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Improbable brings its massive multiplayer platform to Unity game engine – TechCrunch

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As battle royale games like Fortnite pit more players against each other, studios are starting to realize the potential of bringing a massive online audience together at one time. This ambition has always existed, but Improbable, a well-funded startup aiming to enable these vast online worlds, is looking to bring these experiences to more game developers.

Improbable has announced that it is bringing a game development kit for its SpatialOS multiplayer platform to Unity, a popular game development platform used to create about half of new video games.

Improbable has some pretty grand ambitions for multi-player gaming and they’ve raised some grand venture capital to make that happen. The London startup has raised just over $600 million for their vision to enable digital worlds with vast expanses of concurrent users. The company’s SpatialOS platform allows single instances of an online game to run across multiple servers, essentially stitching a world together with each server keeping an eye on the other, allowing for hundreds of users to see each other and their in-game actions translated in a persistent way on systems across the globe.

The company’s tech opens the door for a lot of game developers to become more ambitious. There are several developers who have released titles on the platform.

Today’s news is a major step for the company, leveraging the popularity of Unity with a lot of younger studios to enable easier MMO development on an engine that is very popular with a wide range of developers. SpatialOS was previously available in a more limited, experimental scope on Unity. It also supports some development on Unreal Engine and CryEngine.

With today’s release, developers building with SpatialOS can craft games that allow for up to 200 players. The game development kit gives developers multiplayer networking and some other related features to expand the playing field, or at least further populate it. Improbable’s involvement goes far beyond just facilitating a download; a game built for SpatialOS will be hosted on Improbable’s servers, where it can be maintained via its host of web tools.

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This site posted every face from Parler’s Capitol Hill insurrection videos

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Getty Images | Wired

When hackers exploited a bug in Parler to download all of the right-wing social media platform’s contents last week, they were surprised to find that many of the pictures and videos contained geolocation metadata revealing exactly how many of the site’s users had taken part in the invasion of the US Capitol building just days before. But the videos uploaded to Parler also contain an equally sensitive bounty of data sitting in plain sight: thousands of images of unmasked faces, many of whom participated in the Capitol riot. Now one website has done the work of cataloging and publishing every one of those faces in a single, easy-to-browse lineup.

Late last week, a website called Faces of the Riot appeared online, showing nothing but a vast grid of more than 6,000 images of faces, each one tagged only with a string of characters associated with the Parler video in which it appeared. The site’s creator tells WIRED that he used simple open source machine learning and facial recognition software to detect, extract, and deduplicate every face from the 827 videos that were posted to Parler from inside and outside the Capitol building on January 6, the day when radicalized Trump supporters stormed the building in a riot that resulted in five people’s deaths. The creator of Faces of the Riot says his goal is to allow anyone to easily sort through the faces pulled from those videos to identify someone they may know or recognize who took part in the mob, or even to reference the collected faces against FBI wanted posters and send a tip to law enforcement if they spot someone.

“Everybody who is participating in this violence, what really amounts to an insurrection, should be held accountable,” says the site’s creator, who asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation. “It’s entirely possible that a lot of people who were on this website now will face real-life consequences for their actions.”

Aside from the clear privacy concerns it raises, Faces of the Riot’s indiscriminate posting of faces doesn’t distinguish between lawbreakers—who trampled barriers, broke into the Capitol building, and trespassed in legislative chambers—and people who merely attended the protests outside. An upgrade to the site today adds hyperlinks from faces to the video source, so that visitors can click on any face and see what the person was filmed doing on Parler. The Faces of the Riot creator, who says he’s a college student in the “greater DC area,” intends that added feature to help contextualize every face’s inclusion on the site and differentiate between bystanders, peaceful protesters, and violent insurrectionists.

He concedes that he and a cocreator are still working to scrub “non-rioter” faces, including those of police and press who were present. A message at the top of the site also warns against vigilante investigations, instead suggesting users report those they recognize to the FBI, with a link to an FBI tip page. “If you go on the website and you see someone you know, you might learn something about a relative,” he says. “Or you might be like, oh, I know this person, and then further that information to the authorities.”

Looking for faces

Despite its disclaimers and limitations, Faces of the Riot represents the serious privacy dangers of pervasive facial recognition technology, says Evan Greer, the campaign director for digital civil liberties nonprofit Fight for the Future. “Whether it’s used by an individual or by the government, this technology has profound implications for human rights and freedom of expression,” says Greer, whose organization has fought for a legislative ban on facial recognition technologies. “I think it would be an enormous mistake if we come out of this moment by glorifying or lionizing a technology that, broadly speaking, disproportionately harms communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant communities, Muslim communities, activists… the very same people that the faces on this website stormed the Capitol for the purpose of silencing and disenfranchising.”

The site’s developer counters that Faces of the Riot leans not on facial recognition but facial detection. While he did use the open source machine learning tool TensorFlow and the facial recognition software Dlib to analyze the Parler videos, he says he used that software only to detect and “cluster” faces from the 11 hours of video of the Capitol riot; Dlib allowed him to deduplicate the 200,000 images of faces extracted from video frames to around 6,000 unique faces. (He concedes that there are nonetheless some duplicates and images of faces on protest signs included too. Even the number “45” on some signs was in some cases identified as a human face.)
He emphasizes also that there’s no search tool on the site, and it doesn’t attempt to link faces with names or other identifying details. Nor is there any feature for uploading an image and matching it with images in the site’s collection, which he says could lead to dangerous misidentifications. “There’s a very hard no on allowing a user to take a photo from a wanted poster and search for it,” the site’s creator says. “That’s never going to happen.”

The roughly 42 gigabytes of Parler videos that Faces of the Riot analyzed were downloaded prior to Amazon’s decision early last week to cut off Parler’s web hosting, leaving the site largely offline since. Racing against that takedown, hacktivists took advantage of a security flaw in Parler that allowed them to download and archive every post from the service, which bills itself as an uncensored “free speech” alternative to Twitter or Facebook. Faces of the Riot obtained Parler’s salvaged videos after they were made available online by Kyle McDonald, a media artist who obtained them from a third party he declined to identify.

The Faces of the Riot site’s creator initially saw the data as a chance to experiment with machine learning tools, but quickly saw the potential for a more public project. “After about 10 minutes I thought, this is actually a workable idea and I can do something that will help people,” he says. Faces of the Riot is the first website he’s ever created.

McDonald has previously both criticized the power of facial recognition technology and himself implemented facial recognition projects like ICEspy, a tool he launched in 2018 for identifying agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. He tells WIRED he also analyzed the leaked Parler videos with facial recognition tools to see if he could identify individuals, but could only ID two, both of whom had already been named by media. He sees Faces of the Riot as “playing it really safe” compared even to his own facial recognition experiments, given that it doesn’t seek to link faces with named identities. “And I think it’s a good call because I don’t think that we need to legitimize this technology any more than it already is and has been falsely legitimized,” McDonald says.

But McDonald also points out that Faces of the Riot demonstrates just how accessible facial recognition technologies have become. “It shows how this tool that has been restricted only to people who have the most education, the most power, the most privilege is now in this more democratized state,” McDonald says.

The Faces of the Riot site’s creator sees it as more than an art project or demonstration. Despite the safeguards he put in place to limit its ability to automatically identify people, he still hopes that the effort will have real, tangible results—if only indirectly through reports to law enforcement. “It’s just felt like people got away with a lot of bad stuff for the last four years,” he says. “This is an opportunity to start trying to put that to an end.”

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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Blizzard absorbs acclaimed Activision studio as a dedicated “support” team

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Blizzard Entertainment

The corporate-behemoth organism that is Blizzard Entertainment, which exists in a symbiotic state next to megaton game publisher Activision, became blurrier on Friday with a surprise announcement: It has absorbed a game studio within the Activision family, effective immediately.

Vicarious Visions, a longtime game studio that was acquired by Activision in 2005, has been shuffled out of the Activision ecosystem and pumped directly into Blizzard’s veins. In a statement offered to GamesIndustry.biz, Blizzard confirmed that the 200+ staff at Vicarious Vision has been shifted to a “long-term support” team focused entirely on “existing Blizzard games and initiatives.” The news also includes a mild shuffle of leadership, sending current Vicarious studio head Jen Oneal to the Blizzard leadership board as executive vice president of development.

The statement did not clarify exactly when this arrangement began, nor which of Blizzard’s “existing” projects would receive Vicarious staff support in particular. (Blizzard representatives did not immediately respond to Ars Technica’s questions about the deal.) As of press time, neither Blizzard nor Vicarious have published details or terms about the deal on their respective blogs or social media channels. In fact, Vicarious Visions’ website is currently offline altogether.

Where will they land in the credits scroll?

Vicarious certainly has its share of publicly announced Blizzard projects to pick from, between Overwatch 2, Diablo IV, and whatever World of WarCraft expansion eventually emerges like clockwork. Or, heck, maybe Vicarious has been brought on board to finally wrest WarCraft III: Reforged from its shameful spiral as 2020’s most disappointing video game.

Whatever the project(s) may be, the staff certainly won’t continue the studio’s stellar track record as one of Activision’s brighter spots. Whether it was the studio’s stellar work getting 2020’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 into twitch-perfect shape, massaging the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy into a solid remaster, or even delivering one of the Marvel universe’s best co-op brawlers in an era well before Iron Man redeemed the comic empire’s public reputation, Vicarious will forever be remembered as an Activision bright spot. We hope the same can be said for the team’s future work, as it’s shuffled into the bottom of a credits scroll for existing Blizzard properties.

Blizzard has rarely gone to the trouble of absorbing an outside studio—with “Blizzard North” being the largest exception, when the company took on David Brevik’s existing team (then dubbed Condor) to formally join the Blizzard family in 1995. This concluded a bidding war: “3DO offered us twice as much money,” Brevik said in a 2016 GDC presentation. “We turned them down. Really, because we felt that Blizzard really got us and got [Diablo 1]. We were so close in company culture and beliefs.”

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Xbox Live price increase sets a new $10/month floor for online access

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Xbox users will soon have to pay at least $10/month for the baseline Xbox Live Gold subscription needed for online play on Xbox consoles. That’s a significant increase from the recent floor of $5/month for an annual subscription.

The new pricing, as Microsoft unveiled this morning is as follows (or a “local market equivalent” outside the US):

  • One month: $11/month (previously $10/month)
  • Three months: $30, $10/month (Previously $25, $8.33/month)
  • Six months: $60, $10/month (Previously $40, $6.67/month)

A 12-month, $60 subscription plan was officially removed from Microsoft’s online store last July, but annual digital subscriptions at that $5/month rate are still currently available from a variety of retail partners. It’s unclear if those offerings will continue, but a new annual subscription option was not mentioned in Microsoft’s announcement this morning. Microsoft does note that current 6-month and 12-month subscribers will be able to “renew at the current price” for the time being, though (current members will receive email notices about the new prices, and the new rates won’t apply to them for at least 45 days).

For those who can’t renew at the old rates, the new minimum of $120/year might seem rather steep in exchange for access to online play and a handful of selected monthly “Games With Gold” freebies. A comparable 12-month PlayStation Plus subscription still costs $60, while an annual Nintendo Switch Online subscription runs just $20 (with a bevy of classic emulated NES and SNES games included).

Xbox Live Gold’s new minimum price is also just $5/month less than the $15/month base price for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. That subscription includes all the benefits of Xbox Live Gold and access to hundreds of downloadable PC and Xbox ecosystem games, as well as streaming mobile access through xCloud (regular “Game Pass for console” or “Game Pass for PC” without the Xbox Live benefits currently runs $10/month).

The Xbox Live price increase seems designed to drive more users to that expanded Game Pass Ultimate offering, which passed 15 million subscribers last September. In fact, users who upgrade a current Xbox Live Gold subscription to Game Pass Ultimate will automatically have up to 36 months of pre-paid Xbox Live subscription time converted to Game Pass Ultimate for free (echoing similar conversion deals offered in the past).

Microsoft last raised the price of Xbox Live back in 2010, when a one-month subscription increased from $8 to $10 and an annual subscription went from $50 to $60.

Listing image by Getty Images / Aurich Lawson

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