Apple made much ado of the Lightning connector it launched side-by-side with the iPhone 5, but what we’ve known about it has been limited outside of the presence of an authentication chip. Double Helix Cables’ Peter Bradstock has delved deeper and tells AppleInsider that there’s some clever wiring that clinches the reversible design. While Lightning’s power supply is truly symmetrical among the contact pins, the data isn’t — which suggests a chip inside is redirecting data to keep the plug working as intended. The technique helps explain why Apple would need any elaborate circuitry in the first place. No matter the wizardry inside, Bradstock doesn’t see any cut-rate Lightning alternatives being useful in the near future: as it’s unlikely that anyone outside of Cupertino knows how the authentication works at this stage, clone cables may amount to little more than heaps of metal and plastic ~ Jon Fingaz
New screenshots of the Halo 4 campaign were released Friday showing new areas of the games plus more of the Prometheans and Covenant.
Halo 4 primarily takes place on the mysterious Shield World named Requiem. Adrift in space in half of the Forward Unto Dawn, Cortana has spent the last five years watching over Master Chief in a cryotube while sending out distress calls. What she finds instead is a fanatical splinter faction of the Covenant and the mysterious Requiem. This is when players spring into action as Master Chief.
The screenshots really showoff the graphical refresh that 343 Industries has given the game engine for Halo 4. While previous games of the current generation ran at “sub-HD” levels, the latest in the series will not only run at 720p but all the character models received substantial upgrades and re-work.
Halo 4 is headed out for the Xbox 360 on November 6.
A new PC interface for TV screens is set to change gaming – and could herald future smart TVs with the power of modern PCs
THE world’s largest video-game distribution platform for PCs is now available on televisions, bringing a new community of gamers into the living room.
Last week, Valve, the US firm behind the acclaimed Half-Life and Portal games, launched Big Picture, a television interface for Steam, the company’s PC-only video-game distribution and social-media platform.
The move aims to change the gaming landscape. It will also accelerate a move towards smart TVs equipped with the power of modern PCs.
Even though Steam offers over 1500 games and claims around 50 million PC gamers, it is still something of an industry niche. Big game publishers such as EA and Ubisoft are geared towards console releases, with PC versions of games coming later, if at all.
But even Sony’s PS3, the youngest of the current generation of consoles, is six years old. PC hardware, meanwhile, gets better and cheaper every year. With Nintendo launching its new console in November and Sony and Microsoft poised to follow in 2013, Valve is determined to muscle in on console territory: the family sofa. As a Big Picture promo video puts it: “Sometimes, you just want to kick it in the living room.”
“It’s about being a couple of steps ahead of the curve,” says John Walker, co-director of cult PC-gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun. “It’s a really interesting flag they’re placing.”
Big Picture provides an alternative interface for Steam which lets users bring their profile – including their social network and personal library of games – out of the bedroom or home office and into the family environment of the living room. It includes a TV web browser optimised for use with a game controller or a keyboard and mouse.
The downside is that you need to run an HDMI cable from your PC to the television. That’s fine for laptops, but will be impractical if the PC and TV are not in the same room. But TVs with built-in PCs are a future inevitability, says Walker. Such a combo would also make on-demand streaming of films over the internet far more convenient. Another possibility would be for Valve to offer its own Steam set-top box – a small, dedicated games PC running the Linux operating system. Valve is already adapting its games to run on a Linux version of Steam, Walker notes, making this less of a technological leap.
Both Steam and consoles face competition from cloud-based gaming services like OnLive and Gaikai, which Sony recently bought for $380 million. Because the computing for these games is done on servers in the cloud, a TV with a small set-top box is all the computing power that is required to play. But internet bandwidth limitations mean that cloud-based gaming cannot yet compete with the console or PC experience.
Valve’s move will have a big impact on independent game developers, as getting approval to publish a game and charge for it via Steam is far easier than on consoles. And there are very few restrictions to distributing games on PCs.
“Steam on a TV is massively exciting for an indie developer,” says Mike Bithell, who is lead game designer at Bossa Studios in London by day and an independent developer by night. “It’s a fast and easy way to take a game created with the PC in mind and transfer it almost immediately to couch play.” ~ Douglas Heaven
Gearbox today released an official Borderlands 2 Mechromancer promo revealing the character’s name and final design. Joining Axton, Maya, Salvador, and Zer0 will be Gaige, the Mechromancer, who will arrive as downloadable DLC following the launch of Borderlands 2.
While Borderlands 2 will release on September 18 (September 21 internationally), Gaige won’t arrive until October 16. Gaige will be free to those who are members of the Borderlands 2 Premiere Club whose membership is free as long as you pre-order the game at participating retailers. For those who wait, the Mechromancer will be available for $9.99 (800 Microsoft Points).
The new promo doesn’t reveal much about the character’s abilities, but the final design shows Gaige on top of her guardian robot, Deathtrap. Part cyborg, Gaige can use her robotic arm to control Deathtrap to destroy enemies. Her skills remain largely a mystery, but last month it was said that she has a skill tree that makes the game easier for those less-skill in first-person co-op shooters. The tree was coined as a “girlfriend mode”, which Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford quickly shot down.
In addition to the Mechromancer DLC, Gearbox has plans for four additional add-on campaigns, each featuring several hours of gameplay that will “introduce new adventures allies, enemies, and environments”. While they’ll be available and priced individually, gamers who already know they plan on purchasing them can go ahead and get the Borderlands 2 Season Pass. ~ Matt Liebel
Having launched a pair of Windows 8 tablet-focused input devices, Microsoft has now turned its attention to full-size peripherals. The Sculpt Comfort Keyboard comes equipped with Microsoft’s new array of Windows 8-specific buttons and a new take on the familiar spacebar. By bisecting and enlarging the standard spacebar, Microsoft offers you the option to turn the left space key into a dedicated backspace button. The backspace functionality is interesting, but the fatter spacebar gives the Sculpt Comfort a clunky feeling. At $59.99, the price is also high enough that you’ll definitely want to try it out before you buy. You might check it out if you’re looking to adjust your current typing style, but Microsoft’s Sculpt Comfort Keyboard feels more like a solution in search of a problem than a must-have input device.
The Sculpt Comfort feels like the La-Z-Boy of PC keyboards. A padded wrist rest juts out about 2.5 inches from the front of the device. A pair of feet under the wrist rest pops out to elevate your wrists off the desk like an ottoman for your hands. The enlarged spacebar keys create an expansive landing spot for your thumbs, and your fingers fall across Microsoft’s familiar wavy, curved key alignment (which you may have seen before). Even the key action feels soft, although in a way that’s overly mushy.
The problem is that not everyone wants the keyboard equivalent of an easy chair. The spacebar in particular feels unnecessarily large, and it sets the keys far enough back that you feel like you have to stretch to reach them. You can take the wrist rest off, which helps some, but the spacebar still feels like you have to reach over it to type. And compared with generally crisp laptop keyboards and the newer breed of mechanical typing devices, the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard feels a bit like you’re typing in mud.
Microsoft’s rationale for the large, bisected spacebar comes from its own research. It explains as follows:
This design choice is the result of internal research that showed 90 percent of typists use only their right thumb to press the spacebar, leaving a lot of unused real estate on the left side of the bar. Research also showed the backspace key is the third most pressed key on the keyboard — behind the spacebar itself and the letter “e” — but constantly striking backspace breaks a person’s typing stride because of its location on the top right-hand corner of the keyboard.
Simply hold down both the left and right spacebar keys to toggle the left-side assignment between “space” and “backspace.” And while I can’t necessarily disagree with Microsoft’s research findings, as a lifelong touch typist I also can’t say “the backspace problem” has ever really bothered me. Microsoft wisely allows you to adjust the function of the left-side spacebar on the fly. I had it set to backspace mode throughout the writing of this review, and as much as I tried to remember to use it, I never felt the need. It might pay off in a few extra words per minute if you thoroughly retrain yourself — stenographers, take note — but overall the reimagined spacebar is more experimental novelty than compelling innovation.
Along with the tweaked design, the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard comes with some useful features for Windows 8 users. As we saw in the Wedge Mobile Keyboard, Microsoft has superimposed four Windows 8 specific hot keys — Search, Share, Devices, and Settings — over a set of the top-row function keys. If you’d rather just have traditional “F” keys, a useful switch lets you lock the top buttons into either hot-key or function-key mode. The new Windows key, bearing Microsoft’s redesigned Windows logo, lets Windows 8 users swap between the new Windows 8 tile interface and your current active window. In older versions of Windows, the new Windows key opens the Start menu.
Otherwise the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard is a straightforward typing device. It is wireless, which means batteries and a wireless receiver. The 2.4GHz receiver is a larger dongle-style USB device, as opposed to Microsoft’s and Logitech’s tiny microreceiver designs. The good news is that the pairing process is practically instant. Simply plug the receiver in and start typing; there’s no messing with connect buttons or other hoops to jump through. For batteries, Microsoft includes a pair of standard AAAs.
The Sculpt Comfort Keyboard has some useful touches in its removable wrist rest, the front-side support feet, and its Windows 8-specific hot keys, but overall the keyboard has an overstuffed quality to it. From the too-soft key response, to the thick wrist rest and giant spacebar, the Sculpt comes across as cumbersome. And although it might be interesting to reexamine your relationship with the spacebar, the keyboard itself gets in the way of any fun you might have experimenting with it. Input device preferences are highly subjective, of course, so you may find what Microsoft has done here is just right. Just be sure to get some hands-on time with the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard before you make a purchase. Those used to crisp-feeling typing hardware will likely want to keep looking.
Forensic analysis of two command-and-control servers for the Flame espionage worm has revealed that the infamous malware has been around for longer than suspected – and has links to other mystery software nasties.
Flame was built by a group of at least four developers as early as December 2006, according to freshly published joint research by Symantec, Kaspersky Lab and the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union.
The malware, which infected Microsoft Windows computers across the Middle East, came to light in May when the Iranian authorities found it siphoning off data to foreign handlers.
Over the past six years, the team behind Flame used the command servers to communicate with the malware on the compromised machines and order them to launch attacks, using multiple encryption techniques and periodically wiping data from the PCs to hide its activities.
Despite these efforts, the well-funded Flame handlers left behind a number of clues. “The C&C servers were disguised to look like a common content management system to hide the true nature of the project from hosting providers or random investigations,” a statement by Kaspersky Labs explained. “The servers were able to receive data from infected machines using four different protocols; only one [was used by] computers to attack with Flame.
“The existence of three additional protocols not used by Flame provides proof that at least three other Flame-related malicious programs were created. Their nature is currently unknown.”
The command-and-control infrastructure associated with Flame has since been dismantled.
“They [the command servers] are all dead,” Costin Raiu, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab told El Reg. “About 35 C&C servers were active during the past two to three years, I believe five or six were active in May 2012.”
Flame’s control systems went offline immediately after Kaspersky Lab first unearthed the malware. All the command servers ran the 64-bit flavour of the Debian GNU/Linux operating system, virtualised using OpenVZ containers and disguised to look like an ordinary web publishing system. Only the team behind the malware would have been able to read the heavily encrypted data uploaded to the systems.
“It was problematic for us to estimate the amount of data stolen by Flame, even after the analysis of its command-and-control servers,” said Alexander Gostev, chief security expert at Kaspersky Lab. “Flame’s creators are good at covering their tracks. But one mistake by the attackers helped us to discover more data that one server intended to keep.
“Based on this we can see that more than five gigabytes of data was uploaded to this particular server a week, from more than 5,000 infected machines. This is certainly an example of cyber espionage conducted on a massive scale.”
There’s no evidence to suggest that Flame’s command servers were used to control other known cyber-weapons – such as Stuxnet or Gauss – but they were used to operate a mystery malware strain, codenamed “SPE” by its authors. Kaspersky set up a sinkhole to capture internet traffic generated by SPE, establishing that the malware was in the wild and attempting to communicate with the wider world. By contrast, the two other unidentified Flame-related malicious programs (SP and IP) were not generating traffic and generally inactive at the time of the May 2012 takedown.
A complete run-down of they main findings from the Kaspersky-Symantec analysis can be found here.
The Flame espionage campaign was unearthed in May 2012 by Kaspersky Lab during an investigation initiated by the International Communication Union. Flame stealthily takes screenshots and snoops on network traffic and keystrokes, and even records audio conservations, before uploading this sensitive data to servers. The malware spread across the Middle East, but most of the victims were located in Iran.
Flame weighs in at a monster 20MB – 40 times larger than Stuxnet, a lightweight itself by malware standards. This led to accusations that the spying toolkit was nothing more than boring bloatware until it emerged that the malware used a clever MD5 hash collision attack to create counterfeit Microsoft security certificates, allowing malicious software posing as legitimate Windows Update downloads to be installed.
Unnamed US officials told the Washington Post that Flame was created as part of the same covert programme that spawned cyber-weapon Stuxnet, codenamed Olympic Games. Flame was described as a reconnaissance tool that was used to map networks associated with Iran’s controversial nuclear enrichment programme. This information was used by Stuxnet to target the country’s nuke centrifuge cyber-sabotage mission.
The joint Symantec and Kaspersky research shows Flame has been around for years, consistent with this theory although hardly proving it. The security research boffins would only say data suggests Flame was created by an advanced nation-sponsored group with plenty of cash. A component in an early build of Stuxnet appears in Flame as a plugin. Despite this link Stuxnet and Flame are not regarded as close relative
|A ring-shaped warp drive device could transport a football-shape starship (center) to effective speeds faster than light. The concept was first proposed by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre.
CREDIT: Harold White
HOUSTON — A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.
A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre; however, subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.
Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.
“There is hope,” Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said here Friday (Sept. 14) at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.
An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind. [Star Trek’s Warp Drive: Are We There Yet? | Video]
Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.
“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”
With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.
The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.
But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.
Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.
“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told SPACE.com. “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”
White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.
They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.
“We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.
He called the project a “humble experiment” compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.
And other scientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.
“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, we’re going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.
If you’ve been waiting for some spankin’ new designs for HP’s business machines, we hate to disappoint you, but we’ve only got a spec bump to report here. The company just announced that it’s freshening up its ProBook 4445s, 4446s and 4545s with AMD’s newish Trinity-series APUs. While it was at it, the outfit also announced the Compaq Pro 6305 desktop, which is also powered by AMD’s A-Series chips (the A10, A8, A6 and A4, to be exact). The refreshed ProBook 4545s is available now, starting at R3 500.00 . (The 4445s and 4446s will only be available in Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries.) Meanwhile, the Compaq Pro 6305 desktop lands October 8th, starting at $539 with both Windows 7 and Win 8 configurations available.
“Let me tell you a story…” Marcus said three years ago at the beginning of the first Borderlands, before shoving you off his bus into the middle of a wasteland filled with psychos, guns, alien mysteries and dangerous things just waiting to be unleashed from Pandora’s hidden depths. What followed, though, wasn’t much of a story at all: just a whole lot of guns, and a lot more killing.
With Borderlands 2, Gearbox has made good on Marcus’ simple promise and put together an amazing story to go with their already-insane amount of firepower and mayhem. Along the way they managed to walk a very narrow path that not all sequel makers follow: don’t touch what’s great, improve on what’s just good, and either cut or fix what’s bad.
Get ready, because Pandora has definitely changed for the better.
Borderlands 2 – The Face of a Hero
The first improvement Gearbox made was adding a villain to Borderlands 2. While there were antagonists in the first Borderlands, they weren’t nearly memorable enough to make the players feel like they had a reason to continue hunting the Vault beside simple fortune and glory.
Handsome Jack makes you want to keep fighting just for the chance to put a bullet in his smug, psychotic mouth. His face (which many have noticed isn’t even his, it’s a mask) has been all over the game’s marketing material from the beginning, and from the moment you start playing you have a very good reason to want him dead. As the game progresses he taunts you over your communicator, continuing to stoke your hatred of him while munching on pretzels, naming his pony made of diamonds after you (and calling it something we can’t repeat here), or brutally murdering anyone who stands in his way. He reminds me a lot of the Joker, both in temperament and tactics, and will almost certainly wind up on people’s “Best Villains” lists.
The bathroom of our favorite steward bot (note the poster…)
What’s doubly frustrating is Jack’s the person who has profited the most from the opening of the original Vault. When that happened Pandora began producing an alien element called eridium, which catapulted Jack into an instant mega-trillionaire and started another mining boom on the planet. He even re-wrote history, claiming he was the person who first opened the Vault. Jack’s plans involve more than just wealth, however, and the cast of the first game comes together to help your Vault Hunter stop those plans and free Pandora from Jack’s tyranny.
Jack’s not the only story improvement in town, though. Seeing the changes the original four Vault Hunters made after the first Borderlands is a treat, and the various side missions all do a great job either adding to the narrative or just piling on wacky reference after wacky reference. When possible, keep an eye out for ECHO-recorders just lying around Pandora’s zones: each zone has a collection that tell a small bit of the story, including why the four new Vault Hunters came to Pandora, or where Jack originally came from. It’s a little like Bioshock‘s audio diaries, and goes a long way to helping give you a bigger picture of how life on Pandora wound up in the state it’s in.
While Gearbox doubled down on story in their game, they also added a lot of layers to their combat. There are many more varieties of bad guys to shoot, and many, many more guns to shoot them with.
A new type of damage introduced in Borderlands 2 is called slag, a byproduct of processing eridium. Unlike other elemental damage types, which work well against certain enemies, slag paints targets with purple goo and increases all damage from other non-slag weapons. A slag pistol, for instance, may not do much damage on its own but could turn your shotgun into a hell-cannon able to take down raging badasses in a single shot, leading players to look for interesting ways to combine guns in their arsenal for maximum effect.
The way enemies react to each other is also interesting. Bandits in particular got a big upgrade to their AI: psychos will still charge directly at you, but other armored raiders are more savvy, ducking and running behind cover to let their shields recharge or just get away from snipers. Goliaths are massive, slow-moving slabs of meat until you shoot their helmet off: then you’ll see the horror that lies beneath, right before they jump back to full health and start murdering anyone (including other bandits) near them.
One interesting addition to combat is the new Badass Ranks, which are awarded every time you complete challenges such as dealing a certain amount of elemental damage or finding all the hidden items in a certain zone. As you gain more ranks you can add incremental improvements, such as an extra one percent to shield recharge rates or gun damage. The ranks and changes carry over to all your characters, so you won’t necessarily feel compelled to do everything possible on one playthrough just to get the best stats possible.
While all those additions are nice, there are some underlying problems. Enemies respawn somewhat erratically, and on the whole far too quickly. More than once I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t take down the boss in front of me, and every death also respawned an entire town’s worth of bandits around me, leading to more deaths that cost even more money. The fact that your own respawns take a continually-larger percentage of your overall cash also hurts if you get into that kind of a situation, and you watch your hard-earned cash pour out by the tens of thousands with each death.
Saving your progress is also a bit tricky. While the game says it saves your progress each time you pass a waypoint, if you quit out of the game halfway through a zone you’ll find yourself back at the beginning when you come back, forced to slog through the entire area again. While I can appreciate the desire to prevent racing through zones just to get to the next waypoint before dying, and thus leapfrogging touch encounters, it can still feel overly-punishing at times.
PC Makes A Difference
When it comes to first-person shooters, there are going to be (loud) arguments from console and PC supporters about why their platform is superior. Gearbox released a “love letter” to PC gamers during their development of Borderlands 2 to let them know they weren’t going to get the cold shoulder this time, and made good on many of their promises.
I played the PC version, and can attest that the game’s comic-book art style has never looked crisper, and I was pleased to see all the additions Gearbox put in such as an FOV slider, more resolutions and other performance enhancers. NVIDIA’s PhysX technology adds wonderful interactions with cloth, snow, enemies, and the environment. There will be details to quibble over, and the fact that these kinds of features needed to be highlighted instead of automatically included is a bit concerning, but in the end my mouse and keyboard are happy, so I’m happy.
The soul of Borderlands lives on in this sequel, and it lives to shoot psychos in the face. But Gearbox has added so much depth, constantly sharp humor and enhanced gunplay that Borderlands 2 is infinitely replayable. So get off my bus and get to it, already.
CHIBA (JAPAN): Sony Corp expects its PlayStation 3 game consoles to play a bigger role in securing profit in the games unit amid weak handheld sales in the year to March, the executive in charge of the unit said on Thursday.
Sony’s game unit is sticking to its target of an 80 billion yen ($1.0 billion) operating profit on sales of 1 trillion yen in the year to March 2015, Andrew House, the head of Sony Computer Entertainment, told Reuters in an interview.
“I think we will be profitable this year,” he said on the sidelines of the Tokyo Game Show. “We have a growing installed base, growing connectivity of the PS3.”
Gaming is one of the divisions Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai says will help Sony return to profit as it draws back from money-losing TVs.