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“Nintendo Switch won’t have Miiverse or StreetPass” plus 29 more VentureBeat

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“Nintendo Switch won’t have Miiverse or StreetPass” plus 29 more VentureBeat


Nintendo Switch won’t have Miiverse or StreetPass

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 12:57 PM PST

nintendoswitch_hardware_console_01-2

Fans of some of Nintendo’s more unique features may be in for a disappointment with the Switch.

Neither the Nintendo 3DS’s StreetPass feature or Nintendo’s social network Miiverse will appear on the company’s new Switch console. That’s what David Young, Nintendo of America’s assistant manager of public relations, told GamesBeat today at the Switch event in New York City.

“I can answer that we’re not going to be using Miiverse for Nintendo Switch,” Yong said when asked about the feature today.

Young said that the lack of StreetPass plays into the idea of the Switch as a home console, not a portable system (even if it offers on-the-go playing). Miiverse is Nintendo’s take on a social media platform for both the Wii U and the 3DS. StreetPass is a 3DS feature that let players exchange game data when they passed other 3DS owners in real life.

For social media, the Switch will use other platforms — not Nintendo’s own — and also has a share button that can be used to share images, and later on, video. Nintendo did not specify which platforms in the interview, just that it would be existing social media.

3 human speech characteristics that AI is about to destroy

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 12:10 PM PST

AI could destroy these human speech characteristics.

The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year. We are on the cusp of an era where talking to machines will be as natural as talking to humans.

With artificial assistants there is a pressure to provide an experience; to give the customer an interaction that is as both useful and emotionally satisfying as talking to a human. A question to ask: Is there an imperative to make AI communicate like we do or to be understood? Will we start to change how we speak to sound more like the AI?

With the rise of AI and the rush to automate the connected home and emerging services, the following three things are at risk of simply being optimized out of existence.

1. Manners

As children, we are taught manners through repetition and refusal; we are taught the importance of saying “please” if we want something. However, some parents are noticing their children being incredibly rude when demanding something from the Echo, a service with no notion of “please.”

Most would agree that as a society we believe manners are important. So if we are to avoid a demand-and-receive generation, we need to make a stand on both how we communicate with our virtual assistants and how they reply to us. We need nanny-modes to teach our children to say “please” when asking for something, and we need our assistants to match our manners when they reply.

As AI becomes more prominent and we become used to barking orders, when we actually have to speak to a person, will we even remember to say “please” and “thank you” — and will they even mind?

2. Tone

Companies are starting to look to AI to power call centers, creating artificial assistants to help customers on calls. As humans we can convey much of how we feel not by the words we use but by our tone of voice. To do this effectively, there are a number of linguistic markers that a computer could be taught to recognize that, in combination, will indicate the state of mind of its human caller. Rising pitch, increase in speed, number of imperatives, and louder volume could be recognized as indicators of increasing anger and frustration.

But what about all the subtle beats that make language so rich, such as irony, sarcasm, or jokes? Would a rise in pitch at the end of a sentence indicate a joke, a question, or that you’re Australian? Trying to teach a computer to understand these quirks of language could lead to a lot of mistakes and upset customers. If the subtle complexities of language are constantly misunderstood by machines, are we then at risk of simply stopping to use them? If the Turing test was based on polite conversation, perhaps we need a revised version that can test for sarcasm too.

3. Idiolect

Every nation has its own dialects, with nuanced vocabularies and cadences local to counties, communities, and even villages. Dialect and sociolect combined with our own unique vocabularies and vocal cords create idiolects, our own personal way of speaking that is as unique to us as a fingerprint.

There are already cases of conversational assistants struggling to understand thick regional accents, forcing users to simplify their words or ways of speaking. As we interact with machines more and more, does our increasing use of natural language mean that their limitations will force us to simplify, killing our own individuality? To avoid an automaton future, we should be focusing on programming AI to understand how we speak in all of our complexity.

Currently we have to manually tell a computer all the different ways a customer may ask for something. This is laborious, inaccurate, and quickly outdated. Over time a virtual assistant could “learn” how an individual speaks, through questions, corrections, and an increasing vocabulary. If these individual learnings could be pooled from all AI assistants globally, then overall our assistants would get smarter and potentials understand how we speak first time, wye aye!

When it comes to virtual assistants, we’ve been so preoccupied with what we can do we haven’t spent enough time on the how. Our generation may find it a little uncomfortable and odd speaking to a machine, but this is the foundation level of a new technology, and we are responsible for how it teaches the next generation to interact. Language is constantly evolving, and we need to help our mechanical partners evolve alongside it.

A million people ask President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 12:01 PM PST

Edward Snowden appears virtually in a debate with Fareed Zakaria on April 26, 2016.

Human rights groups from around the world have delivered more than a million signatures to the White House, asking President Barack Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on warrantless government surveillance of all Americans.

Given the political climate, the timing couldn’t be more urgent. Once Donald Trump comes into office, no such pardon will be possible. In fact, Trump has suggested Snowden should be executed. Snowden can be viewed by patriotic Americans as a fellow patriot, a whistleblower, a dissident, or as a traitor.

I asked Obama to pardon Snowden over the holidays. To me, this is a tech story, not just a political one. Americans have to be more aware about protecting our data, our privacy, and our freedoms. He exposed illegal activities and started a public debate that led to a crackdown on the NSA’s sweeping powers and led to efforts to curb spying on U.S. citizens.

The U.S. Department of Justice charged Snowden with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and with theft of government property. He flew to Moscow in June 2013. The U.S. government revoked his passport, and Russia granted him temporary asylum.

After hearing about the signatures, Snowden replied with a tweet:

Here’s a copy of the letter.

On January 13, 2017, the Pardon Snowden campaign delivered more than 1 million signatures to the White House, from people asking President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden. This letter, from the heads of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, accompanied the signatures.

January 13, 2017

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

We are hereby delivering signatures from 1,101,252 people across the world who ask that you use your presidential authority to pardon Edward Snowden.

As you well know, Snowden disclosed information to journalists revealing that the NSA had overstepped U.S. statutes, the Constitution, and international law by engaging in widespread, warrantless surveillance. In response, we’ve seen a global debate that has changed government policies and profoundly affected how people think about personal privacy.

Since Snowden acted, all three branches of the U.S. government have worked to rein in the NSA’s powers. Technology companies have increased their use of encryption. The United Nations appointed a first-ever privacy watchdog. These are but a few examples of the reforms triggered by Snowden.

You said yourself in 2014 that the debate spurred by Snowden “will make us stronger.” You were proven right. His actions gave people everywhere the knowledge to debate the merits of surveillance powers that had largely evaded democratic oversight even as they vastly grew in scope.

Given the history of government retaliation against NSA whistleblowers, recently underscored by the suspension of the agency’s inspector general, Snowden’s decision to work with responsible journalists to inform the public was wholly appropriate. He deserves better than a life in exile or a trial under the Espionage Act that would preclude him from raising his public service in defense.

We are confident that Edward Snowden will be remembered as a human rights hero and one of history’s most important whistleblowers. A presidential pardon for Snowden would be a brave affirmation of citizens’ right to hold governments to account when power is abused.

We know your last days in office are filled with many demands. We hope you will recognize the importance of addressing the fate of this American whistleblower.

Sincerely,

Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director
American Civil Liberties Union

Salil Shetty
Secretary General
Amnesty International

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Hearthstone designers’ Q&A: Pirates, Standard in Arena, boosting Wild, and card nerfs

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 11:45 AM PST

What have I done.

Hearthstone could be seeing some big changes, we learned, as two of its most important developers talked to players on Twitch today.

Game director Ben Brode and game designer Dean Ayala answered questions from fans during a Q&A livestream for the leading digital card game. This comes after the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion launched in early December. The set’s new cards have created new decks and strategies. Some fans are concerned about some cards being too powerful (hello, Patches), while others want to see some updates to the Arena mode, which has players compete with decks they draft from random card choices.

These streams give Hearthstone’s developers a chance to talk to the community and address those concerns directly. More communication is something that Hearthstone players have asked for, so this help Blizzard make their fans happy while listening to their questions.

The ‘new player experience’ and Ranked

Brode started by talking about the “new player experience.” Right not, competing in Hearthstone’s Ranked mode requires strong decks, and it can be hard for new players to earn or buy all of the cards they need to make them. Brode noted that the team has worked to make the Casual mode better, having it match new players exclusively with other new players. In Ranked, matchmaking is determined by your rank that month. He noted that new players have seen their win rates increase by 15 percent over the last two years in Casual mode.

But he said that the new player experience in Ranked has the most room for improvement. Brode noted that Ranked can feel like a grind since it resets every month. The team is looking at making Ranked better first by trying to improve it with small adjustments that don’t change the system. Blizzard is thinking of increasing the number of bonus stars (you earn these by winning, which increase your rank, and you can earn bonus stars when you’re on a win streak of three or more games) players earn.

Hearthstone: Mean Streets of Gadgetzan

Above: The Grimy Goons gang is a faction with hunter, paladin and warrior cards in Hearthstone’s Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

Blizzard is also looking at adding break points, which means adding certain places on the Ranked ladder that you can’t drop from. For example, once you hit Rank 10, you can’t go back to Rank 11 no matter how much you lose. The win streak bonus ends at Rank 5. Brode noted that they want players to earn their way to Legendary, but they will consider putting bonuses in those final ranks if it will make the ladder climb feel like less of a grind. If smaller changes don’t improve the experience, Blizzard will then look at a larger revamp of the system.

Possible changes to Arena

Ayala then talked about Arena. The team is looking at improving its progression and matchmaking in the long-term, while they’re considering smaller changes for the near future. Blizzard might switch Arena from the Wild to the Standard format, where you pick cards in a random draft and assemble a deck. They also want to do a better job of balancing the cards you pick from. Right now, you pick one of three cards of the same rarity. Rarity, however, is often not a good indicator of a card’s quality. Blizzard also wants to start posting the top Arena players monthly, similar to what it does for Standard. Blizzard also wants to reduce the amount of neutral, Classic minions that show up in the drafting phase.

Brode noted that changes will come soon, with Blizzard testing many of these Arena changes.

“We hope we’re making good decisions,” Brode said about Arena. “But we’re going to put it out there and see how it feels.”

Moving classic cards out of Standard

Brode then addressed a question regarding the possibility of moving classic cards to Wild. Unlike Standard, Wild lets players use any cards from any set. All expansions will eventually exit Standard, but the original cards that launched with Hearthstone will always be allowed. However, to make sure that some of these cards would be future-proof, Blizzard nerfed many of them. Brode noted that, alternatively, Blizzard could have just moved those cards to Wild.

The nerf behind Molten Giant caused the most drama. It used to be a 20 mana 8/8 minion that would be 1 mana cheaper for each damage your hero had taken. Blizzard increased its starting cost to 25 mana. This made the card dramatically worse, resulting in it seeing little to no play in Standard. Some would have been happier if Molten Giant had just moved to Wild so they could still make decks around the older version of it. Brode didn’t say no to yes on what they would do in the future, just noting that it is a difficult discussion.

The state of Standard and Wild

Ayala then talked about the meta for Standard, meaning the popularity of decks. Right now, Pirate and Reno decks are doing the best, while Hunter and Paladin struggle to compete. He noted that while Pirate decks were overrunning Standard for a bit, the numbers have stabilized. However, there are still more of them than Blizzard is comfortable with, and it may address the archetype.

“We’re not as happy as we could with the population of decks with the Pirate package,” Ayala said. “We’re looking at it closely.”

Ayala defended Paladin, saying that some are doing well and that the class could still find success in the Gadgetzan meta. He also noted that the hand-buffing mechanic for Hunter, Paladin, and Warrior has more longevity than the Jade and Reno decks that rose in popularity. He confirmed that Hunter and Paladin are seeing a low amount of play, but that they should become more popular if Pirates fall off (either naturally or from intervention from Blizzard).

Murlocs!

Above: Murlocs!

Image Credit: Polygon

He also talked about class goals for Paladin. Blizzard envisions it as a class that’s good at healing and can summon small 1/1 minions with its Hero power or other cards. They also have more cards that make minions stronger (buffs) than the other classes. Blizzard believes that once Reno Jackson leaves Standard, Paladin will become stronger since it will once again have an advantage at healing.

Brode then talked about reprinting cards, which means taking Wild cards and bringing them back with a new set, noting that Blizzard hasn’t talked much about the idea. He noted that the Standard format is too new at the moment for reprints. Brode also noted that Team 5, the group inside Blizzard that works on Hearthstone, has 70 members. He noted that they team has been doubling in size every year since the game launched in 2014.

They then described what they would define as a healthy meta. He noted that few decks in the history of the game have ever hit more than a 55 percent win rate. Instead, the problem comes when too many people are playing the same decks, sometimes with 20 to 25 percent of users running the same thing. That is the problem they want to avoid. Ideally, the meta will shift naturally. Like with Pirate Decks, fewer people played them once others were using decks with cards like Doomsayer and Acidic Swamp Ooze.

As for the Wild format, Brode remarked that it will become more interesting when the next Standard cycle happens after the next expansions launches. Right now, Wild only has two sets more than Standard, but the number of its exclusive cards will increase. He noted that he had hoped to see more Wild tournaments and events, but thinks that there will be more of them after the rotation.

Nintendo’s premium Switch Online subscription only gives you limited-time trials of SNES games

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 11:06 AM PST

Nintendo will let you try some of its older games for a month if you subscribe to its premium service, but you'll have to pay after that.

You don’t get to keep the games you get as part of Nintendo’s Switch Online service.

Nintendo is beginning a paid online gaming network for Switch that is similar to Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus, except it has a few key differences. Switch Online will begin charging a monthly fee in the fall, and active members will get access to online multiplayer, a party system, and a monthly game download. For those downloads, Nintendo is offering up Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo games with “newly-added online play” at no additional charge. But once the month is over, everyone will lose access to the game unless they purchase it.

That’s a rather restrictive bonus considering that both Sony and Microsoft have a similar feature that gives players a handful of far more modern games at no extra charge, and you always have access to those games as long as you maintain an active subscription to either PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold.

Nintendo still hasn’t said how much Switch Online will cost. If it is significantly less expensive than those competing platforms, than maybe the company can get away with this. But, regardless of the price, the publisher is missing the point of a “free games for subscribers” feature. One of the reasons that I never let my Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Network subscriptions lapse — even when I am not regularly playing an online multiplayer game on those systems — is that I don’t want to get locked out of the library I’ve built up over the last couple of years.

On the Switch, I can either renew my subscription when I want to play an online game or a particularly interesting free monthly download comes along. Otherwise, I can go for months at a time without giving money over to Nintendo.

And is it really worth it to Nintendo to act this stingy with its NES and SNES games? Many fans have purchased and repurchased those games over and over again, so why not ease up a bit and leverage them to improve subscription numbers? Because Nintendo. That’s why.

SnipperClips is a cute cooperative Nintendo Switch game about shapes

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 10:45 AM PST

SnipperClips requires you to work together with a friend.

Nintendo is showing off a cute game on its Treehouse Live stream called SnipperClips.

In the two-player game, you play as a cute character that looks like an upside down pencil eraser with legs. How’s that for creativity?

You can snip your character and create the right shape to accomplish various tasks. In the demo on the stream, two characters twisted their shapes around so that both could fit into different halves of a heart. In another part, the characters had to pick up a basketball and shoot in into a hoop. You have to cut your friend up and turn it into the right shape to proceed to the next challenge.

That was easier said than done, as it was very hard to pick up the ball and shoot it. Another tasks was sharpening a pencil. It’s another example of the crazy brains at Nintendo at work.

If you complete the challenge together in SnipperSwitch, you can move on to the next one.

Above: If you complete the challenge together in SnipperClips, you can move on to the next one.

Image Credit: Nintendo

snipperswitch

How ARM’s car electronics chips are getting beefier

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 09:30 AM PST

The Renault POM is an open-source car with ARM-based chips.

Even our dumb, human-driven automobiles have dozens of electronic chips these days. And many of them are microcontrollers based on ARM’s low-power chip designs. But the world is changing, as cars become connected and smart enough to drive themselves.

Modern cars are so jammed with electronics that they can’t fit anymore. This is driving changes in the supply chain, as lead suppliers can’t supply just a point solution anymore, and vehicle subsystems may be controlled by more powerful, centralized chips in the future.

I caught up with Richard York, vice president of marketing for auto and embedded at ARM, the Cambridge, England-based designer of low-power microprocessors, to talk about these trends. ARM’s designs are used in billions of chips every year. But ARM isn’t satisfied with that, and it wants to get more of its designs into the cars of the future.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Richard York of ARM at CES 2017.

Above: Richard York of ARM at CES 2017.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Richard York: I run the worldwide marketing team for automotive and embedded. Anything related to relationships with the car-makers or their direct suppliers. They're a very important group of end customers. The whole automotive industry is going through massive change at the moment.

VentureBeat: Yeah, it's a big year for change in automotive.

York: It's a big decade for change. They're only just starting. Some of the car-makers have really embraced what electronics can do for them. Some of the others are still starting to realize just how much electronics need to change things. It fundamentally has to change for many of the car-makers, because at the moment they do very little of this themselves. They push it all to their main suppliers. And yet electronics define 80 or 90 percent of the features in the vehicle. They're leaving all the stuff that defines their product to their suppliers, in many senses, which is a bit of a dangerous position to be in.

Some of them have woken up to this. They've all woken up to some degree. Some have woken up properly, while some are still — I won't say they're in denial, but they're still working out how to change the way they work with their supply chains.

VB: We've always heard that cars have dozens of microcontrollers, dozens of chips in them. Yet it seems like there's a transformation happening as far as what's in there. It's getting a lot smarter. The computing power is going up. More connectivity is arriving. How do you view that transformation? What does that mean for this supplier base you just mentioned?

York: The amount of electronics is growing to the point where, in some high-end or premium vehicles, they can't even fit any more. Physically there is no more room for those little silver boxes. Most of the electronics go in what's called ECUs, electronic control units, a little silver box with a connector. A microcontroller, some analogs, motor drivers, whatever it might be.

In many cases they're running out of space to put these things, because the conventional thinking was, "I have a function in the car that I want to sell to a buyer. Therefore I'll put that function in a new box that I can provision on the production line, depending on whether the buyer ticked that box or not when he chose that vehicle configuration." It may be less so in the states, but certainly in Europe, most vehicles are very heavily configured by the buyer. They go through a long checklist of this feature and that feature. Typically each one of those features maps to a little silver box hidden somewhere in the vehicle. But they've got to the point where there's nowhere to put these things, no physical space, let alone power or cabling to wire it in.

They have to completely change the way that features map to electronics. It needs to become a piece of software running on a bigger, more powerful ECU. Basically, a feature becomes a piece of software, not another silver box.

Masayoshi Son says car chips need to be more secure for driverless cars.

Above: Masayoshi Son says car chips need to be more secure for driverless cars.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

VB: So single-function microcontrollers are giving way to general-purpose CPUs?

York: That's what they need to do. Some of them are doing that successfully. Some of them are not doing that very successfully at all. If you think about it, that's turning the supply chain on its head. In the past they've had a function, gone to a Bosch or a Denso or whoever, and said, "Here's the function. Build a box to implement it." Then that company would physically manufacture the module for them. If you turn it all into software — for a start, when you get software from many different suppliers all running on the same box, it interacts in strange ways. What happens if there's a problem with the software? Whose fault is it? It turns the whole automotive supply chain on its head.

Continue Reading ...

Nintendo Switch peripherals are pretty expensive

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 09:01 AM PST

Nintendo Switch hardware

Nintendo has revealed prices for the its peripherals for the upcoming Switch game console, and the prices aren’t cheap. While the base console costs $300 when it ships on March 3, the accessories can bring the cost up quite a bit.

The $300 price itself is the same as what the Wii U cost at launch in 2012, but it’s more expensive than the original Wii, which debuted for $250 in 2006. The Switch has only 32GB of storage, and gamers may have to spend money in the future on more space (it uses microSD cards).

“This is not an impulse purchase or as cheap as other recent Nintendo consoles and at this price point Nintendo will be competing with existing consoles and tablets,” said analyst Piers Harding-Rolls at IHS Markit. “As a result, communicating the unique aspects of the Switch — particularly the capabilities of the Joy-Con controllers — and its exclusive content through marketing spend will be key to gaining market traction.”

But the sticker shock really sets in with the controller gear. An extra Joy-Con controller will be $80. You can split the controller into two parts that can be purchased separately, for $50 each. The Joy-Con controller Charging Grip also costs $30. That means the overall cost of a new Joy-Con controller and charging grip is $110.

“My biggest concern is the price: $299 without a game is on the high end of expectations,” said Serkan Toto, game industry analyst. “There has been some hope that the games would be moderately priced [somewhere between 3DS and Wii U game prices], but that’s not the case. Add to this the very expensive accessories, and you have one high barrier to overcome for mainstream users.”

Nintendo did note that it is possible for two people to play at once, with the two mini Joy-Con controllers, without the need to buy that second controller.

You can also buy a separate Pro Controller, which is more like a traditional game controller, for $70. This pricing is on par with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controllers at launch.

If you decided to buy a second Nintendo Switch Dock, which charges the tablets and hooks to the TV, that will cost $90. It comes with an AC adapter and a HDMI cable.

Nintendo’s Switch presentation explained in GIFs

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 08:46 AM PST

The Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo capped off the second week of 2017 with a major presentation showing off its upcoming Switch console, but you don’t need to watch it for yourself. That’s why the gods invented animated GIFs.

Nintendo Switch is due out March 3 for $300, and it’s up for preorder right now at a bunch of retailers. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and motion-controlled minigame collection 1-2 Switch will debut alongside the system. But those are just the details, let’s get to the GIFs to find out what really happened last night.

The Switch works as a home console and a portable handheld

switch

Every time Nintendo said “Switch,” someone would snap their fingers, which doesn’t make sense

switch-3

Motion controls are back

switch-3

No, seriously — motion controls are back, and I don’t know how I feel about this

switch-2

Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto provided his review of the new Zelda game

switch7

Nintendo executives can happen any time, anywhere, and to anyone.

switch8

Suda 51, the guy responsible for the ultraviolent No More Heroes and Let It Die, is making a wrestling game

switch6

Nintendo has a new game that isn’t a sequel called Arms, and this Mechanica character looks familiar

shake-arms

Finally, in Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo’s short Italian plumber goes to a human city with normally proportioned people, and I had a nightmare about this

switch5

Nintendo Switch draws mixed reactions from analysts

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 08:30 AM PST

The Nintendo Switch preorders start on January 21 in Japan, but U.S. preorders already live.

Nintendo announced its pricing ($300) and launch date (March 3) for the Nintendo Switch hybrid home game console and portable last night. We contacted some game analysts to get their reaction to it.

Nintendo hasn’t released every detail yet, particularly about the inner workings of the Switch. But the events last night and this morning have given analyst plenty to talk about. Analysts believe it won’t be hard to outsell the Wii U, but they have mixed reactions about the trade-offs in the hybrid portable-home-console device. Here’s some comments from analysts about the Switch:

Piers Harding-Rolls, analyst at IHS Markit

Nintendo's Switch will erase the painful memories of the Wii U but also faces its own challenges.

Switch's product positioning and differentiation:

Nintendo's new hybrid console Switch reflects a company that is in cultural flux as it seeks to find a balance of approach between its traditional console games business and to cater for a new population of smart device gamers. The Switch's form factor literally embodies the tensions at play here as it seeks to satisfy traditional Nintendo console gamers and also engage a new set of consumers that routinely want to use smart devices — and more specifically tablets — for gaming. A hybrid device strategy such as this is unproven in the market — previous gaming tablets that can dock to TVs have found very little sales traction but significantly have not had the backing of a company such as Nintendo.

Is this a device for the mobile gamer that plays on the move? To a segment of the mobile gamer population yes, but the Switch is more naturally a direct challenge to the use of tablets in the home or perhaps on family holidays.

As such, Switch will need to provide a compelling alternative or enhancement to other tablets already used by this audience. Nintendo is seeking to do this in a number of ways. Through its exclusive games IP, through its local multiplayer gaming capabilities over local Wi-Fi and through the sensor technology included in the proprietary Joy-Con controllers which allows it to bring new gaming experiences to the tablet gaming audience.

IHS Markit expects this differentiation to resonate with a broader set of buyers compared to the Wii U, but Nintendo faces the challenge of communicating these relatively complex product features to a more mainstream audience, an area the company has openly agreed it failed with in relation to the Wii U.

Pricing as expected at sub-$300; paid online service makes complete strategic sense:

At $299.99 and £279 in the U.K. including VAT, the pricing of the Switch is as predicted. This is not an impulse purchase or as cheap as other recent Nintendo consoles and at this price point Nintendo will be competing with existing consoles and tablets. As a result, communicating the unique aspects of the Switch — particularly the capabilities of the Joy-Con controllers — and its exclusive content through marketing spend will be key to gaining market traction. Unlike the Wii, this is not a product that will necessarily sell itself through word of mouth as its proposition is still relatively complex.

And this is where Nintendo's broader app strategy is expected to help the company. We've already seen how the success of Pokémon Go has translated into sales of 3DS hardware and software. Nintendo will be hoping it can build similar momentum for the Switch with its app release strategy – the success of this approach will depend largely on the content and franchises involved.

Nintendo's decision to offer a paid online service brings it into line with both Microsoft and Sony and makes complete strategic sense. IHS Markit estimates that global consumer spending on Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus reached $2.7 billion in 2016. This revenue stream is essential for supporting the online services of these competitors and has allowed Sony and Microsoft to build a comprehensive lead in online capabilities compared to Nintendo. With this new flow of income, Nintendo investment in its online capabilities will increase significantly.

Outselling the Wii U:

IHS Markit expects Switch to comfortably outsell the Wii U, but Nintendo faces an uphill task to translate its product vision into mainstream adoption although it will be aided in this ambition through its deep portfolio of games franchises. The Switch is an evolution of the Wii U, but eminently simpler in form factor and broadens the use case for a home and portable console hybrid. As a result Nintendo's Switch is likely to banish the painful memories of the poorly selling Wii U, which to date has only sold 13.4 million units since its launch in 2012. We currently forecast 4 million Switch sales in 2017 although this may be revised in the coming days based on the earlier than expected launch date and likely stock availability through the year.

Switch Joy-Con has a bar attached to the straps that makes it easy to push shoulder buttons.

Above: Switch Joy-Con has a bar attached to the straps that makes it easy to push shoulder buttons.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData Research

Zelda [is a] huge favorite, but also saw Activision [with] Skylanders and Has Been Heroes from GameTrust (GameStop). Promising initial line-up. Arms is the most innovative title showcasing the Switch capabilities.

Access to Nintendo's classic titles via the online service will prove to be a key differentiator. Even as Nintendo continues to innovate on its existing titles, for many consumers the classic titles remain an important selling point. Providing access to this library of games will help drive adoption to the paid online service for the Switch. By comparison, the combined earnings for the subscription service for Sony and Xbox — PlayStation Network and Xbox Live, respectively — generated around $3 billion in revenues last year, and has proven a key component in transitioning consumers to the higher-margin side of the business in digital distribution. Total earnings for digital downloads on console last year, including full game downloads and microtransactions, was $7 billion worldwide.

Nintendo is de-emphasizing physical cartridge sales. The cartridge system for the Switch is based on the 3DS more so than the Wii U, suggesting that digital distribution will play a bigger role for the upcoming platform. Consumer generally find it is easier to expand the memory and download titles directly to the device than having to carry all of their games separately. The challenge here for Nintendo centers on providing a seamless experience in its eShop.

The emphasis on gaming consoles as a toy is a smart, and proven, strategic move. While we don't anticipate games like 1-2-Switch to become breakout sellers in comparison to the announced Mario and Zelda titles, they do a great job differentiating the Nintendo device from other consoles. It continues the company's legacy as a toy-maker and shows Nintendo's strength in providing innovative game play that integrates both hardware and software.

Anshel Sag, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy

I think that Nintendo priced it very fairly, think that when you consider the complexity of the Joy-Cons and the fact that this is a tablet and a dock it doesn’t really seem unreasonable at all. I do think the price for replacement Joy-Con is a bit high but they are very complicated little controllers. Overall, I think that Nintendo fans will be happy with the price and it won’t be restrictive for people that aren’t Nintendo fanboys like me.

On features, I found myself the most impressed with the capability and versatility of the joycons. I believe these controllers are going to be the big differentiating factor and allow for the most innovative gameplay. I also found the different modes of play to be very interesting and catering to the switch’s strengths.

As for impressions, I think that Nintendo did a very good job with the Switch and that it does a lot of things that people expected and some things they didn’t expect. I believe that it does a good job of blending together many different types of play that Nintendo has introduced over the years with different consoles. I think the biggest problem for Nintendo will be balancing the paid and unpaid experiences when it comes to multiplayer. They will also have to defend their decision to offer a pair service with added value propositions or genuinely unique experiences otherwise impossible without a paid service.

Brian Blau, analyst at Gartner

What most impressed me about the details put forward [last night] on Switch is the local 8-way play, but the Joy-Con controllers appear to be their focus and the Switch's winning feature. It’s a handheld bar of fun packed with way too many cool sensors and functions, such as the HD rumble, and it will be really disappointing if game developers don't take advantage of the unique style of gameplay it enables.

The Nintendo Switch console.

Above: The Nintendo Switch console.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Billy Pidgeon, game industry analyst

With portable and stationary modes, local and remote multiplayer and enhanced mtion and precision controls, Nintendo Switch brings a new category into console gaming. I think Switch will do very well with Zelda at launch.

The price point is a little high considering previous Nintendo hardware pricing but there is value and quality in the base product with the controllers, dock, etc. For a launch MSRP $299, it should be fine. With an included game or games as supply begins to meet demand, Nintendo should be able to keep Switch at that price point longer.

If Nintendo can keep the pipeline stoked to release a steady stream of quality first-party titles, including the anticipated franchises, Switch could do as well as 3DS and other Nintendo portables, perhaps better with a large installed base and ahigh attach rate. That the system also provides console style gaming is a great differentiator. Switch’s control system is versatile, broadening the motion control of Wii. The most impressive aspect of Switch is its multimodal use — portable and also console style gaming allows for game use in multiple contexts including local and online multiplayer.

Serkan Toto, game industry analyst

My biggest concern is the price: $299 without a game is on the high end of expectations. There has been some hope that the games would be moderately priced (somewhere between 3DS and Wii U game prices), but that’s not the case.

Add to this the very expensive accessories, and you have one high barrier to overcome for mainstream users.

A second point of concern is that the launch lineup overall is weak, except for Zelda.

Third, Western third-party games are boring: Who cares about FIFA on the Switch? Third-party games from Japan look better, but I don’t see any slam-dunk.

On the plus side, Nintendo could be launching Switch with a true system seller: the Zelda game looks amazing and could move units on its own.

The Joy-Cons could be confusing to mainstream users (as opposed to the Wiimote), but Nintendo tried to innovate and seems to have integrated some magic there.

It’s also good to see that with 1-2 Switch, Nintendo tries to address people who usually don’t play games, a formula that worked incredibly well with the Wii. They need more of those.

Nintendo also spreads out the games in a more clever way, with Zelda being available at launch and soon followed by Mario in April, Splatoon 2 in the summer and Mario during the holidays. I am still worried what will happen after that and about the third-party support: just Nintendo games aren’t enough.

Microsoft acquires research-oriented deep learning startup Maluuba

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 08:26 AM PST

Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Maluuba, a research-oriented startup focusing on deep learning, a type of artificial intelligence (AI). As part of the deal, one of Maluuba’s advisors, deep learning luminary Yoshua Bengio, will advise Microsoft. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Microsoft will announce what it’s planning to do with Maluuba in the next few months, Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft’s recently formed artificial intelligence and research group, wrote in a blog post.

“Maluuba's expertise in deep learning and reinforcement learning for question-answering and decision-making systems will help us advance our strategy to democratize AI and to make it accessible and valuable to everyone — consumers, businesses and developers,” Shum wrote.

Deep learning generally involves training artificial neural networks on lots of data, such as photos, and getting them to make inferences about new data. This can be used for a variety of purposes, including speech recognition.

Microsoft has been incorporating this type of technology into Microsoft Translator and other services. It also recently acquired SwiftKey, a startup that has used deep learning inside a virtual keyboard for mobile devices. And Microsoft has its own deep learning framework, CNTK.

Meanwhile, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, among others, have acquired deep learning startups.

Maluuba was founded in 2011 and is based in Montreal and Waterloo in Canada. Partners include Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), of which Bengio is the head. Recently, Bengio received a grant from Google as part of the formation of a Montreal AI research group.

“Microsoft is an excellent match for our company,” Maluuba cofounders Sam Pasupalak and Kaheer Suleman wrote in a blog post. “Their ambitious vision of democratizing AI to empower every person and every organization on the planet fundamentally aligns with how we see our technology being used. Microsoft provides us the opportunity to deliver our work to the billions of consumer and enterprise users that can benefit from the advent of truly intelligent machines.”

For image app PhotoGrid, a picture is worth 300 million downloads

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 08:10 AM PST

pg_iphone7silver_2-2

Presented by Cheetah


photogrid Over two billion images are shared every day across every corner of the web. Photos are uploaded in the millions to Instagram, images are pinned like hotcakes on Pinterest and snapshots are traded like stock that’s going out of style on Snapchat.

PhotoGrid, the most popular photo editing app on the market with over 300 million downloads around the world and 15 million daily photo edits, is taking advantage of the photomania. Sophisticated users and image-savvy marketers know that the quality of those social media images matters — particularly when it comes to maintaining that all-important overarching image across all your channels. Posting a poor quality pic, or spamming users with a series of them, will damage your standing, socially or at your bottom line.

However, the “enhance” button on the iPhone isn’t going to cut it any more for social media users, from grandmas to brands, teens to influencers, who are always on the prowl for ways to stand out from the crowd. They’re increasingly hungry for more ways to make their pictures pop.

PhotoGrid's basic features are aimed at helping users go beyond the set of Instagram filters that even your mom probably uses. The app offers ways for users to stitch their photos into collages, as well as filters, stickers, and text options, and effects.

Now the company has released an update that they're calling a “major upgrade,” powered by a combination of artificial intelligence, face recognition and machine learning technologies, and adding new stickers and filters. There are also expanded options to interact with other users within the app’s built-in social platform, designed to give it “a more customized and interactive vibe.”

These include:

  • Rolling comments. These appear at the corner in every image shared within the app, and are intended to make the photo sharing experience more alive and interactive, creating an opportunity for real-time connection and storytelling.
  • Personalized feed. The personalized content stream offers customized user and content recommendations.
  • Intelligent photo-editing features. More trendy stickers and special effects will roll out including the Twinkle effect, which uses machine learning technology.

Users flock to the app because quality images dramatically boost engagement on social media. Tweets with images receive 150 percent more retweets than tweets without images, and on Facebook, a post with an image will get 2.3X more engagement. The age-old question, "How can I capture an audience with the attention span of a goldfish?" has been answered with the explosion of photo-first social media.

But the company behind PhotoGrid, leading mobile utility and lifestyle app developer Cheetah Mobile, has recognized the power of image-driven communication to create communities. With the release of the 6.0 update, the company is shifting PhotoGrid from just a photo collage maker to a major social-driven image community, now that image makers can share their creations, comment and converse with their peers.

"Many of our existing users edit photos on PhotoGrid then post on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter," says Jill Shih, VP of product and user experience at Cheetah Mobile. "Now PhotoGrid offers global experience for people to express themselves, discover common passions, and stay connected through visual storytelling."

But is it an Instagram killer?

Probably not. But it doesn’t have to be — and that’s not what they’re aiming for. Offering powerful social features to create communities is a tremendously successful marketing strategy leveraged by developers of games, and lifestyle and productivity apps across the board. With an already impressive download track record, slick site, and growing global popularity — not to mention the 1.2 trillion photos projected to be taken in 2017 — PhotoGrid is positioned for the long haul.


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The DeanBeat: Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers are full of surprises

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 08:00 AM PST

Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers.

In its past two game consoles, Nintendo tried to pack most of its innovation in the controller. And with the Nintendo Switch, the company is pursuing the same strategy.

Nintendo got a lot of things wrong with the previous console, the Wii U, which had a tablet that came out long after the Apple iPad debuted. It was tethered with short-range wireless to the main machine, you couldn’t take it outside the house, and the processing power was in the console, not the tablet. In this case, the Switch is portable, and the processing is all in the tablet device.

Last night, the company revealed that its Joy-Con controllers have more technology in them than the company previously revealed. The controllers have motion sensors in them that allow them to be used in the same way that the controllers for the Wii and the Wii U were, where you can tilt them in one direction or another to control a game.

Nintendo also revealed also have an infrared camera that can see objects in close proximity. It can tell the difference between rock, paper, and scissors gestures that you make with your hands. You can play gunfight or boxiing games with it. The controller also has a near-field communications sensor to read or write data from a toy.

You can “share the joy” by sharing one of the mini Joy-Con controllers with a friend, enabling two people to play on the TV or play on the portable screen. The Joy-Con controllers also have a more refined sense of vibration, known as HD Rumble.

Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers come in multiple colors.

Above: Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers come in multiple colors.

Image Credit: Nintendo

This is a good tactic that will make gamers feel like they are getting something new. It’s also a very inexpensive way to innovate. But it’s also a little risky.

Sony and Microsoft put almost all of their resources into make sure that their new consoles have the best 3D graphics. They load their hardware with the most advanced processors and graphics that they can afford, and promote the visuals. If that’s what gamers want, then Nintendo will likely fall short.

Nintendo, as is typical, didn’t even mention its hardware specs. We know that Nvidia is providing a custom Tegra processor, but Nintendo didn’t say if it would support 4K graphics or video on the TV. The 6.2-inch device has a 720p screen resolution.

The main value is in being able to switch from TV mode to tabletop mode to portable modes. With three distinct ways to play, you can fulfill the vision of being able to play your games anytime, anywhere.

But Nintendo had some other surprises. It has a capacitive multitouch screen on the 6.2-inch device. That will enable some variety of gameplay that the others aren’t likely to have. The system also doesn’t have region locking, a small sign that the company is a little more open than in the past.

Nintendo Switch owes its DNA to many past Nintendo devices.

Above: Nintendo Switch owes its DNA to many past Nintendo devices.

Image Credit: Nintendo/GamesBeat

There are a few unanswered questions about features that could make or break the console. Nintendo said it will have online services, and it will begin charging for them in the fall. But the company didn’t say whether it would have cloud gaming that could tap the power of Internet-connected data centers, as the Switch’s cousin, the Nvidia Shield TV, can do.

Nintendo has never turned online gaming into an advantage. But it has titles such as Splatoon 2 coming, which could be tuned to take advantage of the esports craze. And up to eight Switch devices can be connected for local multiplayer.

Arms.

Above: Arms.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Another question is whether the graphics are good enough.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild game looks spectacular. That game and others such as Skyrim and Super Mario Odyssey showed that Nintendo can now do large open worlds with its games. Nintendo showed an Atlus title that uses the Unreal Engine 4 game engine. Those titles take a little bit of horsepower, so the Switch isn’t exactly a slouch when it comes to processing power.

Nintendo’s show made it clear that the company is trying to enable new play styles. It is creating tools to break the ice in a wide variety of social situations. Nintendo showed off some clever original games, like the boxing game Arms, that take advantage of the new features to provide new kinds of gameplay. These games will get us off the couch and prompt us to do a little more exercising.

Visually, the Switch probably isn’t yet capable of doing everything, particularly on the high-end realistic games front. That has been and will continue to be Nintendo’s Achilles Heel. On the other hand, it is coming out at a more affordable price than either Sony or Microsoft will with their future consoles.

80 games are in the works at 50 partner companies. Nintendo has to hope that third-party game developers will follow through on their pledges to deliver their games in a timely manner to give the Switch a wider variety of titles than the Wii U had. That looks like it is going to happen, and it’s critical to its success.

In short, Nintendo is sticking with a low-end, mass market strategy that could bring more gamers into the fold and allow it to stay out of the technological arms race with Sony and Microsoft. It has to move fast to bring big games to the console quickly, if it is to sustain momentum.

As Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said last week at CES 2017, “Nintendo Switch is a game console. It's very Nintendo. That entire experience is going to be very Nintendo. The beauty of that company, the craft of that company, the philosophy of that company—they're myopically, singularly focused on making sure that the gaming experience is amazing, surprising, and safe for young people, for children. Their dedication to their craft, that singular dedication, is quite admirable. When you guys all see Switch, I believe people are going to be blown away, quite frankly.”

Yes, I have to agree. This machine and its vision are very Nintendo, as is the business strategy. Now we’ll see how much that strategy and vision resonate with consumers. I’m more excited about this one than I was with the Wii U. And I preordered one last night.

 

The People’s House: The Obamas show off the White House in virtual reality

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 07:00 AM PST

President Obama in the Oval Office.

Not everybody gets to visit the White House. But now you can visit what Barack and Michelle Obama call “The People’s House” in virtual reality on Facebook 360 and the Oculus Rift.

Felix & Paul Studios, the Emmy-winning creator of cinematic VR experiences, teamed up with Oculus to launch an expansive Facebook 360 experience filmed in the White House. Both the President and the First Lady narrate the guided tour of the rooms and grounds.

Today, Oculus is posting an eight-minute narrated tour of the White House, which visits nine locations. I got a good look at it yesterday, and it really felt like I was in such places as the foyer of the White House, the situation room, and the Oval Office.

“This was a more extreme case, where we were waiting by the phone and were happy to have the opportunity to do it quickly,” said Ryan Horrigan, chief content officer at Félix & Paul Studios, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We shot for seven days, right before Christmas, and started producing it right after that. We try to take you on a slow pace, going through the President’s memories and conjuring an emotional feeling.”

Michelle Obama narrates a VR tour in the White House.

Above: Michelle Obama narrates a VR tour of the White House.

Image Credit: Oculus

At one point in the tour, you hear Barack Obama’s voice. Then you turn to the left and find that he is sitting next to you in a chair in the Oval Office. It was a cool experience that really made me feel like I was in a place that I would never get to visit in real life. It’s an intimate guided tour, where the Obama’s reminisce about what happened in the rooms or what happened with other presidents in those rooms.

"Michelle and I always joke, 'we're just renters here' …. The owners are the American people and all those invested in creating this amazing place with so much history," Obama says in the VR experience.

The initial piece being launched today serves as a preface to a longer, immersive 3D virtual reality experience that will be released in the near future. The longer VR version will cover about 25 locations at and around the White House.

"What we wanted to do is make sure that everybody felt they had access to the White House… that as many people as possible could come in and appreciate the place where Lincoln, FDR, or Reagan made the decisions that helped to shape America," Obama said.

The teams spent more than a year trying to arrange the visit. But they finally got access in November and December. They worked hard to produce the experience for today because they wanted to release it while the Obamas were still in the White House.

"We wanted to do the Facebook 360 experience while the President was still in office," said Colum Slevin, head of experiences at Oculus, in an interview with VentureBeat. "This is a chance for you to get a glimpse inside a place where people don’t have a chance to go."

It’s poignant sharing the Obamas’ personal insights and memories as they are preparing to leave. At one point, Obama noted that he could look at the busts of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oval Office and then turn around and see his kids’ swing set on the lawn.

White House cabinet room in VR.

Above: White House cabinet room in VR.

Image Credit: Oculus

"It was incredible to be able to capture a one-on-one private moment between the viewer and the President inside the Oval Office, and to position our VR camera exactly at the sitting place where President Obama very often receives his guests," said Félix Lajeunesse, cofounder and creative director of Felix & Paul Studios, in a statement. “Filming that scene was an immense and rare privilege for us, and we hope that the resulting VR piece will have a strong impact on viewers that will be preserved long after the Obamas have moved on."

White House north lawn in VR.

Above: White House north lawn in VR.

Image Credit: Oculus

"Every president moves to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the full awareness that it is a temporary address," Obama noted in the experience. "This is where we watched our daughters grow up. This is where we came to know the talented, devoted, optimistic Americans from every corner of the country and every station in life. Because as beautiful as these buildings are, it's the people in them and the work that's done here… the triumphs and tragedies you experience over the course of your years here — that's what imbues this place with meaning."

The Oculus team and Felix & Paul Studios first collaborated in 2016 around Obama’s June visit to Yosemite National Park, and then they produced a VR experience celebrating the park in honor of its centennial celebration. That was a partnership between Oculus, Felix & Paul Studios, and National Geographic.

But the tour of the White House was a new challenge.

"We conceived this project as an exploration of the White House in which the viewer gets transported through space and time, as well as through the President and First Lady's personal memories," said Paul Raphaël, cofounder and creative director of Felix & Paul Studios, in a statement. "It is important for viewers to connect with the physical and emotional experience of traveling between the rooms in the White House, in a calm but constant sense of movement. To achieve this, we developed a version of our proprietary VR camera system that moves through space on a custom-designed robotic platform."

In addition, the Felix & Paul Studios team created several time lapse-in-motion sequences that make it possible for the flow of time and movement of light around viewers to evolve at a much faster pace, creating a sense of transcending time.

The People’s House: Inside the White House With Barack and Michelle Obama is available today as a Facebook 360 video and as an Oculus Video for Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus and Oculus Rift.

The People's House is what the Obamas call the White House.

Above: “The People’s House” is what the Obamas call the White House.

Image Credit: Oculus

 

Arms has Switch players fighting with their actual fists

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 06:53 AM PST

Arms.

Sorry, Punch-Out. Nintendo has a new boxing franchise.

Nintendo revealed more info about its upcoming fighting game Arms, which will launch this spring for the Switch, during its Treehouse stream today. Arms is a motion-controlled game, having players hold both Joy-Con controllers in their hands and then replicating boxing movements to fight.

Characters in the game have extendable arms, so you’re able to fight with your fists from a distance. You tilt the controllers to move left and right, and make actual punching motions to attack. But it’s not all motion controls, you’ll still use buttons to do things like jump. You can also grab enemies by punching with both controllers at the same time, and characters have super moves that allow you to unleash a flurry of attacks for a short time.

You can also customize your characters by equipping different fists on each hand. For example, you can use a boomerang hand on one arm, which will add more of a curve to your punches.

Fighting has a bit of a rock-paper-scissors mechanic. Hits win over throws, throws win over blocks, and blocks win over hits. Players will have to anticipate their opponents if you want to win.

Stages will also have unique features. In the stream, Nintendo showed off an arena with a trampoline in the middle. Characters also have unique abilities. Master Mummy, for example, heals himself a bit when he blocks.

Nintendo made a name for itself with motion controls back with 2006’s Wii. While the Switch initially looks like a more traditional console, its motion-tracking Joy-Cons allow for different types of play.

Nintendo Switch Treehouse stream: Watch it right here

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 06:28 AM PST

A demonstration of the Switch playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Ready for more Switch news?

Nintendo showed off its upcoming console last night, revealing its March 3 release date and $300 price tag. Now, at 6:30 a.m. Pacific, it’ll be hosting another stream, this time a Treehouse event focused on going deeper into games. You can watch it live below.

Nissan picks London for first European on-road autonomous car tests

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 05:18 AM PST

London: Tower Bridge. October 13, 2012.

(Reuters) — Japanese carmaker Nissan said it will conduct its first European real-world trials of self-driving cars in London, choosing Britain just months after it said it would build two new models in the country despite concerns over Brexit.

The government has said it wants to encourage the development and testing of autonomous driving technology in Britain, helping build an industry to serve a worldwide market it reckons could be worth around 900 billion pounds ($1.1 trillion) by 2025.

On Friday Nissan said a modified version of its compact electric LEAF car equipped with autonomous driving technology will be tested in the capital next month, the first such demonstrations on European public roads.

“With future models secured and cutting-edge innovation being developed right here in the UK, we're looking forward to a strong future of designing, engineering and manufacturing in the country for customers right across the world,” said Nissan Europe Chairman Paul Willcox.

In October the firm, which builds around a third of Britain’s total car output, said it would expand production at its plant in northeast England with what a source described as a government promise of extra support to counter any loss of competitiveness caused by Britain’s EU exit.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Meet Docker’s French artist who spun her Silicon Valley misadventures into comic book glory

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 03:59 AM PST

comme-convenu-4

From the time that Laurel Duermaël and her husband Adrien left France to pursue their startup dreams in Silicon Valley, it seemed that nothing went as planned.

But somehow, through a failed video game startup, battles with cofounders, the loss of personal savings, and the stress of living in a strange land, their tale has arrived at the unlikeliest place of all: a happy ending. For now, at least. Laurel, a well-known comic book author in France, published her Silicon Valley tale of woe in a book called Comme Convenu (As Agreed) on the back of a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign and is now working on the second volume.

Meanwhile, she has been hired as the in-house illustrator for Docker, making her perhaps the only comic book artist on a high-tech payroll in Silicon Valley. Adrien had previously landed a job as a programmer at Docker, a convenience that has brought at least some stability to a chaotic journey.

“It’s not been easy,” Laurel said. “It's not all the American dream. It takes a lot of work.”

While comic books are a global phenomenon, in France they are considered a higher form of culture, on par with novels and music and painting. There are critics associations, and public libraries are filled with sections of comic books, known in France as “bande dessinée” or “BD.”

Laurel, who publishes under just her first name, had been highly successful for more than a decade and has published 13 books. She was particularly well known for a series called Cerise that chronicles the life of her daughter of the same name. A few years ago, while still living in France, Adrien was developing a mobile video game, and he asked Laurel to design the characters. The result was released in June 2010: Doodle Grub.

Doodle Grub

Above: Doodle Grub

The game was a surprise hit, attracting 3 million users and 200,000 daily users across iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, and Facebook. It would frequently lead many top 10 app store lists over the next couple of years. That left the couple wondering just how far they could take their work.

"Our dream is to move to California," Adrien said in an interview with VentureBeat in 2011. "When we have more funds, we will accelerate our development."

And so later that year they did. The couple partnered with serial entrepreneurs Arthur Madrid and Sebastien Borget and created Pixowl, a mobile video game studio based in Silicon Valley that began developing new titles, as well Doodle Grub. And they brought their then 10-year-old daughter along as they left France and rented a house in Burlingame.

"It was a fantasy to have our own company,” Laurel said.

In 2012, the company raised $1.2 million in venture capital from 500 Startups, Kima Ventures, and Pymar Venture, among others.

“We believe the large mobile gaming community wants rich, character-driven stories on their phones and tablets,” said Madrid, CEO of Pixowl, in a statement at the time. From the outside, the company seemed like it was riding a wave of momentum. Madrid ran the company in San Francisco, while Borget oversaw a team of developers in Buenos Aires.

But not everything in the company was going “as agreed.”

Laurel and Adrien had paid all their travel and moving expenses out of their pocket. The assumed at some point their company would reimburse them, but it never did. Though the company was founded as a partnership, they found themselves often at odds with Madrid and Borget over its direction. Meanwhile, the process to settle their visa situation and get health insurance dragged on, and they felt like they couldn’t quit because they were depending on the company to sort these things out.

“It's funny, because we met with a lot of people with a similar problem,” Laurel said. “In fact, we met with other French people who had the exact situation of being stuck with a company. It comes with a lot of pressure.”

While Laurel was focused on the company, she continued drawing and developing her own stories on the side. And naturally, that led her to start writing a lightly fictionalized version of her own Silicon Valley story. But while she had been successfully published by big publishing houses in years past , she decided to try a different approach this time .

As is the case for many forms of print media, French comic book artists have suffered stagnant or declining sales and earnings in recent years. So Laurel decided to try self-publishing and launched a campaign on European crowdfunding platform Ululue. Fortunately, Laurel had been very active online over the years, posting her designs and sketches on her blog, and later on Twitter.

The goal was to raise $10,300. She raised $294,000. Even the press back in France took notice.

Published last summer, Comme Convenu claims to be fictionalized, and indeed, the names of the company and characters have been changed. But no one seems to think it’s anything but an autobiographical account that paints the other two cofounders in a less-than-flattering light. Laurel acknowledges that they were “furious.”

"Comme Convenu" by Laurel

Above: Comme Convenu by Laurel

Laurel continues to share pages from the book on Twitter, where almost the entire book has appeared by now.

She is now searching for someone to translate the book into English as she works on the next volume of Comme Convenu.

Meanwhile, Adrien had met Solomon Hykes, a Docker cofounder who is half French-Canadian. Adrien had used Docker’s container services for his development work, and Hykes even appears as an occasional character in Comme Convenu. After hiring Adrien as a programmer at Docker, Hykes approached Laurel about doing some work for the company.

Docker’s technology is complex, and Hykes thought having an illustrator on staff who could help communicate some of those concepts while adding some personality would be a big plus for the company.

"Docker is very fortunate to have Laurel as part of our team, as she is very good at creating visual metaphors for complex topics," said Hykes, who is currently the company’s chief technology officer and product officer. "When you grow to the point that you are reaching millions of people, it can be hard to keep a human touch. By injecting her personal style into the Docker graphical identity, Laurel helps us to stay true to that intention while keeping up with the pace of Docker's innovation."

Laurel’s work started with helping put together some graphics for a keynote that Hykes was presenting. For about two years now, Laurel has been doing design and animations for corporate presentations, the company’s blog, and its schwag for conferences, among other things. She works about 20 hours a week for Docker, which leaves her the rest of the week to write her own books.

tshirt-seattle seattle accept-no-imitation containersvms sad idea dockercon thanksgiving-16-holiday-10

Thanks to the work at Docker, the couple are not making any immediate plans to return to France. Cerise, now 14, seems happy with school and their life in the U.S., Laurel said. And they now have a six-month old baby. They miss the food back home, of course, but they frequent a little French bistro in Burlingame when they get a craving.

“We love what we're doing and what we have achieved,” she says.

Laurel, Adrien and family

Above: Laurel, Adrien, and family

Image Credit: Laurel

The Internet Archive launches Wayback Machine Chrome extension to combat link rot

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 02:31 AM PST

Internet Archive - Wayback Machine

The Internet Archive is making it easier for web users to access archived versions of dead web pages with a new official add-on for Google Chrome browser.

Wayback Machine: Chrome Extension

Above: Wayback Machine: Chrome Extension

Once you install the Wayback Machine extension, whenever you land on a once-valid web page that now delivers an error code — such as “page not found” or a “404” — the extension will query the Wayback Machine to check whether there is anything in the archives. If there is, you’ll be asked to click to view the most recently archived version.

For the uninitiated, the Internet Archive has been documenting the web's evolution since 1996, crawling millions of websites and documenting changes and edits at intermittent periods. So, for example, anyone wishing to return to the Twitter homepage of 2006, or the FBI homepage in 1996, can do so.

The broader Internet Archive is an incredibly useful tool for curious geeks interested in the history of the web. But it also serves a more important purpose as it prevents content publishers, from newspapers to government agencies, from whitewashing their online history.

Link rot

By way of example, an estimated 83 percent of PDF documents on .gov domains disappeared during President Obama's first term in the White House. Such vanishing acts aren’t always sinister, however, as there may be any number of legitimate reasons for content disappearing — departments may merge, or projects may become obsolete.

But the Internet Archive and its partner organizations have made it their mission to document government website data. As George W. Bush's time in office was coming to an end in 2008, the End of Term Web Archive was launched with one sole purpose: to serve as a permanent record of government-related communications during presidential transitions. Last month, the Internet Archive revealed plans to preserve 100 terabytes of government website data.

Furthermore, a Harvard study from 2013 found that 49 percent of hyperlinks relating to Supreme Court decisions no longer work. And this is the problem that the Wayback Machine is looking to solve. So-called link rot is a growing concern, and online archives are vital to preserving a vast swathe of important data.

As for the new Wayback Machine extension, the Internet Archive says that it is continuing to try to protect user privacy by not recording the IP addresses, and it says that it’s in discussions with Google about “adding a proxy server as an additional layer of protection,” the Wayback Machine’s director, Mark Graham, noted in a blog post.

Additionally, in response to concerns over what a Donald Trump presidency may mean for privacy and censorship on the internet, the Internet Archive recently announced it was building a replica database in Canada.

In a ‘man vs. machine’ poker contest, the machine is winning

Posted: 13 Jan 2017 01:20 AM PST

Poker

A very interesting contest is taking place at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, where four of the world’s best poker players are playing against a machine. And as of now anyway, the machine is winning.

In this case the machine, named Libratus, is using artificial intelligence (AI) technology developed at nearby Carnegie Mellon University, a hotbed of AI and robotics research.

The tournament kicked off Wednesday with odds makers favoring the human players 4 or 5 to 1 over Libratus. “But we ended up ahead,” Tuomas Sandholm, CMU professor of computer science told Fortune over the phone, sounding delighted. And that was before Thursday afternoon’s action, at which time Libratus was extending its lead. There’s a live feed if you need play by play.

But still, Sandholm knows the war has just begun. The “Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence: Upping the Ante” contest calls for 120,000 hands of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold ’em poker to be played over 20 days. Believe it or not that is possible, Sandholm said, with play starting at 11 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m. each day.

And, if the human players — Jason Les, Dong Kim, Daniel McAulay, and Jimmy Chou — prevail, they will share $200,000 in prize money.

In a similar tournament of 80,000 hands of poker played last year, the machine, an earlier iteration of the AI, lost, but just barely, to the humans. Team CMU is hoping for a different outcome this time.

This marathon contest is part of the university brain trust’s attempt to show that AI, which has already prevailed against humans in tic-tac-toe, checkers, chess, and Go, can do the same in this particular game.

Here’s why this is a tougher challenge: In poker a single player gets an incomplete view of the overall game. For one thing, players have no idea who holds the outstanding cards; for another, opponents purposely obfuscate their strategy. In short, they bluff.

“Poker requires intentional deception and withholding of information, and that makes it very hard for computers,” Andrew Moore, dean of CMU’s School of Computer Science, told Fortune during an interview last week. Sandholm agreed. “What’s so hard is there is imperfect information, unlike in chess, checkers or tic-tac-toe,” he noted over the phone on Thursday. “You don’t really know the state of the game and you don’t really know what’s happened in the past since the other players are shielding it from you. You don’t know their cards.”

AI seems to have figured out other, less difficult versions of poker — AI technology from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, beat humans at Head’s Up Limited Hold ‘Em, for example. But the current task is harder.

As technical journal IEEE Spectrum put it:

…heads-up, no-limit Texas Hold'em represents an especially complex challenge with 10160 possible plays at different stages of the game (possibly more than the number of atoms in the universe). Such complexity exists because this two-player version of poker allows for unrestricted bet sizes.

Running through all those scenarios requires heavy-duty number crunching. The CMU team used “tens of millions of hours of CPU time” at a large Pittsburgh supercomputer to create the models used in this work, Moore said. A CPU or central processing unit is a common measure of computer power.

But in the end, this is about much more than winning poker. It’s about the use of computation and game theory, as espoused by mathematician John Nash (the subject of the 2001 multi-Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind) in many applications. Game theory is the practice of applying mathematical models to the interactions among two or more players or participants. It is applicable to what we literally know as games (poker and chess, for example) but also to political, financial, and social interactions.

Anything involving negotiations could use this sort of AI model to finagle the best deal, Moore said.

“The reason this poker tournament is important and not just scientifically interesting is that it will show we can program computers to be deceptive,” he said. That means a computer, perhaps even your smart phone and the virtual assistant running on it, can act as your agent in transactions.

In a basic example, he said if Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, or Google’s Now is endowed with this sort of AI, it can act in your behalf.

Say you need a ride home. Your bot will know what you’re willing to pay but won’t necessarily disclose that to Uber or Lyft. Instead it will negotiate with them to get the best price by not tipping your hand. Now imagine applying that AI to multi-million-dollar trade deals or other financial transactions stock transactions or real estate deals.

“That’s the sort of computing you’d have to do. And thanks to John Nash, there will be a mathematical way to do it,” Moore added.

The possible problems that could arise from willfully deceptive AI models are fodder for another story, but that’s for another day.

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017

Nintendo Switch Presentation trailer roundup: Zelda, Mario Odyssey, and more

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 10:39 PM PST

The Nintendo Switch console.

Nintendo had a huge event to reveal its upcoming Switch console. The system is coming March 3 for $300, and it will have plenty of games — including a new Zelda on launch day. If you want a closer look at that software lineup, we’ve collected all of the trailers for you right here.

Check it out:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Super Mario Odyssey

Splatoon 2

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Arms

1-2 Switch

Fire Emblem Warriors

Sonic Mania

Puyo Puyo Tetris

Redout

Here’s the available specs on the Nintendo Switch hardware

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 09:48 PM PST

The Nintendo Switch

[Updated with more details from Friday stream: 7:30 am PST 1/13/17]

Nintendo didn’t disclose everything about the specifications for its Nintendo Switch game console tonight, but it did share more details than it has at any time before this event in Japan.

The Switch preorders start on January 21. The hybrid home game console and portable will launch worldwide on March 3, 2017, for $300 in the U.S. We know that Nvidia is making the processor inside the system, but Nintendo didn’t even mention the graphics chip maker at its event tonight.

Nintendo Switch microSD card.

Above: Nintendo Switch microSD card.

Image Credit: Nintendo

One piece of news: the Nintendo Switch’s 6.2-inch screen has capacitive multitouch capabilities, meaning you can tap the screen with multiple fingers at the same time. Nintendo confirmed to us that the Switch has 32 gigabytes of internal memory, and it is expandable via microSD cards. The 256-gigabyte microSD card fits in the back, near the kickstand.

Nintendo spent a lot of time talking about the Joy-Con controllers. There’s a left and a right version, and Joy-Con grip that connects them so they can be used as one controller. Each controller has an accelerometer and a gyro sensor, enabling the Joy-Cons to detect movement. The right Joy-Con also has an infrared camera sensor that can detect shapes and objects a couple of feet away.

Switch Joy-Con has a bar attached to the straps that makes it easy to push shoulder buttons.

Above: Switch Joy-Con has a bar attached to the straps that makes it easy to push shoulder buttons.

Image Credit: Nintendo

The Joy-Con straps come with a metal bar that slides over the top. They give you an easier way to push the shoulder buttons on the side of the controller. Nintendo also showed a traditional Pro controller, and a driving wheel accessory.

The right Joy-Con also has a near-field communications read/write wireless sensor, which can read or write data to and from an Amiibo toy. The left Joy-Con has a capture button that can be used to take instant screenshots of gameplay and share them with friends on social media.

Nintendo Joy-Con

Above: Nintendo Joy-Con

Image Credit: Nintendo

Nintendo didn’t say anything about the horsepower of the machine. It did say that up to eight players can play together on local multiplayer, for games such as Mario Kart 8. Both Joy-Con include advanced HD Rumble, which can provide compatible games with subtle vibrations that are much more realistic than before. Immersion said that it worked with Nintendo on the HD Rumble tech, which uses Immersion’s TouchSense technology.

The system will include the main console, Joy-Con (L) and Joy-Con (R) controllers, a Joy-Con grip (to which two Joy-Con are attached and used as one controller), a set of Joy-Con wrist straps, a Nintendo Switch dock (which holds the main console and connects it to a TV), a HDMI cable, and an AC adapter. Two stylish versions of the system will be released: a version with a set of gray Joy-Con, and a version with one neon blue and one neon red Joy-Con. Both versions will be the same price.

Battery life can last for more than six hours, but will vary depending on the software and usage conditions. For example, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be played for roughly three hours on a single charge. While away from home, Nintendo Switch can be charged by plugging the AC adapter into the console's USB Type-C connector.

Nintendo Switch game console features a new Super Mario Odyssey game.

Above: Nintendo Switch game console features a new Super Mario Odyssey game.

Image Credit: Nintendo

The console will have online connectivity that will be free at first, but Nintendo will begin charging for the service sometime in the fall.  The online service includes a smart-device application available in the summer that will let users invite friends to play online, set play appointments, and chat with one another as they play compatible games. The fully featured paid service will be available in the fall.

The Nintendo Switch software will not be region locked. Nintendo’s purchase link has prices for each individual accessory. We still have a lot of questions, but here’s what we new from our earlier reporting. There’s still no word about whether Nintendo is taking advantage of cloud gaming.

Nintendo said the device operates on Wi-Fi. It didn’t say whether it also has 4G LTE connectivity, which would be particularly useful when mobile. It also didn’t mention services such as Netflix or Hulu.

Nintendo Switch hardware

Above: Nintendo Switch hardware

Image Credit: Nintendo

Nintendo Switch preorders are now live (update)

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 09:10 PM PST

Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima

The Nintendo Switch game console will go on sale on March 3, with preorders starting on January 21 for the $300 system.

Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima announced the news at an event in Japan tonight, just before showing an extensive preview of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the big exclusive game for the Nintendo Switch.

[Update: Some retailers such as Best Buy, Amazon, and GameStop began taking preorders immediately]. Kimishima said the January 21 date for retail preorders applied to Japan. But he didn’t say anything about other territories.

Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, said that gamers will get to preview the Nintendo Switch in North America on six consecutive Sundays in six different cities leading up to the launch. The console will sell for $300 worldwide on launch day.

The Nintendo Switch preorders start on January 21.

Above: The Nintendo Switch preorders start on January 21.

Image Credit: Nintendo

“The streets are quiet,” Fils-Aime said. “But there is definitely something in the air. The atmosphere is cracking with posts and tweets and messages.”

Nintendo will launch Zelda on the same day that the Switch launches.

“What most impressed me about the details put forward tonight on Switch is the local 8-way play, but the Joy-Con controllers appear to be their focus and the Switch's winning feature,” said Brian Blau, analyst at Gartner, in an email. “It’s a hand-held bar of fun packed with way too many cool sensors and functions, such as the HD rumble, and it will be really disappointing if game developers don't take advantage of the unique style of gameplay it enables.”

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will launch with the Nintendo Switch on March 3

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 09:08 PM PST

Away! Away from tablets!

Nintendo revealed during its Switch event tonight that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will launch along with the Switch on March 3.

The announcement came with a new trailer that showed series hero Link and Princess Zelda in its open world. You can watch the video above. The announcement comes after rumors that the game may not make it in time for the launch. The Zelda franchise is one of Nintendo’s most iconic, selling over 75 million copies.

Nintendo did not say when the Wii U version will release. This new Zelda was originally planned as an exclusive for that system, but Nintendo decided to bring it to its new console due to poor Wii U sales.

Nintendo is creating a more open environment for this Zelda, enabling players to explore and climb their way through a large world. This will be the first home console entry in the series since Skyward Sword came out for the Wii in 2011.

We got to play the Wii U version of Breath of the Wild at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles last year, and we impressed with how it refreshes the Zelda formula.

FIFA and EA are coming to Switch

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 08:57 PM PST

FIFA 16 2

Nintendo has scored a big third-party partner for its new console.

Electronic Arts was onstage at Nintendo’s Switch event tonight reveal that it is bringing its soccer series FIFA to Switch. FIFA is the most popular sports franchise in gaming — selling more than 100 million copies worldwide — so this is a big third-party score for Nintendo.

It’s also a big deal for Nintendo to have EA’s support. EA is one of the biggest third-party publishers, and works on popular franchises like Madden, Battlefield, and Star Wars. This could be just the beginning of EA’s support for the Switch.

EA is making this new FIFA game specifically for the Switch, so it will not be a simple port of FIFA 17.

“Nintendo's heritage is to always push forward, to dare to choose their own path, and now they are doing it again with the Nintendo Switch,” Patrick Söderlund, executive vice president of worldwide studios at EA, said in a press release sent to GamesBeat. “We're excited to be partnered with them again, and to bring new experiences to players on this brand new platform.”

Nintendo partners with Suda 51, Bethesda, Square Enix, and more for third-party Switch games

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 08:55 PM PST

One of the new Switch games.

Nintendo is promising major support for its upcoming Switch console.

At a reveal event in Japan, Nintendo rolled out a parade of developers who are making games for the Switch. Let It Die director Suda51, Bethesda boss Todd Howard, and others showed up to talk about what they are working on. Here’s a look at what you can expect to come alongside the Switch over the next year.

  • Fire Emblem Warriors: A Dynasty Warriors spinoff starring the characters from Nintendo’s fantasy strategy game.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: The sequel to the Wii and 3DS exclusive Xenoblade games.
  • Minecraft: Another port of the block-building megahit.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: A new entry in Atlus’s long-running RPG series running on the Unreal graphics engine.
  • Super Bomberman R: An online version of the multiplayer bombing game.
  • Ultra Super Street Fighter 2: An updated version of the classic fighter
  • Dragonball Xenoverse 2: An action-adventure game that enables you to relive the events of the anime.
  • Has-Been Heroes: A rogue-like strategy adventure from developer Frozenbyte.
  • Puyo Puyo Tetris: An amazing combination of two beloved puzzle games.
  • Just Dance 2017: The next dancing game from Ubisoft.
  • Rayman Legends Definitive Edition: An updated version of the Ubisoft platformer.
  • Steep: Ubisoft’s extreme winter sports sim.
  • Skylanders Imaginators: The next entry in Activision’s interactive-toys franchise.
  • Redout: A futuristic racing game.
  • The Binding of Isaac+: Updated version of the indie rogue-like.
  • New game from Silicon Studios, the team that made Bravely Default.
  • FIFA from Electronic Arts.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim from Bethesda.
  • A wrestling-inspired game from Suda51, maker of free-to-play PS4 game Let It Die.

 

Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be on the Nintendo Switch

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 08:54 PM PST

Skyrim is coming to the Nintendo Switch.

Confirming the previous big hints, Bethesda Game Studios revealed that the award-winning The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will debut on the Nintendo Switch.

Todd Howard, director of Bethesda Game Studios, announced the game on stage at the Nintendo Switch unveiling event tonight in Japan.

“The Nintendo Switch is classically Nintendo and something all new, and we want to thank them for letting us be a part of it,” Howard said.

Todd Howard of Bethesda announces Skyrim for the Nintendo Switch.

Above: Todd Howard of Bethesda announces Skyrim for the Nintendo Switch.

Image Credit: Nintendo/Bethesda

Skyrim was a huge hit after it was released in November 2011 on Windows, the PlayStation 3, and the Xbox 360. It sold an estimated 30 million copies across all platforms, but it never made it to other Nintendo consoles. It came out in late 2016 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in a Special Edition. Now Bethesda is finally bringing it to Nintendo fans.

That’s a sign that Nintendo is reaching out to developers and publishers that it hasn’t had before, and that the Switch is quite capable of running big open world games.

New Shin Megami Tensei role-playing game is coming to Nintendo Switch

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 08:50 PM PST

Makers of: Dragon's Crown, Shin Megami Tensei

Japanese role-playing game fans have a reason to get excited for the Switch.

During its stream event today, Nintendo revealed a short teaser for a new Shin Megami Tensei game from developer Atlus. SMT is one of the most popular role-playing franchises in Japan, and its reach has extended to the U.S. thanks to the success of the Persona series, which is a spin-off, and SMT’s successes on the DS and 3DS handheld consoles.

It’s unclear if this is Shin Megami Tensei V or a new entry (or even spinoff) in the series. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey appeared exclusively on the Nintendo DS.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the first big Japanese role-playing game for the Nintendo Switch

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 08:43 PM PST

Xenoblade 2

Nintendo just took the wraps off of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the first Japanese role-playing game for the Nintendo Switch game console.

Nintendo made the announcements tonight at an event in Japan. The Switch debuts as Nintendo’s hybrid home game console and portable on March 3 for $300 around the world.

The Xenoblade Chronicles 2 features a character with a big sword in a lush anime world with all sorts of beautiful landscapes. The final scene of the demo featured a tree in the clouds and a giant whale-like creature in the sky.

The developer is Monolith Soft, which created the original Xenoblade Chronicles. That previous title debuted in Japan in 2010 on the Nintendo Wii, and it made it to North America in 2012 and the Nintendo 3DS in 2015.

Super Mario Odyssey is coming to the Switch this holiday

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 08:42 PM PST

Super Mario Odyssey.

Mario is ready for a new adventure.

Nintendo announced Super Mario Odyssey for its upcoming Switch console. It will come out this holiday season, meaning it will miss the $300 system’s March 3 launch.

This game takes Mario to new locations outside of the Mushroom Kingdom, like a New York City-style metropolis and a Mexican village. Nintendo promised that the game will return to the more sandbox, open-level gameplay of Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. The video also showed Bowser in a fancy wedding suit with a captured Princess Peach.

Mario’s iconic hat also becomes a character in the new adventure. The trailer also showed the Nintendo mascot throwing his cap as a weapon and even jumping on it as a platform.

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