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Streaming and Cloud Computing Endanger Modding and Game PreservationMarch 20 @ 9 PM source

Services like Google's Stadia seem convenient, but they could completely change the past and future of video games, writes Rich Whitehouse, a video game preservationist and veteran programmer in the video game industry. From the story: For most of today's games, modding isn't an especially friendly process. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, people like me are digging into these games and reverse engineering data formats in order to create tools which allow users to mod the games. Once that data starts only existing on a server somewhere, we can no longer see it, and we can no longer change it. I expect some publishers/developers to respond to this by explicitly supporting modifications in their games, but ultimately, this will come with limitations and, most likely, censorship. As such, this represents an end of an era, where we're free to dig into these games and make whatever we want out of them. As someone who got their start in game development through modding, I think this sucks. It is also arguably not a healthy direction for the video game industry to head in. Dota 2, Counter-Strike, and other massively popular games that generate millions of dollars annually, all got their start as user-modifications of existing video games from big publishers. Will we still get the new Counter-Strike if users can't mod their games?

[...] The bigger problem here, as I see it, is analysis and preservation. There is so much more history to a video game than the playable end result conveys. When the data and code driving a game exists only on a remote server, we can't look at it, and we can't learn from it. Reverse engineering a game gives us tons of insight into its development, from lost and hidden features to actual development decisions. Indeed, even with optimizing compilers and well-defined dependency trees which help to cull unused data out of retail builds, many of the popular major releases of today have plenty waiting to be discovered and documented. We're already living in a world where the story of a game's development remains largely hidden from the public, and the bits that trickle out through presentations and conferences are well-filtered, and often omit important information merely because it might not be well-received, might make the developer look bad, etc. This ultimately offers up a deeply flawed, relatively sparse historical record.

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Valve's Steam Link Will Let You Stream Your PC Games AnywhereMarch 16 @ 1 AM source

Valve has announced the "early beta" release of Steam Link Anywhere, which will enable streamed gaming to any compatible device, and Steam Networking Sockets APIs, granting developers access to the technology and infrastructure that underlies CS:GO and Dota 2. PC Gamer reports: Steam Link Anywhere is an extension of Steam Link that will enable users to connect to their PCs and play games from anywhere (thus the name), rather than being limited to a local network. It's compatible with both the Steam Link hardware and app, and will be rolled out automatically (and freely) to everyone who owns the hardware with beta firmware installed, the Android app beta, or the Raspberry Pi app. You'll also need to be enrolled in the Steam client beta, and have the latest version installed. Assuming you've got all that covered, you'll see an "Other Computer" option on the screen when searching for computers to connect to via Steam Link. Select that, follow the instructions, and you'll be set. Valve didn't provide specific network requirements but said you'll need "a high upload speed from your computer and strong network connection to your Steam Link device" in order to use it.

Steam Networking Sockets APIs isn't as flashy (and that "flash" is definitely relative) but is aimed squarely at developers, and could be even more significant to Steam's fortunes given the pressure it's facing from the Epic Games Store: It enables developers to run their game traffic through Valve's own private gaming network, providing players "faster and more secure connections." It's free for developers, and "a large portion" of the API is now open source, which could be a pretty big draw for devs look to incorporate online play with a minimum of fuss. If that's your bag, you can get more detailed information at steamcommunity.com, and Valve will be talking about the new feature in-depth at a Game Developer's Conference panel next Thursday, March 21.

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Steam Link Anywhere Will Let You Stream Your PC's Games On the GoMarch 15 @ 6 AM source

Valve is expanding its Steam Link game-streaming feature in a big way with Steam Link Anywhere, a new service that will allow you to stream your Steam games from your computer to anywhere in the world through Steam Link hardware or the Steam Link app. From a report: Steam Link Anywhere is an extension of Steam Link that will enable users to connect to their PCs and play games from anywhere (thus the name), rather than being limited to a local network. It's compatible with both the Steam Link hardware and app, and will be rolled out automatically (and freely) to everyone who owns the hardware with beta firmware installed, the Android app beta, or the Raspberry Pi app. You'll also need to be enrolled in the Steam client beta, and have the latest version installed. Assuming you've got all that covered, you'll see an "Other Computer" option on the screen when searching for computers to connect to via Steam Link. Select that, follow the instructions, and you'll be set. Valve didn't provide specific network requirements but said you'll need "a high upload speed from your computer and strong network connection to your Steam Link device" in order to use it.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Microsoft Announces Xbox Live For Any iOS Or Android GameMarch 14 @ 9 PM source

Microsoft is bringing its Xbox Live network to iOS and Android devices. "The software giant is launching a new cross-platform mobile software development kit (SDK) for game developers to bring Xbox Live functionality to games that run on iOS and Android," reports The Verge. "Xbox Live features like achievements, Gamerscore, hero stats, friend lists, clubs, and even some family settings will all be available on iOS and Android." From the report: It's all part of a bigger push from Microsoft to make its Xbox games and services available across multiple platforms. Game developers will be able to pick and choose parts of Xbox Live to integrate into their games, and it will all be enabled through a single sign-in to a Microsoft Account. Microsoft is using its identity network to support login, privacy, online safety, and child accounts. Microsoft wants game developers to take a similar Minecraft approach and bring Xbox Live to more mobile games. Some iOS and Android games already have Xbox Live Achievements, but they're only enabled in titles from Microsoft Studios at the moment and this new SDK will open up Xbox Live functionality to many more games.

If you were hoping to see Xbox Live on Nintendo Switch then you might have to wait a little longer. "Our goal is to really unite the 2 billion gamers of the world and we're big fans of our Xbox Live community, but we don't have any specific announcements as it relates to Switch today," reveals Choudhry. Xbox Live on PlayStation 4 also looks unlikely, but Microsoft is open to the idea if Sony is willing to allow it. "If you've watched us for the past few years, we've taken a very inclusive approach," says Choudhry. "Phil [Spencer] has been very proactive on issues like crossplay, cross-progression, and uniting gamer networks, and we're willing to partner with the industry as much as we possibly can."

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PS4's Remote Play Update Lets You Stream To iOS DevicesMarch 8 @ 8 AM source

Version 6.50 of the PlayStation 4's firmware now allows you to remotely play your PS4 games from an iPhone or iPad. "To access it, you'll need to download the Remote Play app for your iOS device, and then pair it with your console," reports The Verge. "Compatible games can then be played over Wi-Fi using the on-screen buttons." From the report: Announced back in 2013, Remote Play originally let you stream games from a PS4 console to the handheld PlayStation Vita, but later in 2016, Sony released Remote Play apps for both Windows and Mac. Although Sony has yet to announce a broader Android version of the service, the existence of an Android version of the app that's exclusive to Sony Xperia phones suggests there aren't any technical barriers. Bringing the functionality to iOS is a huge expansion for Remote Play, although it's a shame that you're not officially able to pair a DualShock 4 controller with the app via Bluetooth for a more authentic experience (although some users have reported being able to get the controller working via a sneaky workaround). If you're prepared to use a non-Sony controller, then you'll be happy to know that MacStories is reporting that other MFi gamepads (such as the SteelSeries Nimbus) work just fine with the iOS app. Other limitations with the functionality are that you'll need an iPhone 7 or 6th-generation iPad or later to use it, and it's also only available over Wi-Fi. You can't use Remote Play from another location over a mobile network. PS4 version 6.50 also adds the ability for you to remap the X and O buttons on the controller.

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The Washington Post Decries 'Toxicity' in VideogamesMarch 3 @ 10 PM source

This week the Washington Post shared the story of 20-year-old Sam Haberern, who was playing Call of Duty on his Xbox when the other players "started asking him whether he had ever testified in court or murdered anyone."
"They said they were from Maryland and that they were going to come and kill me," he said. By then it was 3 a.m., and Haberern decided to quit. One of the gamers in the party then sent him a message via Xbox Live. It contained his home address. Next his house phone rang, then his mother's cellphone. A message appeared on his TV screen from one of the party members -- it was asking why he didn't answer... Haberern contacted Microsoft, which makes Xbox, via its website and reported what happened. Unsatisfied with that process, he then typed a Reddit post, which would go viral, asking what recourse was available to him. The varied and ultimately unsatisfying answers centered on a common theme: There was no good solution.
Toxic behavior in competitive activities is not a new development, nor is it exclusive to video gaming, as social media users can attest. But its persistence amid a rapidly rising medium -- both in terms of users and revenue -- spotlights the question of why undesirable or, in some cases, criminal interactions have been so difficult for the video-game industry or law enforcement to eliminate. Now, with technological advances in online multiplayer games and video gaming's increased prevalence worldwide, a growing percentage of the population is becoming unwittingly exposed to a slew of abusive acts that are only becoming more visible. While game publishers, console makers, online voice-chat applications and even the FBI are aware of these issues and working to confront them, complications stemming from modern technology and gaming practices, freedom of speech concerns, and a lack of chargeable offenses on the legal side make toxic elements a challenge to extinguish.... Ambiguities within the U.S. legal system have played a role in constraining the efforts of law enforcement during the era of online gaming.
After the death threats, Haberern didn't contact the police, but questioned whether Microsoft was creating a safe environment for kids.
The next day, he was back to playing videogames. "But I definitely don't accept invites from people."

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Microsoft Takes a Big Step Towards Putting Xbox Games On WindowsFebruary 26 @ 2 PM source

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica, written by Peter Bright: Ever since the first Xbox was released, an obvious question has been hanging in the air: Microsoft already owns one of the premier gaming platforms, the PC, and both the original Xbox and the current Xbox One are more or less PCs anyway, so when is Microsoft going to bring the two together and let us play Xbox games on Windows? With the new Windows 10 builds, it looks like the company is taking some big steps in that direction. Microsoft has put big chunks of the Xbox infrastructure into Windows 10. This starts right from the moment you download the game: it's coming from the Xbox distribution servers, not the usual ones for Store apps. The game package itself uses a format called .xvc, which is used for Xbox One games, and there are PowerShell commands to work with these .xvc files and install .xvc games. Microsoft Gaming Services includes portions of this Xbox infrastructure; it includes a couple of drivers ("Microsoft Gaming Filesystem Driver" and "Microsoft Gaming Install Filter Driver"), along with a number of libraries that provide Xbox APIs.

The last few Windows 10 preview builds have included some vague instructions from Microsoft to install a special edition of a game, State of Decay, and report any problems with the process. There are no problems with playing the game but, rather, problems with installing and launching it. The instructions didn't give any indication as to why or what to look for. Naturally, people have been taking a closer look to see what's special about State of Decay and figure out why Microsoft is having Windows Insiders test it. Nazmus Khandaker, Rafael Rivera, and the pseudonymous WalkingCat have been poking around both the special edition of State of Decay and a helper application called Microsoft Gaming Services that insider machines are running. Brad Sams wrote up his findings. [...] The State of Decay package does nonetheless contain PC-oriented elements. In particular, it tries to install and update the DirectX runtime during its setup. We the users don't seem to be at the stage of simply running Xbox games unmodified on our PCs, or at least, not yet. But it looks as if the groundwork is being laid. The strange preview of a 2020 Windows release looks like it contains even more of this infrastructure, with signs of a layer to support Xbox's Direct3D variant on PC. "Microsoft could go the whole hog and simply make a Windows 10 PC with a suitable hardware spec into an Xbox that can play any Xbox game," writes Bright, adding: "it might just be there as a simple option for developers to enable if they choose."

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Google Is Expected To Reveal Game Streaming Service At GDC In MarchFebruary 21 @ 1 AM source

Google has sent out invites to this year's Game Developers Conference (GDC) press event, where the company is expected to unveil a new game streaming product. ExtremeTech reports: There have been rumors about a Google game stream product or service for several years. Initially, leaks pointed to a hardware platform called Yeti that would stream games to a connected display. In late 2018, Google rolled out a game streaming test called Project Stream. To publicize the demo, it worked with Ubisoft to give everyone free access to the new Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Google wrapped up Project Stream in early 2019, offering players a free copy of Assassin's Creed Odyssey as thanks. Of course, you'd need a real gaming PC to run that version.

Google's GDC event will take place on March 19th at 10 AM Pacific. All we know for sure is that Google is there to talk about a gaming project. It just seems extremely likely that it will be a new phase for Project Stream. It might remain browser-only, but Google does have a giant network of TV's out there with Chromecast streaming dongles plugged in. If it could leverage those to stream games, it could instantly have as many eyeballs as Sony or Microsoft.

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Developers Accuse Sony of 'Playing Favorites' With PS4's Cross-Platform SupportFebruary 14 @ 7 PM source

After years of fighting the idea, Sony announced last September it is finally bringing "cross-platform gameplay, progression, and commerce" to the PlayStation Network, with Fortnite as the first example. Months later, the company's efforts have yet to gain wide traction and now we may have identified the bottleneck: Sony. Several major third-party developers have accused the company of standing in the way of letting the PS4 versions of their games play nicely with other platforms. ArsTechnica reports: "We just launched Wargroove with crossplay between PC, Switch, and Xbox," Chucklefish CEO Finn "Tiy" Brice wrote on the ResetEra forums. "We made many requests for crossplay (both through our [Sony] account manager and directly with higher-ups) all the way up until release month. We were told in no uncertain terms that it was not going to happen." Brice's comments came days after new Hi-Rez Studios CEO Stew Chisam tweeted at Sony that the studio was "ready to go when you are" for cross-play on Smite, Paladins, and Realm Royale. "It's time to stop playing favorites and tear down the crossplay/progression wall for everyone," he said.

In a follow-up tweet, Chisam explained that Xbox/Switch cross-play has led to a direct improvement in the Paladins online user experience, including reduced wait times, more balanced matchmaking, and fewer "bad" matches overall. Brice's comments in particular come in direct response (and contradiction) to a recent Game Informer interview in which Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden said that cross-play was open to pretty much any PS4 developer that wants it.

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An AI Is Playing Pictionary To Figure Out How the World WorksFebruary 6 @ 2 AM source

Researchers at the Allen Institute for AI (Ai2) believe that Pictionary could push machine intelligence beyond its current limits. To that end, they have devised an online version of the game that pairs a human player with an AI program. MIT Technology Review reports: In case you've never played it before, Pictionary involves trying to draw an image that conveys a written word or phrase for your teammates to guess. This tests a person's drawing skills but also the ability to convey complex meaning using simple concepts. Given the phrase "wedding ring," for example, a player might try to draw the object itself but also a bride and groom or a wedding ceremony.

That makes it the perfect vehicle to help teach machines. The team developed an online version of the game, called Iconary, that pairs a user with an AI bot called AllenAI. Both take turns as the artist and the guesser. Playing as artist, a user is given a phrase and then has to sketch things to convey it. The sketches are first turned into clip-art icons using computer vision; then the computer program tries to guess the phrase using a database of words and concepts and the relationship between them. If the program gets only part of the phrase, it will ask for another image to clarify. The AI program uses a combination of AI techniques to draw and guess. Over time, by playing against enough people, AllenAI should learn from their common-sense understanding of how concepts (like "books" and "pages") go together in everyday life, Fahadi says. It will also help the researchers explore ways for humans and machines to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

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