by David M. Ewalt via Paste Magazine

Melvin the Barbarian is angry at the dirty goblin sniping arrows at him from behind a tree. I can hear it in his voice; my earphones convey every nuance of his bellowed threats, even if the avatar I see in my headset remains passive, resembling less a raging half-Orc than a featureless robot. I can’t see when he swings his greataxe, but I know the attack connects. The little blue die Melvin tosses across our virtual play area comes up 20, and that means the goblin has fired his last shot.

The fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is usually played with pencils and paper, around a table, with no gadgetry involved. But recent innovations in the field of virtual reality allow characters like Melvin to team up with other players inside high-tech simulated worlds. I don’t know the real name of the person playing this raging barbarian, or his physical location, or anything about him other than the sound of his voice. But here we are, slaying monsters together inside an online game space constructed by a company called AltspaceVR. We haven’t really met, but I think I’ve made a new friend.

In the 44-year history of D&D, emerging technologies have usually been the game’s foe. When home video game consoles became popular in the mid-1980s, the hobby lost millions of players; in the ‘90s, online role-playing games (RPGs) like Everquest and World of Warcraft took away even more. But it turns out that 21st-century technologies that create immersive, simulated environments are complementary to tabletop gaming’s social vibe. Virtual reality could be the best thing to happen to D&D since polyhedral dice.

Until now, players have struggled to replicate the tabletop gaming experience using the tools of the digital age. In the ‘80s, I tried to play a few times with my friends all dialed into a telephone party line, but it was too noisy and chaotic. In more recent years, I’ve been in one or two games played successfully over Skype or Google Hangouts, which allow you to see your friends’ faces. And a few specialized bits of software like the website Roll20 and the application Fantasy Grounds combine video conferencing with shared maps and dice-rolling tools. If you can’t meet in person, they’re good enough for a few hours of fun.

But I’d never been excited about playing D&D over a computer until a new generation of virtual reality hardware, like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, met the social VR spaces created by companies like AltspaceVR. In 2015, D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast cut a deal with Altspace (then a startup, now a subsidiary of Microsoft) to bring officially licensed D&D assets to a tavern-themed virtual game room. Users put on their VR headsets, gather around a 3D table and appear as individual avatars inside the space. They can build a map using dungeon, wilderness and city themed terrain tiles; record their characters on official D&D character sheets; and move around figurines representing various D&D player classes as well as monsters (including gelatinous cubes and dragons).

VR may be the ultimate “you have to see it to believe it” experience. But as a one-time skeptic of the technology, I can testify that I was surprised how much Altspace’s virtual game room felt like the real thing. When you’re immersed in these simulated worlds, you forget where you are; the table in front of you seems solid, the people around you move and everyone seems to be gathered in the same room.

Sure, the virtual version of D&D is far from perfect. While today’s VR hardware can create surprisingly convincing simulations, it’s no fun wearing a VR headset for more than an hour. The graphics are still relatively primitive—more Lawnmower Man than The Matrix—and your fellow players are represented by cartoonish avatars, not realistic depictions of their actual selves. But VR is good enough in 2018 to provide proof of concept; it actually feels like D&D. The problems are just technical hurdles, and we’ll clear them in time.

In five years, I suspect playing D&D in virtual reality will be almost as good as playing around a dining room table. Next generation headsets will be lighter and more comfortable; graphics will get to a point comparable to the most realistic 3D video games. Tracking technologies will allow you to see where players are looking, make eye contact and read expressions on their faces. Our digital selves will convey body language and gestures, making it feel like you’re in the same place as your friends.

And the virtual tabletops will be even better than the real thing. When you’re playing D&D on a friend’s dining room table, the game is limited by physical accessories like dry-erase battle maps, pre-printed terrain tiles and miniatures to represent characters. In a virtual world, those elements can come alive. Animated, photo-realistic maps can slowly reveal themselves as players advance through a dungeon, and their minis can actually move and fight. Imagine the Millennium Falcon’s holographic chess game, but more realistic than any animation Industrial Light and Magic could pull off.

But the best thing about D&D in VR isn’t the bells and whistles—it’s how it will bring people together. For decades, too many RPG campaigns have been crippled by the limitations of geography; all too often, it’s impossible to get enough players together in one place. With VR, it doesn’t matter if your Dungeon Master moves to Timbuktu. VR will let you step into a game room and play with people around the world.

And when it comes to D&D, the gathering is more important than the game itself.

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/



by Matt Weinberger via Business Insider

If you’ve been following this stuff for a while, you think of Microsoft and Apple as bitter rivals — before there was iPhone vs. Android, or even Facebook vs. Snapchat, the biggest fight in tech was Mac vs. PC.

So it might be somewhat jarring to visit the recently-revamped Microsoft Visitor Center at its Redmond campus, only to find that the very first Apple Macintosh is proudly displayed, right next to other significant artifacts like Bill Gates’ first business card.

There is, however a very good reason for it: Microsoft as we know it might not exist without Apple’s groundbreaking Macintosh, the first mainstream computer with a graphical user interface (GUI).

In the early ’80s, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were something like frenemies. Jobs flew up to Microsoft’s Washington headquarters for what Gates later called a “weird seduction visit,” in a successful attempt to have the company make Macintosh software.

Gates played a key role in hyping up the Macintosh, and even appeared alongside Jobs in a “Dating Game” parody video that was circulated among developers. In the video, Gates said that the Mac “really captures people’s imagination.”

The Macintosh would eventually come out in 1984, with its arrival announced by its still-infamous “1984” Super Bowl ad. Microsoft followed through on its commitment to the fledgling Mac: The first-ever versions of Excel, PowerPoint, and Mail followed thereafter. Indeed, Microsoft Office 1.0 started on the Mac. Gates once quipped that Microsoft had more people working on the Macintosh than Apple did.

Behind the scenes, though, things started falling apart in 1985, when Microsoft announced that it was getting into the graphical operating system game with Windows 1.0. A furious Jobs accused Gates and Microsoft of ripping off the Macintosh. But Gates didn’t care — he didn’t think Apple had the exclusive rights to the idea.

Besides, Gates and Jobs both got the idea from Xerox PARC, the famous research lab, which had originally pioneered the GUI.

As Jobs accused Microsoft of plagiarism, Gates famously replied: “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

The ongoing battle between Apple and Microsoft, which included at least one lawsuit, only widened the gulf between Jobs and Gates. Over the years, the two would take very public potshots at each other, with Jobs once ripping Microsoft for making “third-rate products” in a PBS documentary.


Later in life, though, the two came to a kind of reconciliation. One of the very first things that Jobs did as Apple CEO in 1997 was announce that Microsoft had invested to help keep the company afloat after a years-long rough patch. The deal was announced with Gates appearing on a massive screen above Jobs.

By the end of Jobs’ life, tensions between them had cooled significantly. Jobs conceded that he admired Microsoft, and enjoyed working with Gates. For his part, Gates acknowledged Jobs’ taste.

“I respect Steve, we got to work together. We spurred each other on, even as competitors. None of [what he said] bothers me at all,” Gates said after Jobs passed.

In more recent years, Microsoft has mellowed out about competition in general. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has released Microsoft Office apps for iPhone and Android, and made several appearances on-stage at Apple events. They still compete, especially as the Microsoft Surface laptops go head-to-head with Apple’s Macs and iPads. But tensions between the two companies seem lower than ever.

So maybe it’s no surprise that Microsoft is bragging about that aspect of its history, which played an important role in the current dominance of Microsoft Office 365. Perhaps it’s a new day at Microsoft, after all.

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/



The future is the new Xbox

Posted: July 28, 2018 in Opinion Piece


by Navneet Alang via The Week

Technology is inherently unpredictable. But tech analyst Benedict Evans has a good rule when it comes to predicting the future: Whatever people dismiss as just a toy is very often the next big thing.

There are few areas in which that has been truer than in video games. While the gaming industry has been dismissed as merely juvenile — and indeed in terms of its culture, it often is — it has nonetheless prefigured many of the major shifts in tech, from the rise of artificial intelligence to the importance of online community.

And now, with rumors that Microsoft is planning to make the next generation of its Xbox console reliant on cloud streaming, akin to a Netflix for games, that predictive power may be especially potent. What it points to is not just what’s next for video games, but also the general direction of tech. The future is the merging of the cloud, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous computing.

There is a reason that Microsoft has its eyes fixed on the next few years in gaming. While its Xbox 360, which was released in 2005, was a smash hit, its successor, the Xbox One, has not done nearly as well. It has been outsold nearly two to one by rival Sony’s PlayStation 4, while Nintendo’s Switch console has been a huge success. Although Xbox saw a 39 percent jump in revenue in Microsoft’s most recent quarterly results, clearly a sign of improving fortunes, overall the company is scrambling to catch up.


But Microsoft has committed itself to gaming. In 2017, Xbox chief Phil Spencer was promoted to executive vice president reporting directly to CEO Satya Nadella, suggesting that the company sees gaming as core to its mission. The company also sought to correct its initial mistake of releasing an underpowered Xbox One by releasing the Xbox One X last year, still the most powerful console on the market. Additionally, in an effort to kickstart its own exclusive content — an area in which it has been seriously outclassed by Sony over the past few years — Microsoft announced that it’s funding the creation of numerous development studios.

If this is the start of a recommitment, then the next generation of Xbox hardware is likely going to reflect a changing strategy. As Microsoft enthusiast site Thurrott.com reports, at least one of the next Xbox consoles will focus on streaming — that is, an online service in which games are accessed remotely over the internet, rather than being stored on a disc or device as they are now. The upside to such an approach would be to offer gamers hundreds of games to play immediately, rather than forcing them to buy individual titles. It will also likely lower the entry cost versus a traditional standalone console.

The persistent problem in that approach has been the lag as information moves back and forth between the console and server, something that is a particular problem for fast-paced games. But Microsoft will try to get around the issue by processing some tasks with dedicated hardware and others remotely, and combining them with machine learning. It’s a technologically intriguing idea.


But it also represents Microsoft’s broader ambition to turn Xbox into a service, like a Netflix for games. They have already started with their Play Anywhere program, which lets someone buy a game on a PC and also play it on an Xbox One, and vice versa. This next move will then raise the potential revenue stream via monthly subscriptions. Microsoft could even combine both services so that games attained through a subscription could be accessed from a Windows 10 PC. Meanwhile, for those core gamers who might blanche at streaming, the company will still release a high-powered standalone sequel to the Xbox One X.

Whatever Microsoft does release will likely be running on a new version of Windows based on something called Cshell. It is the next phase of Windows, and both siphons off the legacy code that still bogs the operating system down, while also being customizable for different devices, whether a digital whiteboard, a laptop, or a gaming console.

What Microsoft is attempting to do with Cshell, as well as a console that streams games, is to link together its work in hardware, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud solutions. The operating system connects those disparate elements to ideally make the end-user experience seamless.

The Windows company is not alone. Google is hard at work on a project called Fuschia, a new operating system that may replace Android and will unify its efforts in mobile, artificial intelligence, and the “internet of things” — those increasingly popular smart devices.

What it all points to is a shift in the nature of computing in general — from being a thing located in individual devices, to something more akin to a service or a layer, accessed not only from many devices, but in many different ways: through a traditional keyboard and mouse, touch, voice, or AI that predicts what you need before you ask for it. It’s about changing the idea of computing from one of gadgets to simply being everywhere, accessible through a variety of different interfaces.

Whether Microsoft can pull together the technical know-how and marketing to make their streaming idea work remains to be seen. Gamers are not only notoriously conservative, they are also highly sensitive to the minutiae of performance. All the same, it represents a significant opportunity for Microsoft.

Rather than merely being a toy, the next Xbox will be a testing ground for the future of computing itself.

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/


by Shawn Knight via TechSpot

The lead-up to Fallout 76 arguably couldn’t be going any better for Bethesda, especially considering the developer hasn’t had to lift a finger as of late to keep fans tuned into the Fallout universe. Fallout 4 fan mod Northern Springs dropped earlier this month and now, we’ve got another land expansion to drool over.

Fallout Miami will send players on a journey to the post-nuclear vacation wasteland of Miami Beach where they’ll take part in the ideological struggle between Order and Freedom. The new game map is said to be a loving recreation of part of southern Miami Beach. A few creative liberties were taken but otherwise, it’s a mostly accurate recreation of the real world location.

The in-game map is said to be slightly larger than Far Harbor and feature a new set of factions that better fit with the unique culture and history of Miami. The pitch sounds a lot like the one made for Northern Springs (not that that’s a bad thing) with a main quest, multiple side quests, new items, companions and a large cast of voiced characters.

“The Sole Survivor journeys to the sunny South, following the promise of a well-paid job, but ends up embroiled in a conflict between various groups, some vying for power, others fighting to uphold their ideals.”

The mod doesn’t yet have a release date but when it does eventually arrive, it won’t be available on consoles due to its size (and Sony’s policy on the use of external assets). It will also require all of the official DLC including Far Harbor and Nuka World.

Fallout 76, meanwhile, launches on November 14 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/


Microsoft has confirmed that work is now underway on the Xbox Two… But there’ll also be another, surprise addition as well

by Richard Goodwin via Know Your Mobile

The Xbox Two is happening, Microsoft confirmed that work is now underway on a new console system at E3 2018.

This new Xbox console, likely called the Xbox Two, will be a straight-up console in the vein of the Xbox One and Xbox 360.

That means lots of hardware and specs. But there is another system in development alongside it that sounds, well… quite a bit different.

According to Thurrott’s Brad Sams, Microsoft will also build a completely unique, and cheaper, cloud-based Xbox console that will get a release alongside the Xbox Two.

Xbox Two Codenamed “Scarlett”

The two new systems are currently codenamed, Scarlett. The cloud-based system, however, is known as the Scarlett Cloud.

The cloud system will be cheaper, and this will be achieved by it not running the same hardware as its big brother.

This cloud Xbox will be ALL about streaming, so even though it is cheaper than the Xbox Two it will still be able to run the same games.

Here Are The Specs For Microsoft’s Xbox Two Console:

  • CPU: Eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz
  • GPU: 40 customized compute units clocked at 1172MHz
  • Memory: 12GB GDDR5, 326GB/s bandwidth
  • 4K UHD Blu-ray optical drive

Game Services Are More Profitable Than Hardware

Microsoft’s always maintained that game services – things like Xbox Live, Xbox Games Pass – are more profitable than hardware.

And the end game for Microsoft has always been to make Xbox content available on ANY platform.

For now, the Xbox Two Cloud console will serve as a cheaper, entry-level console for those that might find the price of the Xbox Two a bit too prohibitive.

“With all Scarlett games living on its cloud,” notes BGR, “Microsoft could dictate the rules when it comes to subscription fees, opening up its library to exponentially more players while charging them for access, even if they don’t own an Xbox device. 2020 looks to bring sweeping changes that will change the industry forever.”

Don’t expect to see either of these consoles before 2020, though…

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/


by Taylor Soper via GeekWire

Microsoft already said it is working on the next version of its Xbox console. But now a new report reveals some of the company’s plans for not just one, but two new devices — including a lower-cost option powered by Microsoft’s cloud streaming service.

Brad Sams at Thurrott.com reported Monday that in addition to a traditional new Xbox, Microsoft will sell a cheaper “streaming box” designed to work with its previously-announced streaming service.

Sams said the streaming box, codenamed “Scarlett Cloud,” would run games both locally and in its Azure cloud — also known as slice or splice. This would apparently help reduce poor latency that gamers experience with cloud-based services.

Sams notes that Microsoft makes a bulk of its gaming revenue on subscriptions and game sales, versus hardware. “If Microsoft can create a next-gen console that requires lower up-front payment and longer subscription payments (remember, all games will run in the cloud, so you will need to pay ‘something’ to access them), this is a huge win for Xbox and Microsoft,” he wrote.

Microsoft has been investing in AI and cloud resources related to gaming technologies. Speaking at E3 last month, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said the company is building a “game streaming network to unlock console-quality gaming on any device.”

“We are dedicated to perfecting your experience everywhere you want to play: on your Xbox, your PC, or your phone,” Spencer noted.

As the gaming industry moves toward cloud-based infrastructure, it may reduce the need for a high-powered console. Other gaming giants like Sony, EA, and Nvidia are also building cloud-based game streaming services.

Microsoft’s cloud division continues to be one of the primary architects of its comeback in recent years. The Intelligent Cloud division posted revenue of $9.6 billion during the three-month period ending June 30th.

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/