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Game

Roblox will offer layered clothing and facial gestures for more realistic avatars

Roblox wants to make its avatars look less blocky and more realistic, and it has announced a couple of visual updates meant to achieve that goal during its annual developers conference. One of those changes is layered clothing, which it’s been working on since at least 2020. It allows any type of character model to be outfitted with layered clothing items. TechCrunch explains that the feature ensures clothing items will fit avatars and will drape around them naturally, whether they’re human- or dinosaur-shaped. At the moment, players can only access the feature in the beta version of Roblox Studio’s avatar editor, and it’s unclear when it’ll be more widely available.

Roblox CEO David Baszucki said during the keynote:

“Self-identity is a crucial pillar of the metaverse, and the ability to precisely customize your clothing to your unique avatar is paramount in personal expression”

Roblox has also announced a feature called Dynamic Heads that can provide facial animations for avatars. The animations could link with facial tracking, so the character’s mouth can move in time with its words. TechCrunch says the feature was made possible by the company’s acquisition of digital avatar startup Loom.ai last year. 

It’ll be a long time before facial animations become an official part of the game, though — Roblox has only given developers access to it right now, so they can play around with it and test it out. “These releases represent important stepping stones in a long line of innovations to improve the expressiveness and combinatorics in the metaverse,” Daniel Sturman, Chief Technology Officer for Roblox, wrote in his recap for the event.

In addition to the experimental avatar features, Roblox has announced that it’s giving creators a new way to earn money, as well. Creators will be able to put up items they designed for sale for a limited time, turning them into collectibles with higher value than the other goods they’re selling in-game.

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AI

Intel is using machine learning to make GTA V look incredibly realistic

One of the more impressive aspects of Grand Theft Auto V is how closely the game’s San Andreas approximates real-life Los Angeles and Southern California, but a new machine learning project from Intel Labs called “Enhancing Photorealism Enhancement” might push it toward photorealism (via Gizmodo).

Putting the game through the processes researchers Stephan R. Richter, Hassan Abu Alhaija, and Vladlen Kolten created produces a surprising result: a visual look that has unmistakable similarities to the kinds of photos you might casually take through the smudged front window of your car. You have to see it in motion to really appreciate it, but the combination of slightly washed-out lighting, smoother pavement, and believably reflective cars just sells the fact you’re looking out at the real street from a real dashboard, even if it’s all virtual.

The Intel researchers suggest some of that photorealism comes from the datasets they fed their neural network. The group offers a more in-depth and thorough explanation for how image enhancement actually works in their paper (PDF), but as I understand it, the Cityscapes Dataset that was used — built largely from photographs of German streets — filled in a lot of the detail. It’s dimmer and from a different angle, but it almost captures what I imagine a smoother, more interactive version of scrolling through Google Maps’ Street View could be like. It doesn’t entirely behave like it’s real, but it looks very much like it’s built from real things.

The researchers say their enhancements go beyond what other photorealistic conversion processes are capable of by also integrating geometric information from GTA V itself. Those “G-buffers,” as the researchers call them, can include data like the distance between objects in the game and the camera, and the quality of textures, like the glossiness of cars.

While you might not see an official “photorealism update” roll out to GTA V tomorrow, you may have already played a game or watched a video that’s benefited from another kind of machine learning — AI upscaling. The process of using machine learning smarts to blow up graphics to higher resolutions doesn’t show up everywhere, but has been featured in Nvidia’s Shield TV and in several different mod projects focused on upgrading the graphics of older games. In those cases a neural network is making predictions to fill in missing pixels of detail from a lower resolution game, movie, or TV show to reach those higher resolutions.

Photorealism probably shouldn’t be the only graphical goal for video games to have (artistry aside, it looks kind of creepy), but this Intel Labs project does show there’s probably as much room to grow on the software side of things as there is in the raw GPU power of new consoles and gaming PCs.

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Game

FIFA 22 promises to deliver realistic gameplay in October

Team contact sports might be one of the most challenging video games to make when it comes to simulating reality. In addition to the AI controlling players on both sides, players have become more discerning and demanding when it comes to imitating the fluid and sometimes unpredictable movement of athletes, especially those that are supposed to mimic real-life people. That is the challenge that EA Sports is rising to meet with FIFA 22 and its “next-gen HyperMotion” tech that will be launching next quarter.

Gone are the days when sports video games like basketball and football (soccer for the US) looked like janky caricatures of the real thing. Realism has always been a goal for this genre, and today’s games sometimes look like they’re straight out of a live sports event. There’s always room for improvement, though, and that’s what EA is bragging about FIFA 22.

New to this latest installment in the long-running football franchise is HyperMotion, combining motion capture of 22 pro players and everyone’s favorite secret sauce, machine learning. This proprietary system learns from 8.7 million frames of match captures and writes new animation in real-time, according to EA Sports. The promise is a more realistic-looking game that almost looks and feels like the real thing.

Beyond the motion aspects, FIFA 22 will also deliver upgrades across the board, including an overhaul of the goalkeeper system. FIFA Ultimate Team, a.k.a. FUT, is, of course, an important part of the game’s appeal, and the new FUT Heroes brings new items for fans of the sport to collect.

FIFA 22 launches on October 1 on the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PC (Origin and Steam), Stadia, and even on the PS4 and Xbox One. There are still a lot of questions that are left unanswered, however, like long-awaited cross-play support. There might also be some apprehension and caution for this year’s FIFA title, given how the previous installment was mired in loot box controversy.

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Game

‘FIFA 22’ brings more realistic soccer to next-gen consoles on October 1st

EA isn’t just giving Madden NFL players an upgrade if they play on next-gen consoles. The published has unveiled FIFA 22, and its centerpiece is a new “HyperMotion” system that reportedly provides more realistic animation and gameplay when you game on a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S or Google Stadia. The technology uses machine learning to produce animations in real time, leading to more “organic” movement. HyperMotion also let EA capture motion for pro soccer (aka football) players competing at full tilt, including superstars like Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé.

The game is also coming to PS4, Xbox One, and PC (via Origin and Steam). A FIFA 22 Legacy Edition is coming to the Nintendo Switch, although EA didn’t outline differences.

Thankfully, there are other substantial changes regardless of what platform you use. EA has hinted at a “complete” revamp of the goalkeeper system, a new club creation experience in Career Mode, “reimagined” Volta Football and a FIFA Ultimate Team Heroes item set that represents the tales of legendary players.

FIFA 22 will be released on October 1st for all supported platforms.

As with Madden, it’s apparent EA isn’t completely ready to drop support for previous-gen consoles. That’s not surprising given both the larger player base and shortages that limit the number of PS5 and Xbox Series owners. However, it is clear that the gaming giant wants to offer a strong incentive to play on newer machines. Don’t be surprised if FIFA 23 cuts off PS4 and Xbox One players.

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Game

5 Realistic Predictions for Smash Ultimate’s Last Character

The years of speculation are coming to a close. With Tekken’s Kazuya joining Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, there’s only one spot left on the Fighters Pass. Ever since the Switch game launched in 2018, fans have been sharing the loftiest hopes for which iconic characters could become Smash fighters. Time and time again, those dreams were dashed as Nintendo took a more unpredictable approach, adding left-field choices like Terry Bogard and Steve from Minecraft.

No matter who gets added, someone’s going to be disappointed. The current list of popular fan requests includes pipe dreams like Crash Bandicoot, Doom Guy, and Master Chief. With one spot left, all of those can’t happen — in fact, none of them likely will. Figuring out the next Smash character isn’t a matter of guessing who would be a fun addition; it’s about tracking what makes strategic sense to Nintendo from a business standpoint. Super Smash Bros. doubles as a marketing tool, after all.

Based on the history of Nintendo’s DLC additions, here are five characters that could realistically get Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s final roster slot.

Monster Hunter

It’s bizarre that there isn’t a Monster Hunter fighter in Super Smash Bros. already. Ultimate features a surprising amount of representation from the series, including a full Rathalos boss fight in its story mode. The series has Mii costumes, spirits, and an assist trophy. Frankly, it feels inevitable that Capcom and Nintendo will formally tie the knot by adding a character like Hunter to the roster, just as it did with Dragon Quest’s Hero.

This one makes the most sense from a pure business standpoint. Monster Hunter Rise has been a huge hit on Switch and a lot of marketing muscle has gone into the upcoming Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. A Smash fighter would be a strong way to draw even more eyes to both games. Plus, it’s an “anime sword fighter,” and we all know how much Nintendo loves to add that archetype to the mix.

Ring Fit Hero

Ring Fit Adventure's hero uses the ring-con in promo art.

Ring Fit Adventure may sound like an unlikely match for Super Smash Bros., but it might actually be the most obvious pick. The Nintendo fitness RPG has been a huge hit, especially during the pandemic. Considering the game’s success, it seems like exactly the kind of game Nintendo would want to immortalize in Super Smash Bros.

There’s also some historical basis for the pick. Nintendo previously added Min Min from Arms to the game, showing the company’s eagerness to give representation to new Switch IPs. Plus, it previously added Wii Fit Trainer to the roster, so there’s a precedent for turning exercise instructors into fighters here. It’s easy to see how the game’s hero could get a move set that revolves around using their Ring-Con companion to jump higher and puff projectiles at opponents.

Miles “Tails” Prower

Tails hovers in the air in Sonic Boom.

With this year marking Sonic the Hedgehog’s 30th anniversary, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the series get another spot. Final Fantasy, Castlevania, and more third-party series have multiple characters in the game, why not Sonic? With a rerelease of the Wii title Sonic Colors on the horizon, all the stars seem to be aligned, which makes this a feasible option.

If that were the case, the question is: Which Sonic character? That’s a tough call. Dr. Robotnik would be an excellent addition, bringing another villainous heavy to the mix. Knuckles would be a fun brawler who could potentially use the chaos emeralds to his advantage. Shadow the Hedgehog would just be plain funny. Realistically though, Tails feels like the most likely bet — especially since he’s playing a big role in the upcoming Sonic movie sequel.

Agent Jones

Agent Jones holds a sniper rifle in Fortnite.

Here’s a statement that could send chills down some spins: Ultimate’s next character could be from Fortnite. There was a time when a statement like that would be entirely far-fetched, but that’s not the case anymore. With Minecraft‘s Steve joining the roster, Nintendo is clearly open to adding characters from modern, iconic games to the mix. Considering that Agent Jones has become the face of the franchise, it’s not ridiculous to think he could get the final spot in a blockbuster move.

There’s good reason to believe a collaboration like this could happen, too. Court documents released during the Apple-versus-Epic trial revealed that Epic was hoping to add Samus Aran to Fortnite as a skin. That never materialized, but it at least signals that a crossover is on the table if Epic and Nintendo can agree on what it entails.

Waluigi

Waluigi rides a kart and holds a coin in Mario Kart 8.
packattack04082/YouTube

I’ll throw hopeful fans a bone here. Ever since Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was announced, many players have practically begged for Waluigi to join the fold. It’s a request that blurs the line between sincerity and meme. With only one spot left, it feels like the window is about to close for good. But it’s not impossible that Waluigi could actually get the slot. In fact, it’s entirely plausible.

For one, Nintendo has fulfilled fan requests like this in the past. Metroid’s villainous Ridley was a heavily requested character for a long time. Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai initially shot down hopes by infamously saying he was “too big” for the game, but Nintendo eventually gave fans what they wanted by adding him to Ultimate’s initial roster. It’s not unrealistic to think that Waluigi could get similar treatment. With Mario Golf: Super Rush out now and Mario Party Superstars coming this fall, there’s a lot of possible cross-marketing Nintendo could accomplish by finally adding the purple fiend to the game.

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Tech News

Finless Foods promises realistic plant-based tuna with 2022 rollout

A company called Finless Foods plans to launch a plant-based raw tuna product next year that it claims offers a realistic texture and flavor. The food product will join the largely beef- and sausage-flavored plant-based meat products currently on the market, offering consumers who have seafood allergies, vegetarians, and others the option to enjoy tuna meals without contributing to overfishing.

Finless Foods revealed that it will launch its plant-based tuna, which is made from nine ingredients, next year through foodservice channels and restaurants. The plant-based version of the tuna shouldn’t be confused with the company’s cell-cultured tuna product; the latter is made from cells harvested from real tuna fish while the former is made from whole plant-based ingredients.

For this reason, the plant-based version of Finless Foods’ tuna is vegan-friendly as none of the ingredients come from animals. The company says that it made the plant-based tuna to be a 1:1 ‘experience’ of eating raw tuna, at least when it comes to mouthfeel, flavor, and texture.

The plant-based version of the fish can be used in the same way as actual raw tuna, meaning you may consume it in sushi in the future. The big benefit to plant-based tuna is the lack of mercury, which remains a concern when it comes to wild tuna products.

As well, plant-based and cell-cultured tuna remove the fishing aspect of this food product, which has become an increasing concern from an environmental standpoint. Of course, the plant-based version of the tuna product will also be safe for people who have seafood allergies, whereas the cell-cultured version is actual tuna fish (just not from the ocean) and therefore wouldn’t be safe for people with allergies to eat.

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Tech News

Virgin Hyperloop Passenger Experience vision is now more realistic

Elon Musk and Richard Branson aren’t just competing for the stars, they’re also racing to address one of the biggest human-made problems down here on Earth. But while Musk’s Boring Company is digging underground, Virgin Hyperloop is envisioning something that looks almost like a traditional railway, except in a system of vacuum tubes. In fact, the company’s new video detailing its envisioned passenger experience now has closer ties to reality though it still remains ambitious in terms of speed, scope, and, of course, price.

The idea for the Hyperloop is itself already ambitious, ferrying capsule-like pods traveling at supersonic speeds. The ultimate goal is to help reduce traffic congestion caused by the number of vehicles on highways. Given the features and amenities that will be offered by the Virgin Hyperloop, however, some might have doubts whether it will be accessible to most commuters at all.

The initial concept revealed by Virgin Hyperloop in 2016 definitely seemed more like science fiction than something that could be achieved in less than a decade. That involved an autonomous pod for a small batch of people that would drive itself to a dock that would be joined with three others into a capsule before shooting through the Hyperloop itself. Given the current state of autonomous driving technology, that is clearly still not ready.

The latest Passenger Experience video, in contrast, seems to be more grounded in today’s technologies and design while still sticking to the core supersonic speed feature that the service will offer. Passengers walk to buildings resembling train stations and board on capsules that are more like train cabins, both inside and out. Unlike trains, though, each capsule still travels independently, though they join at certain points into a single line while keeping safe distances between each capsule.

This experience might be more achievable than the 2016 vision, though it still leaves a lot of elements undefined, like the technology that will be used to ensure the safety and accuracy of such high-speed transit systems. In its press release, Virgin Hyperloop CEO Jay Walder emphasize the company’s goal to make this system accessible to people, comparing it more closely to driving than to flying. Of course, that still remains to be seen and the company’s tune could change by the time the Virgin Hyperloop goes online in 2030.

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