Chess Ultra: How to Reincarnate a Classic Game with Modern Technology


Dreaming up new characters and creating complex virtual worlds is something all video game designers love to do. In fact, you only have to look at some recent headlines to see that this is the case. Little Nightmares by Bandai Namco received our 2017 game of the year award because the designers had managed to create an unnerving experience in a fairly small world. Despite being a short game (a six-hour playthrough), the intricate details, clever hiding places and scope for employing certain tactics made the world highly engaging. This attention to detail and the use of the latest technology not only something that made Little Nightmares a hit, but many modern games too.

However, as exciting as it is to invent new ways of playing, there’s something about the classics that’s always appealing. Taking what some would consider a tired concept and reinvigorating it with new ideas and features is something that more and more developers have started to do in recent years. Chess Ultra is a fantastic example of a classic that’s been given a new lease of life courtesy of modern technology. Developed by Ripstone and released across various platforms – including the Xbox One – in August 2017, Chess Ultra combines strategy, gameplay and immersion.

In the first instance, the game stands out because it offers 4K graphics in a virtual reality (VR) setting. Thanks to full compatibility with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, Chess Ultra plunges players in a realistic world where every grain of the mahogany board is visible. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sure, VR chess is something new, but it’s not something that’s been added to the mix in order to cover up weak gameplay. As you scroll through the game, you’ll notice that the opponents are lifelike. The artificial intelligence powering the game has been approved by a chess Grandmaster, so even the best chess players will be challenged. In tandem with this, the guys at Ripstone have added some gaming elements, such as the ability to play against the Grim Reaper in Gomorrah.

Tech Makes Complex Classics More Accessible

In essence, what Ripstone has done is not only make chess more exciting, but more accessible to the masses. Chess is a complex game and that often puts off casual players and, in turn, stops them from playing. However, when it comes to Chess Ultra, the VR and gameplay elements add extra levels of interest and that makes it more likely that inexperienced players will play. This, in many ways, is Chess Ultra’s greatest triumph. By taking a classic and making it something that traditional gamers and chess fans want to play, Ripstone has found a winning formula. In fact, this is a formula that’s also been used by casino game developer NetEnt.

Like chess, poker and its most popular variant, Texas Hold’em, has always been an intriguing yet intimidating game. As impressive as it is to watch, the nuances of Hold’em can become extremely complex and that, in some instances, can dissuade people from anteing up. To counter this and capture the spirit of Hold’em, NetEnt has developed TXS Hold’em Pro. Unlike the game on which it’s based, players are competing against the “house” instead of other players. However, what the designers have managed to do is take the fundamentals that have made Hold’em exciting and popular and put them into a more accessible format. In simple terms, the player dealt two hole cards and can then bet on the flop, turn and river if they believe they’ve got a five-card poker hand capable of beating the dealer. This, in practice, is very similar to regular Hold’em. However, what TXS Hold’em Pro does is to remove certain elements such as bet sizing, bluffing and hand reading. These things are where poker becomes a complex game. In fact, until poker bot Libratus came onto the scene, certain poker variants were so complex that AI struggled with them. However, by removing these elements, NetEnt has made the game accessible but retained the core excitement of Hold’em.

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