Hitman 3 and AI in Chess
We review January's only big release Hitman 3, as well as hearing how chess computers have become unbeatable - with Woman International Master (WIM) Natasha Regan. Our reporter Alex Rhodes who recently went viral with his pet news bulletin sees if he can handle a dog simulator. Also one gamer retires because of a thumb injury... so we look at his career. If you're a fan of Grim Fandango, there's a remastered version and we take it for a spin, plus after watching too much Harry Potter... Leigh trys to become a witch. With Chris Berrow and Leigh Milner. And Bailey the rabbit.
In this episode
Gaming News for January 2021
Leigh is having a month off... so Chris Berrow takes over the gaming news!
Chris - Ghost of Tsushima was one of the biggest releases of last year… and fans of the game have been raising money… because back in September one of the Torii gates at the Watatsumi Shrine… which is on the actual island of Tsushima… was badly damaged during a typhoon. Thanks to fans of the game, they raised nearly £200,000 to restore the gate… that’s 5 times more money than they needed
KFC have announced a console that will play next generation games… and warm chicken! Lots of us thought the so-called KFConsole was a spoof when it was first announced… but apparently it is real, and it’s being made by a company called CoolerMaster. Here’s hoping they re-release the Playstation 1 classic game adaptation of the film… Chicken Run.
Nintendo have announced a new Mario-themed edition of the Nintendo Switch… which looks nice. The problem is that it’s basically just red and blue... so it could easily be Spider-man themed... or Sonic themed. It’s out in February though. If you have spare money.
A man has been fined for breaking lockdown rules... after travelling 14 miles to play Pokemon Go. Yes really. He drove from Bedworth to look for pokemon in Kenilworth… both places in Warwickshire. He was fined £200 for "contravening the requirement to not leave or be outside the place [you] live without a reasonable excuse". Sometimes you don’t have to catch ‘em all.
07:26 - Games to look out for in 2021
Games to look out for in 2021
Chris Berrow and Leigh Milner look at the best games that are coming out this year.
LM In January… Hitman 3 is coming out… where shockingly you’re a hitman…
CB My phone autocorrects the title of the game to “hotman” did you know that?
CB We’re reviewing that later this episode… on Feb 11th it’s your favourite Little Nightmares II, scary platformer… and by the way you can get a demo of it now on all platforms!
LM And one of your most anticipated remakes of the year… it’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, set for release on 18th March
CB I can’t wait for Pokemon Snap which is a Nintendo Switch Exclusive, where you take pictures of pokemon… maybe that guy from the news who got fined should play this one when it’s out on April 30th
LM There’s a cool first person shooter coming called Deathloop on 21st May which is a PS5 exclusive…
CB If you can get a PS5 before then… just one more to mention… on 22nd June Back 4 Blood is out… which is essentially 4 player co-op zombie-killing fun… think of it as the sequel of Left for Dead 2.
09:25 - Review: Hitman 3
Review: Hitman 3
Chris Berrow and Leigh Milner review the latest Hitman game - Hitman 3.
Chris - There are six new maps. It's the end of the trilogy. So there's the three games there. There's a bit of controversy about whether you can play the previous two games worth of missions in this game.
You have to pay quite a lot for it as well, because you'd get 50 pounds for Hitman 2. And then it's another 25 quid for the back missions as well. So you're looking at 75 quid to play all the missions in the trilogy for three games worth, that's not bad. The only thing I would say at this stage with a game... that is number three of a series where, you know, what you're going to do, you're going to kill bad guys in an unusual way. You can drag their bodies away, hide them, change into their clothes and sneak around stuff like that. And the animations though, when let's say you hit someone with a hammer, a little bit jerky, when you're opening a door, he sort of slightly teleports to the position. And I think at this point after all this time, that really should be fixed, but it's a lot of fun. There's no other games out at the moment. I give it a solid 7. If you're a fan of the series, you've got to go get it. It's available now on all platforms for 50 quid plus 25 ish.
AI in Chess
Natasha Regan, Woman International Master
Chris Berrow talks to Natasha Regan, Woman International Master (WIM) about the latest developments in chess AI.
Natasha - So it's very interesting. So this was built by DeepMind, and it was called AlphaZero because it had zero human knowledge in it. So the traditional engines might've been told the value of a Queen is such and such but AlphaZero was different. It was a sort of self-taught. So it didn't know the rules of chess. What it did was then play, 44 million games at lightning fast speed against itself starting completely random. So at first, most of the games would end in a draw because it didn't really know anything about chess and couldn't really make any progress, but by chance, some games would be decisive. And then what it would do is then look at the kind of moves that had played, where it had won and try and play a little bit more like that, and look at the moves where it's a lost cause it was playing against itself and try and play a little bit less than that. And so then it would kind of play more and more and then build up a picture of what patterns were good for it. And it was phenomenally successful.
Chtis - Does it spoil any of the games to have a computer that's almost unbeatable because I saw a quote from one, I think it's a Danish chess Grandmaster who said it's like playing against, uh, an alien, you know, it's just so good that you almost can't beat it as a human, but does that, does that ruin chess or does that become the aspiration for human players?
Natahsa - It's kind of, there's this, there's lots of things to that question. And this is kind of brought new possibilities that we didn't know about on the chess board. I mean, actually in chess for a little while, computers have been stronger than humans, so there was some famous much of Kasparov against deep blue. It was two year, two series match and Kasperov on the first and then Deep Blue on the second. So, and then after that computers have got a lot stronger. Um, so, so it kind of people are used to using computers as a tool to help them play tests as opposed to trying to, to beat them anymore, just because they're so strong. Actually in our online world now it's quite nice having the computers in terms of spectating chess, because you've got a lot of chess going on online at the moment and what you can do, watching a big tournament is if you want to see whether someone's winning the game, you can have a look kind of at the computer evaluation and see how strong the position is.
19:48 - How to learn remotely using your console
How to learn remotely using your console
Dr Chris Headleand, University of Lincoln
Dr Chris Headleand from the University of Lincoln talks us through accessing learning resources via your games console.
Chris H - If you don’t have a laptop to spare, or you have two kids and only one computer, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can access learning materials through the PlayStation and Xbox, and it’s a lot easier than you might think!
First of all you need to connect your console to the internet. This can either be done by plugging in the ethernet cable to the back… or by connecting through wifi.
Once you’ve connected, you need to head to a browser on the console, so that you can access the learning materials that you need.
On the Playstation look for an app with the letters “www” and that should take you to an internet browser.
On the Xbox… go to 'My Games and Apps' and then scroll down to 'Apps'. Under your apps you should see one that has a white 'e' on a blue background (the Microsoft Edge symbol), this is the Xbox's web browser.
If you don't want to use your console’s controller, because let’s face it… it takes a long time to type anything… plug in a USB keyboard and mouse into the ports on the front or back of the console and they should immediately be picked up.
Now you’re ready to go, and you can use your Xbox or Playstation as a way of accessing educational materials… happy learning!
22:35 - Retro Revival: Grim Fandango Remastered
Retro Revival: Grim Fandango Remastered
Is the remastered version of Grim Fandango, with a real orchestra now, worth playing? Chris Berrow has a review.
Chris - This is from DoubleFine games. They make quirky games like Brutal Legend, starring Jack Black, as a kind of rock god - perfect role for him. Also, they have a game called Psychonauts that you might've played.
They have some of the original, most amazing games to PlayStation. This one was first released in 1998, and it was the first adventure game to use 3D computer graphics for this particular company. And they put it over kind of still backgrounds. It's been remastered for the Xbox. And so in Grim Fandango, you are the Grim Reaper. It's a fun story in a sense. It's very funny. It's a bit like Monkey Island, where you put your sort of points and click your way around and you arrive at a crazy character. The controls are fiddly but it's a lot of fun, and for only £5 it's well worth buying.
25:32 - The Uncanny Valley, why some games are scary
The Uncanny Valley, why some games are scary
Angela Tinwell, University of Bolton
When we play a video game, what we see matters, and not always in the way we expect. For example have you ever seen a character’s face and felt uneasy? Sometimes things are wrong in ways that we can’t quite put our finger on. That might work against a game, but in special cases, it can work for it. Angela Tinwell from the University of Bolton looks at one facet of this, called the “Uncanny Valley” and she spoke to Chris Berrow…
Angela - Well, the idea of the Uncanny was first introduced by Ernst Jentsch in the early 20th century. And he described the Uncanny as an eerie sensation when you can't distinguish between what's alive or dead, what may be real or unreal. For example, of a tall waxwork doll, a crafted child's toy, or automator, and building on this, Freud actually described the Uncanny as an eerie sensation, or what might be unfamiliar when we see an object and it actually reminds us of our own death, or what might be repressed in ourselves or in others. Now, Mori, a Japanese roboticist in the late 1970s, he took this idea forward, because he observed with regards to robot design, engineers were including mechanical robots in the workplace, but people were developing more and more life-like androids, with synthetic skin, hair and flesh over the mechanical parts. But rather than having an increased affinity or likeability towards these new android designs, people actually suddenly took an instant dislike or repulsion towards them. And he actually coined this theory the Uncanny Valley, because we actually have a linear ascent with regards increased human likeness and perceived familiarity or likeability, for example, with a robot toy that emotes like a human that may have eyes, and a smile, and torso, and limbs. But as soon as we approach android designs, pushing the boundaries of true, of near human likeness, we take this sudden aversion towards them. And Mori placed things such as corpses, zombies, prosthetic hands, in this nadir of this Uncanny Valley with a human safely on the other side
Chris B - So interesting isn't it. And you've already explained my fear of dolls, and wooden toys, and things like that. But I want to ask you, so you mentioned video games and zombies is something that's so hugely included in video games nowadays. And I suppose, kind of scary horror games. What is it about the face specifically that people start to feel uneasy about? I suppose is it the eyes, mostly, the emotion comes from the eyes?
Angela - It actually comes down to, the best way to describe it, is Frankenstein's Monster, where we perceive a lack of movement in the brows, the forehead, and distinctly around the eyes, and the upper facial region. And that's important because we really do read a lot of non-verbal communication from another person's face, because the mouth might be involved in speech. And we rely on the upper face to give us an idea of what someone's feeling, thinking, and how they may respond to occurrences that are happening around them. And without this nonverbal feedback in the upper face, we might perceive that the lights are on, but no one's actually home in that character, but we can't perceive, or predict, what they're going to be doing, and when. And that makes us really uncomfortable.
Chris B - Well, I want to come on to how that might actually be useful for certain types of video games, but just before that, I've been playing on one of the biggest releases today, Cyberpunk 2077, one of the biggest releases of the year, the Last of us Part 2 as well, they are games which have very good facial capture, and motion capture. Is that one way that these huge companies are actually trying to tackle this problem?
Angela - Absolutely. You've got more and more sophisticated, high density, facial motion capture techniques that are being introduced to the game's animation, particularly with pre-rendered video footage that's played in games. And even in real time footage, the facial expression and emotive qualities of characters is improving. And you mentioned Cyberpunk 2077. That has received a lot of criticism in the last few days, but I would say that there are few small triumphs in the actual game. In that, for example, Claire, a character who plays a bartender, the upper facial expression, actually matches the emotive tones of her speech. And you can see that there's a lot of theory and conceptual thinking going on, by the way that her brow creases, and you have these emblems in her brows, moving up and down, that matches the tonation of her speech. The lip synchronisation is very good for that character, and she really draws you in and is very engaging. So I would say that, Claire the bartender is particularly successful with regards to facial expression in that game.
Chris B - The way that these motion captures and faces and the fact that sometimes they can look a bit unusual is actually something that can feed in very well to horror games. One that my wife has been enjoying loads recently is something called Little Nightmares, where you're a little kid running around essentially, and there's these evil creatures. And as you look at their faces, they sort of don't move, and they look almost like jagged, and the mouth will move, but the eyes will stay stationary. I imagine that actually in this instance, game designers will be tapping into this Uncanny Valley and using it to their advantage?
Angela - Absolutely. If a face is inanimate, or it has an aberrant facial expression, we may be reminded of death, which of course gives us quite uncomfortable feelings. If a game designer wanted to exaggerate the uncanny in a zombie type character, then based on the empirical experiments that I've done, I would definitely say reduce movement in the upper face, including the eyes, the eyebrows and the forehead, so that the character may have a Botox like effect, a grey or dull colour skin tone also would increase how antipathetic the character may seem. And also with regards to lip movement and speech, a distinct lack of synchrony between lip movement and speech does exaggerate the Uncanny, particularly if the speech is played before we see lip movement.
33:25 - Simulator of the Month: Dog Simulator Puppies
Simulator of the Month: Dog Simulator Puppies
Alex Rhodes, Naked Gaming Podcast
Can Alex Rhodes use his new found fame as a pet whisperer, to tackle a dog simulator?
THIS ONE IS A MUST LISTEN!
38:01 - Simulator of the Month: Wizard Race 3D
Simulator of the Month: Wizard Race 3D
Leigh Milner, Naked Gaming Podcast
Leigh Milner channels her inner witch, to play Wizard Race 3D.
So basically we start on a, on a broom. The wizard is pretty basic. Let's just put it that way. So, uh, I'm just gonna hi, supposed to know which way to go. I don't know where I'm flying to. There's just sky and green, a green mass below me. So it looks a little bit like the quidditch uh, whew. Oh, I've broken the game. Oh, it's having a bit of a nightmare. If you crash into the wall, it kind of just, it can't take it. So I'm basically flying, moving my wizards, moving my wizard with my finger. It's a bit of a weird thing to say, isn't it? Um, and then I'm flying him through the hoops. I see, uh, you're flying in the very exotic place. It's like the Caribbean, perhaps the Maldives who knows is a lockdown. He shouldn't be doing this, unless it's for work purposes.
Anyway. Sorry. I digress. So you've got to fly through these hoops. Oh, Chris is pointing to me. Fly through the hoop that's flashing. All right. Lots of hoops. This is my review. Not your review. Okay. Um, so as you fly through the rings, the ones that are kind of flashing, it does help you direct it a little bit better. It's really boring though. Like most games Chris gives me, Oh, that's it. And that's level completed. So basically if you want the ultra cheap version of the Harry Potter game and you want to see what it's like to fly a broom in the Caribbean, get this game.
40:34 - Why sound matters in video games
Why sound matters in video games
Adam Murphy, The Naked Scientists
Adam Murphy's been taking a look at how important what you hear can be when enjoying a video game, and how hard that can be to make as the game gets bigger and bigger, as he found out when he spoke to Paul Weir from EarCom, and audio Chief for the game No Man's Sky...
Adam - Games aren't just pushing buttons. The music in a game can be vital for setting a mood. You know you’re walking into a boss fight when the music gets uncomfortably intense. The problem though, is at any given time the player could be doing anything, walking in the right direction, enjoying the scenery, leaving their character motionless while they get a cup of tea, so how do you get the music right? I spoke to Paul Weir, video game music composer from EarCom, and Audio Chief for the game No Man’s Sky about how you make music for a video game.
Paul - I guess, as a composer, you know, you're trying to find those key moments, and the overall tone, you have the difference with film is all those moments in film are engineered for you and laid out for you. You can't really often do that in games. So you're looking for just those key moments where you can inject a certain feel, certain type of emotion, and often they may be very specific. It may be like in No Man's Sky. First time you leave a planet after building your spaceship. So it's just allowing the game to breathe and injecting those moments with a certain key emotion.
Adam - No Man’s Sky is a procedurally generated game, that means as you rocket around space in your ship, the game builds the galaxy as you go using random number generators, and some very sophisticated algorithms. That means no two players will see the same planets, or have exactly the same experience. So how do you match music for a game that everyone experiences differently, and you don’t play easy listening jazz during a big fight? Well, you use something called generative music.
Paul - Generative music. I mean it to be that you use rules, so probabilistic rules that are imposed on small, granular elements of music. So it may be a simple phase, maybe a bar loop, or like a base phase. Deconstructing the music into its components and then reconstructing it live based on certain rules that you've created. It may be "play a melody, every X number of seconds from a pool of say, 200 melodies." So it really requires you as a composer, to work in a different way, to work in a much more kind of modular, nonlinear way. It's like a recipe. You're creating all the components putting in all the ingredients. But instead of baking it before the game, you're letting the game create it for you. And then often drawing information from the game, in order to control what plays, how it plays, what the combinations are, when the changes happen. And that can be very powerful because you're reacting to what the player's doing, or what the game environment is doing. So it feels much more reactive to a player.
Adam - What gives it an impact though? How do you create emotion ahead of time with just the pieces of music?
Paul - It's hard to create those engineered emotional moments. So what you need to do is create the opportunity for those moments to happen without necessarily hard-wiring them. In No Man's Sky you may happen to be on a planet that generates beautiful sunsets, and you may happen to be there at the right time on a mountain to see that sunset, and to you, that feels very personal. It somehow connects with you because you're the only person to have ever seen that sunset on that planet. And the music is the same, maybe 80% of the time, it just exists and it's supporting the game. It's fine. It's not doing anything particularly spectacular, but there are those few moments where everything comes together, and it's random, but we've allowed those random opportunities to happen. And when they do happen, they're very powerful.
Adam - And if everyone plays for long enough, they'll run into one of those moments.
Paul - So that's the beauty of a procedural game. Everyone does have those moments and it has those stories to tell, and their stories are very individual. And that's, I think that's one of the really powerful things about procedural games. You know, everyone's experience is slightly different. Everyone tends to be very proud of those moments that they find. They'll game capture them, whereas a game which is much more linear, you know, everyone's experience is essentially the same. It doesn't mean it's any less fun, but it's a different kind of personal experience.
45:35 - The gamer who retired with a thumb injury
The gamer who retired with a thumb injury
How can a gamer retire with a thumb injury at the age of 25? And what next for ZooMaa? Chris Berrow explains.
It sounds a bit silly, doesn't it? That a thumb injury could take you out from playing computer games, but actually it's quite an interesting story. And this guy had a really interesting career. Imagine playing computer games with a controller for eight hours a day. So it's not just like sitting at a desk, you can have a little screen break, these elite athletes, and they really are. Elite athletes have been training on a computer, sitting there on a video game console for eight hours a day.
Now imagine the strain on your thumbs, particularly cause this "ZooMaa" he's a controller player and he plays one of the biggest games of all time Call of Duty, which is a first person shooter. And how that works is you're in a team of people, let's say six people in some competitions, you're going head to head with other, uh, other teams and you need to have the reactions of a cat. You need to be able to move out the way, dodge, run, you know, snipe people from a distance. It's all about having extremely quick reactions. Now he's a very elite player. He's been training for eight years, which is actually quite a long time. And this thumb injury is exactly as you might expect. It's a repetitive strain injury that he's had for many years, actually he's even had surgery on his thumb in order to actually get himself back to the top level of competition. So I think he struggled back and came back to kind of, uh, approaching the top of his game, but this problem just simply hasn't gone away. So sadly today, at 25 years old, he's retiring from professional gaming,