Sony Is Planning a PS5 Conference For As Early As Next Week

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Sony is planning a digital event to showcase games for its next-generation PlayStation 5 that may take place as early as next week, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. Bloomberg reports: The virtual event could be held June 3, though some people also cautioned that plans have been in flux and that the date may change. Other PlayStation 5 events may follow in the coming weeks and months, and Sony is not expected to reveal every essential detail on the console during its first presentation. The Japanese tech giant has only let out a trickle of information on the PlayStation 5, which the company says is still planned for release this holiday season, despite the Covid-19 pandemic that has damped its promotional plans. Fans have been eager to hear about the lineup of video games that will launch alongside the console and those that will be revealed later.

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Gamemakers Inject AI To Develop More Lifelike Characters

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moon_unit2 writes: The AI technique that DeepMind used to teach machines to play Atari can now bring new video game characters to life. WIRED reports that researchers at Electronic Arts and the University of British Columbia in Canada developed a reinforcement learning method for animating humanoid characters. The approach feeds on data gathered through motion capture, but then uses reinforcement learning to have a computer work out how to move a soccer character so that it achieves a particular objective, like running towards a ball or shimming past defenders. As the article notes, this is part of a wave of AI techniques that promise to revolutionize game development in coming years.

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Insignia Project Aims To Resurrect Xbox Live For the Original Xbox

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Last week, Kotaku reported on a new project, called Insignia, "that aims to recreate the original Xbox Live service, potentially restoring online play to many dozens of classic Xbox games that fell offline when the original Xbox Live service closed on April 15, 2010." From the report: The project's announcement on the r/originalxbox subreddit came from SoullessSentinel, a screen name of one Luke Usher. Usher is well known in the vintage Xbox community as the lead developer of Cxbx-Reloaded, arguably the most advanced PC-based emulator of the 2001 Xbox hardware. (Microsoft's classic console has proven notoriously tricky to emulate over the years.) As a demonstration of Insignia's progress, Usher shared a video depicting the creation of a new Xbox Live account via the Xbox's system UI. It's a cool trick, as this process has not been technically possible since the online service's April 2010 closure. (In a cheeky touch, the video names the newly created account HiroProtagonist, the Gamertag of Xbox co-creator J Allard.) Insignia will work with normal, unmodded consoles, provided the user can perform a one-time process to retrieve their unit's internal encryption keys. Long-existing Xbox soft-mod techniques, which require physical copies of exploitable games like Splinter Cell or MechAssault but do not necessarily alter the console's hardware or operating system, should suffice for accomplishing this key retrieval. Once that initial setup's completed, Usher envisions a more or less vanilla Xbox Live experience, complete with matchmaking, voice chat, messaging, and almost everything else you might remember. (One exception would come in a lack of proprietary game DLC, which Insignia and its developers lack rights to distribute.) Anti-cheating measures are also in the works, as well as reporting and banning mechanisms for truly bad actors. The project works by using a DNS man-in-the-middle maneuver to redirect all of Xbox Live's original server calls to new addresses that point to Insignia's work-in-progress infrastructure. "The current plan is for Insignia to be a centralized service run by Usher and associates," reports Kotaku. "He believes keeping it centralized will prevent player populations from diluting across multiple third-party servers, and that it will not be much of a resource burden." "The server," he noted, "is used for authentication, matchmaking, storing friends lists, etc. but actual game traffic is usually P2P between Xboxes, so the requirements for our server are pretty low."

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Audi Drops Driver For Secretly Using a Ringer To Compete In Virtual Race

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Audi has dropped driver Daniel Abt in the all-electric racing series Formula E after he had a pro sim driver surreptitiously race for him during a virtual competition over the weekend. He has also been told to pay 10,000 euros to charity as a result. Abt said Tuesday that he thought the idea would be funny and that he had planned to release a video about the whole ruse. The Verge reports: Abt was supposed to be competing in the fifth round of Formula E's online sim racing series, which started up in April alongside virtual substitute series from Formula One, NASCAR, and IndyCar. The Formula E sim series was not only meant to give fans something to watch during the pandemic, but it was also supposed to keep the drivers and teams connected, all while raising funds for UNICEF. But Abt had tapped 18-year-old Lorenz Hoerzing, who has been competing in the sim racer section of Formula E's events, to run in his place. (Hoerzing has since been suspended from the sim racing series as a result.) Abt had someone even appear on the drivers' group Zoom call under the name "Daniel Abt" dressed in Audi red, but with a microphone blocking his face -- a noticeable departure considering Abt's lively presence on his personal streams of the previous races. Hoerzing led most of the race in Abt's virtual car, but he came into contact with Mercedes-Benz driver Stoffel Vandoorne, allowing Nissan driver Oliver Rowland to take the win. This initially raised suspicions because Abt had previously struggled to compete in the earlier rounds of the virtual championship. The deception really started to unravel after Hoerzing finished third, meaning Abt was supposed to show up for the standard post-race interview with the top three drivers. But he didn't; Rowland and Vandoorne's Zoom feeds were instead placed next to a black box with Abt's name, and the broadcast hosts never even attempted to interview the Audi driver. During his portion of the interview, Vandoorne said was "questioning if it was really Daniel in the car." Vandoorne vented even more on his personal Twitch channel following the race and even tried to call Abt while streaming, but the Audi driver did not pick up. Organizers of the race were reportedly able to verify that Abt was not racing based on Hoerzing's IP address. "I didn't take it as seriously as I should have," Abt said after he was caught. "I'm especially sorry about this, because I know how much work has gone into this project on the part of the Formula E organization." In a later video, Abt said he "won't be racing" with the Formula E team anymore.

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Grand Theft Auto VI in 2023? Take-Two SEC Filing Hints at Release Date

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Take-Two expects to spend $89 million on marketing during the 12-month period ending March 31, 2024. That is more than twice the marketing budget for any other fiscal year over the next half-decade, according to the company's recent 10-K SEC filing. From a report: Why is Take-Two planning to spend that much more on marketing in fiscal 2024? One of the most likely explanations is that is when the publisher expects to release Grand Theft Auto VI, according to analyst Jeff Cohen of investment firm Stephens. Each year, Take-Two files a 10-K with numerous financial details, including its plans for marketing spend for each year for the next five years. In its previous 10-K, Take-Two notified investors of a spike in marketing costs for fiscal 2023. But that spending has now shifted to fiscal 2024. This movement in spending likely reflects developer Rockstar Games' current plans for the release of Grand Theft Auto VI.

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Nvidia's AI Recreates 'Pac-Man' For 40th Anniversary

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Nvidia recently taught its AI system to recreate the game Pac-Man just by watching it being played. Hypebeast reports: No coding or pre-rendered images were used for the software to base the recreation on. The AI model was simply fed visual data of the game being played alongside controller inputs. From there, the AI recreated what it saw frame by frame, resulting in a playable version of Bandai Namco's most recognizable title. Although it's not a perfect recreation of the title and all its assets, all the mechanics and gameplay goals are the same. NVIDIA even believes this is how AI will be applied to game creation in the future. [Rev Lebaredian, Nvidia's vice president of simulation technology] notes the experiment was done in collaboration with Bandai Namco as it celebrates the 40th anniversary of the classic arcade game. The artificial intelligence program is called GameGAN, with GAN standing for "generative adversarial network," which is a common architecture used in machine learning. GAN works by attempting to replicate input data while also comparing its work to the original source. If the two don't match, the data is rejected and the program looks for improvements and tries again. Although AI programs have generated virtual gaming spaces before, GameGAN is able to use a "memory module" that allows the program to store an internal map of the digital space it's trying to recreate, leading to a more consistent copy. The AI was trained on over 50,000 episodes and almost never died, the company says. Nvidia will be releasing the recreated game online in the near future.

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Microsoft Solitaire Turns 30 Years Old Today and Still Has 35 Million Monthly Players

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Microsoft's Solitaire game is turning 30 years old today. Microsoft is celebrating the occasion with a world record attempt of the most games of Microsoft Solitaire completed in one day. From a report: 35 million people still play Solitaire monthly, according to Microsoft, with more than 100 million hands played daily around the world. Microsoft Solitaire was originally included as part of Windows 3.0 back in 1990, designed specifically to teach users how to use a mouse. Grabbing virtual cards and dropping them in place taught the basics of drag-and-drop in Windows, which we still use today in many parts of the operating system. Microsoft Solitaire, originally known as Windows Solitaire, is one of the most played games in the world as it shipped in every version of Windows for more than two decades. That means it has shipped on more than a billion PCs, and it only stopped being a dedicated part of Windows with the release of Windows 8 in 2012.

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Hackers Infect Multiple Game Developers With Advanced Malware

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One of the world's most prolific hacking groups recently infected several Massively Multiplayer Online game makers, a feat that made it possible for the attackers to push malware-tainted apps to one target's users and to steal in-game currencies of a second victim's players. Ars Technica reports: Researchers from Slovakian security company ESET have tied the attacks to Winnti, a group that has been active since at least 2009 and is believed to have carried out hundreds of mostly advanced attacks. Targets have included Chinese journalists, Uyghur and Tibetan activists, the government of Thailand, and prominent technology organizations. Winnti has been tied to the 2010 hack that stole sensitive data from Google and 34 other companies. More recently, the group has been behind the compromise of the CCleaner distribution platform that pushed malicious updates to millions of people. Winnti carried out a separate supply-chain attack that installed a backdoor on 500,000 ASUS PCs. The recent attack used a never-before-seen backdoor that ESET has dubbed PipeMon. To evade security defenses, PipeMon installers bore the imprimatur of a legitimate Windows signing certificate that was stolen from Nfinity Games during a 2018 hack of that gaming developer. The backdoor -- which gets its name for the multiple pipes used for one module to communicate with another and the project name of the Microsoft Visual Studio used by the developers -- used the location of Windows print processors so it could survive reboots. In a post published early Thursday morning, ESET revealed little about the infected companies except to say they included several South Korea- and Taiwan-based developers of MMO games that are available on popular gaming platforms and have thousands of simultaneous players.

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Nintendo Files Lawsuits In Crackdown Against Switch Hackers

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Nintendo of America filed two lawsuits on Friday against Nintendo Switch hack resellers that sell software to play pirated video games, according to court documents obtained by Polygon. From the report: The first lawsuit was filed Friday in an Ohio court against Tom Dilts Jr., the alleged operator of the website UberChips. The second lawsuit was filed in a Seattle court that same day, against a number of anonymous defendants from a selection of websites. All defendants reportedly sell products from a group of anonymous hackers called "Team Xecuter." Nintendo's lawyers described the products as "an unauthorized operating system ... and accompanying piracy tools that install it." These products allow users to get around Nintendo's "technological protection measures" designed to protect its products from "unauthorized access and copying." Once it's disabled, players can download the unauthorized operating system and play pirated video games, lawyers said. At the time of writing, the UberChips website appears to be offline -- under "scheduled maintenance." Other websites listed in the second lawsuit are still operating. A kit used for hacking the Nintendo Switch is listed for $47.99. The site also sells products for the SNES Classic, PlayStation Mini, Nintendo 3DS, and Game Boy Advance. The websites are also offering pre-orders for devices that will circumvent protection measures for the previously unhackable Nintendo Switch Lite and newer Nintendo Switch models. Nintendo said this is causing "tremendous harm" to the company; Nintendo lawyers said hundreds of the devices have already been sold. Nintendo is seeking $2,500 per trafficking violation in each of these cases, as well as a permanent injunction to stop operations of these websites.

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Rainbow Six 'Copy' Lands Apple and Google In Copyright Court

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Ubisoft is suing Apple and Google over a Chinese mobile game it says is "a near carbon copy" of one of its most popular games, Rainbow Six: Siege. The BBC reports: Area F2 is "designed to closely replicate... virtually every aspect" of the game, it alleges, in a 43-page document, complete with screenshots. It is also suing the developer, Ejoy, owned by Chinese tech giant Alibaba. Characters, game modes, game maps, animations, and even the user interface were copied, the document alleges. "Virtually every aspect of AF2 is copied from R6S, from the operator selection screen to the final scoring screen and everything in between," Ubisoft claims. "In fact, the games are so similar that an ordinary observer viewing and playing both games likely would be unable to differentiate between them." Ubisoft estimates Area F2 has been downloaded more than a million times and made "tens of thousands of dollars" on in-game purchases. It says it has raised the issue with both Apple and Google, which both take a cut of sales on their respective app stores. "But rather than take any measures to stop or curtail the infringement... Google and Apple instead decided that it would be more profitable to collect their revenue share from AF2 and continue their unlawful distribution," Ubisoft says in its court filing. Ubisoft is seeking a jury trial over the alleged copyright infringement, in the Central District Court of California.

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