Technology News | Time

‘No One Who Is 18 These Days Believes That War Is Easily Won.’ With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Gaming’s Most Successful Franchise Grows Up

It’s nighttime in London, and you’re with a group of counter-terrorism agents advancing on a house. Intelligence reports suggest there’s a cell of assailants inside who carried out an attack against the city. Your team breaks down the door and moves from room to room, killing anybody who poses a threat. But it’s not just armed men you find. There are children here too, scattering in the crossfire. Upstairs, you open the last door to find a woman who begs you not to shoot. When you pause for a moment, she lunges for a gun. It’s her or you.

This is a scenario in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the latest installment in one of video gaming’s most successful franchises. When the game’s millions of fans fire up this version, they’re going to find something very different from past games: a single-player campaign that’s a gripping and emotionally difficult depiction of life on the front lines of the global war on terrorism. It’s a major departure for the franchise and, for publisher Activision and developer Infinity Ward, a big risk too. Will players who look to video games for escapism want to grapple with the moral and ethical quandaries posed by real conflict? Or will they prefer to stick with cartoonish shooters like Fortnite and Overwatch, which ask only that players sit back and have a good time lobbing digital rockets and grenades at one another?

Modern Warfare’s creators are betting that adult gamers are ready for a more mature take. “No one who is 18 these days believes that war is easily won,” says Jacob Minkoff, who led the story design at studio Infinity Ward. “They want a war story that represents their experience living in a world that has been at war their entire lives.”

Activision has plenty riding on whether Minkoff is right. Call of Duty has been among the world’s best–selling video games since the original title, set in World War II, came out in 2003; it’s now a multibillion-dollar franchise. The games have rarely asked players to think too hard about the ramifications of never-ending global warfare. They’re more like action movies: characters inexplicably survive sniper attacks, airplane crashes and even entire buildings falling on top of them.

But in Modern Warfare, out Oct. 25 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, the story takes center stage, tackling heady themes like the question of terrorist vs. freedom fighter, the gray area in which modern Special Forces operate and the idea of national sovereignty.

In a step forward for the male-dominated world of first-person shooters, one of the story’s protagonists, Farah Karim, is the female leader of a group of fighters seeking to protect their homeland. While Karim lives in the fictional country of Urzikstan, she evokes the all–female Kurdish Women’s Protection Units active in northern Syria. In a flashback to her childhood, we watch through her eyes as her town suffers a chemical-weapons attack, forcing her family to flee. The first-person view— with the camera low to the ground to simulate a child’s perspective—makes it all the more powerful.

“You have people who never chose to be soldiers but who are forced into the role of soldier to fight for their homes,” says Minkoff. “Very early on, we decided that we wanted to tell the story both from the perspective of professional soldiers and civilian soldiers—what they fight for and the challenges they face.”

Farah Karim
Activision/Infinity WardFarah Karim, a character in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

While other Call of Duty games take players from the invasion of Normandy straight through the fall of Berlin, Modern Warfare players won’t come away with a sense that they have “cleaned up the whole global war on terror,” says Minkoff. Rather, the point is to say something meaningful about the complexities of modern war. “No villain sees themselves as the bad guy,” says Taylor Kurosaki, studio narrative director at Infinity Ward.

How Call of Duty players respond to this year’s incarnation, with its ambitious, decidedly more adult approach to its subject matter, could show a path forward for this lucrative business as it comes under the cultural microscope once again. The game has been a favorite topic of concerned parents and pundits alike as debates continue to rage about the connection, or lack thereof, between video games and real-world shootings. A game this realistic and gruesome could bolster the case for those who have criticized the influence of violent games. But by tackling these themes, Modern Warfare might be doing more to illuminate the true horror of terrorism and gun violence than to glorify it.

Source: Tech – TIME | 22 Oct 2019 | 1:21 am

You’re Gonna Break a Sweat Playing Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure

Exercise and video games don’t usually go hand-in-hand. Sure, exercise has fallen victim to “gamification,” turning steps and reps into points and percentages to compare against friends. But video games themselves have remained largely low-intensity, save for the efforts of some, like Nintendo, whose Wii Fit fitness game sold millions of copies. Now, Nintendo is back at it again with Ring Fit Adventure ($79), another attempt from the company to get people up and active while they’re playing.

In the spirit of Nintendo’s past exercise-related games, Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch comes with an amusingly absurd adventure game along with even more absurd accessories: a large, rubber ring and a strap for your legs. I decided to use this as an opportunity to get into the exercise habit, starting with dragging my butt out of bed in the early morning, putting on some shorts, and literally strapping a controller to my body. You’ll need two Joy-Con controllers to get the party started: one to insert into the leg strap that goes around your thigh, the other to insert into the Ring-Con controller slot.

Nintendo

The Ring-Con itself is an oddity, looking more like an infomerical exercise gimmick than a game controller. Part controller, part rubber resistance band with hand grips, the Ring-Con is able to measure your force as you push and pull on it. While you can’t adjust the Ring-Con’s resistance level, you can pick between three game difficulty thresholds, so even your not-so-active friends can get a few fun minutes in.

The “adventure” part takes the form of a turn-based role-playing game that you mostly control with your entire body rather than buttons. As what I assume is some sort of animated supermodel, you inadvertently release a very angry, very buff dragon from its prison, forcing you to track it down and stop it from wreaking havoc.

You’ll go from level to cartoonish level, collecting coins and taking out enemies in your way with physical exercises. It’s not exactly exploratory; you follow a predetermined route in each level, explored by you jogging in place (or squatting up and down if jumping in your apartment isn’t feasible). You can use those coins to buy stat-boosting athleisure, and unlock treasure chests with goodies like health-boosting smoothies. The more engaging bit comes in the form of the fights.

Nintendo

Both exercises and monsters are color-coded, giving you a quick way to figure out the most effective way to dispatch your enemies and avoid losing the fight (you can follow the moves of your Clippy-like helper, Tipp). The turn-based role-playing game uses exercises as moves to attack and defend. Squats throw kicks, presses throw punches, and your abs are a shield against enemy strikes. The end of each level will present you with a breakdown of all your performed moves, calories burned, and offer to scan your heart rate using the Joy-Con’s IR sensor.

The best (or worst) part of a game dependent on motion controllers? It’s hard to fake it. And in Ring Fit Adventure, every rep counts. You’re going to feel that overhead press right in your chest as you squeeze the Ring-Con above your head. Those squats are real squats. Get too lazy and your attacks do less damage, lengthening your fight and putting you at risk of losing.

Aside from the adventure part, there are some actual exercise elements you can pick and choose from. A selection of a dozen mini-games will have you parachuting through hoops, sculpting vases, and crushing robots until you’re ready to grab a glass of water (for the more competitive, you can choose to add your mini-game score to a worldwide leader board). It’s easy to play with a group, too, so you can all look ridiculous as you try to get your butt as close to the floor as possible.

You can build exercise playlists or pick from Nintendo’s included offerings, which focus on particular regions of the body with exercises and some mini-games thrown in for some targeted entertainment.

Other elements, like an offline workout mode (the Ring-Con will record certain exercise activity even when the console is off) and a workout reminder alarm bring Ring Fit Adventure back to the realm of health and wellness, and make you feel not so bad for firing up some video games at 5 a.m.

If all this sounds like exactly something Nintendo would do, you’d be right. The company is on a mission to change how we interact with games, and wants to make them more engaging, active, and beneficial than just slouching on the couch. To say it has succeeded with Ring Fit Adventure might be an overstatement, of course. But it’s an exciting, engaging concept from Nintendo, one that puts its competition to shame when it comes to advancing what gaming is, and what it could be. As for the whole working out part, there’s no harm in adding a few reps and squats to your morning routine, especially if you know you’ll trounce your last high score. It’s a great addition to Nintendo’s lineup, one that makes me wonder what weird gadgets and ideas it’s cooking up behind closed doors.

Source: Tech – TIME | 22 Oct 2019 | 12:03 am

What to Know About Blizzard, Hong Kong and the Controversy Over Politics in Esports

Though video game culture is seldom a quiet, peaceful place, the uproar over Blizzard Entertainment punishing a popular gamer for showing support for Hong Kong protesters has shaken the whole industry.

Ng Wai Chung, a Hearthstone player from Hong Kong who goes by the name “Blitzchung,” championed the pro-democracy protests in his hometown that have raged for the past five months during his appearance on a post-game stream. And Blizzard, the developer and publisher of Hearthstone, quickly responded with blanket punishments for everyone involved. It’s the latest example of an American company caught between business interests in China and western-world freedom of speech.

Outrage over Blizzard’s reaction swiftly came from players, industry titans and politicians. It also came at a time when international attention on the protests and wariness over China’s response to it has grown. Eventually, Blizzard reduced the punishment, but it doesn’t seem like the negative fan sentiment will disappear any time soon—especially after the video game giant disciplined another group for supporting Hong Kong.

During a Hearthstone championship match stream on Oct. 8, the day Blizzard announced its ruling on Blitzchung, three American University esports players raised a sign that read “Free Hong Kong. Boycott Blizz.”

Just a little message for @PlayHearthstone @HSesports #BoycottBlizzard pic.twitter.com/F1fS6lrumI

— Casey Chambers (@Xcelsior_hs) October 9, 2019

Blizzard told CNN that it had banned the three students for six months from esports tournament play for “knowingly breaking the rules.”

Here’s what you need to know about the Blitzchung, Blizzard and the Hong Kong protests:

Who is Blitzchung?

Blitzchung is a professional esports player of the online collectible card game Hearthstone, who hails from Hong Kong. He has played in multiple tournaments and according to the Hearthstone esports player profile, he is currently ranked seventh in the Hearthstone Grandmasters for the Asia-Pacific region in the second season of 2019.

According to Liquipedia, he has earned more than $20,000 playing in various games and tournaments connected to the game.

Why did Blizzard punish Blitzchung?

On Oct. 6, Blitzchung appeared on the official Taiwan Hearthstone stream after the Grandmasters second season of 2019 ended. During an interview with two streamers, Blitzchung put on a ski mask and gas mask, similar to ones worn by Hong Kong protesters to protect themselves from tear gas and banned by the government earlier this month.

The streamers, apparently aware of Blitzchung’s motivations, ducked down to hide their faces. For his part, Blitzchung reportedly said in Chinese, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age.”

[BREAKING] Hong Kong Hearthstone player @blitzchungHS calls for liberation of his country in post-game interview:https://t.co/3AgQAaPioj

@Matthieist #Hearthstone pic.twitter.com/DnaMSEaM4g

— 🎃 Inven Global 🎃 (@InvenGlobal) October 6, 2019

In a statement to Inven Global later on Oct. 6, Blitzchung defended his message on the stream.

“As you know there are serious protests in my country now. My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention,” his statement read. “I put so much effort in that social movement in the past few months, that I sometimes couldn’t focus on preparing my Grandmaster match. I know what my action on stream means. It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue.”

Two days later, Blizzard issued a “ruling” that Blitzchung’s message on the stream violated a section of the Grandmasters’ rules that states players would refrain from “Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image…”

“Grandmasters is the highest tier of Hearthstone Esports and we take tournament rule violations very seriously,” the ruling stated.

Blizzard punished Blitzchung by taking away any prize money he won in the Grandmasters second 2019 season and banned him from playing in Hearthstone esports professionally for a year.

In the ruling, Blizzard also said it would cut ties with the two streamers who attempted to hide themselves from Blitzchung’s actions, saying “We will also immediately cease working with both casters.”

Blizzard is a huge developer and publisher of video games, responsible for some of the most popular titles worldwide like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, the Starcraft series and the Diablo series.

Besides the cited rule violation, the most obvious reason for Blizzard to punish all those involved is China’s enormous, and expanding market. Esports is big business in China, with analyst reports speculating that the sport could be worth $3 billion as the government moves to recognize it as a profession.

Additionally, the largest gaming investor company in the world, China’s Tencent, owns a 5% stake in Blizzard, according to multiple reports. Tencent has also partnered with Activision Blizzard (Blizzard Entertainment’s parent company) on projects such as Call of Duty Online for the Chinese market.

Activision Blizzard is among the largest gaming companies in the world, with revenue of $7.5 billion in 2018.

How have other gamers responded?

In the English-speaking world, backlash to Blizzard’s ruling came quickly and loudly from Hearthstone players, as well as other gamers. They blasted the decision, and proudly aligned themselves with Hong Kong protesters.

Shortly after Blizzard’s decision, a moderator from the Hearthstone subreddit (which boasts more than 1 million subscribers), decided to step down from that position saying, “After four years of being a moderator for the sub and an advocate for this game, I am leaving the moderation team as this is no longer a company I want to support or follow.”

The Reddit moderator’s post received more than 48,000 upvotes and an outpouring of respect for the moderator’s decision and remorse for Blizzard’s. In the past week, the subreddit has been flooded with posts calling out Blizzard, which have received hundreds of thousands of upvotes. This reaction isn’t just seen on reddit.

A notable esports commentator, Brian Kibler, wrote a long Medium post that tried to understand Blizzard’s perspective, but ultimately told the company he would no longer work on Hearthstone Grandmasters finals.

“The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself,” Kibler wrote. “That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with.”

Fans of one of Blizzard’s other huge properties have joined in to protest the company and support Hong Kong. Players of Overwatch, an online multiplayer shooter, have taken to using the ice-gun wielding character Mei as a symbol of protest against the Chinese government and Blizzard.

Blizzard banned pro Hearthstone winner for supporting free Hong Kong and took away his prize money. It would be SUCH A SHAME if Mei became a symbol of Hong Kong democracy and got #Overwatch banned in China like Pooh did

#FreeHongKong #MeiWithHongKong #MeiSupportsHongKong pic.twitter.com/yPum1ZTQqH

— Wenqing Yan (@Yuumei_Art) October 9, 2019

#Blizzardboycott wouldn't it be a shame if Mei became a symbol of Hong Kong. pic.twitter.com/3EhU34HMeW

— The Rampant Critic (@RampantCritic) October 9, 2019

The idea took hold with parts of the internet and has inspired a great deal of fan art, all in the service of shaming Blizzard.

How have Blizzard employees responded?

The day after Blizzard’s initial punishment, a group of employees at the company walked out in protest, according to a report from The Daily Beast.

“I’m disappointed,” a Blizzard employee told the Daily Beast. “We want people all over the world to play our games, but no action like this can be made with political neutrality.”

The Daily Beast’s reporting said that up to 30 people gathered at the company’s famed orc statue in Irvine, Calif. Later that day, a post on Reddit from someone who claimed to be a Blizzard employee showed a picture of the apparent protest, with employees holding umbrellas, which are a continued symbol of Hong Kong protests.

How have the video games industry and politicians responded?

Blizzard’s decision made waves through some of the biggest players in the video games industry, some of whom reacted in opposing ways.

Riot Games, creator of the another popular esports game, League of Legends, put out a stern reminder to esports competitors to keep their commentary on the game and away from sensitive issues. Last week, Global Head of League of Legends Esports John Needham issued a statement that made that clear to players saying, “We serve fans from many different countries and cultures, and we believe this opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious or otherwise) separate.”

A message from John Needham, Global Head of League of Legends Esports pic.twitter.com/5Au9rE7T86

— lolesports (@lolesports) October 11, 2019

Epic Games, the company behind the cultural behemoth Fortnite, took the opposite approach. Founder and CEO Tim Sweeney simply said on Twitter last week, “Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights.”

Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights.https://t.co/GWxDjKVjeJ

— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) October 9, 2019

Blizzard’s move against Blitzchung and the ensuing backlash also caused a headache for Nintendo, as the affair came right before the release of Blizzard’s Overwatch title for the Nintendo Switch. On Oct. 14, the Twitter account for the Nintendo store in New York City tweeted out the cancellation of an Overwatch event planned for Oct. 16. The tweet put the cause of the cancellation squarely on Blizzard.

Please be aware that the previously announced Overwatch launch event scheduled for Wednesday, 10/16 at NintendoNYC has been cancelled by Blizzard. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

— Nintendo NY (@NintendoNYC) October 15, 2019

As this whole affair comes on the heels of a very similar recent story that pitted the NBA versus China, politicians from both sides of the aisle have also weighed in on Blizzard’s move. Both Sens. Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio tweeted their repudiation of censuring the Hearthstone player.

Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck. https://t.co/rJBeXUiwYS

— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) October 8, 2019

Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions. China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in U.S. politics today is gone. https://t.co/Cx3tkWc7r6

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 8, 2019

How did Blizzard reduce the punishment?

After days of silence as the outrage grew louder, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack responded to the criticism with a blog post on Oct. 12.

In the post he announced that the company would be reducing Blitzchung’s punishment and giving him the prize money from the tournament he had competed in, though Brack defended the cause the company initially cited.

“In the tournament itself blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing,” the post read. “But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses.”

Additionally, Brack explicitly denied that any speculation that sensitivities about China was the cause of this decision is false.

“The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made,” he wrote. “I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.”

Source: Tech – TIME | 21 Oct 2019 | 5:11 pm

How Fortnite Turned a Routine Server Outage Into a Minor Media Phenomenon

For around 36 hours, Fortnite — one of the most popular video games in the world — was literally a black hole.

At the end of a long-teased season finale, the mysterious rift opened in the game’s world Sunday night, sucking in players, the map, and even the menu. Gamers who logged in were treated to a view of the celestial phenomenon brimming in the distance. Mysterious numbers appeared. Music played in the background. If players entered a code, they could enjoy a simple mini-game. During the blackout, developer Epic Games’ Twitter account, Twitch stream and public relations team all went dark.

While Fortnite’s 250 million-plus players scrambled to figure out what was going on, studio Epic Games did server maintenance as it prepared to switch everything over to a new map and launch new features. This in itself is unremarkable; online games go down for hours at a time for routine maintenance all the time. What is remarkable is that Epic Games managed to disguise such a commonplace event as a big moment, simultaneously keeping players happy and generating a massive amount of press attention for a game that, while plenty popular, has certainly moved past its “phenomenon” stage.

In fact, Fortnite’s downtime was so successful that it set records as players tuned in to see what was afoot. “On October 13, Fortnite reached 1.61 [million] peak concurrent viewers on Twitch, a new all-time high for the game,” says Mat Piscatella of NPD Group, a research firm. “The previous high was 1.46 million on … the day the Nintendo Switch version of the game was announced and released.”

The game came back early Tuesday morning with a brand new map and extra features, like a fishing mechanic. But the big story, says Piscatella, is how Epic Games managed to create an Internet event that “had far further reach than just for those playing the game.” Even Lady Gaga (a known gamer) was curious what the heck was happening:

What’s fortnight

— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) October 15, 2019

Contrast Fortnite’s big event with the recent maintenance Destiny 2 underwent ahead of its Oct. 1 soft reboot. Like Fortnite, Destiny 2 is an online shooter running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes, the servers powering it need to come down for maintenance or big changes. Ahead of the refresh, Destiny 2 creator Bungie told fans the game would be offline for 24 hours while it made the transition. When the servers relaunched, they almost immediately went right back down for emergency maintenance. When players finally found their way back online, many had to wait in a digital line for hours to play. Fans vented their frustrations on Twitter and Reddit, leading to news coverage that focused on the rocky goings.

It was just the opposite for Fortnite. Epic Games leveraged its planned downtime into a successful media event. Its strategy gave players a mystery to ponder, leading to a relaunch boosted by a strong swell of media support. Instead of complaining on social media about server downtime, they watched watching a livestream of a black hole.

The entire affair could not gave gone better for Epic. While still popular, Fortnite has been losing steam over the past few months. Gamers are fickle and their attention wanders. But unlike most high-profile games that cost about $60, Fortnite is free to download; its continued financial success depends on gamers staying active and buying stuff in the in-game store. A PR stunt like the one Epic just pulled might be just the shot in the arm Fortnite needed as competitors like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare prepare to hit store shelves. “The game has slowed a bit,” says Piscatella. “This event certainly helped reinvigorate interest. Combating player fatigue and player count decay is the battle all big service-based games fight.”

Source: Tech – TIME | 17 Oct 2019 | 9:52 am

Yahoo Could Owe You Up to $358 for Data Breaches. Here’s How to File Your Claim

After multiple data breaches that affected up to 3 billion Yahoo accounts, the company has reached a $117.5 million class-action settlement, offering those affected up to $358 in payouts (though likely much less.)

In 2016 Yahoo confirmed two data breaches—one in August 2013 after an unauthorized third party stole “data associated with more than one billion user accounts,” (which the company later disclosed actually affected all 3 billion Yahoo users) and another in 2014 by an unknown “state-sponsored actor,” that involved at least 500 million usernames and passwords.

The 2013 breach is believed to be the largest-ever known data breach.

Bank account information and payment card data were not believed to have been targeted in the 2013 hack, the company said. Instead, user account information including names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and passwords were likely stolen.

The settlement comes months after a $700 million settlement by the credit bureau Equifax following a 2017 hack that exposed the Social Security numbers of nearly 150 million people.

As part of the Equifax settlement, those affected by the breach were eligible for free credit monitoring and identity theft protection for up to 10 years or an up to $125 payment. However, the amount that claimants receive will likely be dramatically reduced because of the overwhelming number of claims filed.

How do you file a claim?

Yahoo users who were affected by the breaches can either fill out a form on the settlement website, yahoodatabreachsettlement.com, email at info@yahoodatabreachsettlement.com or call 1-844-702-2788 to have a form mailed to them.

The settlement administrator has also posted an instructional video to YouTube that offers help filling out claim forms.

Those seeking claims have until July 20, 2020, to file a claim.

Who is eligible for a claim?

According to the settlement, anyone who received a notice about the data breaches, or had a Yahoo account at any time between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2016 and was a resident of the United States or Israel is eligible to file a claim.

The settlement is offering two years of free credit monitoring services by AllClear ID. Those who already have credit monitoring services can sign up for additional protection.

If Yahoo users can verify that they already have a credit monitoring service that they will keep for at least one year, they can submit a claim for a cash payment of $100 instead.

Depending on how many people sign up for the settlement, the payout could be less than $100, or as high as $358.80.

Additionally, Yahoo users who can provide proof they suffered out-of-pocket losses or loss of time from the data breaches are eligible for up payouts of to $25,000 in reimbursement.

The settlement will not be approved until a final hearing in the California courts in April 2020. Until then, no payments or credit monitoring services will be provided.

Source: Tech – TIME | 16 Oct 2019 | 10:28 am

Sega’s Throwback Genesis Mini is Packed With Good Vibes

If you’re looking for nostalgia, you’ve got loads of options. From rebooted movies to digitally remastered shows, the childhood you think you remember is always at your fingertips, ready for consumption for a nominal fee.

In the case of video games, Sega’s new Genesis Mini will charge you a cool $79 for the privilege, a fraction of the price it went for back in 1989. If you were a Sega fan as a younger gamer, or want to know what you missed, it’s money well spent. A strong library of titles makes it a great gift or impulse buy, but a few cut corners will irk some more discerning gamers. Either way, you’ll have a great time getting to know Sonic the Hedgehog and all the others here.

Here’s the thing with miniature consoles: they’re pretty hit or miss. Not only are they packed with — let’s face it — old games, many titles are hurt by advancements in game design and development. In a way they’re anthropological as much as they are enjoyable, something to show off to your friends or kids to remind them of what games were like once upon a time.

And the companies making them often cut corners on such an already handicapped gadget. Nintendo’s been in the miniature console game for a few years with its NES Classic and Super NES Classic offerings, and Sony dipped its toe in the waters with its PlayStation Classic. But only Nintendo got it right, with the other panned for its dismal title selection and disappointing controller design.

Sega’s Genesis Mini sticks the landing where it matters most: the games. Of the 42 titles to choose from, the vast majority well and truly slap. From the four included Sonic the Hedgehog games to iconic titles like Golden Axe, Ecco the Dolphin, and the Mega Man: The Wily Wars (a three-game compilation), there’s a high chance Sega fans will find themselves immensely satisfied with the lineup.

The games look great, too. While there aren’t as many customization options in terms of emulating that tried and true tube television look, you can either maintain the 4:3 aspect ratio or stretch it out into 16:9 to ruin your enjoyment.

That doesn’t mean the Genesis Mini couldn’t be better. While one may consider themselves grateful they don’t have to fumble around for component cables to connect this retro console to their 4K TV, a bit of the magic is lost when you upscale a classic. The cool vintage effects present on existing game emulators aren’t there, so you can’t approximate the same distortions or fuzzy graphics like you can on a PC.

Aside from the miniaturized console itself, buyers get a pair of wired controllers, along with the requisite cables required to hook up to your modern-day TV. That pair of controllers is one of the few flawed elements in the package. The replicas of the original Genesis controller connect via USB, with a six-foot cable keeping you in your seat. They work well enough, until you want to get serious in a game like Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition. With only a directional pad and three buttons (along with the “Start” button), it lacks the extra three buttons present on the Genesis controllers released in 1993, immensely helpful when it comes to fighter game combos. Sega says the Genesis Mini is compatible with six-button controllers made by companies like Retro-Bit, however.

Ironically, the Genesis Mini’s competition is Sega itself — there’s no shortage of options when it comes to enjoying Sega titles on other consoles. You can buy Mega Man collections on nearly every platform, and Street Fighter is on every modern console worth its salt. Sonic? They’re making a movie about him, so it’s safe to say you can find somewhere to enjoy the speedy blue mammal.

But your PS4 doesn’t come with a pair of controllers reminiscent of your childhood days spent wasting away in front of a tube television. Your hefty gaming PC or ultralight laptop still doesn’t have the minuscule footprint of a shrunken down facsimile of an iconic piece of gaming history. And that’s why the Genesis Mini is cool. It encapsulates everything enjoyable about the games you enjoyed back then, and puts them in a package that’s both self-aware and endearing. Best of all, there’s no software update to download. Just plug it in and start playing, just like old times.

Source: Tech – TIME | 16 Oct 2019 | 10:27 am

Google Just Unveiled a New Pixel Smartphone, an AirPod Rival and More. Here’s What to Know

Google on Tuesday announced a new lineup of hardware, along with its annual refresh of its Pixel line of smartphones.

From translation-friendly wireless earbuds to the long-anticipated Google Pixel 4, Google’s entire event made no small mention of how subtly integrated the company is aiming to be in your personal life. The Pixel 4, for instance, might be the first smartphone that, thanks to some interesting new technologies, is actually polite to you when you wake up in the morning.

Here are the biggest announcements Google made:

The Gesture-Friendly Pixel 4

The star of the show was the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, the long-anticipated successor to the Pixel 3, and subject of many leaked images and videos. The Pixel 4 has undergone a slight redesign and comes in white, orange, or black, but the most standout change is the rear camera arrangement.

On the back is a second camera lens, adding a telephoto option to the mix, which benefits from features like Super Zoom Res, which uses a combination of optical technology and the Pixel’s machine learning software to get sharp images even at higher zoom levels. Its live HDR+ photography offers more exposure controls to capture images in any particular style you choose, too.

Google

The most impressive addition is the new astrophotography option, built atop Google’s improved Night Sight low-light photography software. It lets users take photos of stars without having to worry about factors like the Earth’s rotation or your phone’s exposure or shutter settings.

There’s also an interesting Motion Sense feature that detects swipes and gestures above the screen of the Pixel 4, powered by an integrated radar sensor next to its 5.7 or 6.3-inch HDR display. In practice, it means reaching for the Pixel 4 to disable your morning alarm will tone down the volume as your hand approaches your device. From there you can swipe your hand away to dismiss the ringing and get on with your day.

You can pre-order the $799 Pixel 4 and $899 4 XL now, and pick one up in stores October 24.

Out with the Home, in with the Nest

Google is updating the design of its now rebranded Google Nest Mini, part of the transition of Google’s Home products to the Nest platform.

The Nest Mini retains the disc-like shape of its predecessor, but adds some extras to its mostly fabric exterior to better fit in your home — on its bottom is a new wall mount slot for getting it off your table and next to your artwork, for instance. It also has new LED indicators on its sides to show you where you can find playback controls on the device.

The upgraded Nest Mini is $49, and will be available October 22.

Now you can talk to your WiFi

An upgrade to its existing Google Wifi device, the new Google Nest Router and Nest Point are a more design-focused, assistant-friendly network of devices, functioning as base and node wireless routers respectively.

Inside is an upgraded wireless system with more radios for faster throughput, and over double the computing power to keep your network running at a fast clip as you move more and more data. While the Nest Router lacks the integrated Google Assistant functionality, the Nest Point features the same functionality one would find on the new Google Nest Mini, including its downward-firing speakers and voice control.

Google

That said, it’s slightly different from the Nest Mini: it lacks both the wall mount and the fun fabric cover and touch controls. Still, Google’s consolidation of WiFi router and smart home speaker is a smart move, especially as it releases more products designed to be placed within earshot and away from any obstructions.

The Nest Router and Nest Point will be available November as a $269 2-pack or $349 3-pack.

Google’s New Pixel Buds

Google also dropped a new pair of its Pixel Buds, this time without the cable tying the two together. With these truly wireless earbuds, Google joins Apple, Microsoft, and others in the quest to kill headphone cables entirely. Google’s headphones are, of course, Google Assistant-friendly, support real-time translation, and feature a “spatial vent” to provide environmental awareness despite the Pixel Buds’ in-ear design.

The Pixel Buds support a long-range Bluetooth connection, and can stay connected inside up to three rooms away, and the span of a football field when outside, Google says. The shape looks similar to headphones from companies like Jabra or Master & Dynamic, but feature some softer, pastel colors on the outer, rounded shell.

Google

They’re said to last five hours on a single charge, and up to a day when paired with its wireless charging case. Unlike the AirPods which sit in your ears, the Pixel Buds feature an in-ear design. The volume adjusts automatically depending on the noise level.

Google’s Pixel Buds will be available in the spring of next year for $179.

A Refreshed Pixelbook

Google also introduced a refreshed Pixelbook, dubbed the Pixelbook Go. The notebook, running ChromeOS, is lighter than the previous Pixelbook, features quieter keyboards, has a 12-hour battery life, and supports fast charging to get two hours of use out of a 20-minute charge.

The Pixelbook Go will be available in black and pink, and starts at $649.

Source: Tech – TIME | 16 Oct 2019 | 5:22 am

Facebook Moves Forward With Digital Currency ‘Libra’ Despite High-Profile Defections

NEW YORK — Facebook officially moved forward with its plans Monday to create a new digital currency called Libra, despite several high-profile defections from the project and intense criticism from U.S. regulators and politicians.

The Libra Association, the nonprofit that will govern the currency, officially signed on 21 charter members on Monday at the organization’s inaugural meeting in Geneva. Originally the Libra Association had 27 potential members, but several companies dropped out in recent days, including Visa, Mastercard and PayPal.

Most of the remaining members of the Libra Association consist of venture capital firms, who often have an eye on emerging technologies and align with Facebook’s interests, as well as nonprofits. But some larger companies who are now members of the association include Uber, Lyft, Spotify and European telecommunications company Vodafone. The association said in a statement that an unnamed additional 180 entities have expressed interest and have met the initial requirements to join.

Facebook has faced criticism since the summer when it unveiled plans to create a separate, private currency system to allow users to make cross-border payments more easily. Politicians have said they believe Facebook’s struggles with protecting users’ privacy would spill over into Libra, despite it being a separate organization.

The Menlo Park, California-based company tried to answer those criticisms by creating Libra as a legally separate entity through the Libra Association, and by not owning Libra itself. But Facebook is still involved, even at an arm’s length. The association elected David Marcus, a Facebook executive and co-creator of Libra, as one of the association’s five directors. Katie Haun with Andreessen Horowitz, one of the VC firms that invested in Facebook before it went public, was elected to the board as well.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to appear in front of the House Financial Services Committee later this month to discuss Libra. That committee is chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who has been an ardent critic of Libra from its onset.

Facebook and the Libra Association have said they would not start trading or accepting deposits for Libra until they satisfy U.S. regulators concerns. Dante Disparte, Libra’s head of policy and communications, said that the association is now in active talks with regulators to get approval. Facebook has also hired several Washington lobbyists to help alieve regulator and political concerns over Libra.

The other three directors elected to the association’s board were Matthew Davie of Kiva Microfunds, Patrick Ellis with PayU and Wences Casares of Xapo Holdings Ltd.

Source: Tech – TIME | 15 Oct 2019 | 1:53 pm

The Presidential Candidates Need a Plan for Big Tech That Isn’t “Break Up Big Tech”

On October 15 the Democratic presidential candidates will once again have the opportunity to debate their positions on a range of issues affecting this country. Let’s hope that this go-round we hear their visions for Digital America. Yes, health care, immigration, climate change and other topics that consumed the previous debates are important. Yes, impeachment is on the front page. But what is the agenda that provides hope and opportunity for Americans in a new digital-based economy?

So far, much of the campaign focus on the new economy has been reduced to a misleadingly simple “break ‘em up!” solution for Big Tech. But the practical problems created by the digital economy are more complex and how we evolve from policies designed for an industrial era to policies designed for an information era is a simmering challenge that will come to a boil under the next President.

Digital technology has created a new kind of alchemy where our personal information is converted into a corporate asset. The failure of the federal government to establish a privacy policy has left a void that has been filled by states like California and supra-national groups such as the European Union. Congress says it’s working on something; the companies say they can support something – which means candidates should share their views on what that something should be. What level of access to personal information should digital companies have, and how would candidates balance that access with our right to protect our privacy?

After collecting our personal information, digital companies then hoard it. It is a classic monopoly bottleneck that advantages the dominant companies over anyone else who might have a need for the asset. What do the candidates propose to do when new companies cannot get a market foothold, and old companies can’t evolve, because the data they need to generate revenue is locked up by the big companies?

The purpose of antitrust enforcement is to promote a competitive market. But breaking up Big Tech into Smaller Tech does not solve the root issue of appropriating private information for corporate profit. What do the candidates think about a collection of “Mini-Me” companies driven by the post-breakup competition to discover even more ways to exploit and hoard personal information?

Antitrust cases are also long and drawn out – it was 10 years between the filing of the AT&T antitrust case and the division of the company. Antitrust law is ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, where a majority of the present court appears to favor a more constricted construction of antitrust statutes. What are the candidates’ plans to avoid freezing the status quo for multiple years on the way to a probable Supreme Court defeat?

Beyond corporate size, what are the companies’ duty to care about the effects of their activities on consumers and competition? For hundreds of years common law has established that companies anticipate and attempt to mitigate potential harm from their actions. How do the candidates think that idea transfers to the 21st century?

Anyone watching congressional hearings around these issues has witnessed the imbalance of expertise. This is an opportunity for candidates to explain whether government can get up to speed with technology, and if so, how. Technology has eliminated the time buffer that used to give society, economic activity and regulation the opportunity to catch up. How do the candidates propose to evolve from institutions that were developed at a time when it took 125 years for telephones to connect a billion users to today when Google’s Android mobile operating system sped to that threshold in less than six years?

In an era when computer science is all about machine learning and artificial intelligence, candidates should propose how to deal with the effect on jobs, education and running the government itself. How do candidates plan to give Americans concerned about future employment hope that they will have a role in the digital future?

As we participate in this democratic process, we should also be asking the candidates how they intend to preserve our democracy in the digital era. Yes, Russia and other governments are using the internet to interfere in our elections. But there is an even more pervasive threat: democracy requires the suspension of tribal instincts in favor of the greater good, yet the digital business model relies on tribalizing the population to sell targeted advertising. Do the candidates recognize the correlation between increase in political polarization, the increase in wealth disparity and the introduction of new technology? If so, how would they govern amidst those realities?

If these issues are important – and I believe they are – it is time for the candidates to tell us what they would do. Give us their vision of the blueprint for democracy, opportunity, fairness and competition in the digital economy.

Source: Tech – TIME | 15 Oct 2019 | 1:49 am

How Microsoft’s Newest PC Could Pave the Way for the Future of Computers

The world of computer chips just got a wake-up call.

In a recent jam-packed tech keynote, Microsoft unveiled the next generation of its popular Surface Pro line of PCs. The unusual thing is, it did it twice: first revealing the Surface Pro 7, a capable iteration of its powerful-tablet-computer-with-slap-on-keyboard design, and then almost immediately showing it up with the Surface Pro X, a thinner, sleeker, pricer machine with a larger screen that boasts better battery life and much higher cool factor.

The dual announcement was odd. But even odder is what’s powering the Surface Pro X: the Microsoft SQ1, a central processing unit that’s an entirely different species of computer chip than the typical power-hungry Intel processor found in the vast majority of Windows machines today. This is the first Surface Pro that packs a chip optimized for mobile devices, which Microsoft spent three years designing with smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm.

“We wanted to take Surface Pro and bring the next-generation design to the table,” says Pavan Davuluri, Microsoft’s general manager of Surface development. “And that very much meant that we had to go back to the foundation of building and start with the core silicon chipset.”

While most computer users don’t spend a ton of time thinking about what’s under the hood of their devices, Microsoft’s decision to put a mobile chip in the Surface Pro X is a major development with significant implications for the industry, and for the gadgets you’ll be using in the future.

Generally, mobile chips are great if you want a skinny device and good battery life, but they struggle to keep up with tasks heavy on, well, computing — think video editing and gaming. At least that was the conventional wisdom a couple of years ago. Today, a new class of chips is challenging that notion. Apple was arguably the first to raise the bar in mobile performance with the iPad Pro, ushering in an era where a mobile chip doesn’t have to mean trading performance for portability.

The first real portable computer, the Osborne 1, debuted in 1981. If you slide the Osborne’s 25-pound chassis up next to a MacBook Air, you’ll really appreciate how far miniaturization has progressed. However, we’re starting to reach the limits of that progress: Attempts to go even slimmer, like the discontinued 12-inch MacBook, tend to compromise on performance, since powerful chips typically need cooling systems and struggle to provide anything close to the “all day” battery life of smartphones. For PC processors, you can have ultra-portable or ultra-powerful, but usually not both.

On the mobile side, however, where virtually all chips are based on technology from ARM Holdings, that compromise is being renegotiated. Driven by nonstop demand for bigger and better smartphones with multiple cameras, augmented reality, and always-listening assistants, mobile chips have improved by leaps and bounds. Your Mac today performs better than the one you had 10 years ago, but the iPhone 11 is in a whole other world than its ancestors from the same era.

“ARM architecture over the past four-to-five years has matured to the point where it can handle higher compute loads,” says Ben Bajarin, a technology analyst at Creative Strategies. “It’s not going to do everything, like CAD or GPU work. But we’re at a point where it handles more than 90% of a normal worker’s day and 100% of a mobile worker’s.”

Much of that is due to typical technological progress, but for leading chipmakers like Apple and Qualcomm, it’s not so much the number of transistors they can fit on a chip (which has been multiplying year after year thanks to a little idea called Moore’s Law), but how different parts of the chip interact. Having a workhorse CPU is step one, but pairing it with dedicated silicon for specific tasks (like AI or analyzing motion) and integrating a modem (which otherwise can be a big power hog) on the same “system on a chip,” or SoC, is how you keep that horse lean, and make big gains in power efficiency.

It’s thanks to those efficiencies that the Surface Pro X can do something so seemingly easy as gaze correction — fixing that annoying part of video conferencing where your eyes aren’t looking directly at the camera. It’s a task that would push the limits of a regular processor, but with SQ1’s AI computing engine, the Pro X can adjust in real time without breaking a sweat.

“The amount of computing power [gaze correction] needs is mind-blowing,” says Miguel Nunes, head of Qualcomm’s PC division. “To run this use case on a traditional PC, with an external GPU, would consume about 15 watts of power. Running that same use case on the Qualcomm AI engine on the SQ1 consumes about 300 milliwatts. So it’s 50 times less processing.” Translation: Better battery life in a more capable device.

This inflection point has been in the works for years. Around the same time the first iPad Pro went on sale in 2015, Microsoft and Qualcomm partnered up to create a new class of mobile chips that could run Windows — full Windows, not the baby version (called Windows RT) that crashed and burned because it couldn’t run many apps — making it available to manufacturers like Samsung, Lenovo, and HP.

Laptops and tablets that use those chips have been trickling out over the last year, but Microsoft added rocket fuel to the effort with its turbocharged SQ1, which boasts better on-paper specs than any mobile-powered PC so far. Moreover, by calling it a Surface Pro — the company’s stamp of portability and power — Microsoft isn’t so much unveiling a gadget as making a statement: Mobile chips are ready for serious computing.

Are they really, though? Chip and PC geeks have been cautious in their reviews of PCs with mobile processors so far, and given the false starts of the past, they’re justified in their skepticism. However, benchmarks don’t lie, and machines packing Qualcomm’s latest chip tech are scoring well. Still, we’ll have to wait until November to know whether the Surface Pro X really delivers on its promise of next-level performance in everyday use. On the Apple side, the iPad Pro’s more established processing chops have lent credence to reports that Apple has an ARM-based MacBook on its product roadmap.

If Intel is worried about Qualcomm and Apple encroaching on its territory, it’s not showing it. Part of the reason is its counteroffensive: Project Athena, a multi-year effort to make devices less bulky and more power efficient, while also better addressing those signature mobile competencies of always-on, long battery life, and cellular connectivity. The first devices under the Athena banner began shipping earlier this year.

“Athena is not about delivering one thing,” says Josh Newman, vice president of Intel’s client computing group and general manager of mobile innovation. “[The devices] are all targeting nine or more hours of battery life under real-world stress conditions — having a bunch of background applications open and much brighter screen brightness and typical battery life metrics do. And all of them will also support fast charging.”

For now, the portion of the PC market with mobile chips is so vanishingly small that analyst firms aren’t even tracking it yet. But disruptors have to start somewhere. It’s a given that the “work” computers of the future will be thin, light, and powerful — but what will be powering them is much more of an unknown than it was just a few months ago.

Correction, Oct. 14

The original version of this story misstated what Miguel Nunes said about the SQ1’s efficiency. The given example would involve 50 times less processing, not 15 times less.

Source: Tech – TIME | 15 Oct 2019 | 12:49 am







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