All posts by Ars Staff

Persona 3’s ending made me appreciate all of life’s little endings

Enlarge / It's hard to tell from this promo image, but this game is a poignant meditation on friendship and death.

It was easier for me to walk away from Persona 3 than I expected. The game about nine friends and a dog—which celebrates its tenth anniversary in the States this year—follows a similar arc to most role-playing games. That means the gang of plucky young people ultimately saves the world. Yet its 21st century characters and setting made Persona 3 far more relatable and endearing to me than the high-flying heroes of Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger. It helps, too, that this was the series' first game to sport a now-signature blend of dating sim and turn-based dungeon crawling.

Playing Persona 3, I felt I was experiencing the first game designed to let me take my time. Whether that meant meeting up with a friend for kendo practice or hanging out with a couple of elderly used booksellers, there was nearly always something more digestible, recognizable, and less world-shatteringly urgent to do than fighting gods and monsters. It's the kind of stuff that let me inhabit a game's world for a bit rather than simply tour through it. Tearing up specters and saving the Earth from supernatural threats is fun, but it’s a bit harder to relate to in a way that feels like my real life.

By the end of the game, I was nearly as attached to the city of Iwatodai and its inhabitants as I've ever been to a real place. The downside is that this made it that much harder to eventually say goodbye to those virtual sights I saw and friends I made along the way. What made that goodbye easier was a special, quiet message before the closing credits—one that reminds me how to accept the end of comfort and friendship even today.

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Sand worms and lightning: Aven Colony takes city-building to exoplanets

Enlarge (credit: NASA/Getty Images)

Humans have consumed our world’s resources as if they were infinite. Earth remains, however, a finite planet. Without significant structural and behavioural change—the sort that is difficult to effect en masse— the long-term consequences of our self-sabotaging choices appear grave. In a forthcoming BBC documentary titled Expedition New Earth the English physicist Stephen Hawking estimates that we may have only 100 years to colonise a new planet in order to escape our species' extinction.

It's a daunting challenge. Aside from the mechanical issue of a planetary emigration, there's the issue of where the hell do we go? The moon is an uninhabitable orb of rock where, at night, temperatures can drop below minus 200 degrees Celsius, low enough to freeze-weld steel. Mars isn't much more appealing. Its air is unbreathable. Its soil is toxic.

For centuries astronomers suspected that there may other planets beyond the eight found in our own solar system that, just maybe, could sustain human life. It wasn't until 1992 that there was a confirmed discovery of a so-called exoplanet, which was found using high-power telescopes and spectrometer technology. More than 3,600 exoplanets have been discovered since. In recent years computer algorithms have been able to sift through much of the huge amount of data collected by various exoplanet-hunting satellites and telescopes, leading to, most recently, the discovery of three potentially life-sustaining planets in the relatively close TRAPPIST-1 system.

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The tragedy of FireWire: Collaborative tech torpedoed by corporations

Enlarge / In retrospect, perhaps our favorite port logo. (credit: Flickr user jeremybrooks)

The rise and fall of FireWire—IEEE 1394, an interface standard boasting high-speed communications and isochronous real-time data transfer—is one of the most tragic tales in the history of computer technology. The standard was forged in the fires of collaboration. A joint effort from several competitors including Apple, IBM, and Sony, it was a triumph of design for the greater good. FireWire represented a unified standard across the whole industry, one serial bus to rule them all. Realized to the fullest, FireWire could replace SCSI and the unwieldy mess of ports and cables at the back of a desktop computer.

Yet FireWire's principal creator, Apple, nearly killed it before it could appear in a single device. And eventually the Cupertino company effectively did kill FireWire, just as it seemed poised to dominate the industry.

The story of how FireWire came to market and ultimately fell out of favor serves today as a fine reminder that no technology, however promising, well-engineered, or well-liked, is immune to inter- and intra-company politics or to our reluctance to step outside our comfort zone.

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Hour of Devastation spoiler: Sink your fangs into this new split card

Wizards of the Coast

Driven to Despair. Have fun trying to turn your head through 90 degrees.

Driven to Despair. Have fun trying to turn your head through 90 degrees.

Magic's new expansion Hour of Devastation is almost here, and we have a new split card to show you ahead of the set's release. Take a look at Driven to Despair.

As an Aftermath card, Driven and Despair are played as separate spells—once from your hand, and then from your graveyard—but they can be chained together on the same turn to take advantage of their innate synergy. As both are sorceries—available only in your own turn—they can be used to build a crushing attack that leaves you ahead on cards as well as damage.

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Hour of Devastation spoiler: Sink your fangs into this new split card

Wizards of the Coast

Driven to Despair. Have fun trying to turn your head through 90 degrees.

Driven to Despair. Have fun trying to turn your head through 90 degrees.

Magic's new expansion Hour of Devastation is almost here, and we have a new split card to show you ahead of the set's release. Take a look at Driven to Despair.

As an Aftermath card, Driven and Despair are played as separate spells—once from your hand, and then from your graveyard—but they can be chained together on the same turn to take advantage of their innate synergy. As both are sorceries—available only in your own turn—they can be used to build a crushing attack that leaves you ahead on cards as well as damage.

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The pitfalls and potential of inexpensive 3D scanning solutions

The odd documentary, feature article, or typical marketing hype may make you think that today's 3D scanning can perfectly capture the real world, but that's only true with expensive, professional equipment (not to mention considerable editing and post-processing). Generally, current consumer versions of 3D scanners produce decidedly modest results.

Still, personal 3D scanning has made great strides in recent years. And though it continues to take a backseat (in market- and mind-share) to 3D printing, 3D scanning has grown into a technological revolution worth exploring all on its own. So let's look closer at two of the main personal 3D scanning categories available: software- or hardware-based solutions that work with equipment you may already have and hardware-based solutions that are mostly self-contained. As a bonus, we'll also look at services where you can view and store 3D models, as well as ways to turn your 3D models back into physical objects.

While it's impossible to provide an exhaustive look at the ever-growing number of 3D scanning products, this selection of solutions should provide a solid overview of what's currently possible and where this technology might be headed next.

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Knee-deep in the dead: Doom the board game reviewed

Enlarge

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com—and let us know what you think.

Of all the video game franchises in all the genres in all the world, Doom is perhaps one of the strangest choices to turn into a board game. While it didn’t quite invent the first-person shooter, the first Doom—which came out in 1993 and is therefore older than most current pop stars—totally revolutionized gaming, sending players scrambling through endless gun-metal corridors, shooting the hell out of menacing pixel clusters that vaguely resembled demons. Can that experience be replicated in a top-down board game?

(credit: FFG)

I was 10 when Doom appeared, and it made me thoroughly motion-sick—an affliction that continues to this day. The more leisurely turn-based experience of the new board game version is thus the perfect way for me to enjoy the Doom experience without a constant need to barf, even though the board game is mechanically different in every way from its video game predecessor.

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Some of the best art on Twitter comes from these strange little bots

Michael Christophersson

On Twitter, bad news comes at all hours, with the latest political scandal chasing the most recent military action. The site is an informational storm surge, and it's tempting to log off forever. But I’ve found another strategy for coping with the deluge: I follow a small army of artistically inclined Twitter bots, peculiar creations that intermittently populate my dispiriting feed with subtly strange images. Scattered amongst the day’s more troubling reports, they provide brief moments of solace—soothing without suppressing real facts.

Call them the social media version of escapism. They're like kitten pictures, except they're built from code instead of fluff.

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VPC’s MongoosT-50 joystick: A rare Russian-style controller for skies or space

Enlarge / The MongoosT-50 stick in a Warthog base, left, compared to a standard Thrustmaster Warthog stick at right. (credit: Lee Hutchinson)

I had an epiphany when Ars Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson asked me to review the VPC MongoosT-50 flight stick grip, which he had sitting on his desk awaiting its turn at the front of the review queue. As I removed the mounting plate of my Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog from its place on the right side of my VolaireSim cockpit, I looked over at the empty space it had occupied, then at the handmade Eastern European MFG Crosswind rudder pedals nestled at the base of my cockpit, and then to the HTC Vive and its now-dusty Oculus DK2 predecessor hanging off the side of my nearby desk.

The epiphany was this: Lee had pulled me down into his special crazy place where dropping hundreds of dollars on flight sim accessories, all to play a single game, seemed like a totally normal and sane thing to do.

This time around, the newest shiny in my office isn’t shiny at all, it's rather a svelte matte black: the VPC MongoosT-50 BE Grip, the Black Edition of the new company’s freshman-effort flight sim controller. Unlike most flight sticks for sale on the US market, which tend to be based with varying levels of verisimilitude on US fighter aircraft control columns, the MongoosT-50 is built to mirror the control stick on Russian aircraft—specifically, the fifth-generation Russian Sukhoi Su-35 and PAK FA (T-50). Few existing peripheral manufacturers offer Eastern-style controls, so this stick from Belarus-based VirPil Controls (VPC) is a bit of a rarity.

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Security-obsessed wait, but can AI learn to spot the face of a liar?

(credit: Bill Couch)

In 2009, 22-year-old student Nicholas George was going through a checkpoint at Philadelphia International Airport when Transportation Security Administration agents pulled him aside. A search of his luggage turned up flashcards with English and Arabic words. George was handcuffed, detained for hours, and questioned by the FBI.

George had been singled out by behavior-detection officers—people trained in picking out gestures and facial expressions that supposedly betrayed malicious intentions—as part of a US program called Screening Passengers by Observation Technique or SPOT. But the officers were wrong in singling him out, and George was released without charge the same day.

As the incident may suggest, SPOT produced very little useful information throughout its decade-long history. And in light of the technique's failures, some computer scientists have recently concluded a machine could do a better job with this task than humans. But the machine techniques they intend to use share a surprising history with SPOT’s training procedures. In fact, both can be traced back to the same man—Paul Ekman, now an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California.

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