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Zelda has a minus world – TechCrunch

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Listen, everyone. It’s not every day that a new fact comes to light regarding a game that came out more than 30 years ago. And I happen to love it when retro games get broken in fabulous and entertaining ways. So the news that The Legend of Zelda for NES has a minus world like Super Mario Bros. and others hit me like a freight train.

The phenomenon was discovered by YouTuber SKELUX, who starts off his video with a quick explanation of how minus worlds work. If you think about an NES game as a big file, there are places where graphics are stored, sounds and music are described and, of course, level layouts and enemy logic are kept.

As a player, you are expected to navigate the structured parts of this file, namely the game world — level 1, 2, 3, this or that dungeon or town, etc. But there are ways to escape that structure by exploiting flaws in the game’s code, letting you run free in portions of the game’s data that aren’t meant to be “real” levels — yet the game’s engine will interpret the data as best it can, producing in some cases pretty wacky but still navigable levels. This type of thing gets its name from Super Mario Bros., where you could easily warp to a buggy level “-1” and progress from there.

Zelda and other games often use data trickery to get around the natural limitations of 8-bit computing and severely restricted storage space. For instance, did you know that in order to store them more efficiently, Zelda’s dungeons all fit together like giant tiles?

I just about lost my mind when I found out about that. Note that the above is two 16×8 grids set one on top of the other.

As SKELUX explains, the overhead map is similarly divided, except the bottom “half” isn’t actually filled with map data. And although there are cheats that let you walk through walls, the game’s code detects when you reach an invalid map coordinate and returns you to the starting location. But a little hackery takes that safety measure out of play and the result:

A new world!

And a horribly buggy one, as it turns out right from the start. Octoroks are shooting boomerangs out of their snouts; the old man on one screen tells you it’s dangerous to go alone, then next door says “leave your life of money”; a Molblin caterpillar shoots fireballs at you; glitchy inverted witch women swarm the statues of Death mountain; and so on.

It’s a strange, hilarious world, and one that obviously was not crafted but is simply created on the fly by the game’s engine attempting to make sense of the data it’s reading. It isn’t canon.

This type of video game archaeology is endlessly fascinating to me, because it demonstrates both the fragility and the robustness of these venerable pieces of software — and, of course, the enduring love and interest they engender in fans. Another one that recently absorbed my attention was the explanation of parallel dimensions inside Super Mario 64 and how sliding between them lets you beat a level with only half a press of the jump button.

That’s all. Please return to your ordinary lives, which likely seem just a bit more ordinary now that you know one more magical secret of the Legend of Zelda.

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343 shows first Halo Infinite campaign footage in over a year

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The first and last time we saw footage of Halo Infinite‘s campaign mode way back in July of 2020, we were a bit underwhelmed by what we saw. Now, with the game’s delayed launch just a few weeks away, Microsoft and 343 Industries have released a six-minute video showcasing more details of the anticipated sequel’s story and gameplay.

A voiceover confirms that the traditional Halo story following the partnership between Master Chief and Cortana is “now a distant memory” in Infinite. Instead, John-117 is now looking to retrieve and work with a new and extremely uninformed AI codenamed The Weapon. Together, the two will explore Zeta Halo to find an answer to the core questions driving Infinite‘s story: “What happened to Cortana?” and “What did she do that was so wrong?”

The new trailer highlights what the studio says is a campaign structure that offers “more freedom than ever before.” There’s a brief glimpse at a section of the game’s open world “Tacmap,” complete with the kind of color-coded mission markers you’d expect from a different sort of game. Completing some of those missions will grant Master Chief control of Forward Operating Bases, which seem key to advancing the story and offering new perks. Through it all, Master Chief will be pursued by “a sadistic Spartan killer named Jega ‘Rdomnai,” who seems to come from the Covenant’s red-tinted Banished faction.

The trailer also provides a quick peek at a deep upgrade menu, which shows how Master Chief’s abilities will progress. Players can spend “Spartan Cores” on improving both defensive and movement capabilities in categories like the Grapple Shot, Shield Core, Threat Sensor, Drop Wall, and Thruster.

As for the shooting itself, the trailer shows Master Chief using the usual array of guns and explosives, while the new grappleshot helps him grab far-off weapons or drag himself toward enemies for a quick melee attack. We also get a look at some vehicle stations that should let Master Chief hop in a Wasp or Warthog whenever he wants, and there are one-on-one arena battles with some suspiciously boss-like foes.

Halo Infinite is set to launch on December 8, but features like co-op play and the Forge customization suite won’t be coming until later. The separate free-to-play multiplayer mode will also launch that day following an extensive beta for Xbox Insiders a few weeks back.

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Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy on Nov. 11: Cartoonier, flashier, and Game Pass-ier

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Enlarge / Aw, blank, here we go again.

Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy: The Definitive Experience may go down as 2021’s worst-kept secret, but how it would actually look remained surprisingly well-protected until the game’s Friday reveal went live. The new look is visible in a one-minute trailer, which comes with a release date: November 11 for the Xbox console family, PS4/PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC (via the Rockstar Games Launcher).

Today’s reveal video primarily shows the visual top-to-bottom touch-up applied to all three games in the collection (Grand Theft Auto III, GTA Vice City, and GTA San Andreas), with a few “wipe” transitions comparing a vanilla version of each game to its remastered equivalent. The footage largely consists of cut scenes, as opposed to the behind-the-back view of average gameplay, but we still see enough to get a look at Rockstar Games’ bold artistic changes.

Thanks to the trailer’s focus on cinematic scenes, we get a clear view of how Rockstar updated the characters’ bulky, Mickey Mouse-like blob hands to ones with details like individual fingers. In order to include the new additions while remaining true to the games’ original code and animations, Rockstar has opted for a bulbous, cartoony aesthetic, perhaps most visible in the above after-and-before gallery where a mob boss gestures with his hands while sporting a higher-res, cartoonier face. Each shot also makes clear that Rockstar is employing many higher-res textures, higher shadow resolutions, improved ambient occlusion, increased model geometry, and an entirely new staging of both pre-baked and dynamic lighting. What might look off-putting in screenshots comes together much nicer in the trilogy’s full video trailer (embedded at the end of this article).

Additionally, and arguably more crucially, each game’s control suite has been updated to better resemble GTA V, complete with lock-on weapon aiming and custom waypoint mapping. The Nintendo Switch version brings toggleable motion controls and touchscreen support—though we don’t yet know whether that version will favor higher fidelity and resolution or higher frame rates.

PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S owners can expect “up to 60 fps” performance. Sadly, Rockstar has yet to clarify what kind of performance to expect on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. PC owners with Nvidia RTX graphics cards can toggle on DLSS to squeeze more performance out of the trilogy. While today’s footage clearly teases some enhanced and more accurate reflections than the original trilogy, they appear to lean on simpler processing techniques as opposed to current-gen ray tracing systems.

More visible detail across this cityscape will make the trilogy's flying sequences that much prettier (and hopefully suffer from far less object pop-in).
Enlarge / More visible detail across this cityscape will make the trilogy’s flying sequences that much prettier (and hopefully suffer from far less object pop-in).

The trilogy has been ported in full to Unreal Engine 4 by Grove Street Games, a longtime Rockstar support studio with experience porting the game maker’s classics to various consoles and smartphone platforms.

The package costs $60, and there doesn’t appear to be an option to purchase each game separately. However, on the same day that the full trilogy releases, GTA San Andreas: The Definitive Edition will launch as a standalone freebie for paying Xbox Game Pass customers on Xbox consoles. Roughly one month later, on December 7, GTA III: The Definitive Edition will land on Sony’s PlayStation Now service. Physical versions of the trilogy will launch in December, as well, though we’ll be curious to see how much of the Switch version ships on its cartridge and how much will require a follow-up download.

Without a clear look at updates to the UI and general gameplay mechanics, we’re left wondering exactly how much better this $60 package will be than applying many of the available mods to the game’s original PC version. If you have missed our advice earlier this month, your modding dreams may be toast, though—as Rockstar has formally delisted all older versions of the games from storefronts like Steam. (If you had previously bought those games, at least, you can still download, access, and mod the heck out of them.)

GTA Trilogy: The Definitive Edition trailer

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John Carmack pushes out unlocked OS for defunct Oculus Go headset

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Enlarge / Ars’ own Sam Machkovech, shown here modeling the Oculus Go’s bright future.

Oculus may have officially discontinued its low-end Oculus Go headset last year, but the company has one more “official” update to help future-proof the hardware. On Thursday, Oculus released an unlocked build of the Oculus Go operating system, allowing for “full root access” on more than 2 million existing units.

Oculus CTO (and former id Software co-founder) John Carmack announced his plans for this update last month, saying it was something he had “been pushing on for years.” In part, the unlocking is an attempt to guarantee that Go hardware will continue to be fully functional well into the future, allowing for “a randomly discovered shrink wrapped headset twenty years from now [to] be able to update to the final software version, long after over-the-air update servers have been shut down,” Carmack wrote.

Before that, though, the update will allow tinkerers to “repurpose the hardware for more things today,” as Carmack puts it. Go hardware running the unlocked OS will no longer check for a Facebook signature at the kernel level, meaning developers can create new versions of low-level system software or the entire Android-based OS. That could allow for custom versions of low-level features like the app launcher and the removal of otherwise locked system apps. The update also allows for easy sideloading of apps outside of Go’s store interface, though this was already possible on older OS versions.

Welcome to the afterlife

Initially released in 2018, the Go was Oculus’ first fully standalone headset, and it was an important evolution of phone-based VR solutions like Samsung’s Gear VR (which Oculus also worked on). While the Go was well-built and relatively full-featured given its $199 starting price, the hardware was limited by its lack of full positional tracking for the headset and controller. It started to look dated when the more expensive Oculus Quest was released in 2019.

Still, the Go served as a relatively cheap entry point for basic VR use cases and can still serve that purpose today. Used units can be found for as low as $100 on eBay, and now users can be assured they’ll have full access to those legacy units, with the possibility of new homebrew features and support in the future.

More than that, we hope this kind of official unlocking for legacy hardware is a position more companies can get behind from a corporate philosophy perspective. As we wrote when Nintendo shut down online servers for the Wii and Nintendo DS back in 2014:

There’s no reason that continued online support for these consoles should be at the whim of a company that obviously has no financial interest in them anymore. Nintendo and other console and game makers should take steps to release versions of their server code that allow players to run their own online infrastructure after the corporate servers are no longer available.

As a practical matter, though, this can apparently be easier said than done. “I hope this is a precedent for when headsets go unsupported in the future,” Carmack tweeted last month. “But damn, getting all the necessary permissions for this involved SO much more effort than you would expect.”

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