AI

EA Created An AI That Taught Itself To Play Battlefield (kotaku.com) 59

Electronic Arts' Search for Extraordinary Experiences (SEED) Division has created a "self-learning AI-agent" that has managed to teach itself how to play Battlefield 1 multiplayer. From a report: In this blog post, Magnus Nordin from SEED details how his team, inspired by Google's work with old Atari games, wondered "how much effort it would take to have a self-learning agent learn to play a modern and more complex first person AAA game like Battlefield." So they tried to find out. The results are an "agent" that, while inferior to human players, "is pretty proficient at the basic Battlefield gameplay." The agent changes behaviour if it's low on health or ammo, and while more complex behaviours like knowing the details of each map are beyond it (at the moment), EA has found that "while the human players outperformed the agents, it wasn't a complete blowout by any stretch."
Graphics

NVIDIA RTX Technology To Usher In Real-Time Ray Tracing Holy Grail of Gaming Graphics (hothardware.com) 159

HotHardware writes: NVIDIA has been dabbling in real-time ray tracing for over a decade. However, the company just introduced NVIDIA RTX, which is its latest effort to deliver real-time ray tracing to game developers and content creators for implementation in actual game engines. Historically, the computational horsepower to perform real-time ray tracing has been too great to be practical in actual games, but NVIDIA hopes to change that with its new Volta GPU architecture and the help of Microsoft's new DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API enhancements. Ray tracing is a method by which images are enhanced by tracing rays or paths of light as they bounce in and around an object (or objects) in a scene. Under optimum conditions, ray tracing delivers photorealistic imagery with shadows that are correctly cast; water effects that show proper reflections and coloring; and scenes that are cast with realistic lighting effects. NVIDIA RTX is a combination of software (the company's Gameworks SDK, now with ray tracing support), and next generation GPU hardware. NVIDIA notes its Volta architecture has specific hardware support for real-time ray tracing, including offload via its Tensor core engines. To show what's possible with the technology, developers including Epic, 4A Games and Remedy Entertainment will be showcasing their own game engine demonstrations this week at the Game Developers Conference. NVIDIA expects the ramp to be slow at first, but believes eventually most game developers will adopt real-time ray tracing in the future.
Games

New Study Which Made 90 Adults Play 'GTA' or 'The Sims 3' For At least 30 Mins Every Day For 2 Months Finds 'No Significant Changes' in Their Behavior (arstechnica.com) 193

A new, longer-term study of video game play from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Germany's University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf recently published in Molecular Psychiatry found that adults showed "no significant changes" on a wide variety of behavioral measures after two straight months of daily violent game play. From a report: To correct for the "priming" effects inherent in these other studies, researchers had 90 adult participants play either Grand Theft Auto V or The Sims 3 for at least 30 minutes every day over eight weeks (a control group played no games during the testing period). The adults chosen, who ranged from 18 to 45 years old, reported little to no video game play in the previous six months and were screened for pre-existing psychological problems before the tests. The participants were subjected to a wide battery of 52 established questionnaires intended to measure "aggression, sexist attitudes, empathy, and interpersonal competencies, impulsivity-related constructs (such as sensation seeking, boredom proneness, risk taking, delay discounting), mental health (depressivity, anxiety) as well as executive control functions." The tests were administered immediately before and immediately after the two-month gameplay period and also two months afterward, in order to measure potential continuing effects. Over 208 separate comparisons (52 tests; violent vs. non-violent and control groups; pre- vs. post- and two-months-later tests), only three subjects showed a statistically significant effect of the violent gameplay at a 95 percent confidence level.
Emulation (Games)

How Hardware Artisans Are Keeping Classic Video Gaming Alive (fastcompany.com) 75

Slashdot reader harrymcc writes, "If you want to play classic Nintendo games, you could buy a vintage Super NES. Or you could use an emulator. Or -- if you're really serious -- you could use floating point gate arrays to design a new console that makes them look great on modern TVs." He shares Fast Company's article about "some of the other folks using new hardware to preserve the masterworks of the past." Analogue created its system with HDTVs in mind, so every game looks as good or maybe even better than I remember from childhood. Playing the same cartridges on my actual Super Nintendo is more like looking through a dirty window... Another company called RetroUSB has also used Field Programmable Gate Arrays to create its own version of the original Nintendo. And if you already own any classic systems like I do, there's a miniature industry of aftermarket hardware that will make those consoles look better on modern televisions.
The article also notes "throwback consoles" from AtGames and Hyperkin, as well as the Open Source Scan Converter, "a crude-looking device that converts SCART input to HDMI output with no distinguishable lag from the game controller." Analogue's CEO Christopher Taber "argues that software emulation is inherently less accurate than re-creating systems at the hardware level," and describes Analogue engineer Kevin Horton as "someone who's obscenely talented at what he's doing... He's applying it to making perfect, faithful, aftermarket video game systems to preserve playing these systems in an unadulterated way."

And in the end the article's author feels that Analogue's Super NT -- a reverse-engineered Super Nintendo -- "just feels more like the real thing. Unlike an emulator, the Super Nt doesn't let you save games from any point or switch to slow motion, and the only modern gameplay concession it offers is the ability to reset the game through a controller shortcut. Switching to a different game still requires you to get off the couch, retrieve another cartridge, and put it into the system, which feels kind of like listening to a vinyl album instead of a Spotify playlist."
Games

Daily Dose of Violent Video Games Causes 'No Significant Changes' In Behavior, Study Finds (arstechnica.com) 192

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A new, longer-term study of video game play from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Germany's University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf recently published in Molecular Psychiatry found that adults showed "no significant changes" on a wide variety of behavioral measures after two straight months of daily violent game play. Most scientific studies on the effects of video game violence measure participants right after the completion of a gameplay session, when the adrenaline prompted by the on-screen action is likely still pumping. Researcher Simone Kuhn and her co-authors argue that "effects observed only for a few minutes after short sessions of video gaming are not representative of what society at large is actually interested in, namely how habitual violent video game play affects behavior on a more long-term basis." To correct for the "priming" effects inherent in these other studies, researchers had 90 adult participants play either Grand Theft Auto V or The Sims 3 for at least 30 minutes every day over eight weeks (a control group played no games during the testing period). The adults chosen, who ranged from 18 to 45 years old, reported little to no video game play in the previous six months and were screened for pre-existing psychological problems before the tests. Over 208 separate comparisons (52 tests; violent vs. non-violent and control groups; pre- vs. post- and two-months-later tests), only three subjects showed a statistically significant effect of the violent gameplay at a 95 percent confidence level. Pure chance would predict more than 10 of the 208 comparisons would be significant at that level, leading the researchers to conclude "that there were no detrimental effects of violent video game play."
Google

Google Opens Maps To Bring the Real World Into Games (engadget.com) 49

Video games may soon look a lot more like the real world. If you've enjoyed the thrill of driving through GTA V and spying out Los Angeles landmarks, then that's a sentiment you're probably going to start feeling a lot more often while you play video games. From a report: The search firm is both opening its Maps platform's real-time data and offering new software toolkits that will help developers build games based on that data. The software includes both a kit to translate map info to the Unity game engine as well as another to help make games using that location data. The combination turns buildings and other landmarks into customizable 3D objects, and lets you manipulate those objects to fit your game world. It can replace every real hotel into an adventurer's inn, for instance, or add arbitrary points of interest for the sake of checkpoints.
Games

Google and Ubisoft Are Teaming Up To Improve Online Multi-Player Video Games (fortune.com) 52

Google and Ubisoft announced on Tuesday they have a new project intended to improve the performance of fast-paced, online multi-player video games. From a report: The search giant said it teamed with Ubisoft -- the publisher of popular video games like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry -- to create a gaming developer framework intended for coders that work on online video games. The project is called Agones, which is Greek for "contest" or "gathering," and it will be available in open-source, meaning developers can use it for free and also contribute to the underlying technology. Google pitches Agones as a more cutting-edge way for developers to build multi-player games that don't crash or stutter when thousands of video gamers play at the same time.

Each time people want to play their favorite first-person shooter or other computer resource-heavy online video game with others, the underlying infrastructure that powers the online video game must create a special gaming server that hosts the players. The Agones framework was designed to more efficiently distribute the computing resources necessary to support each online gaming match, thus reducing the complexity of creating each special server while helping coders better track how the computing resources are being used.

Crime

Kansas 'Swat' Perpetrator Is Now Also Wanted in Florida (kansas.com) 87

An anonymous reader writes: Florida police recount how close they were to aresting 25-year-old Tyler Barriss before his fake call to Kansas police led to a fatal shooting. "Panama City Beach police Lt. J.R. Talamantez told the Panama City News Herald that police had tied Barriss to about 30 other bomb threats," reports the Wichita Eagle -- a full month before another call led to the fatal shooting of a father of two in Kansas. But attempts to secure an arrest warrant may have been slowed by the lack of an address, since apparently Barriss "lived in a shelter in South Los Angeles. Police there found him in a local library."

A Florida newspaper reports that their local police department is now doing what they can to right the situation. "Lt. J.R. Talamantez, cyber crimes investigator with the Panama City Beach police, said the department currently has two felony warrants issued for Barris' arrest and is providing the U.S. Attorney's Office with information... Talamantez said the end goal is to identify all victims of Barriss' calls and bring him to justice on all those incidents... "We just want to send a message that this isn't going to end with a slap on the wrist. The victims will see an appropriate punishment."

Nintendo

Google Maps Apps Add 'Mario Kart' Feature (wlwt.com) 35

An anonymous reader quotes WLWT News: Starting Saturday, "Mario Time" will be available on the Google Maps app for iOS and Android, letting you drive around town with Mario as your guide, cruising the app in a go-kart similar to the iconic "Mario Kart" video game. When users launch the latest version of the app, the feature is activated by tapping a "?" beside the start button normally used to start navigation.
It includes sound effects -- "Woo-hoo! Let's-a go!" says Mario -- and will be available for the next week. It's to commemorate "Mario Day" -- Mar.10 -- that magical time of year one Portland newspaper has described as "the most manufactured of corporate holidays," on which Nintendo lowers the price on their Super Mario Run app and offers other discounts.
AI

Why Humans Learn Faster Than AI (technologyreview.com) 98

What is it about human learning that allows us to perform so well with relatively little experience? MIT Technology Review: Today we get an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Rachit Dubey and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley. They have studied the way humans interact with video games to find out what kind of prior knowledge we rely on to make sense of them. It turns out that humans use a wealth of background knowledge whenever we take on a new game. And this makes the games significantly easier to play. But faced with games that make no use of this knowledge, humans flounder, whereas machines plod along in exactly the same way. Take a look at the computer game shown here. This game is based on a classic called Montezuma's Revenge, originally released for the Atari 8-bit computer in 1984. There is no manual and no instructions; you aren't even told which "sprite" you control. And you get feedback only if you successfully finish the game.

Would you be able to do so? How long would it take? You can try it at this website. In all likelihood, the game will take you about a minute, and in the process you'll probably make about 3,000 keyboard actions. That's what Dubey and co found when they gave the game to 40 workers from Amazon's crowdsourcing site Mechanical Turk, who were offered $1 to finish it. "This is not overly surprising as one could easily guess that the game's goal is to move the robot sprite towards the princess by stepping on the brick-like objects and using ladders to reach the higher platforms while avoiding the angry pink and the fire objects," the researchers say. By contrast, the game is hard for machines: many standard deep-learning algorithms couldn't solve it at all, because there is no way for an algorithm to evaluate progress inside the game when feedback comes only from finishing.

Hardware

Oculus Rift Is Now the Most Popular VR Headset On Steam (venturebeat.com) 60

The Oculus Rift has overtaken the HTC Vive on the monthly Steam hardware survey for the first time since the launch of both headsets in early 2016. VentureBeat reports: The survey is entirely optional and scans a user's PC for various hardware components, including any VR headsets that may be connected. After a few months of catching up to Vive, the Rift was neck-and-neck with its rival in January's survey with 0.9 percent between the two. However, February saw Oculus step past HTC; Rift took 47.31 percent of the total hardware use, and Vive fell to 45.38 percent, leaving just under 2 percent between them. It's still a tight race, then, but this is the first time Rift has managed to surpass Vive. Again, this is in no way confirmation that the Oculus Rift has sold more units than the HTC Vive, as neither headset has had official sales figures released, but it's the best shot we've got at gauging the market share right now. Rift also took the "Most Popular Headset" space in Steam's individual listings for the second time ever.
AI

Ubisoft is Using AI To Catch Bugs in Games Before Devs Make Them (wired.co.uk) 126

AI has a new task: helping to keep the bugs out of video games. From a report: At the recent Ubisoft Developer Conference in Montreal, the French gaming company unveiled a new AI assistant for its developers. Dubbed Commit Assistant, the goal of the AI system is to catch bugs before they're ever committed into code, saving developers time and reducing the number of flaws that make it into a game before release. "I think like many good ideas, it's like 'how come we didn't think about that before?'," says Yves Jacquier, who heads up La Forge, Ubisoft's R&D division in Montreal. His department partners with local universities including McGill and Concordia to collaborate on research intended to advance the field of artificial intelligence as a whole, not just within the industry.

La Forge fed Commit Assistant with roughly ten years' worth of code from across Ubisoft's software library, allowing it to learn where mistakes have historically been made, reference any corrections that were applied, and predict when a coder may be about to write a similar bug. "It's all about comparing the lines of code we've created in the past, the bugs that were created in them, and the bugs that were corrected, and finding a way to make links [between them] to provide us with a super-AI for programmers," explains Jacquier.

Medicine

Videogame Lobbyists Join Scientists To Fight 'Gaming Disorder' Classification (vice.com) 72

Remember when the World Health Organization moved to define a new disease called "gaming disorder"? An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: Multiple video game lobbying groups from around the world have banded together to push back against the classification, and 36 academics, scientists, doctors, and researchers have drafted a paper that called the WHO's methodology and motives into question. The professionals will publish the paper, titled "Weak Basis for Gaming Disorder," in an upcoming issue of Journal of Behavioral Addictions. The article is a collection of well reasoned arguments against classifying "gaming disorder" as a disease, complete with references to extant research...

"We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems," said the article's abstract. "However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have"... To be clear, the article doesn't argue that something isn't going on and that gaming addiction isn't real and isn't a problem. It just thinks that rushing to define it and put it in the the ICD is a bad idea.

AI

AI Cheats at Old Atari Games By Finding Unknown Bugs in the Code (theverge.com) 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: AI research and video games are a match made in heaven. Researchers get a ready-made virtual environment with predefined goals they can control completely, and the AI agent gets to romp around without doing any damage. Sometimes, though, they do break things. Case in point is a paper published this week by a trio of machine learning researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany. They were exploring a particular method of teaching AI agents to navigate video games (in this case, desktop ports of old Atari titles from the 1980s) when they discovered something odd. The software they were testing discovered a bug in the port of the retro video game Q*bert that allowed it to rack up near infinite points. As the trio describe in the paper, published on pre-print server arXiv, the agent was learning how to play Q*bert when it discovered an "interesting solution." Normally, in Q*bert, players jump from cube to cube, with this action changing the platforms' colors. Change all the colors (and dispatch some enemies), and you're rewarded with points and sent to the next level. The AI found a better way, though: "First, it completes the first level and then starts to jump from platform to platform in what seems to be a random manner. For a reason unknown to us, the game does not advance to the second round but the platforms start to blink and the agent quickly gains a huge amount of points (close to 1 million for our episode time limit)."
Games

Sega Cancels Yakuza 6 Song of Life Free Demo After Gamers Unlocked Full Game (businessinsider.com) 43

Sega pulled the highly anticipated "Yakuza 6: The Song of Life" demo this week from the PlayStation Store after discovering some players had inadvertently gained access to the full game using the demo. From a report: This discovery came only hours after the demo was initially released for PlayStation 4. The Japanese video game company tweeted, "We are as upset as you are, and had hoped to have this demo available for everyone today. We discovered that some were able to use the demo to unlock the full game." [...] When the demo was initially released it required more than 36 GB of storage, to the surprise of many video game critics. Kotaku, an online entertainment publication, suggests that the demo was so large because it actually contained the entire game, but was supposed to restrict everything beyond the first few stages of the game.

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