Scotch Corner – Synthetic People and Simulated Trains

Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 3rd June 2018.

 

Detroit: Become Human (PS4 £49.99)

DAVID Cage — hero or villain?  Discuss.  The French director, below, loves to blur the lines between movies and games.  Think Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls — each one pushed the boundary a little further.  But each one frustrated as many people as it impressed.  Detroit: Become Human is the latest game from Cage and his Quantic Dream team.  Again, he looks to blend well-known actors with a compelling plot to create a drama where you shape the outcome.

The game follows three androids — Connor the cop, Kara the housekeeper and a carer called Markus.  You can play through all of them at different times and they have their own outlook at life in the city.  But the thrill of the game is that you shape their destinies.  Initially, there may not seem to be too many options, but it gets deep very quickly.  The game is set in a gritty futureworld Detroit where the androids are no longer new — a la Blade Runner.  But this is all about how the androids see the world and how they battle humans for equality —and it keeps up a pretty fast pace over the 10- hour campaign.

On top of that, there is loads of replay value because each decision you make takes you down a new path.  Then, at the end of each chapter, you can see where you could have gone and what the consequences are thanks to a helpful flow chart.  This will start plenty of chat with friends because it is unlikely you’ll all go the same way.  The gameplay is a bit light because you never feel like you’re getting stuck in, but that is typical Quantic Dreams fare.  That said, there are a few cool features, like being able to recreate crime scenes and run simulations to see if can actually make that jump or other actions.  But you will never really escape the key Cage concept — aiming for a more interactive movie than a game.

He has certainly mastered the look. From rain-soaked streets to mansions, the graphics are awesome and the face scans of Clancy Brown, Lance Henriksen and Valorie Curry are so real you could believe it is a movie.  The soundtrack fits the setting and the voice acting reflects the depth of actor talent.  Cage has been brutal — the fight for equality is shockingly close to some real-world events, like where the androids are forced to sit at the back of the bus or use stairs instead of lifts.  It works on some occasions and not on others but you can’t fault Cage for trying.  The tale is a thriller from start to finish and is definitely the closest he has got to that dream vision.

Score: 4.5/5

Astro A20 Wireless Headset (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £149.99)

GAMERS love WIRELESS headsets — there is nothing worse than scragging yourself with a cable in the heat of action.  Astro’s new A20s ticks that box then goes further.  They are like an upgrade on the A10s in looks and features.  The headset sits between the A10s and A40s so you get the bomb-proof build quality, but not the level of customisation.  Don’t expect changeable base plates or ear cups.  The overall feel is good if a little overly plastic.  It gets a matt grey finish and there is a choice of two trim colours — green for Xbox or Blue for PS4 — or a camouflage version.

The headset is very comfy which is ideal for long gaming sessions, but the rubber trim on the headband does tug your hair.  The set-up is actually easier than the A50s and that’s despite the instructions.  We had to use the YouTube channel to get the best results.  Once you’re up and running the A20s really shine — the audio is very crisp and clear and has a good bass range.  We tested them with Forza 7, Sea Of Thieves and State Of Decay 2 and loved the epic sound of V8s, the crash of waves and even the moan of the undead.  The mic is often the stumbling block, but this one was OK in chat parties.  It was good to hear and talk but there was a fair bit of annoying soundbleed from the background.

So to the gripe — the main controls are behind your ears.  That takes some getting used to because you have to do everything by feel.  And if you are togged in a high-collar top or shirt, it can sometimes catch on the volume dial when you move.  Maybe a volume lock would sort that?  The A20s are solid and well-built with a great audio range.  They add to your gaming experience.  And the £149.99 price tag means they are well worth a look.

Score: 4.5/5

Riding the Rails

THERE is a huge gaming community that has gone off the rails, but Stirling-based Dovetail Games aims to keep them on track with a sim stunner.  Forget first person shooters, we are talking driving trains.  Matt Peddlesden is the Senior Producer of Train Sim World and he reckons their latest version is right on time to be a success.

In porting the title to console where there any challenges or things you had to change in the game?

Most of the normal challenges with porting to a console are eliminated or at least helped in a large way because of our use of the Unreal Engine 4 platform, however having access to a smaller processor, less memory and graphics processing capability as compared to a PC several times the price of a console does mean that the game has to go through a fairly intensive stage of optimisation to fit those new parameters.  This includes making 3D models and graphics more efficient, carefully reviewing all the code to work out where efficiencies can be gained and really understanding the strengths of the platform to know what kinds of things will have a greater or lesser impact on the frame rate.

Another challenge with consoles is not having access to a keyboard and mouse, although we had already spent considerable time designing the game to be fully compatible with the game controller we still identified a few areas where we were still using the keyboard on a PC without necessarily realising it and had to spend a little time carefully reviewing the game and how people play it on the console.

How are you finding the game is doing with a console crowd over say the PC?

Train Sim World: Founder’s Edition was our first console release for a Train Simulation game and it seems like people were very keen to get their hands on it!  The Train Simulation style seems to suit the console perfectly – the controls are intuitive and easy to use, watching on a large TV lets you soak in the graphics and it’s a unique pick-up-and-go experience without needing to worry about the power of your PC.  The Founders Edition is currently sitting on 4/5 stars on the Xbox store which I think reflects how well the community have received it – and proves we belong on consoles just as much as PCs!

How will the game expand after the Founders Edition?

Yes absolutely – we’re very happy to have just announced the full version of Train Sim World for consoles releasing on July 24th!  This includes the Great Western Express content that was so successful in the Xbox One Founders Edition along with two other routes: Northeast Corridor New York and Rapid Transit.  This version is also coming out on both Xbox One and PS4, meaning both systems will have access to content from the US, UK and Germany!  Founders Edition owners can enjoy their existing game and will be able to upgrade to the full game for a discount when it releases; PS4 users can pre-order the entire experience right now.

And if so what can player expect to see in the future?

Beyond the complete TSW release we plan to continue to expand the Train Sim World catalogue on all platforms.  We recently released West Somerset Railway – the latest route for the PC version of Train Sim World – and we aim to bring this to our console audience as soon as possible as well.  As we’ll be bringing entirely new in-depth experiences each time these will be available as purchasable DLC – we hope you’re looking forward to it!

Will the console version ever be on the same level in terms of content as the PC version?

That’s a difficult question to answer!  With the recent West Somerset Railway route, the PC release gave us great insight into what works best about the route which will help us craft the console experience that is coming out soon.  We’re also more experienced creating content for PC – but looking to the future it’s impossible to say beyond that we’ll make sure all systems stay at roughly the same place.

Have you even looked at adding support for any of the train sim style controllers on console? Or is this something you’d like to add in future for the hardcore fan base?

The train sim style controllers that are available won’t currently work on the consoles simply because they were never designed to do that, but we’re always keen to hear feedback from our players about how they’d like to play the game.  It’s not something that we make ourselves because we’re focused on the game, but if there’s an interest in controller hardware I feel sure that one of the gaming hardware manufacturers will take notice.

What made you pick the stretch of line in the game over others? As well as the trains you can drive?

The Great Western Mainline is historic and well known, and more recently it’s seen a lot of change both in terms of the re-branding of the operator to Great Western Railway and lots of works along the line to bring in the new Crossrail “Elizabeth Line”.  The journey between London Paddington and Reading allows for high speed running up to the maximum of 125mph but also runs side by side with freight services and commuter services making it an ideal line to represent in the game as it allows such a diverse range of gameplay.  To take advantage of that opportunity, we opted to include the iconic Class 43 High Speed Train to allow the player to experience the high speed operations, the Class 166 to provide a commuter experience with frequent stops and the Class 66 is there as one of the most prevalent freight locomotives in the UK, to haul freight up and down the mainline.

With it being a sim how close did you work with drivers and the like and how do they feel about the game and how close it is to the real thing?

The locomotives are modelled as closely as possible to the real thing both inside and out, and we had lots of support from various members of our community who are experienced in the railways including signallers and drivers, who gave us a lot of really valuable feedback.  We try to model the simulation aspect as closely as possible and bring in as many functions of the trains as we can, it’s really amazing how much there is to do in the cab of a train when those looking on from the outside would expect it to be little more than a “stop-go” experience.

Will we ever see any Scottish lines in the game or even a few ScotRail trains?

I certainly hope so, there are many experiences to be had on the Scottish railways that are both beautiful to see and engaging to experience, whether commuting on a busy mainline such as between Edinburgh and Glasgow, or taking travellers along the Highland Line to Inverness.  We have nothing planned to announce at this time, but as always, watch this space.

Train Sim World is coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One on the 24th July 2018.

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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