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Microsoft

Microsoft Announces Xbox Game Pass, Netflix-Style Gaming For the Xbox One (polygon.com) 9

Microsoft today announced it is moving into the world of Netflix-style game subscriptions with Xbox Game Pass, a monthly service coming this spring that will give you a selection of games you can download and play on your Xbox One for $9.99 a month. From a report on Polygon: The service will include "over 100 games," including Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2, NBA 2K16 and SoulCalibur II. "One of the best things about Xbox Game Pass is that you can discover and download the full titles directly on your Xbox One," the official post states. Any game you buy through the service will be sold to you at a 20 percent discount. An alpha preview of the program begins today with "a very limited" number of games, and Xbox Live Gold subscribers will get first crack at the program this spring. It also sounds as if the service may be available, at least in part, on the PC.
Businesses

Twitch Will Begin Selling Games You're Watching Later This Year (kotaku.com) 24

Twitch, home to millions of people who go to the site to watch games being player, is adding an e-commerce element to its game streaming platform. The Amazon-owned company announced today that it will sell video games directly on its site, which is already used by nearly 10 million daily active users. From a report: The new game sales program will allow stream viewers to click a "Buy Now" button at the bottom of the stream page to purchase the game they are viewing. Sales go through Twitch parent company Amazon, and while games will be available worldwide, only U.S. dollars will be supported as payment currency at launch
GameCube (Games)

Machine-Learning AI Now Beats Humans At Super Smash Bros. Melee (qz.com) 76

"The AI is definitely godlike," one professional player told Quartz. "I am not sure if anyone could beat it." An anonymous reader quotes their report about an AI's showdown with the best players of Super Smash Bros. Melee: Of 10 professionals that faced the bot, each one was killed more than they could kill the bot... But the bot was once only as good as a mere mortal. At first, Vlad Firoiu, creator and a competitive Smash player himself, couldn't train 'Phillip' to be as strong as the in-game bot, which he says even the worst players can beat fairly easily. Firoiu's solution? He started making the bot play itself over and over again, slowly learning which techniques fail and which succeed, called reinforcement learning. Then, he left it alone.

"I just sort of forgot about it for a week," said Firoiu, who coauthored an unreviewed paper with William F. Whitney, the NYU student [who helped him] on the work. "A week later I looked at it and I was just like, 'Oh my gosh.' I tried playing it and I couldn't beat it."

Business Insider points out that their AI read the players positions, velocities, and states directly from the game's memory, so the AI responds six times faster than a human player. To compensate it played as Captain Falcon, the game's slowest character, but there was one crucial glitch. "One particularly clever player found that the simple strategy of crouching at the edge of the stage caused the network to behave very oddly, refusing to attack and eventually KOing itself by falling off the other side of the stage."
Nintendo

$10K Package Of Super Nintendo Games Finally Found By Post Office (eurogamer.net) 150

A project to preserve (and validate) every Super Nintendo game ROM had been derailed when the post office lost a package containing 100 games from the PAL region. But now Byuu, the creator of the Higan SNES emulator, reports that the package has been found. An anonymous reader writes: Thursday Byuu finally posted photos of the unboxing for the package that was shipped to him January 5th. "I'd like to offer my sincerest apologies to the USPS for assuming the worst in that these games were stolen. I should not have been so hasty to assume malicious intent." At the same time, Byuu writes that "My package was sitting in Atlanta, GA for well over a month with my address clearly visible right on the box. Had this case not been escalated to the media, it likely would have gone up for auction in a bin with other electronics sometime in March."

Byuu is now refunding donations he'd received to replace the missing games, and says he can now also resume work on the SNES Preservation Project. And going forward, according to Eurogamer, "Byuu has said he will be more cautious with shipping games in the future -- only using smaller shipments, or buying individual games to scan and archive then selling them on to get some money back."

Graphics

Valve Releases SteamVR For Linux (gamingonlinux.com) 61

New submitter JustNiz quotes a report from GamingOnLinux: Valve has launched SteamVR for Linux officially in beta form and they are keen to stress that this is a development release. You will need to run the latest Steam Beta Client for it to work at all, so be sure to opt-in if you want to play around with it. VR on Linux will exclusively use Vulkan, so it's going to be a pretty good push for Vulkan if VR becomes more popular. Those who are interested can head over to GitHub for more information.
The Almighty Buck

Valve's Gabe Newell Says Only 30 SteamVR Apps Have Made $250,000+ (roadtovr.com) 151

New submitter rentarno writes: According to Valve President, Gabe Newell, only 30 virtual-reality apps on Steam (of some 1,000) have made more than $250,000. But that isn't stopping the company from throwing the bulk of their weight behind virtual reality; Valve recently confirmed that it's working on 3 full VR games. Valve still believes in a huge future for VR, even while things are slow to start. It'll take work to find and make the content that's great for VR, Newell says. "We got Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress running in VR. It was kind of a novelty, purely a development milestone. There was absolutely nothing compelling about them. Nobody's going to buy a VR system so they can watch movies. You have to aspire and be optimistic that the unique characteristics of VR will cause you to discover a bunch of stuff that isn't possible on any of the existing platforms." How do you view the VR industry in early 2017? Do you think it shows promise or will eventually fail like 3D TV?
First Person Shooters (Games)

'Counter-Strike' Gets Invaded By An Unblockable Chat-Bot (kotaku.com) 105

An anonymous reader writes: "At least one intruder is taking advantage of a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive exploit to flood lobbies (even private ones) with text from chat bots that can't be kicked," writes Engadget. The attack "allegedly comes from one person," according to Kotaku, which reports that "It's a similar exploit to one found a few weeks ago, where typing messages into a lobby allowed users to rank up and down as they chose." The chat bot's text includes various complaints about Counter-Strike which it claims motivated the attack, including cheaters, hackers and "bugs that break the game," and it urges a one-day boycott "to proof [sic] them that we care about the game and want them to fix it."
NES (Games)

Lost Package Derails Project To Preserve Super Nintendo Games (eurogamer.net) 171

A developer's quest to preserve (and validate) every game ROM for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System has hit a glitch -- thanks to the U.S. postal service. Byuu, the creator of the Higan SNES emulator, had been expecting a package with 100 games from the PAL region (covering most of Europe, Africa, South America, and Oceania). wertigon writes: As it turns out, someone at the USPS thought it was a good idea to lose the package, thereby robbing the project of roughly $5000 and the sad hopes of ever seeing a full indexing, like the one done to the U.S set. Byuu writes... "I do still want to dump and scan the Japanese games I already purchased. But we will never have a complete PAL set. Kotaku reports the games were worth up to £8,000, and though Byuu says the sender never requested reimbursement, it's going to happen "because I can't live with myself if it doesn't." He's asking for donations on Patreon, adding "If the package ultimately arrives, I will be refunding all donations." In that Thursday update, Byuu writes that the post office had finally shipped him the label from the package "and nothing else, claiming the machine ate it." They've launched an investigation, reports Byuu, adding "It's still an incredibly long shot that they'll find anything, but we'll see. I really, really hope that they do."
Businesses

Thousands Of Disabled People Are Living In 'Virtual Utopias' In Second Life (backchannel.com) 54

"For many disabled residents, who may spend 12 hours a day or more in Second Life, the most important moments and relationships of their lives happen inside the virtual world," reports Backchanel. "For them, the fevered fantasies of a decade ago have become reality: Second Life is where they live." mirandakatz shares this article: Wagner James Au, who has written extensively about Second Life, estimates they may account for roughly 20 percent of users. Some active members estimate the number higher -- at as much as 50 percent... Abundant research shows imagining movement, without actually moving the body, can have positive effects on motor skills, balance, and learning... Studies suggest the therapeutic benefits of virtual reality extend beyond movement disorders -- to chronic pain, cognitive functioning in people with ADHD and PTSD, and social skills for people on the autism spectrum.
The article describes a 90-year-old former nurse, now living in a retirement community, who's spent eight years living in a Second Life archipelago called "Virtual Ability Island" with over a thousand other members. "Watching her avatar hike trails and dance gave her the confidence to try things in the physical world that she hadn't tried in a half decade -- like stepping off a curb or standing up without any help."
Classic Games (Games)

MAME Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary (mame.net) 47

After years of work, a fan has finally completed a MAME version of Atari's unreleased game Primal Rage II this week, one more example of the emulator preserving digital history. Long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo quotes MAME.net: Way back in 1997, Nicola Salmoria merged a few stand-alone arcade machine emulators into the first Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. Could he have possibly imagined the significance of what he'd built? Over the past two decades, MAME has brought together over a thousand contributors to build a system that emulates more machines than any other program.

But MAME is more than that: MAME represents the idea that our digital heritage is important and should be preserved for future generations. MAME strives to accurately represent original systems, allowing unmodified software to run as intended. Today, MAME documents over thirty thousand systems, and usably emulates over ten thousand. MAME meets the definitions of Open Source and Free Software, and works with Windows, macOS, Linux and BSD running on any CPU from x86-64 to ARM to IBM zSeries.

A 20th-anniversary blog post thanked MAME's 1,600 contributors -- more than triple the number after its 10th anniversary -- and also thanks MAME's uncredited contributors. "if you've filed a bug report, distributed binaries, run a community site, or just put in a good word for MAME, we appreciate it." I've seen MAME resurrect everything from a rare East German arcade game to a Sonic the Hedgehog popcorn machine. Anybody else have a favorite MAME experience to share?
Businesses

How Atari's Nolan Bushnell Pioneered the Tech Incubator In the 1980s (fastcompany.com) 25

harrymcc writes: After Nolan Bushnell founded Atari and Chuck E. Cheese in the 1970s, he had so many ideas for new tech products that he started a tech incubator called Catalyst to spin them off into startups. Catalyst's companies were involved in robotics, online shopping, navigation, electronic game distribution, and other areas that eventually became big businesses -- but they did it with 1980s technology. Over at Fast Company, Benj Edwards tells this remarkable, forgotten story. New submitter deej1097 provides an excerpt from Edwards' report: In the annals of Silicon Valley history, Nolan Bushnell's name conjures up both brilliant success and spectacular failure. His two landmark achievements were founding Atari in 1972 -- laying the groundwork for the entire video game industry -- and starting Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre in 1977. But there's another highlight of Bushnell's bio that has long gone undocumented: pioneer of the high-tech incubator.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's 'Forza' Video Game Francise Tops $1 Billion in Sales (xbox.com) 35

Here's another area where Microsoft, whose cloud services are doing very well, continues to make a lot of money: video games. Microsoft has minted its fifth billion-dollar video-game franchise. The "Forza" racing series in December topped $1 billion in lifetime sales since the first game's release 12 years ago, Microsoft said. From company's blogpost: As of December, more than 14 million unique players were involved in the Forza community on Xbox One and Windows 10, the award-winning Forza Horizon 3 sold through 2.5 million units, and Forza continued its run as the best-selling racing franchise of this console generation. Additionally, our online racing community expanded significantly: over three million players joined us online each month and we launched the Forza Racing Championship, an eSports league for players of all skill levels to compete for glory and real-world prizes. "Since the beginning, Forza has combined stunning graphics, racing's leading simulation engine, and an emphasis on fun and accessibility," said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox. "With the Forza series, Turn 10 Studios has built the world's largest racing community. We couldn't be more proud of their success." Other game franchises in Microsoft's billion-dollar club are "Halo," "Minecraft," "Gears of War", and "Age of Empires".
Businesses

Angry Birds Is the Most-Banned Mobile App By Businesses (fortune.com) 47

Barb Darrow, writing for Fortune: Corporate IT pros face the unenviable task of trying to protect valuable data from threats that change all the time. One vector of attack is clearly smartphones and tablets that employees use both for work and pleasure. To that end, mobile device management firm MobileIron just came out with its latest tally of the ten most blacklisted apps, based on a survey of 7,800 companies worldwide. Angry Birds tops the list of most-banned apps at companies worldwide, as well as in Australia, the U.S., and government sectors tracked by MobileIron in its twice-yearly Mobile Security and Risk Review. The survey covers the use of Android, iOS, and Windows devices from Oct. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016.
Software

Valve Is Shutting Down Steam's Greenlight Community Voting System (theverge.com) 99

Valve's crowdsourced Greenlight submission program, which let the gaming community select which games get chosen for distribution via Steam, is shutting down after nearly five years. It will be replaced with a new system called Steam Direct that will charge developers a fee for each title they plan to distribute. The Verge reports: Steam Greenlight was launched in 2012 as a way for indie developers to get their games on Steam, even if they weren't working with a big publisher that had a relationship with Valve. Steam users would vote on Greenlight games, and Valve would accept titles with enough support to suggest that they'd sell well. Kroll says that "over 100" Greenlight titles have made $1 million or more. But Greenlight has also had significant problems. Developers could game the system by offering rewards for votes, and worthy projects could get lost amidst a slew of bad proposals. Since Valve ultimately made the call on including games, the process could also seem arbitrary and opaque. The big question is whether what's replacing it is better. To get a game on Steam Direct, developers will need to "complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account." Then, they'll pay an application fee for each game, "which is intended to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline" -- a polite way of saying that it will make people think twice before spending money submitting a low-quality game. Steam Direct is supposed to launch in spring of 2017, but the application fee hasn't been decided yet. Developer feedback has apparently suggested anything from $100 -- the current Greenlight submission fee -- and $5,000.
E3

E3 Will 'Officially' Open To The Public this Year (engadget.com) 32

E3 has traditionally been a media-only event -- at least in theory. But starting in 2017, you won't even need a WordPress account to get access to the latest and greatest in gaming. From a report: The Entertainment Software Association, which organizes the event, announced on Wednesday that it is reserving 15,000 tickets for the general public to attend the show. Each pass will cost $250 ($150 if you buy it before next Monday, February 13th) but they'll grant you access to the show floor, panel discussions and other stuff from Tuesday to Thursday of E3. The event organizers are also offering a new class of business passes. Aimed at lawyers, analysts and other stuffed shirt types, these passes will get you into the business lounge and grant priority access to the convention center.

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