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Microsoft helps game devs pull more performance from the Xbox Series S

Frustrated that games don’t run as well on the Xbox Series S as you’d expect given the 1440p-capable hardware? Microsoft might have a fix. The Verge has learned the company’s recently highlighted June Game Development Kit gives programmers more access to memory, freeing up “hundreds of additional megabytes” of RAM for their games. That can improve graphics performance in titles where limited memory is a problem, Microsoft said.

This move won’t put the entry-level console on par with the Xbox Series X, which uses the same CPU but packs a more powerful graphics processor. However, it might reduce bottlenecks that sometimes force developers to run games on Series S at lower resolutions and frame rates. While the Series X has 16GB of RAM (about 13.5GB of it usable), its lower-end counterpart has just 10GB — in practice, devs have just 8GB to themselves. Creators talking to Digital Foundry have complained about the limitations.

If this sounds like a familiar strategy, it should. Microsoft gave more power to Xbox One coders in 2014 when it let them disable Kinect features in games that didn’t need the motion controller. In both cases, Microsoft is tweaking available system resources in response to gripes.

It will take time for developers to optimize games, and there’s no guarantee this will affect many titles. Don’t expect patches that improve the graphics on all your favorite releases. Still, this is a welcome move that could make the Xbox Series S a more viable option if you’d rather not splurge on its pricier counterpart.

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Activision Blizzard Devs Walk Out, Call For CEO To Resign

Developers at Activision Blizzard are once again walking out, this time in response to a report published by the Wall Street Journal that attests CEO Bobby Kotick knew of sexual misconduct allegations against executives at the company and chose not to take action nor to intervene on behalf of the accused.

We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy. We will not be silenced until Bobby Kotick has been replaced as CEO, and continue to hold our original demand for Third-Party review by an employee-chosen source. We are staging a Walkout today. We welcome you to join us.

— ABetterABK 💙 ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK) November 16, 2021

The article is damning for Kotick, claiming that he knew of multiple instances of sexual misconduct at the company, including one in which a female employee claimed to have been raped by her male supervisor, and did not inform the company’s board of directors. Since the company began to be scrutinized following a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging that sexual abuse and gender discrimination were commonplace at Activision Blizzard, Kotick claimed ignorance.

However, internal documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal show that Kotick not only knew that misconduct was widespread at the company, but did not inform the company’s board of directors. Kotick was recently subpoenaed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in an investigation into how Activision Blizzard handled reports of misconduct.

The article has prompted yet another walkout by developers at one of Activision Blizzard’s studios, Activision Blizzard King. “We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy,” reads a tweet from the studio’s workers alliance. “We will not be silenced until Bobby Kotick has been replaced as CEO, and continue to hold our original demand for Third-Party review by an employee-chosen source. We are staging a Walkout today.” It is not clear if other studios under Activision Blizzard’s umbrella will follow suit.

Activision released a statement from Kotick earlier today, first sent companywide as a video, in which the CEO touted the company’s improvements thus far but said: “there is more to do.” The message ended with Kotick saying “Thank you for your commitment to a culture of respect, your appreciation for the unique talents we each possess, and for maintaining the very best environment for all of us to work. For that, I am truly grateful.”

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Former Elder Scrolls Devs Announce New Grand RPG Title

OnceLost Games announced its first game today, The Wayward Realm. Development on the title is being led by two industry veterans that played a heavy role in the beginning of The Elder Scrolls franchise: Ted Peterson and Julian LeFay.

The studio’s founding was first announced in 2019, but since then, there hasn’t been any news. This is the first peep we’ve heard from OnceLost Games, and for those waiting on a new RPG to sink their teeth into, The Wayward Realms is a promising pitch. According to its Steam page, it’s “a new class of game: The Grand RPG.” The game will be set on a massive archipelago of over 100 “realistically scaled” islands.

While the plot of The Wayward Realms isn’t clear, it seems like it has a lot in common with the Mount & Blade franchise. Players will be able to earn a prominent place in the game’s world by completing quests and defeating legendary enemies. Since this is a game from former Elder Scrolls devs though, the game’s ruling factions and enemies aren’t all humans. Dwarves, Elves, monsters, spirits, and demons can all be found across the game’s world, succinctly called The Archipelago.

Furthering the comparison to Mount & Blade games, The Wayward Realms will also have a virtual game master that keeps the world alive. Player actions will cause NPCs to react, causing endless shifts in power throughout the world with every interaction.

We’ll have to wait a bit longer for the first “Grand RPG” though. OnceLost Games hasn’t announced a release date or window for The Wayward Realms just yet.




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Overwatch 2 Devs Explain How the Game’s Dynamic Maps Work

Among the heaps of new content coming with Overwatch 2 are massive changes to maps. The game’s entire engine has been redone, and obviously, that means things are going to look a bit better. But the developers and artists at Blizzard have taken an extra step and created a system called Environment States that will sometimes impose different weather conditions on maps.

This feature was previously shown during one of Blizzard’s Overwatch 2 streams but has been further detailed in a news post on the game’s website.

The post, written by two members of the Overwatch team, software engineer Marco and lighting artist Fabien, details just how Environment States works and how it will affect the game. According to Fabien, Environment States was designed to assist with supporting “the story that the map is telling.”

“With this new system,” says Fabien, “we have managed to split all the major components of lighting, sound, and effects into self-contained assets that can be combined like building blocks to create what we call Environment Scenarios.”

Environment Scenarios aren’t some massively complex thing from the outside. From a player’s perspective, they’re simply the weather and time of day on a map. An example given in the post shows the map Necropolis with its nighttime scenario. However, with the new Environment States system, the Overwatch team can simply take the Environment Scenario of another map, in this case, sunny Temple of Anubis, and apply it to Necropolis to give the map a brand new look.

However, this new system lets the Overwatch team do more than just change the time of day on a given map. Using it, they can also add weather changes to maps in a dynamic fashion. In Overwatch 2, players can expect maps set in the desert to be clouded by sandstorms, or snowy maps to be blanketed in sudden blizzards.

While we still don’t know when Overwatch 2 will release, you can still check out everything else we know about the game.

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New World Devs Are Serious About the MMO. Is Amazon?

Amazon’s foray into gaming hasn’t quite gone according to plan. Back in 2014, the tech giant announced that it would start developing PC titles under its Amazon Game Studios label (which has since been shortened to Amazon Games). Seven years and five canceled projects later, Amazon doesn’t have a lot to show for its efforts.

That’ll change this summer when its ambitious title New World finally releases. For a while, the massively multiplayer online game seemed like it could be next on the chopping block. It experience several delays, but continued to live on while titles like Crucible were shut down. With no other announced projects on Amazon’s upcoming game slate, New World may be carrying the fate of Amazon Games on its shoulders.

Judging by a recent demo for the game, it seems like the developers are ready for that challenge — it’s just not clear if Amazon is taking it seriously enough.

A whole new world

New World is a pretty standard online role-playing game. Players create a character and then slowly build them over time, collecting better gear and increasing a slew of stats. It’s a “numbers go up” game with a lot of systems to keep track of. In the demo session, I ended up holding my group’s journey up as I tried to grasp its daunting menus.

There’s a lot to do in New World, but the focus of this session was one of its latest expeditions. These are essentially the game’s equivalent of raids and feature up to five players coming together to tackle a large mission. It’s a player-versus-environment (PVE) experience where players chew through monsters, pick up as much loot as they can carry, and slay a massive boss.

One nice thing about New World is that it doesn’t have strict class systems. To play the role of healer, I simply had to collect a staff and upgrade a tree in my menu to set some spells. Since players can equip two weapons and ability points aren’t locked to one class, a character can play two roles in one. When using a staff, I had a set of healing spells I could cast. If I switched to my ax, I had an entirely different set of abilities that let me do some actual damage. That versatility makes the game feel less restrictive than more traditional RPGs.

The expedition itself was a somewhat run-of-the-mill dungeon crawl. My team traversed through some dark, drab ruins, killing waves of monsters and picking up rewards. At one point, we had to coordinate to stand on some plates at the same time, but that was about the extent of the communication needed.

Like a lot of modern games, New World’s developers drew inspiration from the Dark Souls series for combat. Fights are physical, requiring players to get up close and personal with enemies. There’s a stamina meter to manage and a dodge roll for evasion. For the most part, fights aren’t too difficult. Through most of the expedition, my teammates and I cut down enemies with ease. It only really ramped up with the bosses, one of which flattened mewith one hit after I greedily tried to inflict some extra damage.

New World

While that particular adventure felt like average MMO fare, there will be a lot more to the final game. The demo didn’t touch on the game’s more slice-of-life mechanics, where it seems like the real hook will lie. Activities like fishing could give it a little more personality and make it more of a long-term proposition for those who just want to live in a digital world. We’ve already seen that there’s a hunger for that with indie sensations like Valheim.

The good news is that the developers are committed to the experience. They emphasize that the day one version will just be the start and that there are lots of plans for years to come. At the moment, it doesn’t feel like New World will wow many at launch, but we’ve repeatedly seen how staying the course can change the future of online games like this.

Will it last?

The only hurdle New World has to get over is Amazon itself. Considering how many of its titles have been canceled already, it’s hard to imagine New World getting the chance to survive if it isn’t a moneymaker out the gate.

Look at the company’s previous effort, Crucible. The free-to-play shooter initially launched last May, but had a somewhat unprecedented release. Amazon moved it back into closed beta two months after launch before canceling the game outright in October. It’s not often you see a studio unrelease a game.

That’s only one troubling story for Amazon’s games division. In 2019, Amazon Games reportedly laid off dozens of employees, canceling several games in the process. Just last month, it shut down production on a planned Lord of the Rings MMO, its most high-profile project to date. In a Q&A session following the demo, New World’s developers admitted that they were personally disappointed by the news. If Amazon is willing to shutter a project like that, will it really stick by New World long enough for it to grow?

New World

It ultimately boils down to a question of how seriously Amazon is taking video games. New World’s developers have an ambitious, sprawling vision for the project, but its production value isn’t quite what one might expect when they hear the name Amazon. Its visuals look muddy next to an online game like Final Fantasy XIV (New World is still months away from launch, so it’ll likely look more polished by August). This is a company with all the money in the world, but I walked away from the demo wondering how much is actually being allocated to the game’s development.

We do know that Amazon has put a fair amount of faith in New World. Throughout all the cancellations, the company has funneled more and more staff and resources into the project. At this point, Amazon is al- in on it. What’s left to be seen is if it has the patience to let the game grow. It’s hard to blame anyone for being skeptical about the answer based on history.

New World launches on August 31 and a closed beta will be available starting July 20.

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Valheim devs tease Hearth and Home update additions, show off buff trolls

Valheim has enjoyed a lot of success out of the gate in early access, and now there are a ton of people who are waiting to see what kind of content is added to the game in the coming months. Valheim‘s developer Iron Gate Games has indicated that the first big update for the game, titled Hearth and Home, is on the way, and today it shared more teasers for the incoming update. The company also shared that it’s been working on some graphics updates as well.

Specifically, Iron Gate says that it has been working on graphics updates for the troll, the second boss named The Elder, and the third boss named Bonemass to “give their old models some new fresh looks.” The new looks, Iron Gate says, better align with how the company envisions Valheim, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any images of the new models for The Elder or Bonemass.

We did, however, get to see an image of the new troll model, which you can see embedded above. If you haven’t played Valheim in a while, the new troll might not look dramatically different from the old one, but the new model does have more hair and improved nails. It’s also noticeably more muscular than the old model, so you can look forward to encountering these buff behemoths roaming the black forest when this update arrives at some point in the future.

Iron Gate didn’t share too much regarding the Hearth and Home update, though it did publish two teaser images which we’ve included both above and below. The first image is a tiny one that seems to focus on a pair of player feet potentially wearing new boots resting at what could be the base of a new throne. The second image shows off what could be a new type of ore, which lines up with the fact that Iron Gate says there are “many new items relating to it.”

Sadly, we didn’t get a release date for the Hearth and Home update today, with Iron Gate saying that it won’t decide on one until the update is in a state that it’s “happy to release it in.” We’ll keep an eye out for that release date and any new teasers Iron Gate decides to share, but in the meantime, try to figure out what is being teased in those two new images above.

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Valheim devs tease Hearth and Home update as game hits another huge milestone

It’s been about six weeks since Valheim first released in early access on Steam, and what a month-and-a-half it’s been. The game skyrocketed in popularity seemingly from the moment it launched, and even now six weeks after release, it seems that momentum has barely slowed down. Indeed, Valheim has racked up millions of sales in this short period of time, and today the developers announced that the game has now surpassed 6 million copies sold.

That is a truly incredible amount of copies for any game, but it’s especially impressive for the six-person team behind Valheim. At this point, many Valheim players have probably burned through all of the available content in the game and are probably wondering when we can expect new content. The team at Iron Gate delivered some development news today, teasing the Hearth and Home update in the process, which will be the first major update in its post-launch roadmap for 2021.

As you might imagine, a team as small as the one at Iron Gate doesn’t really have the manpower to tackle multiple projects at once, so it’s not much of a surprise to hear Iron Gate say that it has devoted most of the past six weeks to fixing bugs that players have been reporting. Things are starting to calm down a little though, which means that as more bugs are getting fixed, the team is able to shift more of its focus over to developing the Hearth and Home update.

We didn’t receive any new details about Hearth and Home and Iron Gate didn’t say when we can expect it to land, but we did get a teaser image for the update. You can see that above, but good luck trying to figure out what it’s supposed to be teasing. All it looks like to us is a crow perched on top of a roof, though as someone who has spent a significant amount of time playing Valheim over the past few weeks, I don’t recognize what the crow is perched on.

We’ll just have to wait for another update for the team at Iron Gate. Today’s Steam News post suggests that more information about this update is coming up soon, so we’ll keep an eye out for those details.

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Call of Duty: Warzone devs swing the banhammer, wipe out 60k cheaters

Those who have encountered cheaters in Call of Duty: Warzone will probably be happy to hear that the devs behind the game have banned a large swathe of them. The Call of Duty team has revealed that it has banned a whopping 60,000 accounts after they were confirmed to be using cheating software. Not only that, but the team behind Warzone revealed what it will be doing to combat the issue of cheating moving forward.

In all, more than 300,000 cheaters have been banned from Warzone thus far, including the people who were banned in the latest wave. In a recent blog post, Warzone devs explain that these are permabans as well. The team explains that features like weekly backend security updates, two-factor authentication (which alone has “invalidated over 180,000 accounts”), improvements to the in-game reporting system, and the elimination of “numerous unauthorized third party software providers,” have all helped the Warzone team track down cheaters and the software they use.

The team also said where it would focus resources moving forward to better combat cheating. For instance, we can expect the Warzone devs to beef up their internal anti-cheat software on top adding new detection technology, putting more resources toward monitoring and enforcement, and adopting a zero tolerance policy toward cheat providers. The team also said that it would continue providing updates on its anti-cheat progress, promising more “two-way dialogue” and that it would deliver timely bans on a consistent basis.

Obviously, the fight against cheaters is one that’s never truly over, as cheaters are always looking for new exploits. The fact that Warzone is a free-to-play game means that cheaters can potentially run rampant because they don’t have to worry about being banned from a game they paid actual money for.

To that point, the Warzone team says that it will “continue to dedicate resources 24/7 to identify and combat cheats, including aimbots, wallhacks, trainers, stat hacks, texture hacks, leaderboard hacks, injectors, hex editors and any third party software that is used to manipulate game data or memory.” This effort will be happening across Warzone, Black Ops, and Modern Warfare, with Raven Software providing the updates regarding Warzone from here on out. The studio says that it’s aiming to provide updates on at least a monthly basis but ideally a weekly one moving forward, so we’ll see what Raven has to say about the topic of Warzone cheating in the future.

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