New Book Remembers LAN Parties and the 1990s ‘Multiplayer Revolution’

CNN looks back to when “dial-up internet (and its iconic dial tone) was ‘still a thing…”

“File-sharing services like Napster and LimeWire were just beginning to take off… And in sweaty dorm rooms and sparse basements across the world, people brought their desktop monitors together to set up a local area network (LAN) and play multiplayer games — “Half-Life,” “Counter-Strike,” “Starsiege: Tribes,” “StarCraft,” “WarCraft” or “Unreal Tournament,” to name just a few. These were informal but high-stakes gatherings, then known as LAN parties, whether winning a box of energy drinks or just the joy of emerging victorious. The parties could last several days and nights, with gamers crowded together among heavy computers and fast food boxes, crashing underneath their desks in sleeping bags and taking breaks to pull pranks on each other or watch movies…

It’s this nostalgia that prompted writer and podcaster Merritt K to document the era’s gaming culture in her new photobook “LAN Party: Inside the Multiplayer Revolution.” After floating the idea on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, she received an immediate — and visceral — response from old-school gamers all too keen to share memories and photos from LAN parties and gaming conventions across the world… It’s strange to remember that the internet was once a place you went to spend time with other real people; a tethered space, not a cling-film-like reality enveloping the corporeal world from your own pocket….

Growing up as a teenager in this era, you could feel a sense of hope (that perhaps now feels like naivete) about the possibilities of technology, K explained. The book is full of photos featuring people smiling and posing with their desktop monitors, pride and fanfare apparent… “It felt like, ‘Wow, the future is coming,'” K said. “It was this exciting time where you felt like you were just charting your own way. I don’t want to romanticize it too much, because obviously it wasn’t perfect, but it was a very, very different experience….”

“We’ve kind of lost a lot of control, I think over our relationship to technology,” K said. “We have lost a lot of privacy as well. There’s less of a sense of exploration because there just isn’t as much out there.”

One photo shows a stack of Mountain Dew cans (remembering that by 2007 the company had even released a line of soda called “Game Fuel”). “It was a little more communal,” the book’s author told CNN. “If you’re playing games in the same room with someone, it’s a different experience than doing it online. You can only be so much of a jackass to somebody who was sitting three feet away from you…”

They adds that that feeling of connecting to people in other places “was cool. It wasn’t something that was taken for granted yet.”

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”Tetris Reversed’? Alexey Pajitnov Shows Footage From Rediscovered Prototype for ‘Tetris’ Sequel

Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov and others spoke at the Game Developers Conference about Tetris Reversed, reports VentureBeat — and told the story of “a lost prototype of a Tetris game that was never published.”

But little did Pajitnov know that an engineer in charge of the game, Vedran Klanac, had kept a copy of it. Through the help of intermediaries, he showed it to Pajitnov and the two shared their memories of what happened to the lost game…

Pajitnov has lived in the U.S. since 1991, where he has been involved in the development of games such as Pandora’s Box and worked with companies such as Microsoft and WildSnake Software… Klanac is the CEO of Ocean Media, and he is originally from Zagreb, Croatia. He was an aerospace engineer who started his career in the games industry with Croteam where he built the physics engine for Serious Sam 2.
Since 2006, he has been running Ocean Media, a game publishing company with a focus on consoles. During the last 20 years, he was involved in production as a programmer and executive producer in more than 200 projects. And it turns out he was the programmer who created the Tetris Reversed code based on instructions from Pajitnov, who had passed them on through a middleman. In 2011, programmer Vedran Klanac went to the NLGD Festival of Games in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He listened to a talk on a charitable effort from Martin de Ronde, a cofounder of game studio Guerrilla Games. Klanac said in an interview with GamesBeat that he listened to De Ronde’s talk and offered to help. De Ronde came back months later saying he had an agreement with Pajitnov about creating a new prototype for a Tetris game.

De Ronde asked if Klanac if he wanted to make Tetris Reversed by Pajitnov.

“Are you kidding me?” Klanac reacted.

The idea is still to survive as long as you can, according to the article — but the entire playfield was accessible. “For the first time in public, they showed the video of the prototype in action,” according to the article, which also records Pajitnov reaction. “When you see the gameplay video, and when you look at the design elements. This is Tetris for like 300 IQ people.”

No word on yet on whether the game will ever be officially published.

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Atari Will Release a Mini Edition of Its 1979 Atari 400 (Which Had An 8-Bit MOS 6502 CPU)

An 1979 Atari 8-bit system re-released in a tiny form factor? Yep.
Retro Games Ltd. is releasing a “half-sized” version of its very first home computer, the Atari 400, “emulating the whole 8-bit Atari range, including the 400/800, XL and XE series, and the 5200 home console. (“In 1979 Atari brought the computer age home,” remembers a video announcement, saying the new device represents “The iconic computer now reimagined.”)
More info from ExtremeTech:

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Atari 400 and 800 were launched in 1979 as the company’s first attempt at a home computer that just happened to double as an incredible game system. That’s because, in addition to a faster variant of the excellent 8-bit MOS 6502 CPU found in the Apple II and Commodore PET, they also included Atari’s dedicated ANTIC, GTIA, and POKEY coprocessors for graphics and sound, making the Atari 400 and 800 the first true gaming PCs…

If it’s as good as the other Retro Games systems, the [new] 400Mini will count as another feather in the cap for Atari Interactive’s resurgence following its excellent Atari50 compilation, reissued Atari 2600+ console, and acquisitions of key properties including Digital Eclipse, MobyGames, and AtariAge.

The 2024 version — launching in the U.K. March 28th — will boast high-definition HDMI output at 720p 50 or 60Hz, along with five USB ports. More details from Retro Games Ltd.
Also included is THECXSTICK — a superb recreation of the classic Atari CX-40 joystick, with an additional seven seamlessly integrated function buttons. Play one of the included 25 classic Atari games, selected from a simple to use carousel, including all-time greats such as Berzerk, Missile Command, Lee, Millipede, Miner 2049er, M.U.L.E. and Star Raiders II, or play the games you own from USB stick. Plus save and resume your game at any time, or rewind by up to 30 seconds to help you finish those punishingly difficult classics!
Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader elfstones for sharing the article.

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Six Months Later, Poker Player Garrett Adelstein Still Thinks He Was Cheated

In October professional poker player Garrett Adelstein lost to a relative newcomer. Last month 15,000 viewers tuned in for his first new public interview, Poker News reports. Adelstein “reiterated his confidence that he was cheated,” and said he will not fund the $135,000 the newcomer gave hiim as a peace offering.

[Newcomer Robbi Jade Lew] denied cheating and Hustler’s third-party investigation concluded there was “no evidence of wrongdoing.” Early in the two-hour interview, Polk asked his guest if he still feels the same about what went down on that memorable evening. “In essence, I stand completely by the statement I made. I think it’s extremely likely that I was cheated,” the high-stakes pro responded… Adelstein said that Lew “has a lot of balls” to return to live-stream poker after, as he claims, cheating him out of a massive pot…

Over the past six months, numerous poker fans have called for Adelstein to return [the $135,000] to, as they believe, its rightful owner. He instead donated it to a charity. But still many believe the right decision is for him to give it back to Lew. Polk asked him if he would do so. “No, I will not be refunding Robbi the money, period. I am extremely confident I was cheated in this hand,” Adelstein defiantly stated. Adelstein then pleaded with those who are on “Team Robbi” to put themselves in his shoes and and think about how they’d react if they felt they were cheated at the poker table.

The next week — on April 1st — Poker News jokingly reported that Robbi Jade Lew had published a new book titled If I Did It..

The April Fool’s day satire quotes Robbi Jade Lew as saying “I thought it would be fun to write a book about how I would have cheated if I’d actually done it. Which I didn’t….”

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Atari Revives Unreleased Arcade Game That Was Too Damn Hard For 1982 Players

Atari is reviving Akka Arrh, a 1982 arcade game canceled because test audiences found it too difficult. Engadget reports: For the wave shooter’s remake, the publisher is teaming up with developer Jeff Minter, whose psychedelic, synthwave style seems an ideal fit for what Atari describes as “a fever dream in the best way possible.” The remake will be released on PC, PS5 and PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and Atari VCS in early 2023. The original Akka Arrh cabinet used a trackball to target enemies, as the player controls the Sentinel fixed in the center of the screen to fend off waves of incoming attackers. Surrounding the Sentinel is an octagonal field, which you need to keep clear; if enemies slip in, you can zoom in to fend them off before panning back out to fend off the rest of the wave. Given the simplicity of most games in the early 1980s, it’s unsurprising this relative complexity led to poor test-group screenings.

Since Atari pulled the plug on the arcade version before its release, only three Akka Arrh cabinets are known to exist. But the Minter collaboration isn’t the game’s first public availability. After an arcade ROM leaked online in 2019, Atari released the original this fall as part of its Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration collection. […] Atari says the remake has two modes, 50 levels and saves, so you don’t have to start from the beginning when enemies inevitably overrun your Sentinel. Additionally, the company says it offers accessibility settings to tone down the trippy visuals for people sensitive to intense light, color and animations.

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Twitter Turns Its Privacy Policy Into a Videogame about a Dog

What did you think of Twitter Data Dash?
The Guardian describes it as “a Super Nintendo-style browser game that recaps Twitter’s private policy.”

And the Verge applauds the game — released Wednesday — for its “delightful pixel art aesthetic.”

“Welcome to PrivaCity!” reads a description of the game on the site. “Get your dog, Data, safely to the park.

“Dodge cat ads, swim through a sea of DMs, battle trolls, and learn how to take control of your Twitter experience along the way….”

The game itself is a pretty straightforward side-scrolling platformer. Each level is themed around what I can best describe as Twitter Things — one features cats wearing ad boards, another has you avoiding trolls — and your goal is to collect five bones as quickly as you can. If you get the bones, the game will explain something about Twitter’s privacy settings related to that level and even offer a button linking to Twitter’s settings. When you beat the cat ad level, for example, you’ll see a message about how Twitter customizes your experience on the platform and points to where you can turn personalized ads on or off….

Twitter introduced the game as part of a bigger push around its privacy policy, which the company has rewritten. “We’ve emphasized clear language and moved away from legal jargon,” Twitter said on its Safety account.

Gizmodo calls the game “adorable,” but also “buggy”. And they also have some quibbles with its ultimate message:
It’s a bit rich that Twitter made a game about avoiding faceless advertisers when the platform is actively doing everything it can to make ads tougher to avoid….
[A]fter watching our personas bounce from level to level with our lil blue dog in tow, it became clear that this game is less for us — or any Twitter user, really — and more for the company itself. It’s a way to paper over uncomfortable topics like “privacy” and “consent” and “ownership of our personal data” with a lil blue dog, collecting lil bones by hopping across lil stages. Just promise you won’t think about where those bones came from in the first place.

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Can AI Help Us Reimagine Chess?

Three research scientists at DeepMind Technologies teamed up with former world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik to “explore what variations of chess would look like at superhuman level,” according to their new article in Communications of the ACM. Their paper argues that using neural networks and advanced reinforcement learning algorithms can not only surpass all human knowledge of chess, but also “allow us to reimagine the game as we know it….”

“For example, the ‘castling’ move was only introduced in its current form in the 17th century. What would chess have been like had castling not been incorporated into the rules?”

AfterAlphaZero was trained to play 9 different “variants” of chess, it then played 11,000 games against itself, while the researchers assessed things like the number of stalemates and how often the special new moves were actually used. The variations tested:

– Castling is no longer allowed
– Castling is only allowed after the 10th move
– Pawns can only move one square
– Stalemates are a win for the attacking side (rather than a draw)
– Pawns have the option of moving two squares on any turn (and can also be captured en passant if they do)
– Pawns have the option of moving two squares — but only when they’re in the second or third row of squares. (After which they can be captured en passant )
– Pawns can move backwards (except from their starting square).
– Pawns can also move sideways by one square.
– It’s possible to capture your own pieces.
“The findings of our quantitative and qualitative analysis demonstrate the rich possibilities that lie beyond the rules of modern chess.”

AlphaZero’s ability to continually improve its understanding of the game, and reach superhuman playing strength in classical chess and Go, lends itself to the question of assessing chess variants and potential variants of other board games in the future. Provided only with the implementation of the rules, it is possible to effectively simulate decades of human experience in a day, opening a window into top-level play of each variant. In doing so, computer chess completes the circle, from the early days of pitting man vs. machine to a collaborative present of man with machine, where AI can empower players to explore what chess is and what it could become….

The combination of human curiosity and a powerful reinforcement learning system allowed us to reimagine what chess would have looked like if history had taken a slightly different course. When the statistical properties of top-level AlphaZero games are compared to classical chess, a number of more decisive variants appear, without impacting the diversity of plausible options available to a player….
Taken together, the statistical properties and aesthetics provide evidence that some variants would lead to games that are at least as engaging as classical chess.

“Chess’s role in artificial intelligence research is far from over…” their article concludes, arguing that AI “can provide the evidence to take reimagining to reality.”

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Secrets of ‘Space Invaders’ — and One Very Tiny Homegrown Cabinet

IEEE Spectrum has republished an article from nearly 40 years ago remembering one of the long-forgotten secrets of the classic video game Space Invaders.

It’s about that iconic descending musical notes accompanying the onslaught of the aliens…

The more aliens a player shot, the faster they approached; their drumbeat quickened, the tension mounted. Ironically, says Bill Adams, director of game development for Midway Manufacturing Co., of Chicago, Ill., which licensed Space Invaders for sale in the United States, these features of the game were accidental. “The speeding up of the space invaders was just a function of the way the machine worked,” he explained. “The hardware had a limitation — it could only move 24 objects efficiently. Once some of the invaders got shot, the hardware did not have as many objects to move, and the remaining invaders sped up. And the designer happened to put out a sound whenever the invaders moved, so when they sped up, so did the tone.”

Accident or not, the game worked. As of mid-1981, according to Steve Bloom, author of the book Video Invaders, more than 4 billion quarters had been dropped into Space Invaders games around the world — “which roughly adds up to one game per earthling.”

But Space Invaders also enjoyed at least one special home-grown revival earlier this month. Hobbyist Nu Iotachi used an Arduino Pro Micro board to build their own Space Invaders arcade cabinet that’s just 3.15 inches tall (80 millimeters).

Made from thin hand cut plywood with pinhead joysticks, “Its Microchip ATmega328 microcontroller contains a processor running at 16MHz,” reports the project’s site, “which is far faster than the processor in the original Space Invaders arcade cabinet.”

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17-Year-Old Beats Magnus Carlsen in World Rapid Chess Championship

Each player gets 15 minutes for all moves (plus a 10-second-per-move increment) at the World Rapid Chess Championship.

But players only get three minutes for all moves (plus a 2-second-per-move increment) in the World Blitz Chess Championship.

So what happened? World chess champion Magnus Carlsen entered both events, and…

A little-known 17-year-old from Uzbekistan made a clean sweep of Magnus Carlsen and the global chess elite on Tuesday, incidentally setting a world age record. Nodirbek Abdusattorov won the World Rapid championship in Warsaw, claiming en route the scalps of Magnus Carlsen and the No 1’s last two challengers, Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi…

After 21 rounds of three-minute games on Wednesday and Thursday, France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeated Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda in a tie-break to win the World Blitz title. The 18-year-old world No 2, Alireza Firouzja, was third but Carlsen was well adrift in 12th place. He said: “Some days you just don’t have it. I was nowhere near close to the level I needed to be today.”

At 17 years three months Abdusattorov becomes the youngest ever world champion in open competition… After 13 rounds he was in a quadruple tie on 9.5 points with Carlsen, Caruana and Nepomniachtchi, but the regulations excluded Carlsen and Caruana from the play-off due to their inferior tie-breaks. An angry Carlsen denounced the rules as “idiotic. Either all players on the same amount of points join the play-off or no one does…”

[In the final play-off game] Abdusattorov easily drew with Black, then won the second game despite twice missing mate in two near the end.

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Magnus Carlsen Wins 8th World Chess Championship. What Makes Him So Great?

“On Friday, needing just one point against Ian Nepomniachtchi to defend his world champion status, Magnus Carlsen closed the match out with three games to spare, 7.5-3.5,” ESPN reports. “He’s been the No 1 chess player in the world for a decade now…

“In a technologically flat, AI-powered chess world where preparation among the best players can be almost equal, what really makes one guy stand out with his dominance and genius for this long…?

American Grandmaster and chess commentator Robert Hess describes Carlsen as the “hardest worker you’ll find” both at the board and in preparation. “He is second-to-none at evading common theoretical lines and prefers to outplay his opponents in positions where both players must rely on their understanding of the current dynamics,” Hess says…

At the start of this year, news emerged of Nepomniachtchi and his team having access to a supercomputer cluster, Zhores, from the Moscow-based Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology. He was using it for his Candidates tournament preparation, a tournament he went on to win. He gained the challenger status for the World Championship and the Zhores supercomputer reportedly continued to be a mainstay in his team. Zhores was specifically designed to solve problems in machine learning and data-based modeling with a capacity of one Petaflop per second…. Players use computers and open-source AI engines to analyze openings, bolster preparation, scour for a bank of new ideas and to go down lines that the other is unlikely to have explored.

The tiny detail though is, that against Carlsen, it may not be enough. He has the notoriety of drawing opponents into obscure positions, hurling them out of preparation and into the deep end, often leading to a complex struggle. Whether you have the fastest supercomputer on your team then becomes almost irrelevant. It comes down to a battle of intuition, tactics and staying power, human to human. In such scenarios, almost always, Carlsen comes out on top. “[Nepomniachtchi] couldn’t show his best chess…it’s a pity for the excitement of the match,” he said later, “I think that’s what happens when you get into difficult situations…all the preparation doesn’t necessarily help you if you can’t cope in the moment….”

Soon after his win on Friday, Carlsen announced he’d be “celebrating” by playing the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Warsaw, a fortnight from now. He presently holds both those titles…

The article also remembers what happened in 2018 when Carlsen was asked to name his favorite chess player from the past. Carlsen’s answer?

“Probably myself, like, three or four years ago.”

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