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.

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