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Microsoft to Acquire Bethesda’s Parent Company ZeniMax for $7.5B

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Microsoft today announced that it’s entered into an agreement to acquire ZeniMax Media, the parent company of game studio Bethesda Softworks. According to TechCrunch, the price was set at $7.5 billion.

The acquisition is slated to include all of ZeniMax’s properties including Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog, and Roundhouse Studios.

Once approved, this will make Microsoft the owners of some of the most influential titles in modern gaming, including franchises such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Wolfenstein, DOOM, Dishonored, Prey, Quake, and Starfield.

ZeniMax’s fleet of studios have also been responsible for a number of VR titles such as DOOM VFR, Fallout 4 VR, Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot, and Skyrim VR.

Image courtesy Bethesda Softworks

Microsoft says in a blog post that the inclusion of ZeniMax’s studios will help continue the company’s commitment “to deliver a breadth of amazing games to discover and play on Xbox.”

Although Microsoft hasn’t said as much, it’s likely Bethesda will be narrowing its focus to develop their long-standing franchises for Xbox—an expensive weapon in the coming battle with Sony’s PlayStation 5.

“One of the things that has me most excited is seeing the roadmap with Bethesda’s future games, some announced and many unannounced, to Xbox console and PC including Starfield, the highly anticipated, new space epic currently in development by Bethesda Game Studios,” says Phil Spencer, head of Xbox.

Although it’s still unclear how the acquisition will affect Bethesda’s future VR aspirations—Microsoft still has no clear plan for VR headset support on its Xbox platform—Oculus’ Consulting CTO John Carmack says the acquisition may be a good thing for him at least.

Carmack co-founded id Software and was lead programmer of titles such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. Ever since ZeniMax and Facebook’s Oculus were engaged in a lengthy legal battle over the alleged theft of intellectual property developed by Carmack back when he was employed by id Software, he was understandably unable to publicly engage with the games he developed.

Source: https://www.roadtovr.com/microsoft-acquire-bethesdas-zenimax-7-5-billion/

AR/VR

AI-Driven Dynamic Filmmaking is the Future

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In a simulation, driven by simple rules, we meet artificially intelligent creatures, called “Agents” who live on their planet, cooperating to survive. That is until you arrive with the power to maintain the balance of their peaceful existence, or, you can throw them into a state of chaos. The choice is yours, what will you do with the responsibility of your agency?

Agence

Agence (from Transitional Forms and the National Film Board of Canada) is an experience that uses real-time technology, artificial intelligence (Reinforcement Learning) and user agency to craft a story that is never the same twice. Through collaborative authorship, we are able to drive emergent behaviour and storytelling with each viewing, which we’ve coined as a “Dynamic Film”.

What is a Dynamic Film?

One of the most incredible notions we can attribute to storytelling is that it is ultimately responsible for shaping human history. Over time, we have developed empathy and compassion around being able to interpret the world from another’s point of view. A Dynamic Film is an experience that puts the user at the centre of a powerful story and lets them affect it in realtime.

Isn’t that a videogame? Well, yes, but no. Yes, it certainly sounds like a videogame in nature in terms of interactivity, immersion, and real-time decisions, but the objective is different. Games are often rooted in goals, points or achievements. That isn’t to say they don’t have a story, but too often their goal is not to craft, or discover a narrative.

Agence

As a filmmaker who grew up on videogames, I can say, there is a deeply rooted, cultural foundation, that games need goals. So, when we’re trying to tell an immersive story, the natural trajectory of audience expectation trends heavily in the direction of achievements. However, a Dynamic Film such as Agence, allows users to interact with emergent narrative without the consequence of winning, failure, progress or defeat. It creates a path to great storytelling with unique outcomes from every interaction. Certainly, videogames are built upon a story as much as any other medium, but we’re taking a much more filmic angle to this definition.

With dynamic media, even if the choices are nuanced and subtle, we are (in part) putting an onus on the individual for what kind of content they will create. As this medium becomes more and more sophisticated, I believe that media will not be a one-way street, it will be an interrelated, interdependent dance between user and algorithm, turning what we now call films and games, into real, living simulations. This will help society grasp the power of each other’s creativity and imaginations, and harness a better future using audience agency.

Crucial to Dynamic Filmmaking is three-way authorship, which allows for humans and intelligent machines to shape each other’s experiences. The narrative is crafted by three parties: 1) the filmmakers, who establish the narrative structure and environment, 2) intelligent “Agents,” using reinforcement learning or scripted (hierarchical state machines) AI, and 3) the viewer, who can interact with the system to affect the simulation. Through collaborative authorship, we can drive emergent behaviour and storytelling with each viewing, creating endless possibilities for narratives to rise to the surface.

Agence

The Intersection of VR and Dynamic Filmmaking

Virtual Reality adds an additional dimension to Dynamic Filmmaking, as it takes you one step closer to a possible reality you can immerse yourself in, and gives us the power to experience what the world might be like in someone else’s shoes. With Agence, we provide the user with the opportunity to understand the responsibility of their own agency. Users become self-reflexive and even emotional at times when an Agent falls off the planet into the nexus below. It’s hard to predict what you will feel as each action and reaction is unique.

We use two types of AI to drive the behaviour of our Agents: Game AI, programmed through heuristic functions, and Reinforcement Learning AI, where neural network “brains” are developed to think autonomously. Outside of the experience, tech-savvy collaborators can actually train Reinforcement Learning brains with resources from our website… any brains submitted will be reviewed with a chance to be featured in the film!

Looking Ahead

I believe that the merging of Dynamic Film with virtual reality experiences will allow us to be closer as a species through rich storytelling. So, in essence, when I think of why Dynamic Filmmaking and VR matters, it really comes down to why the story matters. This new medium allows us to share the same dimensional space as the virtual beings we create, to observe and empathize with these artificially intelligent creatures in ways that previously weren’t possible. In that sense, I believe dynamic stories will allow humans to understand what it means to be machine, and machines what it means to be human.

Agence

The classic rule for futurism, as far as we’re concerned, is to identify patterns in the past that can help predict and/or shape the future. In this case, we wanted to push storytelling forward using more advance artificial intelligence (AI), and we looked to the earliest days of silent films (before dialogue was possible) for inspiration. So, there is a focus on visual storytelling to create algorithms that drive the character behaviour. By emphasizing visual storytelling in projects, we can narrow in on the physical behaviours of AI characters. Looking ahead to the future of Dynamic Filmmaking, we hope to build upon this foundation by adding more dynamics for script, music, and speech generation.

Dynamic Films take the audience on a journey through branching pathways, toward a moment of inner change, making them see the world a little differently than before they began. Games, without a story, do not necessarily move people to transformation outside of winning, losing or simply playing the game perpetually. But stories, particularly the dynamic kind, have the power to influence culture and shape a hopeful future.

Source: https://www.vrfocus.com/2020/10/ai-driven-dynamic-filmmaking-is-the-future/

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Angry Birds VR and Acron: Attack of the Squirrels Gear up for Halloween

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Last year Resolution Games got into the spirit of Halloween with a spooky update for Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs and Acron: Attack of the Squirrels. The studio continues that effort this year with another haunting addition for both videogames.

Acron: Attack of the Squirrels

Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs is getting Slimy Slopes, a new area featuring 13 levels for players to tackle. Players will once again battle with Dr. Frankenswine and his evil machinations. This addition now means the videogame has 91 base levels to play. Plus there’s the new level builder which brought community sharing earlier this year.

As for Acron: Attack of the Squirrels there’s a new Halloween themed level called Sulky Swamp, as well as updated gameplay features. These include 1v1 gameplay, with the tree facing off against a singular squirrel. The challenge can then be increased by adding in bots.

“Since we expanded the level builder tool to online this summer, players have been spending more time than ever building, playing, and sharing their own levels in Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs,” said Tommy Palm, CEO of Resolution Games. “We hope that fans enjoy our latest spooky update, and continue to build and share their latest creations with the Angry Birds community.”

Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs

“While Acron is great to experience locally, the cross-platform functionality has made this the perfect game to connect with friends both near and far over the last few months,” Palm continued. “Now with the launch of the Quest 2, we’re excited to give players a special Halloween treat in the form of new content and updated gameplay mechanics to try out with their friends and family over the upcoming holiday seasons.”

Both updates are free for owners. Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs supports Oculus Quest and Rift, HTC Vive, Valve Index, Windows Mixed Reality and PlayStation VR, retailing for $14.99 while Acron: Attack of the Squirrels works with Oculus Quest and PC VR headsets. It retails for $19.99 with the iOS or Android app free to download. For further updates on Resolution Games’ latest titles, keep reading VRFocus.

Source: https://www.vrfocus.com/2020/10/angry-birds-vr-and-acron-attack-of-the-squirrels-gear-up-for-halloween/

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Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Gameplay Trailer Drops With November Date for Oculus Quest

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There are many good reasons to own an Oculus Quest/Quest 2 but for sci-fi fans, the upcoming Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is going to be a major draw. Today, ILMxLAB and Oculus have announced the launch date, released a gameplay trailer and confirmed an iconic character will see its original voice actor reprise their role.

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge

Last month during Facebook Connect it was revealed that Anthony Daniels would continue to play C-3PO and now the creators have said that Frank Oz will be reprising his role as Jedi Master Yoda for the virtual reality (VR) experience. They’ll be joined by Matthew Wood as Black Spire Outpost Droid Depot owner, Mubo; Bobby Moynihan as boisterous bartender Seezeslak and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘s Debra Wilson who plays Guavian Death Gang leader Tara Rashin. A proper all-star cast.

“Yoda is one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars galaxy, thanks in large part to the incredible performance of Frank Oz. ” said director Jose Perez III. “Working with Frank to weave Yoda into the fabric of Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge was an unforgettable experience and a dream come true. I can’t wait for players to meet the Jedi Master face to face in our first exciting tale.”

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge takes place on the planet of Batuu just on the outskirts of the Black Spire Outpost. With the storyline set between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker you play a droid repair technician who crash lands on the planet after your ship is attacked by pirates. Newly released details note the title will feature a “never-before-told short tale about a mysterious Jedi temple on Batuu, where they will encounter Yoda and a new Padawan, Ady Sun’Zee.”

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge

“Stepping onto Batuu at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a genuinely magical experience,” said Alyssa Finley, producer. “With Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, we’re expanding the story beyond Black Spire Outpost, giving players the chance to discover never-before-seen characters and locations. It’s an immersive adventure that can only exist in VR.”

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge will launch for the Oculus Quest platform on 19th November 2020, retailing for $24.99 USD. And it won’t be one single experience as a second part is scheduled for release in 2021. Check out the new trailer below and for further updates, keep reading VRFocus.

Source: https://www.vrfocus.com/2020/10/star-wars-tales-from-the-galaxys-edge-gameplay-trailer-drops-with-november-date-for-oculus-quest/

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