TIME Security

Sony’s PlayStation Network Attacked: 9 Questions Answered

A breakdown of what happened, why it happened and who's claimed responsibility to date.

Sony’s PlayStation Network had a rough ride this weekend, collapsing under the brunt of a cyber attack by forces as yet unknown. While the PSN is now back, here’s a breakdown of what happened, with answers to questions.

What brought the PlayStation Network down?

Something called a Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS attack (confirmed by Sony here). A DDoS attack occurs when someone attempts to make a server’s resources unavailable by inundating the server with traffic. In short, Sony’s servers couldn’t keep up with the incoming traffic, culminating in a logjam for all incoming requests, legitimate or otherwise.

When did the PSN go down?

Sunday, August 24, in the early morning.

What’s this I’m hearing about Sony and a bomb scare?

Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley, traveling on August 24 by commercial plane from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Diego, had taken to Twitter to let people know Sony was battling the DDoS avalanche Sunday morning.

But someone, though at this point no one knows who precisely, claimed the American Airlines Boeing 757 Smedley was on contained explosives, prompting its diversion to Phoenix.

The plane landed uneventfully in Phoenix on Sunday and as far as anyone knows, no explosives were found on the plane.

Was Sony the only company affected by the DDoS attack?

No. While the lion’s share of media attention has been on Sony, probably due to the simultaneous bomb scare, several other gaming-related services, including Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Blizzard’s Battle.net, were reportedly disrupted over the weekend.

Microsoft, for instance, reports that access to its “Social and Gaming” services are “limited” (and were still as this list went live, though the reasons why are unclear; according to Reuters, Xbox spokesperson David Dennis said, “We don’t comment on the root cause of a specific issue, but as you can see on Xbox.com/status, the core Xbox LIVE services are up and running”).

Blizzard posted the following note: “Battle.net game services have recently been subject to DDoS attacks. We worked diligently along with our ISPs to improve the situation and currently are seeing more stability. We appreciate your patience.”

Gamasutra notes that both Riot’s League of Legends and Grinding Gear’s Path of Exile were also targeted, resulting in those services going down.

Who did it?

No one knows, but an anonymous group calling itself @LizardSquad on Twitter posted the following early Sunday morning:

And the same group tweeted this at American Airlines, as SOE’s John Smedley was manning Sony’s Twitter cannon Sunday morning:

The LizardSquad account also made several references to ISIS, one of various names ascribed to the jihadist group currently attempting to establish an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria:

But as the BBC notes, a person associated with the hacktivist group Anonymous has said the DDoS attacks were in fact initiated by Anonymous to demonstrate weaknesses in Sony’s system. The BBC says this hacker has denounced LizardSquad’s attempts to take credit for the attack, and has posted screenshots designed to prop up Anonymous’ claims to responsibility.

In other words, we’re still not sure at this point who was actually responsible, or what their goals were beyond the mundanely obvious: service disruption.

Did whoever brought the PSN down manage to steal anything?

A DDoS attack isn’t a hack in the strictest sense of the word: It’s a brute assault on a server’s ability to service requests. Sony social media manager Sid Shuman says, “We have seen no evidence of any intrusion to the network and no evidence of any unauthorized access to users’ personal information.”

In other words, as far as we know (and Sony says), no sensitive information was accessed or compromised.

Is the PSN still down?

As of this morning, it appears to be back, and Sony indicated it was functional already late yesterday (though at the time Sony’s note went live, the PSN was still nonfunctional for me and hadn’t come back by the time I went to bed).

The PSN was supposed to go down (in part or whole) for planned maintenance Monday for much of the day, so certain features weren’t supposed to be working on Monday by design. But Sony now says that scheduled maintenance update is no longer happening today, writing, “In light of today’s issue, the networks will not undergo the regularly scheduled maintenance, which was planned for Monday, August 25. We will provide an update shortly for when the maintenance will be rescheduled.”

Didn’t this happen to Sony once before?

Not exactly. Sony’s PlayStation Network was hacked back in 2011, at which point the perpetrators absconded with some 77 million user accounts, prompting Sony to shutter the service for over three weeks.

As noted above, yesterday’s DDoS attack was a brute force attempt to take Sony’s servers offline, not an intrusion hack, and according to Sony, no sensitive information was taken.

What now?

On the DDoS front, the companies involved are doubtless bolstering their defenses, but bulwarking for brute force denial of service attacks is an ongoing process, and there’s no panacea.

On the bomb-scare front, USA Today notes that American Airlines spokesperson Michelle Mohr said the FBI is investigating the matter (as does the BBC, which cites Sony as saying the same).

TIME Video Games

Sony Says User Information Safe After Hackers Targeted PlayStation Network

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Attendees walk past the Sony Corp. PlayStation booth during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The tech company just had a really rough weekend

Hackers hit the Sony Corp.’s huge Playstation network this weekend, before a bomb threat was made against a flight carrying a top Sony executive in the U.S.

The tech company said on its Playstation blog Monday that the network was taken down by a denial of service attack, but added that none of the personal data of its 53 million users was compromised.

“We have seen no evidence of any intrusion to the network and no evidence of any unauthorized access to users’ personal information,” said the blog post by Sid Shuman, senior manager of social media.

Somebody with the Twitter handle @LizardSquad claimed responsibility for the data breach on Sunday, Reuters said. The purported hacker said the attack was carried out to warn the Japan-based firm that more profits needed to be spent on data security.

“Sony, yet another large company, but they aren’t spending the waves of cash they obtain on their customers’ [PlayStation Network] service. End the greed,” said one @LizardSquad post on Sunday.

In other unsubstantiated claims, the user said that Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of World of Warcraft, had been targeted and also threatened Microsoft’s Xbox Live network.

The posts took an alarming turn when @LizardSquad tweeted at American Airlines on Sunday, claiming to know that explosives were aboard a flight being taken by Sony Online Entertainment President John Smedley.

The San Diego-bound flight from Dallas was later diverted to Phoenix, and its passengers have since made their way to San Diego.

Reuters reports that American Airlines said in a tweet that it was “aware of threats” made over Twitter and had alerted security.

American Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Mohr told AP that she couldn’t discuss security matters and referred questions to the FBI. The FBI declined Reuters’ request for comment.

[Reuters]

TIME Video Games

Star Wars: Commander Is Slow-Going Unless You Pay Up

All of the game's content is available for free--so long as you're willing to wait for it.

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Disney’s new freemium real-time strategy game Star Wars: Commander just arrived on Apple’s App Store in the U.S. as a time-limited exclusive for iOS devices (there’s an Android version coming shortly).

Don’t confuse it with Star Wars: Force Commander, another real-time strategy game released back in 2000 for Windows by now-Disney-owned studio LucasArts. It was a mess of a game–one of several failed attempts to give players a thoughtful, strategic window into the iconic Star Wars universe. To this day, no one’s succeeded.

So Commander is interesting because it’s the closest thing we’ve had to a thoughtful, strategy-minded Star Wars game–boardgames notwithstanding–in years. The only downer: it’s a free-to-play-slow, pay-to-play-faster game.

I’ve been noodling with it this morning, and it’s your garden variety real-time strategy game: kit out a base, build and upgrade structures, then deploy troops to slug it out in Star Wars-ian locales. After stepping through a few tutorial exercises that illustrate where to tap to buy things and how to tap to deploy units in combat, you’re allowed to throw in with either the Rebellion or the Empire, the difference between the two a matter of campaign storyline and playable unit types. Choose the Empire and you can trot out AT-ATs and Tie Fighters. Favor the Rebellion and you’ll have access to individuals like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia.

Underlying the economy are crystals, credits and alloy. Refineries and credit markets produce alloy and credits respectively. You purchase structures and units with the latter two, though these accrue at ridiculously slow speeds (as in “go-do-something-else-for-several-hours” slow), and which you have to harvest manually by tapping on the producing structures. Automation is apparently beyond warring factions with ultra-high-tech weaponry, but then that’s how the developers get you to pay attention to just how little your factories are generating at a given interval.

If you want to speed things up, you can pay real money for greenish “crystals” at price intervals of $100, $50, $20, $10 or $5, which in turn let you buy oodles of credits or alloy, as well as pay for protection (presumably against hostile incursions by other players, since the game also supports PvP battles). Fairly warned: if you dislike freemium games that lock most of their gameplay behind punitively slow resource generation clocks, you’re not going to like Commander at all.

What makes it feel like a Star Wars game? The retro gliding yellow-letter intro, of course. The character likenesses, with voice work not by the original actors but plausible analogues. Mostly John William’s unforgettable musical motifs, with signature flourishes from flutes, french horns and trumpets ebbing or swelling in the background obligingly. If you want some insight into the nerd-lore propping up the game’s logistics, GamesBeat interviewed one of the game’s producers about that (preview: it sounds like the Rebels are scavenging Clone Wars tech).

But since Star Wars was never about the battlefield minutia or the specifics of this or that piece of Separatist technology, it does start to feel a little like a generic real-time strategy template overlaid with a Star Wars-ian one. On the other hand, that sums up most Star Wars games: vanilla ice cream with dollops of Star Wars sauce. It’s also clearly Disney spooling up its Star Wars turbolaser in advance of Star Wars: Rebels, its animated Clone Wars TV series followup set half a decade before the events of the original Star Wars movie.

I should caution that Commander has launch quirks, in particular one where I minimized the game, then reloaded it, only to have it claim I’d launched a second instance on a second device, thus squelching the first one (in general, the game seems to hate minimization). It’s also arguably a poor fit, visually speaking, for a 4-inch iPhone: while you can zoom on the maps, the interface panels and text are just too small to use comfortably (like 22Cans’ Godus, Commander probably should have been tablet-only). Assuming Apple’s next iPhone has a significantly bigger screen, I’d reconsider that position. Barring that, I wouldn’t bother unless you have at least an iPad Mini.

TIME Video Games

Swing Copters Is Live, Not to Be Confused with Tube Revenge

The creator of Flappy Bird's next game is here, along with the first batch of apparent knockoffs.

Swing Copters, the guy who made Flappy Bird‘s next mobile game, is live now as promised, though you’ll have to search to find it (it wasn’t charting as this post went up), and that means sorting through all the soundalike (and in some cases lookalike) copycat versions.

On the Google Play store, you’ll find a bunch, including one that looks visually and functionally identical to Swing Copters titled “Copters swing.”

At this point, there’s just one turning up in my App Store results, a little tapper called Tube Revenge – Swing Copters. It’s not a last minute clone, either: its version history dates back to March 2014. Weirder still, its designer describes it as inspired by Flappy Bird. For the record, Flappy Bird debuted in May 2013 and went viral in January 2014, Tube Revenge – Swing Copters cropped up in March, and then Dong Nguyen’s Flappy Bird followup is hitting now, August 21. I’m not sure how that works. The phrase “Swing Copters” is fairly nonrandom, after all.

In Nguyen’s Swing Copters, you play as a little creature sporting a propeller cap and tap the screen to fly–slewing somewhat drunkenly side to side–upward through girder-like platforms that jut from the screen’s edges. Nguyen threw in dangling hammers that sway like pendulums and threaten to whack you as you motor past, just to keep it interesting.

Tube Revenge, by contrast, has you tapping to keep a tiny green pipe flying left-to-right, Flappy Bird-style. knocking into orange-colored creatures to score points while avoiding black ones. Unfortunately the game hung half the time I brought it up, and kept trying to send me to something called Boom Beach, so I’d give it wide berth.

TIME Video Games

This Is What Happens When Jimmy Fallon Plays Goldeneye 007 with Pierce Brosnan

Hint: It does't go well for Mr. Brosnan.

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Want to see Jimmy Fallon square off with James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan (playing as his digital Bond-ian self) in Nintendo’s Goldeneye 007? Wish granted for roughly two minutes if you click the video above.

It’s weird watching someone like Brosnan, who I’m guessing isn’t a routine gamer, play a game like Goldeneye 007 on national TV. And that’s the point: It gives you little sense of what it’s like to play a fan-beloved game plenty would call Rare’s magnum opus, but then you’re watching to see how merciless a relatively serious gamer like Fallon’s going to be (relatively merciless), whether Brosnan’s going to be a good sport about it (a very good one), and what the audience is going to make of Fallon’s trademark sputtering and faux-obsequiousness.

Why was Brosnan on Fallon last night? To talk up his new film, The November Man, a spy flick about an ex-CIA agent drawn into the thick of an agency coverup.

TIME Video Games

Take a Gander at Swing Copters, the Next Game from Flappy Bird’s Creator

Instead of tapping the screen to flap sideways, you tap the screen to propel yourself up.

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The creator of Flappy Bird‘s next game is upon us, and it’s called Swing Copters. It’s another single-tap game from designer Dong Nguyen that’ll arrive this Thursday, August 21. It’s free to play with ads, or if you like, Nguyen will let you pay $0.99 to remove them.

In the game, you play a little bug-eyed dude wearing a Tweedledee propeller hat. Above you lie open spaces between girder-like platforms that jut from the screen’s edges. Tap the screen and up you go, slewing to one side or another so that you have to course-correct continuously.

On either side of the opening hang hammers that threaten your passage, swinging to and fro like blunt pendulums. The hammers seem like the later stages of certain Flappy Bird vamps, specifically even more insanely difficult versions of that game where the pipes moved up and down.

TouchArcade laid hands on the game ahead of its rollout, putting up a video illustrating what it looks like in action (that’s it above). The object is braincell-stupefyingly simple: clear gates, then trump your gates-passed score, just like your pipes-passed one in Flappy Bird. There’s a medal system, too, presumably bronze, silver or gold, though the guy in the video never manages to clear enough gates to clinch one.

It does look harder than Flappy Bird, but then try flipping your screen on its side as you watch the video, and I suspect you’ll agree that it looks an awful lot like a vertical remaster of Flappy Bird.

TIME Video Games

Reddit Comes to Xbox One First with ReddX App

It may not be the first reddit app you can browse on a TV, but it is the first one you can access through a dedicated games console.

I’m not sure a big-screen TV’s the most natural home for a glorified bulletin board, but if you’ve always wanted to browse vast fields of reddit text on your TV, Microsoft has just the thing for you: an app called ReddX for the Xbox One (as well as Xbox SmartGlass), which it describes as “the first reddit app for the TV.”

You’re going to wind up in a semantic debate with the “first for TV” thing, since not all consoles connect to TVs, and we’ve been able to screen-share whole libraries of reddit apps from mobile devices for ages. But this is the first I’m aware of someone designing a reddit app specifically for a games console, so give Microsoft props for getting out in front of that.

ReddX, available today, lets U.S. and Canadian Xbox One owners browse or zoom in on text, images and videos, as well as tap to upvote, downvote, or comment on threads, just as you can through a browser. You can optionally save images you like to your profile, or make it the ReddX app’s background. And in addition to the Xbox One controller (with or without text keypad), ReddX will take input from the Xbox One media remote as well as Xbox SmartGlass via a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Microsoft says the app can be snapped to your TV’s side while you game if you want to keep tabs on a thread, allowing you to “interact with each other in similar ways to the reddit.com experience.” That’s probably the most interesting thing about ReddX: the keeping reddit up while you’re doing something else part, a migrational Windows 7-original feature that feels even smarter on a game console.

The least interesting (but slightly amusing) thing: unlocking “media achievements named after some of the Internet’s favorite memes.” I have no idea if any of these are real, but someone’s purportedly taken screenshots of some of them.

And the first reddit thread ever created with a games console? Right this way.

TIME Video Games

Bungie’s New Destiny Trailer Detours to Storm-Wracked Venus

Bungie rolls out another 60 seconds of Destiny gameplay with a peek at Venus, once a terraformed human stronghold now held by a robotic alien race.

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From Mars to Venus, it seems Bungie’s counting down planetary locales you’ll be visiting in Destiny, its online-only first-person shooter due out on September 9.

Last week saw our band of intrepid heroes stalking the red-duned surface of the fourth rock from the sun, so this week is about the second.

“Venus was once the site of a great discovery – a paradise. Now, it is a monument to all that we have lost,” writes Bungie in the teaser. There’s not much else to say about the formerly-greenhouse-gas-suffused planet, which looks lush and bucolic here.

Those peacock-headed mechanoid creatures you’re seeing in the combat cuts are the Vex, a robotic alien species that can time-travel and want to exterminate humanity. And I’m guessing those gate things are the warp points from which they’ll pour forth to help fill your XP meter.

TIME Video Games

You Shouldn’t Play Diablo 3 Ultimate Evil Edition on Your PS Vita

Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard's action-roleplaying opus looks and plays great on the PS4 and Xbox One, but it's an inscrutable mess on the PS Vita.

Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition exemplifies everything I don’t like about knocking through certain games on Sony’s PlayStation Vita using Remote Play.

That’s supposed to be the thing you buy a Vita for these days: its wireless PS4 screen-sharing feature, since the handheld’s future as a place to go for new content is gradually closing up, board by board. Instead, the Vita is now the PS4’s $200 second screen, Sony’s unplanned answer to Nintendo’s Wii U GamePad.

But as a second screen employed to judiciously whack away at fields of Fallen Overseers and Flesh Gorgers or Bone Reavers and Boggits in a game like Diablo 3, it leaves a lot to be desired. I say this not to slag Diablo 3 itself, which is at least as terrific on the PS4 and Xbox One as it is on the PS3 and Xbox 360 (I now prefer the consoles versions to the PC original).

I mention it only to warn Vita owners who may be eyeing Remote Play as a selling point for the PS4 version of the game, out Tuesday, August 19. It’s not.

Fire up Diablo 3 on the Vita courtesy the PS4 and you’re transported to a world that’ll give you some sense of what yours is going to feel like when you’re finally trundling through middle age with a pair of reading glasses dangling from shirt pocket or lapel. Words that correspond to face button selections in the game and that look just right on a TV screen per Blizzard’s PC-to-console redesign are practically Lilliputian on the Vita’s minuscule display. The text in my copy of The Compact Oxford English Dictionary — which reduces the entire 20-volume to a single grimoire-sized tome resized by a third of its original dimensions — is roughly on par. Of course, this dictionary comes with one of those slide-over magnifying lenses; the Vita has no such feature.

Text-schmext. Who cares, you’re probably saying. It’s a Blizzard game! Granted, no one plays Diablo 3 for the sculpted prose or imaginative plotting, but let’s say you ignore the writing team’s potboiler blather — there’s a lot of gameplay-specific stuff that’s lost in the shrunken muddle, even if you hold the Vita close and squint.

You’ll need to memorize face-button ability assignments, for instance, because the icons at screen bottom identifying what’s what are lookalike blobs of light smaller than eraser heads. Secondary feedback panels are equally obscure: you can tell you’re benefitting from some sort of power-up, but only that, the icon-of-whatever in its nanoscale square rendered inscrutable.

Just keeping your bearings turns into a needle-hunt: the automap at maximum zoom becomes a faint overlay that’ll let you keep track of the edges of things or pinpoint simplistic map icons like red hearts (healing nodes), but where points of interest lie clustered together, you might as well be sorting specks of sand in an anthill. And the game’s informational nexus, where you fiddle your inventory and skills or check your paragon level and quest objectives, is…actually not too bad, except when you’re looking at colored text. Deep blue (normal magical) items, which look deep purple to me, are almost illegible against the screen’s black background.

As usual, the Vita’s rear touchpad stands in for the missing DualShock secondary triggers, but it’s about as reliable as Microsoft’s Kinect, failing to trigger at first tap about a third of the time. If you’re standing back a ways from a cluster of enemies, no problem, but get yourself blocked up by a squad of Wallers, say, and that lack of one-to-one hair-trigger dependability leads to wasted potion quaffing at best, and at worst, sudden (and unwarranted) death.

Have you ever held a DualShock controller next to the Vita? Try it, paying attention to the length of the thumb controllers. You could stack at least two of the Vita’s nubs to meet one of DualShock 4’s, and that’s being conservative when you factor in the subsurface rotary base and joint. There’s significantly less play, in other words, which when you factor in the Vita’s inherent screen lag, makes for fussy results. Where I have yet to misfire an Entangling Shot wielding the DualShock 4 playing on TV, when playing on the Vita, my Demon Hunter’s missile-fire will careen wide of the mark at least once per scrum, and on occasion fire in the opposite direction. There’s just not enough control space to stretch out and fine-tune your tactics in a game that’s chiefly about tactical fine-tuning.

I’ll give Blizzard this: At least the battle numbers that rise over your or your enemies’ heads are magnified, crit counts or damage amounts looming large for a microsecond, like when you type on an iOS device’s onscreen keyboard. If you just want to wade into a level and farm a bit without tactical nuance, keeping tabs on the mathematical results, it’s doable. But I wouldn’t call it enjoyable.

Like I said, I love Diablo 3 on the PS4, I’m just pointing out that the Vita as a second-screen device for a game like this — and for others with similar problems, like Assassin’s Creed 4 or Need for Speed: Rivals – is an afterthought, something no one’s really designing to. Who can blame them? You’re essentially taking a sledgehammer to an exterior wall and trying to convince someone the hole you get is a window.

Diablo 3 is one of these games that might have worked as a native Vita port, assuming you could get the camera down close enough without breaking design elements specially tailored for the target resolutions (say precisely how far such-and-such spell travels across the screen). It’ll never get one, of course, because no one’s buying the Vita as a destination platform these days, so we’re left with Remote Play’s interpolated half-measures.

This is not, to be fair to the Vita (and Sony, and Blizzard), the Vita’s fault. It wasn’t designed to play games like Diablo 3 on its otherwise gorgeous five-inch OLED screen, or with its tiny thumb nubs in lieu of a full-sized gamepad with full-fledged thumb sticks. Studios will sometimes admit that porting an older game to a newer system and giving it the HD trimmings isn’t a horsepower or even recompilation conundrum so much as an interface or asset scalability one. That’s the trouble with so many Remote Play games, and the reason why games like Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD take years instead of a few brief months to come together.

TIME Video Games

There’s Life on Mars in Bungie’s Latest Destiny Trailer

Mars is the kind of place to raise your kids, so long as they're comfortable wearing something Dune-ish and come packing heat.

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Is it really mid-August already? We’ve less than a month until Destiny lands on September 9 for PlayStation and Xbox platforms like a thermobaric bunker-buster, taking the wind out of everything else’s sails through September’s remainder and possibly beyond.

We spent the beta period that just ended exclusively exploring alien-infested ruins on Earth, so the latest trailer should be of more than passing interest as it highlights a very different off-planet locale central to the game’s sprawling mythology, and one we’ve only glimpsed so far: the planet Mars, hundreds of years in our future.

Here’s Bungie’s tease:

What little we know of Mars may as well be a myth. We built a massive metropolis in the red dust. No one knows what remains of our lost age, now buried beneath the dunes.

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