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Final Fantasy 7 Remake shipping early due to coronavirus


By Sherif Saed,
Monday, 30 March 2020 09:48 GMT

Square Enix has been working to try and get Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s physical copies out ahead of time.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake publisher Square Enix, who previously warned that some physical copies will be delayed as a result of disruption caused by coronavirus, has sort of found a solution.

The company announced today that copies intended for Europe and and Australia have been shipped earlier than usual. Square Enix hopes that this will ensure those copies will arrive at launch in those regions, but it’s also aware that doing this risks getting them to some players ahead of the game’s global launch.

Copies intended for other regions, such as the Americas, will be shipped this week, and should arrive by the game’s official release date. Square Enix revealed all this in a statement posted on Twitter, urging fans who get their copies early not to spoil the game for everyone else.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake is out April 10 on PS4.

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Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook hits shelves April 6th


Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy Chromebook finally has an official release date. You’ll be able to buy it at Samsung and Best Buy next Monday, April 6th, starting at $999.

The device comes in Mercury Gray, or the bolder Fiesta Red that looks bright orange in some settings. It’s the first Chromebook to sport a 13.3-inch 4K OLED display. It also has a more powerful processor than most Chromebooks, an Intel 10th-generation chip. It includes 8GB of RAM (LPDDR3) and a 256GB SSD as well.

When we first saw the device back in January, Samsung indicated that there’d be additional configurations available, featuring up to 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD. The company seems to have killed those models, however; the base model is now the only variant available.

Verge executive editor Dieter Bohn was impressed with the Chromebook’s build quality and the hardware in our first look, calling it “one of the nicest pieces of laptop hardware I’ve touched in a very long time.” Samsung has made a few unique design choices: there’s a camera built into the keyboard deck to take photos when the device is in tablet mode, and there’s an included stylus that lives in a silo on the side.

There also aren’t many companies who have tried to sell Chromebooks at this price point. Only Google has attempted Chrome OS devices at the $999 mark, and both the 2017 Pixelbook and the 2018 Pixel Slate were seen as halo devices for Chrome OS. Neither product got a refresh at the same price; the Pixelbook Go, released last fall, starts at $649.

Samsung’s device will be a lot more expensive than excellent competitors like Asus’ $549 Chromebook Flip C434, not to mention a number of perfectly fine Windows ultrabooks. In the past, affordability has been one of the strongest arguments for buying a Chromebook. So while it’s certainly a picturesque device with high-end hardware inside, it’ll need to be an excellent machine to justify that price.



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Microsoft experiences 775% surge in cloud demand during global health pandemic


By Emily Gera,
Sunday, 29 March 2020 19:46 GMT

Microsoft is experiencing a surge in demand for its cloud services throughout this period of global lockdown due to COVID-19.

The tech giant confirmed a 775 percent increase “in regions that have enforced social distancing or shelter in place order,” with a spike in everything from Xbox Live to digital meeting service Microsoft Teams to Windows Virtual Desktop.

“In response to health authorities emphasizing the importance of social distancing, we’ve seen usage increases in services that support these scenarios—including Microsoft Teams, Windows Virtual Desktop, and Power BI,” reads a post on the official Microsoft Azure blog.

Xbox Live services are being “actively monitoring … to ensure we’re optimizing services for gamers worldwide,” the post continues.

“At the same time, we’re taking proactive steps to plan for high-usage periods, which includes taking prudent measures with our publishing partners to deliver higher-bandwidth activities like game updates during off-peak hours.”

“To streamline moderation and ensure the best experience for our community, we’re making small adjustments,” adds a statement from Xbox support. “We’ve temporarily turned off the ability to upload custom gamerpics, club pics, and club backgrounds.” For now, existing custom Xbox gamerpics will still work, but Microsoft is in the process of lightening the load of its moderation team having to check new uploads during this period.

With more people staying home amid growing the pandemic lockdown, many online gaming services are feeling the pressure. As reported earlier this month, Steam is experiencing record breaking numbers of online users and in-game players – a new concurent online user record of 20 million, with 6.2 million in game.

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HQ Trivia is back less than two months after the app was shut down


HQ Trivia is being resurrected just a little over one month after co-founder Rus Yusupov announced that the app was shutting down.

A push notification went out to HQ Trivia players letting them know a new game will go live tonight at 9PM ET. The notification was followed by a tweet by co-founder Rus Yusupov confirming the return.

A source close to the company confirmed to The Verge the app is officially back, meaning this isn’t just a one-off event. Episodes will begin to air more regularly in the future, but the schedule is currently up in the air as things are figured out. The company has been acquired by a private investor who has asked not to be named, the source also confirmed.

First launched in 2017, HQ Trivia briefly became one of the most popular daily, live interactive quiz apps that found its player base through the promise of cash prizes. HQ Trivia faced a series of incidents that led to turmoil inside the company, according to CNN, including the death of co-founder Colin Kroll in December 2018.

On February 14th, Yusupov sent an email to staff letting them know that “lead investors are no longer willing to fund the company, and so effective today, HQ will cease operations and move to dissolution,” CNN reported.

Yusupov teased on Twitter in February that he was in negotiations with a company to bring HQ back. Part of the negotiations included paying severance to the 25 employees at HQ, and paying out players who still had cash winnings on the app.

“In its new home, we should expect HQ to go through some changes, especially to cover expenses, and be less buggy,” Yusupov tweeted on February 18th.

Tonight’s game will include a public service component that addresses the spread of the novel coronavirus, the source added.





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Plague Inc. is getting a free new mode aimed at fighting, not creating, global pandemics


By Emily Gera,
Sunday, 29 March 2020 22:42 GMT

Plague Inc. developer Ndemic Creations is working on a new mode that gives players the job of stopping a deadly pandemic rather than creating one.

The developer announced the upcoming mode along with its news of a $250,000 donation split between the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

“Eight years ago, I never imagined the real world would come to resemble a game of Plague Inc., or that so many players would be using Plague Inc. to help them get through an actual pandemic,” said Plague Inc. creator James Vaughan. “We are proud to be able to help support the vital work of the WHO and CEPI as they work towards finding a vaccine for COVID-19.”

Ndemic is developing the new game mode with the help of experts from the World Health Organization and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. In it, players will be tasked with managing the disease’s progression while boosting healthcare efforts and controlling things like triaging, quarantining, social distancing, and the closure of public services.

“When arranging our donations with the WHO and CEPI, we were repeatedly asked if we could make a game which let the player work to stop an outbreak. Therefore, as well as providing financial support, we are accelerating work on a new Plague Inc. game mode which lets players save the world from a deadly disease outbreak.”

The mode will be free to players when it goes live. There is no official release date just yet.

In January, Plague Inc. saw an increase in sales during early the stages of the spreading coronavirus. Ndemic would go on to release a public statement warning users that Plague Inc. “is a game, not a scientific model and that the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people.”

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Instacart made in-house hand sanitizer for shoppers who are about to walk off the job


On the eve of a planned work stoppage by its shoppers, Instacart said today it would distribute independently-developed hand sanitizer to its shoppers.

Instacart shoppers are planning to refuse new orders Monday because they say the grocery delivery company has not done enough to protect them during the coronavirus outbreak. The strike is still on, the workers said in a statement today, calling Instacart’s response a “sick joke.”

One of the shoppers’ demands was for Instacart to provide protective gear such as hand sanitizer, but organizers also want the company to add a $5-per-order hazard payment and expand its sick leave policy.

“Given the broad supply chain shortages for supplies like hand sanitizer, Instacart worked with a third-party to manufacture its own hand sanitizer for Instacart shoppers to overcome the existing inventory delays and global supply chain scarcity, without taking away resources from healthcare workers,” the company said in a statement emailed to The Verge.

The shoppers’ group said it has been asking for hand sanitizer for weeks, and questioned how the company was able to source it so quickly. “Where were these efforts back when Shoppers first began asking for it?” their statement read. “It’s abhorrent that it took this long for them to act, but on the bright side, it shows that a strike will work to change their behavior.”

The hand sanitizer is a liquid spray ethyl alcohol-based product that Instacart says meets CDC guidance. It will be made available for free to shoppers who request it via a special website, the company said.

Lead organizer Vanessa Bain told The Verge on Friday that she and other shoppers are concerned for their health, and that Instacart’s measures weren’t going far enough to ensure their safety.

The company announced on March 9th it was giving 14 days of paid leave to any part-time workers or shoppers who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been put into mandatory quarantine.

On Friday the company said it would extend the benefit through May 8th. It also introduced a bonus program, based on hours worked between March 15th and April 15th and ranging from $25 to $200, and additional promotions for full-service shoppers to earn more based on regional demand.

Bain said previously that the sick leave plan was insufficient, since many shoppers don’t have health insurance and would likely work while sick, if they were even able to get a coronavirus test.

In addition to providing hand sanitizer, Instacart said today it is changing the tip options in its app. Under the new structure, the “none” option will be removed, and the app will remember a customer’s previous tip and set it as default for future orders.

In their statement today, however, the workers called this plan “ridiculous” adding it would likely “provide no meaningful benefit to shoppers.”

Instacart has announced plans to hire 300,000 new shoppers due to the overwhelming demand for grocery delivery during the coronavirus outbreak.

For its part the workers’ group says it was “heartened by the outpouring of support” it received since announcing its strike plans, adding “the strike is still on.”



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Gabe Newell discusses that time he was once a gold farmer in World of Warcraft


By Emily Gera,
Sunday, 29 March 2020 22:01 GMT

Valve honcho and billionaire Gabe Newell once worked as a gold farmer in World of Warcraft while in the early research phase of what would eventually become Steam Workshop.

Newell opened up about his time as a gold farmer in a recent interview with Edge (via PC Gamer), describing a period of making $20 an hour by aquiring and selling gold in World of Warcraft.

“We were always used to thinking about games as entertainment experiences, but then we started thinking of them as productivity platforms,” says Newell. “As a sort of proof-of-concept, I decided to be a World of Warcraft gold farmer for a while. I was making $20 an hour farming gold. I was making what was a spectacular wage for most people in most parts of the world.”

“That’s when we started focusing heavily on things like the Steam Workshop and trying to think of everybody as a content creator.”

Steam Workshop is, of course, Steam’s central hub for player-created content. The hub was introduced in late 2011, a few years after the first big wave of gold farmers into World of Warcraft.

“[We were] trying to think of everybody as a content creator,” said Newell.

“There’s this story of the parents that called us up because they thought we were selling their kids drugs. What happened was PayPal pinged the parents and said ‘Your kid is exceeding our limits of how much money they can put into PayPal per month. They’re probably selling stolen goods or drugs because there’s no other explanation.’

“So the parents called us up and I said ‘He makes items on the Team Fortress workshop. He’s making $500,000 a year.’ That to us was an indication that this was a helpful way of thinking of games as platforms and it has informed all of our decisions about multiplayer games subsequently.”

 

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FDA approves Battelle’s process to decontaminate N95 face masks


The Food and Drug Administration has approved the limited use of a process that would clean much-needed N95 protective face masks and allow them to be reused, the agency said in a release. Columbus-Ohio based Battelle uses a “vapor phase hydrogen peroxide” process to decontaminate the masks being used by healthcare providers and others to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Battelle says its Critical Care Decontamination Systems could decontaminate up to 80,000 masks per day.

But the FDA is restricting the number of masks that Battelle can decontaminate with its process to 10,000 per day. From the FDA release:

Battelle is authorized to decontaminate up to 10,000 compatible N95 respirators per day, consistent with the data provided to FDA. Battelle shall provide FDA weekly reports, including data according to a testing plan for scale-up reviewed by FDA, regarding the decontamination of compatible N95 respirators, including any reductions in decontamination ability

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine criticized the limit as “reckless,” according to the Columbus Dispatch. “Battelle’s innovative technology has the capability to protect healthcare professionals and first responders in Ohio and across the country, but in this time of crisis, the FDA has decided not to support those who are risking their lives to save others,” DeWine said in a statement.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the FDA had decided to restrict the number of masks Battelle could decontaminate per day. We reached out to the agency for comment and will update if we hear back.

N95 respirators are disposable, snug-fitting face masks that can keep virus-laden droplets away from a wearer’s mouth and nose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the masks’ effectiveness is “highly dependent upon proper fit and use.”



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Nier is getting remastered for PC, PS4 and Xbox One


By Emily Gera,
Sunday, 29 March 2020 16:57 GMT

Square Enix is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Nier with the release of a remastered version for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Nier Replicant ver. 1.22474487139, as it will be called, will launch on PlayStation 4, PC via Steam, and Xbox One.

Nier Replicant was originally only released in Japan for PS3. Over in the West, gamers got a version called Nier Gestalt – which also came to Japan on Xbox 360. The games differed in their protagonist: an older man in Gestalt’s case, and a younger man in Replicant’s.

The remastered release will feature new voice work, re-recorded music and new tracks from composer Keiicher Okabe, as well as new characters and possibly new endings.

“NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…, an upgraded version of the original, is now in development for PS4, Xbox One and Steam!” the developer said via the official Nier Twitter account. “Enter an apocalyptic world as you play as a brother on a quest to cure his sister of a deadly disease in this unique action RPG.”

In addition to the Nier Replicant remaster, Square Enix has also revealed it will be bringing Nier Reincarnation to iOS and Android devices.

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Detroit auto show canceled as FEMA prepares venue to be a field hospital for COVID-19


The 2020 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit has been canceled as FEMA officials prepare to use its venue, the TCF Center, as a temporary field hospital for COVID-19, CNBC reports.

“Although we are disappointed, there is nothing more important to us than the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of Detroit and Michigan, and we will do what we can to support our community’s fight against the coronavirus outbreak,” Rod Alberts, executive director of the show, said in a statement announcing the decision.

As of Saturday Michigan had at least 4,650 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 111 deaths, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Tickets for the show will be refunded. The next NAIAS is scheduled for June 2021.

NAIAS is the fourth big auto show to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The New York International Auto Show, originally slated to open April 10th, has been postponed until August. Its venue, the Jacob K. Javits Center, also is being repurposed by FEMA and the National Guard as a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients.

China postponed the Beijing Auto Show, which was scheduled to begin on April 21st. And the Geneva Motor Show, which was supposed to take place earlier this month, was canceled after the Swiss government banned large gatherings of more than 1,000 people.



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