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av, bendstudios, daysgone, gaming, hands-on, open-world, ps4, Tech, zombies, zurvival

This game is Far Cry but with zombies. It’s the same mission-driven narrative that studios have been leveraging since the release of Vice City and, quite honestly, I’m getting rather over it.

You play as Deacon St. John, a biker living in the American Northwest with a name that the Sons of Anarchy writers would have rejected for being too on the nose. As the survivor of a pandemic that has transformed a large portion of the US population into undead killing machines, St. John must undertake a number of Sisyphean tasks to not only survive but also slowly unravel the mysteries of the outbreak. You know, just like Horizon Zero Dawn.

Also similar to HZD is the game’s scrap collection mechanic wherein you collect detritus from the environment, using it to repair or upgrade your weapons and motorcycle. The motorcycle is an interesting choice for a primary vehicle. While it proved useful for navigating narrow tracks in the Oregon wilderness and roads clogged with disabled vehicles, it is far less than adequate when attempting to splatter zombies while on the move. There’s the whole lack of doors thing, sure, but during my demo I found the bike to be rather delicate and in need of regular repair. Combined with a limited fuel range, you can be sure you’ll be continually scrounging for gas and spare parts as you play. Which is always fun and not an unnecessary hassle at all.

The game progression is really straightforward. You talk to various characters to unlock missions, you complete said missions for monetary and XP rewards, you use that money and experience to unlock new skills, upgrade stats, get bigger and badder weapons. Rinse and repeat.

During my demo I played through a pair of missions: One to raid a mobile hospital for supplies to revive an ailing friend, the other to clear out a nest of human saboteurs who kept fiddling with the region’s radio towers. Since the action takes place only an hour into the storyline, these missions were pretty easy.

In the first one, I simply had to find a can of gas to restart the hospital’s generator and gain access to loot the supplies. Thankfully quest items in the game are generally where you’d expect to find them in real life. The gas can, for example, can be found at a nearby gas station or on the back of abandoned tow trucks. This mission also served as an introduction to the game’s melee combat system, which in my case involved beating a trio of shamblers (zombies) to re-death with a broken table leg. Not going to lie, it was extremely cathartic.

The assault mission was a bit more challenging since my opponents A) were fully functional humans B) outnumbered me 7 to 1 and C) were armed with assault rifles. I’m going to assume you could sneak through, quietly assassinating the saboteurs to thin their ranks as you go. My tactic of running full speed through the camp while wildly firing a handgun at them proved less than effective.

I did notice a troubling issue with the frame rate while playing, specifically that it would jitter and freeze if too many things were happening on-screen. It’s irritating when I’m just panning the camera around as I run through a field, but it’s infuriating when I’m trying to pry a zombie off my shoulder or line up a shot on a moving target. It detracts from what is otherwise a really visually appealing game. Granted, the game is still in development and isn’t scheduled to be released until 2019 so there’s still plenty of time to work out the performance issues, but all those scenic vistas and clever character details are useless if they overload the system and impede gameplay.

The well-tread gameplay mechanics and story progression structure might not innovate, but the game was still pretty enjoyable. I really dug that the undead are attracted to noise, requiring a degree of stealth when moving near them — something that is surprisingly difficult to maintain when you’re blasting through the woods on a flippin’ Harley and starting up electric generators that rattle like jet turbines.

However, that alone isn’t enough to make Days End stand out from the increasingly crowded zombie survival genre. It needs an emotional hook, something that will get players to empathize with the characters. Dead Rising had its gallows humor, for example, The Last of Us tugged at our heart strings, and Lollipop Chainsaw combined joyous, gratuitous violence with heavy doses of pop culture references.

Don’t get me wrong, Days Gone looks to be a perfectly entertaining open-world adventure game. It just didn’t immediately capture my imagination like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Dead Rising or God of War did. That’s not to say that I won’t pick it up when it comes out because, again, killing zombies is kinda my jam — just that it’d better have one heck of a compelling storyline to help carry the otherwise unremarkable gameplay.

All images: Bend Studios

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av, Entertainment, listings, mustseehdtv, Tech, thematrix

This week the NBA and NHL playoffs get ready to jump to their final rounds, but the big release is an old one: The Matrix in 4K on Ultra HD Blu-ray and streaming. Netflix drops in WHCD comedian Michelle Wolf with a new weekly show Sunday morning, after releasing a new Tig Notaro special. For gamers, on PS4 we have two notable additions, as the free H1Z1 beta gives it a console battle royale exclusive to match Xbox One’s PUBG, and David Cage’s Detroit: Become Human arrives. Look after the break to check out each day’s highlights, including trailers and let us know what you think (or what we missed).

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av, Entertainment, kangao, rpg, Tech, tothemoon, tothemoonhd

Gao did not reveal who was financing the movie, other than to say it has Chinese funding and there’s a “pretty significant” budget in place — one that’s higher than that of animated hit Your Name. The bulk of the production will be carried out in Japan, Gao says, with major Japanese companies involved. “Those familiar with the animation industry will probably have heard of them,” he noted.

He will be involved in writing, editing and supervising the script, while those involved will try their best “to keep the original soul of the game intact.” Gao and his studio Freebird Games, meanwhile, are working on their next game, which is “quite bonkers.”

As ever with these type of announcements, it’s worth remembering that the adaptation is in its early stages of production, and it may be a long time before it hits screens, even if all goes well. In the meantime, if you’re not sure what all the fuss is about and want to try To The Moon, it’s available on Steam, Android and iOS.

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65t, audio, av, earbuds, elite65t, gear, headphones, jabra, review, Tech, truewireless, Wireless

Before my time with the Elite 65t, the Bose SoundSport Free changed my mind about wireless earbuds. The sets I’d used before were fine, but they weren’t compelling enough for me to drop my wireless over-ear headphones for a set of earbuds. The issues I encountered are common among true wireless headphones: the two buds would regularly lose connection with each other, or had super-limited range. The audio also didn’t wow me. If I’m going to wear wireless earbuds to the gym, they have to have full sound, with a decent amount of bass to help me keep the energy up. Bose did that for the most part, and it was the first time I realized I should give totally wireless earbuds another shot.

Enter Jabra. The company’s Elite 65t are compact and nestle neatly in your ear. Unlike the SoundSport Free and AirPods, they don’t stick out too far. You won’t look silly, and you also don’t have to worry about getting hung when taking off your warm-ups. The 65t are also comfortable, unless you wear them for a while without a break — it’s around the hour mark that the Elite 65t starts to bother me. But I haven’t found wireless earbuds yet that I could wear with absolutely no discomfort. I chalk that up to having something stuck in your ear rather than a large padded earcup encircling it. There’s only so much you can do.

The Elite 65t are all black, with a silver face. On both buds, there’s a circular area on the outside that houses onboard controls. A small arm-like piece juts out from there, holding the set’s microphones. The right bud handles play/pause and summoning Siri or Google Assistant, while the left can adjust volume (short press) and skip tracks (long press). These controls are handy, but it still means pushing them further into your ear when you press. I quickly discovered that you can hold that arm to make it slightly better. It’s not a deal-breaker, but just know you’re going to feel some pressure when you employ those controls.

Like several other wireless earbuds and headphones, the Jabra Elite 65t will automatically pause when you remove one or both from your ears. Sure, it’s a common feature, but that doesn’t make it any less handy. Ditto for the included charging case. Jabra promises five hours of battery life for the earbuds and another 10 hours banked in the case, for 15 hours total. I never tested the five-hour limit, as I plopped them back in the case after each use; however, I only had to charge the whole package about once a week, and I was using them for at least a little while every day. And on gym days they got extra use, because they’re dust- and sweat-resistant (IP55-rated). Basically, battery life shouldn’t be a concern for you here unless you plan to wear them continuously during an eight-hour workday.

As much as I liked Bose’s SoundSport Free, that set had a serious bug where the audio wouldn’t sync properly when I was watching video. I was concerned that the Elite 65t would have the same glitch. I’m happy to report that’s not the case. With Jabra’s set, I had no issues watching The Handmaid’s Tale or The Looming Tower on my phone or laptop. Again, it sounds like a simple thing, but it’s an issue that many totally wireless earbuds still suffer from.

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av, basketball, documentary, Entertainment, espn, michaeljordan, netflix, sports, streaming, Tech

The longform series will apparently debut on both Netflix and ESPN sometime next year. Director Jason Hehir is handling directing duties. Most recently, he examined the life of another larger than life athlete for HBO, Andre the Giant. Jordan is fully involved with the picture, and the filmmakers have some 500 hours of previously unreleased game tape from the ’97/’98 championship run on tap. Could it be the next great sports binge? Perhaps.

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ajandthequeen, av, Entertainment, netflix, rupaul, services, Tech, tv, video

Netflix just snagged itself a new comedy series starring RuPaul. AJ and the Queen centers on a drag queen named Ruby Red (RuPaul) who travels across the country in an old RV performing in different clubs along the way. By her side is AJ, an orphaned, scrappy 11-year-old and as they travel, Ruby spreads messages of love and acceptance, helping people she comes across as she moves from city to city.

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art, av, design, Entertainment, Tech

The vessel appears near the start of the movie when Thor, the god of thunder, is picked up by the comical and endearing Guardians of the Galaxy. The scene opens with Peter “Star-Lord” Quill and the rest of his ragtag team singing along to “Rubberband Man” by the Spinners. All of the crew members are slumped in chairs with a slew of screens around them. These exotic control panels are the tip of Territory’s contributions, which spanned tables, door air locks and a spherical escape pod.

The company’s mission was to reinvent the UI — and by extension, the larger look and feel — of the Guardians’ moving home. It was a small piece of the movie but an important one to quickly convey how the group had been living since the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. All the screens have a blue, purple and green color palette, with the occasional dash of red and white to highlight important controls and information. They’re clearly alien, designed by or for a race that didn’t originate on Earth.

Charles Wood, the production designer on Infinity War, asked the team to avoid modern interface conventions and, in particular, any form of symmetry. That’s because the set itself was largely symmetrical; the Guardians sit in three rows of two and later gather around a single table at the center of the ship. Instead, Wood wanted everything to have a high level of abstraction and therefore seem otherworldly. That meant developing controls and visualizing data in a way that wouldn’t look familiar or be easily understood by the viewer.

The screens needed to provide some context, though, for the crew members and their roles aboard the ship. That meant making them readable — not literally but visually — at a glance. The six chairs, known collectively as the bridge, were all given distinct roles: pilot, co-pilot, a pair of engineers and gunners. The pilot and co-pilot have multiple screens for navigation, full of two- and three-dimensional maps. The gunners have screens for ammunition and aiming while the engineers have schematics and other graphics related to the Benatar‘s structural integrity. As the viewer, you can deduce what each screen is for but not necessarily how to control it.

Territory also worked on screens for the ship’s galley. The set required a number of screens on either side of the room, three landscape displays in the table used to examine Thor, and all the door air lock controls. Finally, the team designed the control panels for the escape pod at the rear of the ship as well as a heads-up display that was added later in VFX. The colors supported the cooler tones and neutral lighting that directors Anthony and Joe Russo wanted in the scene. These decisions helped to ground the Guardians’ appearance and elevate Thor as an awe-inspiring god.

Territory has worked with Marvel before. In spring 2013, the Russo brothers were shooting Captain America: The Winter Soldier — their first comic book movie, and one of the best to be produced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Territory wasn’t on the project until the second unit started shooting a mid-credits scene in London. It was a prelude to Avengers: Age of Ultron that showed Baron von Strucker walking through a Hydra facility that is secretly analyzing Loki’s Chitauri Scepter. “What we have is worth more than any of them ever knew,” he snarled.

At the last minute, Marvel realized that it needed some on-set graphics. The comic book juggernaut required screens that showed the weapon being analyzed on a cluster of nearby computers. Territory leaped at the chance, developing images with two virtual rings circling the scepter and its Infinity Stone. The concept was loosely based on photometry and 360-degree photography techniques that were being developed at the time. “We just did that because we thought it was a cool thing to do,” Marti Romances, creative director of Territory Studio, said. Marvel liked it so much that it created two physical rings for the scepter on set.

“That’s one of the things that I’ll remember all my life,” Romances added. “Usually we’re inspired by or reference the props that we see from the concept artist and the art directors while we’re working with the art department. But in that case, we weren’t working with the art department. We went there just to take care of that set, and it happened the other way around. The art department was inspired by our graphic.”

Clearly, Territory made an impression. The company was then hired to work on Guardians of the Galaxy, which turned a barely known group of superheroes into one of Marvel’s most beloved properties. For this movie, Territory worked on the Milano, Quill’s old but capable spaceship. It needed to reflect the hero and the ’80s-inspired tone of the movie, which permeates the soundtrack, jokes and endless movie references. Territory, therefore, made the ship “a bit rough and ready” with plenty of video game and old aeronautical references. Everything was also dipped in red, orange and black to reflect the older era.

The company also shaped the prison where the Guardians are briefly held, Ronin’s Dark Aster ship, and the multicultural Exitar space port, among other sets. Romances was 25 at the time and became friendly with Alan Payne, one of the film’s art directors. He introduced Territory to Wood, the production designer for Guardians and, to date, five other Marvel movies including Thor: The Dark World and Doctor Strange. “He is a busy man,” Romances said. “He has lots of quick ideas that just fly by. You have to catch them before anyone else forgets about them.”

Territory assisted Wood on Avengers: Age of Ultron, which premiered nine months after Guardians. The screens spanned multiple sets, including Tony Stark’s and Bruce Banner’s personal laboratories, Baron von Strucker’s fortress — a nice continuation of the company’s work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier — and Doctor Cho’s medical facility. Each locale required a different aesthetic that felt both futuristic and reflective of the individual character. Banner’s computer, for instance, was colored teal — an obvious nod to his monstrous alter ego — and littered with references to advanced cellular and plant biology. Von Strucker, meanwhile, had a military-inspired UI based on his career in Hydra.

During this period Territory was based solely in London. Two years ago, Romances moved to the US to start a companion studio on the West Coast. The company chose San Francisco rather than Los Angeles because staff wanted to be closer to Silicon Valley, where real technological innovation was taking place. Territory isn’t a software developer — it’s not making apps like Microsoft or Google — but its designs need to feel possible and believable. It uses the Bay Area, therefore, as a pool of evolving source material for its near-future tech.

“We like to say that we bridge Hollywood with Silicon Valley,” Romances said, “because it’s important for us that when we’re designing almost impossible things, and very futuristic things, for films that we are familiar with what’s happening in real life. If we have a good understanding of how technology is evolving right now, it helps us connect the dots and be a bit more accurate when we are speculating on what could happen in a few years’ time.”

The new office also meant Territory could set up a 24-hour pipeline. Paired with the London office, the two teams could work in tandem, developing screens through the day and then uploading them to a server so their compatriots could refine them further during the night. The company used this relay-race development process for some last-minute VFX work on The Fate of the Furious. “It was a good experiment,” Romances said. “And I think it worked very well.”

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androidtv, av, gadgetry, Gadgets, gear, Google, googleassistant, googleio2018, harmaninternational, jbl, jbllinkbar, soundbar, Tech

JBL and Google announced a new soundbar that gives users voice control over a number of features and devices via the Google Assistant. When you plug the JBL Link Bar into your TV, for example, you can then say “Hey Google” and ask it to play whatever TV show, movie or YouTube content you want to watch or listen to. It can even be used to control your smart home devices or play music. The JBL Link Bar features seamless HDMI input switching and the Google Assistant can also be used when the TV is off.

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art, av, Entertainment, Google, grandcanyon, Tech, willsmith, YouTube

If you haven’t noticed, Will Smith has found a new surge of creative energy with his YouTube channel. And in March, he agreed to bungee jump over the Grand Canyon from a helicopter on YouTube, after being challenged from the folks at Yes Theory. Now, we know that stunt is going to take place on his 50th birthday, September 25th. YouTube made the announcement at its BrandCast event in New York City tonight, where it’s trying to woo over advertisers and partners. Smith, naturally, will be donating proceeds from the jump to charity.

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