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Apple Arcade is now available for some iOS 13 beta users – TechCrunch

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If you’re running a beta version of iOS 13 or 13.1, chances are you can now open the App Store and subscribe to Apple Arcade. The company has been rolling out its new subscription service, as MacRumors spotted. It works on my iPhone running a public beta version of iOS 13.1.

Apple Arcade requires iOS 13, tvOS 13 or macOS Catalina, which means that you won’t be able to access the service before updating to the new major versions of the operating systems. The final version of iOS 13 is set to launch on Thursday on the iPhone.

Originally announced earlier this year, Apple has been working on an ad-free gaming service that lets you download and play games for a monthly subscription fee. These games have no ads or in-app purchases.

Essentially, you pay $4.99 per month to access a library with dozens of games. Subscriptions include a one-month free trial and work with family sharing.

You can browse the selection of games without subscribing. There are currently 53 games available, but Apple said that it plans to launch more than 100 games this fall.

Each game has its own App Store page with a trailer, screenshots and some new icons indicating the age rating, category, number of players and more.

If you search for a game on the App Store and you’re not an Apple Arcade subscriber, you get a new button that tells you that you can try it free by subscribing to Apple Arcade. It also says “Apple Arcade” above the app name.

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Valve scraps revamped Artifact, dumps free, unfinished “2.0” version on Steam

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Enlarge / Two posters, two free end-of-life games.

Valve

The weird, woeful, and nearly redemptive development of Valve’s digital card game Artifact has ended. Effective today, Valve has launched the 2018 game’s total-overhaul “2.0” version as a completely free—and “unfinished”—card-battling game dubbed Artifact Foundry, and while it’s playable, it’s effectively dead on arrival.

That means the game (formerly known as Artifact 2.0) no longer requires signing up for a closed beta—and is immediately available for anyone to download and play with zero microtransactions or restrictions on ownership. The apparent catch is that this near-total overhaul of the original game’s ruleset and card abilities will not receive a single substantial update going forward. While Valve admits that Artifact Foundry could still use more “polish and art,” its devs insist that “the core gameplay is all there.”

Additionally, the game’s original version has been left as a playable option, in case you preferred its specific spin on Magic: The Gathering-like card combat. The biggest change is that it’s been updated to remove all microtransactions, while anyone who paid for the original game or its cards has been given a curious perk: a series of “Collector’s Edition” cards, which can now only be traded and sold for real-world money within the Steam Marketplace ecosystem. Within the game itself, “marketplace integration” has been removed, since the original concept of buying blind card decks has been nuked from orbit. Every card in Artifact 1.0 is now free and instantly doled out to players.

To review: Two versions of Artifact are now available on Steam, and both are totally free, sans microtransactions. Neither will receive updates going forward. They’ll both still be playable online through traditional matchmaking.

From $20 to beta to free

Artifact Foundry had clearly been built with a more favorable and digital-friendly card economy than its forebear, since today’s new version only lets players unlock new cards for their battling decks via gameplay. Players must beat solo campaign missions and versus matches to get more cards, as opposed to buying or trading them on a marketplace. It’s unclear whether Valve would have sold the game as a flatly priced “buy once” model, or whether it might have eventually included some form of microtransactions or DLC pack purchases.

This followed Artifact‘s messy 2018 launch, which tried to create a card economy, fueled by real money, that resembled real-world Magic: The Gathering cards—yet also required an up-front $20 client purchase. Once the game went live, its online play was was marked largely by card prices exploding within the Steam Marketplace and immediately painting competitive players into a corner, in terms of how they might build competitive decks. This issue was compounded by a significant lack of updates from Valve to pump new, strategy-boosting cards into the game’s ecosystem. That development standstill wasn’t helped when game co-creator Richard Garfield was laid off from his contract position at Valve less than four months after its launch.

Weeks later, the remaining Artifact development team announced plans to go “heads down” on revamping the game, instead of shipping regular updates and patches, as its concurrent player counts dipped from tens of thousands to merely hundreds. This was followed one year later, shortly after Half-Life Alyx‘s launch on PC-VR systems, by the announcement of Artifact 2.0 development beginning in earnest. Two months after that, Valve opened up access to this massively refreshed and tweaked version of the game as a closed beta, which saw regular development updates and an emphasis on developer transparency. The newer game included a clearer tutorial process and more focused card abilities; instead of making players juggle exactly how cards in separate lanes might bounce around, each lane was easier to parse as a standalone battling zone. The tweak felt promising in our closed beta tests, even if it watered down the game’s uniqueness compared to digital card-battling rivals like Gwent.

In today’s announcement, however, Artifact Foundry‘s team admitted that interest in this beta version wasn’t fruitful enough: “We haven’t managed to get the active player numbers to a level that justifies further development at this time.” Hence, many of Valve’s biggest ambitions around Artifact, particularly a global tournament with a $1 million grand prize, will never materialize.

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Loop Hero review: I’ve somehow gotten hooked on an RPG that plays itself

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Devolver Digital / Four Quarters

I cannot think of a single YouTube trailer that would do the addictive, compelling new video game Loop Hero an iota of justice. That’s not a remark on its 360p resolution or 8-bit color depth; we’ve seen plenty of games work within such confines while looking beautiful and fluid. But this dark RPG doubles down on simplicity, thanks to itty-bitty sprites, limited animations, and a menu-swapping interface that combine to scream the word “boring.”

The game includes some aesthetic exceptions, particularly a few higher-res illustrations, but the point stands. Loop Hero was made to work within the processing confines of an ’80s PC, as opposed to immediately capturing your imagination at a single glance. The reason lies in the game’s key design principle: in more respects than any other RPG we’ve seen, Loop Hero wrests direct control away from the player. If you thought the menu-driven combat of pioneering JRPGs was too “hands-on,” you ain’t seen nothin’.

In a figurative sense, this game reimagines Camelot as a hamster wheel, where knights like Sir Galahad have become tiny, pixellated cogs. Yet as boring as that might sound, I cannot stop playing this game.

After nearly writing off this Devolver Digital game as another uninspired, lo-fi indie game, I decided—admittedly, upon a colleague’s prodding—to give Loop Hero a spin. Pretty quickly, I discovered a fascinating twist on the “idle” genre—thanks to how it gives players significant choices, secrets, upgrades, and even a compelling narrative. The results won’t be everyone’s cup of barely interactive tea, but if you like the idea of a “second monitor” game with tasteful dashes of tower defense and deckbuilding, you should seriously consider running Loop Hero in the background of your nerdy life.

You don’t control the game… the game controls you

The game opens with your hero—and nearly everyone else—waking from an amnesia-like blackout. In a daze, your hero sees a single road ahead and marches forward to jog their memory, unaware that it’s a loop—but also uncovering more monsters, landmarks, and increasingly powerful weapons with every step on the path.

In gameplay terms, this means you can walk away from Loop Hero after its opening plot sequence and watch your hero auto-walk and auto-battle until they die. (Upon every death, the world’s amnesia haze consumes you, and you start over in another blacked-out world.) Your hero’s movement tracks along a loop (not a round one, mind you, but made of chunky ’80s-computing right angles), with the hero and enemies appearing as tiny icons. Whenever the hero walks into a foe, a larger “battle” window opens up with higher-res versions of each hero and monster, and everyone auto-slashes each other until one side is dead. Huh. That’s it?

Of course, it’s not that simple. In your very first adventure, the first wimpy enemies you kill will either drop items or “cards.” The former are limited to equippable fare (weapons, armor, shields, rings), and like in most RPGs, these primarily tweak your battling stats. The latter play into the game’s rolling-amnesia angle, because you’re asked to rebuild your forgotten world one landmark at a time. Some landmarks, like meadows and mountains, add bonuses to your stats. Others, like a cemetery or a haunted mansion, will add new, deadlier monsters to your looped path.

Loop Hero truly begins once you realize its gimmick: you need to place landmarks around your loop to jog your memory and reach each new threshold of world recovery, and you need to place these landmarks intentionally to help your hero survive and get stronger. Jog your memory enough, and you’ll find a boss to fight on a loop. With each new loop, everything starts anew, and you’ll have to accrue new gear, place new landmarks, and hunt for a new boss. (We’ll get to how all of these randomly generated loops chain together in a second.)

Placing all the deadliest landmarks in a single corner of a loop will go poorly, for starters. You’ll do better when you realize how certain landmarks play off of each other—like a “dry grove” that generates annoying rats but also lets you plant a helpful, enemy-killing “blood grove,” so long as it’s adjacent to the dry one. That’s a simple chain reaction, then: spread dry groves out early on so that their squares overlap with the “generate super-deadly vampires” mansions in ways that let the blood groves do some helpful damage.

What happens when I make a 3×3 square…?

Loop Hero reveal trailer.

Round and round you’ll go, until your hero either dies or retreats. You can always elect to “retreat,” because while you’re winding around the loop, facing ever-greater odds, you’ll also pick up various crafting supplies. Retreat at the loop’s “starting” point, marked by an eensy-weensy campfire, and you’ll take every crafting element back to an encampment. Retreat elsewhere within a loop, and you’ll lose some of those elements. Die, and you’ll return to the encampment with much less.

Unlike the dangerous, amnesia-stricken loop you walk alone, Loop Hero‘s camp appears to be protected. Your neighbors remain between runs, as do their memories, and the same goes for any new useful buildings and training zones you build with all of those supplies you keep picking up. You’ve seen these kinds of camps in other roguelikes, which let you jazz up future playthroughs by spending resources on more abilities, items, and challenge levels. The biggest difference with Loop Hero‘s town is that some of its resources require figuring out certain secrets in the landmark-placing portion of normal gameplay. Some crafting elements appear in the average course of killing monsters. Others only pop up if you kill particularly nasty creatures.

And still others only appear if, say, you experiment with where you place landmarks on the map, only to realize certain shapes or patterns can create entirely new structures (which spawn oh-so-valuable resources). I love these clever moments, by the way, as they gently nudge you into realizing that this “automatic” game requires a lot more cultivation and landscaping from players than they might originally suspect.

Advancing your town is the only way to unlock Loop Hero‘s new “classes,” by the way, and these come with wickedly different mechanics than the default “warrior” class. I’d prefer not to spoil the twists inherent in playing as a class like the rogue; instead, I’ll say that the game invents entirely new ways to automatically parcel out its combat, items, landmark cards, and other surprises. You’re still automatically walking around a loop, getting into automatic combat, and putting down landmark cards… but surviving and winning requires getting your head around a new set of rules each time, and they’re never subtle.

The devil finds work for idle games

Idle games traditionally are not as involved as Loop Hero—and are sometimes confused with “clicker” games, which ask players to mindlessly click on various menus and graphics to make certain numbers or currencies go up. Idle games hit a similar philosophy, in that they subvert players’ expectations that they’ll meaningfully interact with a game in terms of, say, directly controlling a hero or managing an economy. Sometimes, that means watching a world whisk by with seemingly optional menu taps. Other times, that means furiously clicking on a cow.

By resembling those kinds of limited games, Loop Hero puts itself in a unique corner—and the game’s developers have crawled out of that corner with surprisingly clever ideas. Every session I’ve played thus far has vacillated between simple comfort and tense experimentation. I can leave the game on my secondary work monitor, easily paused at any moment in a given loop, then click and activate the game to either let a simple portion whisk by or exert a few minutes of intense micromanagement. I’ll obsess over whether my current equipped-item loadout is going to work on my current path—should I invest in more “vampiric” power to keep my health level stable, or should I keep my fingers crossed that I find other landmark-related ways to stay in the green?

By the end of a run, after erecting enough landmarks to make a “boss” monster appear, the game takes on a whole new level of last-minute management and second-guessing about how I reached this point. I should’ve combined certain landmarks earlier! I mutter to myself. I should’ve spread out my most dangerous monster encounters! Should I retreat and cut my losses with resources now, or might I scrape by with my loop’s build and get to the campfire? Or have I racked up enough gear and special abilities to keep looping and finally beat this one stubborn boss?

The good:

  • Surprising depth and strategy in a seemingly “automatic” game.
  • Clever, mysterious dialogue and handsomely drawn portraits buttress a compelling plot.
  • Once you get hooked on the game’s opening challenge, new classes and abilities open the game’s potential even wider.
  • Lo-fi sound design makes the most of dated sound-chip technology in really appealing ways, both in music and in sounds of vampires eerily laughing at you.

The bad:

  • You may be charmed by the game’s mid-’80s PC-gaming aesthetic, but I’d have liked more animation and detail.
  • While the game’s automatic walking speed is adjustable, it certainly could be faster—especially in the calmer portions of a new loop.

The ugly:

  • Hopefully the game gets a “pause while window is inactive” option soon, because alt-tabbing to deal with work while addicted to this game has led to some runs ending in inadvertent, unintended deaths. Frowny face.
  • Insert port-begging whininess for platforms like smartphones and Switch here.

Verdict: Buy, unless you have responsibilities. This game could very well threaten them.

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New Nintendo Switch production to begin in June, will be 4K when docked

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Enlarge / Ars’ Kyle Orland tries out the Nintendo Switch in its portable mode.

Nintendo’s next Switch hardware revision has long been rumored, but details on what to expect from a possible “Switch Pro” finally began firming up on Wednesday, thanks to an apparent leak from its screen supplier.

Bloomberg Japan has the scoop, and it points to Samsung as the source of Switch’s next panel type: a 7″ OLED panel, currently estimated at 720p resolution. That Samsung OLED production line will begin cranking in June, according to Bloomberg’s unnamed sources familiar with “internal matters.” Meanwhile, other Nintendo hardware assemblers will begin receiving the panels “around July.”

For sizing comparisons, the current standard Nintendo Switch uses a 6.2″ 720p LED panel, while 2019’s Nintendo Switch Lite shrunk its LED panel to 5.5″ (but is also 720p in resolution).

How might “Pro” get to 4K?

Such a timetable would put Nintendo in a position to unveil the hardware “this year” and “prop up [Switch] demand in time for the holidays,” Bloomberg reports. Whether this means a new, larger Nintendo Switch would land on store shelves by year’s end, however, was not entirely confirmed by the report.

The report also didn’t clarify exactly how the system’s internals may be improved, but it did allege one key feature: a bump to “4K graphics when paired with TVs.” This appears to confirm that a new Switch model will continue to employ its hybrid “home-and-portable” gimmick.

How might a “Switch Pro” jump to 4K resolution, especially if the handheld version remains locked at 720p? Bloomberg’s report doesn’t speculate. In the meantime, we’re wondering whether its TV dock might be updated to include extra processing chips (and thereby leverage a “split motherboard” proposition, much like Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5), and/or whether Switch SoC manufacturer Nvidia has any DLSS-like tricks it can add to neatly upscale standard Switch games to 4K resolution.

Either way, Nintendo has limited history with midgeneration console refreshes that add boosts to older software. Portable systems like Game Boy Color, DSi, and “New” Nintendo 3DS were all capable of applying processing boosts to software, but this required specific compatibility in each game—as opposed to, say, a blanket boost to 4K resolution for any Switch game imaginable.

The report also doesn’t clarify whether a larger Switch will remain compatible with existing, detachable Joy-Con controllers or whether Nintendo might roll out a larger pair to match the newly larger Switch’s base hardware. (The large hands among Ars Technica’s staff would appreciate the latter.)

As recently as February, Nintendo told its shareholders that Switch was in the “middle” of its life cycle, suggesting another 4-5 years of support, while the company offered a vague assurance about new Switch versions not being announced “anytime soon.” Previous rumors about a “Switch Pro” emerged as recently as early 2019, but these fizzled, with only Switch Lite eventually emerging from that pool of rumored hardware refreshes.

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