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23
Nov

Revisit ‘Burnout: Paradise’ for free on Xbox next month


Xbox’s Games With Gold subscription service has come a long way. At the start of the generation, Games With Gold offered very few AAA titles, its game lineups paling in comparison to Sony’s PlayStation Plus counterpart. Over the last couple of years however, Microsoft’s service has seen a very noticeable rise in quality.

As of next month, existing Xbox Live Gold members will have free access to two Xbox One games — Sleeping Dogs and Outlast — and two Xbox 360 titles — Burnout: Paradise and Outland.

As the game that set the template for open-world racing, Burnout: Paradise has been highly requested ever since Microsoft first announced Xbox One’s backward compatibility program. Made by beloved British studio Criterion Games, Burnout: Paradise was one of the first true sandbox racers. The game wowed players at the time, offering a large city to explore, addictive multiplayer and sealing the deal with Burnout’s uniquely captivating crash mechanics.

While the studio originally announced it was working on a Burnout successor at E3 2014, the game was soon cancelled, with EA shifting the team to help out on new Star Wars projects. With the studio’s co-founders also recently departing the company, this Xbox 360 title may be the closest gamers get to a new Burnout for a while.

Poignantly, Burnout: Paradise isn’t the only bitter-sweet open-world inclusion in this month’s lineup. Waypoint recently uncovered documents detailing the developer’s plans for an ambitious, cancelled Sleeping Dogs sequel. In Sleeping Dogs 2, the developers planned to give players the ability to manipulate the world with a companion app, to introduce co-op and even to implement a system where they could read cloud saves, adjusting policing levels for each player’s game.

With PS4 owners recently getting their hands on the Amnesia Collection, the inclusion of nail-biting horror title Outlast should help to appease Xbox-dwelling horror fans. After the recently released Outlast 2 demo, this also gives Xbox Gold members a chance to scare themselves silly before next year’s sequel.

Source: Major Nelson

23
Nov

Ocean adventure ‘Abzû’ gets a glow-in-the-dark vinyl soundtrack


After the recent announcement that soothing underwater adventure Abzû will be heading to Xbox One, fans will soon be able to own its soundtrack too. Composed by Austin Wintory, the man who wrote the music for Journey and The Banner Saga, Abzû’s entrancing score will be available to order as a double LP, exclusively through iam8bit.

The soundtrack features original art by Nimit Malavia, the cover artist for DC’s comic series Fables, who did something extra-special for this release. Turning off the lights will reveal the vinyl’s bioluminescent, glow-in-the-dark jacket, thanks to a layer of screen-printed ink adorning Nimit’s artwork.

Pre-orders start Friday at $35 and ship worldwide, with the glow-in-the-dark covering limited to those who order between November 25th and 28th.

Source: iam8bit

23
Nov

12 gifts for music nerds


Nerds come in many forms. Some build stuff, some like video games, and others sweat the tiny details of audio fidelity or salivate over vintage drum machines. That latter group can be difficult to shop for if you’re not initiated in the ways of the music nerd. But don’t worry. Whether the obsessive audio freak in your life is more into making music or listening to it, we’ve got you covered. For those that love composing sweet beats, there’s the TR-09 — a pretty solid remake of the classic 909 drum machine that was essential to creating ’80s and ’90s house and techno. There are also pocket synths for musicians on the go, like the Pocket Operator line from Teenage Engineering.

For those who get their kicks more from listening than creating, there are subscription services like VNYL that deliver fresh pressed records to your door. You’ll also need a solid turntable like Music Hall’s MMF-2.3 to listen to them on, of course. And, if your favorite audiophile also happens to be an iPhone owner there’s an obvious stocking stuffer: Belkin’s Lightning Audio + Charge RockStar. This brings back the headphone jack and lets you charge the phone at the same time!

For our full list of recommendations in all categories, don’t forget to stop by our main Holiday Gift Guide hub.

23
Nov

US proposes a phone ‘driver mode’ to reduce in-car distractions


Smartphones already have car-optimized interfaces like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and you’ll occasionally see safety measures that shut off features (and enable others) while you’re driving. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to do better. It’s proposing voluntary guidelines that would both encourage phone makers to both include pairing with infotainment systems (much like Android Auto and CarPlay) and, crucially, a “driving mode” that cuts back on distractions. It would have a simpler interface that minimizes the time you spend looking away from the road, and either disables or downplays features that you don’t need while on the move.

Specifically, officials would like the driving mode to disable “manual text entry” (think keyboards), photo and video playback, non-essential text, social networking and the web. Don’t expect it to automatically kick in, though. While the agency would like the mode to launch whenever you’re moving faster than a crawling pace (5MPH), it knows that it’s difficult to tell the difference between a driver and a passenger. You may have to invoke it yourself until technology catches up, and there would be an override if there’s an app you simply have to use.

These aren’t binding guidelines, and they’re really just the second phase of an NHTSA effort to reduce distractions in the infotainment systems themselves. However, the proposal’s very existence could prompt Apple, Google and others to make anti-distraction features key to their platforms even in those cases where the phone can’t link to your car. After all, they don’t want to be seen as promoting dangerous behavior behind the wheel — a driving mode is as much a marketing point as it is a safety measure.

Via: New York Times

Source: NHTSA

23
Nov

NASA conducts second round of fire experiments in space


Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft has begun making its way back from the ISS with fiery cargo on board. NASA has conducted its second space fire experiment aboard the Cygnus, burning nine different materials to give scientists the data they need to compare their flammability in microgravity to their flammability here on Earth. Those materials include a cotton-fiberglass blend and Nomex, a flame-resistant material used to make storage bags for spacecraft. The Saffire-2 (that’s the experiment’s name) team also burned a plexiglass sheet used for spacecraft windows and four silicon materials at different thicknesses.

Saffire’s ground team still don’t have the data needed to be able to release the experiment’s results, but they were able to download photos of all nine experiments. They released videos of two materials being burned, which you can watch below. Take note that Sample 7 is a piece of Nomex, while Sample 9 is a piece of plexiglass used to make spacecraft windows.

NASA still has one more round of space fire experiment left after this. The Saffire team plan to burn another big chunk of material like they did the first time instead of several smaller ones like what they did for this round. If you’ll recall, the team burned a 16×37-inch block of cotton-fiberglass material for Saffire-1, which is now known as the biggest fire experiment in space. The scientists aim to use the data they collect from all three experiments to help keep astronauts safe when they embark on long-duration missions.


Source: NASA

23
Nov

Scientists put mouse embryos in suspended animation for a month


A team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco only wanted to slow down mice embryos’ cell growth in the lab. Instead, they managed to completely pause their development, putting the blastocysts (very early embryos) in suspended animation for a month. What’s more, they found that the process can put stem cells derived from the blastocysts in suspended animation, as well.

Okay, let’s face it: that doesn’t sound nearly as cool as putting humans in suspended animation. But their finding still has huge implications for various fields of medicine. Doctors could develop a way to suspend embryos for IVF and scientists could find a method to slow down aging, among other possibilities. Helps that the researchers were able to prove that the embryos can develop normally even after a pause in their growth.

Team member Ramalho-Santos from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research said:

“It was completely surprising. We were standing around in the tissue culture room, scratching our heads, and saying wow, what do we make of this? To put it in perspective, mouse pregnancies only last about 20 days, so the 30-day-old ‘paused’ embryos we were seeing would have been pups approaching weaning already if they’d been allowed to develop normally.”

So, what exactly did the team do that led to their finding? They used a drug that inhibited the activities of a protein called mTOR, which regulates different cellular processes. By inhibiting the protein, they also inhibit the cells’ activities.

In the future, the researchers want to explore mTOR inhibitors’ capability to pause stem cells’ activities in the late stages of their development, which could be used to repair or replace organs. And since other studies already showed that mTOR inhibitors can extend the lives of mice, the researchers want to explore their possible uses in aging research.

Source: University of California, San Francisco

23
Nov

Separating art from the artist


December 2012. That’s the last time I listened to a Lostprophets song. It was never my favorite band, but a few tracks were in my regular rotation until that month, when The Guardian broke news that the band’s frontman, Ian Watkins, had been charged with child sex offenses. As the terrible nature of his crimes slowly unraveled, I came to associate every drum, every chord, every lyric, with the horrors I had read about.

The question — Can you detangle creativity from its creator? — is an old one. It’s often argued that we should judge a work on its own; that to tie it into an author’s views or politics is wrong. But I’ve always struggled to separate the two. Recently, that struggle was brought into sharp focus. Since July, I’ve put 71 hours into the sci-fi colony simulation game RimWorld. It is far from perfect, and aspects have frustrated me, but as a whole I deeply enjoyed it. Until, that is, an article, a response and a few tweets made me stop playing.

It started when Rock, Paper, Shotgun published an article by Claudia Lo, an academic and journalist, titled “How RimWorld’s Code Defines Strict Gender Roles.” In it, she pulls apart the game’s underlying code to reveal issues with how its relationships function. Lo claims that, rather than being realistic or neutral, the game is imbued with the beliefs of its developer, Tynan Sylvester. Bisexual men don’t exist in RimWorld, and all women are either bisexual or gay, she said. There are also issues with how women and men react to romantic advances, and how colonists perceive disabilities. Sylvester has disputed almost all of the claims, both publicly via a Reddit post and through an interview with Engadget.

Combing through Lo’s analysis and Sylvester’s response, It’s entirely plausible that some of the things Lo found are not accurate. Sylvester said the lack of bisexual men was an issue that “will be fixed in the next release,” and that to say there are no straight women in the game was “a naive reading” of the code. “From the player’s point-of-view, most women in the game are straight, since they never attempt romance with other women,” he said.

Sylvester added that the code is a “half-finished attempt to make an engaging game system based on a quick non-judgemental survey of research data.” This research appears to be the root of the game’s issues with sexuality — Sylvester read survey data on sexual orientation that showed “women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual,” and vice versa. He also cited research from a Notre Dame sociologist that indicated a larger proportion of women who identify as straight have engaged in bisexual behavior. The study’s preliminary findings were presented to the American Sociological Association (ASA) last fall. A spokesperson for the ASA said the study has not been peer reviewed.

It’s difficult for me personally to reconcile the argument of code being cobbled together with the argument that the code is backed up by research. And I suspect confirmation bias was at play with the research that was found and implemented. The figure Sylvester highlighted to show the huge gulf between male and female gay and bisexual rates was an estimation for the US. The international studies highlighted in the same paper put the split between bisexual and gay women at around 42-58. Some studies suggest there are more bisexual men than gay men, another suggested there are more gay women than bisexual women.

The point is that these are all just estimations, and not something on which to base your worldview. Sylvester told Reddit last month that he “made an honest attempt to understand the reality, and applied that to the game as [he] learned it.”

This back-and-forth goes on for almost every point in Lo’s article. Lo said colonists with disabilities are found less attractive; men are eight times as likely as women to attempt a romance; physical beauty is the only trait that governs attractiveness; there are no bisexual men; there are only bisexual or gay women; women find men younger than them unattractive; men consider women 15 years older than themselves unattractive; no matter how old a man, a non-gay woman can find them somewhat attractive.

A chart from Lo’s article showing how women view attractiveness.

Sylvester typically said the issues raised by Lo were the result of code being misunderstood or misrepresented, a symptom of a game in development, or a bug. The full counter-argument is on Reddit for anyone to read, but regardless, Sylvester told me that to try and derive his “personal real-life moral beliefs” from reading decompiled code “would not be reasonable,” adding that “those who have tried so far have been radically off the mark.”

I’m not sure if, on its own, a developer’s naivety when it comes to gender and sexuality is enough to put me off playing a game, especially if they’re committed to fixing many of the issues. But, as tends to happen on the internet, tweets from Sylvester soon began circulating, highlighting what appears to be the developer defending Gamergate idols and, more upsettingly, an abhorrent game that involves gunning down members of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which it “satirically” calls a terrorist group.

Sylvester categorically denied supporting either GamerGate or the alt-right when I asked him. Regarding the BLM game, he said he “never expressed support for its content.” Instead, he said he was expressing “the belief that mega-corporations like Google should not shut down unpopular speech.”

I told Sylvester that my home country (the UK) has laws that, while supporting free speech generally, restrict the use of racist, hateful or threatening communication. He said that restricting freedom of speech “sounds great when it’s controlled by people you agree with,” pointing to Donald Trump’s election win as evidence that this won’t always be the case.

“Speech controls sound great when you imagine they’ll be controlled by people you agree with — but when you realize they’ll also someday be wielded by people on the other side, they sound very, very bad.”

The result of all these events is that I don’t know exactly what or who to believe. As a big RimWorld fan, Lo’s article was very disconcerting, as were the tweets that surfaced. Also worrying was Sylvester’s initial reaction. Prior to the more-measured Reddit post, he had commented quite combatively below Lo’s article, calling it an “anger-farming hit piece,” a “moralistic witch hunt” and “the worst kind of click-bait.” While I accept that, due to my line of work, I’m overly sensitive to this kind of attack, I feel strongly that this is not an appropriate response to criticism.

I understand that, for many people, the behavior or opinions of a developer, or indeed the political content of a game, are inconsequential. But my opinion of RimWorld was tarnished by Lo’s article, the furor that followed it and especially his standing up for the makers of a horrifically upsetting game. Tarnished to the point where I no longer wanted to play the game. As Sylvester explained to the alt-right publication Breitbart last month, while discussing developer trust: “There’s the old adage, right? Don’t listen to what people say. Watch what they do. And that’s how you really get to know who people are.”

But why shouldn’t I play RimWorld? Sylvester is accused of no crime. He simply created a game with a flawed portrayal of sexuality, and holds some views I disagree with. Do I really need to like a person to enjoy something they’ve made?

RimWorld, in so many ways, is an equalizing game. Sure, I have been frustrated by aspects of its relationship mechanics, especially regarding bisexuality, but given that it’s still in active development, I figured these were things that would be fixed. In general, I saw RimWorld as a game where a person’s gender and sexuality is often inconsequential. Indeed, unimportant enough that I often lost track of which of my colonists were male or female, gay or straight.

But I think that’s where my problem lies: I played this game, believing that it offered a neutral outlook on society, and it didn’t. While I would never claim that this was Sylvester’s intention, I worry that I misled myself. I worry that the game was indoctrinating me to change my views.

I’ve held that fear before. I was eight years old, and entirely unaware of Vanity Fair’s existence, when “Mia’s Story,” an article examining the private life of Woody Allen, was published. Over the following fifteen years, I probably watched Annie Hall, Manhattan, and other Allen movies dozens of times. By the time I came across the allegation that Allen had sexually abused his adopted children, I had venerated him as a director, writer and actor.

allen.jpg

Initially, I didn’t see an issue with enjoying Allen’s films. Then, the doubt started to creep in.

Initially, I didn’t see an issue with enjoying the films while despising the man. Then, the doubt started to creep in. That throwaway dialog about finding underage women attractive; the scene that blends sexuality and a father role; or seeing “the Allen character” dating someone far his younger; it all began to make me extremely uncomfortable. None of these things really stood out for me before I knew of the allegations. But now, I feel like, at least a little, Allen normalized these behaviors for me. I don’t recall the last time I watched one of his movies.

While writing this article, I reached out to Lo, whose background is in comparative media study including queer and feminist theory as it applies to video games, to see if she could help me make sense of things. I wanted to know if it was unreasonable to struggle to separate creator and creation.

“Knowing what I now do about the romance system in RimWorld does affect my enjoyment of the game,” Lo said. What she could once write off as curiosities or quirks, she now interprets “as a reminder of systems that have been designed in order to make certain situations more common than others.” The quirks of the random number generator were just a system working as expected. “And what the system has been designed for,” Lo continued, “is a world in which stories and experiences that I value do not exist.”

“With the knowledge that the code of the game limits the scope of possible scenarios, it’s harder for me to excuse those uncomfortable phenomena as just a quirk of the random number generator.”

Like myself, Lo bought the game without knowing about the developer or his views. She argues that RimWorld “serves as a very clear example that the biases of the author can, and do, influence how their work is produced.”

Lo, however, said it was important to not dismiss works off-hand just because you disagree with their creators. She talked of studying Martin Heidegger, a philosopher who was a member of the Nazi Party, of watching the films of D. W. Griffiths, and of reading texts by early suffragettes who were homophobic or racist. “The point was not to automatically dismiss everything they said or did, but to see if there was anything worth salvaging, or if there were any points made that were worthwhile in spite of their various political affiliations.”

I struggle with that. Griffiths’ The Birth of a Nation, Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will; these are perhaps the two most important films of their era, and yet both are full of hateful ideology. I can’t fully appreciate Riefenstahl’s innovative techniques because I know what she used them for.

There is a reason why I can watch Riefenstahl’s Olympia, however uncomfortable it makes me, but not be able to listen to Lostprophets. It comes down to knowledge. Ian Watkins, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and every recent fallen idol — their disgraces and infractions came after I’d been introduced to their work. I felt cheated. Duped into accepting the creation without understanding the creator.

Time makes a big difference. H. P. Lovecraft’s works contain a worldview that is deeply troubling. There are brilliant tales in there, though, and ideas that have birthed a generation of fantasy writers. The Lovecraftian stories that are being written today are typically not driven by racism and classism, but by an appreciation of the original concepts. Modern authors are using his art to build their own stories that represent their own ideals.

RimWorld is not a book, nor does it have a narrative. Like Lovecraftian mythos today, it’s more of a sandbox for people to shape their own tales. But while authors are able to excise Lovecraft’s outmoded archetypes from their stories, Sylvester’s misconceptions of gender and sexual orientation actively restrict the scope of the fiction that you can build within the game. As Lo put it to me, “RimWorld is telling stories about a certain vision of the world, and the code is the way it is because its writer believes that this is an accurate reflection of how the world works.”

watkins.jpg

Ian Watkins, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and every recent fallen idol — their disgraces and infractions came after I’d been introduced to their work. I felt cheated. Duped into accepting the creation without understanding the creator.

Sylvester disagreed that RimWorld limits players’ abilities to experience a full-breadth of human relationships through their colonists. “There are a full range of gay and straight lovers, marriages, breakups, divorces, cheating and reconciliation, family loyalty and rivalry, and so on, and there are no limits as to which character can take which actions,” he said. “Of course there are some things we don’t have the time or technology to simulate. But if you’re looking for the breadth of human relationships I struggle to think of a game that provides more, and we are always improving.”

This man clearly isn’t a monster, and there are many (perhaps even a majority) who wouldn’t find his views even remotely offensive. But the internet, and in particular sites like Twitter and Reddit, gives us a window into the minds of the creator that we haven’t had before. It shows us the flaws in our idols, and forces us to either brush them aside, or disconnect.

RimWorld won’t be the last game that pushes me away, and Sylvester won’t be the last creative to disappoint me. So can you detangle artist from their art? That’s an intensely subjective question. With time, and enough separation, I do regain some ability to objectively judge things on their own merits. But in the here and now, I find it almost impossible.

A full transcript of the Q+A with Tynan Sylvester is available here.

Image credits: Andrew Benge / Redferns via Getty Images (Ian Watkins photo), United Artists (Manhattan still), Ludeon Studios (RimWorld screenshots).

23
Nov

History Between Steve Jobs and Pixar Highlighted in New Book ‘To Pixar and Beyond’


Steve Jobs’ history with the now-acclaimed animation studio Pixar began in 1986 when the former Apple CEO purchased The Graphics Group, which was one third of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm, renamed it Pixar Animation Studios, and began guiding it into a burgeoning feature film production company. In a new book called To Pixar and Beyond, written by former Pixar chief financial officer Lawrence Levy, the history between Jobs and Pixar is highlighted and deepened by looking at the struggling early years of the studio (via Bloomberg).

With the subtitle “My Unlikely Journey With Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History,” Levy’s financial knowledge of Pixar’s early days helps to put the struggles that Jobs had in the mid-nineties with the company into context. By 1994, Jobs was said to have spent $50 million investing in Pixar, and his workings with some of the company’s employees was reported as being “frayed.”

Pixar executives circa 1995: Lawrence Levy, CFO; Ed Catmull, CTO; Steve Jobs, CEO; John Lasseter, VP of Creative; Sarah McArthur, VP of Production
Working in 1994 as a technology executive within Silicon Valley, Levy said he received a call from Jobs that November and soon after became Pixar’s CFO due to viewing rough footage of what would eventually become Toy Story, which was one year from debuting in theaters. Following the success of that movie, Levy remembered looking into the original deal Jobs made with Disney, and much of his new book describes the lengths the two went through to validate Pixar’s worth within the larger context of Disney, eventually leading to the 2006 purchase of Pixar by Disney.

The book isn’t all business, however, with a few sections apparently offering “more insight” into the world of Steve Jobs when he wasn’t working at Apple.

For those who can’t get enough of Jobs, Levy offers more insight into his world. A neighbor of Jobs in Palo Alto, California, back in the day, Levy describes a surprisingly laid-back scene where he could simply stroll through the entrepreneur’s back door and go on long weekend walks with him, chatting about the business. The more controlling side of the future billionaire also comes across, as Levy describes a carefully choreographed Fortune profile in 1995 that rankled Pixar staffers because it focused mostly on Jobs.

Levy’s book ends at the sale in 2006, with Bloomberg noting that “readers looking for more of Pixar’s recent history won’t find it here.” The history of the studio within the book accounts for movies ranging from Toy Story to The Incredibles, but doesn’t include any behind-the-scenes knowledge of more recent releases, like last year’s Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur.

To Pixar and Beyond can be purchased on the iBooks Store for $14.99. [Direct Link]

(Image via This Day in Pixar)

Tags: Disney, Steve Jobs, Pixar
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23
Nov

Target to Offer 15% Off All Apple Products on Sunday and Cyber Monday


Target has announced it will be offering 15% off all Apple products, including the iPhone and Apple Watch, online and in stores on Sunday, November 27 and Monday, November 28. The two-day Cyber Monday event will begin on early Sunday morning.

The 15% discount will be automatically applied at checkout both online and in stores during the sale. No promo code or in-store coupon will be required. Target.com orders ship for free in the United States throughout the holidays.

Target will be offering additional discounts during Cyber Week, between November 27 and December 3, including deals on the Xbox One and Samsung smart TVs.

Tags: Target, Cyber Monday
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23
Nov

Microsoft Launches Classic Solitaire Game on iOS


Microsoft today launched the “Microsoft Solitaire Collection” on iOS and Android, a package of classic Solitaire games that include Klondike, Spider, FreeCell, Pyramid, and Tripeaks. As noted by The Verge, Microsoft’s version of Solitaire has been available on Windows for more than 25 years, but this marks the first time that the game has been extended to other platforms.

The app will offer daily challenges for players, with four varying levels of difficulty, and Xbox Live integration will let anyone with a subscription to Microsoft’s console service sign into their account, compete with friends, and earn achievements. Cloud saves will allow for multi-device use as well.

The World’s #1 Solitaire game is now on iPhone and iPad! For over 25 years, Microsoft Solitaire Collection remains one of the most played games of all time and is now available FREE for your iPhone or iPad! The Microsoft Solitaire Collection offers FIVE of the best Solitaire card games in one app!

Microsoft Solitaire Collection is available to download for free from the iOS App Store [Direct Link], and there’s also a premium upgrade that gets rid of ads, includes double rewards bonuses, and offers other incentives for $1.99 per month.

Tag: Microsoft
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