This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

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Evan’s best run is brought to you by gun-that-is-also-a-lightsaber.

The Highs

Evan Lahti: Bullet time
Enter the Gungeon has been a delight. It’s a tough game, and your success (mine, at least) hinges on which of its many, variously useful guns drop for you, but it’s been great to dig into a Spelunky-style, Binding of Isaac-flavored game that plays slightly more on my strengths as an FPS fan but with more loot and progression than Nuclear Throne offers. Gungeon’s sense of humor mitigates its most taxing segments and your inevitable defeat, too—I particularly like the healing room where, in an irreverent reference to Zelda, a lady smashes a jar with a fairy in it over your head to top off your HP.

Samuel Roberts: Andromeda sighted
Old though it may be, it was nice to get a quick look at an early version of Mass Effect: Andromeda ahead of what will likely be a full reveal during E3 this year. It only gives us snapshots of the kind of story we’ve got ahead of us, but even just seeing a Krogan again or some laser fire got me excited about the Frostbite-powered new instalment.

After all, it’s been over four years since Mass Effect 3 was released. Empires have risen and fallen since then (in this game of Civ I’ve been playing, anyway), and the world is ready to see what such a rich sci-fi universe looks like in the modern age. This was a tiny snapshot, but I’m ready for more.

Phil Savage: Tokyo lift
Have you seen the trailer for Tokyo 42? If not, go and take a look. There's a bit with a cat.

Back? It looks good, doesn't it. I had the opportunity to check it out at EGX Rezzed in London yesterday, and I'm now extremely excited to see the full game. The developers are happy to admit that they're liberally lifting elements from other games. Because that 'inspiration' comes in the form of all of the best bits from many of the games I like, I'm not going to complain. There's a social stealth system that's reminiscent of Hitman, Far Cry-like outposts, GTA-style open world action, and a Monument Valley-esque aesthetic. Even the multiplayer takes the form of that hide-'n'-seek deception found in Assassin's Creed or The Ship. Somehow, a developer has taken all of the things I love and rolled them into a single package. This is definitely one to watch.

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Jarred Walton: Tesla P100 power
For most of the past six months, we’ve heard pundits telling us to “just wait until the next generation GPUs show up—they’re going to be amazing!” This week at the GPU Technology Conference, Nvidia dropped its Pascal bombshell in the form of their new Tesla P100, a GPU designed to accelerate compute and deep learning to new levels.

The new Pascal architecture promises higher performance, especially for scientific applications that need high precision, where the P100 is three times as fast as the best previous Tesla (K40). But there are applications where extreme precision isn’t required, like deep learning, in which case the P100 is able to do 21 TFLOPS per GPU. Again that’s about three times faster than Nvidia’s previous best, the M40.

We live in an amazing age of technological progress, and many of the things we take for granted every day are enabled by various forms of artificial intelligence. When you ask Siri or Google a question, it’s AI that converts your speech into text, and another set of AI that searches for an appropriate answer. It’s also AI that enables collision avoidance and other safety features in our vehicles. Faster GPUs will allow for better accuracy, and perhaps soon the AI will be able to look for the answers to questions we haven’t yet thought to ask.

Angus Morrison: The all-clear
I had a disagreement with Fallout 4 the first time I played it. I just didn’t feel the magic I usually associate with a brand new world from Bethesda. This week, I picked it back up, modded it to the hilt and started fresh, this time following the story instead of building a seven-storey death fortresses on top of Red Rocket. Lo and behold—the magic’s back!

I’m ecstatic to find myself enjoying the Wasteland. It’s like finding out there’s nothing wrong with you when you thought you might be seriously ill. By following the motivation I was given—to find my son—instead of wandering off like the world’s worst father, I found the game suddenly became consistent and more meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, there will be death fortresses in time, but the unfinished business was unsettling me.

I’m glad the crisis is over. I was getting a bit tired of people looking at me like I’d sprouted a second head.

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Tyler Wilde: Writing VRticles
Well don’t I look like an ass! Just a couple weeks after publicly whining about my jealousy of VR headset owners, our hardware editor Wes went and shipped me an HTC Vive Pre. Sorry to everyone I was commiserating with: I’m now one of the jerks whose Steam status has a ‘VR’ symbol next to it.

I was so excited when the Vive arrived on Monday that I put up a shelf just to hold it, and after five days I’m really happy to find that I’m still excited. After years of mainly trying out VR headsets at trade shows, each experience months apart from the last, I wondered if part of my fascination was due to it being a treat. When I actually have one all to myself, will I even want to use it? It hasn’t even been a week so I can’t soundly make that judgment yet, but so far so good: I’ve used the Vive every night and it still feels fun to put on. I’ve especially had fun in Hover Junkers, which I posted a review of today. I get tired after 30 minutes of play (I should really try using the rowing machine I never use), but I keep going back for more.

Next up, I’m going to write about working with a virtual desktop (not the most productive way to work so far) and take a tour of all the other VR games on Steam to see what else demands a story. While I’ll probably still play most games in flatspace, especially if I want to play something for more than an hour at a time, I look forward to finding out how VR fits into my life in games and out of them, and whether or not it’s a passing infatuation or a permanent wall fixture.

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The Lows

Samuel Roberts: Political Steam
This week it was revealed a Congressman, Duncan Hunter, spent $1,302 of campaign funds on Steam games—don’t worry, he listed it as to be paid back. But I understand, Mr Hunter. It made me think about my bad buying habits on Steam, and how the platform’s constant sales has resulted in my hoarding of games that I’ll never play, just because I’ve seen them drop to that price point that is cheap enough to be a good deal and not significant enough to take a serious hit from my bank account.

There’s something about the consumer experience on PC that makes it very easy to develop a hoarding mentality. The other day I bought Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition for a great price—but I’ve played the original before, and I was hoping to get more than three hours into Pillars or Divinity by the end of 2016. Does Steam bring out the same habits in you? Confess your hoarding shame to me.

Phil Savage: Bore the eyes
My low is the Baldur's Gate expansion controversy that saw the game flooded with negative user reviews on Steam and Metacritic, and led to a statement by Beamdog CEO Trent Oster. It's a lead contender for the Dumbest Thing People Have Been Inexplicably Angry About This Year Award—which is impressive, given that we're not long past the furore over Tracer's bum.

There are weird, prejudicial overtones in how vehement the reaction against Mizhena, a transgender NPC, has been. Even so, I'm amazed that anyone has the temerity to be so upset about such an ancillary character. I think much of Skyrim's NPC dialogue is outright bad, but I've never felt the need to protest against the game because a rural shopkeeper wasn't prepared to give a deep and nuanced rundowns of her thoughts, hopes and fears. I don't find any of the arguments being made about Mizhena convincing. She's an example of "tokenism"? While it's nice that her backstory is being fleshed out in an update, such an argument feels more like a stock response to prevent queer NPCs entirely. As for the idea that Beamdog are pushing an agenda, Mizhena's 'controversial' dialogue is buried two optional threads deep into a conversation. So they're not pushing very hard.

There are ideological links between this controversy and plenty of others over the last couple of years—the reaction to Blizzard changing a character pose included. And, around the shouting, it's healthy to discuss the role of politics, criticism, and boundary pushing in pop culture. Art is made stronger by everyone, from the creators to the consumers, thinking about these things, and challenging assumptions and comfort zones. That doesn't work if it can't be done maturely, and it definitely doesn't work if people are going to lose their shit over the smallest, most insignificant of things.

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Evan Lahti: Closing time
It was a bummer to hear that indie dev and publisher Choice Provisions closed its San Francisco studio this week. They’re the folks that made BIT.TRIP and Tharsis, industry veterans that pooled their resources to make a bunch of creative games. Choice Provisions’ Santa Cruz studio lives on, thankfully, but it’s sad to see an independent label shrink in this time of immense growth for PC gaming. We didn’t love Tharsis, but I loved its premise—mashing-up space exploration with board gaming.

Angus Morrison: Black morass
Blizzard has unleashed the dogs of law, forcing unofficial Vanilla WoW server Nostalrius to close. I rarely work up the emotional energy to so much as shrug at another mean move by corporate lawyers, but this time I’ve gone and written a darned feature on the thing.

I spent a couple of months playing Nostalrius, reliving how WoW used to play in the old days. It’s bizarre, so out of step with modern game design that it makes for a poignant museum piece. Nostalrius is a record of a living world long that has since been moved on from by most people. It’s like being able to wander through the 1840s on a whim.

It’s also a phenomenal technical achievement by a band of volunteers. Somehow they got over 11,000 people playing on a single server simultaneously. And it was playable, mostly. Unless Blizzard drops the sudden existence of official legacy servers on us, the move feels nothing more than mean-spirited.

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Tyler Wilde: Quantum Broke
I’m a big fan of Remedy, so I was sad to see that Andy didn’t fall in love with Quantum Break. He thought it was OK—an entertaining story, but mediocre shooting and frustrating platforming. Plus, we’re still seeing growing pains with DirectX 12 and Universal Windows Platform apps, and Quantum Break hasn’t escaped them. Andy’s GTX 970 struggled with it, and I don’t look forward to seeing how my system fairs. But even knowing all that, I do look forward to playing it. I’m a sucker for Sam Lake stories, time-travel nonsense (I even sat through Hulu’s ‘11.22.63’ miniseries), and bullets that slow down a bunch and then speed up.

Jarred Walton: Where’s my GeForce!?
This talk about Pascal GP100 and the Tesla P100 is all well and good, but where’s our new GeForce card? Gamers don’t care about FP64, and the Tesla P100 doesn’t even have video outputs. (It also doesn’t work in PCI Express slots.) I have one simple request, and that’s GPUs with frickin laser beams attached to their heads. C’mon, Nvidia. You had one—okay, several—jobs.

Of course, we knew this was coming. When Nvidia didn’t talk about Pascal at the Game Developers Conference last month, it meant that GeForce versions of Pascal were still months away. GTC is a platform for launching professional hardware and software solutions, not consumer models. But if the GP100 has 15.3 billion transistors and only 3,584 CUDA cores, will we actually see a GP104 with more cores but no FP64? We don’t know yet, and so we wait.

But I’m tired of waiting, and Maximum PC’s Dream Machine 2016 is looming ever nearer. We did four GTX Titan X cards last year, and you can darn well bet we’re planning to beat that with this year’s system. The race is still on to see who can get us new graphics hardware first.

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