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Zombie thriller ‘Days Gone’ will need to find its humanity to survive

Lots of people are burnt out on the post-apocalyptic zombie trope, but I’m not one of them. I was fairly insulated from the genre until I played The Last of Us, which quickly became my favorite game of the last five years or so. So the trailer for Days Gone, a new title set in a post-pandemic corner of the northwestern US that was unveiled at Sony’s E3 event, piqued my interest. The attention to detail in the ruined world was excellent, the narration intriguing enough to make me wonder what went down, and the idea of a former motorcycle gang biking around an open-world felt like a concept worth exploring.

But the in-game demo that concluded the Sony event ended up being a bit of a surprising letdown, and I’ve been thinking about why ever since. What was missing from the demo was a human connection — a motivation for bounty hunter and protagonist Deacon St John’s actions beyond simple survival. Without that, the massive horde of “freakers” featured in the gameplay demo might as well kill St John and be done with it.

Obviously, this is just a first look at the game; developer Bend Studios focused on gameplay mechanics and the undeniably impressive and overwhelming nature of the freaker horde over fleshing out more of the story. But I was left with plenty of questions at the end of the demo that’ll need satisfying answers for the game to carve out a space in the crowded zombie apocalypse landscape.

Chief among those is what Days Gone will do that The Last of Us didn’t already do to near-perfection. Representatives from Bend focused on that horde of freakers, noting that they were not “undead” — they’re alive and need food and water just like you do. They’re just more “animalistic” than normal humans, competing for survival in the ruined world. Additionally, the world itself will shape your encounters, with constantly changing weather as well as transitions from day to night affecting how you approach any given scenario. The open-world nature of the game means there are a host of different ways to survive any given scenario, and part of the fun will likely come from the various play styles you can bring to the same encounter.

While we didn’t get to see how the weather and environment affected the experience, the demo did show some interesting concepts as Deacon tried to escape from hundreds of freakers. Funneling the zombies into a “choke point” where they’re all trying to fit through a small space lets you gun them down en masse, and at one point Deacon cuts the rope on a huge stack of logs at a sawmill, temporarily blocking pursuit. You can also grab items from the environment to augment your weapons or build something out of nothing — another conceit that reminded me of the crafting system in The Last of Us, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to good effect here.

As impressive as the freaker horde is, though, the big question is how Deacon can possibly survive facing down this many enemies. Bend assured us that not all encounters will play out like this one, but there has to be a way to “win” against such a vast and speedy enemy. It might be more about escape than actually taking down all the freakers. The motorcycle will play a big part in the game, so maybe the goal of the encounter in the demo is to get in, capture or kill your bounty, and get out before being overrun.

The question of motivation still remains. What’s the point of being a bounty hunter in such a world? Who is trading valuable resources to get revenge on someone who might have wronged them? And is the benefit large enough to put yourself in the path of hundreds of freakers? Again, it’s very early for Days Gone and we’ll surely learn more about the circumstances of this particular pandemic as time passes. But fleshing out the universe of Days Gone in a compelling way is going to be crucial to making the game stand out. The reason The Last of Us was so successful wasn’t because of the zombies or the combat — it was because of the beautifully-built world and, most crucially, Joel’s relationship with Ellie.

Fortunately, the Days Gone trailer hinted at some depth to Deacon St John and the trauma he endured trying to survive as the world fell apart. The clip of him in the past, with his blond love interest on the motorcycle with him was right on-the-nose, but nonetheless it helped paint a picture of a man who lost something and is trying to find the will to continue on. Hopefully, Bend can pull of a combo of chaotic, unpredictable open-world adventuring with a story and characters worth caring about.


FBI’s facial recognition system can access 411 million photos

When we first wrote about the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) facial recognition system, we said the agency has access to 70 million photos. Turns out the feds can sift through tons more images than that. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has discovered that the FBI actually has access to 411.9 million pictures of Americans and foreigners alike, most of whom have no prior criminal records. FACE can look through NGI’s collection, as well through biometric databases ran by the DOJ and 16 different states. It can also search the State Department’s passport and visa application records for possible matches.

The EFF pointed out that the “unprecedented number of photographs” isn’t the only problem. GAO’s report also said that the FBI didn’t test its system thoroughly for accuracy. It “has done little to make sure that its search results… do not include photos of innocent people,” the nonprofit org wrote in its post. Since facial recognition technologies aren’t perfect and still has issues recognizing people of color, FACE could return results with law-abiding people in the mix when law-enforcement agencies use the system to search for suspects.

It could cause even more issues if the government grants the feds’ request for its databases to be exempted from several key provisions of the Privacy Act. For instance, the FBI doesn’t want to tell people who ask if they’re in the database and wants to be legally allowed to withhold that information. Thankfully, FACE isn’t available to the public, so you at least don’t have to worry that some random civilian is using it to look you up right now.

GAO’s lengthy report has more details about the facial recognition system, lists the FBI’s and the DOJ’s shortcomings and discusses what it could have done better. As for the bureau’s side, a spokesperson told the The Guardian when the publication asked for a comment: “The FBI believes GAO staff does not fully appreciate the nature of its face recognition service as being utilized for investigative leads only and not positive identifications.”

Source: EFF, US Government Accountability Office


Magic Leap teams with Lucasfilm for ‘Star Wars’ AR experiences

Magic Leap, the mysterious augmented reality company, is teaming up with Lucasfilm and its ILMxLAB to create immersive Star Wars experiences, the companies announced today at Wired’s Business Conference. As part of the news, they also revealed our closest look yet at Magic Leap’s technology in action with a demo video featuring everyone’s favorite droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, projected in a typical office environment. It was shot on actual Magic Leap hardware, according to ILMxLAB’s John Gaeta (best known for his work on the Matrix films), using a standard digital camera. One look, and you’ll see why Magic Leap has amassed an astounding $1.39 billion in funding without shipping an actual product.

Unlike the simplistic graphics on Microsoft’s HoloLens, Magic Leap’s renderings of the famous Star Wars droids are surprisingly realistic. Both C-3PO and RD-D2 are life-sized and incredibly detailed, with a surprising amount of depth. We also catch a glimpse of the monochromatic holograms seen all over the series, and they look practically indistinguishable from the Star Wars films. Most intriguingly? Gaeta says there wasn’t any post-processing involved in the video, ILMxLAB simply captured what Magic Leap’s gear spit out.

Magic Leap and Lucasfilm aren’t talking about what sort of specific experiences we’d see yet from their partnership, but one possibility thrown out involved turning C-3PO into your augmented reality assistant. What if you could have your very own intelligent C-3PO that follows you around all day, with all of the personality quirks you love (and hate) from the movies? That wouldn’t just appeal to geeks, it’s the sort of thing anyone would lap up.

As part of the partnership, ILM will house a secretive lab in its San Francisco headquarters, which will include Magic Leap employees. Lucasfilm’s story group, the folks who are building the Star Wars mythology for films and other mediums going forward, will also take part, along with Skywalker Sound. Get ready for far more immersive Star Wars experiences than ILMxLAB’s Trials on Tatooine VR experiment.

While Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz still won’t say when we’ll see a consumer product from the company, he revealed that it’s kicking off its production line to test its manufacturing capabilities. “We may have a system that looks like it’s shipping, but we’re debugging and it looks like it’s coming soon,” he said.

Source: Wired


Engadget giveaway: Win a Samurai Kiwami smartphone courtesy of Freetel!

The Japanese smartphone brand Freetel has finally arrived in the US and leading its stable of handsets is the Samurai Kiwami flagship. This Android phone features a six-inch, 2,560 x 1,440-pixel display, a rear placement fingerprint sensor and a whopping 21-megapixel rear camera. Other perks include 32GB of onboard memory, up to 128GB of expandable storage, a 2.0GHz Octa-core Cortex A53 CPU to keep it thrumming and an approachable price at just $389. It’s enough to keep us placated until Freetel unleashes its sleek Musashi flip phone on these shores. This week, the company has provided us with one of the Samurai Kiwami handsets to help get one lucky reader up to speed on what these devices can offer. All you need to do is head to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec), 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) Freetel Samurai Kiwami smartphone.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
  • This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Engadget and AOL are not held liable to honor warranties, exchanges or customer service.
  • The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
  • Entries can be submitted until June 17th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!

Facebook makes it easier to start a conversation in Messenger

After adding SMS messages to the Android version of the app earlier this week, Facebook tweaked its Messenger UI to get you sending messages faster. Underneath the list of recent messages, you’ll now see a collection of your favorite contacts so you can get chatting quickly. The app will also show you birthdays like the social network’s site and core app does, making light work of sending someone a note. That useful list of who’s online is there as well, tucked down below the aforementioned messages and groups of contacts. With these changes, it should be even easier to send one of Facebook’s new emoji when the time comes.

Source: Facebook


The ‘Skylanders’ TV show will debut on Netflix this fall

Netflix has snatched up another TV show that children will be begging their parents to stream. A new deal with Activision Blizzard will ensure Skylanders Academy, the first TV show based on the toys-to-life video game franchise, will premiere on Netflix this fall. It’s not yet clear if the series will be shown elsewhere at a later date. Regardless, it’s a major coup for Netflix as it seeks to build a broader, more attractive slate of shows for kids. Previous deals include a long-running partnership with DreamWorks, which has produced series based on Madagascar, Turbo and Voltron.

Skylanders has been around since 2011 and arguably pioneered the toys-to-life genre. Others have followed — the most notable being Disney Infinity, which is now being wound down, and Lego Dimensions, which is gearing up for a second wave of pop culture-related characters and level packs. Skylanders has endured by adding new ideas every year — the next instalment, Imaginators, will allow players to build their own Skylanders heroes from scratch. During its E3 press conference, Sony even announced that Crash Bandicoot will be joining the game’s cast of colorful characters.

The Skylanders TV show will focus on the game’s most recognizable characters. Justin Long is voicing Spyro, while Ashley Tisdale takes on Stealth Elf and Jonathan Banks breathes life into Eruptor. Eric Rogers, who worked on Futurama, is taking the helm as showrunner. Thirteen episodes are scheduled for the fall, followed by a second season in late 2017.


Bluetooth 5: Quadruple the range, double the speed

Bluetooth is so ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget it’s still an evolving technology. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) defines the standard, and late last year teased what’s coming in the next major version change since 2009. Today, the body shared a bit more about what we can expect from the release of Bluetooth 5, expected in late 2016 or early 2017. For starters, the next version will quadruple the range of connections and double their speeds, too, with no increase in power consumption over the current, low-energy standard.

The immediate benefits of these particular improvements are quite easy to grasp. Your next Bluetooth speaker shouldn’t stutter when you accidentally take your phone with you into the kitchen, for example, and your next smartwatch should receive those push notifications that bit quicker, thanks to more bandwidth for data transfer. This becomes a lot more important when internet of things devices and Bluetooth beacons enter the conversation, though.

Bluetooth devices that broadcast information, as opposed to the kind you pair with, are becoming much more common, independent and easier to communicate with. Bluetooth 5 increases broadcasting capacity eight-fold, meaning much more data can be sent (and received) in a single interaction. Instead of a Bluetooth beacon pinging your phone with an URL that then gives you more info on a museum exhibit, for instance, it could do that and pinpoint your indoor location… and send you a discount voucher for the gift shop, all in the one blast.

The Bluetooth SIG isn’t in the business of dreaming up specific applications for the technology, though. Instead, it’s interested in improving things like range and data capacity, and letting everyone else dream up the new applications and connected devices.

Source: Bluetooth SIG


‘1979 Revolution’ arrives on iOS following Iranian ban

Shortly after its release in Iran, the country’s government banned the sale of 1979 Revolution, a game that allows players to witness the unrest as a photojournalist. Created by former Rockstar Games developer Navid Khonsari, the title combines video games and documentary filmmaker for a first-hand look at the events in Tehran in the late 1970s. The Iranian government didn’t think too highly of the project, as the National Foundation for Computer Games (NFCG) announced a plan to block sites like Steam and others that were selling the game less than two days after its April release. The NFCG called it “Anti-Iranian” and proceeded to confiscate copies of the title as well.

As another way to offer 1979 Revolution, Khnosari’s Ink Stories studio worked on an iOS version that’s available today. Bringing the game iPad and iPhone was always part of the plan, despite a PC and Mac release earlier this year. Once you download it, you’ll play through the campaign as photojournalist Reza Shirazi, the main character who returned to Tehran to document the events of 1978. As you might expect, Shirazi gets swept up in the covert happenings of the revolution, needing to act carefully to save himself and others.

Khonsari, who worked on Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise, was born in Iran and interviewed over 50 scholars on the events alongside is wife and co-producer. What’s more, he collected 1,500 photos in addition to home movies and audio recordings for use in the game. In fact, some of the audio is from speeches made by revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini. The mobile game will set you back $5 and it’s available now in the iTunes App Store.

Source: iTunes


Facebook knows when you visit a store because of its ads

Facebook’s already offering retailers ways to convert ad views into sales online, but now it has a way to see if those views generate in-store traffic. To gauge how effective a retailer’s ads are in getting folks to make a trip to a physical location, Facebook will track when users visit a shop after seeing its ad on the social network. The company says that the numbers are an estimate though, based on if the user has location service enabled on their mobile device. That feature is rolling out “over the coming months.”

If you’re worried about privacy, Facebook says all user data will be anonymous and it will only hand over the info that shows if ad buys did indeed turn into store visits. What’s more, Facebook will also allow ad buyers to include store locators in the advertisement itself. This means that when you see an ad for a restaurant, for example, you can get directions, hours and more with a swipe rather than having to tap over to another page. It will be particularly useful for a business with multiple locations when you need to get the details for the one that’s closest.

Via: Wired UK

Source: Facebook


There’s more money in on-demand taxis than going to Mars

NASA’s annual budget for the 2015 fiscal year is $18.5 billion, a figure that you should bear in mind when we talk about the ride-hailing app business. It’s because Didi Chuxing, more commonly known as the Uber of China, is now worth $28 billion, or 1.5 2016 NASAs. The ride-hailing service you only know about because Apple invested in it has recently closed yet another funding round. This time, it’s convinced investors to pump a further $7.3 billion into its war chest, setting itself up nicely for the transportation arms race that’s to come.

In the other corner is Uber, which is now valued at $62.5 billion (or 3.37 NASAs) and has also spent this month adding to its war fund. On June 1st, it secured $3.5 billion in cash from Saudi Arabia in what’s being called the largest single investment made into a private company. Now, the firm is looking to raise a further $2 billion in long-term loans, putting its estimated cash hoard at around $10.5 billion. That’s a lot of moolah for a service that lets you hail a ride when you’ve spent too long in the bar.

All of this cash is going to be spent pursuing a single goal, which is to make sure that whenever you want a ride, it’s with one of these two. Both will likely attempt to hire more drivers, cut ride fees and generally make sure that nobody else can compete with them. The Guardian reports that, when Uber wanted to “conquer” London, it handed out a £99 ($140) a week stipend to encourage drivers to ditch their current employer. Cynics might also add that Uber’s (alleged) playbook of dirty tricks, previously used to undermine Lyft, could also get trotted out again.

The goal here is dominance in China, with a booming population, sheer size and money makes it a worthy prize for the winner. Uber’s Chinese division has raised $1.2 billion in funding on its own, although that’s dwarfed by the size of Didi’s new fighting fund. Oh, and it’s also worth noting that this battle is a proxy war that’s being fought by the tech industry’s biggest names. After all, Uber is backed by Baidu, Google Ventures and Microsoft, while Didi is bankrolled by Alibaba, Tencent and Apple. Imagine how hotly-contested this battle will get when self-driving cars, a passion for many of these businesses, finally hit the streets.

Source: WSJ, Ft

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