Microsoft

Microsoft Says a Chinese 'Gaming Service' Company Is Hacking Xbox Accounts (theverge.com) 18

An anonymous reader shares a report: Since 2015, a Chinese gaming website has been hacking Xbox accounts and selling the proceeds on the open market, according to a complaint filed by Microsoft in federal court on Friday. On its website, iGSKY presents itself as a gaming service company, offering players a way to pay for in-game credits and rare items -- but according to Microsoft, many of those credits were coming from someone else's wallet. The complaint alleges that the company made nearly $2 million in purchases through hacked accounts and their associated credit cards, using purchases as a way to launder the resulting cash. On the site, cheap in-game points are also available for the FIFA games, Forza Horizon 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and Pokemon Go, among others.
Microsoft

Microsoft Job Posting Hints At VR MMO (roadtovr.com) 18

sqorbit writes: Microsoft has posted a job opening for a Senior Design Manager for a mixed-reality team. The posting states they are "looking to build a massively social gaming and entertainment experience for both the PC and the console." It looks like they are targeting both PC and Xbox Platforms for a VR socially geared development project. The requirements: "The Xbox Mixed Reality team is looking for an experienced senior design manager with deep expertise and passion around crafting immersive social systems and experiences. [...] Here is an opportunity to join a fun and collaborative team that experiments with the latest toys, works with state of the art tech, and crafts the future of entertainment." Road to VR notes that the company says they're looking for someone who has "Shipped at least 3 AAA consumer entertainment products" and has 7+ years using design tools; bonus points if they've got experience in "NUI, VR, AR, game design, art direction, and video storytelling."
AI

Star Trek Bridge Crew Gets IBM Watson-Powered Voice Commands (theverge.com) 61

PolygamousRanchKid writes: Star Trek Bridge Crew -- the VR game that puts you in the slip-on space shoes of a Starfleet officer -- already emphasizes vocal communication when you're playing with real humans, but it will soon allow you to use your voice to issue orders to computer-controlled characters, too. The feature has been made possible using IBM's VR Speech Sandbox. The software combines IBM Watson's Speech to Text and Conversation services with the company's Unity SDK, using the natural language processing capabilities of IBM's Watson software to parse your barked commands, and allow AI-controlled characters to act on them. Players will be able to launch photon torpedoes, jump to warp speed, or lock S-foils in attack formation (maybe not that last one) by requesting that your crew members push the relevant blinking buttons on their own command consoles. The feature will go live in beta form this summer, soon after the game's release on May 30th, and will allow players to complete missions across VR platforms and with a mixture of human and AI teammates.

Slashdot reader PolygamousRanchKid adds: "Let's just skip all that stuff, and cut right to the part where Kirk gets the girl... How well it actually works in practice, we'll see this summer, aboard our own starships. "Scotty, beam up the IBM stock price!" -- Posterior Admiral Ginni Rometty

Operating Systems

Windows 10 On ARM Will Support x86 Apps From Outside the Store (liliputing.com) 115

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Liliputing: First announced last year, Microsoft provided an update on Windows 10 ARM at the MS Build developer conference today. And the company confirmed that not only would Windows 10 ARM be able to run legacy apps developed for computers with x86 processors but you'd be able to just download any old Win32 app from the internet, install it, and run it on a computer running Windows 10 ARM. In other words, Windows 10 S runs on devices with ARM or x86 processors, but only supports Windows Store apps. Windows 10 ARM only runs on devices with ARM chips... but supports apps from pretty much any source. Developers don't need to convert their software in any way, because Windows 10 ARM includes a built-in emulation layer that allows Win32 apps to run on an ARM-powered system. But Microsoft demonstrated how you could download a common program like 7zip from the internet and simply install it on a device with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. Of course, developers can also package software optimized for ARM as Universal Windows Platform apps for distribution in the Windows Store. But they don't necessarily have to.
Emulation (Games)

How The 1997 'NESticle' Emulator Redefined Retro Gaming (vice.com) 83

Slashdot reader martiniturbide writes: For those who lived the console emulator and retrogaming boom on the late 90's there is this interesting article about the story of NESticle posted at Motherboard. NESticle was a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console emulator that had a huge success in the early internet era and helped to start the emulation scene. The author of the story, Ernie Smith, also posted an extra second part of the story... NESticle was "the product of a talented programmer who designed a hit shareware game while he was still in high school," according to the article, which credits the 1997 emulator with popularizing now-standard emulator features like movie recording and save states, as well as user modifications. Programmed in assembly code and C++ and targeting 468 processors, NESticle was followed by emulators for the Sega Genesis and the Capcom arcade platform before Icer Addis moved on to a professional career in the gaming industry, working for Electronic Arts and Zynga. Leave a comment if you're a fan of classic game emulators -- or if you just want to share your own fond memories of that late-'90s emulation scene.
Software

The World Video Game Hall of Fame 2017 Inductees (polygon.com) 73

Dave Knott writes: The 2017 World Video Game Hall of Fame inductees have been announced. The Hall Of Fame "recognizes individual electronic games of all types -- arcade, console, computer, handheld, and mobile -- that have enjoyed popularity over a sustained period and have exerted influence on the video game industry or on popular culture and society in general." The 2017 inductees are: Donkey Kong, Halo: Combat Evolved, Pokemon Red and Green, and Street Fighter II. These four titles join the inaugural 2015 class, which included Pong, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Doom and World of Warcraft, and the 2016 class which included Grand Theft Auto 3, The Legend of Zelda, The Oregon Trail, The Sims, Sonic the Hedgehog and Space Invaders.
Businesses

Colleges Are Starting Varsity Programs For Video Games (theoutline.com) 68

An anonymous reader shares an article: Professional esports -- competitive video game playing as a spectator sport -- is surging in the U.S., with revenues in the hundreds of millions and growing fast. So it's little surprise that collegiate esports -- in which universities field their own teams just as they would for baseball or basketball -- has been been growing as well, to the point where players are now sometimes earning scholarships that pay their entire tuition. Stephen's College, an all-women's college in Columbia, Missouri, announced a varsity esports program two weeks ago. The University of Utah did the same in early April. The growth of varsity esports teams is phenomenal, said Michael Brooks, executive director at the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE), a non-profit organization that is working to set standards and build infrastructure for the scene. NACE launched in September to advocate for college esports, initiate communication between schools, and provide information to program directors interested in varsity esports programs. At the time, there were only seven varsity esports programs in North America. Now there are 34 varsity programs in total, and 31 are members of NACE. Brooks expects the number of varsity programs to double by August.
Nintendo

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Sets Record As Fastest-Selling Game In the Franchise (polygon.com) 49

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the fastest-selling Mario Kart title ever, selling nearly half a million copies stateside when it went on sale last Friday. Polygon reports: Nintendo announced that the game beat out Mario Kart Wii as the series' fastest seller, with a little more than 459,000 copies sold in the U.S. on launch day alone. (The Switch has moved 2.7 million units worldwide since launch, for context.) Mario Kart Wii, which went on to be the best-selling entry of the Mario Kart series -- and second-biggest Mario game ever -- moved just under 434,000 copies at launch in 2008. Nearly half of those with a Switch already have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, two months after the console's launch. That's a remarkable attach rate, even considering The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Switch has sold more copies than consoles shipped.
Nintendo

Nintendo Announces 2DS XL (theguardian.com) 52

The future for Nintendo is the Switch, or is it? Nintendo continues to keep things interesting. From a report: The ever-unpredictable hardware veteran has announced the Nintendo 2DS XL, a new version of the 2DS, which was itself a refreshed version of the 3DS. Featuring two enlarged displays, 4.88in on top and 4.18in on the bottom, and a clamshell design, the new format is lighter than the 3DS XL and of course lacks that machine's stereoscopic capabilities. Available in black and turquoise or white and orange and with built-in NFC support for amiibo cards and figures, it's a fully featured member of the extended 3DS family, even boasting the secondary C-pad nub like the New 3DS XL. It is priced at $150.
Nintendo

Early Nintendo Programmer Worked Without a Keyboard (arstechnica.com) 111

Much like IT guys, every programmer has a horror story about the extreme work environments that forced them to hack together things. But as ArsTechnica points out, not many of them can beat the keyboard-free coding environment that Masahiro Sakurai apparently used to create the first Kirby's Dream Land. From the story: The tidbit comes from a talk Sakurai gave ahead of a Japanese orchestral performance celebrating the 25th anniversary of the original Game Boy release of Kirby's Dream Land in 1992. Sakurai recalled how HAL Laboratory was using a Twin Famicom as a development kit at the time. Trying to program on the hardware, which combined a cartridge-based Famicom and the disk-based Famicom Disk System, was "like using a lunchbox to make lunch," Sakurai said. As if the limited power wasn't bad enough, Sakurai revealed that the Twin Famicom testbed they were using "didn't even have keyboard support, meaning values had to be input using a trackball and an on-screen keyboard."
XBox (Games)

Xbox Chief: We Need To Create a Netflix of Video Games (theguardian.com) 142

Phil Spencer, the man who heads up Microsoft's Xbox division, says that if the video game sector is to grow both creatively and economically it needs to start thinking along the lines of a video-games-as-a-service subscription model. From a report: Over the last five years we've seen the emergence of a new concept: the video game as a service. What this means is the developer's support for a new title doesn't stop when it's launched. They run multiplayer servers so that people can compete online; and they release extra downloadable content (DLC) in the form of new items, maps and storylines -- sometimes free, but very often paid for. [...] So being able to build and sustain a community around a single title takes the risk out of development. However, the costs of renting and running server networks and maintaining the matchmaking and lobby infrastructures make the model inaccessible for smaller teams. Should it be? "This is directly in line with what I think the next wave of innovation needs to be for us as a development platform," says Spencer. His solution, it seems, is to make Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform more open to smaller studios, so they get access to a large global network of servers. "They don't have to go buy a bunch of servers on their own and stick them under their desks and hope they get enough players to pay for them," he says. [...] Spencer feels that, from a creative standpoint, we need new types of narrative experience -- but from a business standpoint, it's getting harder and riskier to commit to those games. Is there an answer? Spencer thinks there is -- and it comes from watching the success of original content made and distributed on modern TV services. "I've looked at things like Netflix and HBO, where great content has been created because there's this subscription model. Shannon Loftis and I are thinking a lot about, well, could we put story-based games into the Xbox Game Pass business model because you have a subscription going? It would mean you wouldn't have to deliver the whole game in one month; you could develop and deliver the game as it goes."
Network

Gamers in Hawaii Can't Compete... Because of Latency (theoutline.com) 269

Sometimes it's very important to know that the servers of the web services you're using are situated somewhere in your neighbourhood. And it's not just because of privacy concerns. The Outline has a story this week in which it talks about gamers in Hawaii who're increasingly finding it difficult to compete in global tournaments because the games' servers are almost every time placed overseas. From the article: [...] The game's server is in Chicago. That means if you live in the Midwest, your computer can communicate with it almost instantaneously. If you're in L.A., it can take roughly 60 milliseconds. But if you're in Hawaii, it can take 120 milliseconds, with some players reporting as long as 200 milliseconds. And at the highest echelons of competitive video gaming, milliseconds matter. [...] In League and other eSports games, playing on a high ping is a big disadvantage. The goal of the game is to set up defenses to protect your base while pushing forward to capture the enemy's base, and there are typically lightning bolts and fireballs and slime-spitting dragons shooting across the screen. Playing on a high ping means players may not see all of the action that happens in a game. Latency can really screw things up for a young eSports scene, said Zack Johnson, who runs gg Circuit, a global tournament provider for gaming centers like PC Gamerz. Players on the mainland sometimes say they don't want to compete against Hawaii players, he said, because the high ping throws things off.
Transportation

Grand Theft Auto V Is Being Used To Help Teach Self-Driving Cars (bloomberg.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: In the race to the autonomous revolution, developers have realized there aren't enough hours in a day to clock the real-world miles needed to teach cars how to drive themselves. Which is why Grand Theft Auto V is in the mix... Last year, scientists from Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany and Intel Labs developed a way to pull visual information from Grand Theft Auto V. Now some researchers are deriving algorithms from GTAV software that's been tweaked for use in the burgeoning self-driving sector. The latest in the franchise from publisher Rockstar Games Inc. is just about as good as reality, with 262 types of vehicles, more than 1,000 different unpredictable pedestrians and animals, 14 weather conditions and countless bridges, traffic signals, tunnels and intersections...

The idea isn't that the highways and byways of the fictional city of Los Santos would ever be a substitute for bona fide asphalt. But the game "is the richest virtual environment that we could extract data from," said Alain Kornhauser, a Princeton University professor of operations research and financial engineering who advises the Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering team.

Nintendo

Nintendo To Launch SNES Mini This Year, Reports Eurogamer (eurogamer.net) 94

Nintendo plans to release another console this year aimed at nostalgia-seekers. The iconic game company is working on a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) classic version that would launch in time for the holidays, according to Eurogamer, which cites sources with knowledge of the plans. The device is already under development and -- like its predecessor the NES Classic Edition -- will give gamers access to some of the console's biggest hits. From the article: Nintendo's plans for SNES mini are also a major reason why last year's NES mini did not see a reprieve from discontinuation, Eurogamer understands, despite the latter's continued popularity and sell-out status.
Desktops (Apple)

StarCraft Is Now Free, Nearly 20 Years After Its Release (techcrunch.com) 239

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Nearly two decades after its 1998 release, StarCraft is now free. Legally! Blizzard has just released the original game -- plus the Brood War expansion -- for free for both PC and Mac. You can find it here. Up until a few weeks ago, getting the game with its expansion would've cost $10-15 bucks. The company says they've also used this opportunity to improve the game's anti-cheat system, add "improved compatibility" with Windows 7, 8.1, and 10, and fix a few long lasting bugs. So why now? The company is about to release a remastered version of the game in just a few months, its graphics/audio overhauled for modern systems. Once that version hits, the original will probably look a bit ancient by comparison -- so they might as well use it to win over a few new fans, right?
NES (Games)

Geek Builds His Own NES Classic With A Raspberry Pi (arstechnica.com) 132

"It turns out that the NES Classic Edition is just a little Linux-powered board inside a cute case," writes Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica, "and it's totally possible to build your own tiny Linux-powered computer inside a cute case without spending much more than $60." An anonymous reader writes: Andrew used a $42 Raspberry Pi 3 Model B -- "it's relatively cheap and relatively powerful, and it can easily handle anything from the original PlayStation on down" -- plus an $8 case, and a microSD card. He also purchased a pair of gamepads -- there's several options -- and reports that "Putting our little box together is ridiculously easy, and you ought to have no problem with it even if you've never opened up a PC tower in your life."

"Making retro game consoles is a fairly common use case for the Pi, so there are a few different operating system choices out there," Andrew reports, and he ultimately chose the Linux-based RetroPie OS, which includes a number of emulators. Basically the process boils down to dropping a RetroPie boot image onto the SD card, putting it into the Pi, and then plugging it into your display and connecting your controllers -- plus configuring some menus. "The default quality of the emulation looks just as good as it does on the NES Classic Edition," and "the emulators for these older systems are all advanced enough that things should mostly run just like they did on the original hardware... I've been having a ton of fun with mine now that it's all set up, and its flexibility (plus the quality of those USB gamepads) has made it my favorite way to play old games, outpacing my Apple TV, the pretty but not-living-room-friendly OpenEmu, and the old hacked Wii I still have sitting around."

The hardest part may just be finding a PC with an SD card slot -- and of course, the resulting system gives you lots of flexibility. "By using the Raspberry Pi and freely available software, you can build something capable of doing a whole heck of a lot more than playing the same 30 NES games over and over again."
Nintendo

Zelda: Breath of the Wild Is Now the Fastest-Selling Nintendo Launch Title of All Time (theverge.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: It's no surprise that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best-selling game on the Nintendo Switch, a console that just had its strongest U.S. opening ever for the company. But managing to sell more copies than consoles that can actually play it? That's what's happened in the U.S., amazingly -- Nintendo just announced that it sold 906,000 Switch consoles in March along with 925,000 copies of Breath of the Wild. The Wii U version moved almost 460,000 units on top of that, making for total sales of over 1.3 million. Breath of the Wild is now the fastest-selling Nintendo launch title of all time and the fastest-selling Legend of Zelda game ever. Nintendo says it thinks the Switch attach rate of more than 100 percent might be explained by people who bought a limited edition version to collect and a regular version to actually play, though another possibility is that some bought the game before they could find the console itself in stock.
Nintendo

Nintendo Discontinues the NES Classic Edition (polygon.com) 104

A Nintendo representative has confirmed today that the company will be discontinuing the NES Classic Edition, "a plug-and-play console that became popular with collectors as soon as it launched last fall," reports Polygon. The last shipments of the consoles will hit stores this month. From the report: [Nintendo said in a statement to IGN:] "Throughout April, NOA territories will receive the last shipments of Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition systems for this year. We encourage anyone interested in obtaining this system to check with retail outlets regarding availability. We understand that it has been difficult for many consumers to find a system, and for that we apologize. We have paid close attention to consumer feedback, and we greatly appreciate the incredible level of consumer interest and support for this product." "NES Classic Edition wasn't intended to be an ongoing, long-term product. However, due to high demand, we did add extra shipments to our original plans," it told IGN.
Microsoft

Microsoft To Offer Digital Refunds in Xbox and Windows Stores (polygon.com) 15

Microsoft is finally planning to introduce refunds for digital content purchased from the Xbox Games Store and Windows Store, bringing those storefronts in line with popular digital retailers for PC games. From a report: The refund feature is included in the latest alpha release for the Xbox One Insider program. Refunds apply only for full games and paid apps, not downloadable content or season passes. These "self-service refunds" are designed to "provide a quick, simple way of returning a digital product," according to Microsoft. Microsoft says it has begun testing the feature with select users.
AI

AI Wins $290,000 in Chinese Poker Competition (bbc.com) 81

An AI program has beaten a team of six poker players at a series of exhibition matches in China. From a report on BBC: The AI system, called Lengpudashi, won a landslide victory and $290,000 in the five-day competition. It is the second time this year that an AI program has beaten competitive poker players. An earlier version of the program, known as Libratus, beat four of the world's best poker pros during a 20-day game in January.

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