How the new Apple TV compares to the competition

Apple TV

Seeing as you’re reading this on the Internet, you likely already know about Apple’s new tvOS-powered Apple TV.

It’s too early to do a full-on review of this product, since only a handful of developers have spent a good amount of time with the hardware. But that won’t stop us from comparing the Apple TV with other streaming boxes on the market.

After going hands-on, here’s what we know so far.

The hardware

New Apple TV

The next-generation Apple TV is a little black box with an HDMI and a power cord connection. The digital audio output seems to have pulled a disappearing act. The product comes with a special remote equipped with a swipe sensor, accelerometer, and gyroscope (perfect for swiping, swinging, and flinging). Ignoring gaming consoles, it’s the most involved remote on this list.Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 8.31.11 PM

Apple TV Third Generation

The third-generation Apple TV features a smaller, sleek black box with an HDMI and digital audio input. A basic remote control is included. Apple also offers an app for controlling the box via an iOS device.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 8.28.36 PM

Fire TV

The Fire TV ships in two forms. The flagship product is a full-fledged box featuring HDMI, digital audio, and a RJ45 port. It also comes bundled with a remote and game controller. Or maybe I should be talking in past tense, because this bundle is no longer available, even though there doesn’t seem to have been an announcement to that effect.353580-amazon-fire-tv

The other option is the cheaper Fire TV stick, which is simply an HDMI dongle and a remote control.


The Roku comes in four different packages: Roku 1, Roku 2, Roku 3, and the Roku Streaming Stick. The Roku 1 provides composite output for older television sets and HDMI. Roku 2 is the mid-range product, built for HD television sets, but missing the bells n whistles, such as voice command, that can be found on Roku 3. The Roku Streaming Stick is the company’s solution for minimalists rocking wall-mount displays. All Roku devices come with their own basic remote control.

The Roku 3

Above: The Roku 3


Google’s Chromecast is the simplest unit on this list, comprising a simple HDMI dongle — no remote control included. Users must sync their phone to Chromecast and use that as the system’s control device.


PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Wii U

Just about every modern gaming console offers some entertainment features, but sometimes they feel like an afterthought. Setting up these advanced machines is also a bit more time- and space-intensive than the solutions listed above. An HDMI display is definitely a requirement. A game controller is going to be your default mode of interaction, with classic remote controls an additional accessory.


New Apple TV

Apple handed tvOS over to a number of the big content providers before making its big announcement, so all the major television and movie services such as Netflix, HBO GO, and Showtime Anytime will be available at launch.

Apple is making a big push to make this version of Apple TV app-friendly, especially in the games department. The pack-in remote is essentially a motion controller, similar to the original Wii remote. It’ll be interesting to see if Apple also designs and packs in a wrist strap, so no one flings the remote control into their television set.


Apple TV Third Generation

All of the major streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, are available through the third-generation Apple TV. There’s also a large gathering of specialty content and cable streams such as HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, and WWE Network. Users can stream content from their iTunes account, too.


Fire TV

Aside from Amazon’s own services, users can access popular streaming providers, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Vimeo. There’s also access to all the cable-based services as well, including HBO, ESPN, and Showtime Anytime.

Amazon's Fire TV's Freetime feature


All four Roku devices claim to offer 1,500 to 2,000 channels, but that number includes the usual streaming-content suspects like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crackle, and YouTube. Major cable content, such as HBO GO and Showtime Anytime, is also available if you have a subscription. Only the Roku 3 seems to offer gaming features.



All of the major streaming-content providers are available on the Chromecast, along with the streaming services of most cable companies.

Chromecast lets you use your Android phone as a controller for games on your TV.

Above: Chromecast lets you use your Android phone as a controller for games on your TV.

Image Credit: Google

PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Wii U

All of the cornerstone streaming content-providers can be found on most major gaming systems, including the streaming services offered by major television providers. Xbox One flaunts live TV abilities, but it semi-fakes it by requiring a separate set-top box device daisy chaining into it. With that said, these machines come damned close to offering an all-in-one solution. When it comes to high quality gaming in the living room, however, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for these other streaming boxes to beat.

Pricing and Availability

New Apple TV

Apple is shooting for a late October launch date, but there’s no word on the gadget’s specific availability, outside of a projected release in 80 countries worldwide. The unit will ship with two versions: a 32GB model for $149, and a 64GB version at $199.

Apple TV Third Generation

Apple’s third generation Apple TV now sells for $69, following its price cut in March.

Fire TV Stick

The Fire TV stick is widely available at most commercial retailers and in online stores for $40. As it’s an Amazon product, you can also order it directly from their site. The larger box version of the Fire TV isn’t available for purchase anywhere, unless you want to go used. Even Amazon’s site is reporting the product unavailable. Is this a sign that another version is coming out? Or is Amazon dropping the box concept altogether in favor of the smaller dongle product?


All versions of the Roku can be found in various locations and from online retailers. As for price, the Roku 1 and Roku Streaming Stick each go for $50, the Roku 2 for $70, and the Roku 3 for $100.


The Chromecast is probably the easiest to find and cheapest to buy on this list. The HDMI dongle can be found at most gadget stores and from online retailers for around $35.

PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Wii U

Are we talking holidays, or just about any other time of the year? The average price for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is $400, while the Wii U sits at $300. As of right now, all three machines can be found at most major big-box chains and from most big online retailers. Come November 1st, all bets are off. Potential price drops to drive year-end numbers — and the general consumer insanity of Christmas — can suddenly turn a video game console into a unicorn until February.

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YouPorn data reveals which gaming consoles get the most love on its site

The adult-film site shares how gamers get down with their consoles.

A gaming console is essentially just a computer that you can connect to the Internet, so — of course — people use their systems to watch pornography. One of the bigger sites on the Web for that kind of content is sharing details for how gamers get down with their PlayStations, Xboxes, and Wii devices.

YouPorn, a massively popular site for adult entertainment, has illuminated the habits of gamers who use their consoles to access its site. Gamers represent around 200,000 of the 20 million who visit YouPorn daily, and the company has quantified which of the three consoles generates the most traffic and the categories of porn the gamers on each system prefer. While this might seem like inconsequential data, it does reveal how people consume media other than games on their consoles. And that is something that Microsoft and Sony have both tried to emphasize about their systems.

“More and more of our users are leveling up and accessing the site through gaming consoles like the Wii, Xbox, and PlayStation,” reads a blog post that YouPorn shared early with GamesBeat. “And each subset of users score very differently when they log on to the site.”

YouPorn notes that PlayStation systems are responsible for the majority of its console-based traffic. Sony gamers are on YouPorn more than the Xbox and Wii systems combined, with 51 percent of the total traffic compared to 39 percent for Xbox and 10 percent for Wii.


Of course, the differences between gamers on Sony consoles and the other systems is not just in the amount of porn consumption.

“Each of these user subsets also have their own distinct tastes and preferences, as well as very particular ways of interacting with YouPorn,” reads the YouPorn blog.

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YouPorn’s data reveals that Xbox gamers prefer lesbian porn, Sony players prefer “MILF” movies, and Nintendo fans rock it the most to Japanese cartoons.

YouPorn also pointed out that while the majority of people who use their consoles to view adult content are men, women also enjoy the pastime as well. On the gaming systems, women make up 8.5 percent of the total traffic. That’s compared to YouPorn’s total traffic across all devices, which is about 26 percent women.

“Interestingly, the highest proportion of female users is found among Wii players, where they constitute 11 percent of traffic originating from the console to YouPorn,” reads the company’s blog.

Finally, YouPorn revealed a map that shows where each system is most popular among YouPorn viewers. Xbox consoles dominated in the United States and Mexico. Wii and Wii U are No. 1 in many Southeast Asian countries. And PlayStation is the top just about everywhere else in the world.


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PlayStation 4 gets YouTube livestreaming, extra cloud storage, and more in system update 3.0

YouTube Gaming livestreaming support comes to PS4.

The PlayStation 4 is getting a substantial update that will introduce a number of new features, and Sony is trying them out today with a beta test.

PS4’s system firmware version 3 (officially 3.00) is coming in the near future, and it is bringing with it deep support for YouTube Gaming (which you can read more about right here). That is Google’s new gaming-specific version of its video site that surfaces Let’s Plays and video reviews for popular PlayStation 4, Xbox, and PC releases. This is also YouTube’s big move to compete with Twitch in livestreaming, and the PS4 update brings native support for YouTube broadcasting.

Of course, Sony wants to see how everything works before it rolls it out for everyone, so it is launching a beta version today for select PS4 owners. Those people will get to put the YouTube streaming and several other key new capabilities to the test.

Here’s a full list of new features, but you can also read more about them on Sony’s PlayStation blog:

  • YouTube Gaming livestream support will join Twitch and UStream as a native broadcasting solution on the PS4. Just hit the Share button to start things up.
  • Online storage is getting a boost from 1GB to 10GB for PS Plus subscribers. This means you can keep a lot more saves in the cloud.
  • Usage meter for online storage.
  • A new Events hub for social activities happening in your favorite game.
  • Favorite Groups to let you put your friends in special lists that are easier to keep track of.
  • Communities to help you find people with similar interests.
  • Gamers can now share up to 10-second video clips to Twitter.
  • Stickers in messages.
  • A more robust Now Playing screen.
  • An improved Live from PlayStation app to make it easier to view livestreams from PlayStation 4.
  • Players can now request to watch a friend play a game.
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Call of Duty: Black Ops III had biggest multiplayer beta ever on PS4

Street battle in Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Sony and Activision announced today that the Call of Duty: Black Ops III multiplayer beta test on the PlayStation 4 was the biggest ever for that platform.

Black Ops III is the second title to debut under the new three-team production strategy at Activision.

Call of Duty games come out every year. In the past, Treyarch and Infinity Ward took turns making each game on a two-year development cycle. But Activision added Sledgehammer Games to the mix, starting with last year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare title. As a result, each team now has three years to make a game.

Treyarch, which is making Black Ops III, was able to work on this new title for three years, and so it was able to get most of the game done in time to launch a large-scale multiplayer beta test this summer.

Ramses Station battle in Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Above: Ramses Station battle in Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Image Credit: Activision

Ten tips for surviving the night in Until Dawn

Samantha, played by Hayden Penetierre, is about to be in trouble as she takes a bath in Until Dawn.

Editor’s note: This story has some spoilers, but we’ve tried to minimize it by providing more general advice.

If you’re reading this, chances are you stayed up all night to play Until Dawn. And you may need some help.

The Sony PlayStation 4 video game is an interactive horror experience that has lots of different story branches and endless possibilities. It pays homage to The Butterfly Effect, the chaos theory idea that suggests a small change in a system’s initial conditions can result in huge variations in a later state. In the game, your smallest and biggest decisions can affect the outcome of the evening and who will survive “Until Dawn.” Sometimes, seemingly trivial choices will mean the difference between survival and death.

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In Until Dawn, eight teenagers are trapped at a mountain getaway with a maniac. Your job is to enable as many of the characters to survive the night, until dawn, as possible. The game is really challenging because you don’t get second chances. When a character dies, he or she is gone for good. It’s a form of “permadeath,” where, if you make one small mistake, you have to invest another 10 hours in order to get the ending just the way you want it to be.

I’ve played the game through two and a half times (here’s our review), and watched a bunch of teenagers play it too. Here are my best tips, starting from the general and leading to more specific tactics.

First, it’s a good game that will hold your attention. Enjoy it on your first playthrough. And after you’re done with it, play it through again to see just how many of the young friends you can save. On the first pass, you’ll face a lot of surprises, jump scares, and plot twists. Those won’t be as riveting on the second time around, but the challenge of saving each friend will lure you onward. You’ll have more fun on the second time around if you play with friends who haven’t seen it. Watching their reactions to the surprises is priceless.

Navigating the game

Matt is off on his own in Until Dawn.

Above: Matt is off on his own in Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

Track your progress. When you are playing the game, hit the R1 button on the DualShock 4 controller. That will call up information on your character. You’ll see the character’s traits and how much the character likes the other friends in the group. That’s useful information that will constrain the character’s behavior.

Hit the R1 button again and you’ll see the clues that you’ve picked up. If you read these clues, you’ll find some extra information and even updates on what you’ve discovered about the missing twins, Hannah and Beth, who disappeared on the mountain a year earlier. Later in the game, these clues will start to make a lot more sense. In the meantime, you have to make sure that you explore every nook of the landscape to make sure you find each clue.

If you tap the R1 button again, you’ll see clues related to another mystery in the game, dubbed 1952. That will make sense later. Tap it again and you’ll see clues for the “mystery man.”

The next R1 screen, Totem Prophecies, is very important for your survival. You can find Native American totems along the way, usually off the obvious path, throughout the game. These can signify Death, or the potential death of the character who finds it; Guidance, a tip for navigating a future scene; Loss, a foreshadowing of a death of a friend; Danger, for possible threats coming; and Fortune, a possible lucky paths. Each totem is accompanied by a short video that gives you a hint at how to survive a future scene. Pay attention to those videos until you understand what they mean, and make sure you scour the environment to find as many totems as possible.

The last R1 screen is dubbed Butterfly Effect. It is a record of the critical decisions that you make and can change the course of the game. There are 22 such decision points, but each one also has various consequences or downstream effects. These decision points are a record, and they make your playthrough unique, as if you are crafting the story and are in charge of the destinies of all of the characters. These little butterflies are reminders of the power that you hold.

The full game has 10 episodes and takes about 10 hours to play.

How to play for survival

What will Chris do with the gun in Until Dawn?

Above: What will Chris do with the gun in Until Dawn?

Image Credit: Sony

You can play the game any way you wish. You can make decisions based on how characters would likely behave, or you can make decisions that you think are for the characters’ own good and are likely to lead to survival. Emily, for instance, starts out the game as a bitchy character. She isn’t likely to make decisions that will save other people. She’ll just want to save herself. But you can try to make decisions on her behalf that help her survive. And, if you want to fully explore the storyline that accompanies that Emily, then you’ll want to keep her alive as long as possible. In other words, don’t deliberately try to kill off Emily or any other character, if your goal is to survive the night.

Graham Reznick, co-writer of the game with film maker Larry Fessenden and developer Supermassive Games, told me in an interview that there are essentially eight main stories to go with all eight characters. That’s because any single character can die along the way, and a single death shouldn’t signal the end of the game. If you prematurely end one of those stories, you’ll be missing out.

Some of the characters start out very likable, like Samantha, or Sam, played by Hayden Panettiere. I also had a favorable initial reaction to Chris, played by Noah Fleiss, and Matt (Jordan Fisher). I definitely didn’t like the annoying characters Emily (Nichole Bloom), Jessica (Meaghan Martin), and Mike (Brett Dalton). I was a little mixed on Josh (Rami Malek), and Ashley (Galadriel Stineman). Those were the biases that I started out the game with.

There’s another character who observes what you are doing in the game and talks to you about it during the intermissions. He is a seemingly professional but malevolent psychiatrist, Dr. Hill, who interviews an unseen character during one-on-one sessions in an office. In between episodes, the psychiatrist interviews the character, who is evidently the psycho killer. You never see the character’s face as he or she is talking to Hill. But with each new encounter, the psychiatrist asks you how you are enjoying the game, as if he is not speaking to the character but to you, the player. You’ll do well to think about this character and the change that takes place over time.

Another tip is that the characters aren’t always as they seem. Under pressure, you find out who your friends are. You can see some characters change for the good and others change for the bad. This is another reason why you shouldn’t write off annoying characters at the beginning of the game.

Master the game controls

Time to make a choice. Like run. Samantha and a psycho in Until Dawn.

Above: Time to make a choice. Like run. Samantha and a psycho in Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

You have a choice of playing with motion-sensing movements or pressing buttons on the DualShock 4 controller. I chose the button-mashing because it felt more precise.

The game mechanics are a lot like Heavy Rain, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and Beyond: Two Souls. When you get to an action sequence, you have to press the button that shows upon the screen — triangle, circle, or square — as quickly as you can before a timer runs out. If you mess up, something bad will happen. Your character, who is being chased by something evil, may stumble. A single mistake doesn’t always lead to death, but it can. For the most part, you can expect a character to die if you make a series of blunders with the controller. I found that it paid to look down at the buttons just before a big action scene just to raise my awareness of what to push.

Likewise, when you’re called upon to aim and something and shoot it, you have to do it quickly. If you miss, or you run out of time, death is almost certain. Don’t be unprepared for these moments.

One of the key mechanics is doing nothing at all. At the beginning, as you play Samantha, you have to keep the controller as still as possible in order to feed a squirrel. And if you choose not to shoot a squirrel, then you’ll have a chance to be in harmony with nature throughout the game. When I saw a teenager playing the game shoot the squirrel, I saw the Butterfly Effect image flash, and I grimaced for what would come down the road. You also are called upon to hide and remain still at various times by keeping the controller motion free. At those times, I learned to put the controller on the ground quickly and then pick it up fast if I needed to do that. Stillness means life.

Making the right choices

Emily isn't very nice. Will you save her too in Until Dawn?

Above: Emily isn’t very nice. Will you save her too in Until Dawn?

Image Credit: Sony

If you have been picking up all of the clues, you’ll generally have enough information to make the right choices for survival. But sometimes, the outcome will be random. Sometimes the right move is to run, and sometimes the right move is to hide. Either move can randomly lead to somebody’s death. If you make the right choices based on the clues discovered, you’ll generally come out with more survivals. Whether you can save everyone depends on a lot of luck when you are faced with choices such as “go left” or “go right.”

You’ll face a lot of moral dilemmas in Until Dawn. You’ll develop an ethical code for the horror story and how you’ll behave. You can’t save everybody, and sometimes you have to choose between two evils, saving one character over another. The game makes you think about who you are saving. Are you saving someone because he or she is cute? Or are you letting someone die because they’re somewhat annoying?

Some typical horror flick tips apply that will help you avoid dumb deaths. If someone is banging on a door, and you don’t know who it is, you are not obligated to open it. Don’t willingly split up two friends to send them separately in their own directions. United we stand, divided we fall.

I’m pretty certain you’ll get emotionally attached to at least one of the characters. And if that character dies, you’ll go into mourning and play the game again so that you’ll be able to save him or her.

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In Sony’s Until Dawn interactive horror game, the player becomes part of the narrative

Who will your survivors be? Here's Mike and Sam in Until Dawn.

Editors note: We’ve tried to remove most of the story spoilers in this interview.

In Until Dawn, the interactive horror game is what you make of it. Based on the chaos theory of the butterfly effect, where a small change or decision can have a very large downstream impact, Until Dawn forces you to make split-second life-or-death decisions about eight young adults who are trapped at a mountain lodge.

The title debuts in North America today as an exclusive on the Sony PlayStation 4. We think that it’s one of the best collaborations of Hollywood and video games to date, with a lot of different branching stories about each of the main characters. Your job in the game is to make decisions that enable each character to survive the night. It is a very different kind of horror tale than you’ll see at the movies on a Saturday evening.

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Hollywood writers and directors Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick wrote the story of Until Dawn, with more than 10,000 pages of dialogue. It took that much writing because any of the eight characters can die. That means each character’s part of the story has to be like a main storyline. We played the game all the way through a couple of times and interviewed Reznick about how he and Fessenden approached the writing and worked with the video game designers at Supermassive Games.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. Read our review here.

Graham Reznick, co-writer of Until Dawn.

Above: Graham Reznick, the co-writer of Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

GamesBeat: One thing I didn’t know about was your background in writing game narratives. Can you talk about that, as it compares to Hollywood work?

Graham Reznick: This is actually the first game I’ve written. We started this project in 2011. Technically the Until Dawn that’s being released is the second game I’ve written. The first one was the Until Dawn for the PS3, which wasn’t released. We started it as a PlayStation Move project, wrote it, and worked on it for about two years. Then it was decided that we’d scrap that version and go to PS4, and we decided to rewrite everything from scratch. The technology allowed us to do far better facial animation, which meant the acting could be more nuanced. We could tell the story through a more cinematic style of dialogue.

My background is primarily film. I’m a writer and director. I’ve done a lot of sound design, music, and so on.

GamesBeat: What was attractive to you about the project? It seems like one of the unique things about this is the butterfly effect. I’d imagine that causes a lot of branching in the narrative that you have to write around.

Reznick: Definitely. That was a big draw for me. This came about because my co-writer on the project, Larry Fessenden – the head of Glass Eye Pix, which is the company myself and a lot of my friends make movie for – had been approached by Supermassive. Larry doesn’t have a history with games. He didn’t grow up a gamer. But he knew I did, so he brought me on.

We wrote a bunch of tests, sample sections of the game. We didn’t know anything about it or what it was going to be. We just had some test specs, assignments to write. We were immediately attracted to the approach Supermassive had, what Will Byles and Pete Samuels had come up with. It was very similar to a cinematic approach, and similar to the Glass Eye Pix ethos. They weren’t making this type of horror game for cynical reasons. They wanted to make the best stories they could in the best way.

As far as the butterfly effect and the branching narrative, as a filmmaker and a screenwriter, you sit down with a character and a story, and then you immediately think of every possible version of that story at any given moment. You’re trying to find the best path for your screenplay. If a character has to go to the store and buy a loaf of bread, there’s a million ways that can happen. Who’s he gonna run into along the way? Does the store get held up when he gets there?

Writing the game is basically the same, but all those different weird little pathways suddenly become additional scenes that you have to write in tandem with the main story. Or what you hold onto as the main story for a little while, until you start realizing, “Oh my God, they’re all main stories.” It’s like writing parallel universes, which is—I’m a big science fiction fan, so that appealed to me.

Mike and Emily in Until Dawn.

Above: Mike and Emily in Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

GamesBeat: The combinations seem mind-boggling. If you have 16 characters, I imagine that the number of lines of dialogue you have to write just multiplies and multiplies.

Reznick: It’s insane. We have eight main characters, and they all can live or die at various points in the game. You can finish the game with them all alive, all dead, or any permutation in between. It’s not just whether they’re alive or dead that changes the narrative. Little choices you make change the personalities of the characters in interesting ways, which then has a ripple effect throughout the narrative. There’s all these things that can completely alter the path through the game.

I don’t know for sure how many pages are in the final PS4 version, but between the two versions there have been more than 10,000 pages of dialogue written. It’s been pretty intense.

GamesBeat: Now let’s bring up the analyst. At the end of each episode, you have a conversation. You don’t know who the analyst is talking to yet. He talks about how you’re playing the game. It made me think that he was talking directly to me, the player, rather than the psycho in the story. That ambiguity was very interesting. It made it suspenseful, but it also layered in different messages. I wonder if you could talk about that a little.

Reznick: The analyst in the game is an interesting device. It came later in the process, but it’s something we were always thinking about. In a sense, the analyst stands in for the video game designers and the writers, that part of our persona as we’re creating the game.

Last year, when the game was shown at Gamescom, or maybe it was more than a year ago, the developers put a little survey in front of the game asking about people’s fears. That was so the demo could get some information to help us understand what we should do as we were finishing the game. But it was so impactful for the player to feel like they were having an effect on the actual tonality of the game, more than just the narrative – as if it were catered to them. Will Byles realized that should be part of the game.

Dr. Hill, the psychoanalyst who appears during intermissions, narrates your progress in Until Dawn.

Above: Dr. Hill, the psychoanalyst who appears during intermissions, narrates your progress in Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

GamesBeat: There was a time, maybe in the beginning, that I felt as if I was the puppet master. And then you find that there’s another character who’s the puppet master. But at various times, especially when you’re doing something like a jump scare, I feel like you’re the puppet master. The writer is manipulating the player.

Reznick: Here’s an interesting way to look at it. When you’re making a movie, everything is very static. You show the audience one specific story, the story the filmmaker wants to show. That’s how the artform, the medium of film, works. It’s great, and there’s a million different ways to explore that.

What’s exciting about games, and specifically narrative-based games, is that you can take that approach from filmmaking, the curated narrative, and then explode it out so that the designers and writers of the game are curating a narrative environment for the player, but the player becomes a complicit collaborator. The interplay becomes very interesting when the player is not sure exactly what all the pieces are. It’s like you’re moving chess pieces around on a board, but one of those pieces can suddenly melt and turn acidic, or one of them can explode and blow up half the board.

It’s kind of like real life in that way. You move through life trying to make your way through your environment, and you think you know what’s going on sometimes, but people can surprise you. Little things you do have impacts on the environment and the milieu around you. Our biggest goal with this was to make sure the player could weave their own narrative through a larger meta-narrative that we created, but that it would always be satisfying, no matter what happened.

That was the biggest challenge. You can get to the end and all the characters will be dead, but it’s still a satisfying story. You’ll still get the full nine-plus hours of gameplay and narrative.

GamesBeat: There are parts where it seems like the choice is not always easy or clear. It almost seems random. How much choice is built in to the game? You could go left or right, and if you go left, you die, and if you go right, you live. That sort of thing.

Reznick: Part of it was we didn’t want it to be super cut and dried at any given point, so you could say, “I’ll be the good guy here. I’ll be the bad guy there.” You just have to make choices. Almost all the choices you can make should be informed, to an extent. There are some more or less random ones in there, but I don’t remember exactly what all the choice points are. The majority aren’t so black and white. Some of them are.

Samantha, played by Hayden Penetierre, is about to be in trouble as she takes a bath in Until Dawn.

Above: Samantha, played by Hayden Panettierre, is about to be in trouble as she takes a bath in Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony
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Until Dawn is like a scary and riveting interactive horror movie

Samantha, played by Hayden Panettiere, in Until Dawn.

Editors note: This review has some minor story spoilers.

The new PlayStation 4 exclusive psychological horror game Until Dawn may go down as one of the finest collaborations of Hollywood and gaming.

Such collaborations have been tried for decades with underwhelming results, and this title could have been just one more cheap game version of an easily forgotton Hollywood horror B-movie. But the collaborators at Supermassive Games and horror film writers and directors Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick took their time to craft an ingenious and intricate story, and they made full use of the next-generation console’s ability to create realistic human characters that really look like people in a horror movie.

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The result of the four-plus years of work is a riveting, scary game that gives you a chance to save the characters in the story from making all-too-familiar mistakes in horror movies. Because the story is interactive, the experience is much more immersive and emotional. You can get to know the characters and feel much closer to them as they evolve, unlike the stereotypical characters who fill the body count in typical slasher movies. In the story, eight young adult friends are trapped on a remote mountain getaway after they find that there’s a killer loose among them. Your job is to make snap life-or-death decisions and save as many of them as you can as dawn approaches.

On the scary meter, Until Dawn ranks pretty high, as the creators actually tested the game with playtesters who were hooked up to biometric monitors. If a scene didn’t scare people as much as it could have, the developers went back to the drawing board. I measured my own pulse myself during part of the game. After one “jump scare” scene, my pulse shot up from around 70 to 108 beats per minute. I had plenty of little heart attacks while I played the 10 episodes of the game — twice.

But the title isn’t just about scaring the crap out of you. It also makes you ponder the relationships between characters and why you try harder to save some characters than others. The choices are not always black and white. The writing is really good and contemporary, with plenty of lines that will crack you up, like when a character says “Unfollow” after facing a psycho.

It’s also a story with a lot of foreshadowing and multiple layers. There’s a meta layer in the story where an analyst starts questioning you, the player, about how you think the “game” is going. The conversations with the analyst are just one part where you realize that nothing is as it seems on the mountain. And as the characters and story change, you realize that Until Dawn isn’t as predictable as you thought.

A long development cycle

Chris approaches an ominous barn in Until Dawn.

Above: Chris approaches an ominous barn in Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

Supermassive Games and Sony have been working on the game for a long time, enlisting the seasoned horror filmmakers to concoct a story with a lot of branching storylines. Until Dawn was originally scheduled to be released on the PlayStation 3 with PlayStation Move motion controls. But the game was redone for the PlayStation 4 and the Dual Shock 4 controller, which also has motion-sensing capabilities. The new game has episodes that are akin to TV show segments. Between the two different games that were created, there are 10,000 pages of dialogue. There were so many branching stories that each story becomes like a main story unto its own, said Graham Reznick, co-writer of the game, in an interview with GamesBeat.

“We decided to rewrite everything,” said Reznick, regarding the switch from the PS3 to the PS4. “The PS4 had more facial animation and that meant that the actors could be much more nuanced and tell the story through a more cinematic dialog language.”

The game mechanics are similar to Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, where you have to periodically make binary choices, like hiding or running, to save someone’s life. You also have to be able to press the PlayStation controller buttons quickly and accurately in fast-moving situations. If you miss enough times, you may be sending a character to his or her death.

But the interesting twist that Until Dawn brings to the plot is the theory of the “Butterfly Effect,” or the chaos theory idea that suggests a small change in a system’s initial conditions can result in huge variations in a later state. The name was coined by Edward Lorenz, and it comes from an example where the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause subtle changes that affect the path of a hurricane weeks later. In the game, your smallest and biggest decisions can affect the outcome of the evening and who will survive “Until Dawn.” Sometimes, seemingly trivial choices will mean the difference between survival and death.

What you’ll like

Ultrarealistic human face animations

Emily in Until Dawn.

Above: Emily, played by Nichole Bloom, in Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

Most game publishers advertise their games as “cinematic.” But this lives up to that claim. I’ve never been fooled by 3D graphics as much as I was in this game. The human faces look real. The movements of the characters still need work, as does the degree of interactivity. But when you’re staring at the face of one of these characters, it’s truly an amazing feat.

The title combines Hollywood actors with next-generation facial animation technology from Cubic Motion, the company whose animation tools also created the face capture of actors in games such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Ryse: Son of Rome.

As I noted in a preview, I saw from the outset that the characters are stunningly realistic, as if you’re looking at the real actors and actresses, rather than video game animations. Several times, my family members saw me playing the game and they asked, “Is that a movie or a game?” (It’s not a game I would willingly show one kids, though).

I caught a glimpse of the face of the cockiest male character, Michael (played by Brett Dalton), with a tear dripping from one of his eyes. It made me consider just for a moment that there was something deeper behind his always-macho facade. And for the most part, the close-up animations of each person made me feel sympathy for each character, rather than the usual sense of hate because they were about do something stupid that was going to get them killed. You form an emotional bond with the character and fear for his or her safety. And this only happens because of the quality of the motion capture and 3D animation.

It is as if the combination of Cubic Motion, 3Lateral technology, and the Killzone Engine in this title has almost gotten us across the “uncanny valley,” or the long-held idea that the more animators try to create realistic human faces, the more there’s something spooky about the image, and the more it eludes their grasp.

Interesting gameplay choices

Sam, Mike, and Emily contemplate a choice in Until Dawn.

Above: Sam, Mike, and Emily contemplate a choice in Until Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

Sometimes the best thing is staying still. The game uses a motion-sensing Dual Shock 4 controller. Early on, you learn that making no choice at all, such as letting a bird be, is the right move. Sometimes you have to hide. In that case, your job is to keep the controller as still as possible. If your hands are trembling, then you’ll lose for certain. You might as well put the controller on the ground.

In the very first scene, the group of friends plays a poor-taste prank on one of the girls, Hannah, luring her into one of the men’s rooms at 2 a.m. on the promise of secret tryst. But most of the friends are hiding in the room, ready to snap pictures of the unaware visitor. The victim runs off into the snow alone, followed by her twin sister, who wasn’t in on the prank.

Running off alone is, of course, a major no-no in a horror story, and it is one that you can’t do anything about. Your job is to do something that helps them avoid a horrible fate. The women started running off into the snow and quickly found there was something spooky out there besides growling beasts. One of them finds a totem that signifies “death,” and you know you’re about to decide something important. You have to choose whether they should run through shortcuts or stay on a path. Eventually, they wind up on a cliff, trapped by their pursuer, and you have to choose which one of the girls will survive.

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