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15
Jun

‘Forza Motorsport 7’ has more than just 4K to offer Xbox racers


When Microsoft announced Forza Motorsport 7, it was easy to focus on its eye-popping 4K resolution while maintaining 60fps, but the most important question is always, “How does it drive?” After some time playing with a gamepad, I can report that the realistic driving model Turn 10 has refined throughout the series’ run is here and better than ever. Later, during a closed-door demonstration, I heard a bit about and saw some features that will be in the game when it ships this fall, like dynamic clouds that cast moving shadows on the track.

Forza 7 Horizontal No Logo 2

I tried out a demo showing off the new Porsche that was revealed on stage here earlier in the week. I also tried a big rig and even a race-specced Nissan GT-R. But this time, despite the 700 cars that will be in the game, the most important change wasn’t inside the vehicles — it’s what was going on outside, where new dynamic weather effects wreaked havoc on the track.

Driving the Porsche on a desert track, sand occasionally blew across the road, affecting grip and handling (and making me long for the seemingly inevitable snow tracks or expansions). While this series’ tick-tock cousin Forza Horizon has featured changing weather effects before, their inclusion in Forza Motorsport 7 brings it to the race track, where even a small difference in traction can send cars flying while drivers hunt for an extra tenth of a second in each corner.

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Microsoft

Driving in the wet was even more impressive. As a field of 20+ GT race cars took on the Nurburgring F1 track, a rainstorm began and progressively increased throughout the laps. Puddles formed, lightning flashed and dealing with the weather made it impossible to anticipate what might be around the next bend. That’s going to help keep things fresh for players who have logged hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in various car sims, for whom even the selection of cars and tracks — the team says that, with over 30 environments, this is the largest track list in a Forza game ever — will wear off relatively quickly. If you’re wondering about the AI, it didn’t appear to be any different from previous games, although I was playing on low- to medium-difficulty levels.

The team also mentioned that the handling model has been improved, although I think experienced players will find it very familiar. With the emphasis on environment, even track temperatures can change during a race, which will affect the car’s handling and grip. I didn’t get a chance to try it out with a racing wheel, but naturally, FM7 supports that kind of setup as well — in fact, on PC, Turn 10 says it will support every fan-requested wheel, including PlayStation accessories.

Forza 7 Lineup

For less-aspirational gamers, don’t worry, there are changes in store that won’t require a new TV. The damage modeling is also getting an update so that now your cars can have pieces become loose and rattle, based on the same physics engine that powers everything else. Higher-quality textures, shades and lighting mean the graphics should look better even if you don’t have a 4K TV to play it on.

All Forza players will be able to appreciate the revamped campaign system. I wasn’t able to test it out in the E3 demo, but Turn 10 Creative Director Bill Giese explained how Forza Motorsport 7 will introduce The Forza Driver’s Cup, with a “motorsport-inspired” points system that adds up your rewards after every race, allowing you to unlock cars or customizations for your driver avatar — of which there are tons, celebrating the fact that in this game, your driver is spending more time out of the car. There are now six major championships with their own varieties of cars and classes.

Each series allows you to rank up within it, doing all kinds of different races and avoiding the “start with a slow car” trend that usually plagues sim racers. Also, an important part of progressing (beyond just leveling up via XP you earn everywhere) is adding more cars to your collection, which will let you get more bonuses from each race, plus the showcase cars that can only be obtained in the campaign mode.

Forza 7 Ferrari Sunset 4K

We haven’t heard much about the multiplayer, but in a blog post the team talked about “enhanced Leagues, Mixer integration, and enhanced spectating modes” with an eye towards boosting the series’ esports appeal. What they could tell us is that this time around, the lobby is moved to the pits — no, we didn’t see a pit crew — where players can take a Forzavista look at their high-res cars, change settings or take practice laps before the race starts. In the garage menu or on the track, virtual speakers will blast out tunes (possibly yours streaming from OneDrive or the game’s), that you’ll hear as you take laps. Finally, the “interactive loading” means you’ll be able to change settings while tracks and cars load before a race.

As usual, Forza Motorsport 7 is coming home this fall, with three variants available for preorder: the Standard, Deluxe and Ultimate editions, for $60, $80 or $100, respectively, with increasing bonuses as you go along. The game’s release date is October 3rd, but preordering the Ultimate edition will unlock early access starting September 29th.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

Source: Forza Motorsport

15
Jun

This self-driving grocery store has no employees


The idea of a fully automated grocery store with no human employees might sound strange (or very appealing, depending on just how much you hate interacting with people), and now, Shanghai residents can visit one for themselves. The Swedish company Wheelys is testing a mobile grocery store with no staff — and it can drive itself.

In order to shop at Moby, you first have to download an app to your phone. That’s what gets you through the door, which is otherwise kept locked. You then walk through the store — which is very small, fitting a maximum of four people at once — and place your purchases into a smart basket. When you’re ready, you simply walk out the door. You’re automatically charged for the food you purchased. It’s a concept that Amazon has been working on, but Wheelys may beat the retail giant to market. What’s more, the solar-powered Moby is designed to restock itself automatically, driving to a warehouse, while another identical unit takes its place.

While Wheelys is testing its first Moby store in the bustling city of Shanghai, these autonomous, unmanned stores could also prove very useful in small, rural towns where grocery shops have closed, as well as urban food deserts. “I grew up in the countryside in Northern Sweden,” said Tomas Mazetti, one of Wheelys’ founders, to Fast Company. “The last store closed there in the 1980s sometime, and after that, everyone just commuted into the city, but that takes an hour. A little piece of the village died. Now, suddenly, in a place like that, the village can team up and buy one of these stores. If the village is really small, [the store] can move around to different villages.”

The company is hoping to make these mobile markets affordable for small groups of people. They estimate a community could purchase a Moby store for around $30,000, with an additional fee for logistical support. Eventually, the company wants to expand beyond groceries, as well as test the home delivery services.

Via: Popular Mechanics

Source: Fast Company

15
Jun

Telegram founder says US government tried to bribe developers


Dismissed as a WhatsApp clone when it launched in August 2013, Telegram has grown like a weed. The messaging service now counts more than 100 million monthly active users, who have flocked to the platform to play games, make video calls, interact with bots and, perhaps most importantly, benefit from its end-to-end encryption. Telegram’s size and its desire to keep private messages truly private (although that has been debated) likely made it the target of US government, which reportedly tried to bribe its developers and influence its founder Pavel Durov last year.

“During our team’s one-week visit to the US last year we had two attempts to bribe our devs by US agencies + pressure on me from the FBI,” Durov said in a tweet posted in reply to criticism of his app. In another, he said that developers would be “naive” to think that they could “run an independent/secure crypto app based in the US.”

Although Durov’s comments have not yet been verified, they highlight a trend where the US government has attempted to interfere with so-called encrypted services. Following the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, officials called for end-to-end encryption to be “backdoored” for surveillance access, which would have seen services like WhatsApp, Telegram and iMessage all made open to intelligence services.

Telegram messages aren’t encrypted by default, but the service allows “secret chats” which are protected. This apparently made it a valuable platform for pro-ISIS groups and resulted in the company blocking 78 ISIS-related channels in 12 languages shortly after the Paris attacks. Some groups went on to set up their own social networks to spread propaganda.

In defending his app, Durov has thrown shade at rival app Signal. Signal, which offers its own secure apps and also provides the encryption framework for services like WhatsApp and Google’s Allo, was named in an unverified tweet that mentioned the possibility of it being compromised.

“The encryption of Signal (=WhatsApp, FB) was funded by the US Government. I predict a backdoor will be found there within 5 years from now,” Durov claimed in yet another tweet. He’s so certain, he’s willing to lay down $1 million on it happening.

Via: Wired

Source: Pavel Durov (Twitter)

15
Jun

UK defense company sold powerful surveillance tech to Mid East


The BBC reported today that the UK defense company BAE systems sold powerful surveillance technology to a number of countries in the Middle East. The report comes after a year-long investigation spearheaded by BBC Arabic and the Danish newspaper, Dagbladet Information.

The surveillance technology in question was sold through ETI, a Danish subsidiary of BAE systems. It had created a system called Evident that let governments conduct mass surveillance, which included pinpointing a person’s location via cell phone data, viewing the entirety of someone’s online activity and even decrypting messages. According to a BBC source, Evident could let you intercept an entire country’s internet traffic.

BAE sold the surveillance technology to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco and Algeria. One source said Tunisian president Ben Ali used Evident against opponents during the Arab Spring uprisings.

According to some email exchanges between British and Danish export authorities obtained by the BBC, the UK made it clear that they didn’t want Evident to be exported to the UAE. The British authorities said they would deny such an export if it were up to them, but the Danish authorities approved the sale nonetheless.

The Evident sales were made completely legally. But with government surveillance of citizens taking place on a number of fronts, this kind of technology in anyone’s hands seems like a bad idea.

Via: The Guardian

Source: BBC

15
Jun

At last, you can get Microsoft Office from the Windows Store


The excellent Surface Laptop is now available in stores, and Microsoft Office is now in the Windows Store for the first time. This is a necessary step in Microsoft’s plan for laptop domination, as the Surface Laptop is the first computer that runs Windows 10S — a custom version of Windows that can only run and install apps from Microsoft’s official software storefront. Of course, Microsoft’s web versions of the Office apps are pretty robust at this point (and they’ll work with the Surface Laptop), but some users won’t be happy without a desktop app for offline access, among other features.

Technically speaking, Office in the Windows Store is in “preview” — a Microsoft support article states that “while Office itself is not in preview, Office is using new install and update processes that are in preview.” Because of that early release status, Microsoft is giving a free one-year subscription to Office 365 personal to with a Windows 10S device. If you’re not using a Windows 10S device, you won’t be able to install Office via the Windows Store until it’s out of preview (fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to get Office on those computers).

Microsoft notes a few other restrictions for Office on Windows 10S: it’s only a 32-bit version, the COM add-in tools won’t work and the OneNote 2016 desktop app isn’t ready yet. You’ll have to install the universal Windows Platform app instead. For most people, these won’t be deal-breakers, and the free year of access should more than make up for any pain here.

Source: Microsoft

15
Jun

Amazon has the tech to thwart comparison shoppers in its stores


Amazon’s low prices, exclusive discounts and quick delivery have lured customers away from traditional brick and mortar stores for years, but their reach has been mostly limited to the online sphere. Until now, that is. Amazon has just been granted a patent to control what you see (and what you don’t) on your phone when you’re inside one of their physical stores.

The patent, ominously titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” is for technology that examines what a person is searching for when connected to a retail WiFi network — that is, a WiFi network provided by and located within a store, such as an Amazon bricks-and-mortar location. The technology can actually determine whether you’re searching for a competitor’s item online and take subsequent action.

If the tech finds that you are, indeed, comparison shopping on your phone, it will take one or more “control actions,” including fully blocking access to the content, redirecting your phone or sending a sales representative to talk to you. It can also check whether Amazon’s product is more desirable — say, lower priced — at which point, it will allow you to see the information. We’ve reached out to Amazon for a comment and will update with any additional information we receive.

While this tech may seem disturbing (and it is) it’s also a bit funny. After all, Amazon has been using underhanded tactics to undermine traditional retail shopping left and right, releasing apps to price compare and purchase items at Amazon while you’re browsing in competitor’s stores. It’s amusing that they’ve gotten so good at it that, now, Amazon wants to prevent buyers from practicing the behavior at its own retail locations that it nurtured in the first place.

Via: Squawker

Source: Patent US 9,665,881 B1

15
Jun

‘OK K.O.’ is a brilliant cartoon with a game to match


With his small, boxy stature and pin-thin legs, K.O. doesn’t look like much of a superhero. But that’s the whole point of OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, an animated series from Cartoon Network. The titular character is a powerhouse-in-training, full of naive wonder and a hunger to pummel bad guys. He works in a convenience store run by Mr. Gar, one of the world’s greatest superheroes, alongside fellow rookies Radicles and Enid. Together they battle the mischievous robots sent from a factory called Boxmore across the road, learning about friendship and hard work along the way.

The show will premiere this fall with, if all goes to plan, a tie-in game called OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes alongside it. The release is unusual for two reasons: One, this type of game is usually developed after a show has been released and drawn a large, lucrative audience. Two, they’re typically low-quality or made by studios with a lacklustre pedigree. Capy Games, meanwhile, is an independent studio with bags of talent. It started its business with licensed games, but has since released a string of original hits, including Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Super Time Force.

The show

The collaboration wouldn’t have been possible without Ian Jones-Quartey. The writer, storyboard artist, animator and voice actor has worked on a range of cartoons, including Adventure Time and Steven Universe. In 2011, he pitched a show to Cartoon Network that combined two of his favorite pastimes, video games and wrestling, as well as his experiences growing up and working in a strip mall. That became Lakewood Plaza Turbo, a pilot that Jones-Quartey wrapped up in 2012. Cartoon Network was intrigued by the idea and asked if he would develop the concept further using a mobile game.

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Ian Jones-Quartey, creator of OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes.

Cartoon Network

OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo was released on iOS and Android in February 2016, alongside three animated shorts. Additional “minisodes” were released on YouTube in December and January 2017, fleshing out the world and the colorful characters who inhabit it. Jones-Quartey and the show’s executive producer, Toby Jones, worked on the storyboards; however, each episode was animated by a different studio. They all have a unique style, but are clearly part of a collective whole. If you watch them all in one swoop you’ll have a thorough understanding of K.O., his friends, and what makes them such interesting characters.

The game, the shorts — it was all necessary to greenlight the full series. “All of that stuff was us figuring out more about the show itself,” Jones explains. “We took what we learned from all of those different game-centric things to help develop and get the show picked up. We repitched it and said, ‘This is what we’ve learned, this is where we’re at’ and it got [Cartoon Network] all the more excited about it and led to [OK K.O.] finally becoming a show.”

Cartoon Network’s gaming division knew the team at Capybara Games and told them about the project. Before long, Jones-Quartey and Jones were in a room with a couple of storyboards pitching the Toronto-based studio their vision for OK K.O. “We get asked a lot to make games for other people’s stuff, like other licenses, brands and IPs, and we always say no because it’s never really enough space for us to create the thing that we feel passionate about creating,” Nathan Vella, co-founder and president of Capy Games said. But this project was different. Cartoon Network was pitching a parallel production that would encourage experimentation and unique, creative treatments.

“It was a very strange thing for us to agree to collaborate and create based on something that only barely existed,” Vella said. “I mean, the trust that Ian and Toby put in us to do right by their creation, we were also putting trust in them to not screw it up.”

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The game

Capy’s game is a bright, cheery blend of genres. It’s partly an adventure game, with meticulously drawn 2D environments portraying Lakewood Plaza, Gar’s Bodega and the robot Boxmore factory. You run around as K.O. and pick up quests from the show’s standout characters: One mission, for instance, has you hiding in the carpark to catch an elusive vandal who keeps spray painting Rad’s van. The culprit, unsurprisingly, is an android that wants nothing more than to make your life a misery. It’s here that the game then shifts into a 2D fighter, with simple but stylish combos and special summons.

“This is a game that I’ve really wanted to make,” Vella says. “I love fighting games, I love brawlers and I love marrying genres together. In the history of Capy, we’ve never really made something that fits in that fighting-game-brawling space, even though it’s my favorite genre. So this game is something that’s been percolating at the studio and at some point we probably would have wanted to make.” The game has plenty of throwbacks to the show and humor that can be enjoyed by all ages. It’s also surprisingly deep, with a combat system that doles out style, strength and other useful stat bonuses depending on your performance in battle.

“We were figuring things out in the show at the same time as they were figuring them out in the game,” Jones-Quartey said. “So week-to-week, any time we came up with something, be it a new design, a new storyboard, new animatics, things we working on for the show, Capy had access to all of it. So we were just sharing whatever we were making with them, and they were sharing their stuff with us. They were telling us about solutions they were coming up with, and then we would be like, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea, maybe we can work that into the show.’”

It’s a true collaboration that wouldn’t have been possible unless Jones-Quartey was willing to give up a degree of creative control. He describes OK K.O. as a “playground” for creativity, a property that embraces different interpretations. The show and the game, for instance, have completely different art styles, like the shorts that were released on YouTube. “One of the things I was a big proponent of very early on was, ‘Look, instead of having a stranglehold on what it is, we should just find people who we trust and whose taste we like and just set them free,’” Jones-Quartey said.

“We were given complete license to do our own art, our own music, our own writing, our own gameplay,” Vella says. “And that was the focus. We didn’t have to fight for that, that was the push.”

That freedom is fast becoming a model for the video-game industry. The best licensed titles, like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, have (almost) completely original stories. They’re based on properties that people love, but have unique, refreshing takes on the world, characters and lore.

“Batman and Shadow of Mordor are important because they’re showing other developers that you’re not stuck in this little, itty-bitty bubble,” Vella says. “We’ve made those games in the past. When we were starting out, we did all licensed work, and it was awful, it was an extremely taxing way to build because we were building with no room to move. It was: There’s six months, there’s a release that has to happen, there’s a design that was written by somebody else already. And it has to be on brand, all of your models have to look exactly right … the stuff that’s great in games is everything that pushes past it.”

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Toby Jones, co-executive producer on OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, and Ian Jones-Quartey.

A different Cartoon Network

The project represents a shift in thinking at Cartoon Network. Video games are no longer an afterthought or secondary to animation. Shows are now conceived with the idea that they could be adapted and released in many different forms. It all started three years ago, when Rob Sorcher, Cartoon Network’s chief content officer, decided to move the game production and publishing group inside the core content team. “At that point, we were no longer on the tail-end of the development process, but at the very beginning,” Chris Waldron, vice president for games and digital products at Cartoon Network, said.

That setup allows Waldron and his team to approach show creators earlier in the development process. If there’s a game-like reference or theme, it can be discussed and possibly nurtured into something that would work as a side project. Waldron can then look at signing a game developer who has the same sort of outlook and sensibilities as the show’s creators.

OK K.O. is a unique case because of how long it spent in a conceptual development state. Nevertheless, it seems likely that this sort of collaboration will happen again, two teams with different backgrounds and areas of technical expertise working together to bring a charming world to life. It means that however you first experience OK K.O., whether that’s the game or the show, you’re getting something that’s high-quality and stands on its own merits.

“A dream for us is for someone to play the game having never even seen the show and just be like, ‘What a cool game!’ And get interested in the characters that way. If they watch the show, great. But we want each thing to be the best thing for its individual medium,” Jones said.

15
Jun

Google wants to speed up image recognition in mobile apps


Cloud-based AI is so last year, because now the major push from companies like chip-designer ARM, Facebook and Apple is to fit deep learning onto your smartphone. Google wants to spread the deep learning to more developers, so it has unveiled a mobile AI vision model called MobileNets. The idea is to enable low-powered image recognition that’s already trained, so that developers can add imaging features without using slow, data-hungry and potentially intrusive cloud computing.

Google has made the app open-source so any developer can adopt it. It can perform chores like object detection, face attribute recognition, fine-grained classification (recognizing a dog-breed, for instance) and landmark recognition. The tech is part of TensorFlow, Google’s deep learning model that recently shrunk down to mobile size in a new version called TensorFlow Lite.

MobileNets is not one-size-fits-all, as Google has actually built 16 pre-trained models “for use in mobile projects of all sizes.” The larger the model, the better it is at recognizing landmarks, faces or doggos, with the most CPU-intensive ones hitting scores of between 70.7 and 89.5 percent accuracy. Those aren’t far from Google’s cloud-based AI, which can recognize and caption objects with around 94 percent accuracy, last we checked.

With different pre-trained models at their disposal, developers can pick one that best suits the memory and processing requirements for an app. To integrate the new models, developers need to use TensorFlow Mobile, a system designed to ease deployment of AI apps on iOS and Android.

From a consumer standpoint, you’ll likely start to see apps that can do basic image identification and other useful functions, with more speed, less data use and better privacy. An example of that could be Google’s new Lens product, which can pick out landmarks, products and faces using a combination of smartphone and cloud processing. The tech probably won’t hit its stride, though, until we see new chips that support it — and both Google and Apple are already working on that.

Source: Google

15
Jun

Apple Watch Celebrates Your Birthday With a Special Message in watchOS 4


Among multiple software announcements that came out of WWDC last week, Apple unveiled details about watchOS 4, the newest operating system that will arrive on Apple Watch devices later this fall. As developers spend more time with the watchOS 4 beta, new surprises in the software become uncovered, and now MacRumors forum member mrToasty has come across a previously unseen birthday-related message that Apple has included in watchOS 4.

On your birthday, Apple will send a “Happy Birthday!” notification to your Apple Watch, and when you tap on it your watch face will be showered with celebratory balloons. The addition looks visually similar to the “Balloons” screen effect that launched in the iOS 10 Messages app last year. You can watch the full Happy Birthday animation in the video below, which was originally posted by David Boyle on YouTube.

Some of the big changes coming in watchOS 4 include a collection of Activity-focused updates with more personalized achievements for the Workout app, and communication features between Apple Watch and compatible gym equipment. There are also enhancements to the Music app, and a new Siri watch face that will dynamically update based on the time of day and your daily routines, and showcase important data from apps like Activity, Alarms, Breathe, Calendar, Maps, Reminders, Wallet, and more.


Check out the MacRumors watchOS 4 roundup for a complete list of everything we know that’s coming in the software update.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch Series 2, watchOS 3, watchOS 4
Buyer’s Guide: Apple Watch (Neutral)
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15
Jun

Spotify Continues to Grow Faster Than Apple Music Thanks to Free Tier


Spotify today announced it now has over 140 million subscribers worldwide, including users that only listen to the free ad-supported tier.

Spotify last said it had over 100 million subscribers in June 2016, so it has gained around 40 million listeners in one year to remain the world’s largest streaming music service. Spotify didn’t update its number of paying subscribers, which stood at over 50 million worldwide as of March 2017.

By comparison, Apple at its Worldwide Developers Conference last week announced that Apple Music now has 27 million paying subscribers, just weeks before the streaming music service turns two years old. Apple Music doesn’t have a free tier, and Apple doesn’t regularly disclose how many users are using the free trial.

Last year, Spotify vice president Jonathan Forster said Apple Music has helped, not hurt, their business by raising the popularity of streaming music services overall. He added that, at the time, Spotify was growing more quickly and adding more users since Apple Music launched, a trend that appears to be continuing.

“It’s great that Apple is in the game,” Forster told Reuters. “They are definitely raising the profile of streaming. It is hard to build an industry on your own.”

While many artists remain critical about Spotify’s free ad-supported tier, longtime holdout Taylor Swift reversed course last week and made her catalog of music available on most streaming music services. Swift’s music was previously exclusive to Apple Music, only after Apple agreed to pay artists during its free trial period.

Spotify’s revenue grew more than 50 percent, to $3.3 billion last year, according to the company’s latest financial statement. The company has committed to spending more than $2 billion in payments to record labels over the next two years.

Tags: Spotify, Apple Music
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