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The Analogue Pocket might be the perfect portable video game system – TechCrunch

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Very few modern tech companies have executed on their mission as consistently, and at such a high level of quality, as Analogue. Analogue’s obsessively engineered modern consoles for old-school physical cartridge video games are museum-quality hardware design, housing specially tuned processors that offer pitch- and pixel-perfect play of all NES, Sega Genesis, SNES and other retro console games on modern HD TVs — and their new $199 Analogue Pocket aims to provide the best way to play classic portable console titles in similar high fidelity.

The Analogue Pocket is a portable gaming console that can play the entire library of Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games out of the box — natively, without emulation, so that the gaming experience is exactly as you remember it (or as it was intended, if this is your first experience with these classic titles). That’s not all, though: Using cartridge adapters, the Analogue Pocket can support Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Atari Lynx and other games, too.

It uses two FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays), which are processors that have been programmed specifically to play these games back as they were originally intended, mimicking the operation of the original silicon found in the consoles that these games were designed for with the faithfulness of true restoration hardware. The result is a great gaming experience that will feel like the original — but played on the Analogue Pocket’s much more impressive hardware, which offers a 3.5-inch, 1600×1440 LCD display that provides a very high-resolution 615 ppi. For those keeping track, that’s 10 times the resolution of the original Game Boy display. And it’s color tuned for amazing color rendering and brightness — it could actually be the best display on a dedicated gaming device, period, let alone for a retro console.

The Analogue Pocket also works with an accessory called the Analogue Dock (sold separately, pricing TBD), which adds HDMI out and Bluetooth/wired controller support, to turn the Pocket into a home console for your big screen TV, too. The dock offers two standard USB ports for wired controllers, and its Bluetooth support works with any of 8Bitdo’s excellent gamepads. It’s basically a Switch, but for all your favorite Game Boy series games, and with what looks like much better-quality hardware.

6 Analogue Dock

That would be plenty to offer in a portable console, but the Analogue Pocket is designed to do more. It has a built-in synthesizer and sequencer for making digital music, and the second FPGA it’s packing is designed to be used specifically for development. It allows the development community to bring their own cores to the platform, which means it could potentially support a whole host of classic and ported games in the future.

Analogue Pocket is set to release some time in 2020, with a more specific date to be announced later. It’s a natural next step for the company that delivered excellent gaming experiences via the Nt Mini, the Super Nt and the Mega Sg, but it’s still a nice, exciting surprise to find out they’re tackling the rich history of mobile gaming next.



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Forget trailers: The best upcoming games we played at this year’s E3

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Enlarge / In another year, these weird games wouldn’t necessarily rise to the top of our “best of E3” list. But when the biggest gaming companies focus almost exclusively on non-playable trailers, our picks have to go to the games we can personally test.

Chris Klimowski / Gamious / rose-engine

As the dust begins to settle from another hype-filled series of gaming announcements, timed for what used to be known as “E3,” one thing stands out: folks in the press, like myself, have fewer ways to go hands-on with the biggest publishers’ wares and tell you what stands out. Carefully staging bluster is easy; getting Ars Technica staffers to agree that the games in question are fun or interesting to play is not.

While a post-pandemic landscape has led more gamemakers to begin to offer remote game demos, none of the industry’s current “triple-A” titans offered me a way to play their most-hyped titles, the ones typically slated to launch a few months after a big June showcase. Sorry, Metroid Dread and Age of Empires 4.

Even so, plenty of other gamemakers were happy to offer me 30-minute slices of their cherished games-to-be, whether via direct downloads or cloud-streamed demos on services like Parsec. No, these are not blockbusters by any stretch, but guess what, games companies? You had your chance. And the indies took it.

With one major Steam-related embargo out of the way, I can finally begin telling you about my favorite surprises and delights I’ve tested thus far. Starting today, you, too, can access most of the below recommended demos via two massive options: the ID@Xbox Summer Game Fest, and the Steam Next Fest. Both offer full downloads of upcoming games’ demos, with 40 available on Xbox consoles and a staggering 550 games on Windows via Steam. The below list includes links for how to find the same demos I tested, with the exception of exclusives made available to Ars by the inaugural Tribeca Games Festival—whose limited game selection happened to impress.

Ogopogo: Coming August 27 | Demo via Steam | Official site

I’ve matched, popped, and dropped more video game puzzle pieces than anyone I know, yet even I did a double-take upon seeing this brand-new puzzling concept. After losing hours to the game’s limited demo already, I can safely declare this my absolute favorite game of E3 2021 and possibly a contender for my year-end list. Is Ogopogo this E3’s best game? Maybe not. But it’s my most-played game preview out of all of them.

Like most of my all-time puzzling favorites, the concept is simple, yet the depth stretches for miles: you clear blocks by mapping out palindromes.

The above screens demonstrate what I mean: use a mouse (or a finger, whenever Ogopogo‘s mobile port launches) to draw a line of colors that reads identically forward or backward. Red-green-red is a simple palindrome, made up of three blocks. A single block also counts as a palindrome, in a pinch—but you get fewer points for smaller clears, and that can end a run once the difficulty ramps up.

The game really sings as the challenge ramps up, thanks to pesky block patterns that require careful plotting to create high-value chains. The game’s demo includes one additional pesky mode, dubbed “Countdown,” that further boxes players in with a limited number of moves. And its creator says even more modes will appear upon the full game’s launch.

Seriously. Warn your loved ones, kiss them goodbye for a while, and download this demo. (Thankfully, the demo will save your progress, should life and responsibilities intrude on this game’s genius.)

Tunic 2021 demo overview, courtesy of developer Andrew Shouldice.

Tunic: No release date | Demo via Xbox | Official site

Though I’ve played (and enjoyed) this Zelda-like game at conventions and expos over the years, the game has never felt as feature-complete or satisfying as in this year’s entirely new demo on Xbox consoles, which I played long enough to confirm its quality—then immediately deleted. Why play the demo for another minute, when it has already convinced me that it’s an incredible final product?

I already knew that Tunic‘s art design hinges on a bouncily animated 3D world, viewed from a top-down perspective, with tons of beautiful lighting and particle effects whether indoors or out. And I already knew that its mysteries unfold by way of a gibberish language found on various signs and items, with enough colors and icons to clarify the basic gist in the early goings (“you’ll need a sword,” “this door is locked,” etc.). What I didn’t know until this week is how crisp its top-down combat feels, as it splits the difference between Zelda and Dark Souls in a way that is snappy and tense, not punishing.

If, unlike me, you haven’t already been charmed by Tunic, I urge you to grab the free demo to see how its unique art direction bolsters the game’s mechanical core, which emphasizes a sense of wonder and challenge. Since this years-in-development adventure still doesn’t have a release date, its latest (and largest-yet) demo may have to tide you over.

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Medieval people suffered for fashion with their extremely pointy shoes

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Enlarge / Detail showing fashionable pointed shoes of two English courtiers of Richard II, 14th century. One has two different colored shoes and chains hanging from his knees, gold necklace. Hand-painted copy of 14th-century art (c. 1847).

As many as one in three Americans suffer from bunions, those painful bumps that form on the outside of the big toe. Wearing ill-fitting shoes that cramp the toes, or high heels, can make the pain even worse, since they increase pressure on the big toe joint. That doesn’t deter people from wearing them, however. It’s a well-established maxim that sometimes one must suffer in order to be fashionable.

According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, people in the European Middle Ages also suffered in the name of fashion—in this case, shoes with exaggerated pointed toes. University of Cambridge archaeologists studied skeletal remains excavated from Cambridge and found evidence that bunions were far more prevalent in remains from the 14th and 15th centuries than in those from earlier centuries, when more pragmatic footwear was popular. This may, in turn, have increased the risk of suffering fractures from falls.

“We were quite fortunate that we happened to be studying a time period where there was a clear change in shoe fashion somewhere in the middle of our sample,” co-author Piers Mitchell told The Guardian. “People really did wear ridiculously long, pointy shoes, just like they did in [the] Blackadder [TV series].” (You can see series star Rowan Atkinson sporting such shoes below and in this clip from the S1 episode “Born to Be King.”)

Rowan Atkinson's Edmund Blackadder routinely wore dramatically pointed shoes in <em>The Black Adder</em>, the first season of the British series, set in medieval England.
Enlarge / Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder routinely wore dramatically pointed shoes in The Black Adder, the first season of the British series, set in medieval England.

YouTube/BBC

The shoes in question are known as crackows—because they were thought to originate in the capital of Poland—pikes, or poulaines (which can also refer just to the long pointed toe instead of the entire shoe). They came into fashion around 1382, when Richard II married Anne of Bohemia. Both men and women wore them, although the aristocratic men’s shoes tended to have the longest toes, sometimes as long as five inches. The toes were typically stuffed with moss, wool, or horsehair to help them hold their shape. There is evidence in the literature from that period that people sometimes tied the toes up to the leg in order to walk more freely, although no archaeological evidence of the practice has been found.

It was a controversial fashion choice, with one 1388 English poem lamenting that men could no longer kneel in prayer because of the long beaks on their shoes. Charles V of France banned poulaines outright in 1368 in Paris. And by 1463, English King Edward IV was so annoyed by the trend that he passed a law restricting anyone who was not nobility from wearing poulaines of more than two inches. The shoes were banned altogether two years later, and the trend died out completely by 1475 in favor of wide box-toed shoes.

The clinical term for bunions is hallux valgus, in which the joint connecting the big toe to the foot deforms because the big toe is bending too much towards the other toes. What causes this is not entirely clear. Some people might have a genetic propensity to bunions (flat feet, for instance). But the condition can be exacerbated by tight shoes, high heels, and rheumatoid arthritis, among other factors, all of which can affect the biomechanics of how you walk, increasing pressure on the toes. Because the hallux plays a key role in maintaining upper-body stability, that joint deformity can impair balance and lead to an unstable gait pattern. (“Bunionettes” can also form on the outer base of the pinky toe.)

Back in 2005, archaeologist Simon Mays examined the skeletal remains of two British skeleton series; one was from the early medieval period, and the other was from the late medieval period. Mays found evidence of bunions only with the later remains, “consistent with archaeological and historical evidence for a rise in popularity, during the late Medieval period (at least among the richer social classes), of narrow, pointed shoes which would have constricted the toes.”

The Cambridge team decided to apply a similar osteological analysis to its own sampling of remains, since there is evidence that the medieval inhabitants of Cambridge also favored poulaine-tipped shoes by the late 14th century. The researchers also wanted to look at whether there would be a correlation between bunions and fractures likely resulting from falls.

The team examined the skeletal remains of 177 adults, recovered from four cemeteries around Cambridge: 50 from a parish cemetery of All Saints by the Castle; 69 from one by the Hospital of St. John the Evangelist; 21 from one by the Augustinian friary; and 37 from a burial ground associated with Church End in Cherry Hinton. The examination focused on assessing the skeletal elements of the big toe for evidence of bunions. The researchers also looked for evidence of fractures with the objective of establishing a possible link between bunions and injury from falls.

The results: 18 percent of all the skeletons they examined showed evidence of hallux valgus. Among those remains that could be accurately dated, 27 percent of those from the 14th and 15th centuries showed evidence of bunions, compared to just 6 percent of skeletons that were buried between the 11th and 13th centuries. The highest prevalence was found among remains from the friary: 43 percent, compared to just 3 percent for the rural parish cemetery.

“Rules for the attire of Augustinian friars included footwear that was ‘black and fastened by a thong at the ankle,’ commensurate with a lifestyle of worship and poverty,” said Mitchell. “However, in the 13th and 14th centuries it was increasingly common for those in clerical orders in Britain to wear stylish clothes—a cause for concern among high-ranking church officials.”

As for evidence of fractures, the Cambridge team found that fractures consistent with falls were far more common in the remains of those with bunions than those without, as well as being more common in the remains of older people with hallux valgus than those of the same age with normal feet. This is in keeping with modern studies.

“Modern clinical research on patients with hallux valgus has shown that the deformity makes it harder to balance, and increases the risk of falls in older people,” said co-author Jenna Dittmar. “This would explain the higher number of healed broken bones we found in medieval skeletons with this condition.”

“Overall, the findings… would be compatible with the hypothesis that foot problems caused by the adoption of fashionable footwear had an impact on mobility and balance that resulted in an increased risk of falls within the community of medieval Cambridge,” the authors concluded.

However, they acknowledged some limitations to their study. For instance, like similar studies that try to analyze and interpret fractures in human bones, such trauma accumulates over a person’s life. Older people also often experience age-related bone loss, which brings a higher risk of fractures. So the high rate of fractures in the older samples could have had multiple contributing factors, not just falls caused by awkward, pointy-toed shoes.

“A narrow toe box can apply further pressure to the toes and push them into a different shape, much like wearing a corset,” Emma McConnachie, a spokesperson for the College of Podiatry, told The Guardian. “The findings of the Cambridge team highlight these issues have been around for quite some time. It would appear that the fashion choices of the 14th century inflicted similar issues from footwear as we see presenting in clinics today.”

DOI: International Journal of Paleopathology, 2021. 10.1016/j.ijpp.2021.04.012 (About DOIs).

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Metroid Dread brings Nintendo’s classic back as a 2D sequel on October 8

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This year, Nintendo’s long-running Metroid series is getting an entirely new sequel—and not the previously announced Metroid Prime 4 first-person shooter.

Instead, we’re getting Metroid Dread, apparently dubbed Metroid 5 in its debut trailer, launching October 8 exclusively on Nintendo Switch. The funky game title has been hinted at in prior games, and years later, Nintendo itself confirmed it was the name of an in-development 2D game that was eventually canceled. Thus, Dread‘s return today as an official title makes it a particularly nice Easter egg for anyone who has been following the lore of space bounty hunter Samus Aran on her journey to eradicate the Metroid scourge.

As a fully 2D Metroid game, Metroid Dread resembles 2017’s Metroid: Samus Returns, a modern 2D remake of the Game Boy classic Return of Samus. Not just in perspective or aesthetics, either—this year’s new Metroid sequel includes the 2017 game’s melee-swipe ability. And Nintendo has confirmed that Samus Returns‘ developers at MercurySteam are involved this time as well. As a Metroid series sequel, the game also includes new and trippy abilities like a cloak shield—and a few entirely new alien foes.

Following Dread‘s trailer reveal, Nintendo hosted a “development history” presentation about the Metroid series, confirming that Dread will mark an “end” to the mainline series’ story arc. (With Prime 4 still in development, Metroid fans should rest assured that there’s more Aran to come.) Longtime series producer Sakamoto Yoshio confirmed that Nintendo originally began work on a game called Metroid Dread 15 years ago, then paused its development and restarted it a second time before abandoning the idea. The “technology” was not up to snuff for the concept the developers had in mind: a game that features a constant “dread” chasing hero Samus Aran through an entirely new planet.

Among the new foes Aran will face is the E.M.M.I. robot (which you can see in the above gallery), “a research robot owned by the Galactic Federation” that patrols each of the new game’s various zones. As Sakamoto-san said, E.M.M.I. bots are too difficult to kill at first, so Aran will have to avoid the robots to survive. The presentation showed a mix of new and existing power-ups, along with the usual Metroid formula of picking up new power-ups and weapons to return to previous zones and unlock their secrets.

The presentation concluded with a live gameplay demo that suggested a locked 60 fps refresh (along with 30 fps reductions during cinematic cut scenes) and plenty of familiar Metroid 2D action. We’ll be back as soon as possible to let you know whether MercurySteam has pulled off another worthy Metroid entry—especially as handlers of the mainline series’ “final” entry.

Metroid history sequence, with new Metroid Dread footage and details.

Listing image by Nintendo

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