Software

German Authorities Are Considering a Ban On Loot Boxes (heise.de) 106

Slashdot reader Qbertino writes: Heise reports that German authorities are examining loot boxes in video games and considering banning them in the country. Loot boxes might actually even violate laws against calls-to-purchase aimed directly towards minors that are already in effect. German authorities are also checking that. Loot boxes are randomized in-game item purchases that many people consider a form of gambling. The decision to take action against loot boxes in Germany is expected in March. Germany's Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body has since clarified that Germany authorities are not considering a general ban on loot boxes, but are actually examining regulations of online advertising and purchasing as a whole.

"A closer look at the discussion is taking place, ie., if there are any specific risks and where to locate them legally. As part of that analysis the KJM (governmental institution responsible for youth protection regarding to online content/services) is taking a closer look at permitted and prohibited advertising in shop offerings. However these rules apply to online purchases in general, thus also to loot boxes," the rep said. "In the German debate this term [loot box] refers to a broad variety of different in-game or even just game-related purchase systems with more or less randomized items. Hence one cannot say that 'loot boxes' violate German laws, as each integration has to be evaluated as separate case."
Nintendo

Hackers Manage To Run Linux On a Nintendo Switch (techcrunch.com) 119

Romain Dillet reports via TechCrunch: Hacker group fail0verflow shared a photo of a Nintendo Switch running Debian, a distribution of Linux. The group claims that Nintendo can't fix the vulnerability with future firmware patches. According to fail0verflow, there's a flaw in the boot ROM in Nvidia's Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip. When your console starts, it reads and executes a piece of code stored in a read-only memory (hence the name ROM). This code contains instructions about the booting process. It means that the boot ROM is stored on the chip when Nvidia manufactures it and it can't be altered in any way after that. Even if Nintendo issues a software update, this software update won't affect the boot ROM. And as the console loads the boot ROM immediately after pressing the power button, there's no way to bypass it. The only way to fix it would be to manufacture new Nvidia Tegra X1 chips. So it's possible that Nintendo asks Nvidia to fix the issue so that new consoles don't have this vulnerability.
Businesses

Mayfair Games Shuts Down After 36 Years of Board Games (polygon.com) 58

damnbunni writes: Longtime board game publisher Mayfair Games (English-language publisher for Settlers of Catan, Agricola, and many more) has shut down after 36 years. All of their games have been sold to Asmodee, who also owns Fantasy Flight Games, Z-Man Games, Rebel, Edge Entertainment, and a host of other board game companies they've picked up over the years. "As of today, the management team at Mayfair Games, Inc. announces we will wind down game publishing," the company said in a statement. "After 36 years, this was not an easy decision or one we took lightly, but it was necessary. Once we had come to this conclusion, we knew we had to find a good home for our games which is when we reached out to Asmodee."
DRM

Blizzard Issues DMCA Notice to a Fan-Run 'WoW' Legacy Server (torrentfreak.com) 308

An anonymous reader calls it "the never-ending stupidity of copyright wars." TorrentFreak reports: Blizzard Entertainment is taking a stand against a popular World of Warcraft legacy server. The fan-operated project allows gamers to experience how the game was played over a decade ago and to revive old battles... In recent years the project has captured the hearts of tens of thousands of die-hard WoW fans. At the time of writing, the most popular realm has more than 6,000 people playing from all over the world... Blizzard, however, sees this as copyright infringement and has asked GitHub to pull the site's code offline.
The article notes the DMCA notice came "just weeks after several organizations and gaming fans asked the US Copyright Office to make a DMCA circumvention exemption for 'abandoned' games."
Classic Games (Games)

'King of Kong' Billy Mitchell Stripped Of Donkey Kong Record For Emulator Cheating (hothardware.com) 58

MojoKid writes: More drama is unfolding in the ultra-competitive retro arcade gaming scene... Billy Mitchell, the arcade legend who appeared as a central character opposite Steve Wiebe in the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, has been accused of cheating his way into the record books for high scores in Donkey Kong. As a result, he's now been stripped of his 1.062 million score on the Donkey Kong Forums...

The legitimacy of his score was called into question by Donkey Kong high score judge Jeremy "Xelnia" Young laid out a body of evidence that seems to prove Mitchell recorded several of his high scores on the open source arcade emulator MAME, though he claimed his scores were obtained on an original arcade cabinet, and therefore were not subject to same strict authentication requirements. "It's possible they were recorded in one shot," Young says, but "Given the play style in Billy's videos, it's more likely that vanilla MAME's INP recording feature was abused."

Twin Galaxies recently threw out the 35-year-old record for the Atari 2600 game Dragster, and has now said they're "in the process of fully reviewing the compelling evidence provided by Jeremy Young."
PlayStation (Games)

Sony's PlayStation 4 Has Nearly Outsold the PlayStation 3 (cnet.com) 50

Sony's PlayStation 3 sales stand at around 80 million -- which means its successor, the current gen PlayStation 4, will soon surpass it. From a report: The Japanese electronics giant sold 9 million PlayStation 4 consoles from October through December, it said on Friday in its latest quarterly earnings report. Sales for the console were at 67.5 million as of Sept. 30 2017, according to Sony's previous quarterly earnings report, bringing the total to 76.5 million. The PlayStation 2 remains Sony's best-selling console, with over 150 million units sold. These figures come days after Nintendo on Wednesday revealed the Switch, released last March, is up to 14.8 million in sales. Sales of Microsoft's Xbox One are estimated by VGChartz to be around 36 million.
Games

GTA Online Is Full Of Abandoned Modes (kotaku.com) 62

An anonymous reader shares a report: GTA Online just had its most active month ever. It is consistently one of the top-selling games on Steam, Xbox and Playstation. It is always in the top 10 of the best selling games each year. The community is huge. Yet players looking to play a wide variety of modes modes will have trouble finding anybody to play with or against.

The problem, paradoxically enough, is an overabundance of content. GTA Online has a huge variety of things to do, including missions, races, heists, and deathmatches. When the game first launched, this variety was great. But the game has only gotten bigger. Now, after four years and dozens of updates, GTA Online almost feels too big and empty. The player base has spread out across too many jobs and events, making it hard to play anything but the latest new thing.

Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Outsells Wii U In 10 Months (variety.com) 107

In less than a year, the Nintendo Switch has earned the designation of the fastest-selling U.S. console of all time. It has outsold the company's previous flagship Wii U just 10 months after its introduction. "Altogether, Nintendo has sold more than 14.86 million Switch units since its debut in March of 2017," reports Variety. "The company sold around 12.5 million Wii U's between 2012 and 2017." From the report: For Nintendo, this is a remarkable turn-around reminiscent of the introduction of the original Wii back in 2006. In fact, earlier this month, news broke that the Switch had become the fastest-selling game console in the U.S. to date, handily outselling original Wii with 4.8 million vs. 4 million units moved over a ten-month span after each device's introduction to U.S. consumers. Nintendo sold 7.23 million Switch units during the holiday quarter alone. The company adjusted its financial guidance for Q1 in light of continued demand for the device upwards by 33%, and now expects to bring in an operating profit of 160 billion yen ($1.47 billion), as well as revenue of around 1 trillion yen ($9.38 billion).
Communications

GDC Rescinds Award For Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell After Criticisms of Sexually Inappropriate Behavior (polygon.com) 498

The organizers of the Game Developers Choice Awards announced today that they have rescinded the Pioneer Award for Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, and announced the award will not be given this year entirely. "The decision follows a day of outcry after GDC organizers announced that Bushnell, 74, had been tapped for the GDCA's lifetime achievement honor," reports Polygon. "News accounts and histories over the past several years have documented a history of workplace misconduct and sexist behavior toward women by Bushnell, during Atari's early days." From the report: In a statement this morning, GDC said its awards committee "made the decision not to give out a Pioneer Award for this year's event, following additional feedback from the community. They believe their picks should reflect the values of today's game industry and will dedicate this year's award to honor the pioneering and unheard voices of the past." The Pioneer Award is for "individuals who developed a breakthrough technology, game concept, or gameplay design at a crucial juncture in video game history," according to its official site. Nine have been conferred since 2008, none of them women. Bushnell founded Atari in 1972 and installed the first coin-operated video game, Pong, shortly thereafter. He presided over the company's rise to dominate the early generation of home console gaming before selling it off and founding what is today the Chuck E. Cheese line of restaurants. Bushnell issued a statement on Twitter: "I applaud the GDC for ensuring that their institution reflects what is right, specifically with regards to how people should be treated in the workplace. And if that means an award is the price I have to pay personally so the whole industry may be more aware and sensitive to these issues, I applaud that, too. If my personal actions or the actions of anyone who ever worked with me offended or caused pain to anyone at our companies, then I apologize without reservation."
Games

Longest-standing Video Game Record Declared 'Impossible,' Thrown Out After 35 Years (polygon.com) 234

Twin Galaxies, the video game record keeper and official source for Guinness World Records, has declared one of the oldest gaming world records invalid after 35 years. From a report: Player Todd Rogers has been stripped of his world record for finishing the simple Atari 2600 racing game Dragster, after months of debate over his completion time. "Based on the complete body of evidence presented in this official dispute thread, Twin Galaxies administrative staff has unanimously decided to remove all of Todd Rogers' scores as well as ban him from participating in our competitive leaderboards," reads a post on the Twin Galaxies forum from the organization's staff. That's a major blow to a prolific record holder, whose career stretches back to the earliest days of console gaming. Rogers courted controversy with his oldest record, however -- and it directly caused his ban. In 1982, Rogers submitted to Activision's official fan newsletter a time of 5.51 seconds, which the company recognized in print, awarding Rogers a patch Twin Galaxies later added Rogers to its own leaderboards in 2001, and Guinness World Records awarded the player with the honor of holding the world's longest-standing gaming record in April 2017.
Crime

Two More Gamers May Be Charged in Fatal Kansas 'SWAT' Shooting (kansas.com) 170

A newly-released affidavit reveals that money was at stake in a game of Call Of Duty: World War II which led to the fatal real-life police shooting of Andrew Finch. The Wichita Eagle reports: Investigators learned that Shane Gaskill, who lives in Wichita, was involved in an online video game with other people when he accidentally [virtually] shot and killed one of his teammates in the online game. The teammate who was killed in the game became "extremely upset" and began talking trash to Gaskill, the affidavit says. The dispute escalated until the teammate, who the document identifies as Casey Viner of North College Hill, Ohio, threatened via Twitter to "SWATT" Gaskill, according to the affidavit. Gaskill replied, "Please try some s---." He then posted the address...
Viner "is considered a suspect in several 'swatting' incidents in Cincinnati," reports the Los Angeles Times, adding that prosecutors are still deciding whether these two gamers should also face criminal charges.

Meanwhile, Kansas officials have been informed that the third gamer who actually made the phone call, 25-year-old Tyler Barriss, matches the voice on a fake 2015 bomb threat, and is already the subject of an open investigation by an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Communications

The Legislative Fight Over Loot Boxes Expands To Washington State (arstechnica.com) 127

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The government backlash against video game loot boxes -- the randomized in-game item purchases that some observers and legislators consider a form of gambling -- moved from Hawaii to Washington state earlier this month. That's when a group of three Democratic state senators introduced a bill that would require the state gambling commission to examine loot boxes and determine "whether games and apps containing these mechanisms are considered gambling under Washington law." "What the bill says is, 'Industry, state: sit down to figure out the best way to regulate this,'" Orcas Island Senator and bill coauthor Kevin Ranker told the Tacoma News Tribune. "It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something."

The bill text puts specific focus on the question of whether children who "may be more vulnerable to gambling addiction" should be allowed to access games with loot boxes, and on the question of "transparency" around "the odds of receiving each type of virtual item." The latter point took on additional salience last month as Apple required such odds to be posted alongside games with loot boxes. Actual government regulation of loot boxes in Washington is still a ways off, though. Ranker's bill needs to be approved by the full Washington state legislature (which is narrowly held by Democrats) and be signed by the governor before being referred to the gambling commission. At that point, the commission would have until December 1 to form its recommendations for any regulatory and enforcement system the state might set up.

Medicine

New Study Finds No Link Between Violent Video Games and Behavior (dailydot.com) 200

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Daily Dot: Scientists have been investigating the impact of violent video games on behavior for more than two decades, and the results are still being debated. In a 2015 resolution on games, the American Psychological Association reported that multiple studies found a link between violent game exposure and aggressive behavior, though critics at the time questioned the findings. Now, a new study published by researchers at the University of York in the journal Computers in Human Behavior further challenges the connection.

It has long been theorized that exposure to in-game concepts like violence has a "priming" effect on players that ultimately impacts behavior, leading scientists to believe that a player exposed to in-game violence will be more susceptible to displaying such violence in real life. The new study found the exact opposite to be true in some instances. In a series of experiments with a little over 3,000 participants (more than any past study to date), university researchers found that exposure to video game concepts like violence won't necessarily impact behavior. It also found that increasing the realism of violent video games does mean aggressive behavior in gamers will increase.

Businesses

To Combat Shortage, Nvidia Asks Retailers To Limit Graphics Card Orders (pcmag.com) 212

An anonymous reader writes: If you're a PC builder -- or your aging desktop system is in dire need of some modern upgrades -- you've probably wondered why it's impossible to get a graphics card lately. You can thank the outrageous interest in cryptocurrency for all of this. Since graphics cards mine cryptocurrency much faster than CPUs, an eager community of get-rich-quick enthusiasts are scooping up graphics cards as fast as they can get them. While there isn't much major manufacturers AMD and Nvidia can do about the overwhelming demand for GPUs, Nvidia is at least trying to let retailers know that they should be holding their stock for the company's core audience: gamers, not miners. "For NVIDIA, gamers come first. All activities related to our GeForce product line are targeted at our main audience. To ensure that GeForce gamers continue to have good GeForce graphics card availability in the current situation, we recommend that our trading partners make the appropriate arrangements to meet gamers' needs as usual," reads a translated statement Nvidia's Boris Bohles. Nvidia is suggesting that retailers limit graphics card orders to just two per person, but that's just an idea -- one Nvidia can't actually enforce beyond restricting sales on its website, which it's currently doing. Further reading: It's a terrible time to buy a graphics card.
Nintendo

Nintendo's Newest Switch Accessories Are DIY Cardboard Toys (theverge.com) 75

sqorbit writes: Nintendo has announced a new experience for its popular Switch game console, called Nintendo Labo. Nintendo Labo lets you interact with the Switch and its Joy-Con controllers by building things with cardboard. Launching on April 20th, Labo will allow you to build things such as a piano and a fishing pole out of cardboard pieces that, once attached to the Switch, provide the user new ways to interact with the device. Nintendo of America's President, Reggie Fils-Aime, states that "Labo is unlike anything we've done before." Nintendo has a history of non-traditional ideas in gaming, sometimes working and sometimes not. Cardboard cuts may attract non-traditional gamers back to the Nintendo platform. While Microsoft and Sony appear to be focused on 4K, graphics and computing power, Nintendo appears focused on producing "fun" gaming experiences, regardless of how cheesy or technologically outdated they me be. Would you buy a Nintendo Labo kit for $69.99 or $79.99? "The 'Variety Kit' features five different games and Toy-Con -- including the RC car, fishing, and piano -- for $69.99," The Verge notes. "The 'Robot Kit,' meanwhile, will be sold separately for $79.99."
Wine

Wine 3.0 Released (softpedia.com) 153

prisoninmate shares a report from Softpedia: The Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator) project has been updated today to version 3.0, a major release that ends 2017 in style for the open-source compatibility layer capable of running Windows apps and games on Linux-based and UNIX-like operating systems. Almost a year in the works, Wine 3.0 comes with amazing new features like an Android driver that lets users run Windows apps and games on Android-powered machines, Direct3D 11 support enabled by default for AMD Radeon and Intel GPUs, AES encryption support on macOS, Progman DDE support, and a task scheduler. In addition, Wine 3.0 introduces the ability to export registry entries with the reg.exe tool, adds various enhancements to the relay debugging and OLE data cache, as well as an extra layer of event support in MSHTML, Microsoft's proprietary HTML layout engine for the Windows version of the Internet Explorer web browser. You can read the full list of features and download Wine 3.0 from WineHQ's website.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft Puts Minecraft Boss In Charge of Xbox Games (theverge.com) 50

Microsoft is promoting its Minecraft boss to the head of the company's games studios. "Matt Booty's new role sees him oversee Microsoft Studios, second only to Microsoft's games chief Phil Spencer," reports The Verge. "Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella previously promoted Phil Spencer from head of Xbox to a new role overseeing all games, associated hardware, and game strategy." From the report: Spencer reports directly to Nadella, with Booty now reporting directly to Spencer. GamesBeat reports that Booty's new role will see Microsoft devoting more resources to its games business. Booty will be looking after Microsoft's relationships with 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang, Rare, Turn 10 Studios, and Global Publishing. Booty first joined Microsoft back in 2010, and helped launch games for Windows phones. He's also helped develop Xbox Live Arcade, and oversaw Minecraft maker Mojang after Microsoft acquired the company for $2.5 billion back in 2014.
China

The World's Top-Selling Video Game Has a Cheating Problem (bloomberg.com) 191

China's Tencent Holdings is going after the cheaters and hackers that infest PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds as it prepares to bring the world's top-selling game to its home turf. From a report: Ahead of its official debut this year, the biggest gaming company on the planet has enlisted Chinese police to root out the underground rings that make and sell cheat software. It's helped law enforcement agents uncover at least 30 cases and arrest 120 people suspected of designing programs that confer unfair advantages from X-Ray vision (see-through walls) to auto-targeting (uncannily accurate snipers). Those convicted in the past have done jail time. Tencent and game developer Bluehole have a lot riding on cleaning things up for China, which accounted for more than half the game's 27 million users, according to online tracker Steam Spy. It's also the biggest source of cheat software, undermining a Battle Royale-style phenom that shattered gaming records in 2017 and surpassed best-sellers like Grand Theft Auto V. The proliferation of shenanigans threatens to drive away first-time users vital to its longer-term growth.
Nintendo

Hackers Seem Close To Publicly Unlocking the Nintendo Switch (arstechnica.com) 91

Ars Technica reports that "hackers have been finding partial vulnerabilities in early versions of the [Nintendo] Switch firmware throughout 2017." They have discovered a Webkit flaw that allows for basic "user level" access to some portions of the underlying system and a service-level initialization flaw that gives hackers slightly more control over the Switch OS. "But the potential for running arbitary homebrew code on the Switch really started looking promising late last month, with a talk at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress (34C3) in Leipzig Germany," reports Ars. "In that talk, hackers Plutoo, Derrek, and Naehrwert outlined an intricate method for gaining kernel-level access and nearly full control of the Switch hardware." From the report: The full 45-minute talk is worth a watch for the technically inclined, it describes using the basic exploits discussed above as a wedge to dig deep into how the Switch works at the most basic level. At one point, the hackers sniff data coming through the Switch's memory bus to figure out the timing for an important security check. At another, they solder an FPGA onto the Switch's ARM chip and bit-bang their way to decoding the secret key that unlocks all of the Switch's encrypted system binaries. The team of Switch hackers even got an unexpected assist in its hacking efforts from chipmaker Nvidia. The "custom chip" inside the Switch is apparently so similar to an off-the-shelf Nvidia Tegra X1 that a $700 Jetson TX1 development kit let the hackers get significant insight into the Switch's innards. More than that, amid the thousand of pages of Nvidia's public documentation for the X1 is a section on how to "bypass the SMMU" (the System Memory Management Unit), which gave the hackers a viable method to copy and write a modified kernel to the Switch's system RAM. As Plutoo put it in the talk, "Nvidia backdoored themselves."
Japan

Japanese Console Market Grows For the First Time In 11 Years (kotaku.com) 34

According to Famitsu, hardware sales in Japan experienced a huge spike in 2017 compared to the previous year. In 2016, Japanese hardware sales were 117.05 billion yen ($1.05 billion), while in 2017, they jumped to 202.37 billion yen ($1.81 billion). Kotaku reports: Software sales also increased: in 2016, they were 182.4 billion yen ($1.63 billion) and the following year, they were 189.3 billion yen ($1.69 billion). A big part of this increase is due to the Nintendo Switch's brisk hardware sales. The PS4 has also continued to churn out steady numbers. The last time the Japanese gaming market saw an uptick was in 2006, when the Nintendo DS Lite, the Nintendo Wii, the PS3 launched.
XBox (Games)

Xbox One Adds New Achievement, Do Not Disturb Features In Previous Update (gamespot.com) 38

A Preview alpha build is now available for some Xbox One users who take part in the Insiders Program, which allows players to test out new system and game features before they go live to the public. This build contains several new features, such as the Next Achievements feature and a Do Not Disturb feature. GameSpot reports: The biggest addition coming for Xbox Insiders is the Next Achievements feature in the guide. Now, those who test new features and games from Xbox One will be able sort a cross-games list of upcoming Achievements. This way, you can easily see which Achievements you're closest to and quickly launch the game to achieve them. You can also sort your Achievements by how rare they are.

There are also a few tweaks to social settings. A Do Not Disturb online status is coming, which will suppress notifications and let your friends know you're unavailable at the moment. Comments on community posts are also getting an adjustment, and soon you'll be able to peek at the most recent comment and see who has liked your comments. The Narrator is also now able to read large amounts of text.

Graphics

Nvidia's GeForce Now Windows App Transforms Your Cheap Laptop Into a Gaming PC (theverge.com) 100

The GeForce Now game streaming service that Nvidia announced for the Mac last year is finally coming to Windows PCs. According to their website, the service lets you stream high-resolution games from your PC to your Mac or Windows PC that may or may not have the power to run the games natively. Starting this week, beta users of the GeForce Now Mac client will be able to install and run the Windows app. Tom Warren reports via The Verge: I got a chance to play with an early beta of the GeForce Now service on a $400 Windows PC at CES today. My biggest concerns about game streaming services are latency and internet connections, but Nvidia had the service setup using a 50mbps connection on the Wynn hotel's Wi-Fi. I didn't notice a single issue, and it honestly felt like I was playing Player Unknown's Battlegrounds directly on the cheap laptop in front of me. If I actually tried to play the game locally, it would be impossible as the game was barely rendering at all or at 2fps. Nvidia is streaming these games from seven datacenters across the US, and some located in Europe. I was playing in a Las Vegas casino from a server located in Los Angeles, and Nvidia tells me it's aiming to keep latency under 30ms for most customers. There's obviously going to be some big exceptions here, especially if you don't live near a datacenter or your internet connectivity isn't reliable. The game streaming works by dedicating a GPU to each customer, so performance and frame rates should be pretty solid. Nvidia is also importing Steam game collections into the GeForce Now service for Windows, making it even more intriguing for PC gamers who are interested in playing their collection on the go on a laptop that wouldn't normally handle such games.
XBox (Games)

Kinect Is Really Dead Now, Basically (gamespot.com) 110

Microsoft has confirmed that it is no longer producing the Kinect adapter that is needed to connect the Kinect to an Xbox One S, Xbox One X, or other Windows device. This comes after Microsoft announced in October 2017 that it was killing off the Xbox One's Kinect camera. GameSpot reports: "After careful consideration, we decided to stop manufacturing the Xbox Kinect Adapter to focus attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming accessories across Xbox One and Windows 10," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to Polygon. The representative declined to say if Microsoft would ever bring Kinect back. However, the company confirmed that the adapter "will no longer be available" to purchase.
Crime

Call of Duty Gaming Community Points To 'Swatting' In Wichita Police Shooting (dailydot.com) 681

schwit1 shares a report from The Daily Dot: A man was killed by police Thursday night in Wichita, Kansas, when officers responded to a false report of a hostage situation. The online gaming community is saying the dead man was the victim of a swatting prank, where trolls call in a fake emergency and force SWAT teams to descend on a target's house. If that's true, this would be the first reported swatting-related death. Wichita deputy police chief Troy Livingston told the Wichita Eagle that police were responding to a report that a man fighting with his parents had accidentally shot his dad in the head and was holding his mom, brother and sister hostage. When police arrived, "A male came to the front door," Livingston told the Eagle. "As he came to the front door, one of our officers discharged his weapon." The man at the door was identified by the Eagle as 28-year-old Andrew Finch. Finch's mother told reporters "he was not a gamer," but the online Call of Duty community claims his death was the result of a gamer feud which Finch may not have even been a part of.
UPDATE: The New York Daily News reports police in Los Angeles have now arrested 25-year-old gamer Tyler Barriss, who the paper describes as "an alleged serial 'prankster'..."

"Barriss gave cops Finch's address, mistakenly believing it belonged to a person he had feuded with over a $1 or $2 Call of Duty wager."
Media

Kodi Media Player Arrives On the Xbox One (theverge.com) 57

The Kodi media player is now available to download on your Xbox One, making it one of the best Xbox One exclusives of the year. The Verge reports: Kodi is a very capable player that's highly expandable thanks to third-party add-ons like live TV and DVR services -- something Microsoft isn't going to provide. But Kodi is perhaps best known as the go to app for piracy due to a wide variety of plugins that let you illegally stream television shows, professional sports, and films from the comfort of your living room. This has led to a cottage industry of so-called "Kodi boxes," often built around cheap HDMI dongles like Amazon's Fire TV sticks. While the XBMC Foundation has attempted to distance itself from the illegal third-party plugins, it's also benefited from the exposure. In a blog post, Kodi warns that the Xbox One download isn't finished and may contain missing features and bugs. Fun fact: Kodi began life fifteen years ago as the XBMP (Xbox Media Player). The only way to get the open-source player running on an original Xbox was to hack the console. XBMP eventually evolved into XBMC (Xbox Media Center), which then became Kodi.
Privacy

That Game on Your Phone May Be Tracking What You're Watching on TV (nytimes.com) 98

Rick Zeman writes: The New York Times (may be paywalled) has an article describing how some apps track TV and movie viewing even when the loaded app isn't currently active. These seemingly innocuous games, geared towards both adults and children work by "using a smartphone's microphone. For instance, Alphonso's software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely...." While these apps, mostly available on Google play, with some available on the Apple Store, do offer an opt opt, it's not clear when consumers see "permission for microphone access for ads," it may not be clear to a user that, "Oh, this means it's going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I'm watching 'Monday Night Football."'
One advertising executive summarizes thusly: "It's not what's legal. It is what's not creepy."

Earth

The WHO May Recognize Excessive Video Gaming As Mental Health Disorder (cbsnews.com) 125

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: The World Health Organization is poised to classify "gaming disorder" as a mental health problem in its 2018 update of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Gaming disorder could be diagnosed if a person's video game habit "is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning," according a tentative draft of WHO's 11th update to the ICD. Licensed marriage and family therapist Paula-Jo Husack said common symptoms for children and adults include social isolation, trouble transitioning from one thought to another, reduction in empathy, loss of appetite and loss of sensory perception. The WHO said those symptoms generally need to persist for at least a year before doctors diagnose a case of gaming disorder, but added that a diagnosis could be made sooner if symptoms are severe.
Data Storage

Nintendo Delaying 64GB Game Cards For Switch Until 2019, Says Report (kotaku.com) 54

According to The Wall Street Journal, Nintendo is pushing back the introduction of larger 64GB game cards for the Switch. Nintendo had planned to make them available during the second half of 2018, but has reportedly told developers that they would have to wait. The reason is reportedly due to technical issues. Kotaku reports: As Kotaku previously reported, Nintendo's Switch games keep their size slim, with downloads for Super Mario Odyssey, Arms and Splatoon 2 ranging from 2-6GB. However, third party developers have been releasing bigger, data-heavy games, outpacing the Switch's 24GB of usable onboard memory. The Journal notes that Nintendo has already sold over 10 million Switch consoles, meaning developers could continue to flock to the platform, regardless.
DRM

DMCA Exemption Sought to Save 'Abandoned' Online Games (techspot.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes TechSpot: Every three years the US Copyright Office reviews and renews the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions at which time it considers exemptions to the law. It is currently looking at a proposal for allowing museums, libraries and archives to circumvent the DRM on abandoned online games such as FIFA World Cup, Nascar and The Sims.

The proposal was initiated by The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (The MADE). The Made is a 501c3 non-profit organization with a physical museum located in Oakland, California. The gallery "is the only all-playable video game museum in the world, [and] houses over 5,300 playable games." The Made is concerned that certain multiplayer and single-player games that require a server to run will be lost if exemptions are not made to the DMCA. It is not looking to circumvent current games but instead is looking to preserve titles that have already been shut down by the producer -- City of Heroes (and Villains) would be a good example.

"Although the Current Exemption does not cover it, preservation of online video games is now critical," a Made representative wrote to the Copyright Office. "Online games have become ubiquitous and are only growing in popularity. For example, an estimated fifty-three percent of gamers play multiplayer games at least once a week, and spend, on average, six hours a week playing with others online." The number of abandoned games is not insignificant, either. According to the Electronic Arts "Online Services Shutdown" list, more than 300 titles and servers dropped out of service just in the last four years. These games are not played anymore because they require an active server.

Christmas Cheer

36,744 People Are Watching Overwatch's Jeff Kaplan Sit Motionless With A Yule Log (kotaku.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes Kotaku: He's been this way for over an hour, and as word's gotten out the audience has swelled to over 30,000... The Twitch stream opened a couple hours ago on an empty chair. A few minutes later Kaplan walked in and sat down. He's been there ever since, sometimes crossing his legs, sometimes uncrossing them, and always looking, watching, waiting. And lest anyone think the stream is somehow a small segment of footage on loop, there have been a few weird moments sprinkled throughout, including one where Jeff gets booped by an off camera boom mic. In the other, less action filled parts, you can feel time passing as the rate of Jeff blinking changes. Three different blinking speeds, we'll call them long stare, short stare, and turbo eye lash flicking, have taken shape in the stream like the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future...

It's boring to the point of being impossible to look away. It's actually the opposite of what this time of year's supposed to be about. You should be having human interactions with other people. Catching up with family and friends. Not sitting with your phone or laptop transfixed by a motionless Jeff Kaplan...so far he's just continued to sit and stare, perhaps pondering the future of the game or that email he forgot to respond to from a few days ago or maybe just the fact the how many Christmas Eves ago he never imagined where he'd be on December 24, 2017.

Software

Apple Says Apps Must Now Disclose Odds For Loot Boxes (kotaku.com) 88

Apple has revised the guidelines for its App Store, including a provision that loot boxes must be transparent about their odds. "Apps offering 'loot boxes' or other mechanisms that provide randomized virtual items for purchase must disclose the odds of receiving each type of item to customers prior to purchase," reads the new rule, which will affect the most popular games on iOS, including Hearthstone, The Simpsons Tapped Out, and Clash Royale. Kotaku reports: Loot boxes, which have always been common in the world of iOS gaming, are virtual grab bags that can give players a host of items ranging from common to rare. Most of the time, you can buy these loot boxes not just for in-game currency but for real money, which has led some players to classify them as gambling -- a label that the Entertainment Software Rating Board doesn't acknowledge. As rage over these practices gets louder and louder, Apple's move is the first of what may be many steps that game publishers and distributors voluntarily take in an attempt to avoid regulation from outside bodies.
Hardware

NVIDIA Titan V Benchmarks Show Volta GPU Compute, Mining and Gaming Strength (hothardware.com) 51

MojoKid shares a report from Hot Hardware: Although NVIDIA officially unveiled its Volta-based GV100 GPU a few months ago, the NVIDIA TITAN V featuring the GV100 began shipping just this past week. The card targets a very specific audience and is designed for professional and academic deep learning applications, which partly explains its lofty $3,000 price tag. Unlike NVIDIA's previous-gen consumer flagship, the TITAN Xp, the TITAN V is not designed for gamers. However, since it features NVIDIA's latest GPU architecture, it potentially foreshadows next-year's consumer-targeted GeForce cards that could possibly be based on Volta. The massive 21.1 billion transistor GV100 GPU powering the TITAN V has a base clock of 1,200MHz and a boost clock of 1,455MHz. The card has 12GB of HBM2 memory on-board that is linked to the GPU via a 3072-bit interface, offering up 652.8 GB/s of peak bandwidth, which is about 100GB/s more than a TITAN Xp. Other features of the GV100 include 5,120 single-precision CUDA cores, 2,560 double-precision FP64 cores, and 630 Tensor cores. Although the card is not designed for gamers, the fact remains that the TITAN V significantly outpaces every other graphics card in a variety of games with the highest image quality settings. In GPU compute workloads, the TITAN V is much more dominant and can offer many times the performance of a high-end NVIDIA TITAN Xp or AMD Radeon RX Vega 64. Finally, when it comes to Ethereum mining, NVIDIA's Titan V is far and away the fastest GPU on the planet currently.
Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Sales Hit 10 Million Units, Could Outdo the Wii (fastcompany.com) 80

Nintendo's big bet on a hybrid portable and home game system is paying off, with 10 million Nintendo Switch units sold in nine months. From a report: Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Variety that the Switch could even top first-year sales of the Wii, the company's best-selling console yet -- if momentum holds up through the holidays. Strong sales will be important for Nintendo as it tries to convince game publishers to invest in the platform, whose less powerful hardware can't always handle the same games as Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation consoles.
AI

Google's DeepMind AI Becomes a Superhuman Chess Player In a Few Hours (theverge.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: In a new paper published this week, DeepMind describes how a descendant of the AI program that first conquered the board game Go has taught itself to play a number of other games at a superhuman level. After eight hours of self-play, the program bested the AI that first beat the human world Go champion; and after four hours of training, it beat the current world champion chess-playing program, Stockfish. Then for a victory lap, it trained for just two hours and polished off one of the world's best shogi-playing programs named Elmo (shogi being a Japanese version of chess that's played on a bigger board). One of the key advances here is that the new AI program, named AlphaZero, wasn't specifically designed to play any of these games. In each case, it was given some basic rules (like how knights move in chess, and so on) but was programmed with no other strategies or tactics. It simply got better by playing itself over and over again at an accelerated pace -- a method of training AI known as "reinforcement learning."
Piracy

Gamer Streams Pay-Per-View UFC Fight By Pretending To Play It (theverge.com) 75

WheezyJoe writes: A pay-per-view UFC Match was streamed in its entirety on Twitch and other platforms by a gamer pretending he was "playing" the fight as a game. The gamer, AJ Lester, appearing in the corner of the image holding his game controller, made off like he was controlling the action of the "game" when in fact he was re-broadcasting the fight for free. A tweet showing Lester's antics went viral with over 63,000 retweets and 140,000 likes at the time of publication. Another clip shows him reacting wildly yelling "oooooooooooooooh!!!" and "damnnnnnn!" in response to the match.
The Courts

Free Game Company Sues 14-Year-Old Over 'Cheats' Video -- Claiming DMCA Violation (bbc.co.uk) 239

Bizzeh shared this report from the BBC: A mother has written a letter in defense of her 14-year-old son who is facing a lawsuit over video game cheats in the US. Caleb Rogers is one of two people facing legal action from gaming studio Epic Games for using cheat software to play the free game Fortnite. The studio says it has taken the step because the boy declined to remove a YouTube video he published which promoted how to use the software... "This company is in the process of attempting to sue a 14-year-old child," she wrote in the letter which has been shared online by the news site Torrentfreak.

Ms. Rogers added that she had not given her son parental consent to play the game as stated in its terms and conditions, and that as the game was free to play the studio could not claim loss of profit as a result of the cheats... In a statement given to the website Kotaku, Epic Games said the lawsuit was a result of Mr. Rogers "filing a DMCA counterclaim to a takedown notice on a YouTube video that exposed and promoted Fortnite Battle Royale cheats and exploits... Epic is not OK with ongoing cheating or copyright infringement from anyone at any age," it said.

Cory Doctorow counters that the 14-year-old "correctly asserted that there was no copyright infringement here. Videos that capture small snippets of a videogame do not violate that game creator's copyrights, because they are fair use..."
Sci-Fi

Destiny 2 Misrepresented XP Gains To Its Players Until the Developers Got Caught (arstechnica.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Destiny 2, like its predecessor, depends largely on an open-ended "end game" system. Once you beat the game's primary "quest" content, you can return to previously covered ground to find remixed and upgraded battles, meant to be played ad nauseam alone or with friends. To encourage such replay, Bungie dangles a carrot of XP gain, which works more slowly than during the campaign stages. Players are awarded a "bright engram" every time they "level up" past the level cap; the engrams are essentially loot boxes that contain a random assortment of cosmetics and weapon mods. Everything you do in the game, from killing a weak bad guy to completing a major raid-related milestone, is supposed to reward you a fixed XP amount. As series fans gear up for the game's first expansion, slated to launch December 5 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, its eagle-eyed fans at r/DestinyTheGame began questioning whether those rewards were really as fixed as claimed. Some players began to suspect that they were actually getting less XP than advertised each time they repeated certain in-game missions and tasks, such as the game's "Public Events."

With stopwatch in hand, a user named EnergiserX tracked the modes he played, keeping an eye on any shifts in XP gain over time. He put enough data together to confirm those suspicions: the XP gained in certain modes would shrink with each repetition. Worse, the game gave no indication of these diminishing returns. The XP-gain numbers that popped up above the game's XP bar didn't reflect the game's hidden scaling system. Thus, there was no way for a player to accurately calculate how their XP gain had been affected or scaled without going through EnergiserX's exhaustive process. With findings in hand, the tester posted on Reddit with calls to the developers for a response, which the community received on Saturday. Bungie confirmed its use of an "XP scaler" and added that it was "not performing the way we'd like it to," which meant the developer would remove that XP-scaling system upon the game's next patch. However, Bungie didn't clarify how the developers actually would have liked for this XP-scaling system to work, nor what factored into it announcing any changes beyond the system simply being discovered.
Bungie issued a patch on Sunday that removed the XP-scaling systems, but it introduced another unannounced change to the XP system. "Bungie decided to tune the speed of XP gain by doubling the required XP needed to 'level up,' from 80,000 points to 160,000," reports Ars Technica. "Patch notes didn't mention this change; Bungie, once again, had to be questioned by its fanbase before confirming the exact amount of this XP-related change."
Cellphones

Pokemon Go Led To Increase In Traffic Deaths and Accidents, Says Study (arstechnica.com) 80

A new study from Purdue University uses detailed local traffic accident reports to suggest that Pokemon Go caused a marked increase in vehicle damages, injuries, and even deaths due to people playing the game while driving. Ars Technica reports: In the provocatively titled "Death by Pokemon Go" (which has been shared online but has yet to be peer-reviewed), Purdue professors Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell studied nearly 12,000 accident reports in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, in the months before and after Pokemon Go's July 6, 2016 launch. The authors then cross-referenced those reports with the locations of Pokestops in the county (where players visit frequently to obtain necessary in-game items) to determine whether the introduction of a Pokestop correlated with an increase in accident frequency, relative to intersections that didn't have them. While the incidence of traffic accidents increased across the county after Pokemon Go's introduction, that increase was a statistically significant 26.5 percent greater at intersections within 100 meters of a Pokestop, compared to those farther away. All told, across the county, the authors estimate 134 extra accidents occurred near Pokestops in the 148-day period immediately after the game came out, compared to the baseline where those Pokestops didn't exist. That adds up to nearly $500,000 in vehicle damage, 31 additional injuries, and two additional deaths across the county, based on extrapolation from the accident reports.

The study uses a regression model to account for potential confounding variables like school breaks and inclement weather, which could cause variation separate from Pokemon Go. The model also compares Pokestops to Pokegyms (where it was nearly impossible to play while driving) to account for the possibility that generally increased traffic to Pokemon Go locations was leading to more accidents, even among drivers who stopped and parked before playing. In all cases, though, being able to compare to intersections without a Pokestop and to the same dates the year before, helped provide natural control variables for the study.

Star Wars Prequels

Legislators Take Aim At Star Wars Battlefront II, EA Over 'Gambling In Games' (polygon.com) 72

dryriver writes: A number of pay-to-win microtransaction FPS games, including Dirty Bomb and the $60 Star Wars Battlefront II, have drawn the ire of legislators in countries like Belgium and the United States. Not only are advanced characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and various weapons and abilities in these games "locked" -- you pay for them in hard cash, or play for them for dozens and dozens of tedious hours -- the games also feature so called "Loot Boxes," which are boxes that contain a random item, weapon, character or ability. So like playing slot machines in Vegas, each time you can get something good, something mediocre or something totally crap. You cannot determine with any certainty what you will get for your real-world dollars or in-game achievements. Angry Reddit users recently downvoted a blundering statement by EA on the topic with a whopping 249,000 downvotes -- an all time downvote record on Reddit, shocking EA into retreating from its pay-to-win model and announcing unspecified "changes" now being made to Star Wars Battlefront II. Legislators in a number of countries have also sharply criticized "Loot Boxes" and "microtransactions" in games, with one legislator in Belgium vowing to have the sale of such games banned completely in the EU, because children are essentially being forced to "gamble with real money" in these games. Forbes has written a great piece about how EA is now essentially stuck with a $60 Star Wars game that cost a lot to make but probably cannot be monetized any further, because there is considerable risk of all games with loot boxes, microtransactions and "pay to win" monetization models being completely banned from sale in a number of different countries now. The morale of the story? Maybe people should not pay a game developer any more than the $40-60 they paid when they thought they "bought" the game in the first place.
Businesses

Belgium Denounces Loot Boxes as Gambling; Hawaiian Legislator Calls Them 'Predatory' (arstechnica.co.uk) 203

Peter Bright, writing for ArsTechnica: Belgium's Gaming Commission has ruled that loot boxes -- in-game purchases where what you receive is randomized and only known once you open the box -- are gambling. The country's minister of justice, Koen Geens, has said that he wants to see them banned Europe-wide, reports PC Gamer. Amid outcry over the use of loot boxes in Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront 2, the Belgian Gaming Commission decided last week to look into the issue, with Commission Director Peter Naessens specifically saying that the combination of paying money and receiving something "dependent on chance" prompted the investigation. Rather swiftly, it seems, the Commission has made its decision. In October, the US' Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rejected calls to classify loot boxes as gambling. It told Kotaku that since players receive some reward from opening the loot box -- even if it's useless or unwanted -- that it's not gambling. As such, loot box games will receive neither ESRB's "Real Gambling" nor "Simulated Gambling" labels, the former of which automatically gives a game an "Adults Only" rating. Many retailers refuse to sell A-O games, so giving every title that uses loot boxes such a rating would likely be harmful to their sales. The question of whether loot boxes are gambling may see some new scrutiny in the US. Hawaiian Democratic State Representative Chris Lee has described loot boxes as predatory behavior.
Windows

Microsoft Confirms Surface Book 2 Can't Stay Charged During Gaming Sessions (engadget.com) 138

The Verge mentioned in their review that the Surface Book 2's power supply can't charge the battery fast enough to prevent it from draining in some cases. Microsoft has since confirmed that "in some intense, prolonged gaming scenarios with Power Mode Slider set to 'best performance' the battery may discharge while connected to the power supply." Engadget reports: To let you choose between performance and battery life, the Surface Book has a range of power settings. If you're doing video editing or other GPU intensive tasks, you can crank it up to "best performance" to activate the NVIDIA GPU and get more speed. Battery drain is normally not an issue with graphics apps because the chip only kicks in when needed. You'll also need the "best performance" setting for GPU-intensive games, as they'll slow down or drop frames otherwise. The problem is that select titles like Destiny 2 use the NVIDIA chip nearly continuously, pulling up to 70 watts of power on top of the 35 watt CPU. Unfortunately, the Surface Book comes with a 102-watt charger, and only about 95 watts of that reaches the device, the Verge points out. Microsoft says that the power management system will prevent the battery from draining completely, even during intense gaming, but it would certainly mess up your Destiny 2 session. It also notes that the machine is intended for designers, developers and engineers, with the subtext that it's not exactly marketed as a gaming rig.
Science

League of Legends Rank Predicts IQ, Study Finds (plos.org) 85

limbicsystem writes: A new publication in the journal PLOS ONE shows that your rank in League of Legends (LoL) correlates with your intelligence quotient (IQ). Games like LoL and DOTA II apparently depend on the same cognitive resources that underlie tests of fluid intelligence. That means that proficiency in those games peaks at the same age as raw IQ -- about 25 -- while scores in more reaction-time based games like Destiny or Battlefield seem to decline from the teens onwards. The researchers suggest that the massive datasets from these online games could be used to assess population-level cognitive health in real-time across the globe. The authors have a nice FAQ (and open datasets) here.
The Military

Russia Posts Video Game Screenshot As 'Irrefutable Proof' of US Helping IS (bbc.com) 132

Plus1Entropy shares a report from BBC, adding: "But when I asked Putin, he said they didn't do it": Russia's Ministry of Defense has posted what it called "irrefutable proof" of the U.S. aiding so-called Islamic State -- but one of the images was actually taken from a video game. The ministry claimed the image showed an IS convoy leaving a Syrian town last week aided by U.S. forces. Instead, it came from the smartphone game AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron. The ministry said an employee had mistakenly attached the photo. The Conflict Intelligence Team fact-checking group said the other four provided were also errors, taken from a June 2016 video which showed the Iraqi Air Force attacking IS in Iraq. The video game image seems to be taken from a promotional video on the game's website and YouTube channel, closely cropped to omit the game controls and on-screen information. In the corner of the image, however, a few letters of the developer's disclaimer can still be seen: "Development footage. This is a work in progress. All content subject to change."
Nintendo

Nintendo Is Making An Animated Super Mario Bros. Movie, Says Report (gizmodo.com) 71

According to The Wall Street Journal, Nintendo has made a deal with Illumination Entertainment -- the animation studio that makes the Despicable Me movies -- to make an animated Super Mario Bros. movie. The film is currently in "early development," but the report comes as a surprise given how protective Nintendo is of their intellectual properties. Gizmodo reports: According to the report, the companies have been in negotiations for a year and the fact Universal (which finances and distributes Illumination's movie) has partnered with Nintendo for several theme parks was helpful. Right now, the deal is one for one movie, but there is potential for more. Of course, Nintendo is almost laughably protective of their intellectual properties, especially after the disastrous 1993 live action Super Mario Bros. movie. They've made Pokemon movies but, beyond that, rumors of movies based on Mario and The Legend of Zelda have been around for years. This is the vide game company's first big move forward in a long time, and the implications are extremely significant.
Businesses

EA's 'Star Wars' PR Disaster Finally Pushed Gamers Into Open Revolt Against Loot Boxes (rollingstone.com) 307

Gaming company Electronic Arts is not having a good week. Bowing to pressure from early players of Star Wars Battlefront II and the historically negative reaction over the weekend to the company's response to complaints on Reddit, the company has now detailed significant cuts in the cost to unlock characters in its game and promised to continue to listen to player feedback. From a report: Most importantly, Electronic Arts today announced that they are reducing the number of credits needed to unlock top characters in the game by 75 percent. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will now cost 15,000 credits. Emperor Palatine, Chewbacca and Leia Organa will now cost 10,000 and Iden will cost 5,000. Mashable reports on the outcry that took place over the weekend: Battlefront II isn't technically out until Nov. 17, but fans that subscribe to EA Access or Origin Access -- which give Xbox One and PC players, respectively, a five-day, 10-hour window to play EA games before they launch -- are discovering how those changes feel. And it's a bad scene, friends. "At the current price of 60,000 credits it will take you 40 hours of gameplay time to earn the right to unlock one hero or villain [in Star Wars: Battlefront II]," Reddit user TheHotterPotato wrote in a post. "That means 40 hours of saving each and every credit, no buying any crates at all, so no bonus credits from getting duplicates in crates." The Reddit post produced such a mind-blowingly negative response that an agent of EA actually responded. Unfortunately, that response made things even worse. EA's Reddit account is plastered with a barrage of downvotes, with one particular response receiving over 600,000 downvotes -- a record.
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.

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