The fight over fuel economy rules is getting messy 0 29

The fight over fuel economy rules is getting messy

Fueling the fire —

Some in Congress want to investigate the Justice Department’s investigators.

Aarian Marshall, wired.com

The fight over fuel economy rules is getting messy

Getty Images

Legal wrangling among the federal government, the state of California, and four automakers who—oddly—are asking for more stringent regulations got even more knotty this month, when the Department of Justice reportedly launched an antitrust probe into companies that struck a deal with California climate regulators.

Now some members of Congress are urging an independent investigation of the investigation, amid suspicions that the probe is an attempt to punish the automakers—and California—for parting ways with federal policy on fuel economy.

The “what’ is confusing; the “why,” less so. If the average global temperature rises by 4°C by the end of the century, as it may be on track to do, scientists say a whole bunch of bad things would likely happen: higher sea levels, more extreme weather. In the US, transportation is responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly 60% of those come from light-duty vehicles like passenger cars.

That’s why the Obama administration decided in 2012 to (slowly) strengthen regulations governing vehicles’ tailpipe emissions and fuel economy standards, requiring each automaker’s fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 and boosting the penalty for missing that target. The Trump administration, on the other hand, wants to freeze those standards at 37mpg and delay the penalty hike, arguing that it will save automakers money, keeping prices low so that more people can buy newer cars with safer technology. (Electric vehicle proponents have questioned this logic.)

California has other ideas. In July, state regulators said they had reached their own deal with Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen, which would continue to ramp up fuel economy standards through 2025. Together, the four automakers account for roughly 30% of US car sales. The compromise would reach the same average fuel economy levels as the Obama-era standards but with a slighter longer timeline.

California is a vital market for automakers, and not just because it’s the nation’s largest economy: thirteen other states have pledged to follow its lead on emissions rules. Together, those 14 states account for about one-third of US vehicle sales. One set of rules for one-third of the car-buying country, and another for the rest would be disastrous for carmakers.

Other big automakers are in wait-and-see mode. General Motors reportedly believes the California deal doesn’t give manufacturers enough credit for investments in fully electric vehicles. The Automobile Alliance, which represents the four carmakers involved in the California deal but also non-signatories like GM and Fiat Chrysler, says its priority is avoiding “uncertainty from protracted litigation.”

California is able to set its own emissions standards thanks to text in the Clean Air Act that dates back to the 1970s. At that time, California was well ahead of the rest of the country in combating emissions, so Congress gave it authority to write its own, stricter rules. The Bush administration tried to deny California’s effort to set its own emissions standards in 2007, but Obama had taken office before the case was resolved.

Now the Trump administration wants to revoke California’s legal authority to set its own rules, and it’s trying to do that through lawsuits and new regulations. (Technically, California and other states sued it, arguing that it doesn’t have the authority to nix the Obama-era rules.) Legal experts say the administration may have a tough road ahead without Congress’ help. “The statute is very clear: It says EPA shall grant the waiver,” Cara Horowitz, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law, has told WIRED. However, federal judges at a hearing in Washington, DC, earlier this month signaled they would be willing to consider the merits of the administration’s arguments.

Experts say the antitrust probe into California’s dealings is unusual and that antitrust charges might not apply to businesses’ cooperative agreements with government entities—the state of California, for example. Congress could also choose to intercede to prevent the federal government from using antitrust laws as punitive sticks.

Congress, meanwhile, may launch an investigation into the antitrust probe. In a Friday letter to the head of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, Senate Judiciary Committee member (and presidential candidate) Kamala Harris (D-California) urged the office to examine the motivations for the probe, calling it part of a “multi-pronged assault on California’s framework.” The House’s Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, which is controlled by Democrats, has said that it will seek documents and hearings connected to the antitrust investigation.

California politicians also seem ready for a long-haul flight. “The Trump administration has been attempting and failing to bully car companies for months now,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement earlier this month. “We remain undeterred. California stands up to bullies and will keep fighting for stronger clean car protections that protect the health and safety of our children and families.”

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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“The Switcher” is real: Witcher 3 on Switch is a blurry, tolerable compromise 0 14

“The Switcher” is real: Witcher 3 on Switch is a blurry, tolerable compromise

Yes, it has wet butts —

How do you shrink such a demanding RPG down to Switch’s weaker specs? This is how.


In good news, you can boot straight into expansion content when loading this version of <em>The Witcher 3</em>. I imagine more than a few fans of the game will use this Switch version to dive deeply into either or both of the expansions.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019101116304400-2AF2C4CCD5F28D087B476BE33BFE1BF8-800×450.jpg”></img><figcaption>
<p><a data-height=Enlarge / In good news, you can boot straight into expansion content when loading this version of The Witcher 3. I imagine more than a few fans of the game will use this Switch version to dive deeply into either or both of the expansions.

Since Nintendo’s Switch console launched in 2016, we’ve seen no shortage of holy-cow ports of games we never thought would work on what turned out to be the most underpowered console of this generation. Doom 2016, Dark Souls, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus—that’s a list of demanding 3D games I never expected to launch on Switch, let alone games I’d actually recommend for the system.

But I do so with a pretty hefty asterisk attached. The charm of these games on Switch comes almost entirely due to them being playable on the go, at which point their severe compromises (image quality, rendering resolution) become much more acceptable. What looks iffy on a full-sized TV is easier to shrug off when seen on a six-inch 720p panel.

This week marks the arrival of arguably the most holy-cow port yet on the portable console: CD Projekt Red’s 2015 action-RPG The Witcher 3. This is a game, after all, whose other console versions required quite a few patches to get their most troublesome spots up to a locked 30 frames per second. We went hands-on over the weekend with the game’s final retail version (which launches for Switch on Tuesday) to answer a crucial question: could we expect playability in CDPR’s acclaimed adventure game on an even weaker system?

Not every polygon came through unscathed

  • In many ways, The Witcher 3 dedicates its Switch polygons where they count.

  • And when pre-baked lighting effects emerge, cinematic scenes can look quite handsome, even if they run closer to 20fps.

  • But while characters and certain scenes can look fantastic, a lot of the game’s default geometry, particularly its foliage, can look quite weird.

  • There’s also the matter of some rampant texture pop-in in some cinematic scenes.

  • Even in this cinematic scene, the effects of reduced screen resolution come into play.

  • Some optimized cinema scenes can look crisp and clear enough.

  • What you’re really looking for is real-time gameplay, and the rest of this gallery focuses on that.

  • We don’t have pixel-counting gear in-house, but in action, this looks on par with Doom 2016‘s Switch port.

  • The physics attached to these trees in a wind storm makes them look pretty convincing—at least, as opposed to some of the lower-poly foliage in other scenes.

  • There’s one wolf and one deer in there. That can be kind of hard to discern, even in action.

  • The view distance is okay, but nothing to scream home about.

  • Low-res Witcher.

  • There’s more than bad weather affecting the visibility in this moment.

  • Witchers can just barge in anywhere, can’t they.

The good news is that our initial impressions reveal a mostly locked 30fps refresh rate—stable enough to where the slightest frame rate hiccups have been nigh unnoticeable in our first few hours of play. The most crucial moments of battle and enemy management aren’t ruined by the on-screen action herking and jerking. This is met by some seriously quick loading times; getting from a cold boot to a loaded game save is rarely more than 60 seconds, and loading times between parts of the world are even faster.

The bad news, as can be seen in the gallery above, is that Witcher 3 on the Switch looks a lot more like Witcher 2. For starters, its apparent resolution is some of the blurriest we’ve ever seen on Switch in both docked and portable modes. While the results look comparable to Doom 2016, Witcher 3 is a much slower game, and it demands that you let your eyes linger over massive, dramatically lit landscapes and towns. The blur draped over all of that scenery is more noticeable than, say, a rapid-fire pulse of shotguns through demons’ faces.

Those landscapes are covered in foliage, a fact that impressed back in 2015 with CDPR’s dense rendering system working nearly as well on console as it did on PC. But that system’s polygon count and texture density have both been scaled back dramatically to get trees, shrubs, and other greenery working on Switch. This was probably done to preserve facial detail on pretty much every human character in the game, which is certainly a preferable compromise, but the disconnect between an emotionally brooding Geralt and a dinky, PlayStation 2-era wall of vines is one fans will have to accept if they want to marathon this version of Witcher 3 on the go.

Other major settings like shadow resolution, ground textures, and hair physics have also been scaled back, which you can argue is acceptable or annoying based on your personal preferences. The lower resolution of the Switch screen makes these downgrades a little more tolerable, in my opinion. But enough of the game’s geometry has been noticeably de-tuned that it stands out in the game’s lengthy, well-written cinema scenes (which, I should note, often struggle in the frame rate department, sometimes dipping into 10-15fps range).

One moment, the game will smother its scenery in some of the most handsome, pre-baked lighting effects you may have ever seen on Switch. The next moment, a tight zoom on Geralt and his allies stutters with texture pop-in and grungy foliage effects nearby. That kind of startling visual contrast shows up in this Switch port more than I expected.

Totally playable—just be warned

I don’t mean to say Witcher 3 is unplayable or ruined by the effort spent getting it into Switch-compatible shape. However, completely new players should be warned that CDPR’s cinematic vision for the game is compromised just enough to take this port out of my running for a clear-cut recommendation. If you’ve already played Witcher 3 and want an excuse to burn through it anew on the go, complete with convenient “fast forward to the expansions” shortcuts, then yes, this port is a great reason to return to Nilfgaard. If you don’t have any other consoles or a decent gaming PC, then “Switcher 3” is absolutely playable. (Plus, in my personal opinion, it’s better than Switch’s Skyrim as an on-the-go RPG, even with low resolutions and other visual compromises.)

But if you do have another hardware option and aren’t necessarily itching for a purely portable RPG, take a breath and look at other systems’ heavily discounted versions before making this your very first way to play the game.

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Liveblog: Google’s Pixel 4 (and friends) launch event starts 10/15 0 5

Liveblog: Google’s Pixel 4 (and friends) launch event starts 10/15

Tune in tuesday —

Tune in at 10am ET for the Pixel 4, Pixelbook Go, Nest WiFi, and more.


Promotional image of two smartphones side by side.

Enlarge / Google’s first official picture of the Pixel 4.

It’s that time of year again! Google’s big hardware event kicks off Tuesday, October 15 at 10am Eastern, and we’ll be there with full live coverage of the event. That starts with a liveblog, where we’ll be covering everything announced at the show as it happens.

This year should see a whole suite of Google products launch. Headlining the event will be Google’s next smartphone, the Pixel 4, with a 90Hz display, an air-gesture system powered by Google’s radar “Soli” technology, and a next-gen version of the Google Assistant. There should also be a new Pixelbook, the Pixelbook Go, which sees a return to a more traditional form factor after the collapse of the Pixel Slate.

With Nest’s recent demotion from a standalone company to a Google smart home sub-brand, we should see two new products with the weird branding of “Google Nest.” We’re expecting to see a sequel to the Google Wifi called the “Google Nest Wifi.” This new rev of Google’s mesh Wi-Fi system will reportedly have a primary router that hooks up to your modem and then several satellite devices that are both Wi-Fi mesh nodes and Google Home speakers that accept Google Assistant voice command and can play music. A second-gen Google Home Mini should also launch at the show with an aux jack and better sound, and this one will be rebranded “Google Nest Mini.”

Finally, there’s expected to be a new version of the Google Pixel Buds. Hopefully this time they are fully wireless.

While a lot about Google’s future lineup has leaked, there’s still plenty we hope to learn from the show. We don’t know the prices, release dates, or (probably very limited) country availability for anything. Other than some text descriptions, the Nest Home Mini, Nest Wifi, and new Pixel Buds are mostly mysteries. We’re also not exactly sure why you would want Project Soli in a smartphone or what other surprises Google has in store for the Pixel software.

All will be revealed October 15 at 10am, so be sure to follow along live.

Liveblog starts in:

View Liveblog

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