XBox (Games)

Microsoft Outlines the Upgrade Procedures For Xbox One X (arstechnica.com) 30

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) 454

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Privacy

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Slashdot: Are Interactive Computing Devices Addictive? 98

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

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

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

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

'World of Warcraft' Game Currency Now Worth More Than Venezuelan Money (theblaze.com) 189

schwit1 quotes TheBlaze: Digital gold from Blizzard's massive multiplayer online game "World of Warcraft" is worth more than actual Venezuelan currency, the bolivar, according to new data. Venezuelan resident and Twitter user @KalebPrime first made the discovery July 14 and tweeted at the time that on the Venezuela's black market -- now the most-used method of currency exchange within Venezuela according to NPR -- you can get $1 for 8493.97 bolivars. Meanwhile, a "WoW" token, which can be bought for $20 from the in-game auction house, is worth 8385 gold per dollar. According to sites that track the value of both currencies, KalebPrime's math is outdated, and WoW gold is now worth even more than the bolivar.
That tweet has since gone viral, prompting @KalebPrime to joke that "At this rate when I publish my novel the quotes will read 'FROM THE GUY THAT MADE THE WOW GOLD > VENEZUELAN BOLIVAR TWEET.'"
Technology

One Man's Two-Year Quest Not to Finish Final Fantasy VII (newyorker.com) 123

Simon Parkin, writing for The New Yorker: In 2012, David Curry, a thirty-four-year-old cashier from Southern California, came across a post on an online forum by someone who went by the handle Dick Tree. It contained a herculean proposal: Tree planned to play the 1997 video game Final Fantasy VII for as many hours as it took to raise the characters to their maximum potential, without ever leaving the opening scene, which unfolds in a nuclear reactor. Final Fantasy VII is a role-playing game, a form popularized in the nineteen-seventies by Dungeons & Dragons, in which players' feats -- beasts felled, maidens wooed -- are quantified with "experience points." Accrue enough of these points, and your character ascends a level, at which point it confronts stronger opponents worth more points. Curry estimated that, even playing for a few hours every day, Tree's attempt to raise a character to Level 99 by fighting only the game's weakest enemies would take more than a year to complete. Nevertheless, Tree attracted a following of forum users, including Curry, who cheered the project on and watched it unfold in sporadic posts. Over time, Curry told me recently, Tree's updates became more infrequent. After two years, Tree stopped altogether. "I got fed up with Dick Tree," he said. "So I declared that I would do it myself." Curry had first played Final Fantasy VII several years after its debut, but had set the game down after a few hours, underwhelmed. Although he had participated in a few Web endurance projects -- he once provided commentary on twenty-three seasons' worth of "The Simpsons" -- he had never undertaken a video-game marathon before. "I don't consider myself anything more than a casual gamer," Curry said. But then, on January 18, 2015, he switched on his PlayStation and loaded the game disk. "After that first session, I felt confident that I could complete the challenge," he told me. "I was also confident that I would teach Dick Tree a lesson about finishing what you start."
PlayStation (Games)

Sony Using Copyright Requests To Remove Leaked PS4 SDK From the Web (arstechnica.com) 156

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Sony appears to be using copyright law in an attempt to remove all traces of a leaked PlayStation 4 Software Development Kit (PS4 SDK) from the Web. That effort also seems to have extended in recent days to the forced removal of the mere discussion of the leak and the posting of a separate open source, homebrew SDK designed to be used on jailbroken systems. The story began a few weeks ago, when word first hit that version 4.5 of the PS4 SDK had been leaked online by a hacker going by the handle Kromemods. These SDKs are usually provided only to authorized PS4 developers inside development kits. The SDKs contain significant documentation that, once made public, can aid hackers in figuring out how to jailbreak consoles, create and install homebrew software, and enable other activities usually prohibited by the hardware maker (as we've seen in the wake of previous leaks of PlayStation 3 SDKs). While you can still find reference to the version 4.5 SDK leak on places like Reddit and MaxConsole, threads discussing and linking to those leaked files on sites like GBATemp and PSXhax, for example, appear to have been removed after the fact. Cached versions of those pages show links (now defunct) to download those leaked files, along with a message from KromeMods to "Please spread this as much as possible since links will be taken down... We will get nowhere if everything keeps private; money isn't everything." KromeMods notes on Twitter that his original tweet posting a link to the leaked files was also hit with a copyright notice from Sony.
Businesses

Atari Is Back In the Hardware Business, Unveils Ataribox (hothardware.com) 110

Reader MojoKid writes: Atari CEO Fred Chesnais confirmed the company was working on a brand new console back in June this year at E3, but today the company has officially unveiled the product. The new Ataribox console draws on some of the classic styling of the original Atari 2600 console but with a modernized flare, though still sporting that tasty wood grain front panel. Atari is also looking to make the Ataribox a bit more user-friendly and expandable than its Nintendo rivals through the addition of an SD card slot and four USB ports (in addition the requisite HDMI port). The new console will be based on PC component technologies but will be available with a number of classic games to let you bask in the early days of console gaming. However, Atari will also be bringing what is being billed as "current content" to the console as well. So, we can expect to see brand new licensed games for the Ataribox, although it's hard to say, given just its size to go on, what sort of horsepower is lurking under the Ataribox's hood. "We know you are hungry for more details; on specs, games, pricing, timing," said Atari in a statement sent via email. "We're not teasing you intentionally; we want to get this right, so we've opted to share things step by step as we bring this to life, and to listen closely to the Atari community feedback as we do so."
Businesses

The Oculus Rift Still Isn't Selling, In a Worrying Sign For VR (technologyreview.com) 413

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Despite Mark Zuckerberg's early enthusiasm for virtual reality, the technology has stubbornly remained a hard sell for Facebook. Now, in yet another sign that VR is failing to capture the imagination of the public, the company has just cut the price of its Oculus Rift hardware for the second time this year. For the next six weeks, the Oculus Rift headset and its matching controllers will cost just $399. That's $400 less than when it first hit the market, and $200 less than when its price was first slashed in March. It means that the Rift now costs less than the package offered by its cheapest rival, Sony, whose PlayStation VR currently totals $460 including headset and controllers. Even so, it's not clear that it will be enough to lure people into buying a Rift. Jason Rubin, vice president for content at Oculus, tells Reuters that the reduction isn't a sign of weak product sales, but rather a decision to give the headset more mass market appeal now that more games are available.
PlayStation (Games)

Young Men Are Working Less. Some Economists Think It's Because They're Home Playing Video Games. (nytimes.com) 283

Video games are instrumental in understanding why younger men are working fewer hours, according to a paper published Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research. From an article: By 2015, American men 31 to 55 were working about 163 fewer hours a year than that same age group did in 2000. Men 21 to 30 were working 203 fewer hours a year. One puzzle is why the working hours for young men fell so much more than those of their older counterparts. The gap between the two groups grew by about 40 hours a year, or a full workweek on average. Other experts have pointed to a host of reasons -- globalization, technological change, the shift to service work -- that employers may not be hiring young men. Instead of looking at why employers don't want young men, this group of economists considered a different question: Why don't young men want to work? Economists Erik Hurst and his colleagues estimate that, since 2004, video games have been responsible for reducing the amount of work that young men do by 15 to 30 hours over the course of a year (syndicated source). Using the recession as a natural experiment, the authors studied how people who suddenly found themselves with extra time spent their leisure hours, then estimated how increases in video game time affected work. Between 2004 and 2015, young men's leisure time grew by 2.3 hours a week. A majority of that increase -- 60 percent -- was spent playing video games, according to government time use surveys. In contrast, young women's leisure time grew by 1.4 hours a week. A negligible amount of that extra time was spent on video games. Likewise for older men and older women: Neither group reported having spent any meaningful extra free time playing video games.
Sony

Sony Suspends Thousands Of PlayStation Network Accounts in UK, Allegedly Because Of Issue With PayPal (kotaku.co.uk) 35

An anonymous reader writes: PlayStation Network (PSN) users in the UK who've paid via PayPal have had their accounts suspended. 'Thousands' of users this week received an automatic refund for purchases they made with the US money transfer service. According to game blog Kotaku, since Sony hasn't received money from those users, their accounts have been suspended. Neither Sony nor Paypal have addressed the issue yet.
Piracy

Indie Game Developer Shares Free Keys on The Pirate Bay (torrentfreak.com) 130

Jacob Janerka, developer of the popular indie adventure game 'Paradigm,' recently spotted a cracked copy of his title on The Pirate Bay. But, instead of being filled with anger and rage while running to the nearest anti-piracy outfit, Janerka decided to reach out to the pirates. Not to school or scold them, but to offer a few free keys. From a report: "Hey everyone, I'm Jacob, the creator of Paradigm. I know some of you legitimately can't afford the game and I'm glad you get to still play it :D," Janerka's comment on TPB reads. Having downloaded many pirated games himself in the past, Janerka knows that some people simply don't have the means to buy all the games they want to play. So he's certainly not going to condemn others for doing the same now, although it would be nice if some bought it later. "If you like the game, please tell your friends and maybe even consider buying it later," he added.
Nintendo

Super Nintendo Classic Coming in September (hollywoodreporter.com) 127

Rumors are true. Nintendo is gearing up to launch the SNES Classic, a miniaturized version of the glorious original Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The console will include 21 games when it launches September 29. A report adds: Among the big surprises: a never-before released Star Fox 2 is in the mix. Here's the full list of games: Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, F-Zero, Super Metroid, Super Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Super Punch Out, Super Castlevania IV, Donkey Kong Country, Mega Man X, Kirby Super Star, Final Fantasy III, Kirby's Dream Course, Star Fox, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Secret of Mana, EarthBound, and Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts. It will retail at a price point of $80.

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