TIME Video Games

Everybody Is Freaking Out About What Might Happen at 3PM Today

US-IT-CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW-CES
ROBYN BECK—AFP/Getty Images Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich (L) and Gabe Newell, co-founder of game-maker Valve, discuss Intel's role in Valve's gaming development, during Krzanich's keynote address at the 2014 International CES.

Third day of the third month at three pm...

Today may be an auspicious day—if Internet gamers have anything to say about it.

At the annual Game Developer’s conference, legendary game maker Valve is scheduled to talk about its future plans. Earlier, the company announced a new virtual reality headset in partnership with Taiwanese phone giant HTC, the Vive. But the timing of the company’s sessions—the third day of the third month—has some speculating (or at least hopeful) that a sequel to one of its most popular titles might be announced.

The most wished for announcement is likely Half-Life 3, the rumor follow up to 2004’s critically acclaimed and commercially blockbuster Half-Life 2. The title has reportedly been in development for more than a decade. But no one outside the company’s Bellevue, Washington-based headquarters knows for sure. Other possibilities include Portal 3, a sequel to the best-selling 2011 game Portal 2.

Expectations may have already boiled over, though. The company said it would be focusing on hardware this year. And the presentation scheduled is supposed to be focused on the use of physics in game. It isn’t slated to be helmed by Valve boss Gabe Newell. But a nerd can always dream.

TIME Virtual Reality

Here’s How Valve Cracked Virtual Reality’s Biggest Problem

This is shaping up to be the most important year in the tumultuous, not-quite-there-yet history of virtual reality.

A number of companies, from Facebook and Samsung to Google and Microsoft, are making significant pushes into the technology, which has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades but has largely failed to materialize as a viable consumer product. The latest piece of kit, the HTC Vive announced this weekend, is the product of a collaboration between the Taiwanese phone giant and Valve, the purveyor of the most important software distribution platform on the PC, Steam.

Virtual reality, or VR, has a long tortured history. Until three years ago, the technology was more or less moribund. Then Palmer Luckey (now 22), reignited interest with a series of prototypes for a new device called the Oculus Rift, which improved significantly on the old technology by taking advantage of advances in components for phones. His company, Oculus VR, was acquired by Facebook last year for $2 billion.

Most of Oculus’ advances, which are now being adopted or emulated by the likes of Sony and Samsung, are in how images are displayed to users wearing the headset. Long story short, a VR system has to display two sets of images—one for each eye—at very fast rates or the viewer will get nauseous.

But the HTC Vive, which the companies say will be available later this year, solves the next most vexing problems: once a viewer is seeing 3D space, how do they maneuver and manipulate the environment around them. Aside from content that is compatible with VR, these are the biggest outstanding questions. Once you’re there, what can you do and how do you do it?

Early development kits for the Oculus employ a standard console controller to move around, but that can be disorienting. Sony’s Morpheus prototype for the Playstation4 uses a set of controllers that look like ice cream cones with lightbulbs on top with similar results. And Microsoft’s recently unveiled HoloLens, which projects images onto the real world, uses hand gestures and arm motions. It’s still unclear which approach will win out.

HTC says its system will come with a base station that can track a user’s movements in 3D space. The company also hinted at a specific controller, perhaps a set of gloves, to enable users to manipulate virtual objects. Details are still scant, but this could solve the problems of mobility in a simulated 3D environment.

If Valve and HTC have indeed managed to do that, virtual reality may finally be ready for prime time.

TIME Recap

The Walking Dead Watch: “Remember”

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC—© AMC Film Holdings LLC. "I am gonna shave that apocalypse right outa my beard."

This is what it looks like when Rick finally gets to have a shave and shower

“Remember,” episode 12 of the fifth season of The Walking Dead, is a study in contrasts.

The group rolls up to a self-sustained, well-fortified city state in Alexandria, Virginia to find a land that time forgot. The community has been insulated—metaphorically and literally—from the worst of the outbreak, and life there seems not so distant from pre-apocalyptic times. Electricity and water still flow; people still wear pastel cardigans and tasseled loafers; there are even over-sized coffee table books in plenty.

Rick is introduced to Deanna, the community’s leader, who looks like she walked out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue, not the pages of a Cormack McCarthy novel. The former Ohio congresswoman has domain over the planned community, which is kitted with solar panels and an environmentally friendly water treatment system. She welcomes the group, she says, to help strengthen the community’s numbers. Rick, not quite believing it all, tells her she “should keep your gates closed. People out there are always looking for an angle…how they can use you to live.”

Life in Shangri-La is, well, weird. Rick and Carl walk around their new home (starting in the low-$800,000s!) somewhat dazed. How to make sense of Restoration Hardware reclaimed wood coffee tables and Kohler kitchen fixtures when you’ve been scraping by for so long? Most of the group’s main characters go through some similar kind of disbelief at their new surroundings—Carol takes to it quickly; Daryl, not so much. You could have called this episode Abercrombie & Feral.

After a nice svhitz and a shave, Rick meets some of the community’s other members. There’s Jessie, a mother of two, who offers him a hair cut. There’s Aiden, an enforcer with a temper. There are a few teens in various shades of moody, who Carl befriends. By the end of the episode, the group has decided to assimilate. Deanna, who jokes that “the communists won after all,” assigns each of them a job. She makes Michonne and Rick the community’s constables.

In the final frames, Rick dons a uniform once again. When Carol and Daryl wonder out loud if the community is really capable of dealing with the harsh reality of the world, Rick tells them somewhat ominously: “If they can’t make it, then we’ll just take this place.”

Zombie Kill Count
1 bullet to the head by Sasha; 5 knife points to the skull by Rick and Carl; 1 knife to the head by Glenn.
Estimated total: 7

TIME Video Games

This Is the Incredible Game President Underwood Is Obsessed With in House of Cards Season 3

It's called Monument Valley and it's pretty great

Francis Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian character on the Netflix series House of Cards, has always allowed himself a few good video games. These have tended toward the violent, first-person-shooter variety. But in Season 3, which became available on the streaming service on Friday, a beautiful, somewhat esoteric indie game for mobile devices becomes a minor plot point.

That game is Monument Valley, created by UsTwo. The title—available here for Android and here for iOS— was ranked one of TIME’s 10 best games of 2014. Here’s a description of the game by its designers, part of which Spacey alludes to in the show:

In Monument Valley you will manipulate impossible architecture and guide a silent princess through a beautiful world. Monument Valley is a surreal exploration through fantastical architecture and impossible geometry. Guide the silent princess Ida through mysterious monuments, uncovering hidden paths, unfolding optical illusions and outsmarting the enigmatic Crow People.

Or as TIME’s reviewer put it: “Monument Valley celebrates non-Euclidean geometry, beautifully bizarre architecture and the art of silent storytelling. Combine royalty with optical trickery, trajectory-fiddling with bonsai pruning, aesthetic contemplation with tactile interaction and you wind up with something like designer ustwo’s delightful, enigmatic puzzler.” Worth checking out, no matter where you are on the road to world domination.

TIME Video Games

Nimoy’s Greatest Performance Had Nothing to Do With Star Trek

Sega

'Seaman' did not become a blockbuster, but a cult hit

The world is eulogizing the great Leonard Nimoy after the 83-year-old actor passed away Friday. To be sure, the man best known as Spock in various incarnations of Star Trek had a long and varied career. People will be remember the ways in which he influenced, moved or made them laugh for weeks to come.

To me Nimoy’s greatest performance was in what, for most, will seem a minor footnote. In the late-1990s, he provided voice-over narration for one of the strangest, most wonderful experiments in video game history: Seaman. Released for Sega’s Dreamcast console, the Japanese game put a virtual pet in the care of players who were charged with feeding, nurturing and guiding its evolution from sea to land. You could talk to the creature through a microphone accessory plugged into the Dreamcast’s controller and, eventually, he would begin talking back. It was strange.

But also delightful. The game, which Nimoy welcomed you to every time you booted up with a joke or piece of advice, did what emerging (if flawed) technology does best, giving you a sense of what might be possible. A lot of the time it didn’t work correctly, or at all. (Voice-recognition was much less sophisticated, not to mention the lackluster processing power of Sega’s ill-fated console.) But the game was a kind of equation with wonder as the chief variable. And Nimoy’s voice lent the whole thing shape and credence, turning what might have been a trifling experiment into something pretty grand.

You can see gameplay and some of Nimoy’s work here.

TIME Recap

The Walking Dead Watch: “Them”

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 5B, Fog Gallery - Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC
Ben Leunee/AMC—© AMC Film Holdings LLC. "I'm shooting at my feelings of despair."

Existentialism, Bible metaphors, and lots and lots of crying as season five nears its end

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Camus were alive today and he plagiarized The Road? “Them,” episode ten of the fifth season of The Walking Dead, more or less provides an answer.

Life on the road to Washington, D.C. is not going particularly well for the group. Everybody is tired, thirsty and sad. There is crying. There is self-doubt. There is forlorn looking off camera. There is hurting one’s self to feel something, anything. “How much longer we got?” Maggie asks early on. How much longer, indeed.

The show does what it usually does when it has some time to kill: it pairs off the main characters for a few meaningful interactions. Carol tells Daryl to suffer through. Michonne tries to impart some anger management technique to Sasha. Rick tries to get Daryl to open up about Beth’s death. The priest prevaricates; Noah blubbers. And Carl gives Maggie a broken music box, which symbolizes…something.

In one pivotal scene, the group is dragging itself down a long, country road when it becomes apparent a gaggle of shuffling walkers is not far behind it. The obvious question is, which group is more bedraggled? Later on, things brighten slightly when everybody gets to eat some roasted dog, courtesy of Sasha’s angry trigger finger.

Still Maggie says, “I don’t know if I want to fight it anymore.” To which Glenn responds, “We fought to get here, and we have to keep fighting.” Nobody seems terribly convinced this is the case. The episode is soaked in ambivalence.

Eventually, a rain storm delivers the group from its thirst (as well as having to decide whether or not a stack of bottled water left in the road with a note reading “from a friend” is a trap or not). Taking shelter in a nearby barn, things get really deep. Rick, in a sepulchral version of the “Peace by Inches” speech, concludes, “We do what we need to do and then we live. We tell ourselves we are the walking dead.”

During the night, the increasingly powerful storm threatens to blown apart the barn doors and let in a hoard of hungry walkers. The group, faces illuminated by flashes of lightning, presses back against the doors to keep the danger at bay. In the morning, surveying the damage, it’s clear that they have, like Noah, survived the flood (or tornado as it were) thanks to Providence.

Just before the credits roll, we meet a new character—Aaron—who promises some “good news.” Hopefully he means some plot of some kind in next week’s episode.

Zombie Kill Report
1 knife point to the head by Maggie; 5 knife blows to the head by Sasha; 2 machete strikes to the skull by Rick; 2 katana chops to the frontal lobe by Michonne; 1 knife point to the head by Daryl; 1 knife to the skull by Abraham; 1 knife to the skill by Glenn; 5 “tricked ya!” falls into an open ravineen by multiple (it counts); 1 knife to the brain by Maggie.
Estimated total: 19

Episode 10 Curse
Is this a curse of this part of every season, this sort of meandering plotlessness? Maybe I’m being too demeaning, but this episode seemed a bit of a waste of time. Do you agree? Is this a perennial problem at this point in most seasons?

TIME Hacking

Hackers Steal $1 Billion in Massive, Worldwide Breach

Russian Retail-Sales Growth Unexpectedly Gains Amid Ruble Crisis
Bloomberg/Getty Images

A prominent cybersecurity firm says that thieves have infiltrated more than 100 banks in 30 countries over the past two years

Hackers have stolen as much as $1 billion from banks around the world, according to a prominent cybersecurity firm. In a report scheduled to be delivered Monday, Russian security company Kaspersky Lab claims that a hacking ring has infiltrated more than 100 banks in 30 countries over the past two years.

Kaspersky says digital thieves gained access to banks’ computer systems through phishing schemes and other confidence scams. Hackers then lurked in the institutions’ systems, taking screen shots or even video of employees at work. Once familiar with the banks’ operations, the hackers could steal funds without raising alarms, programming ATMs to dispense money at specific times for instance or transferring funds to fraudulent accounts. First outlined by the New York Times, the report will be presented Monday at a security conference in Mexico.

The hackers seem to limit their scores to about $10 million before moving on to another bank, Kaspersky principal security researcher Vicente Diaz told the Associated Press. This helps avoid detection; the crimes appear to be motivated primarily by financial gain. “In this case they are not interested in information. They’re only interested in the money,” he said. “They’re flexible and quite aggressive and use any tool they find useful for doing whatever they want to do.”

[New York Times]

TIME Trailer

Things Are Super Awkward in Latest House of Cards Teaser

Claire and Frank seem a wee bit tense

The heights of power can put a little strain on a marriage. At least that’s what the latest teaser for Netflix’s upcoming third season of House of Cards seems to suggest.

In the 30-second trailer, Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) Underwood pose for an uncomfortable family photo—you know the kind, perhaps like those taken on Thanksgiving after a particularly unpleasant argument about politics… Hinting at discord at the top, Claire seems to “recoil” from his touch.

House of Cards season three premieres Feb. 27 on Netflix.

TIME Drones

New Rules Would Let Drones Rule the Sky

A Federal Aviation Administration analysis of the impact of commercial drones proposes a world in which the remote-controlled devices become a common sight

Small drones could take to the skies in droves, if the government adopts proposals widely favorable to commercial use of remote-controlled aircraft.

An Federal Aviation Administration analysis envisions small drones—flying machines which weigh 55 pounds or less— performing tasks ranging from mapping to monitoring crops and aerial photography.

The FAA plans to release draft rules, which have been in the works for years and were submitted to the White House budget office in October for review, on Sunday. The rules partially revealed Saturday when the economic analysis describing them was posted online by mistake, the Associated Press reports.

The report does not offer a total estimate on the annual economic benefit of new drone-friendly rules, though it claims they would exceed $100 million. Industry trade group the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International believes small, commercial drones will create some 70,000 jobs and have an economic impact of over $13.6 billion in the first three years.

[AP]

TIME weather

Snow, Blistering Cold Strikes New England

The fourth storm in less than a month is leading to biting lows and deadly driving conditions

Dangerously strong winds whipped across New England on Sunday morning, as emergency workers scrambled to clear snow and ice. It is the fourth major winter storm in the region in less than a month.

Eight to 14 inches of snow were expected in southern New England and up to two feet in Maine. Forecasts called for lows of minus 10 degrees forecast in some areas Sunday night.

National Weather Service meteorologist William Babcock told USA Today that road conditions will be dangerous as a result of widespread winds stirring relatively dry snow. “On Sunday, the best thing people can do is stay home, stay indoors,” he said.

[USA Today]

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