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Paranormal thriller ‘Oxenfree’ hits PS4 in May

Oxenfree is an acid trip wrapped in an enigma and smothered in nacho cheese — and on May 31st, it’s coming to PlayStation 4. Oxenfree hit Steam and Xbox One in January, and both of these versions get upgrades on May 31st, too. Developer Night School Studio created a New Game+ mode for the Steam, Xbox One and PS4 editions, allowing those who have already finished Oxenfree to dive back in and experience a new, yet familiar, adventure. New Game+ includes fresh dialogue choices, new locations and alternate endings (on top of the game’s multiple existing conclusions).

“We’ve heard emphatic, wildly differing opinions on how the game ended, both giddy and rage-filled,” Night School co-founder Sean Krankel says. “So, without getting too spoilery, we wanted to make something that let those players push on the surreal rules that govern the island even more by holding up a proverbial mirror to the creatures they’ve been dealing with. This mode is definitely for the true fans.”

On the surface, Oxenfree is a narrative-driven adventure game about a group of teenage friends partying all night on an island. It sounds like standard teen-movie fare, but the island happens to house a decommissioned military base and a series of ghostly, mind-melting mysteries. Alex, a teenage girl who drags her new stepbrother to the party, leads the group as they venture deeper into the island and uncover its secrets.

At its heart, Oxenfree is emotional and complex, with trippy twists and revelations that have left plenty of players reeling.

“We hoped that players would connect with Alex’s story and the island where the game takes place, but we never realized how much the time-looping mind-bendy stuff would affect people,” Krankel says. “We’ve had a ton of folks reach out telling us everything from how Oxenfree made them rethink their real-life relationships to just being too scared to play the whole game.”

Alex uses her radio to dial into various aspects of the island, including the creepy kind. This mechanic is all about sound, and the PS4 version of the game takes advantage of those scratchy airwaves by placing them inside the DualShock 4 controller itself. Players will sync up the changing colors on the light bar and hear broadcasts directly from the gamepad.

Night School is happy to break down the boundaries between digital and physical spaces: When Oxenfree launched, it included an alternate reality game that should eventually direct players to a real-life location and the secrets therein. No one has cracked the code just yet, since all of the clues aren’t available, but Krankel says more hints are coming this month. In fact, the ARG has been leading up to today’s announcement of fresh story content in the New Game+ mode.

“I’m completely blown away by some of the theories behind the ARG so far,” Krankel says. “Some super smart, creative people out there.”

Krankel is excited by the response to Oxenfree in general, even if he doesn’t fully understand some of the most creative reactions.

“I’m equal parts disturbed and delighted by some of the fan art, but welcome to the internet,” he says.


Plants might know when to bloom by remembering seasons

Plants might have some capacity to retain information or, in other words, to form memories, according to a biologist from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts. Susan Lindquist has discovered that a protein found in thale cress (pictured above) acts like a prion. In humans and other animals, prions or misfolded proteins cause degenerative illnesses, including mad cow and Creutzfeldt–Jakob diseases. But the protein Lindquist found, which is called Luminidependens (LD), responds to daylight and controls flowering time.

Lindquist and her team aren’t 100% sure that all plants have prion-like protein: they observed LD’s behavior when they inserted it into yeast. To confirm their existence, scientists have to grind up various species and look for proteins in different folded states. The group says that if prions really do exist in plants, they could serve the same purpose as they do in fruit flies. See, clusters of misfolded proteins form or stabilize long-term memories in the insects. In plants, the disfigured proteins could be in charge of monitoring and “remembering” environmental temperatures, so flowers only bloom when they’re meant to.

Via: Gizmodo

Source: PNAS, Nature


Beautiful images could lead to quieter supersonic jets

Researchers have been looking for the key to quieter supersonic transport for years. And if you’ve ever heard a sonic boom, you’ll know why it’s an important problem to solve.

While it’s impossible to eradicate that noise — anything breaking the sound barrier is going to create the change in pressure that causes it — you can make design adjustments to aircraft to decrease it.

The image above was taken last year. It shows a jet flying at supersonic speed, and was actually taken from another aircraft, flying at subsonic (i.e. “regular”) speed above it. To capture it, NASA adapted a century-old technique called schlieren imaging, shooting 109 frames per second while the jet flew below. After processing the imagery, NASA scientists can visualize shock waves, vortices and engine plume effects.

It’s hoped that this data, along with other efforts like the Eagle Aero Probe, will help it to tweak the design of airplanes to minimize the noise created when flying at supersonic speeds. In turn, that could make flying supersonic over populated areas — something the Concorde passenger jet never did — a realistic prospect.

The Big Picture is a recurring feature highlighting beautiful images that tell big stories. We explore topics as large as our planet, or as small as a single life, as affected by or seen through the lens of technology.


Gorgeous competitive tactics game ‘Duelyst’ is out today

Duelyst isn’t an eSport — yet. After six months in a free open beta, Duelyst launches today as a full title that’s still free to download across PC and Mac. It comes from Counterplay Games, a studio packed with talent from Diablo 3, League of Legends and Rogue Legacy, and it’s a brilliant blend of rapid-fire card gaming, complex tactical combat and squad building, all with a competitive edge. But right now, it isn’t an eSport.

“We don’t consider ourselves an eSport, since that’s a very top-down approach and mentality that we don’t believe in,” Counterplay founder Keith Lee says.

The eSports market is booming, but it’s not for every game. A lot goes into creating an experience for professional play, and much of that work is aimed at bolstering relationships outside of the player base itself. For Lee, Duelyst is all about what the players want — a bottom-up approach to development. And as the game launches in full, Duelyst fans are all about tournaments.

Counterplay plans to release in-game tournament tools right in the game client, features that will make it easier for organizers to makes these competitive matches happen. Lee says collectible card games usually don’t have built-in features like these.

“If the competitive participation in our community continues to grow month-to-month, then we’re successful,” Lee says.

Player-run tournaments are stepping stones to the professional gaming world, and if the Duelyst community falls in love with eSports-style play, Counterplay is ready. Its currently hosting a one-off, seven-week tournament with a $5,000 prize, featuring a few top players from the Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering scenes. Counterplay is dipping its toes in the eSports waters, but it hasn’t dived in just yet.

Duelyst has modes for all types of players, from casual to competitive. It’s a collectible card game for those who love turn-based tactical mechanics — marching small, customized armies across controlled battlefields to fight to the death with spells, swords and mystical beasts. Think Final Fantasy Tactics meets Hearthstone, or The Banner Saga’s battle mechanics infused with the pre-match strategy of Magic: The Gathering. We played Duelyst during its alpha period and had an absolute blast.

“Our ultimate goal is to establish a competitive skill-based strategy game that can be played for many years to come,” Lee says. “We want players to know that they’ve invested both time and money in a title they can enjoy with an active community years from now.”


Dear Veronica: The bots are taking over!

Dear Veronica: The bots are taking over!

It seems like everyone is talking about bots these days: from major announcements by Facebook, to the quick demise of Tay from Microsoft, to a myriad tiny chatbots flooding your Twitter timeline. But what are they actually good for? Great question! To help figure that out, I’m welcoming back onto the show Ryan Block, co-founder of Begin (and former editor of this very website!).

And OK, you can talk to Belbot here. Godspeed.


Amazon is liable for in-app purchases made by kids, court finds

A federal judge today ruled that Amazon did not sufficiently warn people of the possibility of in-app purchases in “free” apps, making the company liable for unwanted charges incurred by children. The FTC filed the case in 2014 and argued that Amazon didn’t provide adequate safeguards against unauthorized purchases in apps marked as “free,” leading to millions of dollars in unwanted charges, the FTC said. Amazon argued that it was quick to respond to complaints and provided refunds when prudent.

“We are pleased the federal judge found Amazon liable for unfairly billing consumers for unauthorized in-app purchases by children,” FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez said. “We look forward to making a case for full refunds to consumers as a result of Amazon’s actions.”

The FTC and Amazon will present more information to the court before it decides how much money the company owes to customers. The FTC previously reached settlements with Apple and Google over similar charges, eventually resulting in refunds to customers totaling more than $50 million.

Source: FTC


SpaceX wants to land on Mars as early as 2018

SpaceX was already pretty ambitious when it signaled plans to send a Dragon capsule to Mars, but the originally hoped-for 2022 launch was apparently not quick enough. The company has announced plans to send an unmanned Dragon to Mars “as soon as” 2018 — that’s just a couple of years from now, folks. It also expects Red Dragons to define the “overall Mars architecture.” Other details are scant at I write this, but it’s already clear that SpaceX wants to try interplanetary travel as quickly as possible.

Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016

Source: SpaceX (Twitter)


‘Blockhood’ is a beautiful game about eco-architecture

What happens when an architect makes a video game? Block’hood, a new “neighborhood-building simulator” from one-man developer Plethora Project. It started life as a research project at the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture, where its creator Jose Sanchez is an assistant professor, but has slowly transformed into an educational game published by Devolver Digital, which previously produced games like Hotline Miami and Broforce. With a focus on expanding upwards, rather than outwards, and a pared-down visual style, it’s a different take on the building experience offered by SimCity or Cities: Skylines. It instead plays like a cross between Anno, SimEarth and reverse Jenga.

The game starts with an isometric view of a gray, lifeless board. You’ll have anywhere between four and 400 empty squares to play with, and can build up to 20 levels high. (The size is defined either by you or the scenario, depending on the game mode). Whatever the case, the first thing you’ll need to do is create the basic requirements for modern life: water, fresh air and electricity. That means building a well, a solar panel and a tree of some description. Only once your blocks are in place and producing can you start thinking about building a small apartment, the simplest residential block.

Each block — there are currently almost 100 beautifully designed options to pick from, with more being added regularly — takes up one square, although some stretch two levels high. Almost all of them both consume and output resources. A tree typically draws in water and outputs fresh air and leisure, which is a requirement of any residence. Perfect! Not all outputs are good, though. A small apartment brings the positives of labor and consumers — great for building stores and offices — and the negatives of gray water and organic waste. You’ll need to lay down other blocks to take care of those unwanted outputs and convert them into positive resources. These new blocks in turn consume more resources, and output others.

That’s the key thing to understand about Block’hood: There are no people to make happy here. It’s all about maintaining the ecology of your neighborhood and taking care of every block’s needs. You’re not roleplaying as the mayor of SimCity. You’re an architect designing a neighborhood master plan.

Every block you build has a knock-on effect, and you need to constantly be looking at your resources to see what you need more of. And if there aren’t enough resources to sustain a block, it will crumble into decay.

Other practical things need consideration: Most blocks require an access route in the form of a corridor, you’ll need to leave space for an elevator or stairs to build upwards and you can’t delete a block that’s underneath another block. If you accidentally let a building decay, or you want to replace it, that means deleting everything above it, which might mess with the access routes of tens of other buildings also. Likewise, those wells and solar panels you built to get your neighborhood started will probably want replacing at some point. There are more advanced options for both, but it takes time to accrue the resources you need to sustain them. Making sure they’re still accessible when the time comes is paramount.

All this means one thing: planning. Lots of it. You’ll quickly learn a few corridor patterns that allow you to maximize space, and the sort of buildings that you should place in groups. After initially struggling — the tutorial explains how to play, not how to plan — I soon learned that just placing blocks one at a time was not a good way to build. It’s entirely possible to play reactively, of course, but I found myself in a constant battle to balance resources and prevent decay. That’s not my idea of fun, so instead I got organized, and built expansions to my development in bulk, placing 10 or so complementary blocks at once. I also typically play at a slow pace: When the going is good, I wait for resources to generate so I’m prepared if I have a serious imbalance later.

Even with my best planning, mistakes happen. Everything has to be perfect, and I’ve frequently misunderstood or misplaced blocks, only to discover the error after building several levels on top. It’s frustrating having to delete perfectly good sections of your tower because of a misplaced block beneath, and that’s something that’s made all too easy due to some poor implementation on the developer’s part.

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Block’hood is in Early Access on Steam, meaning it’s very much a work in progress. None of its issues are game-breaking enough that I wouldn’t be happy to recommend it at its low asking price of $10 — I absolutely can — but they are, nonetheless, numerous. The camera is restrictive, assumedly on purpose: the only manipulation you have is vertical axis, zoom and a four-point horizontal rotation that keeps you locked in an isometric view.

The limited camera movement would be fine — it certainly helps the game to look as gorgeous as it does — if it weren’t coupled with an erratic auto-snap mechanism. Highlighting or placing blocks is tricky, especially when you’re working across multiple levels, which you pretty much always are. The developer provides a tool for highlighting particular levels, but nonetheless, many of my first hours with the game involved accidentally placing blocks on the wrong floor of a development. These issues are compounded by unclear line diagrams that make it tough to understand what direction a building is facing (i.e., where it should connect to a corridor) when you’re trying to place it. Thankfully, blocks can be rotated at any time, but that feature would be almost unnecessary if the camera and autosnap functionality were fixed.

The game could also do a much better job of highlighting what each block’s impact is. A panel on the left shows your current outputs and remaining resources, while a panel on the right lets choose new blocks to build. Each block has a stat card that explains how many resources it’ll consume, but these figures not in the same units of measurement as the panel on the left. It’s all a bit messy, and it would be much simpler if highlighting a block just modified the left panel to show the potential resource changes in real time.

My final issue with Block’hood is longevity. After you complete the tutorial, there are 12 challenges to go through that play out as small puzzles: “produce 1,000 consumers and 20 retail shops with less than 100 units of inorganic waste,” and so on. These teach you about growing a community sustainably, and once you’re done with them, sandbox mode awaits. This is the first time you can get really creative, but there’s really nothing left to do once you’ve built the tower you’re happy with. You can reasonably integrate every single block into your neighborhood within a few hours, but then what? All that’s left to do is sit back and watch your neighborhood build resources forever, or needlessly change things again.

This lack of an endgame is the biggest tell that this was created by an architect. It’s a profession where you plan something, build and then hope you’ve got it right. There aren’t really second chances; your development either works or it doesn’t. Perhaps because of this, Block’hood feels like part video game, part tool. Sanchez talks about it not just as a game, but as an instrument for education or a framework others can build upon (the codebase will be released once it’s complete). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than building a futuristic tower town, you can just as easily plan out a single, self-sustaining house, for the sake of beauty. I’ve done so, although not as successfully as Sanchez, whose example you can see above.

I can see how designing with blocks can be cathartic, and also make people think about the ecology of architecture, albeit in a pretty shallow way. But something can be educational and still entertaining and challenging. Building in more layers (pun intended) to the current Block’hood formula could expand its abilities to educate and inform. Sandbox mode in Minecraft is great, and I’ve spent hours flying around and building worlds, but it’s nowhere near as rewarding as the game itself.

If Sanchez were to add shifting populaces, for example, it could be a great thing. Build an inviting area, and you’ll face the demands of urban overcrowding, forcing you to build more and more houses, or leave people homeless. Because there’s more to consider than the environment when planning a building. You only need look at the housing projects of the ’60s and ’70s to see how much of an impact bad architecture can have on people’s lives. The game Tropico, as an example, handles this superbly by spawning shantytowns to house the poor and disenfranchised. One thing that will be added is scenarios that ask you to fix a broken neighborhood, which could prove extremely educational for younger players.

Whether an architect wants to pollute this dream-like building sim with real-world social issues is another matter. But the fact that the game’s code will be released means that, even if Sanchez isn’t interested, someone else could add this sort of gamification to Block’hood at a later date. As it stands, though, your $10 will still get you a beautiful, idealistic neighborhood creator with plenty of potential for growth.

This article relates to build v60.22 of the game. As Block’hood is still in development, many of the issues described may not be relevant to later builds.


TiVo’s cord-cutting DVR gets more storage and drops subscriptions

TiVo’s Roamio OTA was supposed to fulfill the dreams of cord-cutters who wanted a big-name DVR without the burden of a conventional TV subscription, but it didn’t quite live up to that ideal. You could only record so many shows on its 500GB hard drive, and that $15 monthly subscription hurt the appeal for the cost-conscious. Thankfully, those two problems have just been solved: TiVo has unveiled a 1TB Roamio OTA model that shakes things up. The new set-top doubles the storage, as you’ve no doubt guessed, but the big deal is the shift in pricing strategy. Instead of a low up-front price and a monthly fee, you pay $400 outright — while that’s expensive at first, it promises to be less costly in the long run.

The 1TB version carries four tuners as well as the features you’d expect from recent TiVo gear, such as media casting, multi-room video (through TiVo Minis), Stream support and an interface that unifies internet video with conventional TV. If you’re determined to ditch cable or satellite and don’t want another subscription in its place, you can get the new Roamio on May 2nd through Amazon, Best Buy or TiVo itself.

Source: TiVo


Crowdfunding Campaign Aims to Shed Light on ‘The Secret History of Mac Gaming’ in New Book

Journalist and author Richard Moss has launched a crowdfunding campaign for his book The Secret History of Mac Gaming. Moss’ work will describe the story of a community of gamers and developers who crafted gameplay experiences that would later serve as influential backbones of modern games, gaining little credit for their place in the history of video games in the process.

Among major influences, Moss mentions that gaming on the Mac brought ideas like “mouse-driven input, multi-window interfaces, and even online play” into popularity with gamers around the world. The book will delve into that history and include over 60 interviews with individuals who were there at the height of Mac gaming, all the way back to the 1980s. The description mentions that it should run about 304 pages long in a standard hardback form, with Mac gaming evangelist Craig Fryar contributing in a co-author role in some chapters.

Mac gaming led to much that is now taken for granted by PC gamers, including mouse-driven input, multi-window interfaces, and even online play. The Mac birthed two of the biggest franchises in videogame history, Myst and Halo, and it hosted numerous “firsts” for the medium.

The Secret History of Mac Gaming is the story of those communities and the game developers who survived and thrived in an ecosystem that was serially ignored by the outside world. It’s a book about people who made games and people who played them — people who, on both counts, followed their hearts first and market trends second.

Among many topics and chapters that aim to “cast a narrative around the people behind the games,” Moss will include stories like Apple’s original intention to acquire Bungie games. That, of course, never came to pass due to Microsoft’s own acquisition of the studio in 2000, eventually leading to the now massively successful multi-media franchise Halo. Microsoft’s cherry picking of “the premier Mac game developer” out from under Steve Jobs didn’t sit well with the former Apple CEO, and was one of the first of many stepping stones that led to the less-than-stellar Mac gaming landscape seen today.

secret history of mac games
The book is currently on the crowdfunding site Unbound, which deals exclusively in getting independent stories off the ground thanks to the monetary input of interested users. As of the time of writing, The Secret History of Mac Gaming needs about 500 more pledges to be successfully funded. Unbound is based in London, but the site offers international exchange rates for customers interested in pledging who live outside of the United Kingdom. There’s also a £14 ($20) international shipping charge for most physical rewards.

The initial £10 ($14) reward tier will get pledges an eBook version of the book, while those who are into physical books will need to pledge £30 ($44). Higher rewards include your name listed in the front of the book, exclusive art, a meet-up with the authors and, at the highest £2,000 ($2,900) tier, a “unique dust jacket” created solely for the user who donates on that tier. Every contributor to the campaign will get their name in the back of the book.

Check out the campaign page here to browse all of the rewards, and even read an except from The Secret History of Mac Gaming.
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