Nintendo

Nintendo's Newest Switch Accessories Are DIY Cardboard Toys (theverge.com) 72

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power, Nintendo appears focused on producing "fun" gaming experiences, regardless of how cheesy or technologically outdated they me be.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) 149

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) 189

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."

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