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Game

The original ‘Pokémon Snap’ comes to Switch Online on June 24th

Are you more interested in playing the original Pokémon Snap than the modern version? You won’t have to pull your Nintendo 64 out of the closet to do it. Nintendo is releasing the N64 game on June 24th for gamers subscribed to Switch Online with the Expansion Pack. It’s still the on-rails (sometimes literally) creature photo safari you remember, complete with tossing fruit to either attract or stun Pokémon in the name of a perfect snapshot.

There’s no mention of any Switch-specific enhancements. The Virtual Console version for the Wii let you post critter pictures on a message board, but that’s not strictly necessary when the Switch lets you capture screenshots to post on Facebook or Twitter.

Pokémon Snap probably won’t persuade you to get the Expansion Pack by itself. Along with classics like Paper Mario and Kirby 64, though, the pattern is clear. Nintendo is still busy fleshing out Switch Online’s extended library with some of the better-known games from the N64 era, and it doesn’t mind adding titles that have present-day counterparts.

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Game

Nintendo is adding the original ‘Paper Mario’ to the Switch Online Expansion Pack

Nintendo launched its paid Switch Online Expansion Pack tier with a very limited number of N64 games in October. And according to Kotaku, they were plagued with various technical issues, such as wonky layouts, poor graphics quality and bugs that cause crashes. Soon, though, the gaming giant will add a Nintendo 64 classic to the list of titles you can access with the subscription service: The original Paper Mario game that was released over 20 years ago. 

The base Switch Online subscription, which gives you access to NES and SNES titles, costs $20 a year. If you want to play the N64 games the expansion pack offers, you’ll have pony up $50 a year or $80 for a family plan. In addition to getting access to N64 games, the more expensive tier also include retro SEGA Genesis games and the $25 Animal Crossing: Happy Home Paradise DLC. There’s still a huge jump from $20 to $50, though, and the addition of Paper Mario could convince fans of the series to subscribe. 

Here’s a summary of what the turn-based game is about:

“After Bowser steals the Star Rod and kidnaps Princess Peach, Mario plots to rescue the seven Star Spirits and free the Mushroom Kingdom from the Koopa’s rule. As Mario travels from the tropical jungles of Lavalava Island to the frosty heights of Shiver Mountain, he’ll need all the help he can get. Master the abilities of the seven Star Spirits and the other allies joining the adventure to aid our hero on the battlefield.”

Paper Mario for the N64 will be available to Expansion Pack subscribers starting on December 10th.  

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AI

Deepfake dubs could help translate film and TV without losing an actor’s original performance

What exactly is lost in translation when TV shows and films are subbed or dubbed into a new language? It’s a hard question to answer, but for the team at AI startup Flawless, it may be one we don’t have to think about in the future. The company claims it has the solution to this particular language barrier; a technical innovation that could help TV shows and films effortlessly reach new markets around the world: deepfake dubs.

We often think of deepfakes as manipulating the entire image of a person or scene, but Flawless’ technology focuses on just a single element: the mouth. Customers feed the company’s software with video from a film or TV show along with dubbed dialogue recorded by humans. Flawless’ machine learning models then create new lip movements that match the translated speech and paste them automatically onto the actor’s head.

“When someone’s watching this dubbed footage, they’re not jolted out of the performance by a jarring word or a mistimed mouth movement,” Flawless’ co-founder Nick Lynes tells The Verge. “It’s all about retaining the performance and retaining the original style.”

The results — despite the company’s name — aren’t 100 percent flawless, but they are pretty good. You can see and hear how they look in the demo reel below, which features a French dub of the classic 1992 legal drama A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. We asked a native French speaker what they made of the footage, and they said it was off in a few places but still a lot smoother than traditional dubbing.

What makes Flawless’ technology particularly interesting is its potential to scale. Flawless’ pitch is that deepfake dubs offer tremendous value for money: they’re cheap and quick to create, especially when compared to the cost of full remakes. And, with the advent of global streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime Video, it’s easier than ever for such dubbed content to reach international markets.

As a recent report in The Wall Street Journal highlighted, demand for streaming services in the US is saturated and companies are now looking abroad for future growth. In the first quarter of 2021, for example, 89 percent of new Netflix users came from outside the US and Canada, while the service’s most watched show, Lupin, is a Parisian thriller.

“What you’re seeing is more and more streamers come online realizing the vast majority of their consumers are going to be outside the US, over time,” Erik Barmack, a former Netflix executive responsible for the company’s international productions, told the WSJ. “The question is how international does your content need to be to be successful.”

As Barmack suggests, there are different ways to answer this demand. You can create shows with local flavor that still entertain domestic viewers. You can do remakes of local hits for new audiences. And you can roll out the subs and dubs. But Flawless is betting that its technology provides a new option that will be particularly enticing for filmmakers.

This is because the company’s deepfake dubs preserve, to some degree, the performance of the original actor, says Lynes. Flawless’ technology is based on research from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics first published in 2019. As you can see in a showcase video below, the dubs it produces are somewhat sensitive to the facial expressions of the performers, retaining their emotion and line delivery.

Flawless has developed these techniques over the past three years, says Lynes, speeding up production time and reducing the amount of input footage. The end results are still a balance of automated dubbing and manual retouching (about 85 percent to 15 percent) but speedy to edit. “If something comes out we don’t particularly like we’ll do a few iterations; resubmit the training data in different forms and get another result,” says Lynes.

The company hopes that preserving the original performance will be appealing to filmmakers who want to retain the magic of their original casting. Lynes gives the example of the 2020 Oscar award-wining Danish film Another Round, which stars Mads Mikkelsen as one of a group of teachers who experiment with low-level alcoholism to see if it improves their lives. After its success at home and on the international award circuit, the film is set to be remade for English-language audiences with Leonardo DiCaprio in the main role.

The news sparked discussion about the value of such remakes. Is the Danish drinking culture that forms the film’s backbone really so alien to American audiences that a remake is required? Is Mikkelsen, an actor who’s appeared in such mainstream fare as Hannibal, Doctor Strange, and Rogue One, such an unknown that he can’t attract viewers in the US? And is the “one-inch barrier” of subtitles (to quote Parasite director Bong Joon Ho) simply too much for audiences to overcome?

From Lynes’ point of view, a deepfake dub would at least be a cheaper way to bring Another Round to English-language audiences while retaining its original flavor. “If we’re offering something that’s two percent the cost of the remake, we only need to be half as appealing to offer 10 times better value,” he says.

Those in charge of the remake will have concerns other than money, of course. No matter how beloved Mikkelsen is, he’s not as bankable as DiCaprio. But Lynes hopes that as deepfake dubs become common it’ll change the calculations for such remakes in future. Much more than that, he says, it’ll could even reshape the international film landscape, allowing actors and directors to reach new audiences with minimal effort.

“I think the pulling power of actors will change globally as a consequence of this technology,” he says. “Different people’s performances and directors’ choices will be better recognized, because a wider audience will be able to see them.”

Perhaps so, but for the moment, Flawless needs to prove that audiences actually want its technology. The company, which launched earlier this month, says it’s already got a first contract with a client it can’t name, but there’s no timeline for when we might see its wares in a commercial TV show or film and that will be the real test. The proof is in the dubbing.

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Game

Nintendo Switch OLED VS Lite VS original: Buy by the screen

In the battle of values between the various Nintendo Switch models today, your focus will likely start with display size. The Lite has a 5.5-inch LCD, the original has a 6.2-inch LCD, and the OLED model has a 7-inch OLED panel. This larger model also comes with an improved kickstand, higher base storage, and it’ll cost you a little bit more money.

Skip if you already own a Switch

The Nintendo Switch OLED will cost you the most – it’s around $350 at the moment this article is set to be published. That’s $50 more than the original Switch, and $150 more than the Switch Lite – BUT, we’re going to go ahead and stop comparing to the Switch Lite here, since it’s basically a completely different device. See the section below were we expand on that.

The Nintendo Switch OLED is the same height and depth as the standard Switch and is 0.1-inch longer. The OLED model uses the same Joy-Con controllers as its predecessor. The OLED machine comes with 64GB internal storage right out the gate – double that of its predecessor, and the same quoted expected amount of battery life.

Nintendo Switch OLED benefits

The Nintendo Switch (OLED Model) has a bigger display than the other two models. The bezel around the display panel on the Nintendo Switch looks fine and the display panel acts fine, if you’ve only ever used the Nintendo Switch. If you start using the Nintendo Switch OLED, you’ll feel strange going back to either other model.

The larger display on the Nintendo Switch OLED covers a larger percentage of the total body of the unit. The size of the hardware isn’t particularly significant – as such, the panel feels more modern. In the past, it felt normal to have smart touchscreen devices with larger amounts of dead space around the display panel than we do in the most modern devices. This is a perfect example of a time where a company – Nintendo – can flex their ability to place a larger display panel in a machine that previously had a smaller panel.

If you’re looking for a larger, brighter display panel for your Nintendo Switch experience, the OLED model brings that to the table. If you’re looking for a better docked experience, you’re out of luck.

Why to skip the Lite

We’ve got a whole bunch of reasons why you should avoid buying the Nintendo Switch Lite. Unless you’re looking to play a game you KNOW will work on the machine in a very specific sort of gameplay situation – with a very tiny display – you’ll do well to buy one of the larger devices.

SEE TOO: Nintendo Switch (OLED model) revealed – all the upgrades

The Nintendo Switch and Switch OLED have the same processor inside. It’s literally the same NVIDIA Tegra X1, codename Mariko (see comic book inspiration for names, here, for the past decade: Logan, Parker, Mariko (related to Wolverine, as well – and Erista. The slightly larger display did not necessitate a more advanced processor, it would seem. This means the output from the machine in TV mode, or docked mode, is the same as the standard Switch.

The Nintendo Switch Lite cannot play all the same games as the other Switch Models. It is a single unit, without compatibility with the dock, and without Joy-Con controllers – that means no TV mode, no Tabletop mode. See I regret buying the Switch Lite and you probably will, too. There you’ll find all the reasons you need to avoid this device.

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Game

Watch DIYer play original DOOM on a dissected Ikea light bulb

Getting the original DOOM game to run on lightweight hardware has morphed over the years as DIYers embrace increasingly bizarre and amusing devices. We’ve seen the game on old iPods, digital cameras, the Apple Watch, graphing calculators, printers, and more. The latest item added to the list is a dissected light bulb from Ikea.

The new project comes from the YouTube channel Next-Hack, which explains the process that went into this build. The DIYers took apart an Ikea TRÅDFRI RGB GU10 LED light bulb and harvested its various bits and pieces. The light bulb offers only 108kB of RAM and 1MB of internal flash storage.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ybybf4tJWw

That’s not enough for a fully functional game, of course, which is where an inexpensive 160 x 160 resolution 1.8-inch TFT display came in. As well, the team used an external SPI flash for storing the DOOM WAD file. The full project details, including part numbers and software, can be found on Next-Hack’s website.

The team notes that the DOOM port can be used as the base for other DIY projects that involve very limited RAM. As well, Next-Hack says there is some room for improvement on the project, though it was ultimately an overwhelming success. Someone who wanted to make their own portable DOOM gaming device could follow the instructions and end up with a functional product.

For those who want to experience the nostalgia of playing the classic DOOM game but aren’t interested in taking apart a light bulb, there are other options. Bethesda brought updated versions of DOOM and DOOM II to Android and iOS stores not too long ago, meaning you can play them on your smartphone or tablet. The games are priced at $4.99/each.

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Tech News

Warhol NFT auction opens Pandora’s Box on “original art”

Christies is set to auction several Andy Warhol digital works of art on the NFT blockchain. This would at first seem like the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how an NFT could be used to buy and sell art that would otherwise seem ephemeral. There’s just one problem: The files described by the auction are not the originals they profess to be – they couldn’t be.

The “five original drawings” by Andy Warhol shown in the Christies NFT auction listing are listed as having dimensions of 6000 x 4500 pixels. The original artworks were created on an Amiga computer with 320 x 200 pixel resolution, per the limits of the graphics framebuffers on said machine. As described by researcher Golan Levin, “it should be clear that a 6000×4500 image in Amiga’s uncompressed .PIC format could not possibly fit on a 1.4MB floppy, nor in the Amiga 1000’s 512kb RAM.”

It’s shown by Golan that the works being auctioned by Christies must be at least 2nd-generation creations. They are at least (if they are the original files at the described size) upscaled versions as created by “a CMU grad student” at the direction of The Warhol Foundation after their rediscovery, decades after Warhol’s death.

Not only could these files not possibly be the original files created by Warhol – they’re made with different sorts of pixels. The original files were created on a computer that did not work with “square” pixels.

The sale from Christies is for what Christies suggests are the original digital artworks as made by Warhol. This begs the question: What is an original Warhol? Does it need to have been looked upon by Warhol’s eyes? There are certainly Warhol artworks considered legitimate Warhol artworks that were not painted or printed by Warhol – he worked with crews of printers and painters that often did the entirety of the work at Warhol’s direction.

Further, a whole bunch of Warhol’s most famous works are based on other works – they’re images of designs of products he did not design, like the Campbell’s Soup can, or photographs of famous people.

WAIT A MINUTE: What is an NFT in the first place?

Do these pieces of work count as original Warhol works if the original files – and the original display on which they were created – are no longer available for displaying the work? Are these works so far away from the original that they’d be best dedicated to the public domain instead of owned by any one person or organization?

Or does the NTF set up this situation so that the only part that matters is the transaction between the people who “own” the artworks now and whoever will own them before, via Christies? Is the only issue the idea that there is an actual “original” file out there to be had in the first place?

Care to take a guess at what Andy Warhol would say about this situation?



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Tech News

Apple stops selling the original HomePod to concentrate on the Mini

Nearly four years after it was first announced, Apple is discontinuing its original HomePod smart speaker. The company said it wants to concentrate on the $99 HomePod Mini.

As TechCrunch noted, Apple took almost five years in building this device. It even built the largest anechoic chamber for commercial use in the US to test the device’s audio capability.

When it launched, the audiophile community also noted that Apple’s speakers stand tall against proven devices in the hi-fi audio segment. That’s no mean feat. Despite good reviews and impressive audio quality, the $350 HomePod never really took off.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple didn’t elaborate why it’s shelving the HomePod, but it hinted that the HomePod Mini’s amazing sales number could be the reason:

HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.

While there was no doubt about HomePod’s great audio prowess, its $350 tag at the launch made many people choose smart speakers from Google, Amazon, or Sonos. When the company slashed the price to $299 in 2019, it was a bit too late.

The Cupertino-based company’s idea might have been to lure you into buying multiple HomePods and use them as a home theatre system, but the idea never really hit home.

Last year, while Apple announced the HomePod Mini, it smartly priced it $99 — the same price as the new Google Audio and the spherical Amazon Echo. That helped the company drive better sales than the original HomePod.

Apple will continue selling the original HomePod till it’s in stock and will provide software and service support. So if you want one as a collectible, now is your chance.

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Published March 13, 2021 — 04:58 UTC



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Tech News

Apple HomePod axed as original Siri speaker makes way for mini

Bid farewell to the original Apple HomePod, with the Siri-powered smart speaker being discontinued, the company has confirmed today. Launched in early 2018, the speaker met with praise for its high sound quality, but its $439 price tag at release meant it struggled to gain traction against rivals from Amazon and Google.

Indeed, the whole launch had been a struggle for the Cupertino firm. HomePod was announced at WWDC 2017 in June of that year, but its release date was pushed back several times. It wasn’t until February 2018, in fact, that deliveries and in-store sales began.

Apple later attempted to address pricing criticisms by trimming the HomePod to $299, though it still proved a tough sell. Part of the challenge was that several features other smart speakers offered – such as stereo pairing and multi-room use – didn’t arrive until later firmware updates. That combined with frustrations around Siri, and the assistant’s capabilities in comparison to Alexa and the Google Assistant, and Apple’s preference to keep rival music services at arm’s length.

Now, Apple has confirmed to TechCrunch, it’s time for the full-sized HomePod to wave goodbye. Existing stock of the speaker will be sold, through Apple online as well as in stores, but after that’s gone there’ll be no more. Instead, the company plans to focus on the HomePod mini which launched last year.

“HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99,” Apple said in a statement. “We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.”

At a third of the price of the original HomePod, the HomePod mini unsurprisingly doesn’t sound as impressive. However it’s far more in line with what Amazon and Google charge for their smart speakers. That opens the door to a more cost-effective way to put Siri in more locations around the home, something the price tag of the full-sized HomePod made generally unfeasible.

It’s not the only product that Apple has pulled the curtain closed on in recent weeks. The iMac Pro – the higher-spec version of Apple’s all-in one computer – was discontinued earlier this month, with the company confirming that it would only be available “while supplies last” online. Custom configurations were first to go, leaving just the standard $4,999 model still available to ship.

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Game

Diablo II: Resurrected will support your ancient original game saves

Blizzard has just dropped a somewhat surprising detail about its recently announced Diablo II: Resurrected remastered game: you’ll be able to import your decades’ old game saves from the original title, allowing you to pick up where you left off. The original Diablo II game was released in June 2000 and now has the honor of being a cult classic.

As you’d expect from a remastered title, Diablo II: Resurrected brings support for the latest consoles, as well as PC, with 4K, updated graphics, and more. The game is expected to be released by December 2021, but can be preordered now for $39.99 USD (Standard) and $59.99 USD (Prime Evil Collection).

Ultimately, fans are promised the game they fell in love with 20 years ago, but with the polish and tweaks necessary to make it an even better version of an already great game. This effort was recently detailed by the title’s game producer and game designer Matthew Cederquist and Andre Abrahamian in an interview with IGN Middle East.

As expected, players will be able to cross-save the game so that they can enjoy the experience across all of their supported hardware — however, cross-play won’t be a thing, at least not at launch. As the final question in the interview, the duo was asked whether players will be able to import their original game save files.

“Yes!” Matthew said, “Yes, keep those!” He went on to explain that the team behind the remastered title wondered whether the original game save files would work, ‘and we kind of shoved it in and it worked!’ The support covers the local single-player original game save files.

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Game

Diablo 2 Resurrected gets some good news for fans of the original

At BlizzConline over the weekend, Blizzard revealed the long-awaited Diablo 2 remake, which will be known as Diablo 2 Resurrected. Obviously, the reveal of Diablo 2 Resurrected sparked a lot of questions among fans, especially after the disaster that was Warcraft 3 Reforged. Blizzard – or more specifically Vicarious Visions, the Blizzard subsidiary working on Diablo 2 Resurrected – has answered some of those burning questions, especially a very important one about whether or not Diablo 2 Resurrected will overwrite original Diablo 2 installs.

The answer to that question is “Absolutely not,” according to Diablo 2 Resurrected principal designer Rob Gallerani in a Diablo Q&A session during BlizzConline. When asked if Diablo 2 Resurrected would overwrite an original Diablo 2 installation, Gallerani answered, “No, absolutely not. Everything you have about D2 currently will stay D2; this is a separate product, a separate game. You can play them at the same time if you want.”

In a follow-up to that question, Gallerani confirmed that players will not be able to bring characters from the original Diablo 2 forward into Diablo 2 Resurrected, so it looks like all of us Diablo veterans will have to start fresh when Resurrected lands on the scene (not that anyone is likely to complain about that).

That part about Diablo 2 Resurrected not overwriting original Diablo 2 installs might seem like a strange question to anyone who didn’t witness the launch of Warcraft 3 Reforged at the beginning of 2020. Reforged replaced the original Warcraft 3 entirely, forcing players of the old version to update to the new client even if they hadn’t purchased Warcraft 3 Reforged. That didn’t sit well with many fans, so Blizzard is understandably looking to keep the original Diablo 2 and Diablo 2 Resurrected separate.

Other interesting tidbits about Diablo 2 Resurrected that were revealed during that Q&A session include the fact that D2R will be based on Diablo 2 version 1.14, which is the current live version of the game. Furthermore, while there will be cross-progression – which means items, characters, and progress through the game will carry over from platform to platform – there isn’t cross-play planned for the game right now. You can watch the full Q&A in the video embedded above, but otherwise, we’ll keep an eye out for more details about Diablo 2 Resurrected.

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