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[code] - A Videogame About Software

posted Friday Oct 11, 2013 by Scott Ertz

For years I have had a belief that there was a way to create a videogame that helps people learn the fundamentals of software design. At our sister software company, Sumo Software, we have discussed how this could work; we even have a game in the works to help introduce people to logic through puzzles. It is a start, but how do you integrate actual CODE into a videogame?

Apparently by just going right for it and designing your puzzles around understanding a block of code and interacting with its public properties and methods. That is exactly what Code is all about. Created by Trevor Rice, John Bair, and Daniel Romero-Quiroga for Richard their Experimental Game Design course at the University of Southern California, the game was submitted to IndieCade, and brought to my attention from there.

The game premise is simple: you control an @ symbol, in your case representing a memory leak, trying to escape from the evil garbage collector. You accomplish this by progressing from level to level by working through code puzzles, interacting with them as if you are outside code interacting with an object.

While the code looks a lot like a C-derivative language, it is actually specifically NOT a proper language, though very familiar to anyone with experience in anything from JavaScript to C#. Kermanizadeh told TechHive,

People who have actually played with Unity or C# go, 'Oh, is this C#? This seems like C#. The actual levels themselves were originally laid out just like the code for C# but we kind of made them a weird pseudo-code because there's a lot of information that confused players or didn't necessarily matter to the level itself.

Considering how many people have experience with a C language, especially JS or C3, it makes sense to model in that realm. The levels, however, are purposely not considered as code from the beginning, either. Bair, who is more of a designer than programmer, will come up with an idea,

What if here you have to tick something to a specific number and then that unlocks that door that then you can go through to beat the level?

That concept is then turned into pseudo code,

There's an integer variable that you can then adjust and then we have the Boolean that's private so the player can't change that. By changing the integer value it unlocks the Boolean which then takes you to the next level.

Now, if this all sounds like craziness to you, don't worry - the game walks you through the concept as you play. The hints are disguised as code comments and littered throughout the game. I have played the game demo, available at the link above, and playing it is definitely well worth the time, whether you know anything about programming or not.

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Hulu's New CEO Coming From Fox [Rumor]

posted Friday Oct 11, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Hulu's New CEO Coming From Fox [Rumor]

Writing about Hulu is an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes you get to write about great new comedies available before premiere, and sometimes you have to write about selling the company (twice) and then abandoning that sale (twice).

This week, the news out of Hulu is a little of Column A and a little of Column B. Hulu, who currently has no CEO after Jason Kilar resigned, will be appointing a new CEO. In a move that will surely make Hulu co-owner Fox happy, Mike Hopkins, a former 21 Century Fox executive, is rumored to be appointed in the near future.

With a former Fox exec heading the company, this could give Fox a leg-up on the other owners: Disney and NBC Universal. In a scenario where three fierce competitors come together to create a mutual business, only to snake decisions out from under one another, being the owner whose former exec is running the company is a big bonus.

If this rumor turns out to be true, which of course it will, the next 12 months will be interesting for Hulu. The 3 owners have decided, after scrapping the sale the second time, that they are going to go all-in on the service. Now, with a new CEO at the helm who comes from the entertainment industry, specifically one who was responsible for distribution for Fox, it seems a smart guess that Hulu will be focusing on licensed content, most likely from its owners.

Hopefully this will not prevent the service from producing original content, as their Battleground is one of my favorite series from any producer.

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Google to Finally Retire Google TV Brand, Rename Android TV

posted Friday Oct 11, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Google to Finally Retire Google TV Brand, Rename Android TV

Google has struggled to get adoption on their Google TV brand of television-based operating system. They have had trouble getting content owners to produce platform-specific applications, with some producers specifically blocking the devices. On top of that, Google hasn't had a lot of success convincing manufacturers to produce devices based on the platform, even canceling some of their own announced, and one time paid for, hardware.

So, what is a struggling platform to do? Rebrand. Since Google currently only has 3 brands, why not pick the one most people know and that the technology is currently based on: Android, and voila, Android TV is born. While not officially announced just yet, branding has been discovered showing the Android Marketplace coming to the television, as well as marketing collateral.

Google TV has been basically abandoned, or so it would have seemed, since it received its most recent update in 2011. In addition, existing hardware partners have stopped using the name already. Sony's new Bravia TV stick talks about the power of Google services, but does not mention Google TV by name. Google Developers have started using the new name on their job titles and even called a developer event Android TV Developer Day.

The new branding is expected to be announced officially at this year's CES in Las Vegas. Also expected, along with the official rebranding, is new hardware and partners. CES looks like it is going to be good for the Google TV team.

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Russia Openly Says They Will Spy on You at Winter Olympic Games

posted Sunday Oct 6, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Russia Openly Says They Will Spy on You at Winter Olympic Games

I didn't think I would ever say something like this but here it goes. If you want the true definition of transparency, just ask Russia how they're doing it. That's because in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia has said that their Federal Security Service (FSB) will be heavily and actively monitoring any and all communication from the Games' athletes, fans, directors and staff.

While the program's name, Sorm, doesn't rival that of the NSA's PRISM, it does bear a good resemblance to the US SkyNet, as Sorm is a joint effort from dozens of security companies and IT specialists. This team has given FSB the ability to see and hear anything from phone call data to Internet activity, and also includes a nifty little program that'll pick up pre-identified words or phrases in social media, emails and chats, among other activity on the net.

Russian security expert and journalist, Andrei Soldatov, put it like this:

For example you can use the keyword Navalny, and work out which people in a particular region are using the word Navalny. Then, those people can be tracked further.

Director of Citizen Lab and University of Toronto professor, Ron Deibert, said that Sorm is kind of like "Prism on steroids" and that,

The scope and scale of Russian surveillance are similar to the disclosures about the US programme but there are subtle differences to the regulations. We know from Snowden's disclosures that many of the checks were weak or sidestepped in the US, but in the Russian system permanent access for Sorm is a requirement of building the infrastructure. Even as recently as the Beijing Olympics, the sophistication of surveillance and tracking capabilities were nowhere near where they are today.

This is pretty intense, even for Russia. However, we shouldn't be too surprised that countries like this are going to be tracking and monitoring data, and are doing it so openly, especially when things like transparency reports are being released here in the States. This is such a strong effort though, that the FSB has been working on this system since 2010 and has been actively testing it since early last year.

The good news is that Russia issued a friendly reminder in form of a leaflet sent to the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security, warning travelers of what's going to go down once they step foot outside of Sochi's airport.

Business travellers should be particularly aware that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities.

So Russia will be spying on you, looking for your next Facebook or Netflix idea, while you're watching your favorite curling teams out-slide each other in a game of ice darts. At least the country also advised you to take the batteries out of your devices when you land, so as to not let them turn on your device remotely. I guess it would suck to have an iPhone if you're at the Games.

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Valve Announces Official Specs for the 300 Steam Machine Prototypes

posted Sunday Oct 6, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Valve Announces Official Specs for the 300 Steam Machine Prototypes

Last week, Valve officially announced more information on both the Steam Machine and SteamOS. Eligible Steam users can sign up to be one of the 300 randomly selected members to receive a Steam Machine prototype, which will ship later this year. And now Valve has released details and specs of the prototypes.

Before jumping into the specs in the blog post, Valve was sure to reaffirm that the press and fanboy-created term "Steam Box" be clarified yet again, by explaining that the "Steam Machine" idea is more than just a piece of hardware made by Valve; it's a certification that other hardware manufacturers can slap on their boxes, assuming those companies would even want to include a Linux-based operating system on a machine being sold to consumers.

Valve didn't set out to create our own prototype hardware just for the sake of going it alone - we wanted to accomplish some specific design goals that in the past others weren't yet tackling. One of them was to combine high-end power with a living-room-friendly form factor. Another was to help us test living-room scenarios on a box that's as open as possible.

Then, Valve explained that the prototype is a very high-end machine, that can also be purchased in-store and pieced together, should a customer want to do that. This confused me and several other Steam users and journalists alike, as it seemingly eliminates the need to have Valve or any other PC builder pre-manufacture something that enthusiasts can build themselves.

The prototype machine is a high-end, high-performance box, built out of off-the-shelf PC parts. It is also fully upgradable, allowing any user to swap out the GPU, hard drive, CPU, even the motherboard if you really want to. Apart from the custom enclosure, anyone can go and build exactly the same machine by shopping for components and assembling it themselves. And we expect that at least a few people will do just that.

And to be clear, this design is not meant to serve the needs of all of the tens of millions of Steam users. It may, however, be the kind of machine that a significant percentage of Steam users would actually want to purchase - those who want plenty of performance in a high-end living room package. Many others would opt for machines that have been more carefully designed to cost less, or to be tiny, or super quiet, and there will be Steam Machines that fit those descriptions.

That being said, even though we still don't have pictures, here's the specs for the 300 prototypes:

GPU: some units with NVidia Titan, some GTX780, some GTX760, and some GTX660

CPU: some boxes with Intel i7-4770, some i5-4570, and some i3

RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU), 3GB GDDR5 (GPU)

Storage: 1TB/8GB Hybrid SSHD

Power Supply: Internal 450w 80Plus Gold

Dimensions: approx. 12 x 12.4 x 2.9 in high

These specs are interesting for several reasons. First, Valve's idea of Big Picture Mode, along with Steam OS and the Steam Machine was to put "more flexibility" to the end-user. This allows them to pick and choose what operating system and other features they would want in a PC that would go into a living room. The key to this, however, is ease of use and affordability. Considering that the NVIDIA Titan cards run in the price range of $700-$1000 alone, this drives the Steam prototype, if it ever makes it to market, well out of the $200-$300 "open source, free-for-everyone" marketspace of the OUYA and Project SHIELD, their relative competitors for living room entertainment.

Secondly, even though Valve says that this prototype is "not meant to replace the great gaming hardware" many casual Steam users already have, so far the company has made no efforts to appeal to that very large userbase. Going back again to my original article about the Steam Box and its improbable fit in the living room, the enthusiast sees less of a need to put one of these pre-made boxes into their living room. Instead, the middle- and low-tier users are who Valve should be screaming at and the company has seemed to push them off to the side, at least for now. And, it really doesn't make sense for Valve to further limit an already limited Linux environment, considering that less than 10 percent of Steam games run stable on the platform.

Looking at the big picture here (no pun intended), it feels like Valve is more stability testing these monster specifications and will be less an indication of the final retail product from Valve than what most people are thinking right now. With as many combinations that could be made from the above specs, it would be more fitting for the gaming company to be trying out different options that could be receive a Steam Machine certification for third party manufacturers.

Still, if all of this has been made with parts that can be bought separately, is there really a market or a need for a Steam Machine or certification? Couldn't the "everything should be free" group be satiated simply with SteamOS? Or, could it be that Gabe hates Microsoft enough to still think that Steam won't run on Windows 8?

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Rdio Prepares Pandora Competition with Free Radio Service

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Rdio Prepares Pandora Competition with Free Radio Service

The battle for mobile streaming just got another major player in Rdio. The streaming service has announced that their stations service, similar to Pandora or Last.fm, will now be available to all users of the iOS or Android apps, whether paid or free subscriptions.

With an inventory of over 20 million songs, you can play all the music you want, just like Pandora's recent policy change. You can listen based on artist, song, genre or the customized "You FM" which is a curated station based on your listening habits from other stations. In addition, with You FM, or any other station, you are able to share your music choices with your friends, allowing people to show their friends what their music taste really is.

Rdio believes that their implementation of The Echo's Nest Taste Profiling is superior to Pandora's Music Genome Project implementation, and I will have to say, it couldn't be much worse. Anyone who has ever had Jonathan Coulton transform into Ke$ha in just a few plays on Pandora knows what I am talking about.

Other than its preference for music profiling, what does Rdio have going for it? It has the same number of songs as Spotify, but far less than that of Xbox Music; it isn't available on BlackBerry, Windows Phone or Windows Store. The thing that really makes it unique is the size of its catalog available for free. If you are a fan of streaming music but not of the poor matching algorithm of Pandora, give Rdio a try; it might just be worth the install.

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