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NatGeo expedition hunts for 1924 climber’s body in Lost on Everest documentary

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Edmund Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay made climbing history when they became the first men to successfully summit Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. But there’s a chance that someone may have beaten them to the summit back in 1924: a British mountaineer named George Leigh Mallory and a young engineering student named Andrew “Sandy” Irvine. The two men set off for the summit in June of that year and disappeared—two more casualties of a peak that has claimed over 300 lives to date.

Lost on Everest is a new documentary from National Geographic that seeks to put to rest the question of who was first to the summit once and for all. The gripping account follows an expedition’s attempt to locate Irvine’s body (lost for over 95 years) and hopefully retrieve the man’s camera—and photographic proof that the two men reached the summit.

NatGeo is also premiering a second companion documentary, Expedition Everest, narrated by actor Tate Donovan (MacGyver, Man in the High Castle), following an international team that included multiple scientists as they trek up the mountain. Along the way, team geologists collected sediment samples from the bottom of a Himalayan lake; biologists surveyed the biodiversity at various elevations to track how plants, animals, and insects are adapting to a warming climate; and climate scientists collected ice cores from the highest elevation to date to better understand glacier evolution. Finally, the team installed the world’s highest weather station in Everest’s infamous “death zone,” above 26,000 feet, to gather real-time data on weather conditions at that altitude.

Mallory is the man credited with uttering the famous line “because it’s there” in response to a question about why he would risk his life repeatedly to summit Everest. An avid mountaineer, Mallory had already been to the mountain twice before the 1924 expedition: once in 1921 as part of a reconnaissance expedition to produce the first accurate maps of the region and again in 1922—his first serious attempt to summit, although he was forced to turn back on all three attempts. A sudden avalanche killed seven Sherpas on his third try, sparking accusations of poor judgement on Mallory’s part.

Undeterred, Mallory was back in 1924 for the fated Everest expedition that would claim his life at age 37. He aborted his first summit attempt, but on June 4, he and Irvine left Advanced Base Camp (21,330 feet/6500 meters). They reached Camp 5 on June 6, and Camp 6 the following day, before heading out for the summit on June 8. Team member Noel Odell reported seeing the two men climbing either the First or Second Step around 1pm before they  were “enveloped in a cloud once more.” Nobody ever saw Mallory and Irvine again, although their spent oxygen tanks were found just below the First Step. Climbers also found Irvine’s ice axe in 1933.

There were several expeditions that tried to find the climbers’ remains. A climber named Frank Smythe thought he spotted a body in 1936, just below the spot where Irvine’s ice axe was found, “at precisely the point where Mallory and Irvine would have fallen had they rolled on over the scree slopes,” he wrote in a letter that was not discovered until 2013. A Chinese climber reported stumbling across “an English dead” at 26,570 feet (8100 meters) in 1975, but the man was killed in an avalanche the following day before the report could be verified.

Mallory’s mummified remains

Mallory’s body wasn’t found until 1999, when an expedition partially sponsored by Nova and the BBC found the remains on the mountain’s north face, at 26,760 feet (8157 meters)—just below where Irvine’s axe had been found. The team thought it was Irvine’s body and hoped to recover the camera, since there was a chance any photographs could be retrieved to determine once and for all whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit—thereby changing mountaineering history. But the name tags on the clothing read “G. Leigh Mallory.” Personal artifacts confirmed the identity: an altimeter, a pocket knife, snow goggles, a letter, and a bill for climbing equipment from a London supplier.

As the NatGeo documentary shows in quite vivid detail, Mallory’s body was exceptionally well-preserved, bleached by the intense sun and essentially mummified from exposure to the elements. There were clear fractures to his right leg—the tibia and fibula, just above the boot (by one account, his right foot was nearly broken off)—and a puncture wound on his forehead the size of a golf ball, which is believed to have caused his death. It’s been speculated that the wound was from an errant ice axe bounding off a rock to hit him in the head. There were remnants of a climbing rope around his waist and evidence of trauma from a rope-jerk injury, meaning it’s likely he and Irvine were roped together when Mallory slipped and fell. Either the rope snapped or Irvine was forced to cut Mallory loose, since rescue was impossible.

After that exciting discovery, the search was on to find Irvine’s body (and the camera) based on the unverified 1975 sighting. A 2001 follow-up expedition did locate the men’s last camp. Noted Everest historian Tom Holzel—whose latest research features prominently in Lost on Everest—relied on a 2001 Chinese climber’s sighting of a body lying on its back in a narrow crevasse, as well as aerial photography, to pinpoint the most likely spot to search: in the region known as the Yellow Band, at an altitude of 27,641 feet (8,425 meters).

And that brings us to 2019, when the NatGeo crew joined up with a world-renowned team of professional climbers to document their own search for Irvine’s body, based on Holzel’s latest research. NatGeo photographer Renan Ozturk—also an experienced climber and mountaineer—led the documentary crew, joined by two other seasoned climbers: journalist and adventurer Mark Synnott, (who also penned a feature article for National Geographic about the expedition) and filmmaker Thom Pollard, who was a member of the 1999 expedition that found Mallory’s remains.

(Did they find Irvine’s body? Spoilers below the gallery.)

In addition to their usual camera equipment, Ozturk and his crew relied on drones—a Mavic Pro and an Inspire2—to capture footage, aided by an app called Litchi to help with flight paths. They tested the drones in a hyperbaric chamber at a NASA subfacility prior to the expedition to simulate the extremes of temperature and altitude in which the drones would be operating. They also made several modifications to the drones’ climb speed, descent speed, and flight ceiling so they could climb higher and descend faster.

“These lithium ion batteries perform strangely in the cold,” Ozturk told Ars. “Sometimes they say they have a certain percentage left, but then they all of a sudden drop to zero and the drones would fall out of the sky. The last thing we wanted to do was leave a drone on the mountain along with all the other trash.” Cameramen had special pockets in the underarms of their clothing to keep batteries warm and constantly battled ice crystals forming over their lenses.

It was also challenging to understand the wind currents and assess the light and temperature to figure out the best time to fly the drones, which Ozturk admits involved a significant element of luck. “Piloting an aircraft is a game of precision and steady fingers,” said Ozturk. “You’re just trying to keep your cool and watch what the drone is doing and making judgement calls second by second. We definitely had a few close calls.”

NatGeo documentary crews are well accustomed to overcoming harsh, challenging conditions to get that glorious footage we all know and love. But Everest exerted a tremendous physical and mental toll on even these experienced hardy souls. The NatGeo expedition spent more time than other teams at those punishing higher altitudes, in part because they waited to make their summit push to avoid overcrowding on the route. Everest is always dangerous, but 2019 was among the deadliest climbing seasons in recent memory, with 11 fatalities. That’s comparable to the 1996 climbing disaster immortalized in Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book Into Thin Air (12 climbers died on Everest that season), and the 16 Sherpa lives lost to an avalanche on the treacherous Khumbu Icefall during the 2014 climbing season. Nepal now plans to institute new rules for climbers to qualify for an Everest permit.

Listing image by Renan Ozturk/National Geographic

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How Zelda fans changed the ending to Ocarina of Time on a vanilla N64

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Enlarge / This… isn’t supposed to happen in Ocarina of Time. Here’s the story of how some fans made it happen anyway—all on a stock N64 with an unmodified Ocarina cartridge.

Summer Games Done Quick

Shortly after our guide to Summer Games Done Quick 2022 went live, the event hosted an astounding demonstration of a classic video game—one that has since crowded that Ars article’s replies. If we want to split hairs, this run through the 1998 N64 classic Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is not a “speedrun,” but it’s another example of the “TASBot” concept transforming games in ways we would never have dreamed of 24 years ago.

The team of fans and programmers responsible for this week’s “Triforce-percent” demonstration have since revealed how they achieved the feat with nothing more than a stock N64 and an original Ocarina retail cartridge—though the secret involves controller inputs so fast and precise that they cannot be performed by anything less than a computer.

Nothing stale about this run

An early 2020 video that explains how stale reference manipulation works. You may want to watch this before watching the SGDQ 2022 video, embedded further below.

The 53-minute demonstration (embedded at the end of this article) opens with an exploit previously unearthed in late 2019, which the community dubbed “Stale Reference Manipulation.” This exploit takes advantage of a vulnerability in the game’s original 1.0 version, which allowed players to manipulate numerical values assigned to specific objects in the game’s memory. The breeziest explanation for this complicated technique can be found in a YouTube video from early 2020 (embedded above), as it spells out the various numerical values assigned to each object in the game, such as their X-, Y-, and Z-axes and their rotation.

Savvy players can make values overlap or overwhelm the game’s original code so they can be manipulated as players see fit. The technique we see in this week’s run requires Link to pick up a rock while going through a “loading zone,” a hallway used to disguise loading pauses on N64 hardware, and to do so in a way that the game was not designed to handle.

Initially, this exploit was a speedrunning tool, as it could trick the game into loading the final credits sequence and technically count as a “completion” within only a few minutes. But the Triforce-percent run goes much further.

RAMming new content into a classic game

Hey, wait, that doesn't belong here... but as the TASBot demonstration team points out, an Arwing from <em>Star Fox 64</em> was left in the original <em>Ocarina</em> cartridge, as a reminder that this object was used to test certain animation routines in the early development period.
Enlarge / Hey, wait, that doesn’t belong here… but as the TASBot demonstration team points out, an Arwing from Star Fox 64 was left in the original Ocarina cartridge, as a reminder that this object was used to test certain animation routines in the early development period.

Summer Games Done Quick

By picking up and dropping specific items, then making the game’s hero Link move and perform maneuvers in a specific sequence, the TASBot team opens up a Pandora’s box of what’s known as arbitrary code execution—the type of vulnerability used by hackers the world over to make a closed computer system run whatever code they want. What’s more, the TASBot chain of moves and commands begins to tell the N64 to accept button input from all four N64 controllers as if it’s code.

This item-manipulation menu was left in the game as a beta element, easily unearthed for use in the SGDQ 2022 run.
Enlarge / This item-manipulation menu was left in the game as a beta element, easily unearthed for use in the SGDQ 2022 run.

Summer Games Done Quick

At this point, a computer takes over all four N64 controller ports and sends a rapid-fire series of button taps, as if it were a zillion-finger superhero equivalent to The Flash. The glitched-out Ocarina cartridge has instructed the N64 to accept each button tap in a way that corresponds to specific code strings. Once enough of this payload has been sent, the team can return normal control to the “player one” port, so that a real person can play through an entirely new sequence of content—all being dumped into the N64’s random-access memory (RAM) by the other three controllers’ incredibly fast input.

These on-the-fly patches can do many incredible things that, combined, resemble a fully blown patch of a cartridge’s read-only memory (ROM), though the TASBot team restricts itself to changes that specifically apply to the console’s RAM: tiny changes to existing code, total file replacements, or commands to tell the game to ignore content that it would normally load from the ROM. As a result, this exploit can glitch or crash if players go outside the expected path that this exploit is optimized for.

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Diablo Immortal is bringing in over $1 million a day in microtransactions

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Use cash to buy orbs.

Despite backlash from some players, Diablo Immortal‘s free-to-play, microtransaction-laden game design seems to be working out just fine for Blizzard’s bottom line. Using data from mobile analysis firm Appmagic, MobileGamer.biz estimates that the iOS and Android versions of the game brought in $49 million in earnings from just over 10 million mobile downloads in the versions’ first 30 days of availability.

Those estimates, which are based on public charts provided by the mobile platforms, don’t include the PC version of the game and, thus, may actually be underselling the scale of its financial success. With PC players included, Blizzard announced that Diablo Immortal hit 10 million installs after just over a week, well ahead of the mobile download pace estimated by Appmagic.

By way of comparison, Diablo III took nearly six months to sell 10 million copies after its troubled launch back in 2012. But that game sold for a $60 MSRP, making it hard to compare directly to a free-to-play game that has so far brought in an estimated average of less than $5 in earnings per download, according to Appmagic.

The long tail

While Diablo III‘s earnings were front-loaded on initial sales, though, Diablo Immortal seems well-positioned to bring in additional revenue from its existing player base for a long while. As of Monday, for instance, the game was still the 34th highest-grossing app on the entire iOS App Store, despite having fallen to 134th in terms of new downloads.

Many of those initial Immortal players (and payers) will eventually fall away from the game, of course. But that process might happen slower than you might think. Estimates of Android app retention from analysis firm Quettra suggest an app that launches in the “top 10” on the Google Play Store (as Diablo Immortal did) can expect to keep close to 60 percent of its initial users after three months. And public data from mobile hits like Pokemon Go, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush Saga suggests that roughly 10 to 20 percent of all players who had downloaded those games were still regular players a full year or two after launch.

That all suggests that Diablo Immortal will have millions of active players well into next year and beyond. And while the vast majority of those players will never spend a single cent on the game, the top-end whales could easily spend enough on the game’s confusing sets of currencies to keep the revenue rolling in for Blizzard for a long time.

Blizzard has already promised that the upcoming Diablo IV will limit microtransactions to optional cosmetics. But the early performance for Diablo Immortal helps show why the free-to-play business model can be so appealing for a publisher like Blizzard, even if it can be annoying for many players.

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The best game-exploiting speedruns of Summer Games Done Quick 2022

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Enlarge / All four of the mascots seen in this SGDQ promo image appear in various speedruns hosted over the past week.

Summer Games Done Quick

The Games Done Quick series of charity events has long been a favorite among the gaming fans and critics at Ars Technica since it combines classic, beloved video games and carefully studied methods to break them apart in search of high-speed exploits.

This year’s summertime installment is particularly special, as it’s the first in 2.5 years to take place at a physical venue—albeit with some of the most stringent masking and distancing requirements we’ve seen in a livestreamed public show in 2022. (GDQ’s organizers appear to read the news, which makes sense for a series that benefits the likes of Doctors Without Borders.) Even with precautions taken, its combination of players, commentators, and crowds in the same room has brought excitement back to its broadcasts, which is why we’re pulling together some of the best runs from the past week, as archived at GDQ’s official YouTube channel.

The event is still ongoing as of this article’s publication, which means you can watch it right now via its Twitch channel. The event’s final runs, dedicated to Elden Ring, will conclude in the late hours on Saturday, July 2.

Tunic speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Tunic, 2022, “true ending” run

If you haven’t yet played Tunic, we recommend you pause before watching this game-breaking, spoiler-filled romp through many of its biggest secrets. (My March review of the game has far fewer spoilers.) But if you’ve already collected the game’s slew of hidden “instruction booklet” pages, consider this a must-watch, because it includes a compelling guest on real-time commentary: Andrew Shouldice, the game’s lead designer, programmer, and artist.

He’s joined by a member of the Power-Up Audio team, which worked on the game’s soundtrack, and they divulge tons of information about how the game was made—including confirmation about how many of the biggest exploits were intentionally left by the devs in the game. At one point, Shouldice watches a trick begin to play out, telling the crowd that he programmed it to be a possibility but could never personally trigger it. Moments later, the speedrunner demonstrated the trick, allowing him to warp through a wall and bypass a ton of tricky content.

Halo Infinite speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Halo Infinite, 2021, “no tank gun” run

Many classic games’ speedruns include multiple categories, and the most broken ones are known as “any-percent” runs, since they allow players to use any tricks and skip any quests that they want. In certain games’ cases, these kinds of runs can be boring to watch, and the infamously glitchy Halo Infinite is no exception.

This speedrun begins with a demonstration of the “tank gun,” which bolts an unlimited-ammo gun to Master Chief’s feet. That’s too much assistance for speedrunners’ tastes, but this SGDQ demonstration still includes a ton of wacky tricks that combine geometry clipping and otherworldly physics exploits—all boosted by Chief’s immediate access to a new grappling hook item. Sure, the hook makes players move much faster through the world, but it also figures into a wild glitch that makes players bounce off explosive barrels in ways that defy gravity.

Thunder in Paradise speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Thunder in Paradise, 1995, all-cutscenes run

We’re not sure whether this is GDQ’s first speedrun dedicated to a full-motion video (FMV) game, but it’s certainly one of the dumber examples of the mid-’90s CD-ROM genre. Thunder in Paradise is based on the short-lived TV series of the same name, which starred Terry “Hulk” Hogan alongside Jack Lemmon’s son as a crime-solving action duo on the beach, and it was as bad as that sounds. The video game version, relegated to the CD-I console, forces players to watch excruciatingly bad live-action footage between light gun shootout sections.

In most video game speedruns, players skip as many cinema scenes as possible, but GDQ elected to show this game’s filmed footage in its entirety while cheesing the gun gameplay parts as quickly as possible. Strap in, brother.

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