Updated: Sep 21, 2021 10:46 am EDT (GMT -04:00)

Tuesday, Sep 21, 2021

Activision Blizzard Workplace Update; SEC Investigation Confirmed

Embroiled in a California Labor Lawsuit and a just-revealed SEC investigation into workplace harassment allegations, Activision Blizzard provides an update on workplace conditions at the company. On what may or may not be a related note, a LinkedIn post from Claire Hart also announces her resignation as Chief Legal Officer at Blizzard (thanks PC Gamer). The press release from Activision Blizzard includes a direct confirmation of the SEC probe: "It also confirmed that it is complying with a recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) subpoena issued to the Company and several current and former employees and executives regarding disclosures on employment matters and related issues. The Company is confident in its prior disclosures and is cooperating with the SEC’s investigation." The press release includes comments from Bobby Kotick on the company's commitment towards inclusivity and what he describes as cooperation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing who have inspired this new approach. Word is the Human Resources department took a lot of the bullets on this one:
Activision Blizzard has made a number of important improvements including significant changes to personnel, exiting a number of employees, and expanding compliance resources. In addition, the Company has refreshed its HR organization and, this week, will welcome a new Chief People Officer, Julie Hodges, who joins the Company from The Walt Disney Company. The Company has also expanded training, performance management, and anti-harassment resources.

The Company remains committed to ensuring it is the most welcoming, inclusive game company and connecting and engaging its 400 million players through epic entertainment created by the very best people in the industry.

Halo Infinite Tech Preview Plans

A new novel-length Inside Infinite Newsletter on the Official Halo Website has details on two upcoming Halo Infinite tech preview sessions. The first begins this weekend, and as was recently announced, is open to all who signed up as Insiders last week. The second test is the following weekend. Who is invited to that one is not clear, so if you're interested, maybe it's time to sign up as an Insider to make sure that base is covered. Here's more on the plan:
Our primary goal for these two tech previews will be to test our online services at a larger scale than ever before. To achieve this goal, all Halo Insiders with eligible accounts as of September 13 will be invited to participate. To help focus our population and test our servers even more, matchmaking will be limited to set periods of time each day. You can find out more about those matchmaking windows below. Jumping on during these play sessions will help us prepare our on online services ahead of launch. We will also be expanding our audience ahead of the second weekend, so you and your friends (who may have forgotten to register as Halo Insiders in time) can join us for some Big Team Battle and push the servers even further. Stay tuned for more information on that within the next week.
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Valve's Playing Games While They Download Patent Application

A post on Free Patents Online has the details on a patent application from Valve Corporation that covers a method for allowing gamers to begin playing a game while it is still downloading (thanks ResetEra). The twist here is this will not require any additional programming or changes to individual games. Here's a bit combining legalese with tech jargon for an especially readable experience:
Client machines running game executables of a video game(s) may utilize a file system proxy component that is configured to track read operations made by the game executable during a game session, to generate access data based on the tracked read operations, and to report the access data to a remote system. This telemetry approach allows the remote system to collect access data reported by multiple client machines, to catalogue the access data according to client system configuration, and to analyze the access data to generate data that is usable by client machines to implement various game-related features including, without limitation, “instant play” of video games, discarding of unused blocks of game data to free up local memory resources, and/or local prefetching of game data for reducing latency during gameplay.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Released

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is now available for Windows on the Epic Games Store, offering a single-player action/adventure from Ember Lab. This is also available as a Digital Deluxe Edition, which includes the soundtrack and a couple of in-game items. Here's the Release Trailer, and here's the pitch:
A story-driven, action adventure combining exploration with fast-paced combat. As Kena, players find and grow a team of charming spirit companions called the Rot, enhancing their abilities and creating new ways to manipulate the environment.

Kena, a young Spirit Guide, travels to an abandoned village in search of the sacred mountain shrine. She struggles to uncover the secrets of this forgotten community hidden in an overgrown forest where wandering spirits are trapped.
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Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan Next Month

Skybound Games and Manavoid Entertainment announce Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan will launch for PC and consoles on October 5th, offering a 2.5D adventure/platformer that boasts family-friendliness, despite the whole leviathan thing. Here's a colorful World of Imagination Trailer with a look, and a playable demo on Steam to sample. Here's more:
Rainbow Billy is a universal coming of age story about dealing with change in the world and accepting ourselves and others around us. After the evil Leviathan banishes color and joy from the World of Imagination, leaving its inhabitants anxiety-ridden husks, it’s up to Billy to make things right. Armed with empathy, a talking fishing rod named Rodrigo, and their trusty boat Friend-Ship, Billy must restore the World of Imagination and free its good-hearted creatures.

Encounters in Rainbow Billy are completely non-violent. Instead of fighting, Billy and their companions must build trust to successfully resolve the engagement! Many creatures have tricks to slow you down, but sometimes it only takes a little empathy and a new point of view to reach an understanding. You can learn more about how these encounters play out in the game’s Confrontations Trailer.
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Op Ed

  • Kotaku - Why BioShock and Uncharted's Gameplay And Storylines Clash. Thanks Neutronbeam.
    "Over the years the gaming community mulled this over: What other games are ludonarratively dissonant? Is this dissonance inherent in the medium of games? And, what I would consider the most important question of them all: Is the presence of ludonarrative dissonance really such a bad thing?"

Out of the Blue

Marvel’s Hit-Monkey Date Announcement Trailer shows off a new animated Marvel series coming to Hulu on November 17th. I know a lot of film professionals are displeased with way the MCU dominates the entertainment world, and I understand the concerns. On the other hand, I think you have to give them credit for taking some interesting chances with some of these projects.

Obituary: Sarah Dash, Singer and Co-Founder Of Labelle, Dies At Age 76.
Obituary:
George Holliday, Who Filmed Rodney King Beating, Dies: Reports.

Round-up of Monkeys
Thanks Ant and Neutronbeam.

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Science
Thanks Max.

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Monday, Sep 20, 2021

WSJ: SEC Investigating Activision Blizzard

Wall Street Journal reports (may require registration or subscription) Activision Blizzard is the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into workplace harassment allegations that are part of a California Labor Lawsuit. This has not been officially announced, but the Journal spoke with "people familiar with the investigation" and has viewed documents about the news as well. The article is paywalled, but the viewable portion reveals that the SEC has subpoenaed several Activision Blizzard executives, including CEO Bobby Kotick.

Star Citizen Free Fly Event

Cloud Imperium Games is celebrating the climax of its month-long Ship Showdown 2951 event for Star Citizen and Squadron 42, the upcoming space games. For the next week, all who desire to can fly any of the four finalist spacecraft:
The Star Citizen Ship Showdown is a month-long celebration of galactic proportions where players around the world vote for their favorite vessels and spacecraft designs in the ‘verse. Players campaign for their favorite ships with original videos, songs, miniature, photos, and more. You can find an archive of the best community creations celebrating their favorite ships, here. The second phase of the event sees 16 of the most popular ships competing in a head-to-head bracket vote.

To celebrate the conclusion of this annual celebration, developer CIG welcomes new players with free access to download and play Star Citizen along with free access to Ship Showdown’s final four ships for both new and existing pilots. Those who have any of the final four ships with the most votes can also look forward to additional prizes including an exclusive in-game skin and leather jacket, while the ultimate winner will also receive a manufacturer-themed in-game backpack.

Respawn Working on Apex Legends Crashes

Respawn tweets about a new patch that's live in Apex Legends to address teleporting, packet loss, and lag issues in the battle royale shooter. The tweet also notes the discovery of some crashing issues. Another patch is planned for Wednesday, and in the meanwhile, players are advised to unequip animated banner poses. Another tweet says other issues are still being investigated:
We’re still continuing to work through issues causing higher-than-normal crashes, and we have hope that our patch scheduled for Wednesday will help.

But with today’s patch we’re making progress. From all of us on the dev team: We deeply appreciate your patience with us.

Pokémon TCG Live App Announced

The Pokémon Company announces a new Pokémon TCG Live App coming to Windows, macOS, and mobile. Word is: "Releasing as a free-to-play game, Pokémon TCG Live also marks the first time that the Pokémon TCG will be playable on smartphones, in addition to tablets, PCs, and Macs." Here's more:
Pokémon TCG Live is designed to be easy for beginners to learn how to play the game, while offering fresh challenges for existing players to improve and test their skills. Players will be able to enjoy some of their favorite Pokémon TCG activities, including building decks and battling other Trainers around the world. They will also be able to tailor their experience with customizable avatars and Pokémon TCG accessories, participate in daily quests, and more. In addition, Pokémon TCG Live will continue to be updated with new content and features following launch.

Pokémon TCG Live will be coming soon to supported iOS and Android devices, as well as PCs and Macs via Pokemon.com. Trainers looking to preview the game prior to broad availability will be able to participate in the mobile soft launch in Canada and the global open beta for PCs and Macs later this year.

Get Minion Masters Mordar's Malediction for Free

Mordar's Malediction is now available for Windows and macOS on Steam as new DLC for Minion Masters, BetaDwarf's free-to-play card-based tower defense game. The DLC will go up to its full price one week from today, but for now it is free to keep for anyone who claims their copy between now and then. Here's what it adds to the game:
Mordar the Mad Necromancer’s cruelty knows no bounds. Mordar’s Malediction is a great +300% value bundle that gives you what you need to build your own Mordar deck, including the Mordar master himself and the infamous Ghost card (Legendary!). It also gives you a headstart in this month’s Season Pass.

Evening Crowdfunding

More on the Quantic Dreams Star Wars Rumor

Leakmaster General Tom Henderson has penned an article on DualShockers outlining what little birdies are telling him about the emerging rumor that French developer Quantic Dream is working on an unannounced Star Wars game. Warning "it’s possible we might not hear about the project for a while," he offers the following:
The rumor was first reported by French YouTuber and ex-journalist Gautoz on September 16, it was reported that “They’ve [Quantic Dream] now finished their contract with Sony and will be signing with Disney”

In a separate conversation, however, I was also speaking to an individual who provided overwhelming evidence that he had contacts at Quantic Dream and reported that the Star Wars game by the studio has been in the works for around 18 months.

The evidence was that concrete in fact, that I reported on the findings with a somewhat of a small cryptic tweet whilst the investigation into the news continued.

Why So Much Call of Duty: Vanguard Cheating?

There's more from Tom Henderson, as the Call of Duty spy tweets an explanation of why there are so many cheaters to be found in the Call of Duty: Vanguard beta test. Apparently anti-cheat technology works flawlessly enough that it doesn't need to be tested:
For those wondering why there's so many hackers in the #Vanguard Beta, it's because the Beta is using the exact same anti-cheat as Warzone (which has been compromised).

New anti-cheat will be coming once Vanguard releases, but it's definitely concerning seeing so many hackers.

NVIDIA Releases Windows 11 Driver and More DLSS Support

NVIDIA announces over 100 games now support its DLSS technology, thanks to the release of a Unreal Engine 4 DLSS plugin that simplifies the introduction of DLSS to UE4 games. The company also announces the release of new version 472.12 GeForce drivers for Windows, which include support for the upcoming official launch of Windows 11. Here are the complete release notes for the new drivers and some details:
Throughout NVIDIA’s history, we’ve supported every new Windows operating system at release with dedicated drivers, ensuring our customers receive optimized performance and access to the latest Windows features. Today, we have released our Game Ready and NVIDIA Studio drivers for Windows 11’s October 5th official release, having supported Windows 11 preview builds with WHQL-certified drivers since June.

Gamers get full support for DirectX 12 Ultimate on GeForce RTX graphics cards and laptops, G-SYNC HDR monitor owners can enhance SDR games with Microsoft’s Auto HDR, and RTX graphic cards are primed to support DirectStorage.

Ad Lib Music Archive

An Ad Lib music archive offers a way to relive the synthesized game soundtrack music from the pioneering days of videogames (thanks Ant). And you don't even have to worry if your audio card is Ad Lib-compatible, as the tunes are all presented in .mp3 format. Here's word on the technology that brings us the music from 4D Boxing, Alone in the Dark, Tetris, and more:
This website offers a selection of video game soundtracks which make use of the Ad Lib card. All music is recorded using the Adlib-DigiSnap, a device engineered by Olli Niemitalo which interfaces directly with the sound card's DAC chip to allow for perfect captures of the original sound. In other words, only authentic hardware is used to make these recordings: no emulation is involved whatsoever.

Out of the Blue

Well last night was the Super Bowl of competitive television production, as the 2021 Emmy Awards were handed out. This was definitely a celebration of streaming, as it seems like the big winners were The Queen's Gambit, The Crown, and Ted Lasso. I've seen the Queen's Gambit and The Crown and enjoyed both greatly, so I'm on board with those choices. But we don't have Apple TV+, so I haven't yet gotten to see what all the fuss is about for Ted Lasso. I'll know soon enough, however. I've previously mentioned my childhood immersed in classic science fiction, and I loved the Foundation Trilogy dearly. So there's about zero chance that I won't get on board when the Foundation TV series is released. Even if it stinks on ice, I'll experience that for myself.

Obituary: Mick McGinty, the man behind so much iconic 90s video game art, has passed away.

Award-winning Round-up
Thanks Ant and Neutronbeam.

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