AFL-CIO open letter to game devs: things won't get better until you unionize

In the wake of Blizzard/Activision's announcement of mass layoffs following record profits, Liz Shuler of the AFL-CIO has published an open letter on Kotaku addressed to workers in the notoriously abusive video game industry, calling on them to unionize as the only path to a fair deal. Read the rest

Blizzard/Activision celebrates record revenues by laying off 800 employees

Blizzard/Activision posted $7.5b in net revenues for 2018, and announced that it would lay off 800 of the employees who made those revenues possible, but fear not! The last time the company did a mass layoff (600 people in 2012), it generously rehired those people as temps, doing the same jobs for less pay, with no security or benefits. Read the rest

Pretty great deal on the PlayStation Classic

I've been waiting for the PlayStation Classic to be cheap enough to impulse buy. $40 was my price point and today Amazon has it beat by a penny.

The PS-Classic comes loaded with 20 games, several of which I would like to play. The console is hackable with little more than a Google search and it seems simple to add games.

I'm looking forward to playing Twisted Metal with my daughter.

PlayStation Classic Console via Amazon Read the rest

This robot plays Jenga to demonstrate the future of manufacturing

MIT researchers developed a robot that can play Jenga based on a novel approach to machine learning that synthesizes sight and touch. From MIT News:

Alberto Rodriguez, the Walter Henry Gale Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, says the robot demonstrates something that’s been tricky to attain in previous systems: the ability to quickly learn the best way to carry out a task, not just from visual cues, as it is commonly studied today, but also from tactile, physical interactions.

“Unlike in more purely cognitive tasks or games such as chess or Go, playing the game of Jenga also requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing, and aligning pieces. It requires interactive perception and manipulation, where you have to go and touch the tower to learn how and when to move blocks,” Rodriguez says. “This is very difficult to simulate, so the robot has to learn in the real world, by interacting with the real Jenga tower. The key challenge is to learn from a relatively small number of experiments by exploiting common sense about objects and physics.”

He says the tactile learning system the researchers have developed can be used in applications beyond Jenga, especially in tasks that need careful physical interaction, including separating recyclable objects from landfill trash and assembling consumer products.

“In a cellphone assembly line, in almost every single step, the feeling of a snap-fit, or a threaded screw, is coming from force and touch rather than vision,” Rodriguez says.

Read the rest

Ascii World: minimalist pseudo-3D game in ASCII characters

Ascii World isn't a 3D shader, nor is it is a graphical toy. It's a complete "isometric"-style game, like Monument Valley, that uses basic ASCII characters to draw (and define) all its forms and geometries. It's startlingly fresh, yet makes you wonder how much of it could be implemented on a Commodore PET. And it's maddeningly difficult! Read the rest

Resident Evil 2 with the facial animation exaggerated 500%

Resident Evil 2 is a just-released remake of the Capcom classic, updated with ultra-realistic performance-captured animation. DPO23 hacked the game's configuration to exaggerate characters' facial movements 500%. It's an unsettling illustration of what lies beneath cutting-edge graphics tech—and far scarier than the zombies. (See DP023's YouTube channel for more)

Read the rest

Looks like the Deepmind Starcraft AI relied on superhuman speed after all

Deepmind presented an AI that could beat human champions at Starcraft II. It claimed the AI was limited to what human players can physically do, putting its achievement in the realm of strategic analysis rather than finger twitchery. But there's a problem: it was often tracked clicking with superhuman speed and efficiency.

Aleksi Pietikäinen:

1. AlphaStar played with superhuman speed and precision.

2. Deepmind claimed to have restricted the AI from performing actions that would be physically impossible to a human. They have not succeeded in this and most likely are aware of it.

3. The reason why AlphaStar is performing at superhuman speeds is most likely due to it’s inability to unlearn the human players tendency to spam click. I suspect Deepmind wanted to restrict it to a more human like performance but they are simply not able to.

Pietikäinen suggests that because Deepmind would have depended on recorded human games to train the AI, it picked up a peculiar human behavior: idle or unnecessary "spam clicking". As a result Deepmind would have been forced to lift the AI's clickspeed limits to escape this behavior, at which point it develops strategies that irreducibly depend on bursts of superhuman speed. In brief:

"It is deeply unsatisfying to have prominent members of this research project make claims of human-like mechanical limitations when the agent is very obviously breaking them and winning it’s games specifically because it is demonstrating superhuman execution."

It looks rather like Deepmind bungled an interesting AI's announcement by making claims about it that it didn't realize were wrong. Read the rest

Lawrence Lessig on designing a corruption-resistant democracy for a virtual world

Lawrence Lessig (previously) has spent years articulating the case against corruption of the political sphere (and has written a superb book on the subject); now he's helping to design the political framework for Seed, a multiplayer game "in which players must collaborate (or compete) to rebuild society on a new, untamed planet." Read the rest

Brief history of grid-based dungeon crawlers

The Digital Antiquarian offers a potted history of 1990s-era dungeon crawlers: the first-person kind that plays out in real time, but restricts players to movement on a grid to keeps things doable on the era's limited hardware. They were soon outmoded by free movement in three dimensions, but have become a cult subgenre that thrives to this day.

It was easy and natural in these games to control a whole party of characters moving in lockstep from square to square, thus retaining another of the foremost pleasures of turn-based games like Wizardry: that of building up not just a single character but a balanced team of them. In a free-scrolling, free-moving game, with its much more precise sense of embodied positioning, such a conceit would have been impossible to maintain. And much of the emergent interactivity of Dungeon Master‘s environment would also have been impossible without the grid. Many of us still recall the eureka moment when we realized that we could kill monsters by luring them into a gate square and pushing a button to bash them on the heads with the thing as it tried to descend, over and over again. Without the neat order of the grid, where a gate occupying a square fills all of that square as it descends, there could have been no eureka.

Pictured here is of one of the Ishar series, missing from TDA's roundup, perhaps due to its obscurity outside of Britain and France. It was the high point of the genre's golden age, the best and worst of it, and I fancy you can tell from just one screenshot. Read the rest

Free game: What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch is free this month from the Epic store. I downloaded it last night and couldn't stop playing until I was done. It's a detailed, polished walking simulator that clocks in at 3 hours, so tightly orchestrated it feels like a genuinely interactive movie.

It centers on Edith, a high schooler and the last surviving child of a family "cursed" by generations of tragedy. After her mother's death, she inherits the cosy yet unsettling manse she grew up in and sets out to uncover the family's secrets. This is to say, she wants to know why so many Finches died young and why her mother didn't want the stories told.

It's obviously from the outset that something is deeply wrong with the family even as it is clearly a family full of love. The wrongness hovers at the margins of reason. It's reflected in the house, normal at the ground level but an alarming mass of ramshackle additions up top. Surely that would be dangerous, you ask yourself.

Some of the family death vignettes really got under my skin. They're all elaborated in the telling to the point of magic realism and beyond, but when you sit and think about what was shown they unravel to mundane parenting failures, one after another after another. The elaborations thereby become part of the problem. But now I'm in danger of spoiling the game's secrets.

Edith Finch maintains a tension between modern gothic mystery and the suggestion of a damaged family that mythologizes its subtly self-destructive currents. Read the rest

Bushwookies rejoice! Fortnite has added the Sneaky Snowman

Fortnite Battle Royale is constantly adding new items, weapons, vehicles and locations. The latest? The Sneaky Snowman.

The winter-themed map has a lot of Snowmen hanging around it. Now you can disguise yourself as one and sneak up on folks.

Snowmen can't build or use weapons, but they can throw snowballs and act as a free 100 shield. When you switch to another item, the Snowman disguise will fall.

Players who love disguising themselves as an in-game bush (aka Bushwookies) will likely have a ball! Read the rest

Weirdly compelling game: Which domain name is more expensive?

The Domain Name Pricing Game is surprisingly addictive and rather surreal. I'm terrible at it though.

Martin O'Leary created the game based on an idea by Holly Gramazio.

"Please don't buy any of these domains," O'Leary writes. "They're all terrible and you'd be supporting asshole domain squatters."

The Domain Name Pricing Game (via Waxy) Read the rest

Unsealed court documents reveal that Facebook knew kids were being tricked into spending thousands of dollars on their parents' credit cards

In 2012, Facebook settled a class-action suit with parents who claimed that their kids were being tricked into spending real money on game items, thinking they were spending virtual in-game currency; the parents said that Facebook had structured its system to allow kids to use their parents' credit cards without the parents' intervention, unlike competitors like Google and Apple, who required password re-entries when a card was re-charged for in-game purchases. Read the rest

Another World: Survival turns an old game into a new challenge

Another World: Survival is a low-res adaptation of Eric Chahi's classic 16-bit game. Though it's broken down to the essentials to "fit" on the Pico-8 fantasy console, it so perfectly implements the original's combat mechanics and aesthetic that I can't stop playing. Read the rest

'Verizon Gaming' cloud-based games service coming soon to Android

'Verizon Gaming' is coming soon to Android, and a beta is already running on the Nvidia Shield, per a report from Chris Welch at Verge. Read the rest

Why video games are made of triangles.. smaller and smaller triangles

The power is in the polygons.

Read the rest

Razer laptops get hotter

Too late for Christmas! Razer's laptops—one of few designed for playing games that an adult could use in public without embarassment—got a spec bump to include 2000-series Nvidia graphics chips.

The updated line of laptops will also feature an anti-ghosting keyboard powered by Razer Chroma which offers 16.8 million colors for key customization. New power management options, including modes to boost graphics performance, or to maximize the run time of the 80Wh battery. Audio is delivered through improved dual front-firing speakers and features Dolby Atmos for deeper bass response in the sound.

Configurations start with the 2060 part, which was just announced by NVidia at a pre-CES event, but if you're going to spend this much on a laptop you should probably hike up to the 2070. It comes in white and traditional Razer "black 'n' rainbows". They'll be out Jan. 29, and if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

I found that a 15" laptop was too hefty for me and recently went back to a 12" MacBook as my daily driver. I'm more tempted to switch, then, by the smaller 13" Razer Blade Stealth laptop [Amazon]. Updated two months ago, it's still the size of a MacBook but now includes the MX150 chip. It won't handle the latest games on Ultra, but it is a credible game-capable GPU in an ultraportable laptop. (Last-gen Stealth owners had to get an external GPU to play—a bulky ask) Read the rest

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