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Keep an eye on that meter on your wrist... it's pretty important.

The world of Metro: Last Light isn’t pretty. To escape nuclear war, millions of the game’s Russian citizens descended into subway stations the instant the air raid sirens cried out, forced to leave their lives on the surface behind. Below ground, life is bleak. The irradiated world above means no access to fresh air or sunshine. Money means nothing, and ammunition is currency. Fathers nearly break down when sons ask where Mom is and when she’s coming home—and they have to repeat a variation of the same lie they’ve told for countless years. Radioactive mutants attack the subterranean train-station-based encampments.

The setting is easy to buy into because few blinking indicators and status updates slap you in the face, offering constant reminds that you’re playing a video game. This is deliberate, according to Andrey Prokhorov, creative director and co-founder at 4A Games, the studio behind Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light.

“If you look at your monitor (or TV set) as a gate into the world of the game, the heads-up display (HUD) elements become the bars keeping you from entering that world,” he told Ars in a recent interview. And it's part of a trend.

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While Western indie devs get fancy functions like GDC, IGF and Gamescom to show off their wares (and crowd-funded movies telling the story of their struggles), the indie scene in Japan is scattered at best. It's not that there aren't any small studios or one-man teams making exciting games - there are loads, as fans of La-Mulana, Cave Story or Tokyo Jungle will attest. But unified and strong the scene is not.

That's starting to change. BitSummit, an event held earlier this month in Kyoto and organised by James "Milky" Mielke of PixelJunk studio Q-Games, was the first of its kind, a forum for like-minded bedroom developers to meet each other and swap battle stories, show their games to the Western media and take in presentations from the likes of Valve, Epic Games and Unity.

"I don't think we have something you can call a 'scene' as such. I feel like everyone is fighting alone," explained Yohei Kataoka of Crispy's, the creative mind behind 2012's battiest PlayStation game, animal survival brawler Tokyo Jungle. Published by Sony for PS3, his game was released in Japan on disc and went straight to No.1, riding on the back of a clever series of YouTube videos featuring playthroughs by famous game developers.

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Mark Cerny gives us our first look at the PS4's internals.

Andrew Cunningham

By the time Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4 at last night's press conference, the rumor mill had already basically told us what the console would be made of inside the (as-yet-nonexistent) box: an x86 processor and GPU from AMD and lots of memory.

Sony didn't reveal all of the specifics about its new console last night (and, indeed, the console itself was a notable no-show), but it did give us enough information to be able to draw some conclusions about just what the hardware can do. Let's talk about what components Sony is using, why it's using them, and what kind of performance we can expect from Sony's latest console when it ships this holiday season.

The CPU


AMD's Jaguar architecture, used for the PS4's eight CPU cores, is a follow-up to the company's Bobcat architecture for netbooks and low-power devices. AMD

We'll get started with the components of most interest to gamers: the chip that actually pushes all those polygons.

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Epic Games

"I light my level by dropping a sun in."

That statement from Epic Games' Senior Technical Artist and Level Designer Alan Willard doesn't seem like such a big deal on the surface. To a non-programmer, it probably sounds like the blindingly simple and obvious way to add light to a three-dimensional environment ("Computer, drop in a sun, please. And make me some tea, Earl Grey, hot.") But to anyone who has worked with an existing game engine, including Epic's incredibly popular but six-year-old Unreal Engine 3, the ability to simply "drop in a sun" using the upcoming Unreal Engine 4 is a major improvement over the current status quo.

"I don't have to go through and place a ton of lights and process those down into light maps, so just from an iteration standpoint, the engine is able to be worked with at a much higher speed," Willard continues. "I can just begin placing things and they look like I spent three days tweaking the lighting to make it look like that."

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Wired

A select group of people got a private demo of Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4 at the Game Developers Conference in March, and Stu Horvath of Ars Technica's sister publication Wired was one of the lucky few. UE4 has many new features that will let it continue to sit on the Throne of Games (Engines), though Wired hints that old console hardware may hinder its crack at progress.

The most recently released version of Epic Games' engine, Unreal Engine 3, powered the game Gears of War released in 2006. Since then, it's been an unstoppable force behind over 150 games, including the Mass Effect trilogy, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mirror's Edge, and Borderlands.

One of the distinct properties of UE4 is its ability to create and display effects based on the inherent properties of an environment, rather than displaying pre-programmed ones based on anticipated scenarios. For example, light that travels through water would refract, and a character that stands in a mirror would see a reflection of themselves, not a pre-programmed image or pre-rendered character standing on the other side. This natural behavior presumably creates much less work for developers—rather than having to explicitly teach everything how to react to every individual stimulus, objects have inherent behaviors and know what to do.
Ash particles drift through a scene rendered with Unreal Engine 4. Wired
Another one of UE4's desirable new features is its particle effects, or the ability to render hordes of tiny objects and all of their erratic motions. In the demo shown at GDC, onlookers saw the engine's ability to render many pieces of ash floating in the air, and dust particles floating in the light of a flashlight in a dark room. Normally, having to render the odd and easily affected paths of particles brings processors to their knees, but with UE4 running on an NVIDIA Kepler GTX 680, they drifted without effort.

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Located on a rather nondescript industrial estate in a suburb of Leicester you'll find an equally nondescript warehouse unit. Nestled amongst the usual glut of logistics companies and scrap metal merchants, the building in question once housed a firm that was poised to dramatically alter the world of interactive entertainment as we know it, and worked with such illustrious partners as Sega, Atari, Ford and IBM.

That company was Virtuality. Founded by a dashing and charismatic Phd graduate by the name of Jonathan D. Waldern, it placed the UK at the vanguard of a Virtual Reality revolution that captured the imagination of millions before collapsing spectacularly amid unfulfilled promises and public apathy.

The genesis of VR begins a few years prior to Virtuality's birth in its grey and uninspiring industrial surroundings. The technology was born outside of the entertainment industry, with NASA and the US Air Force cooking up what would prove to be the first VR systems, intended primarily for training and research. The late '80s and very early '90s saw much academic interest in the potential of VR, but typically, it took a slice of Hollywood hokum to really jettison the concept into the global consciousness and create a new buzzword for the masses.

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OnLive doesn't do enough to convince us that cloud gaming is ready to be the next big thing, but the fact that it works as well as it does is undoubtedly a major technological achievement. The company has set the standard for "first gen" performance in this field, and it's now down to others to enter the market and compete. And that's exactly what upstart rival Gaikai has done - with intriguing results.

Although based on similar principles, the implementation is very different. OnLive launched with a full games service, while Gaikai specialises in offering playable demos with plans to expand beyond that when the time is right. OnLive uses widely spaced datacentres to address a large area, whereas Gaikai offers more servers closer to players. The technology behind the video compression is also very different, with OnLive using hardware encoders while Gaikai uses the x264 software running on powerful Intel CPUs.

Gaikai reckons its approach results in more responsive gameplay, better base visuals and superior video compression. So how can this be tested?

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There's a sea change when it comes to kids' gaming, as evidenced by recent turnabouts by publishers that had been successful in that space. Take, for example, THQ -- which had a good thing going making kids' games from popular TV licenses like SpongeBob and movies like Puss in Boots and Cars. In January, the company announced it was departing that strategy in favor of growing its digital business. And, last year, Ubisoft talked up ...

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