Path of Exile's first mini-expansion, Sacrifice of the Vaal, was announced nearly three weeks ago, and after two weeks of teasers before the details were finally spilled this past Friday, its finally live! Sacrifice of the Vaal brings about a lot of changes and additions to the game, with the full patch notes found here. The one thing it doesn't change is developer Grinding Gear's commitment to its free-to-play business model – a model that should be studied and followed by any other studio going the free-to-play route.
If you've never given Path of Exile a try, now is a perfect time to hop in.
Batman: Arkham Knight was officially announced yesterday, along with an outstanding announcement trailer, but details were sparse. Today, Game Informer posted a video entitled "Revealing The Story Of Batman: Arkham Knight" that sheds some light on the game. One of the biggest surprises is that the "Arkham Knight" moniker does not refer to the Dark Knight himself, but rather "a brand new villain." Hush had been teased last month on the Batman Hush Facebook page (though the teaser is now gone), but it sounds like it may actually be someone we've never seen before in any medium. In the video below, it's stated that Arkham Knight is seen "holding a gun, but looks like Batman," but Rocksteady wasn't ready to divulge much more.
As stated yesterday, Arkham Knight takes place one year after the events of Arkham City. There is a chemical weapon threat by Scarecrow that causes Gotham to be evacuated, though of course hundreds of gang members have moved in. It wouldn't exactly be a Batman Arkham game without a bunch of gang members to beat up on, now would it?
Before I go any further, I'd be remiss if I didn't provide a spoiler warning – IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY, SPOILERS AHEAD, INCLUDING THE VIDEO AND THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE.
Okay, now that you've been warned about SPOILERS...
In the video above, game director Sefton Hill explained, "One thing we really wanted to respect were the events of Arkham City." This means that Joker is indeed dead. Rocksteady will not be bringing him back to life, he is "dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead." Meanwhile, "Harley is distraught [...] and seeking revenge," as she blames Batman for Joker's death. Also, no Harley is not pregnant.
While further details on the story are being kept under wraps, senior script writer Martin Lancaster said that the ending is "bold." This is the finale of the Batman Arkham games and both he and Hill think fans will be satisfied with the ending.
While Facebook announced that its messaging software, known as Facebook Messenger, was going to be unavailable for Windows users as of March 3, 2014, the company was working diligently to prepare the software for Windows Phone devices. Today, Microsoft is announcing that Facebook Messenger is available for immediate download through the Windows Phone Store. Facebook Messenger for Windows Phone provides access to all Facebook friends automatically, and enables users to see which contacts are online, send private messages, group chat, and use pictures as well as stickers in conversations. While contacts are available automatically with the installation of Facebook Messenger, additional contacts can be imported.
Yahoo has begun the process of eliminating third party logins from its website and services, requiring users to have and utilize a Yahoo ID in order to access various services owned and operated by the company. Yahoo announced that to access Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick'Em up for example, users have to use their Yahoo login and cannot access the service using Facebook or Google credentials. The same Yahoo ID focus will be implemented soon with other services offered by Yahoo, including Flickr and Fantasy Sports. Yahoo states that by only allowing a Yahoo login to access various services owned by the company, it is able to provide a more personalized experience for users.
Releasing on April 30, 2014 for Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii U, Child of Light is perhaps Ubisoft's most unique game to date. Set in the magical world of Lemuria, Child of Light is a side-scrolling platformer and turn-based RPG rolled into one. Thanks to the in-house game engine UbiArt Framework, it also has a very unique hand-painted look and feel.
While predominantly a single-player experience, the game does feature local co-op, where one player controls the main protagonist Aurora and another controls her firefly companion Igniculus. The "Co-Op Trailer" published today shows off how it works:
Although previously only available to Android and iOS devices, the DISH Anywhere application has been updated and is now available for Amazon Kindle Fire HDX tablets. DISH has stated that the latest update to DISH Anywhere shows its continued dedication to the mobile market, and allows users to watch all available content offered across any mobile device. The application allows users that own the DISH Hopper and SLING DVR to view live, recorded, and on demand content on smartphones and tablets. Users can access the content over Wi-Fi or a mobile data network, while having the ability to manage their DVRs, set recordings, and view program guides through DISH Anywhere.
Although BlackBerry will be implementing advertisements within the BlackBerry Messenger service, it is reassuring users that the advertisements will not be located within actual chats. Jeff Gadway, BBM product and brand marketing chief, revealed that creators of BBM channels will be able to push sponsored posts and invites to subscribers. Gadway also announced that users of the BBM service will likely see three different types of advertisements, which differ slightly from each other. Featured placements will appear within the landing page for featured channels, and will be used by channels to gain new subscribers. Sponsored invites will target individuals based on age, interests, location, and other data and will allow channels to invite individuals based on this information. Sponsored posts will appear within updates from BBM Contacts and BBM Channels, offering updates from other channels.
While the advertisements will not be found within actual chats, users can only disable sponsored posts by filtering updates and will have no choice on being targeted by featured placements and sponsored invites.
X2 Products has released its first thermal grease, called X2 Thermica, which can be applied to CPU/GPU heat sinks and water blocks, and will operate between temperatures of -50 °C to 200 °C. The formula was "designed to maximize heat transfer" so it's made of 10% Silicon compounds, 45% Carbon compounds, and 45% metal oxide compounds to achieve >5W/m-K thermal conductivity. The X2 Thermica is available for $6.99 and comes in a 0.5g syringe that's sufficient for up to two processor cooler installations.
It's the middle of the week, and there's several items for you to check out to get through the day. We have a review on the Logitech G430 headset, which has 40mm drivers, surround sound via a USB adaptor, and a pretty snazzy exterior. There's also a look at Silicon Power's Stream S03 USB 3.0 Portable HDD that comes in either 500GB or 1TB sizes for those needing some extra storage. We have a rather interesting gaming review that focuses on various free-to-play games to see how they handle different systems. Finishing things off today are the craziest network messes ever, which should make most people stare in amazement at the tangled mass of wires.
Typically crystals are thought of as being beautiful stones used in jewelry, but many more materials are crystals, including metals. As molten metal cools, its atoms will align into a structure that gives it certain properties, but it is possible to force the atoms to not align properly, producing a metallic glass. Due to the amorphous structure, metallic glasses can have special properties, including great ductility, and researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Universitat de Barcelona, and Tohoku University are working to improve those properties.
Unlike the glass of a window pane, metallic glasses can be quite flexible, but they will still reach a point where they fracture. Instead of fracturing, the researchers want the metallic glass to fail like other, more ductile materials. To learn how to do that the researchers examined shear bands, which form in a material to relieve the stress applied to it, using nanoindentation. The idea behind nanoindentation is simple enough, as it involves pressing a needle into the material, with all of the force concentrated at the tiny tip. The researchers did this repeatedly to find where and when the shear bands formed.
By controlling the formation of shear bands, it should be possible to control how a metallic glass will fail, and thus a way to shape the material's properties. The researchers have already found that there are multiple types of initiation sites for shear bands, which is counter to the assumption that only one exists.
Alien: Isolation is not the only science-fiction survival horror game currently in development. Frictional Games, the Swedish indie developer behind the critically acclaimed Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Penumbra series, is currently working on a sci-fi survival horror game of its own, entitled SOMA. Today, Frictional Games has posted a new trailer that showcases some of the scenery and voice over work, along with a status update on the PlayStation Blog.
SOMA isn't expected to release until 2015, with the studio about a week away from an alpha version that represents just over half of the full game. Because SOMA is story-driven and doesn't rely on a "core gameplay loop", completion of a playable alpha that actually gives a good sense of the game took a bit longer than it would for some other games. In describing the activities players will partake in, Frictional Games said, "You'll search for notes, solve puzzles, hide from dangers, explore unsettling places, take part in strange events and sometimes just run away. All of these come together with the graphics and soundscape to create a larger whole." Since the atmosphere, narrative, and themes are slowly built up over time, a fairly "large chunk of the game" was required before proper testing could be done. Frictional Games has set five goals for SOMA that it hopes to test and refine through the alpha testing, but before we get to that, here's the new trailer:
The first goal for SOMA is "the feeling of playing a narrative." As I mentioned earlier, SOMA is a story-driven game, so Frictional Games is making sure puzzles never get in the way of the narrative. If you think about the earlier Tomb Raider games, where you find a tomb and you know you're in a "puzzle section," Frictional Games wants to avoid that.
The second goal is "a coherently crafted world." By that, Frictional Games means that SOMA must be steeped in some sense of reality. Unlike Amnesia, where you had supernatural occurrences that could just be explained by "magic," the studio is trying to build SOMA as "proper sci-fi." This means things like realistic technology, sensible puzzles, etc.
The third goal is "gameplay with plenty of variation." Frictional Games wants players to focus on how the game looks, sounds, and feels rather than figuring out some underlying design. This means that the studio will attempt to "keep things fresh and avoid repeating [itself]." Since it's a survival horror game, players can't become too comfortable.
The fourth goal is "deep, disturbing themes that make you think." SOMA isn't simply about scaring you, but rather making you question "what it means to be a sentient being." Frictional Games doesn't want to tell you how to think, but allow you to draw your own conclusions.
Lastly, the fifth goal is "a pervasive sense of horror." SOMA isn't simply about providing a few scares here and there, with Frictional Games instead wanting "this blanket of oppression and fear wrapped around the entire experience." As I said before, players should never feel too comfortable, and the studio certainly doesn't want players to ever be able to "predict upcoming events" because it happened to repeat some pattern too often.
SOMA is coming to PC and PlayStation 4, but "is still a year or so away from its 2015 release." Frictional Games does promise "to reveal a big secret about SOMA" soon though.
A week after Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox shut down, Japan's major financial newspaper Nikkei is reporting that the Japanese government is proposing new rules to regulate and tax bitcoin transactions, "defining the virtual currency as a commodity rather than a currency." Bitcoin trades via online exchanges, purchases made with bitcoins, and revenue made from bitcoin transactions will all be taxed. In addition, banks will be prohibited from handling bitcoins and security firms will be prohibited from brokering bitcoin trades.
Japan is not the first, nor will it likely be the last, country to concern itself with the bitcoin market. Russia has already declared the use of bitcoins illegal, while the United States is currently considering "legal options for regulating virtual currencies such as bitcoin."
Kingston has announced a new flash drive, the DataTraveler microDuo, that combines the USB and micro USB form factors to create a versatile, small form factor solution. The inclusion of the micro USB connector and USB On-The-Go make the microDuo a perfect candidate to help expand the storage of compatible Android tablets and smartphones. The full size USB connector allows for easy transfers to other devices that aren't as restricted as mobile devices. Flash memory business manager Jean Wong said, "DT microDuo is a great companion device to mobile phones or tablets as it lets users back up files on the go thus freeing up space, or share files between devices with ease." The DataTraveler microDuo will be available in capacities of 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB.
The Z-Drive 4500 is the latest PCIe based solid state drive from OCZ and it is built using 19nm MLC NAND flash. The 4500 series will be available in capacities of 800GB, 1.6TB, and 3.2TB providing a large range of storage options to meet a variety of needs. The PCIe interface allows for even greater performance than conventional SSDs, with read and write speeds up to 2.9GB/s and 2.2GB/s, respectively. In addition to the extreme bandwidth availability the 4500 series also offers 252,000 read and 76,000 input/output operations per second. Everything is powered by the OCZ Virtualized Controller Architecture and LSI SandForce SF-2582 controller in conjunction with the new Windows Accelerator software that provides flash management and caching solutions for Windows Server applications.
Giada has recently launched the F300 mini-PC for the digital signage market, but it could be a good home theater PC, too. The F300 is powered by a passively cooled Intel Core i5-4200U Haswell processor clocked at 1.8 GHz (up to 2.7 GHz with Intel Turbo Boost) and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400. However, this is a barebones system with no memory or hard drive, but "customers just need to easily unscrew two screws, and then lightly pull away the shelf" to open the casing.
With the case open, installation of components is possible, such as a 2.5" hard drive into the single SATA 6Gbps slot or RAM into the single SO-DIMM slot for up to 16GB of DDR3L-1600 memory. Also included is a SIM card slot, three mini PCI Express slots, and three cables for 3G, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth cards. On the front are two USB 3.0 ports, an IR sensor for remote controls, a microphone and headphone jack, and an SD card reader. The back also provides two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, two COM ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and two DisplayPort 1.2 ports that can support audio as well as "up to 4 ultra-HD mosaic screens with max resolution of 3200x2000."
Pricing and availability of the Giada F300 mini-PC is unknown.
For many people, the thought of solar power brings to mind arrays of silicon panels or massive reflectors, aiming light to a point. These are not the only examples of solar power technology though, and one of them may be seeing a drop in cost soon. Researchers at the University of North Carolina recently found a way to optimize the design of thin film solar cells that could reduce the amount of amorphous silicon used by an order of magnitude.
The best thin film solar cells today use a layer of amorphous silicon roughly 100 nm thick, and it captures most of the solar energy that falls on it. What the researchers design uses a 10 nm thick layer and absorbs 90% of available solar energy. This was achieved by examining the absorption of semiconductor materials in light-trapping techniques, like those of a thin film solar cell. The researchers found that absorption is maximized when the light-trapping efficiency and absorption efficiency match. From this they designed a layered, rectangular design which could potentially be used to improve the performance of thin film solar cells based on materials other than silicon.
One of the challenges to manufacturing and cutting the cost of thin film solar cells is the deposition of the semiconductor material. By reducing the amount needed by an order of magnitude, the cells could be produced faster and more cheaply.
Layoffs are unfortunately an inevitable part of the gaming industry following a major release. With Thief launching last week, that inevitability has struck developer Eidos Montreal. Publisher Square Enix confirmed the layoffs of 27 people today to IGN, explaining that "unfortunately it's something that every major studio has to do in order to ensure you have the right set up for current and future projects." Square Enix is trying to re-locate as many of those people as it can within its other studios, but has also reached out to outside studios in Montreal to arrange a career day.
Reviews for Thief were mixed, but generally favorable.
Initially announced in early 2012, the Roku Streaming Stick was meant to provide the same features that were available in Roku set top boxes at the time, within a smaller form factor. Sadly, the device was priced the same as Roku set top boxes and used MHL for its connection, making adoption of the device slow to say the least. Roku has redesigned the Streaming Stick, upgrading its applications to the latest available, incorporating HDMI instead of MHL, and reducing its price to $50. While the Roku Streaming stick is currently priced $15 higher than Google Chromecast, it features much more content available for streaming over its competitor.
A new website has been launched by Microsoft, which informs users if they are or are not running Windows XP. The website is designed to help users, who are interested in the upgrade options available to them as support for Windows XP ends, identify what operating system their computer is utilizing. The company is also incorporating notifications to inform users of end of life support for the aging operating system, along with free migration software. Microsoft has designed the site in the Modern user interface, which is the style that Windows 8 and 8.1 makes use of. Additionally, the website informs users about Windows 8 upgrade avenues if they are not running Windows XP, and makes no mention of Windows Vista or Windows 7.
Interested users can visit the new website at AmIRunningXP.com in order to figure out if they are running Windows XP.
Supernatural detective thriller Murdered: Soul Suspect has finally been given an official release date – June 3, 2014 in North America and June 6, 2014 everywhere else. The game is priced at $49.99 USD for Windows PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, while the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions cost $59.99. Pre-ordering in the US at Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, Target, or Walmart includes an "interactive digital strategy map" that is accessible via computer or tablet and shows "the location of hundreds of in-game items including quest givers, collectibles, and Easter Eggs." The game is also available on Steam, though it's unclear whether pre-ordering directly from Steam will net you the pre-order bonus (it's not currently listed).
Murdered: Soul Suspect puts you in the shoes of Ronan O'Connor with a rather unique task – solving your own murder from the ghostly afterlife. Trapped in a limbo world called Dusk, only bringing your killer to justice will help you find peace, though there are various optional side quests you can complete as well. Both bp9801 and myself awarded Murdered: Soul Suspect Best Adventure Game of E3 2013, so this is definitely one game adventure fans should be excited about.
Sony has revealed that it has now sold 6 million PlayStation 4 consoles within the markets that the next generation gaming console is currently available in. The sales figures are up roughly 700,000 from the last report made by Sony on February 18, 2014, in which the company informed the public that 5.3 million PlayStation 4 consoles were sold. The increase in sales can be heavily attributed to the PlayStation 4 being released in Japan on February 21, 2014.
As both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One make their way into more markets and gain popularity while doing so, it will be interesting to see which gaming console sells the most units throughout this year.
In the latest press released available from RadioShack, the company has notified the public that it has performed rather poorly during the fourth quarter of last year in regards to its finances. RadioShack saw a 19 percent decrease in total net sales and operating revenues compared to last year, as well as a consolidated gross profit that was 6 percent less than 2013. Overall, the company announced that its operating loss for the fourth quarter of last year was $166.1 million, and its net loss was $191.4 million. RadioShack is blaming the results on a holiday season that brought in lower store traffic than normal, as well as a soft mobility market.
Due to the announcement of poor financial performance, RadioShack has revealed that it will be closing up to 1,100 stores, basing the decision on store performance, lease life, area demographics, and location.
We have a nice collection of reviews for you today, including two items for the audio crowd. The first is the BitFenix Flo gaming headset, which can work on both PCs and mobile devices to deliver the proper sound you need. The second audio product is the SilverStone Ensemble EB03 headphone amplifier for those who need a bit of a boost for their headphones or headsets. We also have a couple of other items, like the Enermax Liqtech 120X liquid CPU cooler to help provide self-contained water cooling on a budget. There's even a look at the Western Digital My Cloud EX2, which features dual drive bays and features geared towards the home NAS market.
Though flash-based SSDs are growing in popularity, a great number of systems still rely on magnetic hard drives to store data. So many in fact that processing and storing the data on the all of the drives now accounts for a significant fraction of the world's energy consumption. Researchers at the University of York though have recently made a discovery that could reduce energy costs, without increase monetary costs.
Writing data to a magnetic drive usually requires applying a magnetic field to it, which uses a fair amount of energy. Some time ago all-optical thermally induced magnetic switching (TIMS) was discovered, for some rare-earth-transition-metal alloys call ferrimagnets. As the name suggests, it is possible to switch the magnetic state of those alloys using a laser pulse. As the laser pulse uses less energy than the magnetic field, the result would be a more efficient drive. The catch is that the alloys are prohibitively expensive. What the York researchers have discovered is a synthetic ferrimagnet comprised of two ferromagnetic materials, with a non-magnetic spacer sandwiched between.
Without the reliance on rare metals, this discovered could help bring all-optical TIMS to storage technology, cutting energy costs.
Yes, all the rumors were true – Rocksteady's next entry in the Batman Arkham series, Batman: Arkham Knight, has been confirmed and revealed as the April 2014 Game Informer cover story. While most of the information currently available was leaked earlier today by UK retailer GAME via VideoGamer.com, at least we have solid confirmation, along with a better look at the Batmobile we'll get to drive. According to Game Informer, "An entirely new area of Gotham City, far larger than Arkham City, has much wider streets to accommodate the new driving gameplay that is designed to integrate smoothly with Batman's gliding and grappling traversal."
Arkham Knight takes place one year after the events of Arkham City, and will be the final Arkham game – though hopefully not the final Batman game Rocksteady and WB work on. Below is the four-minute Announce Trailer entitled "Father to Son":
Batman: Arkham Knight is set to release later this year for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One – no "previous-gen" to hold the game back!
If a recent "accidental" listing on UK retailer GAME is accurate, it seems last week's leak about Rocksteady's next Batman game may be true. VideoGamer.com grabbed a screenshot before the listing was removed, which provides some interesting tidbits about the next game in the Batman Arkham franchise.
The franchise's fourth entry is entitled Batman: Arkham Knight and was listed as "the explosive Finale in the Batman Arkham Series." The series is indeed returning to Rocksteady and one of the biggest additions will be a driveable Batmobile, uniquely designed by Rocksteady for the game. The game's central villain this time around seems to be Scarecrow, who "returns to unite Gotham's most feared villains," including Penguin, Two-Face, and Harley Quinn. Considering the Scarecrow scenes in Arkham Asylum were arguably the best part of the game, I'm certainly excited to see how Rocksteady makes him the focus of the story, barring a twist of course. Meanwhile, pre-ordering the game allows players to play as Harley Quinn across four exclusive challenge maps.
Batman: Arkham Knight is listed for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One with an expected release date of this year. More info will probably come shortly with the rumored Game Informer magazine cover reveal.
Skype has announced that Skype for Outlook.com, which was rolled out to select markets last year, is now available worldwide. The video chatting service allows Outlook.com users to voice and video chat their contacts, along with the usual instant messaging function. Skype for Outlook.com does require a plugin in order to work properly, but with the latest version supporting PC users, along with Mac users that utilize the Safari web browser, compatibility should not be an issue. Outlook.com users that make use of the web version of Skype can even chat with their contacts in high-definition, provided that both parties have compatible messaging clients, high definition displays, webcams, and broadband Internet.
Blizzard's MOBA Heroes of the Storm was playable at BlizzCon 2013, but soon others will get to play it on their own PCs. After a lot of internal testing, Blizzard has announced that the first public testing phase will begin soon. The purpose of this initial phase, which Blizzard is calling the "Technical Alpha", is to help the developer "better examine how [its] infrastructure and tech will function across a much broader spectrum of machines and connection types." Heroes of the Storm is very much a work in progress, with a lot of the features not even implemented yet, not to mention placeholder sounds, interface elements, and even graphics. Nevertheless, there will be absolutely no Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which means you can share videos, screenshots, and any impressions you have with the world.
Access to the Technical Alpha will be extremely limited at the start, but expand over time as Blizzard has always done with its alpha and beta tests. Currently, only players in the United States will be eligible, and signing up is as simple as checking the Heroes of the Storm opt-in box found on the Beta Profile Settings page of your Battle.net Account. If you're a Blizzard fan and/or MOBA fan, what are you waiting for?
In an interesting legal case, the United States government has filed a complaint against Sprint for charges that occurred for wiretaps. When the United States requests information that can be used in investigations by authorities, it is usually gathered from wiretaps. Companies, such as Sprint, have to pay for the equipment that enables the wiretapping to occur, and are reimbursed by the United States government at a later time. The government claims that Sprint overcharged agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, more than $21 million that is directly related to equipment bought by the company. Sprint, according to the complaint, improperly inflated its charges by 58 percent over the course of approximately three and a half years, spanning from January 1, 2007 to July 31, 2010.
Sprint is officially stating that the invoices submitted to the government for reimbursement of incurred charges are all lawful. Even so, the government is seeking triple damages along with unspecified civil fines.