MojoKid writes "Blizzard has released a powerful new suite of tools for Starcraft 2 modders and developers that fundamentally change the nature of what's possible in the popular RTS game. Now, players can use the same architectural and graphics design toolsets that Blizzard has used internally to build new units, tilesets, and models. Furthermore, these tools are now available even with the Starcraft 2: Starter Edition kit. Critically, artists will now be able to incorporate images and effects designed in programs like 3ds Max, Photoshop, or other high-end particle systems. The exciting thing about these releases is that Starcraft 2's modding list is as interesting as the primary game, if not moreso. Fans have faithfully created adaptations of famous Starcraft maps, implemented entirely new rulesets that blend the old, micro-friendly playstyle of Starcraft with the modern engine, and even gone total conversion with Warcraft ported over into the SC2 game."
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
Nerval's Lobster writes "Last week, Microsoft announced that it would take a $900 million write-off on its Surface RT tablets. Although launched with high hopes in the fall of 2012, the sleek devices—which run Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 designed for hardware powered by the mobile-friendly ARM architecture—have suffered from middling sales and fading buzz. But if Microsoft decides to continue with Surface, there's one surefire way to restart its (metaphorical) heart: make it the ultimate bargain. The company's already halfway there, having knocked $150 off the sticker price, but that's not enough. Imagine Microsoft pricing the Surface at a mere pittance, say $50 or $75 — even in this era of cheaper tablets, the devices would fly off the shelves so fast, the sales rate would make the iPad look like the Zune. There's a historical precedent for such a maneuver. In 2011, Hewlett-Packard decided to terminate its TouchPad tablet after a few weeks of poor sales. In a bid to clear its inventory, the company dropped the TouchPad's starting price to $99, which sent people rushing into stores in a way they hadn't when the device was priced at $499. Demand for the suddenly ultra-cheap tablet reached the point that HP needed weeks to fulfill backorders. (Despite that sales spike, HP decided to kill the TouchPad; the margins on $99 obviously didn't work out to everyone's satisfaction.) In the wake of Microsoft announcing that it would take that $900 million write-down on Surface RT, reports surfaced that the company could have as many as six million units sitting around, gathering dust. Whether that figure is accurate—it seems more based on back-of-napkin calculations than anything else—it's almost certainly the case that Microsoft has a lot of unsold Surface RTs in a bunch of warehouses all around the world. Why not clear them out by knocking a couple hundred dollars off the price? It's not as if they're going anywhere, anyway."
onyxruby writes "In a move that will remind many of Apple in the '80s, Microsoft is going to start dumping Surface RT computers to educational institutions. In an effort to try to gain mindshare for their struggling Surface RT platform, Microsoft is giving away 10,000 Surface RTs to teachers through the International Society for Technology in Education. They're also preparing to offer $199 Surface RTs to K12 and higher education institutions. The strategy of flooding the educational market was quite successful for Apple. Unfortunately for Microsoft, today's computers require management and the Surface RT presents significant management challenges in terms of the inability to join the computer to a domain or available management tools."
mpthompson writes "Via RoboticsTrends' newsletter, RTS Lab in Tehran is developing Pars, which is an aerial rescue robot quadcopter designed to save potential drowning victims. The ship-based quadcopter responds instantly when alerted to potential victims in the ocean, locating them with thermal imaging sensors, and dispensing life preservers directly over them. The current prototype carries one life preserver, but they are working on a new model to carry three life preserver rings. Future models may dispense up to 15 self-inflating rings. A launching platform for use on ships has been designed, but more intriguing is an idea for a remote stand-alone launching platform. It's good to see innovative robot tech coming from a country that is not normally well covered in Western media."
Today Blizzard launched its first expansion to StarCraft 2, titled Heart of the Swarm. When initially developing StarCraft 2, Blizzard made the decision to split the game into three parts, each with a campaign as long as the original StarCraft. The initial release in 2010, Wings of Liberty, centered on the story of the Terrans. The newly-released Heart of the Swarm is focused on the Zerg. The final release, Legacy of the Void, will dedicate its campaign to the Protoss (and does not have a projected release timeframe yet). In addition to the new campaign, new units have been introduced for multiplayer and new maps have been added, which ought to shake things up in the competitive landscape. Blizzard has also made long-awaited improvements to the social system, including support for groups and clans.
An anonymous reader writes "We all knew it was just a matter of time, now it looks like Windows RT has been Jailbroken. From the article: 'The hack, performed by Clokr, exploits a vulnerability in the Windows kernel that has existed for a long time — since before Microsoft ported Windows from x86 to ARM, in fact. Basically, the Windows kernel on your computer is configured to only execute files that meet a certain level of authentication. There are four levels: Unsigned (0), Authenticode (4), Microsoft (8), and Windows (12). On your x86 Windows system, the default setting is Unsigned — you can run anything you like. With Windows RT, the default, hard-coded setting is Microsoft (8); i.e. only apps signed by Microsoft, or parts of Windows itself, can be executed.'"
sfcrazy writes "A very serious argument erupted on the Linux kernel mailing list when Andy Grover, a Red Hat SCSI target engineer, requested that Nicholas A. Bellinger, the Linux SCSI target maintainer, provide proof of non-infringement of the GPL. Nick is developer at Rising Tide Systems, a Red Hat competitor, and a maker of advanced SCSI storage systems. Nick's company recently produced a groundbreaking technology involving advanced SCSI commands which will give Rising Tide Systems a lead in producing SCSI storage systems. Now, RTS is blocking Red Hat from getting access to that code as it's proprietary. What's uncertain is whether RTS' code is covered by GPL or not — if it is then Red Hat has all the rights to get access to it and it's a serious GPL violation."
An anonymous reader writes "Patrick Wyatt led production efforts for several of Blizzard Entertainment's early games, including Warcraft 1 & 2 and StarCraft. Wyatt has just published an in-depth look at the development of StarCraft, highlighting many of the problems the team encountered, and several of the hacks they came to later regret. Quoting: 'Given all the issues working against the team, you might think it was hard to identify a single large source of bugs, but based on my experiences the biggest problems in StarCraft related to the use of doubly-linked linked lists. Linked lists were used extensively in the engine to track units with shared behavior. With twice the number of units of its predecessor — StarCraft had a maximum of 1600, up from 800 in Warcraft 2 — it became essential to optimize the search for units of specific types by keeping them linked together in lists. ... All of these lists were doubly-linked to make it possible to add and remove elements from the list in constant time — O(1) — without the necessity to traverse the list looking for the element to remove — O(N). Unfortunately, each list was 'hand-maintained' — there were no shared functions to link and unlink elements from these lists; programmers just manually inlined the link and unlink behavior anywhere it was required. And hand-rolled code is far more error-prone than simply using a routine that's already been debugged. ... So the game would blow up all the time. All the time.'" Wyatt also has a couple interesting posts about the making of Warcraft 1.
An anonymous reader writes "One of Activision's last RTS games, Dark Reign 2, has gone open source under the LGPL. Although the release by a former Pandemic Studios employee was some time ago, it had happened relatively silently. With the source code now available, it is hoped that online play that isn't dependent on WON servers will be implemented and possibly ports to other platforms."
New submitter Man Eating Duck writes "Guru3D describes how the activation system in Ubisoft's RTS game Anno 2070 also tracks hardware changes: 'So yesterday I started working on a performance review. We know (well, at least we figured we knew), that the game key can be used on three systems. That's fair; the first activation is used on my personal game rig. The second we installed on the AMD Radeon graphics test PC and the 3rd on our NVIDIA graphics test PC. ... For the NVIDIA setup I take out the GTX 580, and insert a GTX 590. When I now startup the game, 'BAM', again an activation is required. Once again I fill out the key, and now Ubisoft is thanking me with the message that I ran out of activations.' Guru3D subsequently discovered that Ubisoft was less than helpful: 'Sorry to disappoint you — the game is indeed restricted to 3 hardware changes and there simply is no way to bypass that.' I, and many with me, will never buy games with such a draconian DRM scheme, as it's very likely that I'll swap out enough components to run into this issue. Even the Steam version includes this nice 'feature.' It's probably a good idea to let Ubisoft know why we'll pass on this title."
An anonymous reader writes "Cognitive scientists at Simon Fraser University and UCSD are beginning to use StarCraft 2 replays to study the development of expertise and the cognitive mechanisms of multitasking. Unlike similar expertise studies in chess that consider roughly a dozen players, these studies include thousands of players of all skill levels — providing an unprecedented amount of data on how players move from 'chumps to champions.'"
An anonymous reader writes "According to a report in Reuters, scientists are celebrating the end of a clinical trial which found a malaria vaccine reduces infection risk by half in children. From the article: 'While scientists say it is no "silver bullet" and will not end the mosquito-borne infection on its own, it is being hailed as a crucial weapon in the fight against malaria and one that could speed the path to eventual worldwide eradication. Malaria is caused by a parasite carried in the saliva of mosquitoes. It kills more than 780,000 people per year, most of them babies or very young children in Africa. Cohen's vaccine goes to work at the point when the parasite enters the human bloodstream after a mosquito bite. By stimulating an immune response, it can prevent the parasite from maturing and multiplying in the liver. ... Cohen said that if all goes to plan, RTS,S could be licensed and rolled out by 2015.'"
Game development studio Cyanide launched their real-time strategy interpretation of George R. R. Martin's acclaimed fantasy series A Game of Thrones yesterday. You can see a trailer and a few screenshots if you're so inclined. Cyanide also confirmed one of their other offices is working on a completely different RPG based on the series as well. It's still a ways out, but they say it will be "Mass Effect-style," and will pick up at the start of the first book. "True to the style of Martin's books, it will tell the story of two different characters, switching back and forth between them as their tales move alongside the events of the first book (and occasionally intersect with one another). None of the characters from the book will be playable, though the game's protagonists will cross paths with plenty of familiar faces over the course of the game."
dtmos wrote in to say that "This summer, StarCraft II has become the newest bar room spectator sport. Fans organize so-called Barcraft events, taking over pubs and bistros from Honolulu to Florida and switching big-screen TV sets to Internet broadcasts of professional game matches. As they root for their on-screen superstars, StarCraft enthusiasts can sow confusion among regular patrons... But for sports-bar owners, StarCraft viewers represent a key new source of revenue from a demographic—self-described geeks—they hadn't attracted before."
trawg writes "Blizzard has lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm at a recent media event held at Blizzard HQ in California, where press were treated to a hands-on preview of the game. Gamers can expect 20 new single-player missions with Kerrigan as a playable hero, and while they're tight-lipped about multiplayer they have confirmed in a FAQ that there will be new units and maps." Eurogamer's detailed preview sums up the expansion's relation to Wings of Liberty thus: "Heart of the Swarm is still evolution rather than revolution," adding, "What they've clearly got right is the atmosphere. The hubs between missions, and the whole look of Heart of the Swarm's interface and environment, are infused with the moist and creeping personality of the Zerg, every surface chitinous, every hole infested."
generalepsilon writes "Researchers from the University of Washington have found a key reason why StarCraft is a popular spectator sport (PDF), especially in Korea. In a paper published last week, they theorize that StarCraft incorporates 'information asymmetry,' where the players and spectators each have different pieces of information, which transforms into entertainment. Sometimes spectators know something the players don't; they watch in suspense as players walk their armies into traps or a dropship sneaks behind the mineral line. Other times, players know something the spectators yearn to find out, such as 'cheese' (spectacular build orders that attempt to outplay an opponent early in the game). Rather than giving as much information as possible to spectators, it may be more crucial for game designers to decide which information to give to spectators, and when to reveal this information."
StarCraft II lead designer Dustin Browder recently spoke with Gamasutra about how designing a real-time strategy game for competition can sometimes be at odds with designing something purely for the sake of fun. "'It took me a year and a half to figure this out,' said Browder, an enthusiastic designer who might also be around the top 10 percent in the world in terms of speed-talking. 'I kept trying to shove stuff in that was fun but wasn't a sport,' he said. 'And everybody would tell me "no," and I wouldn't understand why. And I thought they were all jerks. I didn't know, right? I couldn't figure it out.' ... 'It took me a long time to understand why this sport value is so important,' Browder continued. The development team kept itself in check, nixing units that overlapped with the roles of other units and dumping units that were deemed too complicated. Some of the units cut were fun to use, but just didn't fit with the game's objectives as an eSport. 'It makes it so challenging for designers on the project to come up with new and good ideas,' said Browder. 'We could sit here right now, and come up with 10 great ideas for an RTS. But I almost guarantee you that all of those would get shot down for a sport.'"
On Wednesday we discussed news of an impressive-looking mod for StarCraft II that transformed the game into a WoW lookalike, which quickly drew a copyright infringement warning from Activision Blizzard. The company has now released an official statement green-lighting the mod for continued development. "'It was never our intention to stop development on the mod or discourage the community from expressing their creativity through the StarCraft II editor,' Blizzard said in a statement. 'As always, we actively encourage development of custom maps and mods for StarCraft II, as we've done with our strategy games in the past.' Blizzard went on the say that it's looking forward to seeing development of the mod continue, and that it has invited Winzen to the company's campus to meet the game's development team."
The StarCraft 2 team spent most of Blizzcon talking about the map editor and custom games. We spoke with Alan Dabiri, a Lead Software Engineer for Wings of Liberty who worked on the user interface and helped out on the game's integration with Battle.net. He provided some more details about plans for making the map editor more approachable, the coming updates for Battle.net (including chat channels), and a bit about the development of Heart of the Swarm, the Zerg-themed expansion being worked on now. Read on for our conversation about StarCraft 2.
StarCraft 2 launched in July, and since most of the developers' efforts since then have gone into tweaking balance issues, fixing bugs and further developing Battle.net integration, the second part of the trilogy is still quite a ways off. So, in lieu of announcements about Heart of the Swarm, the devs are using Blizzcon to showcase the map-editing tools and encourage the community to get more involved with custom maps and game types. Using the map editor, they created internally four custom games for StarCraft 2, which they’ll soon be releasing over Battle.net for free alongside three fan creations that won a recent contest. Read on for more details.