Some dense reading for your morning about N3XT and nanotube based processors

Subject: General Tech | December 17, 2015 - 12:35 PM |
Tagged: N3XT, nanotubes, TSV

The achillies heel of processing density is heat and how to radiate it away from the parts doing the work, which is why processors and memory tend to be very flat.  This has change, we have begun to see 3D VNAND become common on the marketplace thanks to reduced heat generation and a variety of arcane tricks some of which Al explained last year.  Processors offer a more significant challenge, the TDP is much larger than that of flash and hotspots are more common and have a much more drastic effect on performance.  They can also be more difficult to fabricate; there is quite a trick to baking the interior of the chip without overcooking the external layers

Stanford University is working on what they call Nano-Engineered Computing Systems Technology, or N3XT which is working on Through Silicon Vias for processors. If successful this would allow a similar structure to current 3D VNAND on a processor which would vastly increase processing density.  The lower temperatures required to fab carbon nanotube transistors may just be what the industry has needed.  Make sure your brain is turned on and read on at The Inquirer.

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"One way in which Stanford University is exploring this is by using carbon nanotube technology in high-rise chip architecture processes. Working alongside other universities, Stanford engineers have created this new technology, which it calls Nano-Engineered Computing Systems Technology, or N3XT."

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Source: The Inquirer

This One Takes It to 11! Windows 10 Insider Build 11082

Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 06:20 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

A new build is available for Windows 10 at the Insider Fast update level. This one is numbered 11082, and it is the first one on the “Redstone” track. Users will probably not notice any changes, beyond the bugs, because the modifications are all under-the-hood. They are working on the core of the operating system, called “OneCore,” to restructure it better for the wide variety of hardware that it's designed for.

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This raises the question: Why now? It's odd that they would release a public preview that seemingly adds nothing, just before the holidays when the engineers will be unavailable to fix it. That feels like replacing the first floor of a building from wood to maybe-not-quite-set concrete, then hopping on a plane for a few weeks. Of course, this is not a bad thing. This is what some Insiders want to experience, and those who don't can drop down to Slow (or leave Insider).

Also, Microsoft sort-of explained why they did this. First, they intend to get down to business on features and upgrades in January. Basically, they structured their work such that pre-Holiday tasks built the infrastructure for post-Holiday creations (as I mentioned in the first paragraph). Big development tasks are often done on branches of a canonical product that are merged when complete. Merging a branch back into the trunk is easier when the trunk is designed more modularly, etc. In that context, it makes sense to see how it reacts in a large sample of configurations just before you start pushing big feature payloads into it. The second explanation is that Microsoft intends to speed up Insider previews in general.

If you're interested, WinBeta has a video “walking through” the features, although they basically just read the announcement. They also checked to see whether Microsoft Edge changed to add extensions, and it didn't.

A list of known issues is also available in the Insider Hub app post. Basically, Language packs and "Features on Demand" will not install. File progress dialogues will not show (even though the actual copy / move / delete will work without issue). Finally, some default apps will be incorrectly reset.

It is available through Windows Update for Fast Insiders.

Source: Microsoft

Mountain climbing with an Oculus

Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: gaming, Oculus, crytek, the climb

Crytek announced their designed for Oculus game yesterday, The Climb.  As you might infer from the title of the game you will be scaling cliffs and mountains using either an Xbox One controller or Oculus Touch with your Oculus to experience something that would not be anywhere near as interesting on a computer monitor.  The disembodied hands are a little disturbing, though perhaps not as much as the heights will be for those who suffer from vertigo, though perhaps this would be an interesting way to try to conquer your fears.  The video below shows off the graphics, though not as immersive as it would be in VR it still looks rather interesting.  Many developers are looking to space sims to be the killer app for Oculus, for instance EVE Valkyrie come as part of the pre-order bundle shipped with the first consumer model.

Crytek might have just found the other style of game to interest people in the Oculus, extreme sports could be very compelling with the new VR headset.

"The Climb invites thrill-seekers to experience the ultimate in extreme sports by going beyond the point of no return and scaling deadly cliff faces unaided. The game boasts hyper-realistic climbing locations from around the world, and players will discover the freedom of gaming with the Rift using either an Xbox One controller or Oculus Touch controllers as they soak up their awe-inspiring surroundings."

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Source: The Climb

You should upgrade to Win10 now ... or now ... or how about now ... maybe now ... now might be a good time ...

Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 12:16 PM |
Tagged: windows 10

You could do it now ... or tonight ... or maybe we will just do it for you while you are away because we are such nice people and we know you are really concerned about running the latest OS and security patches.

Yes that's right folks, if you have yet to take advantage of Microsoft's generosity they will soon be making you an offer that is impossible to refuse ... almost.  The nag screens have been updated to offer two obvious choices, Upgrade Now or Upgrade Tonight, with that little red x in the corner being the only way to turn down the offer.  By now you have probably had relatives reach out to you about this latest virus, or your friends explain how this proves Microsoft is out to eat your brainwaves or some such thing. 

What it does mean is that the average user is going to be rather miffed but will likely upgrade if they are not privy to the secret of the red x.  Those who don't use their computers often, or who will be away for the holidays will come home to a shiny new OS in the very near future as Windows 10 has reached Recommended Update status and will install itself on all Win7/8x systems not configured to defer updates.  The smell of desperation is in the air, the knowledgeable have already chosen to upgrade or to disable the nag screens while the unaware are about to encounter a surprise and we all know how well unexpected surprises are received lately.

Why Microsoft is so desperate to push this free upgrade out, even to with the risk of alienating their largest user base, barring corporations who they had to exempt, is somewhat of a mystery.  Then again, it is better than snatching the upgrade away before the originally announced year and billing full price on the next upgrade cycle.  Perhaps they are looking at Amazon's success with subscription based cloud services with a bit of jealousy?

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"We spoke to Microsoft about our concerns last month and were told that "the average user ... wants to make sure they've got the most secure and always up-to-date version of Windows, and the feedback we get is that people want that to be as simple and seamless as possible""

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Source: The Register

Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows Now Supports 7, 8.x

Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 07:20 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, Windows 8.1, windows 8, Windows 7, windows 10, microsoft

Last week, Microsoft announced that the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows now supports Windows 7 and 8.x. Previously, the dongle would only work on Windows 10, which meant that other operating systems required Xbox One controllers to be wired.

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This does not mean that all functionality will be available on Windows 7 and 8.x, though. The Xbox Accessories app is required to manage profiles and update firmware without an Xbox One console. As far as I can tell, that will continue to be the case. If you have an Xbox One console, and don't mind managing the controllers there, then this wireless adapter might be for you. If you have don't have an Xbox One console, Windows 10, or an existing Xbox One controller, then you may want to reconsider getting an Xbox One controller at all. If you do, then you can turn it wireless, now even on Windows 7 and 8.x.

The Xbox One Wireless Adapter for Windows has been out for a couple of months.

V-MODA lets you add a personal touch with their Crossfade Wireless Headset

Subject: General Tech | December 15, 2015 - 03:43 PM |
Tagged: audio, v-moda, crossfade wireless, wireless headset

Considering the way that Beats and other headsets seem to sell based on the recognizable and rather colourful look of their headsets side panels, V-MODA has created product to try to compete on that level.  When you order your headset you can choose between a wide variety of 3D printed side panels in a variety of materials and designs up to and including solid platinum for a mere $27,000 or so.  For the less financially gifted there are other precious metals, fibre, aluminium and steel side panels to place your design on.  V-MODA offers a variety of designs that can be etched on the sides or you can even upload your own design, though as you do authorize V-MODA to use the design make sure it is yours to use. 

The remaining question is how the headsets sound, both while wired and over Bluetooth.  They are based off of the Crossfade M-100s which may be familiar to you, otherwise you can read what Techgage thought of the sound in their full review.

V-MODA-Crossfade-Wireless-Bluetooth-Headset-Feature-Image-680x499.jpg

"Are you in the market for some high-end wireless headphones but crave something a little different? V-MODA may have something of interest. With a range of 3D printed customizable headphones available in a variety of materials, including metal, the Crossfade Wireless certainly has our ears perked."

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Source: Techgage

Netflix is re-encoding their catalog in the coming year

Subject: General Tech | December 15, 2015 - 01:16 PM |
Tagged: Netflix, encoding

In what must be one of the most impressive encoding projects in recent memory, Netflix will be re-encoding their entire catalogue to try to reduce the bandwidth required to stream their content by 20%.  As we mentioned last week, 70% of the downstream bandwidth on the internet is streamed content and you can expect that Netflix accounts for quite a bit of this bandwidth.  The reduced traffic will help Netflix provide content to those with data caps as well as reducing the associated costs Netflix incurs when storing and sending data so the investment is well worth it.

The project itself will be quite interesting, they cannot simply switch to H.265 as most of the hardware connecting to their services still use a dedicated H.264 decoder.  Another challenge is the size of their catalogue, they can't sit down and encode each video separately as a whole, instead they have to find a way to spread the tasks over multiple servers, each taking a small portion of a show.  Additionally their are challenges specific to certain videos, fog and darkness suffer when they are encoded poorly and must be dealt with separately from content which does not show as much noise when encoded to a low bit rate.  Check out the links from Slashdot for more information on this project but be warned, the discussions include My Little Pony references.

*****update*** 

Our awesome reader John Fielding provided a link to the Netflix blog which goes into far more detail.

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"Netflix has spent four years developing a new and more efficient video-encoding process that can shave off 20% in terms of space and bandwidth without reducing the quality of streamed video. With streaming video accounting for 70% of broadband use, the saving is much-needed, although the advent of 4K streaming, higher frame rates and HDR are likely to account for it all soon after."

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Source: Slashdot

Microsoft's penitent weekend

Subject: General Tech | December 14, 2015 - 12:22 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, Surface Pro, surface book

Along with the apology and reversal of their OneDrive policy, Microsoft has also apologized to customers about several issues that many have experienced with their new Surface Pro and Surface Books.  The complaints started on a forum, as usual, with several users encountering screen flickering when using the devices.  However the complaints quickly spread and even an interim firmware update was unable to resolve the issue.  On Friday Microsoft officially apologized for the ongoing issue which has persisted through numerous updates and promise to have more updates available soon, hopefully one of which will permanently resolve the issue.  The Register also mentions several other issues which users have experienced in their article this morning.

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"Buyers have complained on Microsoft user forums about several faults with the machines since their launch earlier this year, including a "weird screen flicker", slowness in waking from sleep mode and worse than expected battery life. Surface Book"

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Allows Opt-in to Grandfather Your Free OneDrive

Subject: General Tech | December 12, 2015 - 09:54 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, onedrive

A month and a half ago, Microsoft announced that they would roll back OneDrive storage plans. Subscription OneDrive storage would return to 1TB, down from unlimited. Free OneDrive was hit, too. The service offered 15GB (with a bonus 15GB for using Camera Roll). That was also scheduled to be reduced to 5GB, with no Camera Roll bonus. Users were naturally upset at having their free storage reduced by a factor of 6.

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These changes will still take effect in early 2016, but not for everyone. If you are a current user with 15GB base storage, you can opt-in to being grandfathered by clicking a link. You will apparently also retain your 15GB camera roll bonus, if applicable, too. This will not be available for new customers, although there might be still time to sneak in, especially if you have a Hotmail / Microsoft Account / .NET / Passport / Passport Network / Live ID / Microsoft Account (again) / whatever they call it now account. Wouldn't hurt to check what OneDrive offers you today, and try to lock it in.

The Ars Technica article is a bit ambiguous about current Unlimited users. I mean, I guess it won't hurt to try. Be sure to let us know if you're successful. It sounds like it only applies to free tiers, though.

I guess it's nice that Microsoft allows users to be retain their settings. It's interesting that they require opt-in, though. This satisfies the users who are most likely to object, but it directs future users to subscribe. You know, unless they find old news posts on Google.

Source: Microsoft

It's getting crowded in the server room already and Qualcomm wants in

Subject: General Tech | December 11, 2015 - 12:16 PM |
Tagged: server, qualcomm

AMD and Intel have been fighting it out in the server room for a while and have had to shift their tactics towards more efficient processors which merely sip at power compared to the first decade of this century.  Coming from the other direction IBM and ARM design teams have been increasing the power of their chips and their ability to work together to match AMD and Intel's performance while still trying to maintain a lead on power efficiency.  Now, according to what DigiTimes has been hearing, Qualcomm is ready to take advantage of its ARM license to officially move into the server market.  Their initial design will sport 24 cores, provide support for VM environments and will be Linux compatible.  Keep an eye on Xilinx and Mellanox Technologies as they were the companies who have announced plans to release products based on Qualcomm's designs.

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"Qualcomm, which announced plans to begin developing ARM-based chips for servers in November 2014, has started delivering server-use CPU samples to potential clients and has also set up a company in Guizhou, China to promote the CPUs exclusively."

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Source: DigiTimes

New Valve Steam Controller Software and Factory Video

Subject: General Tech | December 11, 2015 - 08:37 AM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller

Valve updated the Steam Controller software, driven mostly by community feedback, statistics, and direct enhancements from lead users. This update allows users to bind media key inputs to the desktop so that the controller can adjust volume, play, pause, and skip when it is not being used to game. They also added context menus for hotkeys, so they can be accessible from the controller without each action taking up a whole button. It sounds like an analogy for the Q command rose in games like Battlefield, just in your input device drivers (and customizable).

valve-2015-steam-controller-front.jpg

There were two other features that caught my eye. First, controller profiles will soon be sharable for non-Steam games (if you add them to your Steam library). This may or may not be useful for titles from Blizzard or Riot Games. Would sharing profiles really help these games be playable with a controller? Either way, there are certainly some titles that will benefit from this, especially those purchased on GoG. The other addition is “Controller HUD.” Basically, when enabled, it shows the pressed inputs on screen. It sounds like Valve intended this to be a debug mechanism for creating profiles, but it could be very useful for video streamers (especially speedrunners).

Lastly, and this is purely for entertainment value, Valve published a video of their factory. Someone decided that it would be hilarious to stick Aperture Laboratories on various machines. It's pure promotional fluff... but cool fluff.

Source: Valve

Logitech G Announces Arx Control Challenge for Developers

Subject: General Tech | December 10, 2015 - 08:47 PM |
Tagged: software development, logitech g, logitech, developers, contest

Logitech G has announced their Arx Control Challenge, a global contest for game developers to create the best Arx Control app with the chance to win $5,000 in cash and Logitech G gear.

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"Logitech G is looking for next-level innovators — skilled developers with a passion for gaming and creating. We are releasing the ARX Control Software Development Kit so you have the chance to invent on the cutting-edge. Give it your all and you could win cash, gear and acclaim.

The Challenge begins December 9, 2015. Submit your app before February 29, 2016 to put your creation in the running.

THE PRIZE IS YOURS, IF YOU CAN PROVE YOURSELF.

1st Place:

  • $5,000 USD cash prize
  • Professionally produced spotlight video for your app
  • Worldwide exposure on Logitech G’s global social media channels
  • Three full sets of Logitech G gaming gear

2nd and 3rd Place:

  • Worldwide exposure on Logitech G’s global social media channels
  • One full set of Logitech G gear"

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So what exactly is Arx Control?

"Arx Control is a new app from Logitech G that works with Logitech Gaming Software (LGS), giving you access to a wide range of in-game display information on your mobile device, including in-game intelligence, vital system performance statistics and media controls. 

The Logitech® G410 Atlas Spectrum TKL Mechanical Gaming Keyboard and the Logitech® G910 Orion Spark RGB Mechanical Keyboard both feature an adjustable dock that supports most iOS® and Android™ devices, providing easy access to your Arx Control data.

The Arx Control dock can also be pulled out and placed anywhere on your desk for easy viewing. Using Logitech G’s Arx Control SDK, game developers can create customized apps to deliver content special to their games.

Major developers like Valve Software are working with Logitech to take advantage of the ARX Development kit to create advanced integration for their most popular games."

The Arx Control challenge starts now and runs through Feb. 29, 2016. Complete rules and more information is available here.

Source: Logitech G

Wired and wireless together in some sort of Chimera-like mouse

Subject: General Tech | December 10, 2015 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: IOGear, chimera m2, gaming mouse, wireless mouse, input

Yes, IOGear has merged wired and wireless connectivity into a strange hybrid of gaming mouse, the Chimera M2.  There are even two sensors, an optical for when you are connected via a wire and a low powered IR sensor for when you are not.  You get up to 2000DPI when plugged in and up to 1600 when you are in the so called 'office mode'.  Overclockers Club found the mouse comfortable in their hands and were impressed with the ~$40 price tag.  Check out the full review for more information and a peek at the trick that the charge has as well.

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"I also am not really a fan of wireless mice because I hate when things die on me, as I am too lazy to plug them in. But I have not recharged this mouse in the two weeks I have been using it, and I just went down to one battery light today. The plus is that if I do run low, I can plug directly into the mouse and charge while using it, so no worries there anymore. If I had to pick one quarrel with this mouse, it would not be the mouse itself, but the fact I don’t know what the battery lights are measured at."

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Update your AntiVirus software and you won't have to worry

Subject: General Tech | December 10, 2015 - 01:37 PM |
Tagged: security, avg, Kaspersky, mcafee

To reverse the usual order, the good news is that AVG fixed the issue a while ago, as have Intel, owner of McAfee, as well as Kaspersky.  The bad news is that this exploit is rather nasty and was completely avoidable with a bit of forethought.  Of all the programs to follow a predictable pattern, AV software is the last one you would want to see do so.  There is a tool over at github to allow you to check your own vulnerability.  Personal machines should be good to go but as The Register mentions, at least one Enterprise level AV program is vulnerable and those definitions are often updated along a different path that consumer level products. 

Chances are you are safe, but you should probably double check.

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"In March, researchers at security firm enSilo found a serious flaw in popular free antivirus engine AVG Internet Security 2015. They found that the software was allocating memory for read, write, and execute (RWX) permissions in a predictable address that an attacker could use to inject code into a target system."

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Source: The Register

Humble Bundle for Neo Geo 25th Anniversary

Subject: General Tech | December 9, 2015 - 06:04 PM |
Tagged: snk, pc gaming, humble bundle

The Neo Geo was created by SNK as an arcade and commercial video game system. The hardware made its way into an (expensive) home console in 1990, with almost every arcade game available for it. This was back in an era where new arcade cabinets overshadowed consoles in quality. Granted, the Neo Geo doesn't quite fit in that pigeonhole, especially when you look at games at the end of its product cycle. Its draw, as an arcade cabinet, was its ability to store multiple games simultaneously.

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1990 is now 25 years ago, and Humble Bundle has a huge collection of their titles for the next handful of days. These franchises include Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, Metal Slug, Sengoku, and more. They are all PC ports, of course. While some titles haven't been announced yet, most of them are available DRM-free on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Web (Chrome and Firefox). The two (current) exceptions are The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match Final Edition and The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match, which are both Windows-only Steam keys.

The bundle lasts until Tuesday, December 22nd at 2pm EST (UTC - 5).

Now that's a Golf game!

Subject: General Tech | December 9, 2015 - 01:17 PM |
Tagged: gaming, no goblin, 100ft robot golf

Developers No Goblin have come up with a golf game that actually looks like a lot of fun to play and if Tiger Woods is in there somewhere he will end up smooshed under the foot of a 100' tall robot.   Instead of taking a pro golfer in funny pants you instead romp through the world as an incredibly destructive giant mech with a penchant for whacking everything around them, up to and including a golf ball.  Is there a skyscraper in the way of your shot?  No worries, wander over and smash it down before hitting the ball.  A competitor getting ahead of you?  Why not handicap them, in a rather literal sense!  Check out the video below or head over to Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN for a link to the game page.

"100ft Robot Golf – there’s a fantastic game name for you. Pretty much everything it is can be deduced from that name. The second game from Roundabout folks No Goblin, it’ll see giant golfbots playing on – and smashing through – courses across cities, mountains, and moons."

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Sure ... it's the filesharing that takes up all the bandwidth

Subject: General Tech | December 8, 2015 - 12:43 PM |
Tagged: bandwidth, streaming, fud

The next time you hear someone harping about how the tubes are clogged with filesharing, either legal or illegal, as the reason why your internet is slow or dropping out you should reference this chart.  According to Sandvine, who would tend to know this sort of thing, just over 65% of all traffic is media streaming.  Chances are that the vast majority of that traffic is legal, coming from Netflix, YouTube, Spotify and the wide variety of other online content providers.  Indeed, chances are you pay to use that service so when your connection degrades and you contact your ISP about it make sure to have this handy as a reference. 

If those companies want to charge you for a service they should actually provide it and not try to blame their lack of infrastructure or insight on something else.  Unfortunately they will probably ignore the data and the only result of knowing this will be a sharp increase in your blood pressure.  Still, knowing is half the battle so head to re/code for a look at the charts they have compiled into this article.

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"Here’s the latest breakdown from broadband services company Sandvine of “fixed access” — for the purposes of this piece, read it as “home broadband” — Internet usage during peak evening hours. That big red bar in the middle is the one to focus on."

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Source: re/code

These 3 Systems Will Leave You Shocked...

Subject: General Tech | December 8, 2015 - 08:41 AM |
Tagged: system shock, pc gaming, otherside entertainment, night dive studios

Otherside Entertainment is a relatively new game studio, founded in 2014, that is working on a crowdfunded fantasy RPG called Underworld Ascendant. Apparently, they are also working on System Shock 3.

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Well, at least a teaser page says the words “System Shock 3” and has a copyright notice from Otherside Entertainment. I believe that it is fairly reasonable to jump to the aforementioned conclusion with the provided information. The rights to Systen Shock are currently in the hands of Night Dive Studios, which has been reviving old (~90s-era) PC games. They are also in the news for a few screenshots of the upcoming Turok and Turok 2 remaster.

One of the most interesting parts about all of this is that Otherside Entertainment was founded by the founder of Blue Sky Productions, later renamed Looking Glass Studios, who co-developed System Shock 2 with Irrational Games. More Looking Glass alumni than just the founder are at Otherside too, but I don't know how many were from that era and team.

WebGL Leaves "Preview" with Unity 5.3

Subject: General Tech | December 8, 2015 - 07:30 AM |
Tagged: webgl, Unity

WebGL is a Web standard that allows issuing OpenGL ES 2.0-based instructions to compatible graphics cards, which is just about everything today. It has programmable vertex and fragment (pixel) shaders with a decent amount of flexibility. Engines like Unity have been looking toward using this technology as a compile target, because Web browsers are ubiquitous, relatively user friendly, and based on standards that anyone could implement should a work of art benefit from preservation.

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Image Credit: Mozilla

Until Unity 5.3, this feature was in “preview” levels of support. This upcoming release, scheduled for today according to their roadmap, drops this moniker. It is now a build target with official support.

To run WebGL applications that are built in Unity, the vast majority of features target recent versions of Firefox, Chrome, and Edge for Windows 10 Version 1511. (The November Update for Windows 10 added the ability to lock the mouse cursor, which is obviously useful for mouse and keyboard titles.)

We're still a long way from web browsers being equivalent to game consoles. That said, they are catching up fast. You could easily have an experience that shames the last generation, especially when WebGL 2 lands, and you don't have to worry about what happens in 10, 40, or even hundreds of years as long as society deems your art worthy for preservation. I do hope that some artists and serious developers take real advantage of it, though. Shovelware could obscure its power and confuse users, and we know they will be pretty much first out of the gate.

Source: Unity

Blizzard Says Overwatch's New Heroes and Maps Will Be Free

Subject: General Tech | December 7, 2015 - 09:28 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, overwatch, blizzard

Jeff Kaplan of Blizzard has just announced, in the December 7th Overwatch Developer Update, embedded below, that maps and characters will always be patched in as free updates. This is particularly interesting because the game is often viewed as Team Fortress 2 being distilled through a DOTA 2 filter. Those games offer purchases of specific weapons or heroes (Update December 8th @6:15pm ET: I meant League of Legends when I was talking about hero purchasing -- I changed it to DOTA 2 for Valve symmetry, but they apparently don't sell heroes), respectively, which would be an easy way to monetize the title. The problem is that it could lead to a situation where a team doesn't have the necessary tools to counter a strategy that the opponent is fielding, not because of in-game logistics, but because the players didn't buy some piece of content ahead-of-time.

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Note that, while I haven't played the game, I've been hearing that weapon loadouts for individual heros will not be a part of the game, free or otherwise. A chosen hero will be the same across all players. I say this because Blizzard hasn't denied the potential for weapons or loadouts as DLC, but that seems to be because they're not even considering them at all.

Beyond heroes, maps will also be patched in for free. This is likely for a different purpose, of course. Heroes make a huge impact on the balancing of a game and the list of available strategies. The decision to release maps for free is likely to prevent parties from being split up because individual members don't have all the required content. StarCraft II approached this issue by allowing all members of a party to be upgraded to the highest-level member until the group is disbanded. For a game like Overwatch though, which seems likely to have more than two or three tiers of content, segmenting off a handful of maps unless you play with friends is probably too petty to monetize. Might as well just give it to everyone and charge once at the door.

Here is TotalBiscuit's thoughts on this issue and others, from before this announcement.

The beta for Overwatch will be shut down on December 10th for the holidays. It is expected to reopen in January. I'm guessing that they have an update planned, but they don't want to push it until after the holidays for support reasons. Thus, rather than leave an old build open for a month, where people begin to judge its already-fixed quirks with holiday binge-gaming, they decided to just pull it. They might as well let anticipation build, and welcome back users with something new after the holidays. This is just speculation, though.

Source: Blizzard