All posts by Sam Machkovech

Doom’s cover art had one secret—and John Romero just spilled it

Enlarge / Ars Technica's Creative Director Aurich Lawson is on vacation. When that's the case, this is what happens to our "art department." (credit: id Software / Sam Machkovech)

Multiple Doom-related stories landed on the nerd newswire on Wednesday, and they focused on decidedly different eras of the decades-old series. Bethesda announced a significant freebie for the game's 2016 version, while original Doom fans received a pretty random trivia reveal from none other than John Romero himself.

The shooting series' co-creator and level designer took to his official blog on Wednesday as a response to an informal Twitter poll he'd posted days earlier. Romero had asked fans which of his old game series they'd like to hear "a piece of trivia" about, and 40 percent of roughly 2,000 votes were cast for Doom. He responded by unearthing a previously unrevealed story about the game's cover art, which he can personally vouch for.

More precisely, Romero revealed that he was the model for the helmeted, devil-blasting "Doomguy" on its iconic box cover.

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Why we don’t have a ton to say about the Destiny 2 beta

Destiny 2's major May reveal event in Los Angeles came with a substantial hands-on demo, and I walked away from it pretty impressed. Some fans were kinder to the sequel's unveil than others—with many wondering if this was really worthy of its "sequel" designation. Those fans didn't get to play what I played: the new, monstrous Inverted Spire "strike" mission.

That changed on Tuesday (for those who jumped through Bungie's pre-release hoops) with the launch of the Destiny 2 closed beta. Anybody who pre-ordered the game for PlayStation 4 can now redeem a code and download the beta, which will be live until this Friday. Xbox One players must wait 24 hours longer for their shot, on Wednesday, July 19 because of whatever fat check Sony wrote years ago.


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Crash Bandicoot remaster cut corners on the freaking jump button

Enlarge / Recovered 3D meshes help, but pretty much everything about this Crash remaster image had to be rebuilt from scratch. (credit: Activision)

I was happy to offer reluctant praise for the content-loaded Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy earlier this month, but I am admittedly not a Bandi-cologist. I have been watching how more hardcore fans, such as speedrunners, might react to this anthology, which required a full code rewrite, and eagle-eyed fans caught some issues that I didn't.

The anthology's developers at Vicarious Visions took to their official blog on Monday to confirm the issue: yep, you're not imagining things.

"Our game engine features a different collision system than the original game, and combined with the addition of physics, certain jumps require more precision than the originals," the Monday blog post reads. This admission joins a longer description of how the jumps in each of the anthology's original PS1 games had different animation speeds and tunings, which VV only preserved to a certain extent. All three games' basic handling systems are now derived from the Crash 3 model, VV says, and "jump tunings" have been attached to the updated Crash 1 and Crash 2 to make them feel a little more like the originals.

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Splatoon 2 redeems the most clever online shooter series in years

Enlarge / Marie with a sniper rifle? Things get weird in Splatoon 2. (credit: Nintendo)

When Splatoon launched on Nintendo's Wii U in 2015, it should have shipped with a "wet paint" sign. This was Nintendo's first major online shooter in nearly a decade, and despite the obvious innovation and fun on offer, it wasn't ready for online prime time. Weapon balancing, content, modes, and matchmaking with friends were all in short supply.

Splatoon 2, out this week on the Switch, could very well have ended up being the "gussied-up port" I expected when the game was announced earlier this year. It sure looks and sounds the same as the Wii U version, and with two years of patches under its belt, that wouldn't have been a bad thing.

But in the odd tradition of other beloved online shooters, Nintendo has opted to not only slap a "2" onto the title but also revisit enough of the series' nuts and bolts to merit the numerical bump. Splatoon 2 is a bona fide sequel, if barely, but that jump in number matters when I offer it as an unqualified recommendation for the next purchase most Switch owners should make. The game has its glaring issues, but Splatoon 2 absolutely executes on the promise and innovation of the original game.

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Trent Reznor’s cold call led to an awesome game-filled Nine Inch Nails video

Enlarge / If you want dark NIN lyrics in your Polybius, you'll have to beg game creator Jeff Minter for the customized build he sent to Trent Reznor. (credit: Llamasoft/Nine Inch Nails)

Industrial and synth-rock music fans got good news on Thursday when Nine Inch Nails announced its next EP, titled ADD VIOLENCE, coming in only eight days. What's more, fans got a hint of the EP with a catchy single—and to boot, its video includes an out-of-nowhere starring appearance from a video game. NIN went pretty indie here, choosing one of the weirdest video games of 2017.

The entire video for the song "LESS THAN" revolves around a woman playing a customized version of Polybius. No, it's not the urban-legend arcade game that stole souls in Oregon in the '80s; instead, it's the 2017 arcade-action game released by Jeff "Llamasoft" Minter (of Tempest 2000, TxK, and Space Llama fame). Minter confirmed to Ars Technica that the project began with a cold call from NIN's Trent Reznor via Twitter direct message.

LESS THAN, the latest Nine Inch Nails single, starring the indie video game Polybius.

"[Trent] mentioned that he'd enjoyed Llamasoft's stuff and he had an idea to discuss," Minter says. "Of course I was super chuffed to hear he'd liked our work, as I've enjoyed his a lot over the years too!"

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Nintendo Switch finally has a streaming video app, and it works

Enlarge / Rick and Morty on a Nintendo Switch?! It's thanks to Niconico, a Japan-only video streaming app that works on any Switch in the world. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

For all of the things we like about the Nintendo Switch, its lack of serious app or multimedia support has become increasingly frustrating. Switch owners had to wait a full four months for the system's first true media-streaming app, which finally launched late Wednesday—and for most of the world, it will require jumping through quite the language-barrier hoop.

The honor belongs to Niconico, a video-streaming app from the popular Japanese video service of the same name. This free app is now available to all Nintendo Switch owners, regardless of their country of origin. To download it, users will need at least one Japanese Nintendo eShop account set up on their Switch—and in good news, the installation is not only easy but free. This is thanks to the Nintendo Switch's utter lack of region-locking. (Niconico has previously released video apps for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS systems, but those are region locked.)

The English-speaking friendliness ends as soon as the app boots, however. Having installed and tested the app on an American Switch, I can report that Niconico does the trick, so long as users are fine with a complete lack of language options. You'll need to tap through Japanese-language menus before watching your first video. Doing this creates a free Niconico account attached to your Nintendo Network ID.

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Radiohead releases a surprise ZX Spectrum program for OK Computer anniversary

What's that little cassette packed into this expensive Radiohead set? Let's use a ZX Spectrum emulator to find out.

Radiohead has never shied away from arty and elaborate "special edition" versions of its albums, which normally ship to fans with unique artwork and limited vinyl. But Tuesday's collector's item release of the OK Computer 20th anniversary edition, priced at a whopping $130/£100, shipped with that most hipster of audio formats included: a C90 audio cassette.

And if you're wondering whether Radiohead's bizarre, technology-theorizing landmark album would pack something computer-related into that cassette tape, you might want to dig up your old Sinclair ZX Spectrum cassette drive.

OK Computer's hidden ZX Spectrum program, distributed this Tuesday as part of the album's 20th anniversary commemorative cassette tape.

Radiohead's 78-minute cassette was distributed on Tuesday as a digital download to anyone who pre-ordered the box set (which also includes three vinyl records and three full books of art, sketches, and lyrics from the recording session). The cassette, packed full of rare demos and odd audio experiments, ends with roughly two minutes of computer tones.

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Castlevania on Netflix falls one whip short of a good crack

Enlarge / Bad news for the bishop. (credit: Netflix)

The only great thing about the first-ever animated Castlevania TV series is how it ends: with a taste of a promising follow-up. The new Netflix "series," which is technically an 80-minute movie broken up into four chunks, concludes with everything you would want from such a video game-inspired show. Vampires. Demons. Whips. Magic. Action.

But the series' journey to that point is so tiring and burdensome that this tiny four-episode series still feels too long.

Dracula takes a different type of bite

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Spider-Man Homecoming review: Having a blast with Peter Parker’s day off

Enlarge / Trouble brews high, high in the sky. If only we had a hero nearby who could quickly scale buildings. (credit: Marvel Studios)

How many Spider-Man film reboots do we really need? That's not a hypothetical question. The comic series often hinges on "boy-becomes-man" plot devices, so you don't want someone portraying Peter Parker who reaches 90210 levels of aging out. But the Menudo method of revolving-door casting can get exhausting with feature-length films.

To escape its reboot baggage, Spider-Man Homecoming had quite a skyscraper of expectations to climb. Thankfully, its every element, including one of the best "teen" actor ensembles I've ever seen, spins enough taut, sky-high webbing to leap it handily.

Peter Parker can’t lose

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Halo backwards-compat news may spell death knell for Master Chief Collection

Enlarge / Older Halo games are coming to Xbox One... again. Is this good news or bad news for Master Chief Collection owners? (credit: 343 Industries)

By the end of this year, the Xbox One's backwards compatibility program will finally include all of the Halo games released on the Xbox 360. Microsoft announced this news as part of its "Halo Summer Celebration" news update on Thursday, and while it's good news for owners of those games, a similar slew of classic-Halo fans have been left scratching their heads.

The series' remaining back-compat holdouts (Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo 4, and Halo CE: Anniversary) will land "later this year" on Xbox One. In an intriguing twist, anybody who owns those games either digitally or on disc will be able to play either online or via LAN against players on Xbox 360 consoles—which is rare for games in the Xbox back-compat program.

However, the news update includes zero updates about the Halo: Master Chief Collection, a 2014 game whose matchmaking bugs and woes have proven to be legendary. As of press time, users continue to flood the series' official forums with bug reports and complaints about lengthy matchmaking times.

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