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Escaping the buzz surrounding Pok mon Go is, at this point, nearly impossible. Its greatest strength isn't that it's a good game, but that Pok mon Go challenges us to view our neighborhoods differently. Through the lens of your phone, that convenience store you never visit is now a 'Pok Stop,' and that memorial you pass by on your way to work is a 'gym.' But you don't have to play Pok mon Go just to have that kind of shift in perspective PC games have been tinkering with real-world locations for a long time. From the comfort of my computer chair, I've spent weeks discovering the joys of hauling dangerous materials in my Renault semi-truck between Poland and England in Euro Truck Simulator 2.
There's the prevailing myth that video games are often just a form of escapism, but Euro Truck Simulator 2 suggests just the opposite. Instead of running away from the real world, I'm gaining a unique understanding of it. Through the windshield of that truck, I'm beginning to see the twisting highways of Europe in a whole new light. With all of the tools that developers have at their fingertips, it's no surprise that most would want to spend their time bringing imaginary landscapes to life. But the subtlety of the world we live in can be just as memorable as the impossible realities dreamed up as backdrops for video games.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 certainly takes liberties in its recreation of Europe by decreasing its scale, but it has a masterful understanding of how something as mundane as a realistically modeled exit ramp can teach a lesson. Learning how to downshift through seven gears while simultaneously reducing speed and navigating an agonizingly tight turn has given me an appreciation for hauling a 20-ton trailer that I'd never have otherwise.
What's fascinating about Euro Truck Simulator 2 isn't the ways it can make a mundane activity like truck driving interesting, but the fact that time and time again I walk away with a new appreciation for a real-world activity that I might not have had otherwise. My dozens of hours spent hauling haven t given me the skills to operate an actual truck. But they have given me an understanding of the nuances of driving them that extends beyond what I consider as I pass semi-trucks on the highway and I'm much more sympathetic to when they're struggling to make it up a hill now, too.
More importantly, video games that play with our own reality offer us spaces to engage in a way we could never do otherwise. Anyone can remember how terrifying it was stepping behind the wheel and learning to drive for the first time because there were tangible consequences to making a mistake. My first accident in Euro Truck Simulator might not have cost someone their life, but that didn't stop me from blushing furiously and fighting the need to apologize to the other AI drivers. Sims like Euro Truck Simulator 2 excel at poking holes in the wall between real-world experiences and those we traditionally have in video games, but there's still lessons to be gleaned from games that don't aspire to simulate reality with the same determination.
The sprawling forests of Arma 2 and DayZ's Chernarus are modelled heavily after Bohemia Interactive's homeland, the Czech Republic, but there's a pretty good chance that you've never been there. Still, by taking a real world location and using it as the framework for a fictional country, Bohemia Interactive created a layer of authenticity that few other shooters can achieve. Instead of building an environment that caters to the kind of experiences the developers wanted players to have, both DayZ and Arma 2, like our own lives, feel like products of the environment they exist in. As you begin to understand the landscape of Chernarus, you also begin to adapt how you play. Once you've been sniped in the head in an open field a few times, you learn to see pastures and glades not as shortcuts but death sentences. You learn to stalk along the treeline to maintain cover. I'm a wee bit embarrassed to admit that I sometimes find myself instinctively doing the same thing when I go out hiking.
That silly habit I've developed also illustrates the way games that model real-life create situations that inform how we act in the real world and how we behave in a video game. DayZ, for example, doesn't have a magical user interface that shows you where to go. Instead you need to lean on your own awareness of your surroundings, landmarks, and, if you're lucky enough to find them, a compass and a paper map. Being able to navigate the forests of Chernarus is, in many ways, no different than being able to navigate a forest in the real world but with the added reassurance that making a wrong turn doesn't mean wandering into a hive of agitated zombies.
Of course, this has also inspired more than a to the parts of the Czech Republic that were used to create Chernarus. Aside from what playing in these environments can teach us, there's an undeniable allure to comparing the two, which in turn can give us a greater appreciation not only for the effort that went into building these worlds, but the real locations that inspired them. When it comes to a game like Tom Clancy's The Division, the greatest thing that it achieved was creating despite the state of chaos it had fell into.
As video games get progressively better at realistically modeling our world and find increasingly more creative methods to interact with that world, they also create opportunities to discover new ways of understanding our own. Whether it's through the camera on your phone as you hunt for Pokemon, the windshield of a semi-trick, or a pair of binoculars as you scout through the woods of Chernarus, each one offers a unique perspective that can inform how we behave in real-life. The lens might change, but the truth stays the same: Our world and the ways it intersects with games has plenty left to teach us.
The long-awaited Apex expansion for Arma 3 rolls out today, following its announcement at E3 last month. Apex grows pretty much every aspect of the game, with the addition of a huge, South Pacific-themed 100 km map called Tanoa, and a campaign supporting up to four players in cooperative play.
The campaign puts players in the role of a NATO CTRG special operator, sent to Tanoa on a humanitarian mission. Naturally enough, things go a bit pear-shaped and firearms come into the equation. These will be plentiful, too: Apex introduces 13 new weapons, in addition to ten new vehicles.
Most interesting is the island itself, which features a range of environments yet to be seen in an Arma game. According to Bohemia it is "home to lush tropical vegetation, unique landmarks, a rich history, and imposing man-made features of modern engineering". Landmarks you'll encounter include a sugar cane factory, shanty towns, an industrial port and, most excitingly, a bloody volcano.
Anyway, there's a launch trailer which demonstrates all these things in flashy visual language, and you can see that below:
As part of the PC Gaming Show today, Bohemia Interactive confirmed a release date for Arma 3's first expansion, Apex, which will be out July 11. Apex adds a new 100 square km map the South Pacific archipelago Tanoa new weapons and vehicles, and a co-op campaign, among other things.
Everyone who's pre-ordered Apex will get access to a sneak preview that includes everything except the co-op campaign (accessed via a Steam beta branch for the game). Check out the swampy new trailer above.
If the thought of playing Arma 3 has always appealed but you've never bitten the bullet, here's a nice opportunity: the FPS war sim is free to play on Steam this weekend. That means you can download it and play until late on Sunday for zero dollars, but if you like what you see, it's currently 50% off until May 17 (that's $19.99).
Meanwhile, the Apex Edition of the game which bundles all DLC is available for $48.99. Is it worth your time, though? Bloody oath it is, according to Evan. It's "a significant step forward for the king of military simulation," he wrote in his review.
Modders, rejoice! Arma 3 scenarios are now easier than ever to produce. The Eden editor has emerged from a long beta into general release, giving you the ability to edit in 3D and, you know, see what your tinkering does before you commit.
For purists, Eden preserves the top-down functionality of the old editor, and better still, it preserves the functionality of old scenarios: everything is backwards-compatible. One of the more amusing changes is the addition of Undo/Redo buttons, which really didn't exist before, just like the asset search and filtering functionality that has been included. If you want to get meta, the Eden editor itself can be modded with custom plugins.
The Eden update brings with it a new server browser embedded directly in the launcher, meaning no more main menu to get into a game and, more significantly, fewer limitations imposed by the engine itself. Filter options are more expansive as a result. It'll offer to automatically install missing mods as you join custom servers too.
Arma's authentic audio has been enriched thanks to new distance-based samples of guns being shot and objects exploding, supported by a multi-channel amplitude panner for when you really want to feel the PTSD setting in.
Finally, what might be my top understated patch note of all time: "Font Process information more quickly with a new, easier-to-read in-game font." It's all in the details.
The entire changelog can be found here.
On this week's mod Roundup, a more informative HUD arrives for Skyrim and wearable backpacks appear in Fallout 4. Meanwhile, The Witcher 3 gets a beautiful texture makeover, and Arma 3 becomes host to an alien virus in a mod that echos John Carpenter's classic horror film "The Thing."
Here are the most promising mods we've seen this week.
If you're looking for an immersive way to improve your carry weight in Fallout 4 (without strapping on a hulking set of power armor), here's a nice little mod that adds a wearable backpack. Backpacks are always a highly requested mod in Bethesda RPGs: they makes you feel like a real traveler, a drifter, a vagabond. This one is no exception.
I think The Witcher 3 looked pretty nice, but the great thing about the modders of PC games is that they're always working hard to make games look even better. This mod improves—greatly I'd say—the textures of rocks and boulders, crates and sacks, and floors and tiles. Have a look at the video above: comparison shots begin at about 45 seconds in, and you can really see the difference.
This custom scenario for Arma 3 brings to life John Carpenter's landmark horror film The Thing (based on the sci-fi novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campell, Jr., which I recently read.) Set in 1982, you lead a team of Marines to investigate an outpost in Antarctica and deal with (shoot) the horrifying results of an alien virus. Note, it requires several other mods to be installed—you'll find a full list on this Steam Workshop page.
You're romping through Skyrim and spot something: a book, a weapon, a piece of armor. What are its properties? To find out, you need to pick it up, then open your inventory and search for the item to find out. The moreHUD mod makes an item's properties available simply by looking at it. It'll tell you if you've already read the book you're looking at, how a weapon's damage will improve your attacks, and list an ingredient's effects. You can even see how much an item weighs, and how it'll contribute to your current carryweight. Nice!
This community-created, officially endorsed guide to defense is a useful primer for newcomers to Arma's hard-sim approach to modern military combat, but doubles as a good showcase of Arma 3's strengths.
Arma 3's scale and realistic understanding of the effective range of modern weaponry creates deep battlefields. And I mean physical depth, measured from your position to the point where you have to start engaging the enemy. Scouting tactics are vital when the enemy is kilometres away. Arma fights happen on a scale most RTS games don't simulate.
It's an ambitious, impressive co-op game—one of the best—but it demands plenty of time and patience. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, it just means that videos like these are particularly helpful. Here's another one on machine gun teams.
The most interesting and intimidating aspect of the Arma 3 ecosystem is its capacity to handle change. Developer Bohemia Interactive has updated Arma 3 so widely and aggressively—an all-powerful 'dungeon master' multiplayer mode called Zeus, a physics-based flight simulator mode, a go-kart racing mode—that the game we have now is very different from the game we saw at launch in 2013. Heck, that Arma 3 didn t even have a single-player campaign mode.
Arma s community has also grown, with amazingly talented modders bringing new weapons and maps and endless hours of scripted missions to the game. Now that Arma has sold two million units, Bohemia has sketched out its plans for the next year s worth of updates leading up to the new landmass, Tanoa.
ETA: November 2015
The first and least sexy update is titled Nexus. Nexus is laying the groundwork for later updates by overhauling Arma s core systems. First, Bohemia is rewriting how stamina and fatigue work. Until now, jogging and walking have always reduced soldier effectiveness in different ways. Having a heavy pack and walking up a hill is enough to make it hard to aim and impossible to sprint. After Nexus, players will be able to enjoy infinite jogging, basically: stamina only comes into play when players are in a flat-out sprint.
While this will make traversing Arma s giant battlegrounds on foot a little less restrictive, the change hasn t been received warmly by some parts of the community. Fortunately, as Shack Tactical founder Andrew Gluck wrote on Twitter, the old system can always come back with mods.
Nexus will also change how personal protective gear works and add new community support for players looking for reliable groups to join. The multiplayer mode End Game will change, setting the stage for more game types in a similar vein.
ETA: Early 2016
Eden will bring Arma modders to the promised land with a new 3D scenario editor. No longer will modders squint down at an overhead map trying to guesstimate and place objects by trial and error. The 3D view window based off of Zeus-mode technology lets modders place and rotate objects in real space. A bunch of improvements to the Arma 3 editor will hopefully make the entire process much more seamless.
Players have been begging for some of the changes in Eden for over a decade: an undo button, new MP game finding, control mapping, and weapon switching. Bohemia is also promising some new shading and lighting tech to make water and fire graphics pop.
Nexus and Eden are laying the groundwork for the really big deal: Apex. The new south Pacific landmass, Tanoa, will launch as paid content, along with a co-op campaign, new weapons, and new vehicles. The main menu will be redesigned. New vehicle classes like vertical take-off and landing jets and Light Strike Vehicles (basically: open-air dune buggies full of men with guns) will bring new ways to attack any mission.
Bohemia says it's continuing the features are free, content is premium doctrine that we saw in previous expansions like Helicopters and Marksmen. I m a big fan of that system, as I ve written here before, but in this case I don t think it quite applies.
Making new gun physics a free update—while making sexy new guns only for paying customers—works because two players can play together with different guns. The developer earns money without breaking up the player base. In Apex, however, the landmass of Tanoa itself will be only for customers who pay for the Apex expansion, and there s no way for paid and non-paid players to play together on that island. Despite the policy, Tanoa is the first paid update that will break up the Arma player population. I wouldn't expect an entire landmass to be free, but that worries me.
Assuming the player population keeps growing and new content keeps flowing, though, Arma 3 should get much more user-friendly and much more versatile. With the freedom to mod anything and everything still in place, even unpopular changes should still be part of a more welcoming, exciting version of the best military sandbox around.
Arma 3's 3D editing tools are now available in beta form, and I hope at least one of you will be using them to recreate MGSV: Ground Zeroes' Camp Omega. Of course, Bohemia's military sim has had scenario editing tools for a while now, but they've suffered from one fewer dimension than many of us are used to in our daily lives. In addition to that extra D, the 'Eden' tools will supposedly be easier to use.
If you've made scenarios with the 2D editor before now, rest assured that Eden will be backwards compatible as well. I keep using the future tense during this article—because Bohema says the new editor "will be made available to all Arma 3 players for free as part of a future platform update"—but it's actually available right now! Er, if you fancy putting up with "an experimental and largely untested version of Arma 3". Simply right-click on Arma 3 in your Steam Library, and opt-in to development builds on the properties tab, and Eden will be all yours.
Bohemia revealed the tools on a livestream a couple of days ago. Here's a YouTube recording of that:
The accompanying blog post goes into some detail about the editor. I'll quote a chunk of it below.
"Users will now be able to directly create or edit entities, such as characters, vehicles, buildings and other objects, within the 3D game environment. They can also set mission objectives, define waypoints, control time of day and weather, and make use of all other functionality previously available in the classic 2D editor."
"[...] The more advanced scenario creators, on the other hand, can continue to make use of the extensive library of custom scripts. Plus their previously created scenarios made in the original 2D editor will be backwards-compatible. In addition, modders can extend the editor's functionality via custom plugins."
We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.
A couple of weeks ago we spent time with Space Beast Terror Fright, the alien-blasting FPS with the giant guns and tiny corridors. Clomping around inside Space Beast Terror Fright s narrow hallways is claustrophobic—thanks, in part, to a narrower-than-usual field of view. PC gamers routinely push, cajole, beg, and mod custom FOV controls into games whenever possible, and some argue that a wide FOV is critical for all PC games.
I don t agree. The field of view, just like any other design element, is a tool developers use to create an experience. Let s stop thinking of FOV as a line-item in an options-menu must-have list. The FOV controls what we see in a game, and we should give developers the freedom to use that power.
None of this is to excuse sloppy PC ports of console games, however. In those cases, the standard 60-degree FOV is better suited to being viewed on a giant TV from across a room—up close, it s a nauseating mess. To be clear, all games should be physically comfortable to play.
According to Space Beast Terror Fright developer Johannes Norneby, the game s FOV is 90 degrees, and he has no plans to include a custom slider. A 90-degree FOV was pretty standard in the days of Quake and Doom, but a lot of modern FPSes let players adjust their FOV up to 100 or 120 degrees. For players in Space Beast Terror Fright, their 90-degree window is cluttered and likely to be filled by an alien maw at any moment. The FOV helps give the game its feeling of menace and claustrophobia, but it also has a relationship to other game mechanics.
When you get scared in Space Beast Terror Fright, the FOV increases to maximally around 150 degrees in extreme cases, Norneby said. This change pulsates with the sound of a heartbeat, so the closer you get to aliens without taking action, the more freaked out a marine becomes. I suspect that what you experience as a narrow FOV is caused by both the helmet and visor design in conjunction with the cone of the flashlight, which slowly decreases over time with draining battery. This creates a sort of vignette effect in the image, where the edges are darker.
Combining these dynamic FOV changes with a custom FOV slider could lead to view angles of greater than 180 degrees, which would cause all kinds of chaos in the game s internal calculations. Norneby has no plans to add an FOV slider, though there is a way to tone down the pulsations if it s causing motion sickness. This is a perfect example of a developer using the FOV to simulate fear, adrenaline, claustrophobia, and anxiety in a character. Demanding a slider would take those tools away from Norneby to make the game he wants to make.
We ve written plenty about Arma 3 in this column, but one thing we ve never mentioned is its use of sight and blindness as a tool. In Arma, infantry combat comes with no heads-up displays or enemy markers or any of the other conveniences players in other FPSes use to find targets. Sharp vision and keen powers of observation are a skill—maybe even a superpower.
When vision is as crucial as it is in Arma, taking away sight becomes even more meaningful. Vanilla Arma 3 doesn t offer a FOV slider, so first person soldiers aren t able to expand their peripheral vision. For drivers of armored cars or helicopter pilots, the physical contours of their vehicles block important visual information. Experienced pilots have to develop an instinct for the size of their vehicles and rely on squadmates to communicate information they can t see for themselves.
Elite: Dangerous pulls a similar trick to make different ships feel different to players: a zippy fighter like an Eagle has a glass dome spanning almost 180 degrees of visibility. A clunker transport like the Adder sports a narrow windshield, like driving a minivan with warp engines. Using the freelook button or wearing a headset like the TrackIR or Oculus Rift lets pilots look around more, but what transport pilots can see is mostly bulkhead and decking. Low-tier transports are also slower and less agile than fighters. Flying a basic transport in Elite: Dangerous feels vulnerable in part because dogfighting is discouraged by the pilot s viewport. What you can see and what you can t becomes a part of the game.
I hope we can push back against the knee-jerk instinct to insist that every first-person game come with an FOV slider. We should come around to the idea that FOV—just like lighting, particles, and textures—is a graphical tool developers use to build a sense of place. Blacklisting or writing off fixed FOV games without regard for context deprives us of valuable, immersive experiences.