Jun 23

New Lego game plays the same on PC, Mac or mobile device

Lego Minifigures Online will let people play in the same virtual world from a variety of devices.

Due out June 29 from game developer Funcom, the buy-to-play game will support Windows PCs, Apple’s Mac, and Linux, iOS and Android devices. That means you’ll be able to join fellow players in the same online world from different devices, allowing you to interact with a wider variety of people and switch between multiple platforms yourself.

Lego Minifigures Online lets you create a team of more than 100 Lego Minifigures, each with its own personality and capabilities. You then guide your team through various adventures as you journey through classic Lego worlds.

“From Pirate World to Space World, players must play together and smash their way through aliens, sea monsters, and more to unlock the full potential of their Minifigures,” Lego said in a press release. “Along the way, players will also encounter plenty of that great, universal Lego humor!”

Beyond the usual Lego game play, what makes the new game so special is that for the first time ever, players can join each other in the same consistent and persistent virtual world whether they’re at a PC, Mac, iOS device or Android gadget. You can switch from your desktop or mobile device and keep the same game alive with your friends and other players. Funcom is also jumping onto a new trend. PC gaming is making a comeback lately in part because high-powered computers can support games with more cutting-edge features. But mobile gaming is still hot, so Lego Minifigures Online will tap into the best of both worlds.

“Not only will it feel like a fresh, new experience for those who have played the earlier free-to-play PC version, there is also so much potential unlocked now that gamers can play with each other across platforms on a broad range of devices,” Funcom CEO Rui Casais said in a statement. “Maybe you are playing on an iPhone while your friend is on an Android tablet and your grandma is on a high-powered PC; you’ll still play together in the same world, along with thousands of other Lego fans from all over the globe.”

There is that one gotcha. As Casais said, the game was initially available for the PC in a free-to-play version. Now that the game is expanding its horizons to the Mac and mobile platforms, players will have to pay to play. To entice players to pay, Funcom promises new features and content, gameplay additions and major improvements across the board.

Lego Minifigures Online will be available for the PC, Mac and Linux on www.playminifigures.com as well as Valve’s online Steam store for $29.99 on June 29, and will include all worlds and content in the game. The iOS and Android versions will be debut in the App Store and on Google Play respectively for $4.99, which will include just the first online world. Users of iOS devices will be able to buy more worlds starting June 29, while Android users will be able to pick up additional worlds later this summer.

May 28

Windows 10 may head to PC makers in July

So says Russian leaker Wzor. If that’s the case, the consumer version will have to be finalized quickly to accord with Microsoft’s promise of a summer release.

Microsoft may have to work overtime to launch the consumer-ready version of Windows 10 before the summer winds down.

The software giant has already announced that the next generation of its operating system will roll out sometime this summer — in other words, by mid-September — but no specific date or month has been revealed. In April, Lisa Su, the CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, accidentally spilled the beans when she said that Windows 10 would debut in late July. The assumption was that she was referring to the final consumer version.

In a tweet on Wednesday, known Russian leaker Wzor said that the release of Windows 10 RTM has been confirmed for July 2015. RTM, or release to manufacturing, is the version of operating system software sent to PC makers and other manufacturers to test and install on their devices before it officially rolls out. The final consumer release typically doesn’t appear until months later, after manufacturers have had time to put the RTM version through its paces, scouring for last-minute bugs.

Here’s the challenge. Assuming Wzor is right — and though he didn’t cite any sources for his comment, he does have a good track record — Microsoft won’t have much time between Windows 10 RTM and the final version to make any necessary changes. In 2012, Microsoft’s RTM of Windows 8 arrived in August, with the final version then following in October. In 2009, Windows 7 RTM popped up in July, and the consumer version came in October. So if Microsoft plans to stick to its plans for a summer release of Windows 10, it may have only a few weeks at most between RTM and the final version.

Microsoft is counting on Windows 10 to erase the bad karma of Windows 8, which turned off many PC users with its touch-screen and tablet-focused environment, among other factors. Toward that end, the company has been asking people to test the Windows 10 Technical Preview and offer comments and suggestions. Based on some of the feedback, Microsoft has been tweaking and enhancing Windows 10 for the past several months with the aim of getting it just right. But could the company end up rushing Windows 10 out the door just to meet the summer deadline?

The Windows 10 Technical Preview has been out since last September. During that time, users who’ve signed up for the Windows Insider Program have already been giving the operating system a good workout. As a result, Microsoft has released new builds of Windows 10 at least once a month. And each new build has shown off not just new features but improvements and refinements from the previous one. Still, there is more work to be done.

Released last week, the latest build, numbered 10122, shows a Windows 10 with a sleek interface, enhancements to the Start menu/Start screen and tweaks to the new Microsoft Edge browser. But there’s still a certain roughness to the overall OS with certain features not yet working as expected. So Microsoft will certainly continue to create and issue more builds until the OS is as rock solid as possible.

Here’s a good question: Why doesn’t Microsoft just wait until October to release Windows 10, as it has with prior versions of Windows? The company is likely eager to move people away from Windows 8 as soon as possible. Windows 10 is also Microsoft’s attempt to offer a more unified experience among desktop and mobile devices, the goal being to attract more consumers to Windows PCs, tablets and phones.

Microsoft must believe that with further refinements, Windows 10 will be ready quickly. It had better be. The company can’t afford another misstep in the wake of Windows 8.

Apr 29

Treyarch: Black Ops III More Ambitious Than World at War

Activision on Monday announced the launch date for Call of Duty: Black Ops III — Friday, Nov. 6. The company is departing from its tradition of Tuesday releases. Instead of conflicting with school and work schedules, the Friday release will give players the weekend to dive into the sci-fi shooter and get a feel for the new gameplay mechanics.

Some may groan at Black Ops III’s futuristic story arriving just a year after Sledgehammer Games’ Advanced Warfare introduced Exo suits to the series in a story line that takes a futuristic look at private military firms. However, Treyarch’s Black Ops III works a slightly different angle and will introduce several new, game-changing mechanics.

Players will assume the role of an augmented super soldier in a world filled with drones, androids and other transhumans. In the multiplayer version, the augmented soldiers can chain together movements, based on momentum, to keep the action frenetic while allowing the player to feel completely in control.

3 Years in the Works

Black Ops III is the second game in the Call of Duty franchise to enjoy Activision’s three-year development cycle. The series often has been derided as being too iterative, due to its annual releases. With Black Ops III, Treyarch gets its crack at breathing life into the franchise.

This year’s Call of Duty is the most ambitious project Treyarch has ever undertaken, according to Studio Head Mark Lamia. Coming from the studio that developed Call of Duty’s beloved World at War, that statement carries a ton of weight.

“We’ve been taking advantage of the three-year development cycle by pushing our game design forward in every way imaginable, crafting all-new experiences, mechanics, systems and characters, all in the deepest Call of Duty that we’ve ever made — this really is like getting three games in one,” Lamia said.

Black Ops III is completely untethered from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. That and the three-year cycle have enabled Treyarch to give the game the attention it needs, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“They want to make sure it’s compelling and not a minor upgrade, and they want to make sure it uses the available hardware that’s out there,” he told TechNewsWorld “The end result is a need for more development time. I mean, these things are made up like blockbuster movies. It’s awfully hard to do a blockbuster movie in less than three years.”

Annual Expectations

Along with the Assassin’s Creed series, Call of Duty is what people think of at the mention of games that launch annually. Despite a decline in sales over the last few years, Call of Duty games are still driving console sales, according to Lewis Ward, director of games research at IDC.

The Call of Duty titles can be viewed as the console equivalent of massively online battle arena, or MOBA, games such as League of Legends, said Ward.

Call of Duty games “drive general console purchasing behavior, because gamers get addicted to the adreneline rush of first-person shooters,” Ward told TechNewsWorld, “and it is a classic example of a high-quality shooter with outstanding multiplayer features.”

Gamers keep coming back for more Call of Duty, because of the adrenaline rush the titles bring and the levels of skill they offer. It’s one of the better combat series, and it really lends itself to team play, Enderle commented.

“So it becomes a regular reason to come together either nightly or weekly,” he said, “and once folks get into the habit of doing stuff like that, it stick with them for a while. It’s becomes part of how they enjoy the community experience.”

Apr 10

Prepare for the epic total solar eclipse hitting the US in 2017

A once-in-a-lifetime moment will sweep across the US two years from now. Crave’s Eric Mack says it’s already time to plan your travel and your soundtrack.

This map shows the narrow corridor that will see a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. NASA/F. Espenak

You may have seen a solar eclipse before, but the odds are good that you haven’t witnessed anything like the total solar eclipse that will roll across the contiguous United States a little over two years from now. In fact, if you haven’t already started making your plan for the first great American eclipse of the century, you might already be behind.

If you’ve seen an eclipse in the US, it was probably just a partial eclipse, which astronomy enthusiasts will tell you is nothing compared with seeing a solar eclipse in totality, when our star goes completely black save for its eerie corona, the sky dims and stars can become visible in the daytime.

The last time such a thing was witnessed in the US was 1991, and that was only from certain parts of Hawaii. The contiguous 48 states haven’t seen a total eclipse since 1979, when one sort of drifted through the northwest quarter of the country — we haven’t had one coast-to-coast since 1918.

The total solar eclipse will first become visible from the Oregon coastline on August 21, 2017, at 10:17 a.m. between Lincoln City and Newport, and then march all the way to the Atlantic near Charleston, S.C.. While at least a partial eclipse will be visible from all of North America and parts of other continents, to experience the the full solar disappearing act, you’ll need to be somewhere along the narrow corridor in the map above at just the right time, and ideally with clear skies.

Notable potential viewing locations include Salem, Ore.; Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming; parts of St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; Nashville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn. — and finally Charleston, S.C., will also see anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes of a total solar eclipse. Bizarrely for me personally, the path of the eclipse will cast its long shadow on both of the small towns where I attended college in Oregon and in Missouri.

NASA offers this particularly helpful Google map to help plan the best spots to view the eclipse from, and a handful of travel agencies are already taking reservations for eclipse trips, particularly from Europe. There’s also a handy breakdown here of where you’ll be able to see what.

Nowhere is more ready for the Great American eclipse than the Kentucky town of Hopkinsville, which is nearest the point where the eclipse will last longest, at 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Locals there expect it to be the biggest thing to hit the town of less than 50,000, where they’ve already been planning for a few years now.

There’s even a site that’s already taking detailed looks at the potential weather forecasts for that day, two years in advance.

That’s a lot of buildup for a performance that’s less than 3 minutes long. To really deliver, this eclipse is going to have to be something like the best punk rock song in history.

What do you think? Where along the eclipse path would you most want to watch from? And what punk song would you want to hear during those 2 minutes?

Apr 08

Flexible Aluminum-Ion Battery Recharges in 60 Seconds

Stanford University researchers on Tuesday revealed they had stumbled onto a breakthrough that could lead to the adoption of fast-charging, long-lasting batteries in the near future.

“An ultra-fast rechargeable aluminum-ion battery,” which details the team’s findings, was published in the April 6 edition of Nature.

The turning point occurred when the researchers were trying out materials to serve as a cathode, and they began experimenting with graphite.

Using one of the aluminum-ion prototypes, they were able to charge a battery comparable to one used in a smartphone, in roughly 1 minute. That’s about 60 times faster than a lithium-ion battery would charge.

Stanford’s aluminum-ion concept promises unprecedented durability, standing up to about 7,500 charge-discharge cycles before losing any of its capacity. To put that into perspective: Lithium-ion batteries endure about 1,000 cycles before declining in capacity, and previous aluminum-ion prototypes could withstand only about 100.

Other benefits of the aluminum-ion prototype include safety and flexibility.

The researchers could safely bore into an aluminum-ion battery without causing a fire, though that wouldn’t be possible with lithium-ion cells. Aluminum-ion batteries are pliable, to a degree, which could have huge implications for just about any device that runs on battery power.

Large Scale

The use cases for aluminum-ion batteries range from making removal of cellphone batteries completely a thing of the past, to making solar devices even more energy efficient.

Before the industry can move to refueling smartphones and smartwatches in a minute flat, however, proof that the Stanford aluminum-ion battery can scale up, suggested Eric Lind, North American sales manager of OEM and PPS for VARTA Microbattery.

“In these types of research programs, much of the research is done on very small cell sizes,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The results are then extrapolated to a commercial cell. However, generally the scale-up does not typically correlate linearly with what is found in the lab.”

Though metal corrosion could hold back the advancement of aluminum-ion batteries, energy density appears to be the biggest hurdle, according to Lind.

“Where these aluminum ion batteries seem to have a shortfall, currently, is in terms of energy density. This would have to be solved in order for it to be a real challenger to lithium-ion systems today.”

Handheld Devices and IoT

Despite the challenges, aluminum-ion batteries appear to have great potential for applications in consumer electronics.

The use cases of aluminum-ion batteries in the mobile space are myriad, because mobility is almost always challenged by power issues, observed Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research. Battery limitations have been hindering the adoption of smartwatches, for example, but a 1-minute-recharge time could change that overnight.

“There is a woefully short amount of cycles to go through with lithium-ion batteries,” Krewell told TechNewsWorld. “To extend that would allow phones to last longer. You wouldn’t have to worry about having to have your phone repaired if the battery wears out and you have an iPhone or the latest Samsung handset.”

Beyond mobile devices, aluminum-ion cells could spur the evolution of the Internet of Things, he suggested.

Aluminium-ion batteries could be beneficial in connected devices that wake up briefly just to pass along information, hybrid cars that want to better harness the electricity they generate, and sensors whose ideal positioning is hard to reach — or at the top of a tower.

Research like this takes a great deal of time, but it’s exciting to see it advancing, said Krewell.

“It’s great that universities like Stanford are putting effort and time into this research,” he remarked. “It’s not as sexy as new websites and faster chips and other new tech, but it’s extremely critical to the future of our mobile devices.”