On a family trip a few months back, I was flipping through an airline magazine and landed on the puzzles page. There were three puzzles, "Easy", "Medium", and "Hard". At the top of the page a word that would become my obsession over the next couple of months: "Sudoku". I had heard about Sudoku puzzles, but I had never really considered trying one. I grabbed a pencil from one of the kids and started with the "Easy" puzzle. It took me quite some time (and I tore the paper in one spot after erasing too many times) but I eventually completed the puzzle.
I hope everyone had a great weekend. I spent the last few hours of my Sunday watching embattled games publisher Ubisoft tease its latest games, including Watch Dogs: Legion and Assassin's Creed Valhalla, while sidestepping controversy regarding allegations of misconduct, ingrained sexism and sexual harassment. Hours before the showcase, several more senior executives left the company. Given the whole 45-minute stream was recorded in advance, it's disappointing, but not shocking, that the issues weren't mentioned, let alone addressed. The stream didn't reveal any major gaming news we didn't already know about.
Lately, I've been thinking and reading a lot about consciousness and how the human mind works. A question that emerges all the time is whether machines can emulate human thought. An even more interesting one is whether consciousness (a subjective experience) can arise from a machine, but I'll leave that discussion for a future post (I'll need 20 more years to think about that before I can write about it). So, how far are we from _behaviorally _imitating a human? Truth is, we achieved a lot in the past 5 years (see AlphaGo, OpenGPT-2, OpenAI Jukebox, Tesla Autopilot, Alphastar, OpenAI Dota2 Team, OpenAI API), but we're still quite not there.
The beta will introduce Crown Rush Solo, a free-for-all where 100 players battle one another to win. It's slightly different than Crown Rush Squad, the previously available mode that requires players to team up in squads of three. Additionally, two limited-time modes are coming with open beta as well, including Hack Runner Squad (more focused on "hacks," which are abilities) and Turbo Mode Squad (faster paced with more powerful weapons). Furthermore, the open beta introduces a new hack, Shockwave, and a weapon called a Harpy.
Ahead of Ubisoft's Forward gaming event, the company offered us some remote demos of two of its AAA releases this year. While my colleague had no issues playing Watch Dogs Legion, my substandard internet connection meant my session with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was taxing. After losing its way with back-to-back-to-back releases in the early-to-mid ‘10s, 2017’s Egypt-based Origins was a return to form for the Assassin’s Creed series, followed a year later by the similarly good Odyssey, which mapped mainland Greece and its many Aegean islands.
We are now more than a month past the point when E3 2020 would've ended. It lives in your heart, in your soul, and on your television. Today we finally reached the "1PM Monday Afternoon" slot, a.k.a. Much of what Ubisoft showed at its faux-press conference, we already knew about--Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, and the recently leaked Far Cry 6. But hey, they managed to keep Tom Clancy's Elite Squad under wraps (for what that's worth), and the Assassin's Creed footage looked pretty neat.
Eight abilities can be equipped at once. I recognized some from Odyssey and Origins, like drenching my blade in poison to continuously damage an enemy for a period of time or raining down a volley of arrows. I enjoyed some new additions, like an arrow with a Svefnthorn symbol on it (from Norse mythology) which magically puts an enemy to sleep, as well as an ability that launches axes at a handful of enemies and knocks them back, acting as a great method of crowd control. Enemies may stagger to the ground after a well-placed hit; once grounded, you can finish them off with a brutal final move called a stomp, crushing their head to pieces in the soil.
Outside of disguises, operatives have unique abilities. You can strategically switch to a different character whenever, as long as you're out of combat. Some of my favorites include a beekeeper sending high-tech drone bees to swarm unsuspecting victims, and a football hooligan's ability to call the rest of your squad to battle (he also takes less damage when drunk, a silly modifier that can be used after drinking at a bar). You also have certain perks and abilities you can purchase (with in-game currency rewarded after gameplay events) that are shared across your entire team. One of my favorites was the AR Shroud, a passive skill that automatically renders dead or unconscious bodies invisible.
With each new entry and new setting in the Assassin's Creed series, we drift further from where the series began. In Assassin's Creed Valhalla, the shift from assassin to warrior feels like it has completed its metamorphosis. At least that's how it felt when I had a chance to play the game for a few hours during a hands-on preview ahead of Ubisoft Forward on Sunday. Taking control of Eivor, a Norwegian Viking warrior invading England in the ninth century, I accomplished a lot in my time with Valhalla. I raided a village, laid siege to a castle, took out an enemy camp through silent assassination, fought a legendary creature, beat an otherworldly foe in a thoroughly spooky arena, took part in a wedding where I won a drinking competition, and explored a vast section of England that only accounted for a small percentage of the full game's scope. This fight was filled with all kinds of spooky magic.
East Anglia is a world of mud and collapse, of bleak forests and treacherous fens. Quiet except for the sound of iron against iron, the splintering of wooden gates giving way, and everywhere the screams and the yelling. A raid, Vikings stealing ashore to ransack a village and kill everyone that gets in their way. And when all the screaming and yelling is over? The ravens are the only real winners in East Anglia.