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Microsoft launches Game Stack, brings Xbox Live to Android and iOS – TechCrunch

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Microsoft today announced a new initiative that combines under a single umbrella all of the company’s gaming-related products for developers like Xbox Live, Azure PlayFab, Direct X, Mixer, Virtual Studio, Simplygon and Azure. That umbrella, Microsoft Game Stack, is meant to give game developers, no matter whether they are at a AAA studio or working solo, all the tools they need to develop and then operate their games across devices and platforms.

“Game Stack brings together our game development platforms, tools and services like Direct X and Visual Studio, Azure and Playfab into a robust ecosystem that any game developer can use,” said Kareem Choudhry, the corporate vice president for the Microsoft Gaming Cloud. “We view this as a journey that we are just beginning.”

It’s worth noting that developers can pick and choose which of the services they want to use. While Azure is part of Game Stack, for example, the overall stack is cloud and device agnostic. Undoubtedly, though, Microsoft hopes that developers will adopt Azure as their preferred cloud. These days, after all, most games feature some online component, even if they aren’t multiplayer games, and developers need a place to store player credentials, telemetry data and other info.

One of the core components of Game Stack is PlayFab, a backend service for building cloud-connected games, which now falls under the Azure family. Microsoft acquired the service early last year and it’s worth noting that it supports all major gaming platforms, ranging from the Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch to iOS, Android, PC and web.

With today’s announcement, Microsoft is launching a number of new PlayFab services, too. These include PlayFab Matchmaking, a matchmaking service the company adapted from Xbox Live matchmaking, but that’s now available to all developers and on all devices. This service is now in public preview. In private preview are PlayFab Party, a voice and chat service (also modeled after Xbox Party Chat), PlayFab Game insights for real-time game telemetry, PlayFab Pub Sub for pushing content updates, notifications and more to the game client, and PlayFab User Generated Content for allowing players to safely share content with each other.

So while Game Stack may feel more like a branding exercise, it’s clear that PlayFab is where Microsoft is really putting its money as it’s competing with Amazon and Google, both of which have recently put a lot of emphasis on game developers, too.

In addition to these announcements, Microsoft also today said that it is bringing an SDK for Xbox Live to iOS and Android devices so developers can integrate that service’s identity and community services into their games on those platforms, too.

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Fast and Furious 9 drops a new trailer ahead of June 25 release

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This past weekend, with little to do thanks to the pandemic, I marathoned through the Fast and Furious franchise. That was fortuitous timing, because on Tuesday a new trailer dropped for F9, the next installment, which arrives in theaters on June 25.

We actually got our first look at F9 well over a year ago, when the first trailer dropped at the end of January 2020. Family has been a central theme to the F&F movies, and that continues here. Dominic Torreto (played by Vin Diesel) and the gang have to confront his younger brother Jakob (John Cena), described as “the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve encountered.” He’s working with criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), who sports a much more flattering haircut than in Fate of the Furious, the movie where she improbably hacked a bunch of old cars to drive themselves.

Also returning to the series is Han Lue (Sung Kang), who we all thought died at the end of Tokyo Drift. (This was revealed to be the work of Deckard Shaw (Jason Stratham) who was bad in Furious 7 but then turned out to be good in Fate of the Furious and Hobbs and Shaw.)

Based on this second trailer, the plot for F9 appears to involve magnets, and at one point Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) don makeshift pressure suits and take to the skies in what might be a DeLorean with rocket boosters strapped to the roof.

As my colleague Jennifer Ouellette explained last year, “F&F9 will probably make about as much sense as its predecessors—in other words, not much sense at all. And fans wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I know I wouldn’t.

Listing image by Universal Pictures

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It’s Dave Bautista and pals vs. zombie horde in Army of the Dead

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Dave Bautista stars in the zombie heist film Army of the Dead, directed by Zack Snyder.

Fresh off the successful release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we’ll soon be getting the director’s latest project: Army of the Dead, about a group of mercenaries that attempts a heist in a zombie-ridden Las Vegas. In a sense, Snyder has come full circle. His directorial debut was 2008’s Dawn of the Dead, an entertaining reboot of the original George Romero classic from 1978.

Army of the Dead started out as a joint project between Universal Studios and Warner Bros. back in 2007. But like so many films, it got stuck in development hell until Zack Snyder signed on as director in 2019. Netflix picked up the distribution rights from Warner Bros. soon after.

Per the official premise:

Army of the Dead takes place following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a displaced Vegas local, former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home, is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), it’s with the ultimate proposition: Break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours. Driven by the hope that the payoff could help pave the way to a reconciliation with his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist.

They include Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), an ace mechanic and Ward’s old friend; Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a zombie killing machine; Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), a cynical helicopter pilot; Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), a go-for-broke influencer and Chambers (Samantha Win), his ride-or-die; Martin (Garret Dillahunt), the casino’s head of security; a badass warrior known as the Coyote (Nora Arnezeder) who recruits Burt Cummings (Theo Rossi), a slimy security guard; and a brilliant German safe cracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer). Scott finds an unexpected emotional hurdle when Kate joins the expedition to search for Geeta (Huma S. Qureshi), a mother who’s gone missing inside the city. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all.

Notaro replaced comedian/actor Chris D’Elia late in the project, on the heels of a number of sexual misconduct allegations against the comedian. This required reshooting some scenes with an acting partner, which were then inserted into the film; Notaro was also inserted into several scenes via digital compositing. She has been fantastic on Star Trek: Discovery, and it will be interesting to see how she fares in Army of the Dead.

The trailer is entertaining, with Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” as a musical backdrop, just to set the mood. “There’s 200 million dollars in a vault beneath the Strip,” Tanaka tells Ward and his team. “This should be a simple in and out.” Of course, nothing is ever simple. Vegas is swarming with zombies—faster, smarter zombies, not the classic Romero variety. They’re smart enough to organize, and that, plus their far superior numbers, doesn’t bode well for our human protagonists. (The house, after all, always wins.) But we are definitely on board for the Zombie Elvis and zombie tiger.

Army of the Dead debuts in select theaters and on Netflix on May 21, 2021. If this is as much fun as Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead—and it looks like it could be—Army of Dead should be a huge success. There are already plans for a prequel film focusing on the character Ludwig Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighöfer) and an anime-inspired TV series, Army of the Dead: Las Vegas.

Listing image by Netflix

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iOS users—and only iOS users—face NSFW content ban on Discord app

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Enlarge / This cute little pig has obviously seen some things that iOS users will no longer be allowed to see on Discord.

Discord users who access the app through iOS will now face restrictions on adult content that go beyond those for other platforms. The gaming-focused social networking app—which lets users create public or private servers to chat via with text, image, voice, and video livestreaming—announced this week that “all users on the iOS platform (including those aged 18+) will be blocked from joining and accessing NSFW servers. iOS users aged 18+ will still be able to join and access NSFW communities on the desktop and web versions of Discord.”

That NSFW designation can be set by the server owner or by Discord itself, in keeping with community guidelines requiring the label for loosely defined “adult content.” Individual channels within a server can be designated as NSFW without imposing limits on the full server, but an entire server may be labeled as NSFW “if the community is organized around NSFW themes or if the majority of the server’s content is 18+,” the company said.

Discord has set up an appeal process for server owners to challenge an NSFW designation. Individual users can also contact Discord if they were accidentally identified as minors during an age-verification process. But that age change will still be meaningless on iOS, where users of all ages will be barred from NSFW content.

Discord didn’t specify why iOS users are being treated differently from those on other platforms, but Apple’s Apple’s iOS Developer Guidelines say that apps with user-generated content “that end up being used primarily for pornographic content… do not belong on the App Store.” The guidelines allow for “incidental” NSFW content generated by users on web-based services if “the content is hidden by default and only displayed when the user turns it on via your website,” a caveat that apparently isn’t sufficient for Discord’s comfort.

Discord’s move recalls Apple’s removal of the iOS Tumblr blogging app in 2018. At the time, Tumblr said that removal was due to “media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse” that has slipped through its automated filters. Weeks later, though, Tumblr decided to ban all adult content from the service, a move that preceded a quick return to the iOS App Store.

Discord is using a bit of a lighter touch here, identifying and segregating NSFW content from iOS users rather than banning it altogether. Still, preventing adults from accessing adult content on one platform, specifically, seems like a counterintuitive way to stay in Apple’s good graces in this regard.

“Apple’s regressive stance on sexual content being available on its largest platform is verging on a full-on moral panic, and it’s really gross,” former Tumblr product manager Matthew Bischoff wrote on Twitter. “Entire businesses and communities have been crushed by it, and it often hurts queer and trans communities most. When we dealt with this at Tumblr, it became my full-time jobs for weeks to find incredibly complex ways to appease Apple’s censors. This happened every time they found a sexy blog they didn’t like. It’s absurd.”

Discord is reportedly in the late stages of acquisition talks with Microsoft and other parties that could value the service at $10 billion. The service has over 140 million monthly users and 300 million registered accounts.

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