I’m lying on the roof of a bombed-out shopping arcade, watching tracer fire igniting the cool evening air about 500m from my position. Whoever wins that shootout will come my way when the fight is over. I don’t have the armour or weaponry to defend myself properly so all I can do is wait and hope they get in an abandoned car and drive right past.
Deep down, I know they won’t.
Call of Duty: Warzone, which is celebrating its first birthday this week, is only one of a number of battle royale titles competing for the attention of locked-down gamers in this weird new reality we’re inhabiting. Just like Fortnite, Apex Legends and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, it involves dozens of players landing on a limited expanse of land with the sole purpose of killing each other until only one remains. But there is something different about this spin-off from the famed military shooter series. It has so much dread and atmosphere it feels like a horror game. At least the way I play it.
Consider the setting: the fictitious eastern European region of Verdansk, a bludgeoned smörgåsbord of horror movie locales. There are the deserted towns, blasted airports and ruined TV studios of George A Romero’s zombie apocalypses, but there are also elements of rural horror cinema: the foreboding lumber yards, the rocky, windswept uplands, the squalid farms where carcasses of cows lie festering in the sun. These are the stark, threatening domains of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dual and Deliverance, and like the unwary city-dwellers who find themselves stranded in the outbacks imagined by Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, we’re always under threat from some shadowy, unknowable figure, lurking behind a jagged, broken window.
The attention to grim detail is what makes it. You’ll blunder into a house and find an unmade bed, a calendar with dates marked, a mobile spinning above a baby’s cot. These scenes of abandoned domesticity are another staple of zombie cinema; they are disturbing in themselves because they suggest a very recent catastrophe: something that made these people drop everything and run, and could still be there. The game also uses the sound of swarming flies in various locales, which hint at pestilence and death.
Indeed, the sound design is incredible throughout. When you’re hiding out in one of the many old abandoned buildings, you hear dust crumbling from the bricks above you or metal beams groaning. According to evolutionary psychologists, one of the reasons haunted house movies are so scary is that the noises they make – the creaking floorboards, the rustling of branches against windows – are similar to the sounds that alerted our prehistoric ancestors to the presence of potential predators out in the darkness. These instinctive “agency detection” mechanisms still keep us on edge when we hear them, and in Warzone they have added potency because we actually are surrounded by predators who want to kill us.
The gunfire and military vehicle sounds also add to this intimidating audio environment. From the screeching feedback of a ricochetting bullet to the monstrous roar of the A10 tankbuster’s front-mounted gatling gun, the development team has created multilayered, highly positional effects to immerse you in each deadly skirmish. Although these are doubtless based on authentic samples, they’re also weirdly animalistic, recalling the hyper organic sound design of the Alien movies and Walter Murch’s incredible work on Apocalypse Now, where whirling helicopter blades and swooping napalm drops become loaded with almost supernatural terror.
On the subject of Aliens, Warzone even has its own heartbeat sensor gadget that closely resembles that film’s iconic motion tracker. It allows players to locate enemies who appear as a bleeping points of light on a handheld display and the tension this generates, as the bleep gets closer, closely recalls a classic scene from the film.
The various military effects throughout the game also utilise two specific types of sound: infrasound, which creates unsettling vibrations, and non-linear sounds – sounds of a high amplitude, which feature rapid changes in frequency and harmony. These are sounds we instinctively fear: infrasound resembles the noises of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, while non-linear sounds resemble animal cries and human screams. Once again, these are commonly used in horror films, both in sound effects and in scores – the screeching violins in the Psycho shower scenes and the sonorous, vibratory strings of the Jaws theme, for example.
There have, of course, been other games that more obviously seek to replicate horror movie experiences in online multiplayer spaces: DayZ, H1Z1, Phasmophobia. But while these are all interesting and involving, the exquisite graphical fidelity, convincing animation and expensive production value of Warzone set it apart. It is cinematic in a way its rivals are not.
The recent Outbreak mode, an open-world version of the familiar Zombies Mode, and the introduction of zombie-infested areas into the Warzone map, have seen CoD teams doubling down on the game’s subtle horror underpinnings. Titles such as Prey, FEAR, Dead Space and Doom have explored the fecund and interesting relationship between first-person shooters and horror fiction. There is something uncanny about inhabiting the avatar in this way, and being under constant peril. Warzone isn’t meant to be a horror game, but playing in Solos as opposed to a team-based mode, and creeping from house to house, hyperaware there could be a player around any corner, it produces exactly the same unconscious responses in our brains. And ultimately, like Resident Evil, like Silent Hill, it’s a game about survival.
What Warzone hints at, and where online survival games such as Rust, Sea of Thieves and Ark are pointing, is toward a new style of tense, narrative adventure, set in open worlds with many players, and with stories that emerge dynamically from the fear and chaos. Horror is after all something best experienced with other people.
These are certainly fun things to think about, as I’m hiding out on a rooftop, low on ammo and armour, waiting for the inevitable sound of approaching footsteps.
Several Amazon services – including its website, Prime Video and applications that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) – went down for thousands of users on Tuesday.
Amazon said the outage was probably due to problems related to application programming interface (API), which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software, Reuters reported.
“We are experiencing API and console issues in the US-East-1 Region,” Amazon said in a report on its service health dashboard, adding that it had identified the cause. By late late afternoon the outage appeared to be partially resolved, with the company saying that it was “working towards full recovery”.
“With the network device issues resolved, we are now working towards recovery of any impaired services,” the company said on the dashboard.
Downdetector showed more than 24,000 incidents of people reporting problems with Amazon. It tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.
The outage was also affecting delivery operations. Amazon’s warehouse operation use AWS and experienced disruptions, spokesperson Richard Rocha told the Washington Post. A Washington state Amazon driver said his facility had been “at a standstill” since Tuesday morning, CNBC reported.
Other services, including Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot were also facing difficulties, according to their social media pages.
Ring said it was aware of the issue and working to resolve it. “A major Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is currently impacting our iRobot Home App,” iRobot said on its website.
Other websites and apps affected include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), language learning provider Duolingo and dating site Tinder, according to Downdetector.
The outage also affected presale tickets for Adele’s upcoming performances in Las Vegas. “Due to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage impacting companies globally, all Adele Verified Fan Presales scheduled for today have been moved to tomorrow to ensure a better experience,” Ticketmaster said on Twitter.
In June, websites including the Guardian, Reddit, Amazon, CNN, PayPal, Spotify, Al Jazeera Media Network and the New York Times were hit by a widespread hour-long outage linked to US-based content delivery network provider Fastly Inc, a smaller rival of AWS.
In July, Amazon experienced a disruption in its online stores service, which lasted for nearly two hours and affected more than 38,000 users.
Users have experienced 27 outages over the past 12 months on Amazon, according to the web tool reviewing website ToolTester.
South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.
The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.
The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.
Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.
The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.
That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.
The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.
In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.
For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.
Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®
As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.
Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.
Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.
The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.
Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.
Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.
The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”
Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.
In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”
The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.