Sci-Fi

'Starcraft II' Goes Free-to-Play on Tuesday (techcrunch.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: It was only in April that Blizzard made the original StarCraft free to play, and now the company has done the same for its sequel. StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, which is certainly the most-played real-time strategy game ever made, will be free for anyone to play starting on November 14. Of course there's a catch, but nothing nefarious. The game was divided into three episodes, each focusing on one of the three playable races (Human, Zerg and Protoss -- but you knew that), and only the first (the human one) will be available for free. If you already own Wings of Liberty (as the episode is called) you can also get the Heart of the Swarm chapter for free by logging in and claiming it before December 8.
TechCrunch calls it "a good way to onboard new players who just never wanted to pay full price to find out if they liked it."
Classic Games (Games)

Text Adventure Competition Reports A 36% Spike In Entries (ifcomp.org) 21

There's just four days left to vote for the winner of the 23rd Annual Interactive Fiction Competition. An anonymous reader writes: This year's contest set a record, drawing 79 new text adventures -- 36% more entries than the previous year's 58. All of this year's games are available online, furthering the competition's goal of "making them freely available in order to encourage the creation, play, and discussion of interactive fiction." (And they're also available in a 236-megabyte .zip archive.)

Each game's developer is competing for $4,800 in cash prizes, to be shared among everyone who finishes in the top two-thirds (including a $247 prize to the first-place winner). Authors of the top-rated games will also get to choose from a 38-prize pool (which includes another $200 cash prize donated by Asymmetric Publications, as well as a "well-loved" used Wii console). But the most important thing is there's a bunch of fun new text adventures to play. Reviews are already appearing online, lovingly collected by the Interactive Fiction Wiki. And one game designer even livestreamed their text adventure-playing on Twitch.

Nintendo

Nintendo Reportedly Plans To Double Switch Production In 2018 (engadget.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The Switch, Nintendo's latest hybrid console is doing pretty well for the company, which expects it to outdo the Wii U's lifetime sales within a year. The company obviously thinks so, too, according to a new report at The Wall Street Journal, which says that Nintendo plans to ramp up production of the hardware itself, beginning in April 2018. The report claims that Nintendo is planning to make 25 million to 30 million more units of its successful Switch console over the next fiscal year. Further, Nintendo may plan for even more if this year's holiday sales are strong, according to the WSJ's sources. The company has already built almost 8 million Switches, total, as of its latest earnings report.
Businesses

EA Buys Out a Game Studio After Shutting Another One Down 3 Weeks Ago (arstechnica.com) 57

EA has acquired the video game studio Respawn Entertainment. "The studio, co-founded by former Infinity Ward chiefs and Call of Duty co-creators in the wake of their departure from Activision, has been bought out in a deal whose total value could reach $455 million," reports Ars Technica. "The news by itself may seem odd, considering that EA shut down one of its other wholly owned studios, Visceral Games, only three weeks ago." From the report: A report from Kotaku sheds light on why EA made the move: as a response to another game publisher, Korea's Nexon, making a formal bid to buy Respawn outright. Nexon currently publishes a mobile spinoff of Respawn's Titanfall shooter series. Kotaku, citing sources close to the matter, claims that Nexon had bid to buy the company outright. EA exercised its contractual right to match the offer, Kotaku says, and it ultimately outbid Nexon. Among other things, the buyout preserves Respawn's continued work on an upcoming EA game set in the Star Wars universe; EA currently enjoys an exclusive license to making Star Wars-related video games, and any takeover by another company would have to resolve whether or how such a project would continue in production. Respawn's Star Wars project still does not have a title, a release date, or revealed gameplay footage. Respawn announced its work on an additional, unnamed VR game at Oculus Connect 4 last month; the EA statement says that project will continue apace, as well.
AI

Humans Are Still Better Than AI at StarCraft (technologyreview.com) 142

29-year-old professional StarCraft player Song Byung-gu won 4-0 in the world's first contest between AI systems and professional human players, writes MIT Technology Review. An anonymous reader quotes their report: One of the bots, dubbed "CherryPi," was developed by Facebook's AI research lab. The other bots came from Australia, Norway, and Korea. The contest took place at Sejong University in Seoul, Korea, which has hosted annual StarCraft AI competitions since 2010. Those previous events matched AI systems against each other (rather than against humans) and were organized, in part, by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a U.S.-based engineering association.

Though it has not attracted as much global scrutiny as the March 2016 tournament between Alphabet's AlphaGo bot and a human Go champion, the recent Sejong competition is significant because the AI research community considers StarCraft a particularly difficult game for bots to master. Following AlphaGo's lopsided victory over Lee Sedol last year, and other AI achievements in chess and Atari video games, attention shifted to whether bots could also defeat humans in real-time games such as StarCraft... Executives at Alphabet's AI-focused division, DeepMind, have hinted that they are interested in organizing such a competition in the future.

The event wouldn't be much of a contest if it were held now. During the Sejong competition, Song, who ranks among the best StarCraft players globally, trounced all four bots involved in less than 27 minutes total. (The longest match lasted about 10 and a half minutes; the shortest, just four and a half.) That was true even though the bots were able to move much faster and control multiple tasks at the same time. At one point, the StarCraft bot developed in Norway was completing 19,000 actions per minute. Most professional StarCraft players can't make more than a few hundred moves a minute.

Upgrades

Xbox One X is the Perfect Representation of the Tech Industry's Existential Crisis (mashable.com) 190

A reader shares commentary on the newly launched Xbox One X gaming console: Fundamentally, Xbox One X is the same machine that Microsoft released in 2013. It plays the same games, runs the same apps, depends on the same operating system. You can still plug your cable box into it and watch OneGuide magically sync with your local TV listings. Most of the things you can do look a little better and run a little faster/more efficiently, sure. The actual casing is smaller than the previous iterations, too. It's a gorgeous $500 machine. That's why I keep eyeballing it. My brain screams, "Why do you exist?" The Xbox One X does not answer. This is a familiar problem in 2017. Look around at all the tech in your life and do a quick, informal poll: How many of those items become outdated every year or every few years when a newer, shinier version of the same thing comes along? I'm talking about your iPhone and iPad. Your Amazon Echo and Kindle. Your Pixel and Daydream VR headset. Your Apple Watch. Your Roku, your Apple TV, your Chromecast. Incremental upgrades that push features like 4K! HDR! Wireless charging! Slimmer design! No headphone jack! (Wait, no, that last one is awful.) Breathless bullet point after breathless bullet point. Some of these additions have genuine utility and add value to the product. Many don't, or depend on you also possessing some other piece of incrementally upgraded tech (like the kinds of fancy-shmancy TVs that play the nicest with Xbox One X).
Cellphones

Razer Unveils Gaming Smartphone With 120Hz UltraMotion Display, 8GB RAM and No Headphone Jack (cnet.com) 168

Computer hardware company Razer has unveiled its first smartphone. While the design doesn't appear to be up to par with the competition, it does pack some impressive specifications under the hood. The Razer Phone features a 5.7-inch, 2,560x1,440-resolution display, Snapdragon 835 chipset with 8GB of RAM, 12-megapixel dual camera with a wide-angle lens and 2x optical zoom, 4,000mAh battery, dual front-facing stereo speakers, and Android 7.1.1 Nougat running out of the box. While there is a microSD card slot for expandable storage, there is no headphone jack, no waterproofing, and no wireless charging. The device also won't support CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint. CNET reports: [W]here most new flagship phones are shiny rounded rectangles with curved screens, the Razer Phone is unabashedly a big black brick. It flaunts sharp 90-degree corners instead of curved edges. You can even stand the phone on end. The 5.7-inch, 2,560x1,440-resolution screen is flat as a pancake, and you'll find giant bezels above and below that screen, too -- just when we thought bezels were going out of style. When the Razer Phone ships Nov. 17 for $699 or £699 -- no plans for Australia at launch -- the company says it'll be the first phone with a display that refreshes 120 times per second, like a high-end PC gaming monitor or Apple's iPad Pro. And combined with a dynamic refresh technique Razer's calling Ultramotion (think Nvidia G-Sync), it can mean beautiful, butter-smooth scrolling down websites and apps, and glossy mobile gameplay.
Games

Game Studio CCP Scales Back Virtual Reality Development (bbc.com) 43

Developer CCP Games has significantly cut the time and money it is investing in virtual-reality based games. From a report: The Iceland-based studio is best known for sci-fi title Eve Online but has also created several VR-centred games. Spaceship dog-fighting simulator Eve Valkyrie helped launch the Oculus Rift headset and CCP also made the Sparc VR ball-tossing game for the PlayStation. CCP boss Hilmar Petursson said the company would re-invest in VR when market conditions improved. The move was a "blow to the viability of VR as a major gaming platform," said Adam Smith on the Rock, Paper Shotgun gaming news website, adding that Valkyrie was one of the few games that tempted him to try VR. The changes come just over a month after CCP overhauled Valkyrie in a bid to get more people playing it. CCP has cut its investment in VR as part of a broader restructuring effort. The structural changes mean more focus on PC and mobile games, it said in a statement. It is closing its Atlanta, US, office and selling off the development studio it maintains in Newcastle. The VR development work done at both locations will move to London.
Businesses

GameStop Is Launching An Unlimited Used Game Rental Subscription, Says Report (polygon.com) 38

According to a leaked advertisement, GameStop is rolling out a used game rental subscription service. Subscribers will be able to pick any used game, play it, return it and get another as often as they like. The service will reportedly cost $60 for six months, and players get to keep the last game they borrow. Polygon reports: The advertisement was first seen at ResetEra, the new gaming forum. It appears to be from the newest issue of Game Informer (which is published by GameStop). The "Power Pass" subscription lasts six months and costs $60, according to the advertisement. Sign ups will begin on Nov. 19. The fine print says the Power Pass must be activated by Jan. 31, 2018, possibly hinting at when this service will go live. The subscription requires that the user be a PowerUp Rewards member, and the offer will be available only to the used game catalog in a store (i.e. physical discs), not from GameStop's online library. The PowerUp Rewards requirement apparently is there to help GameStop track the game currently in a user's possession.
First Person Shooters (Games)

Thousands of Videogame-Playing Soldiers Could Shape the Future of War (theatlantic.com) 216

An anonymous reader quotes the Atlantic: As far as video games go, Operation Overmatch is rather unremarkable. Players command military vehicles in eight-on-eight matches against the backdrop of rendered cityscapes -- a common setup of games that sometimes have the added advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in development budgets. Overmatch does have something unique, though: its mission. The game's developers believe it will change how the U.S. Army fights wars. Overmatch's players are nearly all soldiers in real life. As they develop tactics around futuristic weapons and use them in digital battle against peers, the game monitors their actions.

Each shot fired and decision made, in addition to messages the players write in private forums, is a bit of information soaked up with a frequency not found in actual combat, or even in high-powered simulations without a wide network of players. The data is logged, sorted, and then analyzed, using insights from sports and commercial video games. Overmatch's team hopes this data will inform the Army's decisions about which technologies to purchase and how to develop tactics using them, all with the aim of building a more forward-thinking, prepared force... While the game currently has about 1,000 players recruited by word of mouth and outreach from the Overmatch team, the developers eventually want to involve tens of thousands of soldiers. This milestone would allow for millions of hours of game play per year, according to project estimates, enough to generate rigorous data sets and test hypotheses.

Communications

EA Shuts Down Fan-Run Servers For Older Battlefield Games (arstechnica.com) 132

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Since 2014, a group of volunteers going by the name Revive Network have been working to keep online game servers running for Battlefield 2, Battlefield 2142, and Battlefield Heroes. As of this week, the team is shutting down that effort thanks to a legal request from publisher Electronic Arts. "We will get right to the point: Electronic Arts Inc.' legal team has contacted us and nicely asked us to stop distributing and using their intellectual property," the Revive Network team writes in a note on their site. "As diehard fans of the franchise, we will respect these stipulations."

EA's older Battlefield titles were a victim of the 2014 GameSpy shutdown, which disabled the online infrastructure for plenty of classic PC and console games. To get around that, Revive was distributing modified versions of the older Battlefield titles along with a launcher that allowed access to its own, rewritten server infrastructure. The process started with Battlefield 2 in 2014 and expanded to Battlefield 2142 last year, and Battlefield Heroes a few month ago. It's the distribution of modified copies of these now-defunct games that seems to have drawn the ire of EA's legal department. Revive claimed over 900,000 registered accounts across its games, including nearly 175,000 players for the recently revived Battlefield Heroes.

Math

The Geometry of Islamic Art Becomes a Treasure of a Game (arstechnica.com) 213

Sam Machkovech from Ars Technica reviews the game Engare, describing it as a "clever, deceptively simple, and beautiful rumination on geometry and Islamic art-making traditions." The game consists of relatively simple puzzles and a freeform art toy that unlocks its puzzles' tools to allow you to make whatever patterns you please. From the report: The game, made almost entirely by 23-year-old Iranian developer Mahdi Bahrami, starts with a 2D scene of a circle repeatedly traveling along a line. Above this, an instructional card shows a curved-diagonal line. Drop a dot on the moving circle, the game says, and it will generate a bold line, like ink on a page. As the ball (and thus, your dot) rolls, the inked line unfurls; if you put the dot on a different part of the circle, then your inked line may have more curve or angle to it, based on the total motion of the moving, rotating circle. Your object is to recreate this exact curved-diagonal line. If your first ink-drop doesn't do the trick, try again. Each puzzle presents an increasingly complex array of moving and rotating shapes, lines, and dots. You have to watch the repeating patterns and rotations in a particular puzzle to understand where to drop an ink dot and draw the demanded line. At first, you'll have to recreate simple turns, curves, and zig-zags. By the end, you'll be making insane curlicues and rug-like super-patterns.

But even this jaded math wiz-kid couldn't help but drop his jaw, loose his tongue, and bulge his eyes at the first time Engare cracked open its math-rich heart. One early puzzle (shown above) ended with its seemingly simple pattern repeating over and over and over and over. Unlike other puzzles, this pattern kept drawing itself, even after I'd fulfilled a simple line-and-turn pattern. And with each pass of the drawing pattern, driven by a spinning, central circle, Engare drew and filled a new, bright color. This is what the game's creator is trying to shout, I thought. This is his unique, cultural perspective. This looks like the Persian rugs he saw his grandmother weave as a child.

Microsoft

Microsoft Has Stopped Manufacturing The Kinect (fastcodesign.com) 61

Manufacturing of the Kinect has shut down, reports FastMagazine: Originally created for the Xbox 360, Microsoft's watershed depth camera and voice recognition microphone sold about 35 million units since its debut in 2010, but Microsoft will no longer produce it when retailers sell off their existing stock. The company will continue to support Kinect for customers on Xbox, but ongoing developer tools remain unclear. Microsoft shared the news with Co.Design in exclusive interviews with Alex Kipman, creator of the Kinect, and Matthew Lapsen, GM of Xbox Devices Marketing. The Kinect had already been slowly de-emphasized by Microsoft, as the Xbox team anchored back around traditional gaming to counter the PS4, rather than take its more experimental approach to entertainment. Yet while the Kinect as a standalone product is off the market, its core sensor lives on. Kinect v4 -- and soon to be, v5 -- power Microsoft's augmented reality Hololens, which Kipman also created. Meanwhile, Kinect's team of specialists have gone on to build essential Microsoft technologies, including the Cortana voice assistant, the Windows Hello biometric facial ID system, and a context-aware user interface for the future that Microsoft dubs Gaze, Gesture and Voice (GGV).
Software

Why Xbox One Backward Compatibility Took So Long (ign.com) 62

A new report from IGN this morning explains why it took so long for backwards compatibility to be supported on the Xbox One. Microsoft veteran Kevin La Chapelle says the answer to the question can be found in 2015 -- the year that Phil Spencer announced backwards compatibility at Microsoft's Xbox E3 media briefing. From the report: The fan-first feature has evolved from an experiment conducted by two separate Microsoft Research teams into a service planned for Xbox One's launch -- complete with hardware hooks baked into the Durango silicon -- until the well-publicized changes to the Xbox One policies (namely, stripping out the always-online requirement for the console) forced it to be pushed to the back burner. It's obviously back for good now, and expanding into original Xbox compatibility of select titles on Xbox One (the first batch of which we announced today). Even the Xbox One X is getting involved, with a handful of Xbox 360 games getting Scorpio-powered enhancements like 10-bit color depth, anisotropic filtering, and up to 9x additional pixel counts displayed on screen. [...]

It was 2007. One of [the research] teams was working on PowerPC CPU emulation -- getting 32-bit code, which the 360 uses, to run on the 64-bit architecture that the third-generation Xbox would be using. The other team, out of Beijing, started writing a virtual GPU emulator based on the Xbox 360 GPU architecture. "These were like peanut butter and chocolate," Microsoft VP of Xbox software engineering Kareem Choudhry recalled. "[So we thought,] 'Why don't we put them both together?'" Choudhry did just that, and so the first steps to Xbox One backwards compatibility were taken, long before the console had a name or anything remotely resembling final specifications. As Durango crystallized, so too did plans for Xbox 360 compatibility on the new machine. "This was primarily a software exercise, but we enabled that by thinking ahead with hardware," Gammill explained. "We had to bake some of the backwards compatibility support into the [Xbox One] silicon." This was done back in 2011. Preliminary tests showed that support for key Xbox middleware XMA audio and texture formats was extremely taxing to do in software alone, with the former, Gammill noted, taking up two to three of the Xbox One's six CPU cores. But a SOC (system on chip) -- basically an Xbox 360 chip inside every Xbox One, similar to how Sony put PS2 hardware inside the launch-era PS3s -- would've not only been expensive, but it would've put a ceiling on what the compatibility team could do. "If we'd have gone with the 360 SOC, we likely would've landed at just parity," he said. "The goal was never just parity." So they built the XMA and texture formats into the Xbox One chipset...

DRM

Denuvo's DRM Now Being Cracked Within Hours of Release (arstechnica.com) 113

Denuvo, an anti-tamper technology and digital rights management scheme, isn't doing a very good job preventing PC games from being copied. According to Ars Technica, Denuvo releases are being publicly cracked within a day of their launch. From the report: This week's release of South Park: The Fractured but Whole is the latest to see its protections broken less than 24 hours after its release, but it's not alone. Middle Earth: Shadow of War was broken within a day last week, and last month saw cracks for Total War: Warhammer 2 and FIFA 18 the very same day as their public release. Then there's The Evil Within 2, which reportedly used Denuvo in prerelease review copies but then launched without that protection last week, effectively ceding the game to immediate potential piracy. Those nearly instant Denuvo cracks follow summer releases like Sonic Mania, Tekken 7, and Prey, all of which saw DRM protection cracked within four to nine days of release. But even that small difference in the "uncracked" protection window can be important for game publishers, who usually see a large proportion of their legitimate sales in those first few days of availability. The presence of an easy-to-find cracked version in that launch window (or lack thereof) could have a significant effect on the initial sales momentum for a big release. If Denuvo can no longer provide even a single full day of protection from cracks, though, that protection is going to look a lot less valuable to publishers.
Patents

Activision Patents Pay-To-Win Matchmaker (rollingstone.com) 133

New submitter EndlessNameless writes: If you like fair play, you might not like future Activision games. They will cross the line to encourage microtransactions, specifically matching players to both encourage and reward purchase. Rewarding the purchase, in particular, is an explicit and egregious elimination of any claim to fair play. "For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase," according to the patent. "This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results." Even though the patent's examples are all for a first-person-shooter game, the system could be used across a wide variety of titles. "This was an exploratory patent filed in 2015 by an R&D team working independently from our game studios," an Activision spokesperson tells Rolling Stone. "It has not been implemented in-game." Bungie also confirmed that the technology isn't being used in games currently on the market, mentioning specifically Destiny 2.
AI

DeepMind's Go-Playing AI Doesn't Need Human Help To Beat Us Anymore (theverge.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's AI subsidiary DeepMind has unveiled the latest version of its Go-playing software, AlphaGo Zero. The new program is a significantly better player than the version that beat the game's world champion earlier this year, but, more importantly, it's also entirely self-taught. DeepMind says this means the company is one step closer to creating general purpose algorithms that can intelligently tackle some of the hardest problems in science, from designing new drugs to more accurately modeling the effects of climate change. The original AlphaGo demonstrated superhuman Go-playing ability, but needed the expertise of human players to get there. Namely, it used a dataset of more than 100,000 Go games as a starting point for its own knowledge. AlphaGo Zero, by comparison, has only been programmed with the basic rules of Go. Everything else it learned from scratch. As described in a paper published in Nature today, Zero developed its Go skills by competing against itself. It started with random moves on the board, but every time it won, Zero updated its own system, and played itself again. And again. Millions of times over. After three days of self-play, Zero was strong enough to defeat the version of itself that beat 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol, winning handily -- 100 games to nil. After 40 days, it had a 90 percent win rate against the most advanced version of the original AlphaGo software. DeepMind says this makes it arguably the strongest Go player in history.
Software

EA Shuts Down Visceral Games, Shifting Development On Its Star Wars Game (kotaku.com) 75

Visceral Games, the studio behind games like Battlefield Hardline and Dead Space, is being shut down by EA. The Star Wars game in development at Visceral will be revamped and moved to a different studio. Kotaku reports: "Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe," EA's Patrick Soderlund said in a blog post. "In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design." Soderlund added that Visceral will be "ramping down and closing" and that "we're in the midst of shifting as many of the team as possible to other projects and teams at EA." "Lastly," he said, "while we had originally expected this game to launch late in our fiscal year 2019, we're now looking at a new timeframe that we will announce in the future."
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's Fall Update With Redesigned Xbox Dashboard Is Now Available To All (engadget.com) 38

Microsoft has released the next big "Fall" update for the Xbox One, which focuses on speed and simplicity. Engadget reports: The first "Fluid Design" interface comes with a redesigned Home page, which is all about simplicity and customization. The top-level section has four shortcuts (your current game, two personalized suggestions, and a deal from the Microsoft store) and a horizontal carousel underneath. The biggest change, however, is the new "Content Blocks" that sit below this screen. Scroll down and you'll find a series of large, visual panels dedicated to games and friends. These are completely customizable and act like miniature hubs for your favorite titles and communities. The quick-access Guide has been tweaked for speed, with small, horizontal tabs that you can slide between with the Xbox controller's LB and RB bumpers, D-pad or left thumbstick. If you launch the Guide while you're streaming or part of an active party, you'll also see the corresponding broadcast and party tabs by default. Other Guide tweaks include a new Tournaments section in the Multiplayer tab, which will summarize any official, professional or community tournaments that you've entered. In addition, Microsoft has overhauled the Community tab with a modern, grid-based layout. It's also tweaked the idle and screen dimming features that kick in when you walk away from the console momentarily. Larry Hryb, Xbox Live's Major Nelson and Mike Ybarra, the Platform Engineer, have posted a walkthrough video on YouTube highlighting all the major new changes.
First Person Shooters (Games)

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Blocks 322,000 Cheaters (pcgamer.com) 184

The new anti-cheating system installed in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has been banning more than 6,000 suspected cheaters every day. An anonymous reader quotes PC Gamer: That's according to BattlEye, which polices the game's servers. Its official account tweeted yesterday that between 6,000 and 13,000 players are getting their marching orders daily. On Saturday morning, it had cracked down on nearly 20,000 players within the previous 24-hour period... In total, the service has blocked 322,000 people, double the number that was reported by the game's creator Brendan Greene, aka PlayerUnknown, last month.
Yesterday the game had more than 2.2 million concurrent players.
Communications

Russia Reportedly Used Pokemon Go In an Effort To Inflame Racial Tensions (theverge.com) 211

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Russia's far-ranging campaign to promote dissension in the United States reportedly included an effort to weaponize Pokemon Go. CNN reported that in July 2016, a Tumblr page linked to Russia's now-notorious Internet Research Agency promoted a contest encouraging people sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement to play the game near famous sites of police brutality. Players were told to change their characters' names to the victims of those incidents -- an apparent effort to inflame racial tensions. The Tumblr page was linked to Do Not Shoot Us, a multi-platform campaign designed to mimic aspects of Black Lives Matter. (As CNN notes, the name plays on "hands up, don't shoot," one of the movement's slogans.) Do Not Shoot Us included a website, donotshoot.us, along with related pages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. The Facebook page was one of 470 pages that were removed after the company determined that it was linked to Russian groups attempting to interfere in US politics.
NES (Games)

Third 'Nintendo World Championship' Ends With Three Unreleased Switch Game Levels (kotaku.com) 14

An anonymous reader writes: The Nintendo World Championships wrapped up in Manhattan Saturday with two finalists competing on three as-yet-unreleased levels from the upcoming Nintendo Switch game Super Mario Odyssey. 16 contenders had been selected from Mario Kart 7 qualifying rounds at Best Buy stores in eight U.S. cities, and Thomas G. "surged up through the 'underground,' the loser's bracket," reports Kotaku, "after overcoming opponents in games like Mario Party 2 and Super Mario Bros. Deluxe."

Thomas G. found himself in the final round against defending champion John Number, and Kotaku has embedded video clips from Twitch of their climactic final showdown on the three unreleased levels. "The first level forced the two to do a little timing-based puzzle solving, hitting buttons with their caps to create platforms on walls, which they could then hop across to the moon. Level two was a vertical platforming stage using Mario's new cap abilities to fling and fly up the side of a tower. The final boss fight from above closed out the race, with Thomas G. landing the final punch to the boss' face and taking home the trophy."

Intel

Intel's Just Launched 8th Gen 'Coffee Lake' Processors Bring the Heat To AMD's Ryzen 137

bigwophh writes: The upheaval of the high-end desktop processor segment continues today with the official release of Intel's latest Coffee Lake-based 8th Generation Core processors. The flagship in the new lineup is the Core i7-8700K. It is a 6C/12T beast, with a base clock of 3.7GHz, a boost clock of 4.7GHz, and 12MB of Intel Smart Cache. The Core i5-8400 features the same physical die, but has only 9MB of Smart Cache, no Hyper-Threading, and base and boost clocks of 2.8GHz and 4GHz, respectively. The entire line-up features more cores, support for faster memory speeds, and leverages a fresh platform that's been tweaked for more robust power delivery and, ultimately, more performance. The Core i7-8700K proved to be an excellent performer, besting every other processor in single-threaded workloads and competing favorably with 8C/16T Ryzen 7 processors. The affordably-priced 6-core Core i5-8400 even managed to pull ahead of the quad-core Core i7-7700K in some tests. Overall, performance is strong, especially for games, and the processors seem to be solid values in their segment.
Programming

'Tetris' Recreated In Conway's 'Game of Life' (stackexchange.com) 87

In 1970 mathematician John Conway created rules for the "Game of Life," a now famous "zero-player game" where a grid of cells evolves (following Conway's rules) from an initial state proposed by the player. In 2013 someone challenged readers of StackExchange's "Programming Puzzles & Code Golf" section to devise an initial state "that will allow for the playing of a game of Tetris."

An anonymous Slashdot reader reports that "This challenge sat around, gathering upvotes but no answer, for four years. Then, it was answered." Citing the work of seven contributors, a massive six-part response says their solution took one and a half years to create, and "began as a quest but ended as an odyssey." The team created their own assembly language, known as QFTASM (Quest for Tetris Assembly) for use within Conway's mathematical universe, and then also designed their own processor architecture, and eventually even a higher-level language that they named COGOL. Their StackExchange response includes a link to all of their code on GitHub, as well as to a page where you can run the code online.

One StackExchange reader hailed the achievement as "the single greatest thing I've ever scrolled through while understanding very little."
Nintendo

This Guy Is Digitizing the VHS History of Video Games (vice.com) 87

An anonymous reader shares a report: UK-based gaming journalist and blogger Chris Scullion is on a mission to preserve his collection -- and maybe your collection, too -- of these old video game VHS tapes. In the 80s and 90s, video game companies and trade magazines made these tapes to accompany popular titles or new issues with bonus material or promotional footage, giving a glimpse into how marketing for games was done in the industry's early days. Scullion has 18 tapes to upload so far, and plans to provide accompanying commentary as well as the raw video as they go up on his YouTube channel. Scullion's first upload is a promotional tape for Super Mario All-Stars, given away by Nintendo UK in 1993. It's hosted by Craig Charles, who played Lister in the British sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf. Digitizing his collection keeps that sweet nostalgia content safe from degradation of the magnetic tape, which starts to go downhill within 10 to 25 years. He's capturing them in HD using a 1080p upscaler, at a full 50fps frame rate by converting to HDMI before grabbing -- a higher frame rate than many standard commercial digitizing devices that capture at 30fps -- so that no frames are missed. Some of the tapes he's planning to digitize have already been converted and uploaded to YouTube by other people, he says, but most are either poor quality or captured with less-advanced grabbing devices.
Games

PC Gaming Is Back in Focus at Tokyo Game Show (bloomberg.com) 156

After taking a back seat to consoles for the past few years, personal computers are enjoying a resurgence in gaming, thanks to the popularity of e-sports, customizable machines and faster software releases. From a report: This week's Tokyo Game Show will feature a main-stage tournament for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, a hit online survival PC game that's been downloaded more than 10 million times since March. Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One consoles are heading into their fifth years, while Nintendo's Switch is in a bit of a lull before new titles are released for the year-end holiday shopping season. Spending on gaming-ready PC rigs are on track to climb an average of 6.6 percent per year through 2020, while the market as a whole is projected to decline 3.8 percent annually, according to Gartner. Revenue from PC titles will grow by 3 to 4 percent over the coming years, while console-game sales are seen flat, according to DFC Intelligence. Written off years ago for being too expensive, complex and bulky for mass appeal, gaming PCs are seeing a resurgence that could even threaten consoles, according to Kazunori Takahashi, Japan gaming head at Nvidia. "The abundance of titles and the popularity of e-sports is bringing a lot of excitement to PC gaming," said Takahashi, whose employer supplies graphic chips to PC and console makers. Even in Japan, "it's not unreasonable to think that PCs can eventually become a presence that threatens console gaming."
Privacy

Popular Steam Extension 'Inventory Helper' Spies On Users, Says Report (windowsreport.com) 66

SmartAboutThings shares a report from Windows Report: If you installed the "Steam Inventory Helper" on your computer, you may want to uninstall it as soon as possible. Recent reports suggest that this extension used to buy and sell digital goods on Steam is spying on its users. Redditor Wartab made a thorough analysis of the tool and reached the following conclusions: The spyware code tracks your every move starting from the moment you visit a website until you leave. It also tracks where you are coming from on the site; Steam Inventory Helper tracks your clicks, including when you are moving your mouse and when you are having focus in an input; When you click a link, it sends the link URL to a background script; Fortunately, the code does not monitor what you type. Apparently, the purpose of this spyware is to collect data about gamers for promotional purposes.
The Military

Navy Plans To Use Xbox 360 Controllers For New Periscope Systems Aboard Its Submarines (go.com) 121

According to ABC News, the U.S. Navy is planning to use Xbox 360 controllers to operate periscopes aboard its most advanced submarines. High-resolution cameras and large monitors are replacing the traditional rotating periscope in the Navy's Virginia-class subs. While they can be controlled by a helicopter-style stick, the Navy plans to integrate an Xbox controller into the system because they're more familiar to younger sailors and require less training. They are also considerably cheaper. The controller typically costs less than $30 compared to the $38,000 cost of a photonic mast handgrip and imaging control panel. The Xbox controller will be included as part of the integrated imaging system for Virginia-class subs beginning with the future USS Colorado. It is supposed to be commissioned by November.
Youtube

PewDiePie Is Inexcusable But DMCA Takedowns Are Not the Way To Fight Him (vice.com) 506

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, is the most popular YouTuber in the world. He's gotten himself into another controversy, this time for shouting the n-word while livestreaming a video game. The 27-year-old Swede has repeatedly been criticized for hate speech, and just last month said he would no longer make Nazi jokes after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent. But while playing PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on Sunday, Kjellberg, who has over 57 million subscribers on YouTube, called another player the n-word before erupting into laughter. "What a fucking n****r," he said. "Jeez, oh my god. What the fuck? Sorry, but what the fuck? What a fucking asshole. I don't mean that in a bad way." Kjellberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and has yet to publicly acknowledge the incident.

In response to Kjellberg's use of a racial slur, a number of video game players and developers have condemned the creator. Sean Vanaman, the co-founder of video game company Campo Santo, decided to use copyright law to push back against Kjellberg. On Twitter, he said he was filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request against the famous YouTuber regarding a video in which Kjellberg plays Campo Santo's game Firewatch. There are compelling reasons to [remove hate speech from major internet platforms] by any means necessary, but DMCA overreach is among the least compelling options, considering that it unilaterally puts power into the hands of what are essentially uninvolved parties and allows for little arbitration or defense on the part of those who have their content removed.

Wii

Jury Finds Nintendo Wii Infringes Dallas Inventor's Patent, Awards $10 Million (arstechnica.com) 113

A jury has ruled that Nintendo must pay $10.1 million because its Wii and Wii U systems infringe a patent belonging to a Dallas medical motion-detection company. Ars Technica reports: iLife sued Nintendo (PDF) in 2013 after filing lawsuits against four other companies in 2012. The case went to a jury trial in Dallas, and yesterday the jury returned its verdict (PDF). They found that Nintendo infringed U.S. Patent No. 6,864,796, first filed in 1999, which describes "systems and methods for evaluating movement of a body relative to an environment." The patent drawings show a body-mounted motion detector that could detect falls in the elderly, which is the market that iLife was targeting, according to its now defunct website. The $10.1 million was less than 10 percent of what iLife's attorneys had been asking for. When the trial began in Dallas on August 21, Law360 reported that iLife lawyers asked the jury for a $144 million payout. That damage demand was based on a royalty of $4 per Wii unit, multiplied by 36 million systems sold in the six years before the lawsuit was filed.
Programming

Solve a 'Simple' Chess Puzzle, Win $1 Million (st-andrews.ac.uk) 125

An anonymous reader brings an important announcement: Researchers at the University of St Andrews have thrown down the gauntlet to computer programmers to find a solution to a "simple" chess puzzle which could, in fact, take thousands of years to solve, and net a $1 million prize. Computer Scientist Professor Ian Gent and his colleagues, at the University of St Andrews, believe any program capable of solving the famous "Queens Puzzle" efficiently would be so powerful, it would be capable of solving tasks currently considered impossible, such as decrypting the toughest security on the internet. In a paper [PDF] published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research today, the team conclude the rewards to be reaped by such a program would be immense, not least in financial terms with firms rushing to use it to offer technological solutions, and also a $1 million prize offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in America.

Devised in 1850, the Queens Puzzle originally challenged a player to place eight queens on a standard chessboard so that no two queens could attack each other. This means putting one queen in each row, so that no two queens are in the same column, and no two queens in the same diagonal. Although the problem has been solved by human beings, once the chess board increases to a large size no computer program can solve it.

Microsoft

Microsoft's Open Invitation To Valve, Nintendo and Others To Join Xbox One and PC Crossplay (vg247.com) 175

Microsoft has said it's ready to have a "conversation" with any development team that wants to feature crossplay support on consoles and PC. From a report: Mike Ybarra, vice president of Xbox, told VG247 that it's happy to talk to the likes of Valve and Nintendo when it comes to getting multiplayer games working across multiple platforms, not just between Xbox One and Windows. "It's more about gamer choice, more about making an IP on our platform last longer. I don't care about where they play, I just want people to have fun playing games because that's just better for the industry," said Ybarra. "The demands of consumers and developers have changed," he continued. "People are like, 'we want all of our gamers in one multiplayer pool together, playing.' "We totally agree with that. If any developer wants to have that conversation... Valve is right down the street from us, Nintendo is too -- they're like a block from us. We're having these discussions as developers come up, and we're completely open to that."
Nintendo

Nintendo Faces Supply Issues Ahead of Holiday Season 100

Takashi Mochizuki and Sarah E. Needleman report via The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Nintendo's latest videogame machine, the Nintendo Switch, is winning fans for both its lineup of popular games and its flexibility -- it works as both a living-room console and a hand-held device. But the real challenge for gamers has been actually getting their hands on it. Production isn't keeping up with demand in Japan, resulting in blockbuster queues and lotteries there. Over weekends in July and early August, tens of thousands of fans lined up at stores for a one-in-10 chance to buy the $300 console at events that have become a form of entertainment. Nintendo's official target is to ship 10 million Switch units in its current fiscal year ending in March 2018. People involved in the supply chain say they have been told to prepare for 18 million units. One executive in the supply chain said his company was ready to pick up the pace of production if asked. One delicate balance for Nintendo: The more it tries to boost output quickly, the more it has to bow to the terms of parts makers, some of whom are also busy with orders for Apple Inc.'s next iPhone. "We're doing everything we can to make sure everyone who wants to buy a Nintendo Switch system can do so," Nintendo said in a statement. "We will ramp up production for the holiday period, which has been factored into our forecast."
Input Devices

A Game You Control With Your Mind (nytimes.com) 56

A startup recently demoed their prototype for a VR headset using sensors that read brain waves. An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: There is no joystick or game pad. You must use your thoughts. You turn toward a ball on the floor, and your brain sends a command to pick it up. With another thought, you send the ball crashing into a mirror, breaking the glass and revealing a few numbers scribbled on a wall. You mentally type those numbers into a large keypad by the door. And you are out. Designed by Neurable, a small start-up founded by Ramses Alcaide, an electrical engineer and neuroscientist, the game offers what you might call a computer mouse for the mind, a way of selecting items in a virtual world with your thoughts...

The prototype is among the earliest fruits of a widespread effort to embrace technology that was once science fiction -- and in some ways still is. Driven by recent investments from the United States government and by the herd mentality that so often characterizes the tech world, a number of a start-ups and bigger companies like Facebook are working on ways to mentally control machines... Although sensors can read electrical brain activity from outside the skull, it is very difficult to separate the signal from the noise. Using computer algorithms based on research that Mr. Alcaide originally published as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Neurable works to read activity with a speed and accuracy that is not typically possible.

Games

Ex-Valve Writer Reveals What Might Have Been Half-Life 2: Episode 3's Story (eurogamer.net) 46

New submitter stikves shares a report from Eurogamer: Ex-Valve writer Marc Laidlaw, who worked on Half-Life, Half-Life 2 and its episodic expansions, has published a summary of the series' next chapter on his blog. Titled, "Epistle 3," it details Gordon Freeman's next adventure. Except, likely for copyright issues, the whole story has been genderswapped. So Laidlaw's tale speaks of Gertrude Fremont, Alex instead of Alyx, Elly instead of Eli, and so on. Naturally, Laidlaw's blog is currently down due to traffic, although you can read a backup of the page on Archive.org, or on Pastebin, where the names have been corrected.
XBox (Games)

The Xbox One Is Now an Ex-Box (kotaku.co.uk) 68

An anonymous reader shares a report: As of today you cannot buy a new Xbox One from Microsoft. Manufacturing of the original version of the console ceased a few months back, but today marks the day it became officially unavailable. Until today you could order an original Xbox One from Microsoft's online store but, now, you'll be met with an out of stock notice. That's in the UK store -- go to the US store and you'll find they've just removed the Xbox One page entirely, like it never happened. Obviously you'll still find the odd survivor in stores but, essentially, that's it for the original Xbox One.
Quake

Ask Slashdot: What Modern PC Games Would You Recommend For An Old School Gamer? 313

wjcofkc writes: The last time I was a serious gamer, I was playing Quake and Quake World. That type of first person shooter, with the qualities it offered in terms of physics, level layout, and community, produced for me some very fun times. I have long since fallen away from gaming entirely, but frequently look back to that era with great fondness. My question to the community is, are there any current games that recapture the spirit of the original Quake? Note: This is strictly for PC gaming as I do not own a console.
PlayStation (Games)

The Asterisk on Madden's Annual Release Legacy (polygon.com) 23

Madden '96 for PlayStation never shipped, yet it changed the history of football video games -- and sports games in general -- for decades in its wake. Polygon has the behind-the-scene story. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt: The story starts back in 1992, when EA Canada (formerly Distinctive Software) began working on Super Nintendo versions of the NFL series. Over its first two entries -- John Madden Football and John Madden Football '93 -- the studio struggled to match the quality of Blue Sky Productions' Sega Genesis work. EA Canada's developers faced a coding challenge: The slower processor speed of Nintendo's 16-bit console limited what they could do. The games hovered around 15-20 frames of animation per second, making the games feel sluggish despite looking nice in stills. As the studio moved on to its third try, Madden NFL '94, it seemed like the performance issues would continue. Enter Visual Concepts, then a 6-year-old upstart known for parody fighting game ClayFighter and platformer Lester the Unlikely. The team had been working on isometric helicopter sim Desert Strike for EA, and had been getting a lot out of the SNES hardware.
Sony

Sony Blocks Yet Another Game From Cross-Console Play With Xbox One (arstechnica.com) 151

"Back in June, Sony told Eurogamer that the company did not have 'a profound philosophical stance' against letting PS4 users play games with those on other platforms," reports Ars Technica. "That said, the company's continued refusal to allow for cross-console play between PS4 and Xbox One players has become an absolute and unmistakable trend in recent months." The latest game to be denied by Sony for cross-console play is Ark: Survival Evolved, which comes out of a two-year early access period next week on Windows, Mac, PS4, and Xbox One. From the report: In a Twitter response posted over the weekend, Ark lead designer and programmer Jeremy Stieglitz said that cross-platform play between PS4 and Xbox One is "working internally, but currently Sony won't allow it." This isn't a huge surprise, considering that the developers of Rocket League, Minecraft, and Gwent have made similar statements in recent months. Since Microsoft very publicly opened Xbox Live to easy cross-platform play back in March, Sony has said that it's "happy to have a conversation" about the issue, but it has failed to follow through by allowing any linkage between the two competing consoles (cross-platform play between the PS4 and PC has been available in certain games since the PS4's launch, though).

The question continues to be why, exactly, Sony seems so reluctant to allow any games to work between its own PlayStation Network and Microsoft's Xbox Live. Speaking with Eurogamer in June, Sony's Jim Ryan suggested that, in the case of Minecraft, Sony was wary to expose that game's young players to "external influences we have no ability to manage or look after." Ryan also told Eurogamer that cross-platform decisions were "a commercial discussion between ourselves and other stakeholders." That suggests there may be some financial issues between the parties involved that are preventing cross-console play from moving forward. Perhaps Sony wants someone else to pay for the work required to get its network talking to Microsoft's? The bottom line, though, might be that Sony just doesn't want to partially give away its sizable advantage in console sales by letting Microsoft hook into that vast network of players.

XBox (Games)

Microsoft Outlines the Upgrade Procedures For Xbox One X (arstechnica.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The easiest way to get all your games to the new system, as outlined by Microsoft Vice President Mike Ybarra, will be to just put them on an external USB hard drive and then plug that drive into the new console. "All your games are ready to play" immediately after this external hard drive move, he said, and user-specific settings can also be copied via external hard drive in the same way. If you don't have an external drive handy, "we're going to let you copy games and apps off your home network instead of having to manually move them or redownload them off the Internet," Ybarra said. It's unclear right now if Microsoft will mirror the PS4 Pro and allow this kind of system-to-system transfer using an Ethernet cable plugged directly into both consoles. For those who want to see as many pixels as possible as quickly as possible when they get their Xbox One X, Ybarra says you'll be able to download 4K updates for supported games before the Xbox One X is even available, then use those updates immediately after the system transfer. Microsoft also released a list of 118 current and upcoming games that will be optimized for the Xbox One X via updates, a big increase from the few dozens announced back at E3.
Classic Games (Games)

'Wing Commander' Music Composer Runs Kickstarter Campaign (kickstarter.com) 39

DMJC writes: George Oldziey, the music composer from Wing Commander 3 and 4, is running a Kickstarter campaign to re-orchestrate the music from the venerable series. The Kickstarter is in its final week and has approximately $2000 left to go before it reaches it's goal.
Oldziey shares some history on his web site: In 2014 I launched a Kickstarter campaign to document the music I created for the Wing Commander games in the way I had originally imagined it: for full orchestra and chorus. 588 generous supporters helped me reach my goal! In late 2014 I traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, where the 95-piece Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and the 40-voice Lucina Chorus recorded this music under my supervision.
But last November -- and again in June -- Oldziey unsuccessfully tried raising funds on Kickstarter to record more of his Wing Commander music with a full orchestra. So this month's campaign sets a more modest goal of raising $15,000 "as a foundation and springboard from which to build with a more open ended crowdfunding campaign." It'll fund the creation of digital MIDI tracks for the new orchestral music plus a recording of the "jazzy bar music" from Wing Commander 3 (which will both be released as digital downloads and on CD). "Future campaign(s) will tackle the goal of getting a live orchestra to record everything..." Oldziey writes, adding this campaign "builds an exciting foundation to build on -- with some cool music to enjoy in the mean time!"

Two people have already pledged $600 to claim one of five high-end premiums in which George composes one minute of unique music just for them, and two more pledged $300 to attend the "jazzy bar music" recording session in Austin, Texas.
Operating Systems

PlayStation 4 Update 5.0 Officially Revealed (gamespot.com) 33

After the PlayStation 4's 5.0 update was leaked last week, Sony decided to officially reveal what's coming in the update. GameSpot highlights the new features in their report: Some of the enhancements center around streaming using the PS4's built-in broadcasting capabilities. PS4 Pro users will be able to stream in 1080p and 60 FPS, provided their connection is strong enough, and PSVR users will be able to see new messages and comments coming through while broadcasting. PSVR is also adding 5.1ch and 7.1ch virtual surround sound support. Next up, the PS4's Friends List is being updated with greater management tools, such as the ability to set up separate lists of friends. You'll be able to create a list of all the people you play Destiny with and send them all an invite, for example. This feature replaces the old Favorite Groups tab. In another move to help reduce the amount of time spent in menus, the Quick Menu is being updated to have more options. For example, you'll be able to check on download progress and see new party invites. You can also leave a party from within that menu and see your current Spotify playlist. Notifications are also being improved when watching films and TV, as you can now disable message and other notification pop-ups while watching media. You can also change how much of a message is displayed, as well as its color, when playing or watching any form of content.

Finally, Parental Control features are being overhauled in favor of what Sony calls "Family on PSN." This replaces the old Master/Sub account system; instead, one user is deemed the Family Manager, and they can set up other accounts and appoint them as a Parent/Guardian, Adult, or Child. Parents or Guardians can restrict Child accounts in their "use of online features and communication with other players, set restrictions for games, restrict the use of the internet browser, and set spending limits for PlayStation Store." Note that Sony says the first time any North American user tries to set up an Adult account, they will be charged $0.50 "to verify that you are an adult."

Communications

Discord Bans Servers That Promote Nazi Ideology (theverge.com) 456

A popular video game chat service with over 25 million users announced today that it had shut down "a number of accounts" following violence instigated by white supremacists over the weekend. Discord, the service "which lets users chat with voice and text, was being used by proponents of Nazi ideology both before and after the attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia," reports The Verge. "We will continue to take action against Nazi ideology, and all forms of hate," the company said in a tweet. From the report: Discord declined to state how many servers had been affected, but said it included a mix of old accounts and accounts that were created over the weekend. Among the affected servers was one used by AltRight.com, a white nationalist news site. The site's homepage includes a prominent link to a Discord chat which is now broken. The company said it does not read private messages exchanged on its servers. Members of those groups reported messages in the chats for violating Discord's terms of service, the company said, and it took action. "When hatred like this violates our community standards we act swiftly to take servers down and ban individual users," the company said in a statement. "The public server linked to AltRight.com that violated those terms was shut down along with several other public groups and accounts fostering bad actors on Discord. We will continue to be aggressive to ensure that Discord exists for the community we set out to support -- gamers."
PC Games (Games)

Can 'No Man's Sky' Redeem Itself With Its Third Free Update? (engadget.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget's new article on No Man's Sky: Developer Hello Games has gone some way to giving the people what they've wanted Friday with the third major update since the title's launch. "Atlas Rises" (aka update 1.3) adds the beginnings of real-time multiplayer to the space exploration game, though admittedly, "interaction with others is currently very limited." Thanks to the update, up to 16 players can now exist together in the same space. Fellow pilots will appear as floating blue orbs moving about the terrain, and proximity-based voice chat will allow players to plan their next jump together. That's pretty much it, but Hello Games calls it "an important first step into the world of synchronous co-op in No Man's Sky."

Meeting up with other explorers should be a bit easier with the new portal system, which allows players to travel between planets instantly, including to random worlds. Taking a leaf out of Stargate lore, activating a sequence of glyphs on portals can designate specific exit points. Hello Games hopes the community will band together to create something of a database of glyph sequences... There's 30 hours of new storyline gameplay and a new mission system that lets you pick up all kinds of different odd jobs from a forever-updating list. Star systems now are now graded with "wealth, economy and conflict levels," giving you more information on desirable destinations (depending on what you're after). There's a new class of ships, new exotic planet types and a new "interdimensional race" to contend with. Terrain editing is now possible provided you have the appropriate Multi-Tool enhancement, and crashed freighters on the surface of planets serve as new scavenging hotspots... to its credit, Hello Games continues to push massive, free updates for the title, such that the game is now very different to what it was initially.

The game has been heavily discounted to promote the update, and Saturday it became Amazon's #12 best-selling PS4 game -- and one of Steam's top 100 most-played games.
AI

Elon Musk + AI + Microsoft = Awesome Dota 2 Player (theverge.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Tonight during Valve's yearly Dota 2 tournament, a surprise segment introduced what could be the best new player in the world -- a bot from Elon Musk-backed startup OpenAI. Engineers from the nonprofit say the bot learned enough to beat Dota 2 pros in just two weeks of real-time learning, though in that training period they say it amassed "lifetimes" of experience, likely using a neural network judging by the company's prior efforts. Musk is hailing the achievement as the first time artificial intelligence has been able to beat pros in competitive e-sports... Elon Musk founded OpenAI as a nonprofit venture to prevent AI from destroying the world -- something Musk has been beating the drum about for years.
"Nobody likes being regulated," Musk wrote on Twitter Friday, "but everything (cars, planes, food, drugs, etc) that's a danger to the public is regulated. AI should be too."

Musk also thanked Microsoft on Twitter "for use of their Azure cloud computing platform. This required massive processing power."
Businesses

Blizzard Starts Drive To Recruit More Women and Ethnic Minorities (bbc.co.uk) 310

An anonymous reader shares a report: The company behind games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch has started a drive to recruit more women and ethnic minorities. The information is in a leaked internal email from Blizzard's CEO, seen by the website Kotako. It claims 21 percent of Blizzard's employees are women, and although that's similar to the rest of the gaming industry, it says it wants to do better. The company claims the initiative will focus on finding more female employees and getting them to stay on longer. At the moment women are leaving at a higher rate than men but it says it'll fall short of setting "quotas."
AI

Blizzard and DeepMind Turn StarCraft II Into An AI Research Lab (techcrunch.com) 52

Last year, Google's AI subsidiary DeepMind said it was going to work with Starcraft creator Blizzard to turn the strategy game into a proper research environment for AI engineers. Today, they're opening the doors to that environment, with new tools including a machine learning API, a large game replay dataset, an open source DeepMind toolset and more. TechCrunch reports: The new release of the StarCraft II API on the Blizzard side includes a Linux package made to be able to run in the cloud, as well as support for Windows and Mac. It also has support for offline AI vs. AI matches, and those anonymized game replays from actual human players for training up agents, which is starting out at 65,000 complete matches, and will grow to over 500,000 over the course of the next few weeks. StarCraft II is such a useful environment for AI research basically because of how complex and varied the games can be, with multiple open routes to victory for each individual match. Players also have to do many different things simultaneously, including managing and generating resources, as well as commanding military units and deploying defensive structures. Plus, not all information about the game board is available at once, meaning players have to make assumptions and predictions about what the opposition is up to.

It's such a big task, in fact, that DeepMind and Blizzard are including "mini-games" in the release, which break down different subtasks into "manageable chunks," including teaching agents to master tasks like building specific units, gathering resources, or moving around the map. The hope is that compartmentalizing these areas of play will allow testing and comparison of techniques from different researchers on each, along with refinement, before their eventual combination in complex agents that attempt to master the whole game.

Privacy

Disney Sued For Allegedly Spying On Children Through 42 Gaming Apps (washingtonpost.com) 40

schwit1 shares a report from The Washington Post (Warning: may be paywalled; alternative source): The Walt Disney Co. secretly collects personal information on some of their youngest customers and shares that data illegally with advertisers without parental consent, according to a federal lawsuit filed late last week in California. The class-action suit targets Disney and three other software companies -- Upsight, Unity and Kochava -- alleging that the mobile apps they built together violate the law by gathering insights about app users across the Internet, including those under the age of 13, in ways that facilitate "commercial exploitation."

The plaintiffs argue that Disney and its partners violated COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law designed to protect the privacy of children on the Web. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, seeks an injunction barring the companies from collecting and disclosing the data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal fees. The lawsuit alleges that Disney allowed the software companies to embed trackers in apps such as "Disney Princess Palace Pets" and "Where's My Water? 2." Once installed, tracking software can then "exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes," according to the suit. Disney should not be using those software development companies, said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "These are heavy-duty technologies, industrial-strength data and analytic companies whose role is to track and monetize individuals," Chester said. "These should not be in little children's apps."
Disney responded to the lawsuit, saying: "Disney has a robust COPPA compliance program, and we maintain strict data collection and use policies for Disney apps created for children and families. The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in court."
Science

Playing Action Video Games May Be Bad For Your Brain, Study Finds (www.cbc.ca) 116

An anonymous reader shares a report:Playing first-person shooter video games causes some users to lose grey matter in a part of their brain associated with the memory of past events and experiences, a new study by two Montreal researchers concludes. Gregory West, an associate professor of psychology at the Universite de Montreal, says the neuroimaging study, published Tuesday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, is the first to find conclusive evidence of grey matter loss in a key part of the brain as a direct result of computer interaction. "A few studies have been published that show video games could have a positive impact on the brain, namely positive associations between action video games, first-person shooter games, and visual attention and motor control skills," West told CBC News. To date, no one has shown that human-computer interactions could have negative impacts on the brain -- in this case the hippocampal memory system." The four-year study by West and Veronique Bohbot, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University, looked at the impact of action video games on the hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays a critical role in spatial memory and the ability to recollect past events and experiences.
Games

Ask Slashdot: Are Interactive Computing Devices Addictive? 98

This question came from two things noticed by Slashdot reader dryriver:

"Myself and just about every other kid I was friends with in the 1980s were definitely addicted to computers when we were young, and stayed that way until we reached college."

"There is increasing concern about everybody from young kids to people 60+ staring into smartphone, tablet computer and laptop screens for hours and hours every day and not partaking in other activities they used to before the "glowing screen" hooked them."

His question: Are interactive computing devices, whether networked or not, addictive in nature? What kind of applications appear to be the most addictive? (AAA games? Casual games? Social media? Texting?) And could the addiction have something to do with "Neuroplasticity", the fact that doing an activity over and over again each day that you place great importance in, and pay great attention to, can actually rewire the neurons in your brain?
Nicholas Carr once argued that "We're training ourselves, through repetition, to be facile skimmers, scanners, and message-processors -- important skills, to be sure -- but, perpetually distracted and interrupted, we're not training ourselves in the quieter, more attentive modes of thought." Slashdot readers seem uniquely qualified to address this, so leave your own attentive thoughts in the comments. Are interactive computing devices addictive?

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