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14 gifts for the gamer in your life – TechCrunch

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Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

To those who are in it, gaming is more than just a hobby. It’s a way to connect with others, an outlet for competition and, for the most talented, a potential career path. But as far as hobbies (or more-than hobbies) go, it can become really expensive.

So this holiday season, surprise your beloved gamer with gear that will keep their wallet full and their fingers engaged.

Before you dive in, make sure to double check your recipient’s preferred gaming platform. While things like a massive USB hard drive will generally work regardless of whether they’re on PC or Xbox, even the best Xbox headset probably won’t work with PS4. We’ve got suggestions for each platform below, plus a few games for each.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Logitech G502 Hero (or Lightspeed)

PC

If they’ve been gaming for years, your giftee might already have a mouse they love. If they’re just starting to get into gaming on a PC, though, upgrading to a really good mouse is a solid first step. You don’t have to worry too much about compatibility with their existing hardware, and it should last them years.

The Logitech G502 Hero and the Logitech G502 Lightspeed are great options here. The Hero, a wired and more budget-friendly version of the Lightspeed, comes with 11 customizable buttons, weight customization, LED lights and the namesake HERO sensor can scale between 100 and 16,000 DPI — allowing them to find their exact sensitivity comfort zone. The Lightspeed, meanwhile, adds two big features to the Hero with the Lightspeed wireless tech (super-low latency for a wireless mouse) and wireless charging via the optional $100 PowerPlay mouse pad.

Price: G502 Hero (Wired), $42 on Amazon | G502 Lightspeed (Wireless), $150 on Amazon

Razer Huntsman Elite

PC

Though this keyboard is on the pricey side, it’s worth it. The Huntsman Elite has super-fancy hybrid keys, using both mechanical and optical sensor inputs for super-consistent, ultra-fast key presses. The opto-mechanical switch gets rid of debounce and promises a much longer lifespan (100 million keystrokes) than much of the competition, so it’ll last. It has built-in storage for profiles, letting you quickly swap in customizations you’ve made for different games. It’s got a comfortable wrist rest, and, of course, RGB lighting.

Price: $175 on Amazon

Astro A50

PC + PS4 + Xbox

Having a good headset can feel like cheating, and the Astro A50s are pretty damned great. With Dolby Headphone 7.1 Surround Sound, and 5GHZ wireless transmitter for low latency, I honestly feel like they make me a better player. The headset has controls for mixing voice chat and game sound, and the battery lasts up to 15 hours. It comes in two versions: one for Xbox/PC, and one for PS4/PC; sadly, no version works with all three platforms.

Price: $300 on Amazon

SteelSeries Arctis 7

PC + PS4

If dropping $300 on a headset seems a bit too much, the SteelSeries Arctis 7 will get the job done at less than half the price. It offers Lossless 2.4GHz wireless audio (low latency) and a fantastic Clearcast bidirectional mic. SteelSeries says it has up to 24 hours of battery life, though I’ll admit that I’d never have the stamina to test that.

Price: $110 on Amazon

Astro C40 TR Gaming Controller

PS4 + PC

As gaming gets more and more competitive, controller players have historically been at a bit of a disadvantage. While most console shooters have systems like aim assist to try and make up for the gap, console controllers inevitably have fewer inputs than a PC gamer with their full-blown keyboard/mouse setups.

The Astro C40, my personal go-to PS4 controller, helps counter that a bit. With re-mappable panels on the back, trigger stops and both wired and wireless capabilities, the C40 is a controller that can up your game. It also has a 12-hour battery life; I’ve never managed to actually kill this controller between charges.

(I have noticed a bit of aim drag on one of the joysticks from time to time. That said, the controller has a removable panel for changing out joysticks, and Astro sells the C40 with a six-month warranty.)

Price: $180 on Amazon

Scuf Gaming Prestige Xbox Controller

Xbox

If your Xbox gamer isn’t happy with the included Xbox controller, a solid option is the Scuf Gaming Prestige controller for Xbox. It has four mappable paddles on the back, and is fully customizable. That means you can tailor the color, the length and shape of the joysticks, and the feel of the controller. One caveat: It’s worth noting that in my experience, Scuf controllers don’t stand up to a lot of wear and tear, especially considering the $160 price tag.

Price: $160 from Scuf

Seagate Game Drive 4TB

PS4/Xbox One

The game you’ve been dying to play is finally out… aaaaand now you’ve got to pick which of your existing games to delete to make it fit. Or you could just plug in a monster hard drive and forget about all that for a while.

The Seagate GameDrive 4TB will immediately bump up your console’s storage capacity, adding space for another 50+ games. It uses USB 3.0, which means it doesn’t need an extra power source and transfers at good speeds. It’s a spinning disc rather than solid state — the upside of which is that it keeps things cheap, the downside being that the read(/load) times tend to be a bit slower.

(Tip: Pretty much any USB 3.0 hard drive bigger than 256GB will work with PS4 or Xbox One, though you’ll need to wipe/format it for each console the first time you plug it in.)

Price: 4TB Game Drive for PS4, $114 | 4TB Game Drive for Xbox, $120

A big ol’ microSD card

Switch

As with the Xbox/PS4, most people will probably eventually want way more storage than the 32GB that comes built into the Nintendo Switch. Unlike the Xbox/PS4, however, the Switch taps microSD cards rather than external USB drives.

Fortunately, microSD cards have seen drastic price drops over the last few years. You can get cards as big as 512GB for less than $100 these days. Two things to be aware of: you’ll want a card that supports transfer speeds of at least 60-95 MB/s, and you probably want to buy from a brand you recognize from a retailer you trust. Bootleg cards with mislabeled capacities are a thing.

Price: Sandisk 512GB microSDXC, $80

Giftee already got things covered on the hardware front? Get’ em some games! No game is one-size-fits-all, so here’s a smattering of choices across genres and platforms.

(Trying to figure out if a game seems right for someone? Look for “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube, or watch a Twitch stream. It’ll take a few more minutes than just watching a trailer, but they’re often much better representations of what a game is really like.)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

Shooter, PC + PS4 + Xbox

Call of Duty has been a staple in any gamer’s diet for the past decade. Though the franchise has had a bumpy few years, the community has been re-energized with the recent launch of Modern Warfare*, the sequel to one of the franchise’s most popular titles. This boots-on-the-ground FPS game should be a welcome gift to most gamers, as long as they don’t already have it!

(*Confusingly, this one is officially just called “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” without any number following it, despite it being the fourth CoD game to share the “Modern Warfare” name. Make sure you’re getting the one made in 2019, not 2007, 2009 or 2011.)

Price: $45 on Amazon

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Action/Adventure, PC + PS4 + Xbox

The upcoming release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” makes this 2019 title an excellent option for your gamer, who may wish to continue on in a galaxy far, far away the moment they leave the theater. This action-adventure games follow the story of Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan, who is looking to finish his training and restore the Jedi Order, all while thwarting the Empire’s attempt to hunt him down. It’s a true Star Wars tale.

Price: $40 on Amazon

The Last of Us (Parts 1 & 2)

Action/Adventure, PS4

The Last of Us initially launched a few years ago, but the title has been remastered for PS4. The title follows Joel and Ellie, two survivors of a Zombie apocalypse as they try to survive warring factions, the military and the zombies themselves. It’s a cinematic adventure that your gamer could end up playing for hours without even noticing. And the affordable part 1 is a great way to prime for the 2020 release of part 2, which you can pre-order now.

Price: Last of Us 1 (Remastered), $17 | Last of Us 2 (Pre-order)

The Outer Worlds

Action RPG, PC+ PS4 + Xbox

The Outer Worlds is a first-person RPG that is sure to please classic sci-fi fans. The relatively complex game allows players to make decisions as they move to new worlds and meet new NPCs, all the while participating in combat situations with hostiles. The game is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox, with a Switch version set to launch in 2020.

Price: $35 on Amazon

Untitled Goose Game

Puzzler, PC + Mac + PS4 + Xbox + Switch

Anyone interested in a super-lightweight, lean-back sort of game will appreciate the Goose Game. Essentially, the player is a very annoying goose, and completes tasks that make the lives of surrounding humans more difficult. It’s cute, it’s fun and it’s affordable.

Price: $20

Pokémon Sword/Shield

RPG, Switch

The first original Pokémon game for Switch is a great jumping on point for those new to the franchise. The Pokémon company changed some key elements of gameplay to make repetitive actions less punishing, and created a great, engaging story. There are also dozens of new Pokémon to discover on the fastest-selling Switch game ever, and a thousand+ from past generations.

As with most main series Pokémon titles, there are two versions of this game — Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. They’re slightly different — each one has a handful of unique Pokémon you can’t get in the other, some visual differences, etc. — but there’s not really a wrong choice.

Price: Pokémon Sword, $60 | Pokémon Shield, $60



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EA, Bioware cancel Anthem’s sweeping overhaul

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Enlarge / Tears of an Anthem clown.

Aurich Lawson / Bioware / Getty Images

The story of EA and Bioware’s beleaguered action-RPG Anthem has apparently ended. According to an official Bioware blog post, the ambitious jetpack-combat game’s “overhaul” project is dead. The staff that had been assigned to rebuild the game into a better shape has been reassigned to work on other Bioware projects, particularly Dragon Age 4 and the next Mass Effect game.

A little over one year ago, Anthem‘s flight-combat skies looked a bit clearer, thanks to an announcement from developer Bioware that it intended to build a “substantial reinvention” of the always-online co-op adventure game. From what we saw in the game’s March 2019 launch version, EA and Bioware clearly intended for the game to receive regularly updated content, but negative reviews (including my own) made clear that Bioware needed to go back to the drawing board to rebuild the game’s basic building blocks before we had any interest in returning to the game.

No more singing of the Anthem

Then-general manager Casey Hudson made a February 2020 statement acknowledging those criticisms. After listing aspects of the game that needed work, he offered a pledge to fans: that Bioware would complete “fundamental work… to bring out the full potential of the experience… specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges, and progression with meaningful rewards—while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting.”

However, 10 months later, Hudson departed Bioware, as did Dragon Age 4 executive producer Mark Darrah. Bioware announced this news with assurances that projects like Dragon Age 4 would continue apace, but none of that day’s blog posts, including one penned by Hudson, included any formal assurance that “Anthem Next” was in similarly good shape.

Ttwo weeks ago, Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier reported that Anthem‘s “reinvention” development was under serious review by EA executives, who would decide whether the project would continue or die. According to Schreier, Bioware’s pitch to EA would be to expand that team from its 30-person staff to a number closer to 90 in order to match the work’s scope. From the sound of Bioware’s Wednesday announcement, that reported meeting didn’t go well for Anthem.

That reassigned team will certainly have its hands full with other projects, particularly the previously announced sequels to Dragon Age and Mass Effect. As of press time, EA only has one announced launch date for an upcoming Bioware game: the remastered Mass Effect Legendary Edition, slated to launch on PCs and consoles May 14.

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Attack of the Murder Hornets is a nature doc shot through horror/sci-fi lens

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Enlarge / “What are you looking at?” The Asian Giant Hornet, aka a “murder hornet,” is not to be trifled with.

In November 2019, a beekeeper in Blaine, Washington, named Ted McFall was horrified to discover thousands of tiny mutilated bodies littering the ground: an entire colony of his honeybees had been brutally decapitated. The culprit: the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), a species native to southeast Asia and parts of the Russian far East. Somehow, these so-called “murder hornets” had found their way to the Pacific Northwest, where they posing a dire ecological threat to North American honeybee populations.

The story of the quest to track and eradicate the hornets before their numbers became overwhelming is the subject of a new documentary: Attack of the Murder Hornets, now streaming on Discovery+. Featuring genuine suspense, a colorful cast of characters crossing socioeconomic lines, and a tone that draws on classic horror and science fiction movies, it’s one of the best nature documentaries you’re likely to see this year.

Asian giant hornets are what’s known as apex predators, sporting enormous mandibles, the better to rip the heads off their prey and remove the tasty thoraxes (which include muscles that power the bee’s wings for flying and movement). A single hornet can decapitate 20 bees in one minute, and just a handful can wipe out 30,000 bees in 90 minutes. The hornet has a venomous, extremely painful sting—and its stinger is long enough to puncture traditional beekeeping suits. Conrad Berube, a beekeeper and entomologist who had the misfortune to be stung seven times while exterminating a murder hornet nest, told The New York Times, “It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh.” And while Japanese honeybees, for example, have evolved defenses against the murder hornet, North American honeybees have not, as the slaughter of McFall’s colony aptly demonstrated.

Director Michael Paul Stephenson’s credits include two documentaries: Best Worst Movie—about his experience co-starring in the 1990 cult comedy/horror film, Troll 2—and The American Scream. So when he pitched his idea for a documentary about the murder hornets to Discovery, some of that horror sensibility crept in, including B-movie-inspired artwork showing a gigantic hornet menacing beekeepers and scientists.

“I’ve watched a lot of documentaries, and a lot of them, it’s interview, B-roll, interview, B-roll, political statement, theme,” he told Ars. Stephenson wanted to do something different and shoot his murder hornet documentary through a horror/sci-fi lens.

<em>Attack of the Murder Hornets</em> is a nature documentary viewed through the lens of science fiction and horror.
Enlarge / Attack of the Murder Hornets is a nature documentary viewed through the lens of science fiction and horror.

Discovery Plus

Among those featured in Attack of the Murder Hornets: Chris Looney, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA); McFall and fellow beekeeper Ruthie Danielson; a government scientist and insect expert named Sven-Erik Spichiger; and Berube, who was the first to find and destroy a murder hornet nest in Vancouver Island, Canada. Stephenson’s team chronicled the race against the breeding clock to find and destroy a similar hornet nest in Washington state.

Ars sat down with Stephenson to learn more.

Ars Technica: What drew you to make a documentary about murder hornets?

Michael Paul Stephenson: I read The New York Times article last May and thought, “Murder hornets? What is going on? We’re all locked in our homes. Now we have murder hornets.” Immediately, I was like, “This feels like a horror movie. It feels like a science fiction drama.” I thought, “What does this look like through the lens of horror and science fiction? What is the Stranger Things version of this?” Discovery immediately connected to that sensibility. I’m always drawn to characters first, revealing themes through people who have something at stake. End of the day for me, it’s what’s the story, who are the characters, how do you tell it in a way that people remember? The story had this intriguing mix of government public service workers and scientists and beekeepers, all trying to stop an invasive species, having to deal with this gigantic hornet that is not native to the country.

Ars Technica: Can you talk a little bit about the camera technology and the overall look you were shooting for?

Michael Paul Stephenson: The majority of the film is shot on two RED MONSTROs at 8K. It was really important to us to embrace natural light as much as possible. We had to shoot with very high-speed lenses because we were dealing with low light. We wanted this to feel like science in real time. We wanted it to feel like we are there with these people in this moment. And we wanted to give it a sense of design. What would the narrative version of the scene look like? Let’s shoot it so that we can edit it as such. So it’s about multiple cameras and coverage and making sure that we’re not only covering our scientists, but we’re covering the reaction of the scientist.

I had planned on using drones early on—not too much because I think drones can be so overused. But I wanted to also shoot from the hornet’s POV. Hornets articulate themselves in a totally different way than just the normal drone beauty shot. That’s when I got tipped off about racing drones, which I had not used before. They’re smaller, and the way they can articulate through the forest on a dime is much different than the regular drone.

Ars Technica: I assume you also had to wear the special anti-murder hornet suit to avoid being stung.

Michael Paul Stephenson: With the hornets specifically, I had to wear the same special suit [as the scientists], and it’s its own form of terror. We had to wear those when we found the nest and if we got too close. The night of the eradication, it’s dark. We’re in suits. Nobody knew what was going to happen. We knew that these things can spray venom. They can sting.

There was a moment, ironically, when I was shooting the bees at night with Ted [McFall], and we were surrounded by bees. I had a regular bee suit on, not the crazy hornet suit. As I’m suiting up, it’s dark, and I see the silhouette of a bee crawl up right in front of my nose. And, I’m like, “Uh-oh. That’s not good. That’s on the inside of my mask.” I had left a portion of my suit open. Within a minute of noticing that, I got stung six times because more bees got into my suit. I guess when a bee stings you, other bees will find it and they’ll sting you, too.

Michael Paul Stephenson, director of Attack of the Murder Hornets, struggles to don his special protective suit. (Credit: Michael Paul Stephenson/Discovery+)

Ars Technica: A substantial portion of your film focuses on the efforts to track a murder hornet back to the nest. That whole sequence conveys just how hard doing science really is on a practical level. Things rarely work on the first attempt.

Michael Paul Stephenson: Science is an iterative process, it progresses in fits and starts—not unlike creativity or making a movie. You fall a few times, get back up. It sounds wrong, but I loved the failure, because it shows the persistence and the commitment that these public servants have and the slim chance that they will succeed. It’s easy to be critical of other people. “Oh, they should do this or they should do that.” But there’s few people who actually get in the ring and try to do the work, knowing that they face public scrutiny. Let’s face it—the odds of them finding the nest were slim at best. Seeing them not give up—even as the public is like, “Ah, they failed”—only makes me appreciate what they’re trying to do it for in the first place. I think that it gives you a real defining sense of their character and how important this is to them.

I probably would have quit. While we were filming, I was expecting at some point for them to be like, “Ah, we’re done. We’re just not going to find this thing. Who knows what’s going to happen? Maybe it won’t be that big of a threat. We’ll just roll the dice.” Never once did they ever give me that sort of thing. They are heroes.

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Sony announces new PSVR hardware for PlayStation 5

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Enlarge / You probably want to put the PlayStation VR headset on your head, not on top of a new PlayStation 5, for an ideal use case. But, hey, you do you.

Sam Machkovech

A new generation of PlayStation VR hardware, including a new controller designed specifically for VR, will be coming to the PlayStation 5 sometime after this year, Sony announced today.

The short announcement is light on details and doesn’t include any photos or prototypes of the new headset or controller. But it does mention that the next PlayStation VR will include a higher resolution and field of view than the 2016 original, which is stuck at a somewhat dated 1920×1080 resolution.

For context, last year’s $299 Oculus Quest 2 came in at a total resolution of 3664×1600, and that’s for an untethered standalone headset with much less horsepower than the PS5. Valve’s high-end Index headset, meanwhile, sports a 135 degree field of view, much wider than the ~100 degrees on PSVR (cheaper modern headsets generally have closer to 90 to 100 degree view fields, though).

Besides redesigned ergonomics, Sony says the next PSVR controller “will incorporate some of the key features found in the DualSense wireless controller.” Those could include the precise haptics, variable-resistance triggers, and crisp built-in speakers that have already been used to great effect in some standard PS5 games.

That would represent a big step up from the PlayStation Move controllers that many PSVR games currently use for hand-tracking. Those were originally launched in 2010, well before consumer-grade VR was a concern, and they are generally seen as a more precise answer to the hand-wavey controls of the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect for flat-screen gaming. A controller specifically built for VR could improve the fidelity or even eliminate the need for an external camera for tracking.

Existing PlayStation VR owners can currently use the headset and controllers with the PlayStation 5, but doing so requires a special adapter to connect the aging PS4 camera (the PS5’s own “PlayStation HD camera” is not compatible with the current PlayStation VR). Ars’ own testing at the system’s launch also found that PSVR games generally hadn’t gotten a noticeable bump in fidelity on the PS5, as some other backward-compatible games had.

Before today, Sony was unwilling to comment very directly on the future of virtual reality hardware on the PS5. PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan told The Washington Post back in October that “PlayStation believes in VR. Sony believes in VR, and we definitely believe at some point in the future, VR will represent a meaningful component of interactive entertainment. Will it be this year? No. Will it be next year? No. But will it come at some stage? We believe that.”

Sony has sold over 5 million PlayStation VR headsets since 2016, after passing 4.2 million sales in early 2019. That makes PSVR one of the best-selling VR headsets overall thus far, though in recent months, the aging hardware has been heavily outsold by Oculus’ standalone Quest headset, according to estimates from analysis firm Superdata.

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