afterlife all do a great job of keeping up the immersion. I might have found something that stood out if I were using better headphones.

Gripes

My biggest gripe has nothing to do with Afterlife itself, but with my own fanaticism. Personally, I wish this was less accessible to newcomers and was instead steeped in cryptic WoD lore throughout. There’s plenty here for WoD fans and a bonanza for newcomers. But it’s not enough to tide me over until Bloodlines 2 launches.

Final thoughts

Honestly, I just want other VR developers who make horror titles to play this game. I’m a lifelong horror aficionado. I don’t get “scared” when I play video games, or scream when the cat leaps out of the cupboard at me in VR. It takes a lot more than gory graphics, grating music, and cheap thrills to spook me. But Fast Travel Games managed to creep me out through the entire Afterlife experience through sheer force of ambience and top-notch storytelling.

Once I started playing, it was hard to take the headset off. I just had to find out the details surrounding my death and I never got bored once navigating Afterlife’s expertly-crafted story.

Wraith: The Oblivion — Afterlife is available on Steam VR and Oculus. According to Paradox Interactive, it’ll be available on PSVR later.

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AI

Nvidia’s AI recreates Pac-Man from scratch just by watching it being played

Nvidia is best known for its graphics cards, but the company conducts some serious research into artificial intelligence, too. For its latest project, Nvidia researchers taught an AI system to recreate the game of Pac-Man simply by watching it being played.

There’s no coding involved, no pre-rendered images for the software to draw on. The AI model is simply fed visual data of the game in action along with the accompanying controller inputs and then recreates it frame by frame from this information. The resulting game is playable by humans, and Nvidia says it will be releasing it online in the near future.

The AI version is by no means a perfect facsimile, though. The imagery is blurry and it doesn’t seem like the AI managed to capture the exact behavior of the game’s ghosts, each of which is programmed with a specific personality that dictates its movement. But the basic dynamics of Pac-Man are all there: eat pellets, avoid ghosts, and try not to die.

“It learns all of these things just by watching,” Nvidia’s Rev Lebaredian, vice president of simulation technology, told journalists in a briefing. “[It’s] similar to how a human programmer can watch many episodes of Pac-Man on YouTube and infer what the rules of the games are and reconstruct them.”

Lebaredian said the work had been done in collaboration with Pac-Man’s creator, Bandai Namco, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the arcade classic today.

The AI-generated Pac-Man is a little blurry, but all the basics are there.
Image: Nvidia

Nvidia says work like this shows how artificial intelligence will be used for game design in the future. Developers can input their work into the AI and use it to create variations or maybe design new levels. “You could use this to mash different games together,” Sanja Fidler, director of Nvidia’s Toronto research lab, told journalists, “giving additional power to games developers by [letting them] blend together different games.”

Creating AI that can learn the rules of a virtual world just by watching it in action also has implications for tasks like programming robots. “Eventually we’d like it to learn the rules of the real world,” says Lebaredian. The AI might watch videos of robotics trolleys navigating a warehouse, for example, and use that information to design navigation software of its own.

The program that recreated Pac-Man is called GameGAN. GAN stands for generative adversarial network and is a common architecture used in machine learning. The basic principle of a GAN is that it works in two halves. The first half of the GAN tries to replicate the input data, while the second half compares this to the original source. If they don’t match, the generated data is rejected and the generator tweaks its work and resubmits it.

AI systems like this could be used to train warehouse robots like the one above, which is powered by Nvidia’s hardware and software.
Image: Nvidia

Using AI to generate virtual worlds like video games has been done before. But Nvidia’s researchers introduced several new aspects, including a “memory module” that allowed the system to store an internal map of the game world. This leads to greater consistency in the game world, a key characteristic when recreating the mazes of Pac-Man. They also allow for the static elements of the game world (like the maze) to be separated from the dynamic ones (like the ghosts), which suits the company’s goal of using AI to generate new levels.

David Ha, an AI researcher at Google who’s worked on similar tasks, told The Verge that the research was “very interesting.” Earlier teams have tried to recreate game worlds using GANs, said Ha, “but from what I know, [this] is the first to demonstrate good results.”

“All in all, a very exciting paper, and I look forward to see more developments using this approach,” said Ha.

Some elements of the process definitely need tweaking, though, and demonstrate the particular fragility of artificial intelligence when learning new tasks. Fidler told journalists that to recreate Pac-Man, GameGAN had to be trained on some 50,000 episodes. Getting that gameplay data from humans wasn’t feasible, so the team used an AI agent to generate the data. Unfortunately, the AI agent was so good at the game that it hardly ever died.

“That made it hard for the AI trying to recreate the game to learn the concept of dying,” says Fidler. Instead, in early versions of the AI-generated Pac-Man, GameGAN tweaked the game so that ghosts never actually reached the title character but trail directly behind it like baby ducks following a parent. “It’s a funny effect of the way we trained it,” says Fidler.

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