‘Dreams’ isn’t an enigma, it’s ‘LittleBigPlanet’ reborn

'Dreams' isn't an enigma, it's 'LittleBigPlanet' reborn

Sony hasn’t worked out how to explain Dreams, the new title from LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway creator Media Molecule. Its debut at E3 was exciting but enigmatic, with a focus on player-driven creation and animation mechanics. At Sony’s Paris Games Week press conference on Tuesday, the studio showed off a little more of Dreams. But it still wasn’t clear how exactly what was shown on screen would work in practice — we’ve seen a lot of creation tools, but not a lot of gameplay. Luckily, Media Molecule took some time after the event to talk us through its grand vision for Dreams. And, despite the confusion, it most definitely will be a game.

The first thing you should know about Dreams is it’ll have a traditional campaign. The developers told us at E3 that there’d “be Media Molecule content there,” but it’s becoming clear that this content will act, just like in LittleBigPlanet, as both a standalone adventure and a tutorial for creation. Mark Healey, creative director at Media Molecule, described a part of the campaign where you “might be asked to do some gardening.” In doing so, you’ll essentially learn the basics of creation, and after you’re done, you’ll be able to share the “shrub” asset you’ve created with the rest of the community.

'Dreams' isn't an enigma, it's 'LittleBigPlanet' reborn

This blurring of the lines between gameplay, creation, and sharing is key in Dreams. So much so that those playing the beta test will dramatically inform the final game. The “structured content” (i.e., campaign) won’t be finished, but beta testers will get “less structured” versions of it to try out. So what’s the difference between Dreams and, say, Destiny‘s campaign beta? Dreams‘ testers will be able to remix and modify Media Molecule’s levels. They’ll be able to experiment and create their own games using pre-existing assets or create entirely new ones.

Right now, only around 30 people are making in-game dreams. Getting thousands of people beta testing and making things is going to be huge for the team. “The beta is there to help us evolve the game,” explained technical director Alex Evans. “We think we know what it is, but maybe the beta will change our minds.”

Much like the sliver of the game shown at E3, the demo at Paris Games Week only hints at the possibilities for Dreams. It introduces the “Imp,” a customizable water droplet with a face that acts as your avatar in the game. You can use the Imp to create things, interact with objects or to “possess” characters. “It’s really a glorified cursor,” Evans joked. The Imp is controlled via motion, but once your Imp possesses a character, you’ll be able to control it using both motion and traditional analog stick input. You might have worries about gaming via motion controls, but it seems quite natural here — almost like puppetry.

'Dreams' isn't an enigma, it's 'LittleBigPlanet' reborn

As for the campaign itself, you can bet on Media Molecule mainstays like platforming and puzzle-solving, but that’s just the start. “You can make amazing first-person shooter levels if that’s what you want to do,” explained Evans. We’ve already seen racing and flying games in sizzle reels, and the team is dreaming of the “new game genres” that could be created within Dreams.

All of the “electronics” (Media Molecule’s name for the instructions that make games move and react to input) developed for the LittleBigPlanet series are there; they’re just refined and improved upon. The team is trying to make it simpler for inexperienced creators to get involved by letting them use both its and other users’ creations. You’ll be able to, for example, search for “door with hidden lock,” and then insert and remix it in your game, rather than creating it from scratch.

“It’s a full-on game-development system.”

Mark Healey, Media Molecule

Once you’re more comfortable, though, there are near-limitless possibilities. Healey claims Dreams offers “a full-on game-development system” in which Media Molecule staffers have already built their own takes on titles like MotorStorm and Tetris. You’ll even be able to add your own cut scenes, animating characters using the controller and recording the results. The animation process, as we’ve seen in previous demos, is a world away from the complexities of traditional 3D animation, and for good reason. “If it’s as fast as you performing it, then if you mess it up, you just do it again,” explained Healey. “It doesn’t matter — it only took you five seconds.”

While Healey and Evans were espousing the game’s merits, Media Molecule Art Director Kareem Ettouney showcased the game’s modeling system on a screen behind them. He employed a pair of PlayStation Move controllers, but you can also use the PlayStation’s regular DualShock 4 controller. As you’d imagine for someone with his job title, he’s an incredible artist, creating and remodeling things from scratch in seconds. He interjected at points, likening regular 3D modeling tools to “NASA software,” and said watching someone create characters and objects in Dreams is more akin to “watching a painter or a dancer” honing their craft. That’s certainly true — it’s quite mesmerizing — but the aim is that everyone will be able to do this. It’s hoped you’ll be able to create as well as Ettouney by using motion controls to sculpt in three dimensions, and activating simple gestures to access additional features. “We want people to be able to access all the tools without them feeling like they’re editing,” Ettouney said. “It should feel like spells, like magic.”

'Dreams' isn't an enigma, it's 'LittleBigPlanet' reborn

“Magic” is a good way to describe Dreams — or at least Media Molecule’s aspirations for the game. Although in the demo there was a short wait between each, in the final game jumping between dreams will apparently be seamless. Part of this is down to the game’s deeply innovative — and very tough-to-explain — graphics engine.

Dreams utilizes something called “signed distance field.” It makes in-game assets smaller and real-time 3D modeling on the PS4 a reality.

Rather than using polygons to render 3D objects, Dreams utilizes something called “signed distance field.” I’ve read through an enormous document and watched a half-hour talk on the graphics engine and it’s still difficult to break down. The results are easier to convey: It makes in-game assets far smaller, and real-time 3D modeling on the relatively underpowered PS4 a reality. It does this by sending the list of actions used to create an object, rather than the result of those actions. The character model that Ettouney built, which might run into tens or hundreds of megabytes using a traditional polygon system, apparently takes up “less than 50KB” space with the signed-distance field method. As the system is very efficient with storage requirements, it also allows for streaming and collaboration among multiple players with lower bandwidth needs.

In many ways, Dreams isn’t that much of a departure from Media Molecule’s past titles. Its most famous games have always focused heavily on user-generated content. The young studio is quite open about the fact that the LittleBigPlanet games, however well-received they were, didn’t get everything right. Evans noted that the company’s “obsession” about dividing the “play, create, share” options was actually hampering progress. “We got stuck in this mentality of them being separate things,” he said.

'Dreams' isn't an enigma, it's 'LittleBigPlanet' reborn

Media Molecule is obviously leaving that notion behind now, mashing the three together into what it hopes will be a singular experience. But it’s also learning from the way people approach playing other games with a focus on creation. “There’s a bunch of different games that have a sandbox-y vibe,” explained Evans. “[In these games] you’re not just aiming at publishing; you’re just building a city in SimCity or making a house for the night in Minecraft. You’re actually just playing.”

“The VR version is going to be amazing.”

Alex Evans, Media Molecule

The demo ended with a question about PlayStation VR. Evans and Healey openly admitted back at E3 that VR support is “an obvious thing” for the game, and it’s clear that the idea is still on their minds. Both started to answer slightly coyly, but the back-and-forth quickly devolved into an outright admission that Dreams VR (not an official title) is definitely happening.

Right now, the team is focused on releasing the game “to the maximum number of PS4 owners,” said Evans, adding that Media Molecule will think about that after it’s done with the game. “I think it’s the holy grail of VR myself — these virtual worlds with user-generated content that you can just watch,” said Healey. “The VR version is going to be, like, amazing,” Evans added. “We’d be mad not to try.”

We’re live from France for Paris Games Week 2015. Click here to catch up on all the news from the show.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/10/30/dreams-ps4-paris-games-week/

World’s biggest floating wind farm is coming to Scotland

World's biggest floating wind farm is coming to Scotland

Just days after Danish energy provider Dong announced it had signed off plans to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm comes news of another milestone in the UK’s push for renewable energy. The Scottish Government has confirmed it has given consent to another Scandinavian company, Norway’s Statoil, to build the Britain’s first floating wind farm. A park consisting of five 6MW turbines will be installed off the coast of Peterhead, eclipsing Japan’s single 7MW turbine to become the world’s largest offshore wind development.

According to officials, the farm will generate 135GWh of electricity each year, enough to power 19,900 houses. Where traditional turbines are built into the sea bed, the Hywind turbines are placed on top of a ballasted steel cylinder that is anchored to the sea floor using three anchored mooring lines. This makes it easier to install them in deep water. Norway became host to the world’s first full-scale floating turbine in 2009, but Statoil is now ready to expand its footprint with a pilot park off the mid-eastern shores of Scotland.

But why floating turbines? According to Carbon Trust, it’s all about cost. It believes that floating developments have the potential to “reduce generating costs to below £100/MWh” in commercial environments. However, concepts like Statoil’s Hywind are already driving down costs to between £85-£95MWh.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/11/02/worlds-biggest-floating-wind-farm/

World’s largest offshore wind farm to be built in the UK

World's largest offshore wind farm to be built in the UK

When the UK government began pulling subsidies for onshore wind farms, it meant that private companies dedicated to harvesting renewable energy would no longer receive financial kickbacks when they sold their electricity to energy suppliers. The decision could have affected the UK’s total wind-collecting footprint, but offshore wind farms have remained exempt, allowing companies like Dong — Denmark’s largest energy company — to commit to new, massive installations in British waters. The company announced it is to build the world’s biggest offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea, around 19 kilometres off the coast of Cumbria.

Dong says it has completed all of the necessary paperwork for its 660-megawatt Walney Extension project and expects it to open in 2018. The company will rely on turbines built by MHI Vestas Offshore Wind and Siemens, allowing it to surpass the current record-holder, the 630-megawatt London Array, which is another Dong installation. When the Walney Extension goes live, Dong will contribute 5,089 megawatts of offshore wind energy to UK and German infrastructure, enough to cover the needs of more than 12.5 million people.

[Image credit: NHD-INFO, Flickr]

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/10/30/dong-worlds-largest-offshore-wind-farm-uk/

DJI wants you to build sentient drones with its tiny computer

DJI wants you to build sentient drones with its tiny computer

DJI has created a computer called Manifold that extends the capabilities of its Matrice test drone. It’s a platform for developers to build on, which DJI says can turn drones into “truly intelligent flying robots that can perform complex computing tasks and advanced image processing.” Think of it as something like an overpowered Arduino built specifically for drones. As well as customized ports for interfacing with the Matrice, the Manifold has USB, Ethernet, Mini-PCIe, HDMI, UART, SPI and I2C ports, which allow for all manner of sensors and add-ons to be connected. It’s powered by an Nvidia K1 processor with Kepler graphics, runs Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (a version of Linux with “long-term support”), and weighs less than 200g.

DJI wants you to build sentient drones with its tiny computer

Because it runs Ubuntu and has a Kepler GPU, the Manifold plays nice with developer APIs and libraries, parallel processing tools, and robotics platforms, with support for CUDA, OpenCV, ROS, DirectX, and OpenGL. DJI believes this combination will allow developers to build “artificial intelligence applications” for drones. It specifically calls out computer vision (the CV in OpenCV) and deep learning. The long game? Your drone “will not only be able to sense the surrounding environment, but also identify objects and respond in an instant.” Manifold goes on sale at $499 today, and will ship November 15th. Of course, if you want to make this flying computer fly, you’ll need to shell out the additional $3,299 for the Matrice test drone as well.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/11/02/dji-manifold-computer/

Snapchat tells everyone to chill out over its new privacy policy

Snapchat tells everyone to chill out over its new privacy policy

A few days ago, Snapchat updated its terms of use and privacy policy with some broadly-worded clauses that sent the internet into a tailspin. If you read it one way, you’d think that the firm would begin stockpiling your genital selfies, share them with the world and not even delete the pic on request. Of course, the company has now gone into damage-control mode, asking everyone to relax and clarifying that shots of your downstairs region remain your own business — unless some cheeky individual screenshots something that they shouldn’t.

Read the new @Snapchat privacy/legal policies before deciding whether to click yes. Scary stuff in there, kids. pic.twitter.com/RvXMk1JPdn

— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) October 29, 2015

Kal Penn was one of many to raise the alarm concerning the new terms

Snapchat has taken to its blog to explain that it re-worded the documents to be written in the “way people actually talk” in order to be “upfront and clear” with users. It also clarified the point that the images that it wants permission to retain and share are just your public shots so that they can be syndicated across the globe. Since the firm is now offering in-app purchases in the form of paid replays, it had to insert clauses asking for permission to sell those images.

This isn’t the first time that a ham-fisted update to a terms of service has caused some pretty negative blowback. Earlier this year, Spotify suffered a backlash from plenty of people after updating its policy with vague, ill-defined legalese that made it sound as if it was going to sneak into your home and steal your cat. Perhaps it’s time for all of these companies to begin thinking seriously about hiring some better lawyers.

[Image Credit: Getty]

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/11/02/snapchat-privacy-policy-update/

Snapchat videos get slow-motion, fast-forward and rewind filters

Snapchat videos get slow-motion, fast-forward and rewind filters

Snapchat’s focus of late has been on showcasing mainstream content, while simultaneously continuing to enhance its core business: quick-and-dirty pictures and videos. To make those even more entertaining, the Snapchat apps for iOS and Android are now getting slow-motion, fast-forward and rewind filters, which the startup is calling Speed Modifiers. Once you record a clip, all you have to do is swipe to try each one of them out. In addition to that, iPhone 6s and 6s Plus users are getting something a little extra, with the application now supporting Apple’s 3D Touch feature. Force pressing your home screen’s Snapchat icon will give you easy access to two options: Chat With and Add Friends, both self-explanatory. It’ll be interesting to see how creative people’s snaps get with the new filters.

[Image credits: Getty Images]

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/10/28/snapchat-speed-modifiers/

Instagram rolls its ToS back to the previous version after uproar, will ‘take time to complete its plans’

Instagram rolls its ToS back to the previous version after uproar, will 'take time to complete its plans'

After upsetting users with changes to its Terms of Service, Instagram announced tonight that it’s discarding some of them for now, rolling back the advertising section to the ToS in place since 2010. Reiterating his previous statement that Instagram never had any plans to sell user photos, company co-founder Kevin Systrom explained in a blog post that instead of trying to create terms shaped around “possible advertising products it had not yet developed” it would come back with complete plans and explain to users “how we would like our advertising business to work.” There are still changes to the ToS and privacy policy coming effective January 19th, 2013, which can be reviewed on its website.

Also apologizing for a failure to clearly communicate the company’s intentions, Systrom noted that any distribution of user photos has been and still is governed by the separate privacy policy. Instagram’s changes came as part of its acquisition by Facebook, and the change-policy-face-backlash-then-apologize dance step is a classic Zuckerberg move. So in light of this backtracking, are you going to watermark all your brunch pics before uploading, jump ship to competing services like Flickr or just keep using / not using the service as usual?

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2012/12/20/instagram-rolls-its-tos-back-to-the-previous-version-after-uproa/

Snapseed for Android can read and edit RAW images

Snapseed for Android can read and edit RAW images

Snapseed has made it easier to post high-quality pictures taken using your Android phone’s sweet camera online. The Google-owned photo-editing app’s latest update gives you the ability to process RAW images — even those taken by DSLRs — particularly those saved as DNGs, a type of lossless file format. If you recall, the company introduced the choice to shoot in RAW via Android Lollipop back in 2014. Ever since then, mobile photographers could capture minimally processed snapshots that retain most of a picture’s data. The big G has already rolled out the feature through Snapseed 2.1, so check for updates to see if you can start using it to tweak your photos.

[Image credit: Anton Daubert]

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/10/29/snapseed-android-raw-file-format/

HTC’s quirky action camera drops to $50 (updated)

HTC's quirky action camera drops to $50 (updated)

When HTC launched the Re Camera last year, it was difficult to recommend. The image quality was pretty underwhelming, especially in comparison to GoPro’s extensive lineup; when you can snap similar photos with your smartphone, that’s a real problem. It could have worked, however, as a cheap throwaway action camera, but its $200 price-tag made it a difficult impulse purchase. Now, that’s finally changing. The waterproof device has been slashed to $50 in the US, making it a fun, rugged little snapper for the great outdoors. Instead of putting your expensive phone in harm’s way, you can strap this periscope-styled device to your bike, helmet or backpack. The photos and videos it produces aren’t the best, but they should be good enough to share on social media. Given the company’s financial woes, we suspect HTC won’t be making a sequel anytime soon either.

Update: Alas, it seems this was a temporary deal. The price has now returned to $199 on HTC’s site, but we’ll let you know if and when it ever changes again.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/10/27/htc-re-camera-price-drop/

The Large Hadron Collider’s next upgrade is moving forward

The Large Hadron Collider's next upgrade is moving forward

The Large Hadron Collider recently got back to work after a two-year layoff for maintenance and upgrades, but soon it will go under the knife again. Last week 230 scientists met at CERN in Switzerland to discuss the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) project, and move it from the development phase to the construction stage. After two more Long Shutdown periods in 2019 and 2024, the HL-LHC will deliver 10 times the amount of particle collisions it does now. New technology coming its way includes 12 superconducting quadropole magnets (one is pictured above), “crab” cavities that tilt the particle beams before collisions and more. When we took a look at the science behind particle accelerators a few years ago, the HL-LHC was already in development and after a four year design study it’s one (big) step closer to reality.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2015/11/02/hl-lhc-upgrade/