All posts by Kaushik

A mobile technology lover and a Strategy and RPG-game fanatic. I also enjoy astronomy and programming. I am a biotechnology engineer learning through this fascinating subject while poring over computer science. Hit me up on Twitter for more

Steam Guard by Valve–Friendly DRM or More Intel Love?

It has been a few days since Valve officially opened the valve on the new kind of identity management service for its digital distribution platform Steam. Named, very creatively, Steam Guard, the service will allow users to locktheir Steam identity semi-permanently to their main computer. More precisely, the gamers can lock their Steam ID to their Intel processors (the second generation kind with the Corebrand name with Sandy Bridge et al).

SteamGuard

This kind of two factor authentication system is akin to what Google has recently given to its users, and what the RSA keys have been to corporates with Enterprise Resource Planning servers and other systems. The Core CPUs will soon be updated with the Identity Protection Technology (IPT) that generates a key every 30 seconds according to some preordained algorithm. Once the Steam account is synced to this processor, it will not be available for use anywhere else. Valve’s CEO Gabe Newell was so confident about this new tech that he freely gave away his username and password for people to try (and fail) at hackinghis account.

However, this piece of technology is teetering towards the locked down EA-DRM kind of protection. While Steam does not allow for two computers to simultaneously login to the same account, anyone can download as many games as they want on any number of systems from the same account, go offline on their Steam client and play for as long as they want. If this kind of protection eventually becomes mandatory for systems running the Core CPUs, how many PCs can you authenticate? Will this create a problem for the folks on AMD machines and older Intel processors? (Agreed very feeble questions, but questions nevertheless!)

Either way, to hackinto Gabe Newell’s account, login with these details:
Username: [email protected]
Password: moolyftw

(Mooly refers to the nickname of Intel Corp.’s Vice President Shmuel Eden)

Minecraft Franchise Forthcoming?

Minecraft is going places; its developers are working on mobile versions and now creator Markus Persson (aka Notch) says that in the future console versions with trophies and achievements will be developed. All this before the real game has officially been released. He also says that he is surprised (O RLY, Notch?) at the amount of interest his game has sustained even after the price increase (or, should we say decreased discount on the original price) when the game shifted from the alpha version to the beta version.

Minecraftlogo

The Java based sandbox game has developed such a huge following online. Many such Minecraft communities have put their minds together to develop mods (changing the game’s source code to allow for new kinds of gameplay a shortening of the word modification) and texture packs (skins) for the game’s graphics. Persson, who is quite delighted with the creativity of these mods, one day hopes that his game’s modding community achieves the prominence of the Half-Life 2 modding scene that is quite popular.

Console games, on the other hand, have specific achievementsor trophies(badges for doing certain things within the game that allow for bragging rights). Persson likes achievements. So much so that he believes that in the future he might work on an Xbox version with trophies and some specific goals within the game. In an interview with Gamasutra he says that achievements can serve the dual purpose of being badges of accomplishments as well as goals towards which players work:-

Well, it could converge into a big task, like kill a dragon or something, which would put a kind of narrative into the achievement tree.

With all these elements at work, it would be hard to ignore the force of Minecraft as a franchise on the PC as well as the consoles.

PayPal unfreezes Bradley Manning Support Group Account

PayPal is obviously trying to rejuvenate the battered image it now has in the eyes of the world after the entire Wikileaks debacle. PayPal had earlier suspended the accounts of customers who had donated to whistleblower website Wikileaks right after Cablegate. Their feeble reasons as to why the accounts were suspended were overshadowed by the rumors that the United States Government had wrung PayPal’s arm to perform this action. Some of these accounts were also involved in working for Pfc. Bradley Manning the inside man who, many claim, was responsible for the leak of the top secret cables.

PayPalManning

One such organization called Courage to Resist also had its account recently suspended by PayPal. Branding PayPal as Evil, the press release by Bradley Manning Support Network claimed that it was and internal policy decision by PayPalto shut down Courage to Resist’s PayPal account, and that the company by their own admissionsaid that there was no legal obligation for them to close down the account.

PayPal, facing severe backlash, retracted their suspension instead saying that Courage to Resist did not comply with their stated policy for non-profits require that the organization have an associated bank account. This is part of the Know Your Customerobligation. In their blog post, PayPal said that they lifted the ban because now they sufficiently know their customer:-

Upon review, and as part of our normal business procedures, we have decided to lift the temporary restriction placed on their account because we have sufficient information to meet our statutory Know Your Customer’ obligations. The Courage to Resist PayPal account is now fully operational.

How to Build Your Own IBM Watson

If you have been following the news keenly, you might know that the IBM-built Watson artificial intelligence supercomputer trounced two of game show Jeopardy!‘s most famous contestants recently. Developed under researcher David Ferrucci, the Watson supercomputer trounced Brad Rutter (winner of the biggest all-time money on the show) and Ken Jennings (record holder for the longest championship streak) in a two-game combined point match. All this is known to you, reader of Techie Buzz. But have you felt the urge to actually make your own supercomputer in your basement, provided you have enough money for the enterprise?

Watson's_avatar

If you did, then you have come to the right place. Tony Pearson, Master Inventor and Senior Managing Consultant for the IBM System Storage product line at the IBM Executive Briefing Center in Tucson Arizona, has written up an easy-to-follow article on how to build your own supercomputer, called the “Watson Jr.. The system incorporates 3 host servers (as opposed to the senior Watson’s 90 servers) and will approximately have 1 terabyte of storage in total. The supercomputer might not be as fancy as the Jeopardy! winning artificial intelligence but it does promise to be a fun summer project if you have enough time and money to invest in (and, of course, a large-enough space to house the computer in).

The basic needs of this computer are as follows:-

  • Three x86 hosts, with the following:
    • 64-bit quad-core processor, either Intel-VT or AMD-V capable,
    • 8GB of DRAM, or larger
    • 300GB of hard disk, or larger
    • CD or DVD Read/Write drive
    • 1GbE Ethernet
  • Computer Monitor, mouse and keyboard
  • Ethernet 1GbE 4-port hub, and appropriate RJ45 cables
  • Surge protector and Power strip
  • Local Console Monitor (LCM) 4-port switch (formerly known as a KVM switch)

I can see your hands itching to get to the meat of it, so do check out the tutorial on IBM’s website before going shopping!

Bug Ridden Players of Test Drive Unlimited 2 Get Free DLC as Apology

Yes, I know that was one horrible launch. What Eden Games promised was the seamless integration of single player and multiplayer experiences.   What players got was a glitchy permanent loading screen, corrupted save files and horror of horrors the saves not loading at all (without them being corrupted). So for all those who paid the $50 for the game, it was a heartbreaking (and wallet-shrinking) experience.

Test_Drive_Unlimited_2_boxart

So what does Eden Games do? Supply free Downloadable Content (DLC), of course! After taking down a solid chunk of game breaking network components, and slave driving the entire studio force to get the game patched up, the game was somehow salvaged into a working…piece of software. Instead of just an apology, the yet-to-be-released DLC pack will be a free download for everyone who bought the game.

I wonder how long this entire charade of making a buggy-as-hell release of a huge game, patching it up with profuse apologies and then offering free DLC will continue with game studios. It happened with Assassins Creed: Brotherhood (where players got the two Animus Project packs for free), and Fable III players got a free pack of weapons (for the game!) from the game developers. A late, but relatively bug-free experience is infinitely better than a rushed release that has game-breaking bugs. If only someone told those publishers that…

Sony Raids Prominent PS3 Hacker’s House

The Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) hacker scene got a shock recently when prominent German PS3 hacker graf_chokolo had his house raided by German Police due to a complaint made by Sony. The raid ended up with the confiscation of all his accounts, so to speak, and peripherals that might have been related to hacking the Sony home console. This harsh step up from Sony follows many put-downs of hackers and security researchers who have openly exploited the PS3’s security flaws.

PS3Versions

However, graf_chokolo had a ready last line of defense against Sony. The hacker had once claimed that he had quite a lot of knowledge about the PS3’s hypervisor (a virtualization technique), and that if Sony does annoy him, he will release it to the world. He made good on the promise as well by releasing the Hypervisor Bible (HV Bible) to the entire world. Using the HV Bible, other users can reverse engineer the PS3’s internal mechanisms to further open the console to the world:-

Guys, i don’t joke, it’s serious.
And to prove it, i kept my word and uploaded all my HV reversing stuff.
Upload it everywhere so SONY couldn’t remove it easily. Grab it guys, it contains lots of knowledge about HV and HV procs.

It is kind of sad that Sony is doing all of this if only they knew that piracy is not the main reason why these people work on Sony’s hardware; the homebrew scene is where most of their energy is focused. Let’s all hope this drama reaches a peaceful conclusion.

Preorder Battlefield 3 and Get Expansion Pack Free

Well it’s about time if you ask me. Electronic Arts’ successor to the 2005 hit Battlefield 2 has just posted the the preorder incentives. Preordering Battlefield 3 gets you the first digital expansion pack Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand absolutely free! The expansion features a lot of the old, beloved, maps from Battlefield 2:-

battlefield-3-trailer

Pre-order Battlefield 3 to receive the digital expansion pack Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand at no extra charge! This themed multiplayer expansion pack includes four legendary maps from Battlefield 2 boldly re-imagined with Frostbiteâ„¢ 2 physics, destruction and visuals. Completing the package are classic Battlefield 2 weapons and vehicles, unique rewards, new achievements/trophies, and more.

The Frostbite 2 is the new game engine that is powering Battlefield 3. The visuals introduced by the Frostbite 2 engine along with the physics (as detailed above) give quite the realistic feel of a battle being fought around you. I can only imagine how this game would be if I were to play it on one of those high-end rigs:-

Battlefield 3 introduces Frostbite 2, the incredible technology that takes animation, destruction, lighting, scale and audio to new heights.   Built upon this powerful game engine, Battlefield 3 immerses players physically and emotionally to the world around them like never before.

To find out more about Battlefield 3 and its immersive engine, do check out the EA UK site.

Steam Client Updates with Screenshot Manager

(Sigh: If only this were present while I was writing about my first impressions of Dragon Age II.) Valve’s Steam client for digital distribution games just got updated to its newest version. With the latest client, gamers can easily take screenshots and also sync it with Steam’s Cloud (about 1GB of personal space) and display it on their Steam Community profiles. This is similar to what Xfire has been doing for quite a while now. This functionality is available on any game with which Steam’s Overlay works (i.e. even non-Steam games with the Steam Overlay enabled will have this functionality enabled.)

The use is very simple start up a game (wait for it to load), load your save file (wait for that to load) and then start a really cool battle or something (and wait for the enemy to come close to you, become impatient) and then press the mighty twelfth Function key (F12) to hear the beautiful sound of the miniature Steam camera clicking:-

BEHOLD! The mighty Rhodok Lord in a massive assault! Also blotchy JPG.

Sadly though, in some games (such as the above: Mount & Blade: Warband), the F12 key is bound to the autosave function. Although the autosave does not work during battle with Mount & Blade, in other games you might just see a shot of the save-screen when you press F12. Solution: re-bind the autosave to some other key.

The Screenshot Manager is quite a wonderful little thing that sits below the News Itemsfor the currently selected game. Here you can see the screenshots from different games, or your last session. It is here that you can describe the screenshot and upload it to your Steam profile. (For example, this screenie can be seen on my profile here).

SteamScreen

Good stuff from Valve we’d like to see cross-platform Instant Messaging next!

Abe’s Exoddus Completed by Blind Gamer

As the video title says, this is one of the greatest achievements in video games. No, it is not collecting every little piece of a broken sword in a fantasy game, or collecting and solving puzzle cards in an adventure game. No, sir it is completing an entire adventure game without ever looking at the visuals. Terry Garrett is a 23 year old mechanical engineering student who completed Abe’s Exoddus while being completely blind. All he needed to complete this were the game’s sound effects, some tips from his brother and a trial-and-error method of solving puzzles that he developed on his own.

Garrett has completed the beautiful platformer/puzzle game multiple times. Considering that this was one of tougher games of the past it is quite heartening to know that all of this was accomplished with just audio cues:-

When I start playing I track sound landmarks (foot steps, objects, sound of running or pushing against walls). After this, I start exploring to see what does what. Always looking for land mark sounds to get my orientation down (sound of water, sound of footsteps changing from grass to dirt).

Finally, I have a great sense of the minds eye. Once I know what is in an area and how they are laid out, I can make a real time picture of what is going on in front of me just through sound. even in 3D. If this is hard to picture I know, I can’t explain it better than that.

abesexoddus

The game has several of its own unique audio quips for different functions, and Garrett’s practiced hearing coupled with the game’s excellent auto-save feature also helped:-

When I start each screen, it was to listen to see if I could hear a chat orb, a Slig, a mine, or a buddy to save, which always make noise. There are even sounds to tell you that there is a Slig in the next screen over, so not to just run in like an idiot.

When I need to find a lever or door to go in, or ledge to pull up on, I go step by step, pushing either control or ‘up’ in each spot until I find it. Then I remember the number of steps to find that ledge again. Sometimes, this is in the same room as Sligs or other things that kill me, which makes the save state so useful.

The entire interview and other niceties about the blind gamer who completed Abe’s Exoddus is quite a worthwhile read on the Oddworld website.

A Look at What Dragon Age 2 Will Offer

The hefty 1.9GB demo of Dragon Age II contained quite a lot of things, but leaves much to be desired (as is the case with most demos, which is why they are called demos, right?). The demo contains some fairly decent story pointers and sticks to the previous games’ difficulty spikes. Considering that Bioware has gone the Mass Effect way with this game (fully-voiced main character, previously saved data importing and others), it will be worthwhile to check out if the game is actually a beacon of shining light towards the new path of Role Playing Games (RPGs).

DA2Screenie2

The game does not reveal much in the way of story (except for the lone important character from Dragon Age: Origins making an appearance towards the end of the prologue chapter). The fairly overused You are the savior of the Worldtrope comes into play here. As Hawke, you will be the Champion who one day saves the world from [insert obligatory evil person/thing here]. You can choose between three classes (Mage, Rogue or Fighter) and play either the male or female version of these. The story is fairly straightforward except when you reach Kirkwall wherein the narrative gets totally flummoxed and you just flit between skirmishes. The artwork style is quite brilliant with a washed out hand drawn feel to it.

DA2Screenie

The dialog options are akin to Mass Effect‘s radial option dial. The dial shows the gist of what Hawke will actually say and there are four main kinds of responses that Hawke might have a peaceful response, a neutral/comic response, an aggressive response and an investigative question. These are extremely simple to understand and actually make you wait and listen to the entire dialog instead of Esc-ing through the long drawl of the player’s talk.

DA2Screenie3

The gameplay, on the other hand, has taken a completely different approach from Dragon Age: Origins. With a camera behind the main player overseeing an extremely fast battleground, it can be daunting task for RPG-lovers used to an overhead camera to come to terms with this new approach. The fighting is absolutely chaotic and without the assistance of a pause options, it would have been well nigh impossible to coordinate attacks. Players playing as a mage will most likely be hit upon by the Darkspawn and other enemies spawning faster than their magical abilities refresh. The game is as hard as it used to be and without carefully coordinating the attacks and the AI of your party characters, it will be difficult to win many battles, if not impossible.

da2scren

With the prologue seeing the same battle being fought twice due to an unreliable narrator, it is hard to miss the similarity between the double-take in Dragon Age II and The Witcher 2‘s initial gameplay impressions.

In short: Mass Effect + Dragon Age: Origins = Dragon Age II. It is really hard to look at the game’s gameplay without comparing it to Mass Effect. Yes, there are still vast differences between them (the tweaking of the AI tactics being the most prominent) but the main game will tell how Dragon Age II really matches up to its predecessor.

Official Magicka PvP Announced!

I think the video that made me go for Magicka was this one. It perfectly portrays the humor in the game along with the necessary niceties of the Magicks that populate Arrowhead’s fantastic magical game. It is thus no big surprise to me that the game has had great sales even though the initial buggy start seemed to have rocked the foundation of the game. Though there were a lot of grumbles initially from expectant users, most of the bugs have been fixed by the hard working team at Arrowhead, and their first few 24-hour updates did a lot to improve the game.

magicka

Eventually, players made unofficial PvP games in the multiplayer servers of Magicka. PvP or Player versus Player mode is a game play mode in many online multiplayer games. In PvP, human players fight other human players for loot, gold or simply the glory of being the champion. In Magicka, unofficial PvP is implemented by turning on Friendly Fire (i.e. your attacks hurt your companions as well) and ticking on the Drop Items on Deathoption on a server.

Arrowhead’s CEO Johan Pilestedt said that the team has been looking at the unofficial PvP matches and are quite delighted at what they have seen. The community is already arranging PvP tournaments and we are learning a lot about balance by watching you play, he said. The studio will be developing an official PvP mode as well as allowing modders to modify the game content.

PSP Cooking Part II. Now With 100% Less Stupidity

We all saw what happened when crazy Japanese men decide to destroy a piece of equipment by deep frying it. If that was not stupid enough, they also try to eat it. The misguided Japanese kids wanted to make a tempura out of a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP), but instead coughed out the melted plastic/silicon pieces. They win the how NOT to destroy gaming equipmentgrand jury prize. It also unnerved a lot of us and made us go these Japanese are crazya la Asterix and Obelix‘s These Romans are crazy.

PSP sushi

Megawin, the Japanese comedy troupe, decided to tell the world what’s what with Japanese cooking with electronics. Only this time, they used a PSP case with cellophane paper to make sabazushi. Sabazushi, as wikipedia says, is a dish made of raw mackerel and rice. The video is a pretty hilarious (even though I do not know the language) and is an innovative way of making sushi… and um… carrying it around in a PSP case for snacking sessions with your Monster Hunter playing sessions.

Of course, the question of where exactly will the PSP be stored while the sushi gets cold[er] in the case is another question. The video follows.

Microsoft to Publish SDK for the Kinect Controller

Microsoft’s Kinect controller for the Xbox 360 has been a huge hit in the international market. Unlike the Nintendo Wii controllers and the Sony PlayStation Move and the PlayStation Eye, the Kinect allowed players to use their entire body as a controller. The Kinect has a 3D depth sensor implemented by two monochrome CMOS cameras and an infrared light as well as an RGB camera, allowing for depth-sensitive motion detection and facial recognition capabilities. In effect, it allowed players to drivea steering wheel of a car, use the main menu of the Xbox 360 using gestures and, of course, dance to Dance Central.

kinectplain

However, all this was possible only with the Xbox 360 console. PC gamers were loth to admire the brilliance of the system. It’s not supported on my platform, shouted some, while others hacked the system and made some extremely cool user interfaces a la Minority Report. Microsoft listened to all those hungry shouts and more importantly looked at the achievements of some brilliant minds working with the Kinect. They decided to release the Software Development Kit (SDK) for the Kinect.

KinectBoxHead

This SDK will give access to the secrets of the gesture-based game controller without hacking it thoroughly(!) Microsoft has stated that initially the SDK will be available for personal use (probably with the XNA Game Studio), but a commercial version might be released later.

Rejoice new age gamers! A new era might begin with gesture based gaming soon!

SEGA Dreamcast Collection is Available for the PC and Xbox 360

Remember the beautiful beautiful little console known as the Dreamcast (DC)? Remember how good it was to you, and how the VMU controller with its little LCD was the bestest little thing in the world (actually, no). Remember how your little heart broke when it died and there were no more Dreamcasts available?

SEGASonic

Well, if playing with that controller is what you want, then well we cannot help you. However, if it is the games that you are more interested in, then SEGA of America has a great offering for you. The SEGA Dreamcast Collection is a collection of four classic Dreamcast games for the PC and Xbox 360. All five of these games were great hits (or at least, good hits) back in the DC’s heyday (which was relatively short).

Sonic Adventure: Stop Dr. Eggman by collecting the seven Chaos Emeralds in the first Sonic game for the Dreamcast.

Crazy Taxi: Does this warrant an introduction? Deliver passengers to their destination…in style! Collect money for crazy stunts and time of transit.

Space Channel 5 Part 2: The fun rhythm game for the Dreamcast sees Ulala the reporter dancing her way to victory!

SEGA Bass Fishing: Finally, relax with the hook, line and sinker with this bass fishing game. The lovely outdoors sans the out of doors-ness.

All of these games are HD supported, have Avatar awards and other such niceties of games these days. Go get them here!

Gears of War 3 Gets Dated for September 20

Stock up on the shotgun rounds and increase the resistance of the gory side of your mind; you’re going to need it. Epic Games and Microsoft have announced the release date for the Xbox 360 exclusive third person shooter game Gears of War 3. Initially bidding for an April 2011 release date, the developers pushed it back to 20th of September recently.

GearsOfWar3Icon

The third and final installment of the Gears of War series that sees human soldiers (or Gears) in the fictional planet of Sera locked in conflict with aliens known as Locust. The series is high on war drama and is similar to the Resistance series on the PlayStation 3. Each game featured a fully voiced protagonist who takes on unbelievable odds with a company of good Gears behind him or her.

In Gears of War 3 players will have the option of playing between many different characters each with his or her own quirks and abilities. A lot of different weapons have also been announced by Epic Games such as the Pendulum War Era Lancer and the Digger Launcher. A new multiplayer mode called Beast modehas also been announced in which players play as the Locust horde against human opponents. This is the exact opposite of the Horde mode in the previous game in which players cooperatively fought against a Locust horde.

Evidently Microsoft will be spending a huge amount of money on the advertising budget, so don’t expect to forget that Gears of War 3 will be coming up for your 360 in September.