Tag Archives: dish

DISH and Bell IPTV ‘Pirates’ Pressed to Settle Or Face Legal Action

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/dish-and-bell-iptv-pirates-are-pressed-to-settle-or-face-legal-action-190612/

Traditional file-sharing pirates are no stranger to settlement demands from copyright holders.  For over a decade, companies have been monitoring BitTorrent swarms in an effort to extract cash from alleged infringers. 

These efforts have now carried over to IPTV streaming pirates. Generally speaking, it’s impossible for rightsholders to see who’s using pirate IPTV services unless the provider is willing to hand over customer details. This is exactly what’s happening. 

The IPTV settlement campaign is run by NagraStar, which is a joint venture between DISH Network and Kudelski Group. While some rightsholders try to keep these efforts out of the public eye, NagraStar has a public website explaining in detail what they do. 

The company is already known for demanding settlements from and filing lawsuits against people who decrypt satellite signals including IKS (Intenet Key Sharing) pirates. As Cord Cutters News spotted, this has now carried over to pirate IPTV subscribers. 

NagraStar’s efforts focus on people who obtain programming from DISH Network and Bell TV, without permission. These generally are subscribers of unlicensed IPTV services. These subscriber records are not public, but some vendors hand them over when they are caught. 

“When NagraStar settles with pirates who operate online services that sell illegal content, we commonly receive transaction evidence of all the sales made to end users and secondary resellers. NagraStar uses this information to send letters and emails proposing a settlement amount to avoid litigation,” NagraStar explains.

The company says that these settlements are needed to recoup the losses it suffers from these pirate IPTV services. The demands aren’t cheap either. Pirate subscribers typically get a settlement offer of $3,500 while resellers of unauthorized IPTV subscriptions have to cough up $7,500.

NagraStar knows that many of the targeted subscribers may not realize that they are doing something wrong. However, on paper there appears to be little clemency, aside from the offer to pay the settlement in monthly installments for those who can’t afford to pay at once.

In addition, people who are willing to hand over illicit streaming devices or pirate set-top boxes can get a discount. The same is true for those who are willing to give up their credentials to piracy forums, which NagraStar will likely use to gather further intel.

The company stresses that its letters are not a scam. Ignoring a settlement demand isn’t wise either, it states, noting that the case will then be escalated to its legal team.

“Choosing to ignore this letter will result in your referral to our legal team. This usually leads to a lawsuit, which results in a judgment that is public record,” NagraStar writes.

“In court, every illegal purchase made can carry a hefty fine of up to $10,000. It is in your best interest, as well as NagraStar’s, to settle this matter outside of court with a pre-suit settlement offer to avoid heavy fines and to keep this matter confidential.”

This threatening language is self-serving, of course, and aimed at motivating people to pay up. That said, the risk of a lawsuit is indeed legitimate. NagraStar has previously filed several lawsuits against vendors and individual pirates.

NagraStar’s website also features several testimonies from pirates, or statements of compliance, as they are called. This includes a “Rocket IPTV” pirate, and a former subscriber of an unnamed pirate IPTV service.

While its unlikely that NagraStar will pursue legal action against all who ignore the letters, disregarding the settlement demands is not without risk.

Chicago law firm ‘The Russell Firm‘, which has experience with defending people accused of piracy, including in this matter, urges recipients to take the letters seriously. 

“Whatever you do, do not ignore the letter. Legal matters don’t get cheaper with time. They get more complicated and more expensive,” the law firm advises, noting that they offer a free consultation.

NagraStar, for its part, points out that a lawyer is not required to settle a claim. The company stresses that its associates will do their best to negotiate a reasonable settlement offer, whatever that may be. 

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

SET TV IPTV Reseller A-Box TV Ordered to Pay Dish $2 Million in Damages

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/set-tv-iptv-reseller-a-box-tv-ordered-to-pay-dish-2-million-in-damages-190522/

Last June, popular ‘pirate’ IPTV service SET TV went offline after being sued by DISH Network and encryption partner NagraStar.

In a Florida court, the defendants were accused of creating and selling subscriptions to the SET TV service which, among other things, offered numerous television channels that were unlawfully obtained from DISH’s satellite service and retransmitted to customers.

The $20-per-month platform had offered its subscribers a package of 500 live channels, including on-demand content and PPV broadcasts, sometimes via pre-configured hardware devices.

Last November that case ended in DISH and NagraStar’s favor, with the former awarded statutory damages of $90,199,000 ($500 for each of the 180,398 subscribers SET TV had) following an agreement with SET TV.

“The judgment and injunction against the SetTV service marks a significant victory in the ongoing fight against pay-TV piracy, and a win for consumers who subscribe to legitimate pay-TV services,” DISH said in a statement.

But while the case against SET TV was being wrapped up, another case lay pending. In a second complaint, filed in Florida May 1, 2018, DISH and NagraStar targeted Julie Bishop and her company A-Box TV, which they accused of acting as a reseller for the SET TV service.

“Defendants sell subscriptions and devices for a pirate streaming television service called ‘SET TV’, which includes numerous television channels that were received without authorization from DISH’s satellite service and subsequently retransmitted without authorization on the SET TV pirate streaming service,” the complaint reads.

The filing goes on to list several now-defunct A-Box URLs (including a-boxtv.com, shop.a-boxtv.com, and store.a.boxtv.com) from where the service and associated devices were sold to customers.

A-Box – A SET TV reseller (Website from 2017)

In common with SET TV, A-Box was accused of offering packages costing $20 per month and selling set-top devices pre-loaded with the SET TV service. Among the illegal broadcasts offered to customers was the record-setting Mayweather v. McGregor boxing match, grabbed from the DISH service and unlawfully distributed.

Screengrab from A-Box’s Facebook page (via complaint)

Following the judgment in the SET TV case last year, it seemed unlikely that the case against A-Box would end well for the defendants. That was confirmed Tuesday with District Judge Mary S. Scriven signing off on an agreed judgment and injunction.

The order states that Julie Bishop and A-Box TV LLC are, among other things, permanently enjoined from “redistributing or retransmitting any DISH satellite signal or over-the-top (‘OTT’) signal” and/or “distributing, copying, reproducing, performing, hosting, streaming, or displaying any video programming” owned by DISH or its affiliates.

There are damages too, which are significant.

The defendants are ordered to pay DISH $2,000,000 which represents $10,000 for each violation cited in the complaint. Whether or not that amount will ever be paid is likely to remain unknown but the parties will cover their own attorney’s fees and costs.

The original complaint can be found here and the consent judgment here

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

ISP Questions Impartiality of Judges in Copyright Troll Cases

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/isp-questions-impartiality-of-judges-in-copyright-troll-cases-180602/

Following in the footsteps of similar operations around the world, two years ago the copyright trolling movement landed on Swedish shores.

The pattern was a familiar one, with trolls harvesting IP addresses from BitTorrent swarms and tracing them back to Internet service providers. Then, after presenting evidence to a judge, the trolls obtained orders that compelled ISPs to hand over their customers’ details. From there, the trolls demanded cash payments to make supposed lawsuits disappear.

It’s a controversial business model that rarely receives outside praise. Many ISPs have tried to slow down the flood but most eventually grow tired of battling to protect their customers. The same cannot be said of Swedish ISP Bahnhof.

The ISP, which is also a strong defender of privacy, has become known for fighting back against copyright trolls. Indeed, to thwart them at the very first step, the company deletes IP address logs after just 24 hours, which prevents its customers from being targeted.

Bahnhof says that the copyright business appeared “dirty and corrupt” right from the get go, so it now operates Utpressningskollen.se, a web portal where the ISP publishes data on Swedish legal cases in which copyright owners demand customer data from ISPs through the Patent and Market Courts.

Over the past two years, Bahnhof says it has documented 76 cases of which six are still ongoing, 11 have been waived and a majority 59 have been decided in favor of mainly movie companies. Bahnhof says that when it discovered that 59 out of the 76 cases benefited one party, it felt a need to investigate.

In a detailed report compiled by Bahnhof Communicator Carolina Lindahl and sent to TF, the ISP reveals that it examined the individual decision-makers in the cases before the Courts and found five judges with “questionable impartiality.”

“One of the judges, we can call them Judge 1, has closed 12 of the cases, of which two have been waived and the other 10 have benefitted the copyright owner, mostly movie companies,” Lindahl notes.

“Judge 1 apparently has written several articles in the magazine NIR – Nordiskt Immateriellt Rättsskydd (Nordic Intellectual Property Protection) – which is mainly supported by Svenska Föreningen för Upphovsrätt, the Swedish Association for Copyright (SFU).

“SFU is a member-financed group centered around copyright that publishes articles, hands out scholarships, arranges symposiums, etc. On their website they have a public calendar where Judge 1 appears regularly.”

Bahnhof says that the financiers of the SFU are Sveriges Television AB (Sweden’s national public TV broadcaster), Filmproducenternas Rättsförening (a legally-oriented association for filmproducers), BMG Chrysalis Scandinavia (a media giant) and Fackförbundet för Film och Mediabranschen (a union for the movie and media industry).

“This means that Judge 1 is involved in a copyright association sponsored by the film and media industry, while also judging in copyright cases with the film industry as one of the parties,” the ISP says.

Bahnhof’s also has criticism for Judge 2, who participated as an event speaker for the Swedish Association for Copyright, and Judge 3 who has written for the SFU-supported magazine NIR. According to Lindahl, Judge 4 worked for a bureau that is partly owned by a board member of SFU, who also defended media companies in a “high-profile” Swedish piracy case.

That leaves Judge 5, who handled 10 of the copyright troll cases documented by Bahnhof, waiving one and deciding the remaining nine in favor of a movie company plaintiff.

“Judge 5 has been questioned before and even been accused of bias while judging a high-profile piracy case almost ten years ago. The accusations of bias were motivated by the judge’s membership of SFU and the Swedish Association for Intellectual Property Rights (SFIR), an association with several important individuals of the Swedish copyright community as members, who all defend, represent, or sympathize with the media industry,” Lindahl says.

Bahnhof hasn’t named any of the judges nor has it provided additional details on the “high-profile” case. However, anyone who remembers the infamous trial of ‘The Pirate Bay Four’ a decade ago might recall complaints from the defense (1,2,3) that several judges involved in the case were members of pro-copyright groups.

While there were plenty of calls to consider them biased, in May 2010 the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, a fact Bahnhof recognizes.

“Judge 5 was never sentenced for bias by the court, but regardless of the court’s decision this is still a judge who shares values and has personal connections with [the media industry], and as if that weren’t enough, the judge has induced an additional financial aspect by participating in events paid for by said party,” Lindahl writes.

“The judge has parties and interest holders in their personal network, a private engagement in the subject and a financial connection to one party – textbook characteristics of bias which would make anyone suspicious.”

The decision-makers of the Patent and Market Court and their relations.

The ISP notes that all five judges have connections to the media industry in the cases they judge, which isn’t a great starting point for returning “objective and impartial” results. In its summary, however, the ISP is scathing of the overall system, one in which court cases “almost looked rigged” and appear to be decided in favor of the movie company even before reaching court.

In general, however, Bahnhof says that the processes show a lack of individual attention, such as the court blindly accepting questionable IP address evidence supplied by infamous anti-piracy outfit MaverickEye.

“The court never bothers to control the media company’s only evidence (lists generated by MaverickMonitor, which has proven to be an unreliable software), the court documents contain several typos of varying severity, and the same standard texts are reused in several different cases,” the ISP says.

“The court documents show a lack of care and control, something that can easily be taken advantage of by individuals with shady motives. The findings and discoveries of this investigation are strengthened by the pure numbers mentioned in the beginning which clearly show how one party almost always wins.

“If this is caused by bias, cheating, partiality, bribes, political agenda, conspiracy or pure coincidence we can’t say for sure, but the fact that this process has mainly generated money for the film industry, while citizens have been robbed of their personal integrity and legal certainty, indicates what forces lie behind this machinery,” Bahnhof’s Lindahl concludes.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

Legal Blackmail: Zero Cases Brought Against Alleged Pirates in Sweden

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/legal-blackmail-zero-cases-brought-against-alleged-pirates-in-sweden-180525/

While several countries in Europe have wilted under sustained pressure from copyright trolls for more than ten years, Sweden managed to avoid their controversial attacks until fairly recently.

With Germany a decade-old pit of misery, with many hundreds of thousands of letters – by now probably millions – sent out to Internet users demanding cash, Sweden avoided the ranks of its European partners until two years ago

In September 2016 it was revealed that an organization calling itself Spridningskollen (Distribution Check) headed up by law firm Gothia Law, would begin targeting the public.

Its spokesperson described its letters as “speeding tickets” for pirates, in that they would only target the guilty. But there was a huge backlash and just a couple of months later Spridningskollen headed for the hills, without a single collection letter being sent out.

That was the calm before the storm.

In February 2017, Danish law firm Njord Law was found to be at the center of a new troll operation targeting the subscribers of several ISPs, including Telia, Tele2 and Bredbandsbolaget. Court documents revealed that thousands of IP addresses had been harvested by the law firm’s partners who were determined to link them with real-life people.

Indeed, in a single batch, Njord Law was granted permission from the court to obtain the identities of citizens behind 25,000 IP addresses, from whom it hoped to obtain cash settlements of around US$550. But it didn’t stop there.

Time and again the trolls headed back to court in an effort to reach more people although until now the true scale of their operations has been open to question. However, a new investigation carried out by SVT has revealed that the promised copyright troll invasion of Sweden is well underway with a huge level of momentum.

Data collated by the publication reveals that since 2017, the personal details behind more than 50,000 IP addresses have been handed over by Swedish Internet service providers to law firms representing copyright trolls and their partners. By the end of this year, Njord Law alone will have sent out 35,000 letters to Swede’s whose IP addresses have been flagged as allegedly infringing copyright.

Even if one is extremely conservative with the figures, the levels of cash involved are significant. Taking a settlement amount of just $300 per letter, very quickly the copyright trolls are looking at $15,000,000 in revenues. On the perimeter, assuming $550 will make a supposed lawsuit go away, we’re looking at a potential $27,500,000 in takings.

But of course, this dragnet approach doesn’t have the desired effect on all recipients.

In 2017, Njord Law said that only 60% of its letters received any kind of response, meaning that even fewer would be settling with the company. So what happens when the public ignores the threatening letters?

“Yes, we will [go to court],” said lawyer Jeppe Brogaard Clausen last year.

“We wish to resolve matters as much as possible through education and dialogue without the assistance of the court though. It is very expensive both for the rights holders and for plaintiffs if we go to court.”

But despite the tough-talking, SVT’s investigation has turned up an interesting fact. The nuclear option, of taking people to court and winning a case when they refuse to pay, has never happened.

After trawling records held by the Patent and Market Court and all those held by the District Courts dating back five years, SVT did not find a single case of a troll taking a citizen to court and winning a case. Furthermore, no law firm contacted by the publication could show that such a thing had happened.

“In Sweden, we have not yet taken someone to court, but we are planning to file for the right in 2018,” Emelie Svensson, lawyer at Njord Law, told SVT.

While a case may yet reach the courts, when it does it is guaranteed to be a cut-and-dried one. Letter recipients can often say things to damage their case, even when they’re only getting a letter due to their name being on the Internet bill. These are the people who find themselves under the most pressure to pay, whether they’re guilty or not.

“There is a risk of what is known in English as ‘legal blackmailing’,” says Mårten Schultz, professor of civil law at Stockholm University.

“With [the copyright holders’] legal and economic muscles, small citizens are scared into paying claims that they do not legally have to pay.”

It’s a position shared by Marianne Levine, Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Stockholm University.

“One can only show that an IP address appears in some context, but there is no point in the evidence. Namely, that it is the subscriber who also downloaded illegitimate material,” she told SVT.

Njord Law, on the other hand, sees things differently.

“In Sweden, we have no legal case saying that you are not responsible for your IP address,” Emelie Svensson says.

Whether Njord Law will carry through with its threats will remain to be seen but there can be little doubt that while significant numbers of people keep paying up, this practice will continue and escalate. The trolls have come too far to give up now.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

ISP Telenor Will Block The Pirate Bay in Sweden Without a Shot Fired

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/isp-telenor-will-block-the-pirate-bay-in-sweden-without-a-shot-fired-180520/

Back in 2014, Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, Nordisk Film and the Swedish Film Industry filed a lawsuit against Bredbandsbolaget, one of Sweden’s largest ISPs.

The copyright holders asked the Stockholm District Court to order the ISP to block The Pirate Bay and streaming site Swefilmer, claiming that the provider knowingly facilitated access to the pirate platforms and assisted their pirating users.

Soon after the ISP fought back, refusing to block the sites in a determined response to the Court.

“Bredbandsbolaget’s role is to provide its subscribers with access to the Internet, thereby contributing to the free flow of information and the ability for people to reach each other and communicate,” the company said in a statement.

“Bredbandsbolaget does not block content or services based on individual organizations’ requests. There is no legal obligation for operators to block either The Pirate Bay or Swefilmer.”

In February 2015 the parties met in court, with Bredbandsbolaget arguing in favor of the “important principle” that ISPs should not be held responsible for content exchanged over the Internet, in the same way the postal service isn’t responsible for the contents of an envelope.

But with TV companies SVT, TV4 Group, MTG TV, SBS Discovery and C More teaming up with the IFPI alongside Paramount, Disney, Warner and Sony in the case, Bredbandsbolaget would need to pull out all the stops to obtain victory. The company worked hard and initially the news was good.

In November 2015, the Stockholm District Court decided that the copyright holders could not force Bredbandsbolaget to block the pirate sites, ruling that the ISP’s operations did not amount to participation in the copyright infringement offenses carried out by some of its ‘pirate’ subscribers.

However, the case subsequently went to appeal, with the brand new Patent and Market Court of Appeal hearing arguments. In February 2017 it handed down its decision, which overruled the earlier ruling of the District Court and ordered Bredbandsbolaget to implement “technical measures” to prevent its customers accessing the ‘pirate’ sites through a number of domain names and URLs.

With nowhere left to go, Bredbandsbolaget and owner Telenor were left hanging onto their original statement which vehemently opposed site-blocking.

“It is a dangerous path to go down, which forces Internet providers to monitor and evaluate content on the Internet and block websites with illegal content in order to avoid becoming accomplices,” they said.

In March 2017, Bredbandsbolaget blocked The Pirate Bay but said it would not give up the fight.

“We are now forced to contest any future blocking demands. It is the only way for us and other Internet operators to ensure that private players should not have the last word regarding the content that should be accessible on the Internet,” Bredbandsbolaget said.

While it’s not clear whether any additional blocking demands have been filed with the ISP, this week an announcement by Bredbandsbolaget parent company Telenor revealed an unexpected knock-on effect. Seemingly without a single shot being fired, The Pirate Bay will now be blocked by Telenor too.

The background lies in Telenor’s acquisition of Bredbandsbolaget back in 2005. Until this week the companies operated under separate brands but will now merge into one entity.

“Telenor Sweden and Bredbandsbolaget today take the final step on their joint trip and become the same company with the same name. As a result, Telenor becomes a comprehensive provider of broadband, TV and mobile communications,” the company said in a statement this week.

“Telenor Sweden and Bredbandsbolaget have shared both logo and organization for the last 13 years. Today, we take the last step in the relationship and consolidate the companies under the same name.”

Up until this final merger, 600,000 Bredbandsbolaget broadband customers were denied access to The Pirate Bay. Now it appears that Telenor’s 700,000 fiber and broadband customers will be affected too. The new single-brand company says it has decided to block the notorious torrent site across its entire network.

“We have not discontinued Bredbandsbolaget, but we have merged Telenor and Bredbandsbolaget and become one,” the company said.

“When we share the same network, The Pirate Bay is blocked by both Telenor and Bredbandsbolaget and there is nothing we plan to change in the future.”

TorrentFreak contacted the PR departments of both Telenor and Bredbandsbolaget requesting information on why a court order aimed at only the latter’s customers would now affect those of the former too, more than doubling the blockade’s reach. Neither company responded which leaves only speculation as to its motives.

On the one hand, the decision to voluntarily implement an expanded blockade could perhaps be viewed as a little unusual given how much time, effort and money has been invested in fighting web-blockades in Sweden.

On the other, the merger of the companies may present legal difficulties as far as the court order goes and it could certainly cause friction among the customer base of Telenor if some customers could access TPB, and others could not.

In any event, the legal basis for web-blocking on copyright infringement grounds was firmly established last year at the EU level, which means that Telenor would lose any future legal battle, should it decide to dig in its heels. On that basis alone, the decision to block all customers probably makes perfect commercial sense.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

Bell/TSN Letter to University Connects Site-Blocking Support to Students’ Futures

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/bell-tsn-letter-to-university-connects-site-blocking-support-to-students-futures-180510/

In January, a coalition of Canadian companies called on local telecoms regulator CRTC to implement a website-blocking regime in Canada.

The coalition, Fairplay Canada, is a collection of organizations and companies with ties to the entertainment industries and includes Bell, Cineplex, Directors Guild of Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Movie Theatre Association of Canada, and Rogers Media. Its stated aim is to address Canada’s online piracy problems.

While CTRC reviews FairPlay Canada’s plans, the coalition has been seeking to drum up support for the blocking regime, encouraging a diverse range of supporters to send submissions endorsing the project. Of course, building a united front among like-minded groups is nothing out of the ordinary but a situation just uncovered by Canadian law Professor Micheal Geist, one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed scheme, is bound to raise eyebrows.

Geist discovered a submission by Brian Hutchings, who works as Vice-President, Administration at Brock University in Ontario. Dated March 22, 2018, it notes that one of the university’s most sought-after programs is Sports Management, which helps Brock’s students to become “the lifeblood” of Canada’s sport and entertainment industries.

“Our University is deeply alarmed at how piracy is eroding an industry that employs so many of our co-op students and graduates. Piracy is a serious, pervasive threat that steals creativity, undermines investment in content development and threatens the survival of an industry that is also part of our national identity,” the submission reads.

“Brock ardently supports the FairPlay Canada coalition of more than 25 organizations involved in every aspect of Canada’s film, TV, radio, sports entertainment and music industries. Specifically, we support the coalition’s request that the CRTC introduce rules that would disable access in Canada to the most egregious piracy sites, similar to measures that have been taken in the UK, France and Australia. We are committed to assist the members of the coalition and the CRTC in eliminating the theft of digital content.”

The letter leaves no doubt that Brock University as a whole stands side-by-side with Fairplay Canada but according to a subsequent submission signed by Michelle Webber, President, Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA), nothing could be further from the truth.

Noting that BUFA unanimously supports the position of the Canadian Association of University Teachers which opposes the FairPlay proposal, Webber adds that BUFA stands in opposition to the submission by Brian Hutchings on behalf of Brock University.

“Vice President Hutching’s intervention was undertaken without consultation with the wider Brock University community, including faculty, librarians, and Senate; therefore, his submission should not be seen as indicative of the views of Brock University as a whole.”

BUFA goes on to stress the importance of an open Internet to researchers and educators while raising concerns that the blocking proposals could threaten the principles of net neutrality in Canada.

While the undermining of Hutching’s position is embarrassing enough, via access to information laws Geist has also been able to reveal the chain of events that prompted the Vice-President to write a letter of support on behalf of the whole university.

It began with an email sent by former Brock professor Cheri Bradish to Mark Milliere, TSN’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, with Hutchings copied in. The idea was to connect the pair, with the suggestion that supporting the site-blocking plan would help to mitigate the threat to “future work options” for students.

What followed was a direct email from Mark Milliere to Brian Hutchings, in which the former laid out the contributions his company makes to the university, while again suggesting that support for site-blocking would be in the long-term interests of students seeking employment in the industry.

On March 23, Milliere wrote to Hutchings again, thanking him for “a terrific letter” and stating that “If you need anything from TSN, just ask.”

This isn’t the first time that Bell has asked those beholden to the company to support its site-blocking plans.

Back in February it was revealed that the company had asked its own employees to participate in the site-blocking submission process, without necessarily revealing their affiliations with the company.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

YouTube Won’t Put Up With Blatant Piracy Tutorials Forever

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/youtube-wont-put-up-with-blatant-piracy-tutorials-forever-180506/

Once upon a time, Internet users’ voices would be heard in limited circles, on platforms such as Usenet or other niche platforms.

Then, with the rise of forum platforms such as phpBB in 2000 and Invision Power Board in 2002, thriving communities could gather in public to discuss endless specialist topics, including file-sharing of course.

When dedicated piracy forums began to gain traction, it was pretty much a free-for-all. People discussed obtaining free content absolutely openly. Nothing was taboo and no one considered that there would be any repercussions. As such, moderation was limited to keeping troublemakers in check.

As the years progressed and lawsuits against both sites and services became more commonplace, most sites that weren’t actually serving illegal content began to consider their positions. Run by hobbyists, most didn’t want the hassle of a multi-million dollar lawsuit, so links to pirate content began to diminish and the more overt piracy tutorials began to disappear underground.

Those that remained in plain sight became much more considered. Tutorials on how to pirate specific Hollywood blockbusters were no longer needed, a plain general tutorial would suffice. And, as communities matured and took time to understand the implications of their actions, those without political motivations realized that drawing attention to potential criminality was neither required nor necessary.

Then YouTube and social media happened and almost overnight, no one was in charge and anyone could say whatever they liked.

In this new reality, there were no irritating moderator-type figures removing links to this and that, and nobody warning people against breaking rules that suddenly didn’t exist anymore. In essence, previously tight-knit and street-wise file-sharing and piracy communities not only became fragmented, but also chaotic.

This meant that anyone could become a leader and in some cases, this was the utopia that many had hoped for. Not only couldn’t the record labels or Hollywood tell people what to do anymore, discussion site operators couldn’t either. For those who didn’t abuse the power and for those who knew no better, this was a much-needed breath of fresh air. But, like all good things, it was unlikely to last forever.

Where most file-sharing of yesterday was carried out by hobbyist enthusiasts, many of today’s pirates are far more casual. They’re just as thirsty for content, but they don’t want to spend hours hunting for it. They want it all on a plate, at the flick of a switch, delivered to their TV with a minimum of hassle.

With online discussions increasingly seen as laborious and old-fashioned, many mainstream pirates have turned to easy-to-consume videos. In support of their Kodi media player habits, YouTube has become the educational platform of choice for millions.

As a result, there is now a long line of self-declared Kodi piracy specialists scooping up millions of views on YouTube. Their videos – which in many cases are thinly veiled advertisements for third party addons, Kodi ‘builds’, illegal IPTV services, and obscure Android APKs – are now the main way for a new generation to obtain direct advice on pirating.

Many of the videos are incredibly blatant, like the past 15 years of litigation never happened. All the lessons learned by the phpBB board operators of yesteryear, of how to achieve their goals of sharing information without getting shut down, have been long forgotten. In their place, a barrage of daily videos designed to generate clicks and affiliate revenue, no matter what the cost, no matter what the risk.

It’s pretty clear that these videos are at least partly responsible for the phenomenal uptick in Kodi and Android-based piracy over the past few years. In that respect, many lovers of free content will be eternally grateful for the service they’ve provided. But like many piracy movements over the years, people shouldn’t get too attached to them, at least in their current form.

Thanks to the devil-may-care approach of many influential YouTubers, it won’t be long before a whole new set of moderators begin flexing their muscles. While your average phpBB moderator could be reasoned with in order to get a second chance, a determined and largely faceless YouTube will eject offenders without so much as a clear explanation.

When this happens (and it’s only a question of time given the growing blatancy of many tutorials) YouTubers will not only lose their voices but their revenue streams too. While YouTube’s partner programs bring in some welcome cash, the profitable affiliate schemes touted on these channels for external products will also be under threat.

Perhaps the most surprising thing in this drama-waiting-to-happen is that many of the most popular YouTubers can hardly be considered young and naive. While some are of more tender years, most – with their undoubted skill, knowledge and work ethic – should know better for their 30 or 40 years on this planet. Yet not only do they make their names public, they feature their faces heavily in their videos too.

Still, it’s likely that it will take some big YouTube accounts to fall before YouTubers respond by shaving the sharp edges off their blatant promotion of illegal activity. And there’s little doubt that those advertising products (which is most of them) will have to do so sooner rather than later.

Just this week, YouTube made it clear that it won’t tolerate people making money from the promotion of illegal activities.

“YouTube creators may include paid endorsements as part of their content only if the product or service they are endorsing complies with our advertising policies,” YouTube told the BBC.

“We will be working with creators going forward so they better understand that in video promotions [they] must not promote dishonest activity.”

That being said, like many other players in the piracy and file-sharing space over the past 18 years, YouTubers will eventually begin to learn that not only can the smart survive, they can flourish too.

Sure, there will be people out there who’ll protest that free speech allows citizens to express themselves in a manner of their choosing. But try PM’ing that to YouTube in response to a strike, and see how that fares.

When they say you’re done, the road back is a long one.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

Security Vulnerabilities in VingCard Electronic Locks

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/security_vulner_14.html

Researchers have disclosed a massive vulnerability in the VingCard eletronic lock system, used in hotel rooms around the world:

With a $300 Proxmark RFID card reading and writing tool, any expired keycard pulled from the trash of a target hotel, and a set of cryptographic tricks developed over close to 15 years of on-and-off analysis of the codes Vingcard electronically writes to its keycards, they found a method to vastly narrow down a hotel’s possible master key code. They can use that handheld Proxmark device to cycle through all the remaining possible codes on any lock at the hotel, identify the correct one in about 20 tries, and then write that master code to a card that gives the hacker free reign to roam any room in the building. The whole process takes about a minute.

[…]

The two researchers say that their attack works only on Vingcard’s previous-generation Vision locks, not the company’s newer Visionline product. But they estimate that it nonetheless affects 140,000 hotels in more than 160 countries around the world; the researchers say that Vingcard’s Swedish parent company, Assa Abloy, admitted to them that the problem affects millions of locks in total. When WIRED reached out to Assa Abloy, however, the company put the total number of vulnerable locks somewhat lower, between 500,000 and a million.

Patching is a nightmare. It requires updating the firmware on every lock individually.

And the researchers speculate whether or not others knew of this hack:

The F-Secure researchers admit they don’t know if their Vinguard attack has occurred in the real world. But the American firm LSI, which trains law enforcement agencies in bypassing locks, advertises Vingcard’s products among those it promises to teach students to unlock. And the F-Secure researchers point to a 2010 assassination of a Palestinian Hamas official in a Dubai hotel, widely believed to have been carried out by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. The assassins in that case seemingly used a vulnerability in Vingcard locks to enter their target’s room, albeit one that required re-programming the lock. “Most probably Mossad has a capability to do something like this,” Tuominen says.

Slashdot post.

Ефектите на медийната консолидация: по сценарий

Post Syndicated from nellyo original https://nellyo.wordpress.com/2018/04/04/sinclair-2/

 Sinclair Broadcast Group е най-голяма тв група по брой медии и също така по покритие в САЩ. Известни са с  новинарско съдържание и предавания, които популяризират консервативни политически позиции  и са в подкрепа на Републиканската партия.

 Когато Тръмп каже следното –

 

– ето какво следва в медиите на Синклер  – каскада от еднотипни изпълнения по сценарий, както се вижда във видеото:

“Някои  медии  използват своите платформи, за да наложат своето лично пристрастие. Това е изключително опасно за нашата демокрация.”

Видеото е публикувано и в NYT:

 

Показва ефектите  на медийната консолидация за правото на информация.  А също показва и как това управление означава критиката като fake.

+ op-ed от вчера

 

Raspberry Crusoe: how a Pi got lost at sea

Post Syndicated from James Robinson original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/lost-high-altitude-balloon/

The tale of the little HAB that could and its three-month journey from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy in the UK to the coast of Denmark.

PACA Computing on Twitter

Where did it land ???? #skypaca #skycademy @pacauk #RaspberryPi

High-altitude ballooning

Some of you may be familiar with Raspberry Pi being used as the flight computer, or tracker, of high-altitude balloon (HAB) payloads. For those who aren’t, high-altitude ballooning is a relatively simple activity (at least in principle) where a tracker is attached to a large weather balloon which is then released into the atmosphere. While the HAB ascends, the tracker takes pictures and data readings the whole time. Eventually (around 30km up) the balloon bursts, leaving the payload free to descend and be recovered. For a better explanation, I’m handing over to the students of UTC Oxfordshire:

Pi in the Sky | UTC Oxfordshire

On Tuesday 2nd May, students launched a Raspberry Pi computer 35,000 metres into the stratosphere as part of an Employer-Led project at UTC Oxfordshire, set by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The project involved engineering, scientific and communication/publicity skills being developed to create the payload and code to interpret experiments set by the science team.

Skycademy

Over the past few years, we’ve seen schools and their students explore the possibilities that high-altitude ballooning offers, and back in 2015 and 2016 we ran Skycademy. The programme was simple enough: get a bunch of educators together in the same space, show them how to launch a balloon flight, and then send them back to their students to try and repeat what they’ve learned. Since the first Skycademy event, a number of participants have carried out launches, and we are extremely proud of each and every one of them.

The case of the vanishing PACA HAB

Not every launch has been a 100% success though. There are many things that can and do go wrong during HAB flights, and watching each launch from the comfort of our office can be a nerve-wracking experience. We had such an experience back in July 2017, during the launch performed by Skycademy graduate and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Dave Hartley and his students from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA).

Dave and his team had been working on their payload for some time, and were awaiting suitable weather conditions. Early one Wednesday in July, everything aligned: they had a narrow window of good weather and so set their launch plan in motion. Soon they had assembled the payload in the school grounds and all was ready for the launch.

Dave Hartley on Twitter

Launch day! @pacauk #skycademy #skypaca #raspberrypi

Just before 11:00, they’d completed their final checks and released their payload into the atmosphere. Over the course of 64 minutes, the HAB steadily rose to an altitude of 25647m, where it captured some amazing pictures before the balloon burst and a rapid descent began.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi
Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi

Soon after the payload began to descend, the team noticed something worrying: their predicted descent path took the payload dangerously far south — it was threatening to land in the sea. As the payload continued to lose altitude, their calculated results kept shifting, alternately predicting a landing on the ground or out to sea. Eventually it became clear that the payload would narrowly overshoot the land, and it finally landed about 2 km out to sea.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

The path of the balloon

It’s not uncommon for a HAB payload to get lost. There are many ways this can happen, particularly in a narrow country with a prevailing easterly wind like the UK. Payloads can get lost at sea, land somewhere inaccessible, or simply run out of power before they are located and retrieved. So normally, this would be the end of the story for the PACA students — even if the team had had a speedboat to hand, their payload was surely lost for good.

A message from Denmark

However, this is not the end of our story! A couple of months later, I arrived at work and saw this tweet from a colleague:

Raspberry Pi on Twitter

Anyone lost a Raspberry Pi HAB? Someone found this one on a beach in south western Denmark yesterday #UKHAS https://t.co/7lBzFiemgr

Good Samaritan Henning Hansen had found a Raspberry Pi washed up on a remote beach in Denmark! While walking a stretch of coast to collect plastic debris for an environmental monitoring project, he came across something unusual near the shore at 55°04’53.0″N and 8°38’46.9″E.

This of course piqued my interest, and we began to investigate the image he had shared on Facebook.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

Inspecting the photo closely, we noticed a small asset label — the kind of label that, over a year earlier, we’d stuck to each and every bit of Skycademy field kit. We excitedly claimed the kit on behalf of Dave and his students, and contacted Henning to arrange the recovery of the payload. He told us it must have been carried ashore with the tide some time between 21 and 27 September, and probably on 21 September, since that day had the highest tide over the period. This meant the payload must have spent over two months at sea!

From the photo we could tell that the Raspberry Pi had suffered significant corrosion, having been exposed to salt water for so long, and so we felt pessimistic about the chances that there would be any recoverable data on it. However, Henning said that he’d been able to read some files from the FAT partition of the SD card, so all hope was not lost.

After a few weeks and a number of complications around dispatch and delivery (thank you, Henning, for your infinite patience!), Helen collected the HAB from a local Post Office.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

SUCCESS!

We set about trying to read the data from the SD card, and eventually became disheartened: despite several attempts, we were unable to read its contents.

In a last-ditch effort, we gave the SD card to Jonathan, one of our engineers, who initially laughed at the prospect of recovering any data from it. But ten minutes later, he returned with news of success!

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi
Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi
Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi
Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi

Since then, we’ve been able to reunite the payload with the PACA launch team, and the students sent us the perfect message to end this story:

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

The post Raspberry Crusoe: how a Pi got lost at sea appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

"Skyfall attack" was attention seeking

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2018/01/skyfall-attack-was-attention-seeking.html

After the Meltdown/Spectre attacks, somebody created a website promising related “Skyfall/Solace” attacks. They revealed today that it was a “hoax”.

It was a bad hoax. It wasn’t a clever troll, parody, or commentary. It was childish behavior seeking attention.
For all you hate naming of security vulnerabilities, Meltdown/Spectre was important enough to deserve a name. Sure, from an infosec perspective, it was minor, we just patch and move on. But from an operating-system and CPU design perspective, these things where huge.
Page table isolation to fix Meltdown is a fundamental redesign of the operating system. What you learned in college about how Solaris, Windows, Linux, and BSD were designed is now out-of-date. It’s on the same scale of change as address space randomization.
The same is true of Spectre. It changes what capabilities are given to JavaScript (buffers and high resolution timers). It dramatically increases the paranoia we have of running untrusted code from the Internet. We’ve been cleansing JavaScript of things like buffer-overflows and type confusion errors, now we have to cleanse it of branch prediction issues.

Moreover, not only do we need to change software, we need to change the CPU. No, we won’t get rid of branch-prediction and out-of-order execution, but there things that can easily be done to mitigate these attacks. We won’t be recalling the billions of CPUs already shipped, and it will take a year before fixed CPUs appear on the market, but it’s still an important change. That we fix security through such a massive hardware change is by itself worthy of “names”.

Yes, the “naming” of vulnerabilities is annoying. A bunch of vulns named by their creators have disappeared, and we’ve stopped talking about them. On the other hand, we still talk about Heartbleed and Shellshock, because they were damn important. A decade from now, we’ll still be talking about Meltdown/Spectre. Even if they hadn’t been named by their creators, we still would’ve come up with nicknames to talk about them, because CVE numbers are so inconvenient.
Thus, the hoax’s mocking of the naming is invalid. It was largely incoherent rambling from somebody who really doesn’t understand the importance of these vulns, who uses the hoax to promote themselves.

Game night 2: Detention, Viatoree, Paletta

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/01/16/game-night-2-detention-viatoree-paletta/

Game night continues with:

  • Detention
  • Viatoree
  • Paletta

These are impressions, not reviews. I try to avoid major/ending spoilers, but big plot points do tend to leave impressions.

Detention

longish · inventory horror · jan 2017 · lin/mac/win · $12 on steam · website

Inventory horror” is a hell of a genre.

I think this one came from a Twitter thread where glip asked for indie horror recommendations. It’s apparently well-known enough to have a Wikipedia article, but I hadn’t heard of it before.

I love love love the aesthetic here. It’s obviously 2Dish from a side view (though there’s plenty of parallax in a lot of places), and it’s all done with… papercraft? I think of it as papercraft. Everything is built out of painted chunks that look like they were cut out of paper. It’s most obvious when watching the protagonist move around; her legs and skirt swivel as she walks.

Less obvious are the occasional places where tiny details repeat in the background because a paper cutout was reused. I don’t bring that up as a dig on the art; on the contrary, I really liked noticing that once or twice. It made the world feel like it was made with a tileset (albeit with very large chunky tiles), like it’s slightly artificial. I’m used to seeing sidescrollers made from tiles, of course, but the tiles are usually colorful and cartoony pixel art; big gritty full-color tiles are unusual and eerie.

And that’s a good thing in a horror game! Detention’s setting is already slightly unreal, and it’s made all the moreso by my Western perspective: it takes place in a Taiwanese school in the 60’s, a time when Taiwan was apparently under martial law. The Steam page tells you this, but I didn’t even know that much when we started playing, so I’d effectively been dropped somewhere on the globe and left to collect the details myself. Even figuring out we were in Taiwan (rather than mainland China) felt like an insight.

Thinking back, it was kind of a breath of fresh air. Games can be pretty heavy-handed about explaining the setting, but I never got that feeling from Detention. There’s more than enough context to get what’s going on, but there are no “stop and look at the camera while monologuing some exposition” moments. The developers are based in Taiwan, so it’s possible the setting is plenty familiar to them, and my perception of it is a complete accident. Either way, it certainly made an impact. Death of the author and whatnot, I suppose.

One thing in particular that stood out: none of the Chinese text in the environment is directly translated. The protagonist’s thoughts still give away what it says — “this is the nurse’s office” and the like — but that struck me as pretty different from simply repeating the text in English as though I were reading a sign in an RPG. The text is there, perfectly legible, but I can’t read it; I can only ask the protagonist to read it and offer her thoughts. It drives home that I’m experiencing the world through the eyes of the protagonist, who is their own person with their own impression of everything. Again, this is largely an emergent property of the game’s being designed in a culture that is not mine, but I’m left wondering how much thought went into this style of localization.

The game itself sees you wandering through a dark and twisted version of the protagonist’s school, collecting items and solving puzzles with them. There’s no direct combat, though some places feature a couple varieties of spirits called lingered which you have to carefully avoid. As the game progresses, the world starts to break down, alternating between increasingly abstract and increasingly concrete as we find out who the protagonist is and why she’s here.

The payoff is very personal and left a lasting impression… though as I look at the Wikipedia page now, it looks like the ending we got was the non-canon bad ending?! Well, hell. The bad ending is still great, then.

The whole game has a huge Silent Hill vibe, only without the combat and fog. Frankly, the genre might work better without combat; personal demons are more intimidating and meaningful when you can’t literally shoot them with a gun until they’re dead.

FINAL SCORE: 拾

Viatoree

short · platformer · sep 2013 · win · free on itch

I found this because @itchio tweeted about it, and the phrase “atmospheric platform exploration game” is the second most beautiful sequence of words in the English language.

The first paragraph on the itch.io page tells you the setup. That paragraph also contains more text than the entire game. In short: there are five things, and you need to find them. You can walk, jump, and extend your arms straight up to lift yourself to the ceiling. That’s it. No enemies, no shooting, no NPCs (more or less).

The result is, indeed, an atmospheric platform exploration game. The foreground is entirely 1-bit pixel art, save for the occasional white pixel to indicate someone’s eyes, and the background is only a few shades of the same purple hue. The game becomes less about playing and more about just looking at the environmental detail, appreciating how much texture the game manages to squeeze out of chunky colorless pixels. The world is still alive, too, much moreso than most platformers; tiny critters appear here and there, doing some wandering of their own, completely oblivious to you.

The game is really short, but it… just… makes me happy. I’m happy that this can exist, that not only is it okay for someone to make a very compact and short game, but that the result can still resonate with me. Not everything needs to be a sprawling epic or ask me to dedicate hours of time. It takes a few tiny ideas, runs with them, does what it came to do, and ends there. I love games like this.

That sounds silly to write out, but it’s been hard to get into my head! I do like experimenting, but I also feel compelled to reach for the grandiose, and grandiose experiment sounds more like mad science than creative exploration. For whatever reason, Viatoree convinced me that it’s okay to do a small thing, in a way that no other jam game has. It was probably the catalyst that led me to make Roguelike Simulator, and I thank it for that.

Unfortunately, we collected four of the five macguffins before hitting upon on a puzzle we couldn’t make heads or tails of. After about ten minutes of fruitless searching, I decided to abandon this one unfinished, rather than bore my couch partner to tears. Maybe I’ll go take another stab at it after I post this.

FINAL SCORE: ●●●●○

Paletta

medium · puzzle story · nov 2017 · win · free on itch

Paletta, another RPG Maker work, won second place in the month-long Indie Game Maker Contest 2017. Nice! Apparently MOOP came in fourth in the same jam; also nice! I guess that’s why both of them ended up on the itch front page.

The game is set in a world drained of color, and you have to go restore it. Each land contains one lost color, and each color gives you a corresponding spell, which is generally used for some light puzzle-solving in further lands. It’s a very cute and light-hearted game, and it actually does an impressive job of obscuring its RPG Maker roots.

The world feels a little small to me, despite having fairly spacious maps. The progression is pretty linear: you enter one land, talk to a small handful of NPCs, solve the one puzzle, get the color, and move on. I think all the areas were continuously connected, too, which may have thrown me off a bit — these areas are described as though they were vast regions, but they’re all a hundred feet wide and nestled right next to each other.

I love playing with color as a concept, and I wish the game had run further with it somehow. Rescuing a color does add some color back to the world, but at times it seemed like the color that reappeared was somewhat arbitrary? It’s not like you rescue green and now all the green is back. Thinking back on it now, I wonder if each rescued color actually changed a fixed set of sprites from gray to colorized? But it’s been a month (oops) and now I’m not sure.

I’m not trying to pick on the authors for the brevity of their jam game and also first game they’ve ever finished. I enjoyed playing it and found it plenty charming! It just happens that this time, what left the biggest impression on me was a nebulous feeling that something was missing. I think that’s still plenty important to ponder.

FINAL SCORE: ❤️💛💚💙💜

Gladys Project: a Raspberry Pi home assistant

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/gladys-project-home-assistant/

If, like me, you’re a pretty poor time-keeper with the uncanny ability to never get up when your alarm goes off and yet still somehow make it to work just in time — a little dishevelled, brushing your teeth in the office bathroom — then you too need Gladys.

Raspberry Pi home assistant

Over the last year, we’ve seen off-the-shelf home assistants make their way onto the Raspberry Pi. With the likes of Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Siri, it’s becoming ever easier to tell the air around you to “Turn off the bathroom light” or “Resume my audiobook”, and it happens without you lifting a finger. It’s quite wonderful. And alongside these big names are several home-brew variants, such as Jarvis and Jasper, which were developed to run on a Pi in order to perform home automation tasks.

So do we need another such service? Sure! And here’s why…

A Romantic Mode with your Home Assistant Gladys !

A simple romantic mode in Gladys ! See https://gladysproject.com for more informations about the project 🙂 Devices used : – A 5$ Xiaomi Switch Button – A Raspberry Pi 3 with Gladys on it – Connected lights ( Works with Philips Hue, Milight lamp, etc..

Gladys Project

According to the Gladys creators’ website, Gladys Project is ‘an open-source program which runs on your Raspberry Pi. It communicates with all your devices and checks your calendar to help you in your everyday life’.

Gladys does the basic day-to-day life maintenance tasks that I need handled in order to exist without my mum there to remind me to wake up in time for work. And, as you can see from the video above, it also plays some mean George Michael.

A screenshot of a mobile phone showing the Gladys app - Gladys Project home assistant

Gladys can help run your day from start to finish, taking into consideration road conditions and travel time to ensure you’re never late, regardless of external influences. It takes you 30 minutes to get ready and another 30 minutes to drive to work for 9.00? OK, but today there’s a queue on the motorway, and now your drive time is looking to be closer to an hour. Thankfully, Gladys has woken you up a half hour earlier, so you’re still on time. Isn’t that nice of her? And while you’re showering and mourning those precious stolen minutes of sleep, she’s opening the blinds and brewing coffee for you. Thanks, mum!

A screenshot of the Gladys hub on the Raspberry Pi - Gladys Project home assistant

Set the parameters of your home(s) using the dedicated hub.

Detecting your return home at the end of the day, Gladys runs your pre-set evening routine. Then, once you place your phone on an NFC tag to indicate bedtime, she turns off the lights and, if your nighttime preferences dictate it, starts the whale music playlist, sending you into a deep, stressless slumber.

A screenshot of Etcher showing the install process of the Gladys image - Gladys Project home assistant

Gladys comes as a pre-built Raspbian image, ready to be cloned to an SD card.

Gladys is free to download from the Gladys Project website and is compatible with smart devices such as Philips Hue lightbulbs, WeMo Insight Switches, and the ever tricky to control without the official app Sonos speakers!

Automate and chill

Which tasks and devices in your home do you control with a home assistant? Do you love sensor-controlled lighting which helps you save on electricity? How about working your way through an audiobook as you do your housework, requesting a pause every time you turn on the vacuum cleaner?

Share your experiences with us in the comments below, and if you’ve built a home assistant for Raspberry Pi, or use an existing setup to run your household, share that too.

And, as ever, if you want to keep up to date with Raspberry Pi projects from across the globe, be sure to follow us on social media, sign up to our weekly newsletter, the Raspberry Pi Weekly, and check out The MagPi, the official magazine of the Raspberry Pi community, available in stores or as a free PDF download.

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The Poplawski’s Holiday Frights

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/poplawskis-holiday-frights/

After becoming internet-famous for their interactive Christmas lights, the Poplawskis have expanded their festive offerings this year with Holiday Frights, a fiendish collection of spooky decor controlled by a Raspberry Pi.

Poplawski's Holiday Frights Raspberry Pi Halloween

The Poplawskis’ holiday lights

Full of lights and inflatable decorations sprawling across the front lawn, the annual pi-powered Poplawski Christmas setup is something we await eagerly here at Pi Towers. What better way to celebrate the start of the holiday season than by inflating reindeer and flashing fairy lights on another continent?

Poplawski's Holiday Lights Raspberry Pi

image c/o Chris Poplawski

So this year, when an email appeared in our inbox to announce the Holiday Frights Halloween edition, we were over the moon!

Take control

It’s about 5am in Easton, Pennsylvania, but I’m 99% sure the residents of the Poplawski’s Holiday Frights home were fully aware of me endlessly toggling their Halloween decorations  — on, off, on, off — in the process of creating the GIF above.

The decorations of the Poplawski’s Holiday Frights are controlled by a Raspberry Pi which, in turn, takes input from a website. And while we’ve seen many Pi projects with online interfaces controlling real-life devices, we can’t help but have a soft spot for this particular one because of its pretty, flashy lights.

Poplawski's Holiday Frights website Raspberry Pi Halloween

To try out the decorations yourself, go to the Poplawski’s Holiday Frights website. Also make sure to bookmark the site, or follow the Facebook page, for updates on their Christmas edition.

When you’re on the site, you will also see how many other people are currently online. If you’re not alone, the battle over which lights are turned on or off can commence! In case you’re feeling extra generous, you can donate 10¢ to fix the decorations in a state of your choosing for 60 seconds, while also helping the Poplawskis power their lights.

Getting spooky

Have you built something Pi-powered and spooky for Halloween? Make sure to share it with us across our social media accounts or in the comments below.

The post The Poplawski’s Holiday Frights appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Dialekt-o-maten vending machine

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/dialekt-o-maten-vending-machine/

At some point, many of you will have become exasperated with your AI personal assistant for not understanding you due to your accent – or worse, your fantastic regional dialect! A vending machine from Coca-Cola Sweden turns this issue inside out: the Dialekt-o-maten rewards users with a free soft drink for speaking in a Swedish regional dialect.

The world’s first vending machine where you pay with a dialect!

Thirsty fans along with journalists were invited to try Dialekt-o-maten at Stureplan in central Stockholm. Depending on how well they could pronounce the different phrases in assorted Swedish dialects – they were rewarded an ice cold Coke with that destination on the label.

The Dialekt-o-maten

The machine, which uses a Raspberry Pi, was set up in Stureplan Square in Stockholm. A person presses one of six buttons to choose the regional dialect they want to try out. They then hit ‘record’, and speak into the microphone. The recording is compared to a library of dialect samples, and, if it matches closely enough, voila! — the Dialekt-o-maten dispenses a soft drink for free.

Dialekt-o-maten on the highstreet in Stockholm

Code for the Dialekt-o-maten

The team of developers used the dejavu Python library, as well as custom-written code which responded to new recordings. Carl-Anders Svedberg, one of the developers, said:

Testing the voices and fine-tuning the right level of difficulty for the users was quite tricky. And we really should have had more voice samples. Filtering out noise from the surroundings, like cars and music, was also a small hurdle.

While they wrote the initial software on macOS, the team transferred it to a Raspberry Pi so they could install the hardware inside the Dialekt-o-maten.

Regional dialects

Even though Sweden has only ten million inhabitants, there are more than 100 Swedish dialects. In some areas of Sweden, the local language even still resembles Old Norse. The Dialekt-o-maten recorded how well people spoke the six dialects it used. Apparently, the hardest one to imitate is spoken in Vadstena, and the easiest is spoken in Smögen.

Dialekt-o-maten on Stockholm highstreet

Speech recognition with the Pi

Because of its audio input capabilities, the Raspberry Pi is very useful for building devices that use speech recognition software. One of our favourite projects in this vein is of course Allen Pan’s Real-Life Wizard Duel. We also think this pronunciation training machine by Japanese makers HomeMadeGarbage is really neat. Ideas from these projects and the Dialekt-o-maten could potentially be combined to make a fully fledged language-learning tool!

How about you? Have you used a Raspberry Pi to help you become multilingual? If so, do share your project with us in the comments or via social media.

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Introducing Our Content Director: Roderick

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/introducing-content-director-roderick/

As Backblaze continues to grow, and as we go down the path of sharing our stories, we found ourselves in need of someone that could wrangle our content calendar, write blog posts, and come up with interesting ideas that we could share with our readers and fans. We put out the call, and found Roderick! As you’ll read below he has an incredibly interesting history, and we’re thrilled to have his perspective join our marketing team! Lets learn a bit more about Roderick, shall we?

What is your Backblaze Title?
Content Director

Where are you originally from?
I was born in Southern California, but have lived a lot of different places, including Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Texas, New Mexico, Austria, and Italy.

What attracted you to Backblaze?
I met Gleb a number of years ago at the Failcon Conference in San Francisco. I spoke with him and was impressed with him and his description of the company. We connected on LinkedIn after the conference and I ultimately saw his post for this position about a month ago.

What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze?
I hope to learn about Backblaze’s customers and dive deep into the latest in cloud storage and other technologies. I also hope to get to know my fellow employees.

Where else have you worked?
I’ve worked for Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, and a few startups. I’ve also consulted to Apple, HP, Stanford, the White House, and startups in the U.S. and abroad. I mentored at incubators in Silicon Valley, including IndieBio and Founders Space. I used to own vineyards and a food education and event center in the Napa Valley with my former wife, and worked in a number of restaurants, hotels, and wineries. Recently, I taught part-time at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the Napa Valley. I’ve been a partner in a restaurant and currently am a partner in a mozzarella di bufala company in Marin county where we have about 50 water buffalo that are amazing animals. They are named after famous rock and roll vocalists. Our most active studs now are Sting and Van Morrison. I think singing “a fantabulous night to make romance ‘neath the cover of October skies” works for Van.

Where did you go to school?
I studied at Reed College, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, and the Università per Stranieri di Perugia in Italy. I put myself through college so was in and out of school a number of times to make money. Some of the jobs I held to earn money for college were cook, waiter, dishwasher, bartender, courier, teacher, bookstore clerk, head of hotel maintenance, bookkeeper, lifeguard, journalist, and commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska.

What’s your dream job?
I think my dream would be having a job that would continually allow me to learn new things and meet new challenges. I love to learn, travel, and be surprised by things I don’t know.

I love animals and sometimes think I should have become a veterinarian.

Favorite place you’ve traveled?
I lived and studied in Italy, and would have to say the Umbria region of Italy is perhaps my favorite place. I also worked in my father’s home country of Austria, which is incredibly beautiful.

Favorite hobby?
I love foreign languages, and have studied Italian, French, German, and a few others. I am a big fan of literature and theatre and read widely and have attended theatre productions all over the world. That was my motivation to learn other languages—so I could enjoy literature and theatre in the languages they were written in. I started scuba diving when I was very young because I wanted to be Jacques-Yves Cousteau and explore the oceans. I also sail, motorcycle, ski, bicycle, hike, play music, and hope to finish my pilot’s license someday.

Coke or Pepsi?
Red Burgundy

Favorite food?
Both my parents are chefs, so I was exposed to a lot of great food growing up. I would have to give more than one answer to that question: fresh baked bread and bouillabaisse. Oh, and white truffles.

Not sure we’ll be able to stock our cupboards with Red Burgundy, but we’ll see what our office admin can do! Welcome to the team!

The post Introducing Our Content Director: Roderick appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Some memorable levels

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/07/01/some-memorable-levels/

Another Patreon request from Nova Dasterin:

Maybe something about level design. In relation to a vertical shmup since I’m working on one of those.

I’ve been thinking about level design a lot lately, seeing as how I’ve started… designing levels. Shmups are probably the genre I’m the worst at, but perhaps some general principles will apply universally.

And speaking of general principles, that’s something I’ve been thinking about too.

I’ve been struggling to create a more expansive tileset for a platformer, due to two general problems: figuring out what I want to show, and figuring out how to show it with a limited size and palette. I’ve been browsing through a lot of pixel art from games I remember fondly in the hopes of finding some inspiration, but so far all I’ve done is very nearly copy a dirt tile someone submitted to my potluck project.

Recently I realized that I might have been going about looking for inspiration all wrong. I’ve been sifting through stuff in the hopes of finding something that would create some flash of enlightenment, but so far that aimless tourism has only found me a thing or two to copy.

I don’t want to copy a small chunk of the final product; I want to understand the underlying ideas that led the artist to create what they did in the first place. Or, no, that’s not quite right either. I don’t want someone else’s ideas; I want to identify what I like, figure out why I like it, and turn that into some kinda of general design idea. Find the underlying themes that appeal to me and figure out some principles that I could apply. You know, examine stuff critically.

I haven’t had time to take a deeper look at pixel art this way, so I’ll try it right now with level design. Here, then, are some levels from various games that stand out to me for whatever reason; the feelings they evoke when I think about them; and my best effort at unearthing some design principles from those feelings.

Doom II: MAP10, Refueling Base

Opening view of Refueling Base, showing a descent down some stairs into a room not yet visible

screenshots mine — map via doom wiki — see also textured perspective map (warning: large!) via ian albertpistol start playthrough

I’m surprising myself by picking Refueling Base. I would’ve expected myself to pick MAP08, Tricks and Traps, for its collection of uniquely bizarre puzzles and mechanisms. Or MAP13, Downtown, the map that had me convinced (erroneously) that Doom levels supported multi-story structures. Or at least MAP08, The Pit, which stands out for the unique way it feels like a plunge into enemy territory.

(Curiously, those other three maps are all Sandy Petersen’s sole work. Refueling Base was started by Tom Hall in the original Doom days, then finished by Sandy for Doom II.)

But Refueling Base is the level I have the most visceral reaction to: it terrifies me.

See, I got into Doom II through my dad, who played it on and off sometimes. My dad wasn’t an expert gamer or anything, but as a ten-year-old, I assumed he was. I watched him play Refueling Base one night. He died. Again, and again, over and over. I don’t even have very strong memories of his particular attempts, but watching my parent be swiftly and repeatedly defeated — at a time when I still somewhat revered parents — left enough of an impression that hearing the level music still makes my skin crawl.

This may seem strange to bring up as a first example in a post about level design, but I don’t think it would have impressed on me quite so much if the level weren’t designed the way it is. (It’s just a video game, of course, and since then I’ve successfully beaten it from a pistol start myself. But wow, little kid fears sure do linger.)

Map of Refueling Base, showing multiple large rooms and numerous connections between them

The one thing that most defines the map has to be its interconnected layout. Almost every major area (of which there are at least half a dozen) has at least three exits. Not only are you rarely faced with a dead end, but you’ll almost always have a choice of where to go next, and that choice will lead into more choices.

This hugely informs the early combat. Many areas near the beginning are simply adjacent with no doors between them, so it’s easy for monsters to start swarming in from all directions. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by an endless horde; no matter where you run, they just seem to keep coming. (In fact, Refueling Base has the most monsters of any map in the game by far: 279. The runner up is the preceding map at 238.) Compounding this effect is the relatively scant ammo and health in the early parts of the map; getting very far from a pistol start is an uphill battle.

The connections between rooms also yield numerous possible routes through the map, as well as several possible ways to approach any given room. Some of the connections are secrets, which usually connect the “backs” of two rooms. Clearing out one room thus rewards you with a sneaky way into another room that puts you behind all the monsters.

Outdoor area shown from the back; a large number of monsters are lying in wait

In fact, the map rewards you for exploring it in general.

Well, okay. It might be more accurate to say that that map punishes you for not exploring it. From a pistol start, the map is surprisingly difficult — the early areas offer rather little health and ammo, and your best chance of success is a very specific route that collects weapons as quickly as possible. Many of the most precious items are squirrelled away in (numerous!) secrets, and you’ll have an especially tough time if you don’t find any of them — though they tend to be telegraphed.

One particularly nasty surprise is in the area shown above, which has three small exits at the back. Entering or leaving via any of those exits will open one of the capsule-shaped pillars, revealing even more monsters. A couple of those are pain elementals, monsters which attack by spawning another monster and shooting it at you — not something you want to be facing with the starting pistol.

But nothing about the level indicates this, so you have to make the association the hard way, probably after making several mad dashes looking for cover. My successful attempt avoided this whole area entirely until I’d found some more impressive firepower. It’s fascinating to me, because it’s a fairly unique effect that doesn’t make any kind of realistic sense, yet it’s still built out of familiar level mechanics: walk through an area and something opens up. Almost like 2D sidescroller design logic applied to a 3D space. I really like it, and wish I saw more of it. So maybe that’s a more interesting design idea: don’t be afraid to do something weird only once, as long as it’s built out of familiar pieces so the player has a chance to make sense of it.

A similarly oddball effect is hidden in a “barracks” area, visible on the far right of the map. A secret door leads to a short U-shaped hallway to a marble skull door, which is themed nothing like the rest of the room. Opening it seems to lead back into the room you were just in, but walking through the doorway teleports you to a back entrance to the boss fight at the end of the level.

It sounds so bizarre, but the telegraphing makes it seem very natural; if anything, the “oh, I get it!” moment overrides the weirdness. It stops being something random and becomes something consciously designed. I believe that this might have been built by someone, even if there’s no sensible reason to have built it.

In fact, that single weird teleporter is exactly the kind of thing I’d like to be better at building. It could’ve been just a plain teleporter pad, but instead it’s a strange thing that adds a lot of texture to the level and makes it much more memorable. I don’t know how to even begin to have ideas like that. Maybe it’s as simple as looking at mundane parts of a level and wondering: what could I do with this instead?

I think a big problem I have is limiting myself to the expected and sensible, to the point that I don’t even consider more outlandish ideas. I can’t shake that habit simply by bolding some text in a blog post, but maybe it would help to keep this in mind: you can probably get away with anything, as long as you justify it somehow. Even “justify” here is too strong a word; it takes only the slightest nod to make an arbitrary behavior feel like part of a world. Why does picking up a tiny glowing knight helmet give you 1% armor in Doom? Does anyone care? Have you even thought about it before? It’s green and looks like armor; the bigger armor pickup is also green; yep, checks out.

A dark and dingy concrete room full of monsters; a couple are standing under light fixtures

On the other hand, the map as a whole ends up feeling very disorienting. There’s no shortage of landmarks, but every space is distinct in both texture and shape, so everything feels like a landmark. No one part of the map feels particularly central; there are a few candidates, but they neighbor other equally grand areas with just as many exits. It’s hard to get truly lost, but it’s also hard to feel like you have a solid grasp of where everything is. The space itself doesn’t make much sense, even though small chunks of it do. Of course, given that the Hellish parts of Doom were all just very weird overall, this is pretty fitting.

This sort of design fascinates me, because the way it feels to play is so different from the way it looks as a mapper with God Vision. Looking at the overhead map, I can identify all the familiar places easily enough, but I don’t know how to feel the way the map feels to play; it just looks like some rooms with doors between them. Yet I can see screenshots and have a sense of how “deep” in the level they are, how difficult they are to reach, whether I want to visit or avoid them. The lesson here might be that most of the interesting flavor of the map isn’t actually contained within the overhead view; it’s in the use of height and texture and interaction.

Dark room with numerous alcoves in the walls, all of them containing a hitscan monster

I realize as I describe all of this that I’m really just describing different kinds of contrast. If I know one thing about creative work (and I do, I only know one thing), it’s that effectively managing contrast is super duper important.

And it appears here in spades! A brightly-lit, outdoor, wide-open round room is only a short jog away from a dark, cramped room full of right angles and alcoves. A wide straight hallway near the beginning is directly across from a short, curvy, organic hallway. Most of the monsters in the map are small fry, but a couple stronger critters are sprinkled here and there, and then the exit is guarded by the toughest monster in the game. Some of the connections between rooms are simple doors; others are bizarre secret corridors or unnatural twisty passages.

You could even argue that the map has too much contrast, that it starts to lose cohesion. But if anything, I think this is one of the more cohesive maps in the first third of the game; many of the earlier maps aren’t so much places as they are concepts. This one feels distinctly like it could be something. The theming is all over the place, but enough of the parts seem deliberate.

I hadn’t even thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but since this is a “refueling base”, I suppose those outdoor capsules (which contain green slime, inset into the floor) could be the fuel tanks! I already referred to that dark techy area as “barracks”. Elsewhere is a rather large barren room, which might be where the vehicles in need of refueling are parked? Or is this just my imagination, and none of it was intended this way?

It doesn’t really matter either way, because even in this abstract world of ambiguity and vague hints, all of those rooms still feel like a place. I don’t have to know what the place is for it to look internally consistent.

I’m hesitant to say every game should have the loose design sense of Doom II, but it might be worth keeping in mind that anything can be a believable world as long as it looks consciously designed. And I’d say this applies even for natural spaces — we frequently treat real-world nature as though it were “designed”, just with a different aesthetic sense.

Okay, okay. I’m sure I could clumsily ramble about Doom forever, but I do that enough as it is. Other people have plenty to say if you’re interested.

I do want to stick in one final comment about MAP13, Downtown, while I’m talking about theming. I’ve seen a few people rag on it for being “just a box” with a lot of ideas sprinkled around — the map is basically a grid of skyscrapers, where each building has a different little mini encounter inside. And I think that’s really cool, because those encounters are arranged in a way that very strongly reinforces the theme of the level, of what this place is supposed to be. It doesn’t play quite like anything else in the game, simply because it was designed around a shape for flavor reasons. Weird physical constraints can do interesting things to level design.

Braid: World 4-7, Fickle Companion

Simple-looking platformer level with a few ladders, a switch, and a locked door

screenshots via StrategyWikiplaythroughplaythrough of secret area

I love Braid. If you’re not familiar (!), it’s a platformer where you have the ability to rewind time — whenever you want, for as long as you want, all the way back to when you entered the level.

The game starts in world 2, where you do fairly standard platforming and use the rewind ability to do some finnicky jumps with minimal frustration. It gets more interesting in world 3 with the addition of glowing green objects, which aren’t affected by the reversal of time.

And then there’s world 4, “Time and Place”. I love world 4, so much. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any other game, and it’s so simple yet so clever.

The premise is this: for everything except you, time moves forwards as you move right, and backwards as you move left.

This has some weird implications, which all come together in the final level of the world, Fickle Companion. It’s so named because you have to use one (single-use) key to open three doors, but that key is very easy to lose.

Say you pick up the key and walk to the right with it. Time continues forwards for the key, so it stays with you as expected. Now you climb a ladder. Time is frozen since you aren’t moving horizontally, but the key stays with you anyway. Now you walk to the left. Oops — the key follows its own path backwards in time, going down the ladder and back along the path you carried it in the first place. You can’t fix this by walking to the right again, because that will simply advance time normally for the key; since you’re no longer holding it, it will simply fall to the ground and stay there.

You can see how this might be a problem in the screenshot above (where you get the key earlier in the level, to the left). You can climb the first ladder, but to get to the door, you have to walk left to get to the second ladder, which will reverse the key back down to the ground.

The solution is in the cannon in the upper right, which spits out a Goomba-like critter. It has the timeproof green glow, so the critters it spits out have the same green glow — making them immune to both your time reversal power and to the effect your movement has on time. What you have to do is get one of the critters to pick up the key and carry it leftwards for you. Once you have the puzzle piece, you have to rewind time and do it again elsewhere. (Or, more likely, the other way around; this next section acts as a decent hint for how to do the earlier section.)

A puzzle piece trapped behind two doors, in a level containing only one key

It’s hard to convey how bizarre this is in just text. If you haven’t played Braid, it’s absolutely worth it just for this one world, this one level.

And it gets even better, slash more ridiculous: there’s a super duper secret hidden very cleverly in this level. Reaching it involves bouncing twice off of critters; solving the puzzle hidden there involves bouncing the critters off of you. It’s ludicrous and perhaps a bit too tricky, but very clever. Best of all, it’s something that an enterprising player might just think to do on a whim — hey, this is possible here, I wonder what happens if I try it. And the game rewards the player for trying something creative! (Ironically, it’s most rewarding to have a clever idea when it turns out the designer already had the same idea.)

What can I take away from this? Hm.

Well, the underlying idea of linking time with position is pretty novel, but getting to it may not be all that hard: just combine different concepts and see what happens.

A similar principle is to apply a general concept to everything and see what happens. This is the first sighting of a timeproof wandering critter; previously timeproofing had only been seen on keys, doors, puzzle pieces, and stationary monsters. Later it even applies to Tim himself in special circumstances.

The use of timeproofing on puzzle pieces is especially interesting, because the puzzle pieces — despite being collectibles that animate moving into the UI when you get them — are also affected by time. If the pieces in this level weren’t timeproof, then as soon as you collected one and moved left to leave its alcove, time would move backwards and the puzzle piece would reverse out of the UI and right back into the world.

Along similar lines, the music and animated background are also subject to the flow of time. It’s obvious enough that the music plays backwards when you rewind time, but in world 4, the music only plays at all while you’re moving. It’s a fantastic effect that makes the whole world feel as weird and jerky as it really is under these rules. It drives the concept home instantly, and it makes your weird influence over time feel all the more significant and far-reaching. I love when games weave all the elements of the game into the gameplaylike this, even (especially?) for the sake of a single oddball level.

Admittedly, this is all about gameplay or puzzle mechanics, not so much level design. What I like about the level itself is how simple and straightforward it is: it contains exactly as much as it needs to, yet still invites trying the wrong thing first, which immediately teaches the player why it won’t work. And it’s something that feels like it ought to work, except that the rules of the game get in the way just enough. This makes for my favorite kind of puzzle, the type where you feel like you’ve tried everything and it must be impossible — until you realize the creative combination of things you haven’t tried yet. I’m talking about puzzles again, oops; I guess the general level design equivalent of this is that players tend to try the first thing they see first, so if you put required parts later, players will be more likely to see optional parts.

I think that’s all I’ve got for this one puzzle room. I do want to say (again) that I love both endings of Braid. The normal ending weaves together the game mechanics and (admittedly loose) plot in a way that gave me chills when I first saw it; the secret ending completely changes both how the ending plays and how you might interpret the finale, all by making only the slightest changes to the level.

Portal: Testchamber 18 (advanced)

View into a Portal test chamber; the ceiling and most of the walls are covered in metal

screenshot mine — playthrough of normal mapplaythrough of advanced map

I love Portal. I blazed through the game in a couple hours the night it came out. I’d seen the trailer and instantly grasped the concept, so the very slow and gentle learning curve was actually a bit frustrating for me; I just wanted to portal around a big playground, and I finally got to do that in the six “serious” tests towards the end, 13 through 18.

Valve threw an interesting curveball with these six maps. As well as being more complete puzzles by themselves, Valve added “challenges” requiring that they be done with as few portals, time, or steps as possible. I only bothered with the portal challenges — time and steps seemed less about puzzle-solving and more about twitchy reflexes — and within them I found buried an extra layer of puzzles. All of the minimum portal requirements were only possible if you found an alternative solution to the map: skipping part of it, making do with only one cube instead of two, etc. But Valve offered no hints, only a target number. It was a clever way to make me think harder about familiar areas.

Alongside the challenges were “advanced” maps, and these blew me away. They were six maps identical in layout to the last six test chambers, but with a simple added twist that completely changed how you had to approach them. Test 13 has two buttons with two boxes to place on them; the advanced version removes a box and also changes the floor to lava. Test 14 is a live fire course with turrets you have to knock over; the advanced version puts them all in impenetrable cages. Test 17 is based around making extensive use of a single cube; the advanced version changes it to a ball.

But the one that sticks out the most to me is test 18, a potpourri of everything you’ve learned so far. The beginning part has you cross several large pits of toxic sludge by portaling from the ceilings; the advanced version simply changes the ceilings to unportalable metal. It seems you’re completely stuck after only the first jump, unless you happen to catch a glimpse of the portalable floor you pass over in mid-flight. Or you might remember from the regular version of the map that the floor was portalable there, since you used it to progress further. Either way, you have to fire a portal in midair in a way you’ve never had to do before, and the result feels very cool, like you’ve defeated a puzzle that was intended to be unsolvable. All in a level that was fairly easy the first time around, and has been modified only slightly.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I could say it’s good to make the player feel clever, but that feels wishy-washy. What I really appreciated about the advanced tests is that they exploited inklings of ideas I’d started to have when playing through the regular game; they encouraged me to take the spark of inspiration this game mechanic gave me and run with it.

So I suppose the better underlying principle here — the most important principle in level design, in any creative work — is to latch onto what gets you fired up and run with it. I am absolutely certain that the level designers for this game loved the portal concept as much as I do, they explored it thoroughly, and they felt compelled to fit their wilder puzzle ideas in somehow.

More of that. Find the stuff that feels like it’s going to burst out of your head, and let it burst.

Chip’s Challenge: Level 122, Totally Fair and Level 131, Totally Unfair

A small maze containing a couple monsters and ending at a brown button

screenshots mine — full maps of both levelsplaythrough of Totally Fairplaythrough of Totally Unfair

I mention this because Portal reminded me of it. The regular and advanced maps in Portal are reminiscent of parallel worlds or duality or whatever you want to call the theme. I extremely dig that theme, and it shows up in Chip’s Challenge in an unexpected way.

Totally Fair is a wide open level with a little maze walled off in one corner. The maze contains a monster called a “teeth”, which follows Chip at a slightly slower speed. (The second teeth, here shown facing upwards, starts outside the maze but followed me into it when I took this screenshot.)

The goal is to lure the teeth into standing on the brown button on the right side. If anything moves into a “trap” tile (the larger brown recesses at the bottom), it cannot move out of that tile until/unless something steps on the corresponding brown button. So there’s not much room for error in maneuvering the teeth; if it falls in the water up top, it’ll die, and if it touches the traps at the bottom, it’ll be stuck permanently.

The reason you need the brown button pressed is to acquire the chips on the far right edge of the level.

Several chips that cannot be obtained without stepping on a trap

The gray recesses turn into walls after being stepped on, so once you grab a chip, the only way out is through the force floors and ice that will send you onto the trap. If you haven’t maneuvered the teeth onto the button beforehand, you’ll be trapped there.

Doesn’t seem like a huge deal, since you can go see exactly how the maze is shaped and move the teeth into position fairly easily. But you see, here is the beginning of Totally Fair.

A wall with a single recessed gray space in it

The gray recess leads up into the maze area, so you can only enter it once. A force floor in the upper right lets you exit it.

Totally Unfair is exactly identical, except the second teeth has been removed, and the entrance to the maze looks like this.

The same wall is now completely solid, and the recess has been replaced with a hint

You can’t get into the maze area. You can’t even see the maze; it’s too far away from the wall. You have to position the teeth completely blind. In fact, if you take a single step to the left from here, you’ll have already dumped the teeth into the water and rendered the level impossible.

The hint tile will tell you to “Remember sjum”, where SJUM is the password to get back to Totally Fair. So you have to learn that level well enough to recreate the same effect without being able to see your progress.

It’s not impossible, and it’s not a “make a map” faux puzzle. A few scattered wall blocks near the chips, outside the maze area, are arranged exactly where the edges of the maze are. Once you notice that, all you have to do is walk up and down a few times, waiting a moment each time to make sure the teeth has caught up with you.

So in a sense, Totally Unfair is the advanced chamber version of Totally Fair. It makes a very minor change that force you to approach the whole level completely differently, using knowledge gleaned from your first attempt.

And crucially, it’s an actual puzzle! A lot of later Chip’s Challenge levels rely heavily on map-drawing, timing, tedium, or outright luck. (Consider, if you will, Blobdance.) The Totally Fair + Totally Unfair pairing requires a little ingenuity unlike anything else in the game, and the solution is something more than just combinations of existing game mechanics. There’s something very interesting about that hint in the walls, a hint you’d have no reason to pick up on when playing through the first level. I wish I knew how to verbalize it better.

Anyway, enough puzzle games; let’s get back to regular ol’ level design.

A 4×4 arrangement of rooms with a conspicuous void in the middle

maps via vgmaps and TCRFplaythrough with commentary

Link’s Awakening was my first Zelda (and only Zelda for a long time), which made for a slightly confusing introduction to the series — what on earth is a Zelda and why doesn’t it appear in the game?

The whole game is a blur of curiosities and interesting little special cases. It’s fabulously well put together, especially for a Game Boy game, and the dungeons in particular are fascinating microcosms of design. I never really appreciated it before, but looking at the full maps, I’m struck by how each dungeon has several large areas neatly sliced into individual screens.

Much like with Doom II, I surprise myself by picking Eagle’s Tower as the most notable part of the game. The dungeon isn’t that interesting within the overall context of the game; it gives you only the mirror shield, possibly the least interesting item in the game, second only to the power bracelet upgrade from the previous dungeon. The dungeon itself is fairly long, full of traps, and overflowing with crystal switches and toggle blocks, making it possibly the most frustrating of the set. Getting to it involves spending some excellent quality time with a flying rooster, but you don’t really do anything — mostly you just make your way through nondescript caves and mountaintops.

Having now thoroughly dunked on it, I’ll tell you what makes it stand out: the player changes the shape of the dungeon.

That’s something I like a lot about Doom, as well, but it’s much more dramatic in Eagle’s Tower. As you might expect, the dungeon is shaped like a tower, where each floor is on a 4×4 grid. The top floor, 4F, is a small 2×2 block of rooms in the middle — but one of those rooms is the boss door, and there’s no way to get to that floor.

(Well, sort of. The “down” stairs in the upper-right of 3F actually lead up to 4F, but the connection is bogus and puts you in a wall, and both of the upper middle rooms are unreachable during normal gameplay.)

The primary objective of the dungeon is to smash four support columns on 2F by throwing a huge iron ball at them, which causes 4F to crash down into the middle of 3F.

The same arrangement of rooms, but the four in the middle have changed

Even the map on the pause screen updates to reflect this. In every meaningful sense, you, the player, have fundamentally reconfigured the shape of this dungeon.

I love this. It feels like I have some impact on the world, that I came along and did something much more significant than mere game mechanics ought to allow. I saw that the tower was unsolvable as designed, so I fixed it.

It’s clear that the game engine supports rearranging screens arbitrarily — consider the Wind Fish’s Egg — but this is s wonderfully clever and subtle use of that. Let the player feel like they have an impact on the world.

The cutting room floor

This is getting excessively long so I’m gonna cut it here. Some other things I thought of but don’t know how to say more than a paragraph about:

  • Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins has a lot of levels with completely unique themes, backed by very simple tilesets but enhanced by interesting one-off obstacles and enemies. I don’t even know how to pick a most interesting one. Maybe just play the game, or at least peruse the maps.

  • This post about density of detail in Team Fortress 2 is really good so just read that I guess. It’s really about careful balance of contrast again, but through the lens of using contrasting amounts of detail to draw the player’s attention, while still carrying a simple theme through less detailed areas.

  • Metroid Prime is pretty interesting in a lot of ways, but I mostly laugh at how they spaced rooms out with long twisty hallways to improve load times — yet I never really thought about it because they all feel like they belong in the game.

One thing I really appreciate is level design that hints at a story, that shows me a world that exists persistently, that convinces me this space exists for some reason other than as a gauntlet for me as a player. But it seems what comes first to my mind is level design that’s clever or quirky, which probably says a lot about me. Maybe the original Fallouts are a good place to look for that sort of detail.

Conversely, it sticks out like a sore thumb when a game tries to railroad me into experiencing the game As The Designer Intended. Games are interactive, so the more input the player can give, the better — and this can be as simple as deciding to avoid rather than confront enemies, or deciding to run rather than walk.

I think that’s all I’ve got in me at the moment. Clearly I need to meditate on this a lot more, but I hope some of this was inspiring in some way!

iLock-in: Apple locks Free Software out, but where’s the news?

Post Syndicated from Lennart Poettering original http://0pointer.net/blog/projects/apple-sucks.html

So,
Apple now blocks third-party software from accessing iPods.
But is behaviour like that
news? No, unfortunately not at all.

Let’s have a look on two technologies that are closely related to the iPod
and Apple-style media playback: DAAP (Digital
Audio Access Protocol)
and RAOP
(Remote Audio Output Protocol).
RAOP is the protocol that is spoken when
you want to output audio from iTunes over the network on your AirPort base
station. DAAP is the popular protocol which you can use to swap music
between multiple iTunes instances on a LAN. Both technologies use cryptographic hashes to block interoperable alternative implementations.

Now, the RAOP client crypto key has been extracted from iTunes, hence its
now possible to implement alternative software that takes the role of iTunes
and streams audio to an AirPort. However, noone managed to extract the RAOP
server key yet, hence noone is able to implement software that exposes itself
as AirPort-compatible audio sink on the network, so that iTunes could stream
data to it.

With DAAP it’s a similar situation: iTunes uses cryptographic hashes to make
sure that only real iTunes instances can swap audio with each other. This key
has been broken multiple times, hence there are now a couple of alternative
DAAP implementations, which can swap audio with iTunes (Rhythmbox being one
example). However, with iTunes 7 Apple changed the cryptographic key once
again, and until now nobody managed to break it.

So basically, Apple now dongles AirPorts to iTunes, iTunes to iTunes and
iTunes to iPods. The whole Apple eco-system of media devices and software is dongled
together. And none of the current iterations of the underlying technologies
have been fully broken yet.

While the audio files you can buy at the iTunes shop may now be DRM-free,
you’re still locked into the Apple eco-system if you do that. They replaced DRM with
vendor lock-in.

This lock-in behaviour is childish at best. DAAP once was the de-facto
standard for swapping media files in LANs. Swapping files in LANs is
perfectly legitimate and legal. Then, Microsoft/Intel started to include a
similar technology in UPnP, the UPnP
MediaServer
. An open technology that has now been included in endless media
server devices. Several Free Software implementations exist (most notably gUPnP). These days, uPNP MediaServer is
ubiquitous, DAAP is no more. Apple had the much better starting position, but
they blew it, because of their childish locking-out of alternative
implementations.

I believe that DAAP is the superior protocol in comparison to UPnP
MediaServer. (Not really surprising, since I wrote most of Avahi, which is a free implementation of
mDNS/DNS-SD (“Zeroconf”), the (open) Apple technology that is the basis for
DAAP.) However, due to the closedness of DAAP I would recommend everyone to
favour UPnP MediaServer over DAAP. It’s a pity.

Both DAAP and UPnP MediaServer are transfer protocols, nothing that is ever
directly exposed to the user. Right now, Free Software media players support DAAP much better than UPnP MediaServer. Hopefully, they will start to
abstract the differences away, and allow swapping music the same way over DAAP
and over uPnP. And hopefully, DAAP will eventually die or Apple will open
it. They have shown that they are able to change for the good, they became much
more open with WebKit, and they changed the license of Bonjour to a real Free
Software license. Let’s hope they will eventually notice that locking users in
makes their own technology irrelevant in the long term.

Oh, and let’s hope that Jon finds the time to break all remaining Apple crypto keys! Jon, DAAP 7.0, and the RAOP server key is waiting for you! I’d love to make PulseAudio RAOP-compatible, both as client and as server.

Update: Ars Technica has an update on this.