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Nvidia bringing new movie-quality graphics tech to GTX cards

Nvidia has spent the past year trying to make the case for its newest graphics cards, the expensive GeForce RTX line of GPUs. The biggest selling point of Nvidia’s RTX cards has been support for a powerful new feature known as real-time ray tracing, long considered the “holy grail” of graphics rendering technology. When Nvidia announced the feature — which it calls Nvidia RTX — a year ago at the Game Developers Conference, the company said that the technology would run only on its RTX GPUs, which wouldn’t be available until September.

Next month, that will no longer be the case.

Graphics cards like the RTX 2080 use that naming convention because they were designed for RTX. But with a driver update that’s scheduled to be released in April, Nvidia will bring its RTX technology to 10 different GTX graphics cards that are already on the market — some of which are nearly three years old. The list runs the gamut from the 6 GB GTX 1060 up to the GTX 1080 Ti. It also includes Nvidia’s newest GPUs: the GTX 1660 and GTX 1660 Ti, two cheaper cards that the company released this winter. And this applies to the laptop and Max-Q equivalents of these GPUs, too.

The new driver will allow the GTX cards in question to play games with real-time ray tracing features. Game developers won’t have to do anything to add support for the GTX cards (although, of course, this will only apply to games that already offer RTX functionality).

A scene from Dragon Hound — which uses DirectX ray tracing for both reflections and shadows — with RTX off (left) and RTX on (right). Note the dragon’s shadow. With RTX off, the edges are all fudged to about the same level of softness. But with RTX on, it looks the way it would in real life: Parts of the dragon that are close to the ground (like its paws) cast sharper shadows than parts that are farther from the ground (like the spikes on its head). And that’s not to mention the reflections on the crystal towers in the background.
DevCat/Nexon and DevCat/Nexon

Adding RTX support to GTX cards is undeniably a positive step for Nvidia and the advancement of graphics technology. Real-time ray tracing is a very promising development, and it represents the future of gaming graphics. But as is often the case in software development, there’s a chicken-or-the-egg problem here.

Few games currently support real-time ray tracing, since the technology is so new; Nvidia’s RTX lineup launched just six months ago. Without a larger library of games that offer DirectX ray tracing (DXR) enhancements, there’s little reason for customers to upgrade to an RTX GPU — especially since they’re more expensive than similarly capable non-RTX cards from both Nvidia and AMD. Game developers might be more inclined to support DXR if there were more customers out there who owned GPUs that can take advantage of the technology.

For that reason, it’s a big deal that Nvidia is extending ray tracing support to GTX cards. This represents a massive increase in the install base of ray tracing-capable gamers: With the release of the new driver in April, there will be “tens of millions” of customers who’ll be able to play games with “some level of ray tracing,” said Justin Walker, director of GeForce product management at Nvidia, during a conference call with the media on Monday. And with the announcement at GDC 2019 that two of the most popular game engines — Epic Games’ Unreal and Unity Technologies’ Unity — are integrating support for real-time ray tracing, it’ll be much easier for many game makers to develop with the technology in mind.

What will ray tracing look like on GTX cards?

It’s worth noting that “some level” is the operative phrase here. There’s a lot of variation in the RTX enhancements that different games offer: EA DICE used it for reflections in Battlefield 5, Crystal Dynamics focused on shadows in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and 4A Games went with global illumination and ambient occlusion in Metro Exodus.

The different applications of RTX require different levels of computational horsepower. Nvidia’s RTX GPUs are equipped with two hardware features that the GTX chips don’t have: RT cores and tensor cores, which are specifically designed for ray tracing. Without those cores on the silicon, GTX cards will only be able to support a reduced implementation of ray tracing. And in some cases, they won’t be able to support a game’s RTX features at all.

“You can get reflections off of a limited number of surfaces if you turn down the ray tracing setting, with really good playable frame rates, and that’s still a pretty cool ray tracing effect,” Walker said. “Now, of course, if you want to layer on more ray tracing effects, or higher-quality ray tracing effects, you’re going to want dedicated hardware to do it.” (In this case, “dedicated hardware” refers to the special cores on the RTX cards.)

Considering that ray tracing has been limited to Nvidia’s more expensive RTX GPUs — the cheapest being the RTX 2060, which starts at $349 — it’s not inconsequential that the lower-priced GTX cards will soon support the feature. The brand-new GTX 1660, which runs on the new Turing architecture, has an MSRP of just $219.

But GTX owners may have to do a decent amount of homework if they want to figure out what kind of ray tracing performance they’ll be able to get. For instance, Battlefield 5’s RTX-powered reflections are a relatively simple ray tracing effect, and GTX cards should be able to handle them. But global illumination in Metro Exodus is a much higher lift.

“Look at [ray-traced] reflections on Battlefield 5 at the low setting, and it’s not bad,” said Walker. “I mean, I’d rather have that on than off. And so that kind of basic level of ray tracing that’s better than not having it will be playable on GeForce GTX cards in a lot of situations.” However, Walker told Polygon that global illumination as a feature is simply too resource-intensive for GTX, saying, “I think the quick answer is that generally speaking, you’re going to want RTX for global illumination.”

Sony and Microsoft ran into a similar issue when they launched their 4K-capable consoles, the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X, respectively. Since developers can use the hardware’s extra power however they want — or not at all — there’s no guarantee of what kinds of enhancements you’ll get. Microsoft does a better job than Sony on the messaging front: The company maintains a list of all “Xbox One X Enhanced” games, with notes on whether they support 4K and HDR. How will it play out on the PC gaming side?

“We will do our best to help try to communicate exactly what you can expect as the games come out, but the best I can say right now is: Basic, single effects, GTX can generally do,” Walker explained. “Some of the more complex effects, or multiple effects, you’re going to want RTX.”

Giving gamers with less capable GPUs the ability to get a taste of ray tracing is an admirable goal. All the people who already own recent Nvidia GTX cards will actually be able to see for themselves what the technology can do — before they consider a future upgrade to an RTX card. And more importantly, the move will likely result in greater support for ray tracing across the board. But it seems like this nascent technology remains decidedly in the early adopter stage, with all the associated growing pains.


Hearts Of Iron IV’s New Expansion Doesn’t Really Make A Splash

I really enjoyed grand strategy game Hearts of Iron IV at release, but one thing that sucked was the way navies worked, which was boring and not fun and made using some of the game’s biggest powers a massive pain in the ass.

HOIIV’s latest expansion, Man The Guns, is an attempt to fix that. It fleshes out the naval side of the game with a whole range of extra command options, operational possibilities, repair considerations and even a ship creation tool that lets you customise the weapons and loadout of every ship in your fleet.

All of which sounds cool! But none of it actually fixes the main problem with the naval side of HOOIV. When you’re commanding armies in the game, they’re right there on the map, and when you set front lines and draw offensive arrows, you see them march off and carry out your orders.

It’s toy soldiers in the most adult, gratifying sense, and it’s easily the best part of HOOIV, yet even after all this work Man The Guns’ navies still suck. They’re just these stacks of ships that lurk in ports or slink around huge areas of the map represented by their missions icons, and putting them into harm’s way is still incredibly basic compared to the elegant and involved land operations.

Indeed adding a whole range of extra features and buttons to click has actually made me want to use navies less, since they’re still as dry as ever, only now they’re also more complex, and the last thing I want to do in Hearts of Iron IV is have to pore over more menus. Maybe you are someone who is just very into ships, or appreciate the added depth for a playthrough as someone like Japan or the US, but as someone who only dabbles with navies, I just didn’t get much out of it.

Of course this being a Paradox expansion means that there’s other stuff here too, along with new features that have also been added to the base game for free, so even if navies aren’t your thing there’s still improvements or additions worth checking out.

The transformation of fuel into a trackable commodity (one of the free updates), something that needs to be stored and whose use by fleets and air forces is tracked, is a massive game-changer, especially for anyone who wants to both use a lot of ships or aircraft and won’t have access to large amounts of oil (hi, Japan!). It’s a small change, but such a realistic one, that I really appreciated it.

Four nations also get expansions to their focus trees, two of which are OK (the US and Britain) and two of which are pretty cool (Mexico and the Netherlands). America’s has a lot of neo-Confederacy stuff that I frankly thought was a bit much even for this game, and in general their tree is maybe too big, while Britain’s bizarre Monarchist turn, which sees Churchill teaming up with Oswald Mosley, wasn’t much better (though Britain’s other new path, which lets you accelerate the decolonization process, was a very neat idea).

One last thing, and I think it’s one of the paid content’s nicest achievements, is the way governments in exile have been implemented. There’s now a full and proper system for countries whose homelands have been overrun (most likely by the Nazis), and the new Dutch focus tree plays specifically into this, letting you rebuild and rearm your forces in SE Asia before returning to Europe as liberators.

This can also make a huge difference if you’re on the losing side of the war. I was playing a game as Britain and found my war going much the same way as the actual one, with most of Europe falling as my under-sized army retreated back to England. As each ally fell, I’d be picking up bonuses in the way of divisions, equipment and leaders as the remains of defeated forces turned up in London having escaped their homeland. I had direct control over all this stuff, which I love; I’ve been able to build little French and Polish forces and have them complement my main British armies, which is super helpful at a time where my back is against the wall.

Man the Guns is in a strange place, then, where the main point of the whole thing isn’t that great, but the lesser updates sneak in and steal the show. Indeed I think the fuel system is so good that even if you skip the expansion entirely and just update your game, you’ll be having a greatly improved experience.


Ocarina Of Time Is Now Playable In Co-Op

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time is one of the quintessential singleplayer video game experiences. But now, thanks to the work of some modders, it can also be played with another Link there to fight alongside you.

Beginning development last year, OoT Online is an effort by a small team of fans to transform the Zelda classic into something that runs on a server, with friends able to team up like Nintendo went back in time to 1996 and started granting wishes.

And it works! As you can see in the video below, two players are able to run around the world and just do their own thing, entering and leaving areas and picking their own fights.

Video: BSoD Gaming

Those fights are only against the AI at the moment though, with no PvP enabled, though the team are looking at implementing that in the future.

OoT Online is still very much in development—there are plans to support up to 15 players at once—but you can follow its progress here at the team’s Twitch channel.

Thanks Zach!


Here’s What We’re Hearing About Google’s Plans For Gaming

Google has set up a pop-up display area at the Moscone Center in San Francisco for this week’s Game Developers Conference.
Photo: Chris Kohler

Tomorrow, the tech giant Google will reveal its newest plans for entering the video game world. What we’re hearing suggests that the main focus isn’t on a console, as has been speculated, but instead a streaming platform with all sorts of bells and whistles. And a fancy new controller that you can use to play it.

Google’s investment in streaming is no secret. Last fall, the company’s Project Stream beta allowed users with high-speed internet connections to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in a Chrome tab. Rather than processing the game’s graphics locally using a high-end PC or gaming console, Project Stream ran the game on Google’s servers, allowing users to play the game by downloading data on the fly—aka streaming. It’s not a new technology, but past stabs at it have fizzled mostly because of latency issues, a problem that Google’s decision-makers think they can solve thanks to the data centers they’ve got all around the world.

The appeal, of course, is being able to play high-end games without having to dish out hundreds of dollars for gaming hardware, which Google hopes will allow it to reach hundreds of millions of people rather than the tens of millions who currently own video game consoles.

The rumors we’re hearing suggest that this streaming platform will be Google’s focus tomorrow, and that Google wants it to be playable on any hardware: PCs, Macs, phones, TVs, and so on. Buzz we’ve heard is that you’ll be able to play on a computer or Chromecast using a regular Xbox controller, and that Google will also unveil its own controller that has some sort of streaming capabilities. (We’re not sure how the controller will work, but it may allow you to use Google’s streaming platform on a television even if you don’t have any other hardware hooked up.)

We haven’t heard anything about any other hardware announcements.

It’s the platform’s bells and whistles that may be the wildest part of tomorrow’s big keynote, which takes place at the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco at 10am Pacific Time. Google’s streaming platform won’t just allow you to play high-end games on low-end hardware. What we’ve heard from several people who have either been briefed on or heard about Google’s plans is that the platform is full of ambitious ideas.

One scenario that’s been described to us by three different people (each of whom either heard about it secondhand or directly from Google), for example, might look something like this: You’re watching your favorite Twitch streamer play a game and you think it looks cool, so you buy it, and then, if the developers of the game have toggled this feature, you can download a save file that starts you off right where your streamer was playing. Or maybe it’s a multiplayer game, and you can buy the game and immediately jump into a match with the streamer, if the developers allow it and the streamer is down.

Sounds wild, right? We’ll have to wait and see if this pans out, but it’s what game developers are buzzing about as the reveal of Google’s platform draws closer. The main selling point is the removal of traditional barriers like discs and loading screens, which may be a large part of Google’s pitch tomorrow.

Another of these bells and/or whistles is YouTube integration, as we reported last year. We’ve heard a variety of possibilities surrounding that, including ads that allow you to buy games directly, and, far more interesting, a feature that can tell where you are in a game and automatically load up the correct spot in a YouTube walkthrough if you want help.

We also know that Google has been funding its own video games, and that the company has been poaching developers and executives from all over the video game world. Phil Harrison, formerly of PlayStation and Xbox, is running the Google Yeti unit, and last week longtime game producer Jade Raymond announced that she was joining the company. We’ve also heard that Google has spent the past couple of years meeting with big publishers and developers across the world, and it’s safe to expect some of those to show up tomorrow.

What we don’t know is exactly which games we’ll see at Google’s keynote, what else might be unveiled there, and what other features the streaming platform may have. We’ll get the full picture at 10am PT tomorrow.


The Division 2 Skills Bug Patched, With Another On The Way

A bug in The Division 2 has been discovered that prevents proper use of skills, and Ubisoft has assured that a fix is on the way very soon. The bug apparently impacts both the length that skills are deployed and their cooldowns.

Players on the Division subreddit say the bug causes skills to deactivate only a few moments after triggering them. Then, in an odd fluke, the cooldown timer resets to 15 seconds, significantly shorter than usual. The community has tried testing the bug and so far hasn’t been able to identify a specific cause.

The good news is that it won’t be a problem for much longer. In a maintenance note, Ubisoft says it will be fixing the bug with a brief maintenance period today, March 18, but it warns there may be “remaining issues” related to the bug. The team is aiming to resolve those with another patch later in the week. In the meantime, Ubisoft suggests avoiding the “Extra” and “Overlap” talents, which it says appear to be the main culprits.

If you’re struggling with The Division 2 even without the bugs, we have you covered. Check out our beginner’s tips and how to level up fast, or just read up on the best guns. Or read up on reviews from around the industry.

“After spending 30 hours completing the campaign and beginning to dabble in the endgame, I’m still enamored with The Division 2,” Edmond Tran said in our review-in-progress. “The range of enemy types continues to keep combat encounters challenging, the equipment I earn and pick up continues to feel different and valuable. The ravaged environments continue to intrigue, and sometimes they’re so stunning I find myself needing to take a screenshot before I move on. There is still so much to see in The Division 2, but I want to take the time to see it. I have absolutely no clue why I’m here or what anyone’s motivations are, and I wish I had a narrative purpose to my endless hunger for progression. But I’m glad to be here right now.”


Players Debate Whether Red Dead Redemption 2’s New Patches Downgraded The Game’s Graphics

Screenshot: 2K Games (Red Dead Redemption 2)

Post-launch updates are supposed to make a game better, but some players now believe Red Dead Redemption 2’s graphics have been slightly downgraded following the release of the most recent patch. They have been sharing before and after screenshots to try and prove it.

Rockstar Games released Title Update 1.06 on February 26. It introduced new items and tinkered with stuff in the online mode, like adding new daily challenges and making it easier to identify players that were potentially griefing other people. The single-player campaign was seemingly left unchanged, but some players are now saying they see less detail and poorer lighting in some areas of the campaign. Other players think that’s wrong and are countering with their own before-and-after shots.

On March 13, a player going by Darealbandicoot‏ on Twitter tweeted an alleged comparison of the inside of a saloon between when the game launched and now. The first image is clearer and has a more striking contrast between the shadows and highlights on objects, while the latter looks a bit foggier over all. There are also some things missing in the post-1.06 screenshot, including one of the non-playable character’s pocket squares.

Other players have argued that the changes can be accounted for by differences in the time of day between the two shots, and that the second shot was potentially doctored to look worse. In response, Darealbandicoot shared a second comparison shot involving customizing protagonist Arthur Morgan’s clothes. There are still noticeable differences that wouldn’t be caused by the time of day, like fewer shadows on the folds in Morgan’s clothes and the floorboards in the cabin he’s in.

In an email, Darealbandicoot told Kotaku the screenshots were did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the shots.

Another comparison point has been the game’s street cars. A handful of shots comparing them pre- and post-patch show similar differences in the lighting, with supposedly fewer and more shallow shading effects on the side of the cars in the current version of the game. There’s also a before and after shot of a hallway which looks practically identical at first. Upon closer inspection though it’s clear the lamps lining the walls in the first shot shine more brightly and warmly on the parts of the wall immediately behind them.

How a hallway appears in version 1.0 (left), compared to version 1.06 (right).
Screenshot: Marcoshmg (Red Dead Redemption 2 )

Other players have come forward with shots that appear to show that some of the changes in the lighting effects might go back even further to the Title Update 1.03 from November 29. In a thread posted on the GTA Forums that same day, some players mentioned differences and talked about trying to re-download the original version of the game to revert back to the earlier graphics.

Rockstar Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

These lighting effects in games tend to be associated with ambient occlusion rendering. In PC games there’s usually an option to turn it off in order to run a game more smoothly on a less powerful graphics card. Some players have speculated that the visual downgrades are an attempt to make Red Dead Redemption 2 run more smoothly on base PS4 and Xbox One models. It’s also possible that the visual changes are simply a bug.

The 1.06 patch notes list dozens upon dozens of bug fixes, some aimed at things like lighting effects. “Fixed an issue that resulted in incorrect textures and lighting effects on some combinations of player clothing,” reads one.

It’s possible that there’s no problem at all, and the differences in screenshots can be accounted for in differences in the time of day or weather, both of which are associated with lots of nuanced, visual changes in the game. The act of compressing images down to share them online could also be partly responsible for at least some of the apparent changes.

Whatever the cause, it hasn’t made Red Dead Redemption 2 look ugly by any means. The game remains a technical marvel. It has, however, led to a new contingent of the game’s most diehard fans committing themselves to going back to the 1.0 version of the game and not installing any future updates.


Ex-Valve and Riot developers set up new studio, with backing from Riot Games

Former Valve writer Chet Faliszek and former Riot Games technical designer Kimberly Voll announced their new studio ahead of this week’s Game Developers Conference. It’s called Stray Bombay and, according to a blog post from the duo, the pair’s new studio will focus on cooperative multiplayer games featuring enemies and experiences driven by artificial intelligence.

Faliszek is best known for his work at Valve, where he wrote for games like Portal, Left 4 Dead, and Half-Life 2. After leaving Valve in 2017, he moved to I Am Bread and Worlds Adrift developer Bossa Studios, which he has since parted ways with. Now he’s teaming up with Voll “to create games that give players a place to breathe and live in the moment. Games that tell stories knowing you are going to come back again and again, that change each time you play them without feeling completely random, and that help you feel like a real team that supports each other … not a bunch of folks in each other’s way. And where AI drives not just the enemies but helps drive the entire experience.”

Voll’s work at Riot Games focused on in cognitive science, player dynamics, and artificial intelligence, according to her LinkedIn profile. Prior to Riot, Voll programmed games like RocketsRocketsRockets and Fantastic Contraption at Radial Games. Faliszek praised Voll as “an expert in AI and human-centric design.”

Voll said in the duo’s blog post that Stray Bombay has investment from Riot Games and venture capital firm Upfront Ventures. The pair added that they’re “going to go dark for a little bit as we start laying the foundation of our new world.”


Smash Bros. Player Leaves Pivotal Tournament Match After Getting Frustrated With Audience Member

During Smash regional Collision 2019 in New Jersey last weekend, a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate match came to a halt when one of the competitors got annoyed with the gathered audience and walked offstage. This left tournament organizers reeling for over an hour as they tried to come to a solution for both players.

By Sunday afternoon, Collision 2019’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate bracket had been whittled down to the top 32 players. Tyler “Marss” Martins and Justin “Wishes” Magnetti had done well for themselves up to this point, and met in the winners side of the bracket to decide who would move one step closer to the finals. As they entered the fifth and final game of their set, however, Marss began to look agitated, at one point getting up and shouting something at the audience cheering behind them. A few moments later, he appeared to give up by walking away from the match, leaving his opponent and the commentary team stunned.

It didn’t take long for word on what Marss was so upset about to come back to the broadcasting team. Apparently, someone in the crowd was calling out Marss’ game plan—in this case, his proclivity as a Zero Suit Samus player to jump after hanging on the ledge—which he felt constituted coaching his opponent. While there’s nothing in the official Collision 2019 guidelines that specifically discourages this, traditional Smash rules dictate that coaching is not allowed. This year’s installment of Genesis, one of the biggest Smash events of the year, directly forbade coaching during Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competition, and since many such rulings flow downwards directly from major tournaments to regionals like Collision, it’s generally accepted that coaching isn’t allowed anywhere unless specifically mentioned.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a matter of picking up from where Marss had abandoned the game, because Wishes, in his confusion, simply killed the now-stationary Zero Suit Samus with his Pokémon Trainer and ended the match. They needed an official ruling, something Marss hoped to get when he stormed away from the stage. After learning of the issue, Collision organizer Riddge “RJ” Mussington asked the attendee shouting from the crowd to leave the venue and then gathered his staff to discuss how to move forward. Half an hour later, they decided to restart the game with both players at two stocks. This was a huge boon for Marss, who had already lost a stock at the point he got up and left, and Wishes told the tournament staff to disqualify him if that was their ruling. From there, RJ discussed the issue with Wishes while the stream continued with additional matches, and they decided that they would return the game to the 2-1 stock differential while also artificially putting Wishes at over 100% damage, setting the scene much closer to what it had looked like before Marss walked away.

After an hour and a half of deliberation, Marss and Wishes finally returned to the stage to finish their match. Marss won, but neither player seemed happy. The audience looked deflated. The excitement of the match had been ruined. Marss would go on to win the entire tournament, while Wishes would bow out of Collision 2019 at ninth place.

“I’m extremely upset that this situation occurred, but I’m also extremely happy I was able to work with both Marss and Wishes to come to a reasonable solution that both parties felt okay with,” RJ explained on Twitter after the situation was resolved. Wishes’ social media posts, however, said different. While he acknowledged that it was a crappy situation for everyone involved, Wishes still mentioned feeling “robbed” and that it was a “petty thing” for Marss to get upset over. “Also anyone who actually thinks I was getting coached can piss off,” he added. Marss defended himself to those in the community who felt he was being over-dramatic, claiming,“I’m standing up for myself, and that’s more than a lot of you cave dwellers can say.” Naturally, he also had a much rosier outlook on the turn of events than his opponent, calling Collision an “amazing tournament.”

The fighting game community is much different than other esports in that competitors play many of their matches either near or in the thick of the crowd. Where finals might occur on a stage removed from the audience, everything leading up to that takes place on the ground, making for a unique atmosphere that can’t be found anywhere else. Some players thrive in this kind of environment and some have to adapt. Many fighting game players (Wishes included) have drawn comparisons to a specific Tekken 7 match at Final Round, a traditional fighting game tournament held the same weekend as Collision. In the footage below, a group of spectators sing and dance around two players, one of which—Atlanta hype man Ricky “Pokchop” Walker—very obviously feeds off the energy. Did this contribute to him beating his opponent? Is this coaching? I guess it all relies on which side of the match you’re sitting.

In the case of Collision 2019, the organizers felt there was a thin line between cheering on a friend and helping them with outside information, and they decided that Marss had a valid reason to call them over despite the fact that he abandoned Wishes in the middle of their match and went off on the crowd. But how does Pazda, the Collision attendee who shouted to Wishes and was eventually ejected from the tournament altogether, feel?

“It was not coaching,” he explained. “Saying that’s coaching is like telling someone on a math test that the answer to 2+2 is cum.”

Well, that settles that.

Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.


Grand Theft Auto V Role-Playing Has Taken Over Twitch

For the past five days, I’ve been glued to Twitch, unable to look away from the virtual car crash that is popular streamer Sodapoppin playing on a modded Grand Theft Auto V role-playing server.

Since the middle of last week, popular Twitch streamers have been flocking to a Grand Theft Auto V role-playing server called “No Pixel,” where people can play as a cop, a criminal, a doctor, a different criminal—you name it. Sodapoppin has been playing as a regular dude who works at a vineyard. Other popular streamers, including Summit1g, Lirik, TimTheTatMan, Forsen, Moonmoon, Andy Milonakis, and Greekgodx, all of whom have hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, have joined in.

These streams have put GTA V in league with Fortnite in terms of viewers and led to the formation of an interconnected streamer cinematic universe that is effectively akin to 10 concurrently running 24/7 television comedy dramas. It’s a terrible, dumb mess that I can’t stop watching.

Not everyone can play “No Pixel.” Players must apply to in order to join. The server’s application asks a number of questions, some of which require you to be in-character. For example: “You’ve found what looks like a random car in the street with a load of drugs inside. What do you do and why?” The application process sets the tone for the whole server, which has a near-zero-tolerance policy for breaking character. Beyond that, you can be whatever you want. No Pixel is by no means flawless, but that’s part of its appeal: RP neophytes and longtimers alike have to role-play around the surreal, glitchy strangeness that inevitably arises when people pile player-made modifications atop the already teetering codebase of a complex open-world game.

Grand Theft Auto role-playing is not a new thing on Twitch, with streamers like Sheriff Eli—a former real-life police officer who role plays a hard-ass cop in GTAgaining dedicated followings over the years. But No Pixel sports especially sophisticated role-playing features.

Some streamers have taken to it better than others. Summit’s proven good at facilitating elaborate scenes put on by experienced GTA V role-players, for example, while Lirik has decided to just literally be Avon Barksdale from HBO’s The Wire. Then there are the streamers who’ve taken to role-playing less like ducks to water and more like disgraced mafiosos with cinder blocks tied to their legs. Andy Milonakis makes every scene he’s in with other streamers painfully awkward, but even he’s got nothing on Overwatch pro turned wailing Twitch banshee man xQc, who managed to get in trouble with the people running No Pixel by acting like a violent madman. That’s great when you’re playing GTA V the regular way, but extremely against the rules when you’re supposed to be role-playing.

I’ve found Sodapoppin’s GTA RP streams to be far and away the most consistently entertaining, mostly thanks to a very good premise: His character, Kevin Whipaloo, is a hapless scrub with crippling anxiety who wants to make an honest living—in Crime City, USA, where all that ever happens is crime, and the clocks don’t even have numbers on them, just 12 different instances of the word “crime.” Inevitably, all of his attempts to stick to the straight and narrow go horrifically wrong, in part because even as he tries to make peace with everyone, he accidentally snitches on them—something Sodapoppin did on accident at first, but swiftly incorporated into his act. On his first day in the game, he pissed off the police and got in trouble with multiple major gangs (all played by actual GTA role-players), but—miraculously—managed to collect $2,000, pay them off, and clear his name without ending up in prison.

The next day, he pissed off another gang and took a meeting with them in a parking lot to head off any major altercations at the pass. There, as they conversed, a torso in a Santa hat crawled by, as though it was all as normal as day. This, in a nutshell, is GTA RP on No Pixel:

Jankiness, it turns out, adds new dimensions to role-play, keeping even the best improvisers on their toes. Case in point: Sodapoppin’s character, Kevin, has accidentally kicked or punched multiple people. The first time, it was a doctor who’d just saved his life, and he apologized profusely. Later, he managed to clock an in-game friend, and—fed up with apologizing for this exact thing—told him it was to keep him ready for anything. Then there was the time Kevin’s boss was assuring him his job was above board and, specifically, “safe,” only for a pack of wild animals to magically appear in the building next to them. He didn’t have anything for that, but honestly: Who would?

Kevin owes a lot of his success to his supporting cast. First and foremost, there’s Eugene, an old British man (played by a young British man) with severe memory problems who swears he’s fought in 38 world wars. Alongside another seemingly sociopathic old man named Mel, Kevin and Eugene have formed Prune Gang, the least competent group of pseudo-criminals in the history of pseudo-crime. Last Thursday, they attempted to seek revenge on a blue-haired woman who apparently kidnapped them and left them for dead (I say “apparently” because the incident left them in the hospital with amnesia; these incredibly bad-good player-made plots can reach seasons-long soap opera levels of complication in a single afternoon). After the painstaking process of getting a gun, they were ready to go. Then Kevin tried to back out of a gas station and blew the entire gang sky high:

Role-playing dictates that they had to scream and writhe around in pain until someone took them to the hospital, so scream and writhe around in pain they did.

So far, Kevin’s only run-ins with the law have been the result of other people’s actions. Yesterday, for instance, somebody robbed him at gunpoint, so he reported them to the police. An officer then informed Kevin there was a warrant out for his arrest due to an assault charge. So, in effect, he snitched on himself.

When Kevin’s not bumbling his way through crimes he refuses to actually commit with his own hands, he’s working for his boss, Joe, at a vineyard. Nearly every time they meet up, Joe comes at Kevin with a voice that exudes ice-cold intensity, accusing him of a crime or misdeed, or implicating him in one. Kevin believes this, because he’s in a city where literally everybody else does murders on a regular basis. Then Joe reveals that he’s just fucking with Kevin. He’s slowly, expertly escalated these pranks, making Kevin—and at this point, I mean Sodapoppin, because both the person and his character have legitimately fallen for it every time—believe he was going to have to move a body, that Joe was going to execute him in a cellar, and finally, that Joe had been killed in cold blood in the dark of night by his own boss, who pulled a gun on him and fired actual shots, at which point Joe pretended to be dead for multiple minutes. Then they said “gotcha” and told Kevin that was the final prank, which I believe, because I’m not really sure how you top that.

Viewers love these moments, because they’ve been following Sodapoppin for a long time, and they like to point out when he’s “not acting.” Sodapoppin has even copped to it himself on a few occasions, saying, for example, that a loud, chaotic in-game party actually caused his real-life anxiety to act up. The streams blur the line between personality-driven entertainment and character-driven role-playing.

Some of the stuff on these streams is bad. Really bad. People role-playing as gang members regularly draw on crude racial stereotypes for their accents and storylines. Not everyone does this (thank goodness), but the ones who take that tack do so almost gleefully, likely because they could never get away with behaving so egregiously in the real world. People are also frequently assholes to women, with one character, Ricky, shutting down an argument with a woman player by saying that he wasn’t using “stupid bitch logic.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg on that front: Twitch chat hates it when women role-play, saying things like “sex her,” “kill her,” and “tell her to shut her cock-sucking mouth,” often in all-caps. You won’t be surprised to hear that LGBTQ issues don’t get handled any better. There is, for example, a “trans” role-player Kevin sometimes encounters who identifies as a “trans-pacific railway” and yells for people to ask them their pronouns. Other characters crack jokes about how ugly they are, because of course. Yes, they’re role-playing criminals, but there are so many more interesting ways to be bad, and yet these people tend to fall back on the same tired, mean-spirited edgelord tropes.

Thanks to the influx of big streamers, No Pixel is now overrun with new players and wannabe players. Compounding issues have led the people running the server to temporarily shut down sign ups. This adversely affects the game’s pre-existing community, some of whom I’ve seen pop into Sodapoppin’s chat to express their frustration. You could also argue that longtime RP-ers deserve more credit for the attention the server is now getting, given that they are—in many cases—doing the role-playing equivalent of carrying their new streamer pals.

I can’t ignore the bad parts of the streams, but I find myself drawn into the good stuff, to the playful improv that the best of these streamers is doing live in Grand Theft Auto for their audiences. There’s potential for wild stuff and—when people are actually trying—some impressively funny and considered character dynamics. If you tune in, be warned that there will be some crappy behavior, but if you find the right moments, you’ll also find some of the best—good—trashy entertainment you can find right now on Twitch or any other screen.


Octane is Apex Legends’ first new character: Here’s what he can do

Apex Legends is getting a new character named Octane, developer Respawn Entertainment announced on Monday. The character — Apex Legends’ first post-launch Legend — will be released alongside the game’s season 1 “Wild Frontier” battle pass on March 19.

While Octane’s abilities aren’t yet visible on the game’s official website, Sony’s PlayStation Blog gave us a preview of what the character can do. Most of Octane’s abilities are built around his health. His tactical ability allows him to move faster than normal, but costs a percentage of his health to activate and only lasts a few seconds. To offset this, Octane’s passive ability grants him healing whenever he isn’t being shot at, allowing him to slowly gain back the health he has either lost or spent.

Octane’s ultimate ability is called Launch Pad. He can throw launch pads on the ground that allow anyone to boost into the air. You can even get an early preview of the launch pads by checking out the ones that Respawn placed just outside of the Market location late last week.

It’s unclear how players will be able to unlock Octane. Previous Legends were available for 12,000 Legend Tokens each, or around $8.50 if you’d rather use real money. However, it’s possible that Octane will be given to everyone as soon as the new season launches.

Octane will be released along with Apex Legends battle pass on the first official day of season 1, March 19.


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