Technology

One Man's Two-Year Quest Not to Finish Final Fantasy VII (newyorker.com) 115

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaming Group Seeks Volunteers To Create Accessibility Guidelines For Tabletop Games (meeplelikeus.co.uk) 75

Meeple Like Us is a group of gaming academics, developers, hobbyists and enthusiasts with a keen interest in board games, tabletop games, video games, and all things in-between, co-founded by long-time Slashdot reader drakkos. Today he reminds us that accessibility "has become an increasingly visible part of video game development." It's even become something of a selling point for many games, with Naughty Dog's focus on the accessibility of Uncharted 4 gaining it pages and pages of enthusiastic support across the industry. Tabletop games, despite being much older an entertainment format, lag behind video games in many respects.

Meeple Like Us has for the last year been working hard to identify the accessibility issues in tabletop gaming, and is currently recruiting for volunteers for a working group aimed at developing v1.0 of the Tabletop Accessibility Guidellines.

Classic Games (Games)

Original Colossal Cave Adventure Now Playable On Alexa (amazon.com) 36

Last month Eric Raymond announced the open sourcing of the world's very first text adventure. Now Slashdot reader teri1337 brings news about their own special project: A few old-timers here may recall with fond memories the phrase "Somewhere nearby is Colossal Cave..." Well, a voice-playable version of Colossal Cave "Adventure" is now available on Amazon Echo devices as a [free] Alexa Skill. This is a port of the original 1976 text adventure game written by Willie Crowther and Don Woods, which started the interactive fiction genre and led to later games like Infocom's Zork. This version was written from scratch as an AWS Lamda function incorporating the original 350-point game database, and made available with permission from Don Woods.
Businesses

Atari CEO Confirms the Company Is Working On a New Game Console (venturebeat.com) 91

Dean Takahashi, reporting for VentureBeat: Atari CEO Fred Chesnais told GamesBeat in an exclusive interview that his fabled video game company is working on a new game console. In doing so, the New York company might be cashing in on the popularity of retro games and Nintendo's NES Classic Edition, which turned out to be surprisingly popular for providing a method to easily play old games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda in HD on a TV. Last week, Atari began teasing a new product called the Ataribox. The video released on a non-Atari web site showed a picture of some kind of hardware product, but many people wondered if the teaser was fake. Others had no idea what the video was showing about a "brand new Atari product years in the making."
Software

GTA V Flooded With Negative Reviews On Steam After OpenIV Modding Tool Shuts Down (kotaku.com) 127

OpenIV, a popular modding tool used by tons of GTA V fans, is shutting down. After nearly 10 years of operation, the creators claim they have received a cease and desist from Take-Two Interactive -- the publisher of Grand Theft Auto. The news has shocked the PC Grand Theft Auto community, who use OpenIV to add thousands of mods into GTA V. Many upset modders have retaliated by flooding GTA V with negative reviews on Steam. Kotaku reports: According to a post on the official OpenIV website, the alleged cease and desist came on June 5th 2017. The supposed problem, OpenIV's creators say, is that the program allows "third parties to defeat security features of its software and modify that software in violation Take-Two's rights." After discussing their options, the team behind the tool says they decided it was not worth their time to fight back. "Yes, we can go to court and yet again prove that modding is fair use and our actions are legal," creator GooD-NTS wrote. "Yes, we could. But we decided not to. Going to court will take at least few months of our time and huge amount of efforts, and, at best, we'll get absolutely nothing. Spending time just to restore status quo is really unproductive, and all the money in the world can't compensate the loss of time. So, we decided to agree with their claims and we're stopping distribution of OpenIV."
Japan

Konami Reportedly Blacklisting Ex-Employees Across Japanese Video Game Industry (arstechnica.com) 120

The Nikkei Asian Review newspaper is reporting that the Japanese entertainment company Konami is blacklisting former employees in the Japanese video game industry. "The company is particularly targeting those who work for Kojima Productions, which was founded in 2016 by Hideo Kojima, who used to be a top designer at Konami," reports Ars Technica. From the report: Furthermore, according to the article, Konami is pressuring other companies not to hire its former employees. As the Nikkei Asian Review wrote: "One ex-Kon described his surprise at learning that Konami had instructed an employee at a television company not to deal with its former employees. In another case, a former Konami executive was forced to close his business due to pressure from the gaming giant. Ex-Kons are not allowed to put their Konami experience on their public resumes. 'If you leave the company, you cannot rely on Konami's name to land a job,' explained a former employee. If an ex-Kon is interviewed by the media, the company will send that person a letter through a legal representative, in some cases indicating that Konami is willing to take them to court."
AI

Robots Are Coming For Our Ms. Pac-Man High Scores (fastcompany.com) 74

A Microsoft-made AI system has achieved a perfect score of 999,990 points on the Atari 2600 version of the classic 'Ms. Pac-Man.' From a report: Researchers at the Microsoft-owned deep learning company Maluuba have used an AI system to break the all-time Ms. Pac-Man record. In a blog post, Microsoft wrote that, "using a divide-and-conquer method that could have broad implications for teaching AI agents to do complex tasks that augment human capabilities," Maluuba's AI was able to record a perfect Ms. Pac-Man score of 999,990 on the Atari 2600 version of the game, breaking the all-time record of 933,580.
IOS

Chess.com Has Stopped Working On 32bit iPads After the Site Hit 2^31 Game Sessions (chess.com) 271

Apple's decision to go all in on 64bit-capable devices, OS and apps has caused some trouble for Chess.com, a popular online website where people go to play chess. Users with a 32bit iPad are unable to play games on the website, according to numerous complaints posted over the weekend and on Monday. Erik, the CEO of Chess.com said in a statement, "Thanks for noticing. Obviously this is embarrassing and I'm sorry about it. As a non-developer I can't really explain how or why this happened, but I can say that we do our best and are sorry when that falls short." Hours later, he had an explanation: The reason that some iOS devices are unable to connect to live chess games is because of a limit in 32bit devices which cannot handle gameIDs above 2,147,483,647. So, literally, once we hit more than 2 billion games, older iOS devices fail to interpret that number! This was obviously an unforeseen bug that was nearly impossible to anticipate and we apologize for the frustration. We are currently working on a fix and should have it resolved within 48 hours.
The Courts

Microsoft Wins Xbox Class-Action Fight at US Supreme Court (reuters.com) 26

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of Microsoft in its bid to fend off class action claims by Xbox 360 owners who said the popular videogame console gouges discs because of a design defect. From a report: The court, in a 8-0 ruling, overturned a 2015 decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed console owners to appeal the dismissal of their class action lawsuit by a federal judge in Seattle in 2012. Typically parties cannot appeal a class certification ruling until the entire case has reached a conclusion. But the 9th Circuit allowed the console owners to voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit so they could immediately appeal the denial of a class certification. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing on behalf of the court, said such a move was not permitted because a voluntary dismissal of a lawsuit is not a final decision and thus cannot be appealed. The approach sought by the plaintiffs would undermine litigation rules "designed to guard against piecemeal appeals," Ginsburg wrote.
AI

Microsoft's AI Is the First to Reach a Perfect Ms. Pac-Man Score (theverge.com) 59

Maluuba, a deep-learning team acquired by Microsoft in January, has created an AI system that has achieved the perfect score for Ms. Pac-Man. According to The Verge, the AI system "learned how to reach the game's maximum point value of 999,900 on Atari 2600, using a unique combination of reinforcement learning with a divide-and-conquer method." From the report: Though AI has conquered a wealth of retro games, Ms. Pac-Man has remained elusive for years, due to the game's intentional lack of predictability. Turns out it's a toughie for humans as well. Many have tried to reach Ms. Pac-Man's top score, only coming as close as 266,330 on the Atari 2600 version. The game's elusive 999,900 number though, has so far only been achieved by mortals via cheats. Maluuba was able to use AI to beat the game by tasking out responsibilities, breaking it up into bite-sized jobs assigned to over 150 agents. The team then taught the AI using what they call Hybrid Reward Architecture -- a combination of reinforcement learning with a divide-and-conquer method. Individual agents were assigned piecemeal tasks -- like finding a specific pellet -- which worked in tandem with other agents to achieve greater goals. Maluuba then designated a top agent (Microsoft likens this to a senior manager at a company) that took suggestions from all the agents in order to inform decisions on where to move Ms. Pac-Man. The best results came when individual agents "acted very egotistically" and the top agent focused on what was best for the overall team, taking into account not only how many agents wanted to go in a particular direction, but the importance of that direction.
Microsoft

Microsoft Unveils The Smallest Xbox Ever -- The Xbox One X (theverge.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes The Verge: After months of speculation, Microsoft is unveiling its "Project Scorpio" games console today, and it's officially named Xbox One X. Microsoft's Xbox One X naming comes just days after the company trademarked a mysterious S logo, and started dropping Scorpio hints in its E3 teaser videos. Microsoft is planning to launch the Xbox One X on November 7th worldwide. All existing Xbox One accessories will work on the new Xbox One X, alongside all existing Xbox 360 backwards compatible titles and Xbox One games. Microsoft is even planning to use "super sampling" on the One X to make new games look better even on 1080p TVs. [YouTube] The new console will ship with 6 teraflops of graphical power, more than its main competitor, the PS4 Pro, with 4.2 teraflops. Microsoft is using a custom GPU engine on Scorpio that runs at 1172MHz, a big increase over the Xbox One's 853MHz and even Sony's 911MHz found on the PS4 Pro.
Microsoft says the new Xbox One X is the "smallest Xbox ever."
Television

That Time Adam West, TV's 'Batman', Also Advocated For Videogames (twitter.com) 38

Adam West, star of the 1960s TV series Batman, has died at age 88. An anonymous reader shares a memory of that time the 53-year-old actor wrote an op-ed for a 1982 issue of Videogame and Computer Gaming Illustrated. "I've been playing with computers longer than most," West wrote on page 6. [PDF] "I had onboard computers in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, having learned in an episode of TV's The Outer Limits that you can't survive on the Red Planet without them. Then, of course, I was up to my cowl in computers as television's Batman... In 1966, when the series began its three season run, all of that was science fiction. Computers were playthings of the researchers at MIT... Today, a lot of the apparatus we had in Batman -- dressed, of course, in less imposing names -- is fact. And we're lucky this is so."

West called videogames "an ideal means to broaden the imaginations of young people," saying the medium "can expand our awareness of the world as it is, was, or might be. The medium is still in its infancy, but read this again in a few years and see if this prediction hasn't come true: as videogaming grows, we will grow."

My favorite story is how West was cast as Batman after the show's producer spotted his performance as super-spy Agent Q in a commercial for Nestle Quik. And CNN also remembers that "later in life, West made appearances on the animated series 'Family Guy' as Mayor Adam West, the oddball leader of Quahog, Rhode Island."
Entertainment

For the First Time, a Video Game Trailer Is Eligible To Be Nominated For an Academy Award (eurogamer.net) 71

For the first time in 90-year Oscar history, a video game is eligible for an Academy Award, specifically the recently-released game Everything. From a report: The 11-minute trailer for philosophical pontificating simulator Everything is eligible for an Academy Award -- a first for a video game promotion, boasted game developer David OReilly. The marketing material in question is included under the Academy's category "[best] animated short film," which it became eligible for after winning the Jury Prize for animation at the VIS Vienna Shorts film festival. Everything's lengthy trailer focuses on the correlation between the universe's smallest, biggest, and most remote entities, all while being narrated by the late British philosopher Alan Watts.

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