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Flame-breathing RC dragon flies for only $60,000

If drones are the future, then this is the past that’s coming to a future near you.


(Credit:
Hammacher Schlemmer)

Lately, with the number of us who are obsessed with “Game of Thrones” and Dragon Age: Inquisition, I can comfortably say that dragons are once again “on fire” without having to worry that I’ll be fired for making such a geektastic pun. I think it’s safe to say that even Madonna would approve.

So it makes sense, then, that this would a good moment in history for Hammacher Schlemmer to begin a selling an actual flying, propane-flame-breathing, remote-controlled dragon for a mere $60,000 per beast.

The good news, of course, is that once you put out all that coin on your own dragon, he can help you steal and hoard gold from those less worthy. So, really, think of your dragon as an investment in a reserve currency that has stood the test of time going to back the days of, well, of dragons.

This particular RC dragon model is the design of Richard Hamel, who has been making the rounds with his creation and winning awards at RC shows in recent years.

The consumer (read: elite consumer) model offered through Hammacher Schlemmer claims to be capable of flying at up to 70 mph. It’s propane-fueled breath only works when it’s on the ground, so you can use it to scare the neighbor kids out of your driveway, but not burn down their parents’ house. That’s probably a good thing, as the literature teaches us that actual flying and fire-breathing dragons are generally a bad thing for society.

According to its specs, the flying dragon has a 9-foot wingspan and weighs 40 pounds. That’s big enough to strike a little fear in the hearts of peasants, but small enough to be manageable.

See more with Hamel and his creation in this video, and let us know in the comments if you plan to start saving up your gold doubloons for one.

(Via Gizmodo)

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Unreal Engine 4 subscription model announced by Epic

Unreal Engine 4 subscription model announced by Epic

Epic Games announced the engine’s subscription model during its GDC press conference.


Epic Games has released its Unreal Engine 4 on a subscription bases for developers.

Previously only available to be licensed for millions of dollars, the popular engine will be accessible for $19 a month with a flat 5% royalty fee payable on any game sales on products powered by the engine.

The subscription will grant access to the full C++ source code which will be downloadable from GitHub and developers will be able to create games for PC, Mac, iOS and Android systems. Console support has not been included in the initial release but may come later depending on the deals Epic can strike with Microsoft and Sony.

The move aims to bring Unreal Engine to a much wider audience whereas before it was only viable to the largest triple-A developers and publishers.

‘We’re rethinking our whole business in how we make Unreal Engine available to individuals and to teams,’ said Epic Games co-founder and chief executive Tim Sweeney talking at GDC. ‘This is a bold new step for Epic, but we think it’s an appropriate one given the new size of the games industry. It’s grown into a very open one, where absolutely anyone can develop a game and ship it.’

Developers are not required to sign up for any fixed term for the subscription and are welcome to drop in and out. A cancelled subscription will mean developers can still access the development tools but just won’t receive any of the updates from Epic.

Epic warns that Unreal Engine 4 requires a significantly powerful desktop computer, and is also still rough round the edges. Anyone expecting a more polished product is asked to ‘check back in 6 months’.

Check out the Unreal Engine 4 in action below.

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Good Old Games ditches regional pricing

Good Old Games ditches regional pricing

Good Old Games launched in 2008 and specialises in classic PC games that many gamers would otherwise find difificult to get running on modern machines.


Digital distributor Good Old Games is dropping plans to sell certain titles from larger studios at different prices depending on the region they are being bought in.

The retro game specialist unveiled a regional pricing model last month which was intended to help them strike more deals with larger publishers. The announcement generated more than ten thousand responses criticising the move so in response GOG has decided not to implement the plan.

‘We thought DRM-Free was so important you’d prefer we bring you more DRM-Free games and Fair Price was less critical and that it could be sacrificed in some cases,’ reads a blog post from co-founder Marcin Iwinski and managing director Guillaume Rambourg. ‘We shouldn’t sacrifice one of our core values in an attempt to advance another.’

The post further explains that dropping regional pricing means that it might take the company longer to reach deals on some newer releases where publishers insist on different prices around the globe and they might not be able to strike a deal with some companies at all.

GOG is proposing that to maintain a flat price it will make up the price difference itself, initially in additional game codes but also through store credit once it has the system set up.

Although regional pricing is being dropped, GOG does still intend to introduce pricing in local currencies to make it easier for non-US gamers to buy from the store.

Good Old Games was launched in 2008 and is owned by Witcher publisher CD Projekt RED. It initially built a name for itself by selling DRM-free patched versions of classic PC games for between $5 and $10. In 2012, it also began selling more recent titles, also stripped of their DRM systems.

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Exclusive cover peek at latest Ian Doescher ‘Star Wars’ parody


Behold the new cover of quot;William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Returnquot; by Ian Doescher, illustrated by Nicolas Delort.

Behold the new cover of “William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return” by Ian Doescher, illustrated by Nicolas Delort. (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
Quirk Books)

Life’s but an Ewoking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return” — the third installment of Shakespeare’s “Star Wars” parody books by Ian Doescher from Quirk Books — hits bookshelves on July 1, and CNET got an exclusive look at the cover.

On it, Jabba the Hutt takes his place as the ultimate Shakespearean villain. Will Princess Leia’s metal bikini, the treacherous sarlacc pit, and Ewoks and the Battle of Endor all be given the Shakespearean treatment? Fans will have to wait until the summer to discover what exactly is in store for their favorite characters in this homage to George Lucas’ iconic “Star Wars” film “Return of the Jedi.”

“‘William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return’ follows all the conventions I’ve put in place this far and adds a few more,” Doescher explained. “We get to see how the Ewoks might have spoken in Shakespeare’s time, some minor characters end up with big speeches, there’s another Fool to rival R2-D2, and there are more songs than in either of the first two books. There may or may not be Elizabethan gangsta rap in Jabba’s Palace.”

While waiting for July 1 to arrive, fans can pick up “William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back,” which goes on sale March 18.

Watch the new book trailer for “William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back” to see what light through Yoda’s window breaks.

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The Web at 25: How it won the White House — and won me back

On assignment.


(Credit:
Johanna DeBiase)

This week I’ve been celebrating 25 years of the Web by retracing my own life, lived largely online, from the Web’s early years to the dot-com boom and bust to the slow emergence of Web 2.0, which I largely missed while in self-imposed digital exile in Alaska. In the final installment today I look at how I came back to the Web just in time for things to get really good.

Look through my author’s profile here at CNET and you might notice that I’m a bit obsessed with following the latest developments in the mobile world, from even the most hopeful iPhone rumors to torture-testing ruggedized Android phones. But back in January of 2007 when the first iPhone was introduced, arguably kicking off the global smartphone craze and eventually helping to push the mobile Web into the mainstream, I missed it completely.

I was focused on being a new father at the time, and although I was back living in the contiguous United States after a stint in a fly-in village in the Alaskan bush where even landline calls came with a 3-second satellite delay, I still had not yet fully re-immersed myself in digital life.

The events of the prior seven years — from being part of the dot-com bust to witnessing firsthand the impacts of climate change in Alaska and touring the mind-boggling nation that is modern China — had all led me to believe that my skills as a journalist might be better used covering issues like energy, the environment, and the politics that drive these for a national radio audience rather than tracking every movement of the hottest startups.

My time in the wilderness had turned me from the hardest-core digital devotee into someone more like my grandmother, a remarkably well-informed octogenarian who has still never touched a keyboard to this day, at least to my knowledge.

But here’s one of the secrets to life that I finally learned the day my now-6-year-old daughter was born: time is our only truly finite resource (although Google and people like Ray Kurzweil seem to be working to change that). Yes, I know it sounds like a ridiculous headline from Thought Catalog, but when faced with the desire to use my time more efficiently so I could spend more of it with my new family, the prospect of reporting on our highly repetitive and inefficient political processes began to feel increasingly corrosive for my soul.

Don’t get me wrong, we could probably use more people scouring the political beat, but it was during the presidential campaign in 2008 that I began to realize I was just over it. Ironically, after covering politics helped draw me away from a career on the Web, it was the unprecedented use of the Web — particularly the social Web — during that campaign that drew me back online.

Tumblr-dry my soul
It wasn’t until August 2008 that Facebook reached 100 million global users (yes, just one-twelfth of its current user count), and the Obama campaign in particular bombarded many of those users with advertising on the social network that encouraged more than 3 million to sign up as supporters of the candidate on Facebook. On election day, 5.4 million people clicked the “I Voted” button on Facebook’s Election ’08 page.

Using this social presence, combined with the campaign’s own social network and an aggressive email and texting campaign, Obama raised half a billion dollars for the campaign on the Web alone. By comparison, the amount of contributions to all candidates from all sources in the 2004 campaign was just $880 million, according to figures from the Federal Election Commission. Arguably, the Web had won the White House for the first time ever.

In 25 years the Web has gone from being ignored to practically winning the White House.


(Credit:

PresidentObama
)

Blogs also played an unprecedented role in that campaign, both the influential partisan sites like DailyKos and HotAir, and official blogs of the candidates that encouraged participation and posting by supporters. I had kept an eye on the blogosphere over the years, even from rural Alaska, and became completely enamored with Tumblr in early 2008, finding it to be a perfect tool to let off steam with a bit of outright mockery of the political system I was becoming increasingly frustrated with covering.

After a six-year absence, I had created yet another in a long line of half-assed Web sites to my name to share my disorganized thoughts with the world. I was back, baby!

My Tumblr was tiny but grew surprisingly quickly by satirizing the hot political stories of the day, and helped bring me fully back to working on the Web with a gig as an editor at AOL in 2009. Something about working for the company that first introduced me to the Web in the mid-’90s and even helped me score my first kiss had the poetic feel of an Elton John song. But as it turns out, the AOL of this century is much different than the one that nurtured me in my youth and I only lasted there for about nine months. But no biggie, as the folks I met through AOL were and continue to be awesome, and it eventually led me here to Crave, where once again, after a nearly decade-long hiatus, I finally felt at home on the Web again.

So that’s my story of love, loss, exile, and homecoming on the Web, spanning almost its entire 25-year history — from an awkward adolescence through the bubble that burst in our faces to the epic quest for meaning amid the chaos of worlds both physical and digital that leads us to today, and a mature Web that isn’t quite perfect, but is pretty damn cool.

#HappyBirthdayAndManyMore


(Credit:
Johanna DeBiase)

But in wrapping this up it also seems only natural to ask what’s next for the Web. I don’t actually think my opinion on that is particularly valuable, but fortunately we did ask the guy who dreamed the whole thing up 25 years ago.

What does strike me, though, is that my first exposure to a computer came at age 8, to online services about four years later, and finally to the Web at age 15. Almost two decades after that, it is the central interface for my life, following important daily face-to-face time with the two redheads I share an abode with, of course.

The smallest of those redheads, my daughter, could perform basic operations on a
tablet at age 2, followed a few years later by surfing certain Web sites on a Netbook. Today she already does homework and pretty major science and craft projects on the Web. By the time she’s my age, with the growth of the Internet of Things and of her digital skills, I have to wonder if she might really be living life on the Web, in a more literal way.

I just hope she takes time out to see the Arctic along the way — the Northern Lights are way more spectacular in person than on YouTube.

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Dong Nguyen on the return of Flappy Bird: ‘I’m considering it’

This picture taken on February 5, 2014, shows Nguyen Ha Dong, the author of the game Flappy Bird relaxing inside a coffee shop in Hanoi.


(Credit:
STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The creator of Flappy Bird is doing quite well since he decided to pull the smartphone game from the iOS App and Google Play Stores last month. Dong Nguyen, the 28-year-old Hanoi, Vietnam-based game designer, is still making tens of thousands of dollars off the addictive mobile hit that pushed smartphone users to a game-playing fever pitch, as well as his other titles, Shuriken Block and Super Ball Juggling, that earned success by association.

The clones are countless; a new one was sprouting up on the App Store an average of every 24 minutes in the immediate wake of Flappy Bird’s demise. Even now, three knockoffs currently sit in the top 10 of free iOS games. And announcing via Twitter that he was pulling Flappy Bird with one day’s notice earned the game more than 10 million downloads in 22 hours alone.

“I can’t go back to my life before, but I’m good now,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview published Tuesday, accompanied by a picture of the chain-smoking Nguyen with his now-trademark look: clean-cut with minimalistic dress and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. But despite finally finding peace from the torrent of online abuse, criticism, and allegations of fraud, Nguyen reasserted that the decision to yank Flappy Bird from the spotlight was as much for his own mental well-being as it was for those who played his creation.

Nguyen detailed some of the more personal interactions with those who fell prey to the kind of addictive tendencies that game makers like King now purposefully target with Candy Crush and other top-grossing mobile hits. For instance, Nguyen was told of people who had lost their jobs, mothers who had stopped speaking with their children, and school children who had smashed their phones, all apparently because of Flappy Bird and its addictive design. It was something Nguyen never intended or asked for, and yet had no control over.

“At first I thought they were just joking,” he said. “But I realize they really hurt themselves.” Nguyen pointed out that, as an avid Counter Strike fan whose grades suffered from his over-playing, he knows how games can be as addictive and destructive as any other vice, and that he hated the fact that he was putting people through that. “Please take a break,” a suggestion Nguyen began tweeting to obsessive Flappy Bird players in the waning days of his sparse online presence, will now accompany any future games Nguyen releases in the form of a warning message.

Rolling Stone’s David Kushner also got Nguyen to open up about his upbringing and design influences. Nguyen revealed that he first fell in love with games by playing Super Mario Bros. on a knockoff Nintendo his parents bought for him and his brother because of the expensive nature of imported electronics, especially early GameBoys.

A hand-drawn picture of Mario even sat above his desk throughout the course of the holiday weekend celebrating Reunification Day, marking the end of the Vietnam War, that Nguyen spent creating Flappy Bird. The intention was simple: Make a game that could be played with one hand on the subway, and could process the simplest input — a single tap — anywhere on the screen, yet make it simple and incredibly difficult to get good at, like a paddle ball toy. Throwing in some nostalgic Nintendo love from his childhood, Nguyen pushed out Flappy Bird and watched as it lay dormant for months.

“The bird is flying along peacefully,” Nguyen said, “and all of a sudden you die!” The inherent humor of that design was on purpose, he said, but it also created a craving to continue playing.


(Credit:
Screenshots by Nick Statt/CNET)

Years earlier, Nguyen spent time honing his programming, building a chess game at age 16 and, at age 19, joining Punch Entertainment, a Hanoi game studio that was a rarity for the Vietnam capital back in the early ’00s. There he earned a reputation for independent thinking and coding proficiency. Nguyen echoed that assessment when asked for the defining reason he pulled Flappy Bird: “I’m master of my own fate,” he said. “Independent thinker.”

It was originally reported last month that Nguyen lived with his parents in a modest home. Now, thanks to his wealth, he’s thinking of buying his own apartment and a Mini Cooper while he stays with a friend. With a newfound passport and the financial cushion to quit his job, Nguyen is back to designing games, including a jetpack endless-runner variant called Kitty Jetpack and a chess game called Checkonaut.

As for an official Flappy Bird rebirth, “I’m considering it,” Nguyen said. Beyond that, he doesn’t spend too much time thinking about the game’s rise, the aftermath of its popularity explosion, or the numerous clones it’s still now generating, though he sees frequent offers from interested buyers. “People can clone the app because of its simplicity,” he said, “but they will never make another Flappy Bird.”

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Robotic arm gives amputee drummer better beats

Robotic drum arm

One drumstick is controlled by muscle movement, the other “listens” and plays on its own.


(Credit:
Georgia Tech)

When drummer Jason Barnes lost his lower right arm to electrocution two years ago, his future as a musician didn’t look too promising. But thanks to a new robotic arm invented by Professor Gil Weinberg, founding director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, he may soon be the envy of the drumming world.

That’s because the new mechanical arm effectively gives Barnes the ability to use three different drumsticks while playing his kit. He holds the first in his left hand, as always. The other two are held by the robotic arm attached to Barnes’ right bicep. One of those sticks is controlled by the up-and-down motion of Barnes’ arm, as well as electrical impulses from his body measured by electromyography muscle sensors.

The other stick however, analyzes the rhythm being played and uses a built-in motor to improvise on its own, adding a dimension to drumming that’s heretofore not seen on any stage we know of.

“The second drumstick has a mind of its own,” Weinberg said in a statement. “The drummer essentially becomes a cyborg. It’s interesting to see him playing and improvising with part of his arm that he doesn’t totally control.”

Barnes finds it more than interesting. “I’ll bet a lot of metal drummers might be jealous of what I can do now,” he said. “Speed is good. Faster is always better,” he said, referring to the fact that the autonomous stick can move more quickly than humanly possible.

The drumming arm is an extension of Weinberg’s previous work; among other thing, he has created one robot that could play the drums and one that could play the marimba. Both robots could jam with human counterparts thanks to programmed algorithms. The autonomous third stick uses similar technology to “listen” to what’s being played and add its own appropriate track. If the drummer doesn’t want to hear the extra stick, he can simply rotate his arm so it doesn’t strike the drum.

Beyond making music, Weinberg sees applications for his technology in outer space or the operating room, where a third arm could help astronauts or surgeons orchestrate complex operations.

You can see Barnes trying out the device in the video below. He’ll rock it in public for the first time at the Robotic Musicianship Demonstration and Concert at Kennesaw State University on March 22.

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The Last of Us strikes film deal

The Last of Us strikes film deal

The Last of Us was released in June 2013 and saw its first major DLC release, Left Behind, last month.


The Last of Us is to have a live-action film adaptation that is already entering pre-production.

The critically acclaimed title from Naughty Dog will be adapted by Ghost House Pictures headed up by Sam Raimi and will be distributed by Screen Gems.

Naughty Dog co-presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, game director Bruce Straley and creative director Neil Druckmann will also be involved in creating the film.

The Last of Us was brought to the attention of the studios thanks to its emphasis on narrative. Wells commented to Deadline that he saw Screen Gems and Ghost House as ‘a perfect fit’ for the project and that many other studios have previously approached them about making a film out of the game.

Video games long ago drew the attention of Hollywood and several popular franchises currently have films in the works. Sam Raimi was also at one point attached to direct the long-awaited World of Warcraft film.

Other series that have film projects under-way include Assassin’s Creed and earlier this month it was revealed that Warner Brothers is working on a film adaptation of Minecraft.

Earlier this week, Uncharted writer and creative director Amy Hennig left Naughty Dog after 10 years at the company. Early reports suggested that she had been forced out of the company by Druckmann and Straley but the two have subsequently released a statement denying that this is what occurred.

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Surprise! Apple’s Tim Cook is both scary and caring, says new book

The power of silence?


(Credit:
CNET)

So much time, effort, and emotion are expended on analyzing everything at Apple that it’s a wonder surprises still manage to emerge.

But on hearing that a new book called “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs” was to emerge, some felt a tinge of excitement.

Written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane, it promised (at least in some imaginations) to reveal secrets of Cupertino life.

An excerpt from the book was published Friday in the Journal and the revelations are few.

If you’d imagined that Apple CEO Tim Cook didn’t have quite the same style as Steve Jobs, this excerpt confirms it. He is described as not having “the quasi-religious authority that Jobs had radiated.”

He is also described as “arguably a better manager than Jobs.”

There are many of the already received wisdoms about Cook being more practical, more pragmatic, more orderly, more disciplined, and more modest.

Thankfully, he is still described as being scary. “He could strike terror in the hearts of his subordinates,” says the book. That’s a relief. It would be awful if Apple had suddenly turned into a holiday camp for the indolent.

There are levels of scary, however. Jobs, so the legend goes, could make people quake with his temper, insults, and obsession with detail. Cook, on the other hand, apparently describes himself as “The Attila the Hun of inventory.” Which sounds all too much like the Rasputin of socks.

Instead of using the rant to communicate displeasure, Cook apparently uses the power of silence — a silence that is only broken by him opening an energy bar.

He is said to live as ascetic life, with no known close friends, no conversation about his personal life, and a modest style of living. (Yes, his first sports
car was a used Boxster. The shame of it.)

There is also evidence of his generosity. He volunteered at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, as well as giving away his air miles as Christmas gifts. He also instituted a charity program at Apple, the lack of which Jobs was criticized for.

It may well be that more shocking, salacious, surprising things might still emerge from this book, due to be published March 18.

From this excerpt, though, it’s hard not to conclude that Cook is running what is now a slightly different company from the one Jobs propelled.

In order to do that successfully, he has to think different. This kind of different simply may not be as exciting as the last.

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Kepler data dig strikes galactic gold with 715 new planets

February 27th, 2014 No comments

Earth seems to become less special with each passing year.


(Credit:
NASA)

NASA has announced a whole new world of whole new worlds revealed in data from the now crippled planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft. In a press conference on Wednesday, the Kepler team said it has verified the existence of 715 previously unconfirmed planets circling 305 other stars.

This is the biggest single haul of verified planets ever culled from Kepler data, bringing the total number of confirmed planets beyond our solar system to just under 1,700. Perhaps even more exciting is the fact that 95 percent of these newly discovered planets are smaller than Neptune, making them relatively the same size as Earth in a galactic sense — Neptune is only four times the size of Earth, whereas Jupiter is over 10 times larger than our home planet (in terms of circumference).

Additionally, four of the new planets are even closer to the size of Earth (less than 2.5 times our size) and also circle their sun in its habitable zone where conditions for liquid water and perhaps life could be possible.

This new list of planets doesn’t actually come from new observations made by Kepler, but instead by going back to the first two years of the mission. NASA analyzed data collected during observations made from May 2009 to March 2011 of stars that appear to be circled by multiple exoplanet candidates and identified patterns for several planets orbiting a single star.

“Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates — but they were only candidate worlds,” said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “We’ve now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds.”

Requiem for Kepler? NASA’s pioneering planet-finder (pictures)

Part of the reason it’s possible to observe distant planets this way is that orbits in multiple-planet systems are flat and circular, like tree rings on the two-dimensional cross-section of a pine. If the planets orbited to the left or right and above or below each other like electrons around the nucleus of an atom, it would be much more difficult to spot these planets.

This is likely just the beginning of a coming avalanche of new planet discoveries, as there is another two more years of Kepler data waiting to be analyzed in this new fashion. New advanced telescopes are also planned for places like Chile and Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, as well as the coming successor to the Hubble space telescope, the next-generation Webb telescope.

Looks like it could be time to start brushing up on your starship piloting skills a little sooner than we might have guessed.

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