‘Endless Dungeon’ is a tense mix of tower defense and twin-stick hero shooter

My first playthrough of ended in disaster. The “Crystal Bot” I was supposed to defend was overrun by a ravenous swarm of bugs after I left it open to attack by pulling my two heroes away to protect a resource point. Naturally, I started a new run immediately after I had a moment to curse my luck.

Endless Dungeon falls somewhere between a sequel and remake of 2014’s Dungeon of the Endless, the game that helped developer Amplitude Studios make its name. Like its predecessor, Endless Dungeon tasks you with protecting a crystal from hordes of enemies while finding your way through a mysterious multi-level dungeon. But where Dungeon of the Endless took place on a strange alien planet, this one is set on a station left behind by the Endless, the ancient alien race that connects all of Amplitude’s projects.

Also new to Endless Dungeon is that it’s a twin-stick shooter and features a roguelite progression, meaning you’ll need to start from the beginning of the game each time you fail your objective but you’ll carry over some of the things you earned to make your next run easier. Additionally, Amplitude has built the game from the start with multiplayer in mind.

“We had a lot of ideas for Dungeon of the Endless that didn’t make it into the game,” says lead game designer Arthur Prudent during a press event Sega held last week. “This time we wanted to do something more accessible. That’s why we wanted the player to have direct control. That forced us to change a lot of things.”

Each run of Endless Dungeon begins with you picking a team of misfits to delve into the depths of the station. In the demo I played, you could take two characters with you. The final game will feature eight playable heroes, with a full team consisting of three squadmates.

Endless Dungeon

Amplitude Studios / Sega

When playing online, you and two other friends control one character each. In singleplayer, you can only play as one hero at a time. However, you can issue orders to your two party members. Each hero has their own backstory and playstyle, as well as special and ultimate abilities. Zed, one of my favorites, carries a minigun into battle with her and can clear rooms with an explosive line attack.

Once you have a squad assembled, the bulk of Endless Dungeon’s gameplay involves attempting to get the cute Crystal Bot I mentioned before to the end of a level so that it can descend further down the station and you can find what’s at the center. The catch is that each time you attempt to move the robot, an endless horde of enemies will attack until the bot is either destroyed or you successfully get it to its destination. Waves of enemies will also periodically attack you while you explore each level.

What makes the action in Endless Dungeon thrilling is that it’s a tower-defense game where you don’t know the entire layout of a level when you start. You have to explore each level to find all the enemy spawn points. My first run ended when I left one of the corridors leading to my Crystal Bot undefended. Some levels will feature locked doors, with a central switch you can trigger to unlock them all at once, allowing you to shape the path enemies take.

Endless Dungeon

Amplitude Studios / Sega

Every level consists of multiple rooms, and in each room, you can build turrets to thin out enemy waves. In addition to the usual assortment of damage-dealing ones, you can build turrets that slow your enemies and shield your other assets to make them more resistant to attack. Gone from Dungeon of the Endless is that game’s light mechanic where enemies would spawn in rooms where you didn’t spend Dust to power them. That makes planning your defenses both more and less difficult since you need to find the enemy’s dedicated spawn points.

Building turrets requires a resource called industry. Alongside food and science, it’s one of three primary resources you’ll collect to build structures, heal your heroes, research new turrets and more. A fourth resource called Dust Shards lets you upgrade your Crystal Bot and restore power to rooms left without any.

Endless Dungeon

Amplitude Studios / Sega

Managing your resources in Endless Dungeon is its own tightrope act. As you explore each floor of the station, you’ll find rooms with spots for generators that can add to your food, industry or science stockpiles. If you have enough industry points, you can build additional extractors, with each subsequent one costing more than the last. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

That’s because Endless Dungeon plays out in real-time but your generators only add to your resource pool when you open a new room. Moreover, they’re one of the first things the denizens of the station will attack on their way to your Crystal Bot. To make things even more complicated, even if you build an industry generator on every spot you find, you won’t have enough materials for all the turrets you need to defend everything. In short, expansion comes with risks in Endless Dungeon, and the game constantly asks you to make those kinds of decisions.

For instance, collecting Dust Shards involves uprooting your Crystal Bot and moving it, meaning it must leave behind any turrets you built to defend it. Obtaining upgrades from a research terminal is similarly perilous since starting one will trigger a wave of enemies.

Endless Dungeon

Amplitude Studios / Sega

My second and third runs end about as well as my first one, and I’m no closer to completing the demo than I was when the preview began. “The game is supposed to be hard,” Prudent tells me and everyone else taking part in the event. Each time you fail a run in Endless Dungeon, you find yourself back in a bar that plays smooth jazz in the background. It’s here that you get a chance to talk to all the characters you can take on your runs and unlock the things that will make your next playthrough go smoother.

Amplitude Studios wasn’t ready to preview those systems when I played the game. Without experiencing them, it’s hard to say if Endless Dungeon will have the staying power of games like  or , but what I played last left me excited to see where the studio takes the game. Endless Dungeon doesn’t have a release date, but when it does arrive, you’ll be able to play it on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch.

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How Automation Hero uses accurate AI to process documents

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Before Dr. Alan Turing designed the first computer, people merely dreamed of intelligent machines that could read paperwork and do most of their grunge work for them. Science-fiction movies depict advanced software processing large amounts of documents to find hidden insights that save the day. Today this is available in real life from progressive-thinking software providers. 

One of them, San Francisco-based Automation Hero, today launched v6.0 of its Hero Platform, a SaaS service the company claims takes a quantum leap in OCR (optical character recognition) document-processing accuracy. It also can read handwriting with 70-80% accuracy. 

Yes, this includes doctors’ notoriously bad handwriting, Automation Hero founder and CEO Stefan Groschupf told VentureBeat. 

The Hero Platform has shown, both in beta trials and in actual production, that it can unlock millions of dollars in return on investment (ROI) for companies such as MarkerStudy, turning documents into actionable insights in claims processing, supply chain optimization, fraud detection and customer-interaction automation.

Faster new AI engine

The latest version of the AH platform provides a faster new AI engine for document processing and automation, Groschupf told VentureBeat. The company’s deep learning-based approach together with its fast-reading OCR process can turn structured or unstructured documents – such as contracts, invoices, receipts, prescriptions, doctor notes and purchase orders – immediately into highly accurate and actionable data, Groschupf said. 

Modeled on cognitive science, Automation Hero’s OCR engine turns scans of documents into data similar to how humans read even the most difficult handwriting with contextual cues. The patent-pending technology is combined with an intuitive-to-use natural language understanding engine, all within a single end-to-end platform, Groschupf said. 

While this seems far-fetched, the goal is to deliver the highest ROIs in the industry within weeks without any data science or large training data required, Groschupf said. 

“Our job at Automation Hero is to accelerate health care, get insurance claims paid out faster, and find bad actors that over-invoice or bring to the surface contracts that can be renegotiated,” Groschupf told VentureBeat. “Our mission is to provide overwhelmed employees with the AI superpowers to work faster through the mountain of documents that keeps stacking up on their desk or in their inbox.

“We have AI that goes to a document management tool and processes the data to make it actionable to automate certain business processes.”

Faster than Google’s OCR, Automation Hero claims

Based on new benchmarking data, the technology outperformed handwriting OCR alternatives ABBYY and Google Vision by approximately 280% and 40% respectively, Groschupf said. It also outperformed ABBYY and Rossum in AI-based invoice processing in a separate benchmark by 60% and 100% respectively, he said.

Insurance claims processing is Automation Hero’s best business right now, Groschupf told VentureBeat. 

“Eighty percent of all data in companies is in documents. This is a treasure chest that historically was not tapped,” Groschupf said. “And if you think about all of this business intelligence and ETL, it’s a multi-billion dollar market in which we are all operating on 20% structured data. Historically, humans have stored so much unstructured data – emails, contracts, images, invoices, infrastructure data, etc. – that it took days or weeks to get through previously.

“We can do things that you couldn’t do before, such as constantly mining hundreds of thousands of contracts, automating 60,000 claims a day, and so on. We really want to be a bicycle for people’s minds, mining way more documents than we could do before.”

Automation Hero’s unique approach to OCR has decreased tedious claims administration work by hundreds of hours, transforming the way we handle customer claims and manage employee satisfaction, Eoin Grace, deputy head of IT at Markerstudy, said in a media advisory. 

“Previously, we were manually deciphering doctors’ diagnoses, stamped addresses, and handwritten notations, across a wide variety of claims forms,” Grace said. “Automation Hero’s intelligent OCR technology delivers above-human accuracy.”

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The latest ‘Valorant’ hero is Chamber, the dapper sniper

Valorant players are getting another hero to use in Riot’s free-to-play shooter. As described by character producer John Goscicki, Chamber plays the “gentleman assassin” role, a Sentinel-class character who “bunkers down, and holds a location by getting frags.” He can do this through a skill and weapon set that includes a trap that scans for enemies, a heavy pistol and a sniper rifle that can take enemies out with one perfectly-placed shot. Chamber will go live in Valorant with Patch 3.10 on Nov. 16. 

Valorant Chamber

Riot Games

Given that his abilities are focused around “highly lethal, pinpoint accuracy,” as Goscicki says, they wanted his style to match. “A person like that would care about the finer things in life as well—from the cut of his vest, to the color of the threading, and how shoes would bring the whole outfit together.” If that description speaks to you, Chamber might be an agent worth trying out.

That patch comes a few weeks after Riot is set to release the Valorant Episode 3, Act III Battlepass, which goes live on November 2nd and will be available for 10 weeks. It comes with five free and nine paid “Marquee Items,” and the pack itself costs 1,000 Valorant Points, the game’s in-game currency. According to Riot associate art director Sean Marino, the Battlepass is focused on bringing some fall holiday vibes to the game. Given that one of the items Marino mentioned is meant to fit in with Halloween, it’s a little bit of a bummer that this doesn’t launch until after the holiday. But hey, why limit Halloween to just one month?

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‘Overwatch’ hero McCree will be renamed Cole Cassidy on October 26th

Overwatch hero Jesse McCree has a new name, and, no, it’s not Deadeye Dave. , Blizzard has renamed the gunslinger in the aftermath of his real-life namesake back in August. As of October 26th, McCree will be known as Cole Cassidy.

“To make the new Overwatch better — to make things right — he had to be honest with his team and himself.” Blizzard said in a tweet. “The cowboy he was rode into the sunset, and Cole Cassidy faced the world at dawn.”

The real Jesse McCree left the studio after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for fostering a “frat boy” workplace. While not directly named in the complaint, McCree reportedly took part in the infamous “Cosby Suite” where Blizzard employees, including former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, allegedly harassed women. When it first announced the name change, Blizzard said it wanted to find one that better represented Overwatch’s ideals. It also promised it would no longer name in-game characters after employees.

Alongside the name change, Blizzard is changes to Cassidy’s kit. It may tweak his Deadeye ultimate to make it more deadly and allow players to use his Combat Roll in midair. The latter change should help with avoiding vertical knockback abilities from heroes like Doomfist and Wrecking Ball. You can try out the tweaks by launching Overwatch’s Experimental mode.

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Apex Legends new hero Seer revealed before Emergence

The next season of Apex Legends is upon us, and with its release comes a new legendary character with a pair of bright, shiny eyeballs. “A woman will rise bearing the mark of the moth,” says the story. “Her firstborn will be a cursed child.” It is according to the legend passed to us by the creators of the game and the lore that “everything he touches will be changed…” and that “this cannot be unseen.”

This video introduction to the new legend is outlined as such: “A bad omen cast a shadow over Obi’s birth: will his light survive and emerge from the darkness?” He has energy in his eyes, energy in his chest – and he has a fantastic hat. It’s a hat that we sincerely hope will live up to similar hats that’ve come before it.

The way this character wears his hat is a bit like Kung Lao from Mortal Kombat, and a bit like Cade Bane from Star Wars: Clone Wars. He’s a mysterious dude, of that we can be sure.

Seer works with microdrones and “an artist’s eye” which will allow him advanced abilities. Per the Apex Legends Emergence page, “Seer spots opportunities that other Legends might miss, and seizes them in the most beautiful way he can.”

The creators of this game also reminded us all that the Apex Legends: Emergence launch trailer reveal will take place on July 22, 2021. That’ll be the way of the future in this game, top to bottom.

Apex Legends can be played for free on a wide variety of platforms. You’ll find this game on Nintendo Switch, PC via Origin and Steam, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 4. The video above was directed by Robert Valley, produced by Electronic Arts and Passion Pictures. Sound Design and Mix was handled by Source Sound Inc, and everything else was done by Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment.

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Tech News

6 things the Pixel 3a and 3a XL need to become Google’s hero phones

After two years of focusing on Assistant, Android, and AI, Google is teasing a return to hardware announcements at its I/O developers conference. In a promo page tie-in with Avengers: Endgame posted on its storefront late Monday, Google declared that “something big is coming to the Pixel universe” on May 7, which just so happens to be the same day as the I/O 2019 keynote. So unless Google is pulling a massive head fake here, it will be launching a new Pixel line at its conference this year.

There have already been rumors about a so-called Pixel 3a and 3a XL—including an accidental reference on the Google Store menu—and all indications are that these will be budget versions of Google’s flagship phones, with less-premium materials (plastic vs glass), an older processor (Snapdragon 600 series vs 800 series), and a lower-resolution screen (1080p vs 1440p). But if Google’s new phones are going to succeed where the flagship Pixels didn’t, they need to nail a few things right out of the gate. Here are six things the Pixel 3a needs to make Google’s new phone the one to buy.

A way lower price

The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL start at $799 and $899 respectively, a hair below Samsung’s and Apple’s most-expensive phones, but still very much at the high end of the market. Both Samsung and Apple offer affordable versions of their own handsets that start at $750, but Google is going to have to do better than that with the Pixel 3a.

Ideally a budget Pixel would start at half the price of its premium counterpart: $399 for the Pixel 3a and $450 for the Pixel 3a XL. Google’s “budget” phones will have way more competition than its flagship models, and to make any headway, it needs to offer an attractive price. Basically, anything over $499 just won’t cut it, so forget about the $750 sweet spot carved out by Apple and Samsung.

pixel 3 xl cameraChristopher Hebert/IDG

The Pixel 3a needs to same camera features as the Pixel 3.

The same camera as the Pixel 3

The Pixel has made its bones on its superior camera capabilities, and the Pixel 3a can’t skimp in that department. It needs the same camera hardware as the Pixel 3 and 3 XL and, more importantly, the same features, including Top Shot, Night Sight, and free unlimited online storage in Google Photos. The best reason to buy a Pixel has always been the camera, and Google needs to bring that same mentality to the new model. Most lower-priced Android phones seriously skimp when it comes to the camera, so the Pixel 3a could set itself apart by bringing a premium shooter.

More carrier support

While the Pixel phones have always been sold unlocked through the Google Store and technically work with any SIM, the first three Pixels have been solely offered through Verizon. That means anyone walking into an AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint store won’t be able to buy a Pixel—or even know it exists. So, if Google wants to compete with the sea of budget and mid-range phones out there, it needs to expand the Pixel 3a’s availability beyond a single carrier store. Rumors are starting to swirl about T-Mobile selling the new Pixel, so here’s hoping the exclusive shackles have finally been removed so anyone can find one.

pixel 3 xl back holdChristopher Hebert/IDG

The color options on the Pixel 3 are kinda meh.

Expanded color options

Next to the iPhone XR and Galaxy S10, the Pixel 3’s color options—black, white, and pale pink—are extremely dull. If the Pixel 3a is going to stand out, it needs to up its color game big time. I’m thinking Extremely Blue, Immensely Red, or Terrific Yellow. A new palette alone could make the Pixel 3a way more desirable that its peers.

A killer battery

With 2,915mAh and 3,430mAh batteries, respectively, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL usually last most of a day under a heavy load. But next to the iPhone and Galaxy phones that rarely if ever need a charge before bedtime, the Pixel phones are just OK when it comes to battery life. That needs to change with the Pixel 3a. Since they’re rumored to have a lower-res screen and slower processor, even using the same battery would give the new phones a major boost, making the Pixel 3a a real road warrior.

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