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The death knell of the FPS franchise? • The Register

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The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the “endgame”. Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 “watermark” system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it’s time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise’s return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision’s Call of Duty (COD) series and EA’s Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here’s where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It’s flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

Whatever the title, COD is gaming’s most toxic community. If it’s not racial slurs being screamed down poor-quality mics by tweenagers, it’s threats of sexual violence against not just your mother but your entire family and their ancestors.

Hourglass is set in a sandblasted Doha, Qatar

Hourglass is set in a sandblasted Doha, Qatar

Battlefield, on the other hand, is for grownups. While COD’s multiplayer scene mostly favours modestly sized team deathmatch, Battlefield is epic in scope with 64-player objective-based gameplay, soldier classes (scout, assault, medic, support), enormous maps, air and land vehicles, destructible environments, “levelution” (actions players can take to drastically change the terrain), and somewhat realistic projectile ballistics (as opposed to COD’s hitscan programming). It is also home to the insanely powerful Frostbite engine.

Like Call of Duty, Battlefield started out as a Second World War game, establishing the rivalry we have today. But it too has bounced around different settings to varying success, with the modern-era Battlefield 3 and 4 (2011, 2013) held as the defining games of the series. It even took a major risk with Battlefield 1 (2016) focusing on the First World War. It paid off – and, as things stand, Battlefield 1 is probably the last great entry in the franchise.

Pressing T on PC allows you to change attachments

Pressing T on PC allows you to change attachments

On 19 November, Battlefield 2042 came out, again going back to the future after the mediocre WW2 title Battlefield V. The reveal trailer is a gratuitous appeal to fans of 3/4, focusing on what came to be known as “Battlefield moments” by fans – instances of absurdity enabled by game mechanics, like a player ejecting from a jetfighter mid-flight to twist in the air and take out a pursuing jet with a rocket launcher. This was something famously achieved by the player Stun_gravy back in Battlefield 3. It also introduces extreme weather events, which appear to be 2042’s alternative to levelution. It’s wicked – fun to watch, visually stunning, and deftly designed to get the hype pumping.

Youtube Video

If only it played like that.

The reality is Battlefield 2042 has predictably arrived in an unfinished state, marred by bugs, a paucity of content, and baffling design decisions that threaten to alienate the core fanbase. If we look at what makes Battlefield Battlefield, much of that has been irredeemably screwed with.

Breakaway takes place in the Antarctic

Breakaway takes place in the Antarctic

The experience hinged on large-scale, class-based warfare. The scout/recon was the sniper, feeding intel to the team on enemy movements and taking them out at range. The medic healed soldiers in sticky situations while support could lay down suppressing fire and resupply other players. Assault had the fire rate and explosives to press forwards and capture objectives. It was simple and effective. But DICE thought: No, let’s scrap that and have actual characters, called “Specialists” in game, each of which have certain abilities exclusively available to them, kind of like in the “hero shooters” Overwatch or Valorant.

View from the jetfighter cockpit

View from the jetfighter cockpit

On top of that, you can equip each of the 10 Specialists in whatever class style you like, creating flexible hybrids but ultimately watering down team play and forcing every match to be full of clones. At the end of a game, the top-performing player characters will spout corny, cocky little quips. Why? Never mind that we just sat through half an hour of ultraviolence, now you have to joke about it? It’s crass, irritating, and totally unnecessary.

The character Sundance has a wingsuit for traversing great distances at speed

The character Sundance has a wingsuit for traversing great distances at speed

Then there’s the map design. OK, the flagship modes of Conquest and Breakthrough have been cranked up to 128 players, the maps have never been so vast. Fantastic. But you have to do it with some nuance. It feels like 2042’s maps are only huge because they are mostly empty space – and this has dire consequences for gameplay, particularly if you are stuck with or happen to enjoy an infantry role.

A capture point on the Renewal map is a lab full of butterflies

A capture point on the Renewal map is a lab full of butterflies

Although the seven new maps in the base game are impressive on the surface, without much cover and objectives being up to 600 metres away from each other, the gameplay loop for those on the ground becomes run > run > run > shoot > miss > die > repeat. All the while, vehicle players are making hay, and there is a huge balancing issue here. At launch, hovercrafts were a nuisance with their high-calibre mounted machine guns, extreme durability, and the sheer numbers in which they were allowed to spawn. Likewise, helicopters and tanks have an all-you-can-eat buffet of infantry to dine on just laid out in front of them.

The Hourglass map is reminiscent of BF4 – with more empty space

The Hourglass map is reminiscent of BF4 – with more empty space

Yes, infantry have countermeasures but they often seem weak or need some degree of team cooperation to pull off. For example, one player hacks a helicopter so it can’t flare while another uses the window to fire off a guided missile. But here we get to the missing features present in earlier titles – there’s currently no in-game voice chat so player squads can better organise themselves.

Incoming tornado viewed from a tank on Discarded

Incoming tornado viewed from a tank on Discarded

There’s no real class system, no server browser, no smaller-scale game modes (something 2042 could really benefit from), no persistent lobbies so players from the prior game can play together again, fewer in-game assignments, no proper scoreboard, no spectator mode, no firing range, limited destruction and levelution… honestly the list goes on. Again the question is: why?

Choppers ... I don't know how people fly these things and get kills

Choppers … I don’t know how people fly these things and get kills

The selection of guns that can be unlocked is dwarfed by previous entries and progression isn’t interesting – simply get kills for new attachments, reach this level to get this gun etc. Gunplay was also rubbish at launch, with random bullet spread making everything but snipers seem wildly inaccurate even if your crosshairs were glued to the target. It got to the point that submachine guns, typically short-range weapons, were more viable choices than assault rifles because of their higher fire rate. As of last week, a patch was rolled out to improve on some of these early complaints, and the game does feel better – though there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

Soaring over the Manifest map

Soaring over the Manifest map

While an Nvidia GTX 970 could run Battlefield 4 on ultra settings, it looks like the days of pristine optimisation are behind us. Don’t expect to have much fun with 2042 if you don’t have an extremely powerful and contemporary rig, and even console players are reporting lacklustre performance. DICE has confirmed that it is working on this, though a “fix” could be months down the line. On an RTX 3070 and Ryzen 9 3900X, I have had to turn many graphical settings to their lowest to get a tolerable 50-80 frames per second at 1080p, with severe lag and frame drops sucking the life out of the experience.

As for another missing feature, there’s no single-player campaign – though there is the ability to play solo with and against bots. This feeds into the Escape From Tarkov-esque extract-’em-up mode Hazard Zone, which pits player squads against each other as well as AI. Notably, playing 2042 solo results in far better performance than online. I was able to pull passable frames with every setting on full whack – meaning that performance issues are firmly in DICE’s court. Let’s hope this is sorted out soon.

Perhaps Battlefield 2042’s saving grace is the Portal feature, which enables players to program their own game modes in browser via a low/no-code approach. It also includes a number of favourite maps, weapons, and vehicles from Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 all recreated to 2042’s graphical standards. It certainly seems like DICE hopes players will fill in the gaps from the base game via Portal; why else would they release it in this state? It is also a desperate ploy to capitalise on nostalgia for games long out of support. However, what really happened was that players made AI bot farms where they could amass experience points without the skill needed to overcome real people. In response, DICE nerfed the amount of XP awarded in player-made modes.

Orbit is set at a rocket launch pad

Orbit is set at a rocket launch pad

The thing is, Battlefield usually has a litany of launch issues with each release. It was game-breaking bugs that made me drop V very early on, never to return, and even fan-favourite Battlefield 4 was a hot mess to start with. It ended up the series’ peak. In this era of live-service games, we can only hope that DICE is capable of making 2042 everything its marketing material promised, but it looks like the rewritten Battlefield experience is here to stay for the time being. ®

Bootnote

Rich played and will hopefully play Battlefield 2042 again on Twitch as ExcellentSword – once performance has been improved. Chuck him a follow for more video game impressions as they happen! Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from around 8:30-9pm UK time.

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Iran reveals use of cryptocurrency to pay for imports • The Register

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Iran has announced it used cryptocurrency to pay for imports, raising the prospect that the nation is using digital assets to evade sanctions.

Trade minister Alireza Peyman Pak revealed the transaction with the tweet below, which translates as “This week, the first official import order was successfully placed with cryptocurrency worth ten million dollars. By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widespread in foreign trade with target countries.”

It is unclear what Peman Pak referred to with his mention of widespread use of crypto for foreign trade, and the identity of the foreign countries he mentioned is also obscure.

But the intent of the announcement appears clear: Iran will use cryptocurrency to settle cross-border trades.

That’s very significant because Iran is subject to extensive sanctions aimed at preventing its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and reduce its ability to sponsor terrorism. Sanctions prevent the sale of many commodities and technologies to Iran, and financial institutions aren’t allowed to deal with their Iranian counterparts, who are mostly shunned around the world.

As explained in this advisory [PDF] issued by the US Treasury, Iran has developed numerous practices to evade sanctions, including payment offsetting schemes that let it sell oil in contravention of sanctions. Proceeds of such sales are alleged to have been funnelled to terrorist groups.

While cryptocurrency’s anonymity has been largely disproved, trades in digital assets aren’t regulated so sanctions enforcement will be more complex if Iran and its trading partners use crypto instead of fiat currencies.

Which perhaps adds more weight to the argument that cryptocurrency has few proven uses beyond speculative trading, making the ransomware industry possible, and helping authoritarian states like Iran and North Korea to acquire materiel for weapons.

Peyman Pak’s mention of “widespread” cross-border crypto deals, facilitated by automated smart contracts, therefore represents a challenge to those who monitor and enforce sanctions – and something new to worry about for the rest of us. ®



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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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Meta’s new AI chatbot can’t stop bashing Facebook | Meta

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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.

Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.

Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”

The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.

The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).

This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.

BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.

Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.

“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.

The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.

It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”



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