Games used to be harder. That’s the lament veteran players now mutter whenever encountering some modern shoot-’em-up or action adventure. It sounds like the same sort of nostalgic elitism that music snobs indulge in, criticising current bands for lacking the legendary quality of yesterday’s heroes. But with games, it’s kind of true. As the industry has grown, the big titles have moved towards toning down the difficulty, in order to give a smooth experience to as wide a range of players as possible. Nowadays, if you want a real challenge, you have to select “hard” mode, which usually just means more enemies and less ammo. But difficulty is at its best when it’s an intrinsic part of the design: players have to think about the game in another way – and earn their progress. That is certainly true for the titles in this list. They’re not all classics, but even the plainly unfair ones have unforgettable qualities that made us persevere. … [Read more...] about The 25 hardest video games of all time
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If you did your growing up in the 20th century, the chances are your youthful predictions for 2016 would have involved colonies on the Moon, flying cars and friendly, subservient robots. Although these visions of ultra-modernity are sadly yet to be, we can always console ourselves with the fact that at least we’ll all soon be using virtual reality, gaming’s holy grail, which has been tantalisingly out of reach since its initial appearance in the early 90s. But this month even that small piece of future-certainty looked questionable with news that, in the US, sales of Oculus Rift (£549), the Facebook-owned technology that re-sparked interest in VR, and HTC Vive (£799), its technically superior rival, had both ground to a halt. PC gaming platform Steam showed a 0% growth for Vive and a 0.01% increase in Oculus Rift ownership last month, a possible indication that early adopters have got theirs, and everybody else is waiting for some decent games and a price … [Read more...] about The month in games: PlayStation Virtual Reality is almost here
There are robot insects bursting in through the walls. Everywhere I look, the plaster is cracking, then suddenly, out they spew, their metallic claws aimed at my jugular. It sounds like the sort of techno-hallucinogenic nightmare that filmmaker David Cronenberg may concoct in one of his woozy sci-fi horror flicks. But it isn’t. This is a demo for Microsoft’s Hololens, a forthcoming “mixed reality” headset. The future is terrifying. But also sort of amazing. I’m standing in a quiet room, upstairs from the E3 Expo in Los Angeles, with two staff from Microsoft’s Hololens development team that’s based in Redmond. They’re going to show me a couple of demos: the robot shooting game, Project X-Ray, and the one I’m really desperate to see, Minecraft Hololens – basically, the game that stole the show at Microsoft’s pre-E3 press briefing. Announced in January, Hololens is Microsoft’s entry into the growing arena of immersive … [Read more...] about Minecraft on Hololens: the future of gaming is right in front of your eyes
My body is in the Observer's offices in King's Cross, but my mind is in another world entirely. Strapped to my head is the Google Cardboard virtual reality headset. Assembled from a handful of simple components, the cardboard contraption has whisked me away into a peaceful forest with red, orange and brown trees. I am completely alone, except for an grey animated rat chasing after a large orange hat. I turn my head to watch as a gust of wind blows the hat and can't help but stumble after the rodent, arms outstretched like a toddler taking its first steps. I look away and as I gaze upwards, the Samsung S4 smartphone in the headset detects my motion and the field of view moves with me. The forest canopy is captivating. When I return to the rat, he is where I left him – the storyline effectively paused when my attention was elsewhere. Eventually, the rat and his hat are reunited and I'm suddenly back in the real world. I am intensely aware that the bridge of my nose is being … [Read more...] about Are you ready for the virtual reality revolution?
Until recently, virtual reality had been something of a fantasy for storytellers and technologists. As long ago as 1935, American science fiction writer Stanley G Weinbaum described something like virtual reality in a short story called Pygmalion’s Spectacles. “But listen – a movie that gives one sight and sound. Suppose now I add taste, smell, even touch, if your interest is taken by the story. Suppose I make it so that you are in the story, you speak to the shadows, and the shadows reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it. Would that be to make real a dream?” Technologists might still be working on smell and taste, but Albert Ludwig’s “magic spectacles” eerily foreshadow the current prominence for headsets and 360-degree games, videos and virtual worlds. Since Ludwig’s magic spectacles found their way into print, there have been decades of experimentation around virtual reality, from the … [Read more...] about The complete guide to virtual reality – everything you need to get started
When he was six, Chris Milk borrowed his grandfather’s VHS camera and tried to recreate Michael Jackson’s Thriller video in his backyard. Sensing the whisper of a calling, his mum sent him to summer camp at New York Institute of Tech where he learned to film music videos with other children (then played Frisbee and mini-golf all afternoon). “I was shy so I was assigned the job of holding the boom mic, he says as he sits, ghosted by jetlag and squinting in the sunshine outside the Barbican centre in London. But he felt no frustration at being kept out of the director’s chair. “I was just happy to be at the party.” Less than two decades later, Milk found himself directing the party, when Kanye West asked him to make the video for his first single, All Falls Down. It was a technical marvel, with West singing into various reflective surfaces (the gleaming paintwork of a sports car, a pair of bling sunglasses) and absolutely no sign of any camera. It was … [Read more...] about Chris Milk: the digital artist making music videos fly into the future