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Game

Facebook Gaming streamers and viewers can play ‘Pac-Man’ together

is about to become more interactive. Two features are rolling out today that should help creators and their fans seamlessly play games together, and give viewers other ways to get involved with streams.

Play With Streamer is self-explanatory. There will be a button on livestreams that lets viewers play Pac-Man Community (a version of Pac-Man developed in partnership with Genvid and Bandai Namco) with streamers and other community members. Pac-Man Community includes a four-player co-op mode, a mobile-optimized maze creator, rankings and community challenges.

Facebook Interactives, meanwhile, are interactive layers viewers will see on top of livestreams. When Pac-Man Community‘s Watch Mode is enabled, they can help or hamper an AI-controlled Pac-Man or the ghosts through the in-game video player. Facebook says these features form some of the first steps of its vision for the metaverse.

Other platforms have long had ways for players to interact directly with streams. On Twitch, viewers can control and by entering commands in the chat. There are also extensions that let viewers the streamer is playing by, for instance, granting them extra items or even instantly killing their character. With Stadia’s , viewers can play with a streamer who’s broadcasting their gameplay on YouTube, as long as they also own the game and have .

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Game

OnePlus launches a Pac-Man edition of its Nord 2 smartphone

OnePlus is known for its special edition phones, and now it’s creating another for its latest Nord 2 5G smartphone — but this time, it’s moving from iconic cars to iconic video games. The company has unveiled the OnePlus Nord 2 x Pac-Man edition with custom covers, themed wallpapers and even a Lego-like smartphone holder. 

The back of the phone has a film with a small Pac-Man logo, and it even glows in the dark to reveal a maze. There’s also a translucent themed case featuring Pac-Man and his enemies Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde. once its turned on, you get one of eight Pac-Man-themed wallpapers, along with a Pac-Man-themed charging animation, redesigned retro icons/notification sounds and more. The box is also Pac-Man themed.

OnePlus launches a Pac-Man addition of its Nord 2 smartphone

OnePlus

If also comes with a Lego-like Pac-Man stand you build yourself, provided you order it directly from OnePlus. Finally, it includes a pre-installed version of the 2015 (free-to-play) game Pac-Man 256. 

Otherwise, it’s the same OnePlus Nord 2 we recently tried, complete with a 6.43-inch 1080 90Hz OLED display, MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI processor and 4,500mAh, 65W fast-charging battery. On the back, you’ll find a triple-camera setup with a 50-megapixel main camera, 8-megapixel ultrawide and a 2-megapixel monochrome camera. It goes on sale tomorrow for £499/€529/₹37,999 in the UK, Europe and India respectively, and as with the regular Nord 2, isn’t available in the US. 

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Tech News

Google Search AR summons Pac-Man on your palm

Google may have ditched its Daydream VR platform but it’s still holding on to augmented reality, at least without the headset. Google recently released WebXR, short for Extended Reality, experiments that showcased more practical uses for AR on your phone but most of its AR experiences really revolved around entertaining or sometimes educational experiences instead. Google’s mobile Search, in particular, has been putting virtual objects in the real world via your phone’s screen, and its latest trick is to call forth Japan’s most iconic characters, wherever you are in the world.

Japan is known for many things and quite a lot of those border on the eccentric and sometimes even downright odd. Of course, Japanese franchises have spanned not decades of products, properties, and characters, and some might be more familiar to those outside of the country than others.

For example, some might not be aware that the gluttonous yellow sphere known as Pac-Man actually originated in Japan but, these days, those who do know Evangelion will have no doubts about the fictional series’ origins. From the cute Hello Kitty to the towering Gundam, Japan has been home to many artifacts of pop culture now known throughout the world. And like many such big properties, there have been real-world recreations in Japan but you don’t have to fly halfway around the world just to see them.

In fact, thanks to Google’s AR, you can actually see them right in your room or wherever you decided to point your phone’s camera to. In some cases, the characters just stand on your floor or desk, waving around, but Pac-Man’s AR “sticker” has the hero chomping pellets around a circle, followed by a Congo line of ghosts. Also, be prepared to make some room for the gigantic Ultraman should you decide to view him in his actual size.

Granted, these aren’t exactly the futuristic augmented reality applications one might imagine from science fiction and some Google Search AR stickers are designed to inform rather than just entertain. That said, it’s also good to see Google’s collection grow to cover all kinds of themes and objects, including and especially those coming from other cultures.

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Game

PAC-MAN 99 battle royale chomps onto Nintendo Switch Online

Just like the iconic tile-matching game Tetris, you might presume there are only so many ways you can improve on Pac-Man’s core game mechanics. But just like Tetris, Nintendo wants to prove you wrong. In the spirit of Tetris 99, Nintendo has just launched PAC-MAN 99 that pits 99 players against each other in a race to become Pac-One, the last Pac standing in what an adrenaline-inducing game of pure mayhem.

Battle royale games like Fortnite and PUBG may have you thinking of almost a hundred Pac-Man chomping along a single “map”. That would have probably been interesting but Nintendo found a way to keep the core of the game similar while still making it just as chaotic as a battle royale game. Each of the 99 players still gets their own “board” but, in addition to racing against ghosts, players also get the opportunity to thwart others’ progress.

At the heart of PAC-MAN 99 is the concept of Jammer Pac-Man. Every ghost you successfully chomp on (after eating a power pellet, of course), gets sent to some random players’ board as a “ghost” Pac-Man that causes you to slow down when you bump into them. And then there are these “sleeper ghosts” that you can gobble up to create a trail of ghosts following your ghastly nemeses.

Why would you want that, you ask? So that when you do chomp those real ghosts, you send even more Jammer Pac-Men to your rivals! As with any modern game, PAC-MAN 99 has its fair share of presets and power-ups to keep you on your toes.

PAC-MAN 99 is now available for the Nintendo Switch but only as an exclusive for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. There are also paid DLCs you can grab to mix things up a bit and change your game’s appearance to look like a Xevious or GALAGA game instead.

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AI

Nvidia’s AI recreates Pac-Man from scratch just by watching it being played

Nvidia is best known for its graphics cards, but the company conducts some serious research into artificial intelligence, too. For its latest project, Nvidia researchers taught an AI system to recreate the game of Pac-Man simply by watching it being played.

There’s no coding involved, no pre-rendered images for the software to draw on. The AI model is simply fed visual data of the game in action along with the accompanying controller inputs and then recreates it frame by frame from this information. The resulting game is playable by humans, and Nvidia says it will be releasing it online in the near future.

The AI version is by no means a perfect facsimile, though. The imagery is blurry and it doesn’t seem like the AI managed to capture the exact behavior of the game’s ghosts, each of which is programmed with a specific personality that dictates its movement. But the basic dynamics of Pac-Man are all there: eat pellets, avoid ghosts, and try not to die.

“It learns all of these things just by watching,” Nvidia’s Rev Lebaredian, vice president of simulation technology, told journalists in a briefing. “[It’s] similar to how a human programmer can watch many episodes of Pac-Man on YouTube and infer what the rules of the games are and reconstruct them.”

Lebaredian said the work had been done in collaboration with Pac-Man’s creator, Bandai Namco, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the arcade classic today.

The AI-generated Pac-Man is a little blurry, but all the basics are there.
Image: Nvidia

Nvidia says work like this shows how artificial intelligence will be used for game design in the future. Developers can input their work into the AI and use it to create variations or maybe design new levels. “You could use this to mash different games together,” Sanja Fidler, director of Nvidia’s Toronto research lab, told journalists, “giving additional power to games developers by [letting them] blend together different games.”

Creating AI that can learn the rules of a virtual world just by watching it in action also has implications for tasks like programming robots. “Eventually we’d like it to learn the rules of the real world,” says Lebaredian. The AI might watch videos of robotics trolleys navigating a warehouse, for example, and use that information to design navigation software of its own.

The program that recreated Pac-Man is called GameGAN. GAN stands for generative adversarial network and is a common architecture used in machine learning. The basic principle of a GAN is that it works in two halves. The first half of the GAN tries to replicate the input data, while the second half compares this to the original source. If they don’t match, the generated data is rejected and the generator tweaks its work and resubmits it.

AI systems like this could be used to train warehouse robots like the one above, which is powered by Nvidia’s hardware and software.
Image: Nvidia

Using AI to generate virtual worlds like video games has been done before. But Nvidia’s researchers introduced several new aspects, including a “memory module” that allowed the system to store an internal map of the game world. This leads to greater consistency in the game world, a key characteristic when recreating the mazes of Pac-Man. They also allow for the static elements of the game world (like the maze) to be separated from the dynamic ones (like the ghosts), which suits the company’s goal of using AI to generate new levels.

David Ha, an AI researcher at Google who’s worked on similar tasks, told The Verge that the research was “very interesting.” Earlier teams have tried to recreate game worlds using GANs, said Ha, “but from what I know, [this] is the first to demonstrate good results.”

“All in all, a very exciting paper, and I look forward to see more developments using this approach,” said Ha.

Some elements of the process definitely need tweaking, though, and demonstrate the particular fragility of artificial intelligence when learning new tasks. Fidler told journalists that to recreate Pac-Man, GameGAN had to be trained on some 50,000 episodes. Getting that gameplay data from humans wasn’t feasible, so the team used an AI agent to generate the data. Unfortunately, the AI agent was so good at the game that it hardly ever died.

“That made it hard for the AI trying to recreate the game to learn the concept of dying,” says Fidler. Instead, in early versions of the AI-generated Pac-Man, GameGAN tweaked the game so that ghosts never actually reached the title character but trail directly behind it like baby ducks following a parent. “It’s a funny effect of the way we trained it,” says Fidler.

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