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Star Wars Squadrons impressions: A heavy asterisk at launch for PC players

Prepping for Star Wars Squadrons battle, Empire edition. EA Motive

Things are a bit more chill on..



  • Prepping for Star Wars Squadrons battle, Empire edition. EA Motive
  • Things are a bit more chill on the New Republic side of things.
  • A familiar friend in the backseat.
  • When missions take place in the empty void of space, at least EA Motive puts together a handsome cloud array for the backdrop.
  • Moving into a more debris-filled zone.
  • Take out turrets, look for breach points.
  • Wedge briefs us for our next mission.
  • Clone Wars-caliber dialogue, at best.
  • There's enough atmosphere out here to support such a fiery explosion… right?

Game Details

Developer: EA Motive
Publisher: EA
Platform: Windows PC, Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: October 2, 2020
Price: $40
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Links: Amazon US | Steam | Origin

For the past few years, we've seen EA try to claw back to solid footing with its Star Wars video games. After a disastrous launch, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 reversed MTX course and enjoyed years of free support and updates, while Respawn Entertainment managed to deliver 2019's solid-if-uninspiring adventure of Jedi: Fallen Order.

That was enough to earn some reluctant hope that this week's Star Wars Squadrons would continue EA's positive streak—and do so at a lower price point ($40), with no microtransactions, while recalling the glory days of X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter. Early Tuesday, I received retail versions for PS4 and PC, which wasn't much time ahead of today's embargo but perhaps enough to write a tidy "impressions" post about what fans could expect from the game's launch tomorrow—particularly its enticing VR mode, which is arguably the biggest VR-specific Star Wars flight experience yet.

Since Ars is a PC-focused site, however, I have to begin any impressions with a dire warning. Until we see significant patches to Squadrons' PC version, I must advise prospective players to not buy the game on PC (yet).

Every flavor of Wing and TIE

In Squadrons' 16-mission campaign, players alternate between piloting X-, Y-, A-, and U-Wings for the Resistance, and TIE Fighters, Bombers, Reapers, and Interceptors for the Empire. A prologue pair of missions sets into motion a mild tweak to Star Wars lore: Turns out, Alderaan wasn't entirely destroyed at the end of Episode IV, and a mandate to wipe out its remaining survivors sees a longtime Empire lieutenant defect and switch sides. (You were onboard with a super-laser destroying an entire planet and its culture for the sake of galactic "order," but a follow-up request to wipe out remaining civilians is too icky? Interesting flavor of fascism there.)

Fast forward after the prologue, and your both-sides campaign follows the events of Episode VI, with players joining squadrons on both sides of the conflict as each side transitions to its new identity of the rising New Republic and down-but-not-out Galactic Empire. The campaign begins with a kooky cast of throwaway good guys, and the game very much wants you to bond with these characters… in the form of them talking to your silent protagonist between missions with zero dialogue options on your part.

If tone is what you remember about classic LucasArts flight-sim games, be warned that this campaign lands in somewhat bubbly territory. This isn't a Care Bears adventure, mind you, but expect lots of Clone Wars-caliber "let's go!" declarations, plus a decent number of ominous, "I wonder what all of our missions are going to lead to" moments of obvious foreshadowing.

Star Wars Squadrons launch trailer

Should you mash the "skip" button (which I currently recommend, as the sluggish plot points repeat mid-mission anyway), you'll find yourself in open-space battle zone after open-space battle zone, where you engage with enemy forces in large-scale dogfights. Mid-mission objectives pop up frequently: Kill all of the enemies flying in your direction; destroy specific parts of a larger craft; take down radar jammers before engaging with foes; kill anything that comes near while protecting a convoy; and so on. Sometimes, you'll fly around large structures with tunnels and paths that guide your progress, but don't expect many arcade-style levels where you barrel down a straight-line path.

Yet in spite of the game revolving around open-space combat, Squadrons features a particularly arcadey brand of dogfighting. For starters, the campaign's advice, once enemies lock on to your position with missiles, is to simply begin turning wildly and erratically. You'll have to progress a little ways through before the game does anything to teach players about its "drift" functionality, which I've yet to get the hang of but is a welcome twist to the otherwise straightforward control scheme (and is one major point ahead of the incredibly straightforward controls found in Battlefront 2's Starfighter Assault dogfighting mode).

Also, the game's default suite revolves around linear speed management in unrealistic zero-G blackness, as opposed to the drag-heavy or loop-de-loop flying you might associate with console dogfighting classics like Crimson Skies. Thus, when you yank your ship's throttle down to zero, it will slam to a mid-space stop and hover in place, instead of demanding that players manage a reverse-thrust system to stop themselves from endlessly floating. I'm personally fine with that! But I point it out to remind readers that this game relies on "Star Wars physics," from the same universe that brought you the gravity-dependent Episode VIII bomber run against a Dreadnought.

PC woes, mostly with VR

My progress in tackling the campaign was severely halted on PC by a few bugs. On multiple occasions, the game would tell me to tail a specific AI squadmate, but that squadmate would begin flying in endless, wacky circles, U-turning over and over without the game realizing that I had zero way to move the mission forward. (Because the game often revolves around open space, and corrects for when players fly in an arbitrary direction after completing an objective, your next vital waypoint won't materialize until the game warps enemies or objects into the edge of your horizon.) Closing and restarting the game wouldn't fix this; I had to restart entire missions to overcome this bug.

This came after I struggled to get the PC version's VR modes up and running for multiple reasons. Much of this may have to do with my review copy only working on EA's Origin launcher, not Steam. In order to play in VR on the Origin version, you have to go into an in-game options menu, then click into the VR sub-menu, and then select "toggle VR." Once you do this, you have to leave your flat-screen monitor, put on your VR headset, and answer the "Did the mode switch properly?" question within 15 seconds, or the SteamVR fork shuts down and dumps you back to your flat-screen monitor.

In my case, this was further complicated by the SteamVR overlay blocking the Squadrons prompt, so I had to power on my Valve Index controller (which is otherwise incompatible with the game) quickly enough to tap the "menu" button, then grab my preferred controller and say yes, before the 15 seconds ran out. In a dream world, players will someday get a "launch in VR" button before the game even begins, either on Origin or Steam, but as of press time EA's reps have yet to answer my repeated questions about this.

My PC-VR woes didn't end there. The pre-launch version of the game regularly glitches when it transitions from flat-screen play to VR mode, in such a way that menus don't appear and the game is unplayable. The only way I could fix this was to switch the game's flat-screen version from "full screen" to "borderless" or "windowed," and I'm hopeful that bug is quickly squashed.

I'm less hopeful about potential bug squashing for the Valve Index, the current best PC-VR option to support 120Hz frame rates. When playing Squadrons in VR at its 90Hz setting, with all VR graphics settings near-maxed on an RTX 3080 and i7-8700K, SteamVR's frame-time graph confirms that its frames render at roughly 8.2ms. That's within the threshold of a 120fps mode, which I prefer for spin-filled space-flight sims like Eve Valkyrie and Elite Dangerous; you'll do a lot of high-speed spinning in Squadrons, owing to its arcadey, fake-physics core, and as a sensitive VR user, I struggled with that lurching sensation while trying to chase foes in dogfights.

However, in the game's pre-release build, formally toggling Valve Index to 120Hz mode tanks the frame rate closer to 90-100fps, and it introduces erratic frame time spikes, even with all visual settings turned down to their bare minimum. (Not good for my VR space nausea.) Plus, honestly, going back and forth to test different SteamVR settings was made all the more difficult by the game randomly crashing when transitioning from a between-mission barracks to flight sections (with no crash dialogue shown by either SteamVR or Origin).

I harp on these VR issues because, well, gosh. When I got the game working smoothly on SteamVR, the sensation of being inside classic Star Wars starfighters, with waves of light shining in such a way that perfect shadows danced over my TIE Fighter's interior, I felt like I was on the coolest Disney amusement park ride of my life. Sadly, thanks to bugs, that sensation was fleeting, and I had to do most of my testing outside of VR, where the lack of customizable FOV (ughghghgh) meant the game's flying sensation paled in comparison.

Only six maps? Really?

  • One of the game's six multiplayer maps at launch. The debris is interesting to fly through, but it's not attractive from a distance.
  • Another debris-filled map, which doesn't look so great as a still. In motion, light glances around the battlesphere in compelling ways, at least.
  • My favorite of the six battling maps at launch, if only because it has an actual iconic ship smack in the middle for players to fly around. (Why no open passages to fly through, though?)
  • Fleet battle overview map, which you'll see after each death. Your team is trying to destroy their giant, turret-loaded ships while protecting your own, and you can only attack your foes' larger ships when you've built up "momentum" by killing foes enough times. It's got a WWE-style vibe to it, in terms of the constant back-and-forth.
  • Set up ship-specific loadouts between matches.
  • Each option has a decent number of tradeoffs, and none can be purchased with real-world money.
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Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler




Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.

Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.

But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.

Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.

On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”

Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.

While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.

It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.

However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.

Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?

By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring

For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.

As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.

This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.

In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.

Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.

Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.

However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.

This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.

In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.

“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”

Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.

It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.

Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.

But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”

“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”

In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.

The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.

“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.

“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”

The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.

“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.

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20 years of tech with Jeff: From green iMacs and DVDs to the iPhone era




When I started covering technology here two decades ago, I didn’t own a cellphone, nor did my company deem it in their interests to buy me one.

My tenure at USA TODAY pre-dates text messages, soundbars, talking speakers, QR codes, video chat, Uber, DoorDash, Zoom calls, YouTube, Wi-Fi, affordable flat-screen TVs….you get the idea.

So many changes in such a short period of time! This is my last column for USA TODAY as your Talking Tech columnist. Let’s say goodbye by celebrating how far we’ve come through the years.

My stint started in 2000 – I began at USA TODAY earlier, covering entertainment – at a time when we spent a lot of time talking about the big three tech companies: AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft. AOL had just shocked the world by buying Time Warner for $165 billion. (You know how well that turned out. But I digress.)

We did use computers, yes indeed, mostly desktops, and they were Windows machines with black-and-white monitors. We weren’t online; we went online, with a phone line attached to our computers. You know, the type we used on our landlines. Remember them?

Apple back then had less than 3% market share. It wouldn’t start its evolution into the world’s most valuable $2 trillion company until 2001, when it introduced the iPod MP3 music player and helped bring digital music to the masses. This is after the short-lived Napster popularized MP3s by showing how easy it was to copy licensed music. In 2003, the iPod shifted into a mainstream product when CEO Steve Jobs (who rejoined the company in 1997) opened it up to be used on Windows computers with the iTunes music store, the first easy to use, legitimate avenue for buying music, back then at 99 cents a song. Streaming and the celestial jukebox was a far off dream.

We started Talking Tech in 2006 as a weekly, ahead-of-its-time video series, produced bicoastally on two webcams. The first episode – with my former partner, Edward C. Baig – was a review of the Flip Video camera. Remember that one, kids?

By 2010, Flip was soon to be gone, as Apple introduced the iPhone 4, the first iPhone with a decent camera. Kodak became a memory, Canon, Nikon, Olympus and other mainstays of the camera business saw their sales tumble, as people preferred the camera that was in their pocket, their phone.

But I have to admit, I never foresaw just how great the smartphone cams would become. I always loved using them, but there was a stigma to “cellphone video.” Now we can shoot 4K video that looks nearly as good as what you get from a traditional camera, mostly due to computational photography tricks. But I’m not complaining. Have you seen my iPhone sunsets?

Then there’s Google and Facebook.

It was in 2000 that Yahoo handed over its search keys to a scrappy startup that said it had a method for more effective online searches. From there, we got Google stepping out onto its own in 2003 by sending people to its website and popularizing the verb, “Google It.” We got Google Maps (remember life without it?), Gmail (free e-mail without being tied to our internet provider), Google Translate, Google Photos and so many other features that I don’t think we could live without today.

That’s the good side.

There’s also Google tracking our every move, in order to put personalized ads in front of us everywhere we go, and saying goodbye to our privacy. Google will claim that much of the privacy invasion is “opt-in” and that we agreed to it when we signed up for services. But who remembers doing that?

Facebook took the snooping to an even greater level. But today’s column is about celebrating tech. So let’s bypass the misinformation and online rage that erupted from the social network and instead just give props to a site that reconnected some 2 billion people with old friends and family. I announced my pending exit on my newsletter, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. You know where I got the lion’s share of responses? Facebook, hands down.

Amazon. Who believed you could order anything you ever wanted with one click, and have it arrive the next day? By 2001 Amazon had announced its first profit, but it was more recently that we saw Amazon really showcase what was it was to become, by acquiring Whole Foods and launching Amazon Fresh, the supermarket with a radical cart that automatically tallied up your purchases, launching the smart speaker craze with Echo and Alexa and being a dominant force in streaming with Fire TV.

But Amazon missed out on phones. Google got in early, in 2008, with the Android operating system, which it grew by giving it away for free to companies like Samsung, LG and Huawei. That business model would enable Android to claim a whopping 85% market share, where it’s featured on so many low-cost phones.

If I had to pick the most influential tech device of my generation, there’s no hesitation. It’s the iPhone, hands down, even bigger than the VCR or the personal computer.

Because the iPhone (and other smartphone brands to follow) put the computer into our pockets, untethered and presented in a easy, intuitive way that appealed to the masses. Listen to music, answer the phone, watch TV, surf the net, all on one device. One in which we can also monitor our daily steps, show us how to get around and take amazing photos. (Again, those sunsets!)

I love my laptop, but it didn’t change my life.

So what of the future?

In 2016, I did a column quoting analysts saying that the smartphone as we know it, would cease and morph into some form of eyewear within the next few years. I didn’t believe it then, I don’t believe it now.

Having stuff flying in front of your eyes as you walk down the street is a distraction. (Take that, Google Glass.) We watched screens in the 1950s. We’re going to be looking at screens in the 2020s and 2030s.

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Are you willing to pay for email? How about podcasts? Here are our tech predictions for 2021




It’s that time of year when we make predictions about what to see from technology in 2021.

We already know we’re good for new iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, new smart speakers from Amazon and beautiful new smart TV sets that will have higher resolution than ever before – at a lower cost.

So let’s offer up some tech predictions about what else we’ll see, or just might.

Let’s start with a given:

You’ll be paying for email in 2021

The world’s most popular email program Gmail, is owned by Google, which has decided to follow in Apple’s footsteps by getting more people hooked on monthly subscriptions. (Apple’s Services – which includes Apple Music, News and iCloud – is now its second-highest revenue generator, above Macs, iPads and Apple Watches.)

As of June 1, Google will no longer allow users to upload their photos and videos to Google Photos for free. Google offers 15 GBs of free storage for photos, but that also includes Gmail and Google Drive backup. The ask is that you pay for storage, which starts at $1.99 a month – but for just 100 GB of storage.

I don’t know about you, but my Gmail is 41 GBs worth now, I have 15 GBs worth of photos in Google Photos and 1.7 TBs on Google Drive.

Sure, I can clear out Google Drive, but the thing is, my email is a living, growing thing that is just not going to get smaller, no matter how hard I try to clean it up. It grows every day. So if you like your Gmail, get used to it – you might be paying.

Microsoft and Yahoo still offer free email, but they’re littered with ads, and you’re encouraged to step up to the “premium” versions, which starts at $5 and $3.49 a month, respectively, to go ad-free. Yahoo is eliminating the ability to automatically forward emails from Yahoo Mail beginning next week, unless you spend $34.99 a year for the service.

Big tech won’t find the new administration any friendlier

Facebook and Google’s woes in Washington, D.C., won’t change with a new Biden administration, we believe. The companies will continue to be hauled into Washington to defend against being broken up. President-elect Joe Biden has complained to the social network many times about all the disinformation coming out about him on Facebook, and the company declined to act. That certainly isn’t likely to play well in the Biden years.

The streaming wars will lose a big player

Many new streaming networks launched in 2020, most notably HBO Max and Peacock, and many more are on the horizon for 2021, including Paramount Plus and Discovery +, but at least one of the new networks will go down. Or so says my USA TODAY colleague Brett Molina, who puts Paramount Plus as the most likely victim.

Paramount Plus is the soon-to-be new name for what was CBS All-Access, with the addition of movies from the Paramount Pictures library and TV shows from the Viacom (MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon) vault. “There’s just too many of them,” Molina says. “I can’t see it lasting.” (You will see many more first-run films on streaming channels in 2021, as Warner Media has announced its entire slate for HBO Max and Disney + has first-run fare scheduled as well.)

5G won’t get any better until late 2021

The launch of new phones with access to the supposedly faster wireless speed of 5G, and the wireless carriers’ breathless hype about speed left many consumers scratching their heads. The promised speeds were no faster than 4G. One day 5G will live up to the hype, but not until late 2021, believes Gene Munster, an analyst and investor with Loup Ventures. For real progress, we’ll have to wait for 2022.

Local retailers will find a way to compete with Amazon

It’s an aspirational wish, but “someone will solve the need and find a way to fill it,” says Kieran Hannon, the chief marketing officer for OpenPath, a company that offers next generation office entry technology. He believes a service will be developed to help local retailers compete with the Amazons of the world by letting customers order from a direct website serving locals and have products delivered to them at home, thus keeping sales in the neighborhood.

Zoom and video meetings will only get bigger

Business travel may start to come back from the dead in the second half of 2021, but all the companies that saved money from the trips won’t likely be as eager to send staffers traipsing around the country when meetings can be done cheaper and more efficiently via video.

Students will one day return to the classrooms, but company meetings, seminars, webinars and the like will likely continue. No need to return those ring lights to improve your appearance yet.

Speaking of Zoom, a possible acquisition?

The video networks is one hot property that saw its usage numbers climb from 10 million to 300 million amid the pandemic, making it one prime acquisition target. Who better to buy Zoom than Amazon?

The companies already work together, with Amazon Web Services providing the server backbone for all those Zoom meetings. Unlike Google, Apple and Facebook, which have their own well-established video networks (Google Meet, FaceTime and Messenger), Amazon doesn’t have one.

So with Zoom in the company, and all those meeting minutes (about 2 trillion in April alone,) what an attractive target that would make for Amazon to remind us to use Alexa and buy more stuff, right?

Pay for podcasts?

Finally, Munster from Loup Ventures believes Apple will follow its smash success with the Services division by introducing a new way for podcasters to make money on their shows by charging admission. He sees a “Podcast +” that sees everyone’s favorite audio shows (like Talking Tech) added to the Apple One bundle with Apple Music. “Good news for podcasters, who may see Apple as another avenue to monetize their listener base.”

We love it.

Happy New Year, everyone!


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