This Week in Tech 669: 15 Minutes of Fun

–Apple’s WWDC this week looks like it may be a disappointment for anyone hoping for new hardware.
–Facebook is killing its “Trending Topics” section.
–Teens prefer Instagram and Snapchat to Facebook; close to half are “almost constantly” online.
–The Atari VCS is coming soon for expensive retro gaming.
–Scooters and bikes are becoming a problem for San Francisco.
–The new emoji are coming!
–A Canadian Hacker gets 5 years for his part in the Russin-linked Yahoo breach.
–Microsoft is worth more than Google.
–Self-driving technology picks up speed as California ok’s free autonomous taxis.

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This Week in Tech 636: A Fat Suit for Your Phone

The New York Times clamps down on social media. Twitter will clamp down on hate. Qualcomm drags China into its fight with Apple. Google drags Target into its fight with Amazon. TransUnion drags itself into everyone’s fight with Equifax. Oculus announces a wire-free VR headset. Shell buys into electric charging. Atari 2600 turns 40. US vs Japan giant robot fight go!

Atari games found buried in New Mexico landfill make $107,000 on eBay

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The Alamogordo News has reported that 881 of the early-eighties Atari video game cartridges that were dug up last year by a team of diggers and filmmakers have sold for a grand total of $107,930 on eBay.

In April last year, a film and dig crew set out to discover if the story of Atari burying almost one million unsold video cartridges into a New Mexico landfill was nothing more than a rumor. Led by archaeologist Andrew Reinhard, the teams unearthed hundreds of copies of E.T., consider by many to be the worst game ever made, alongside Missile Command, Defender, Swordquest, Pac-Man and many other titles.

The E.T. video game for the Atari 2600 was released in 1982. It had been developed in a rush so as to get the game in stores for the Christmas shopping season; part of the reason it became a commercial and critical disaster. The game was far too punishing and confusing for gamers, and became a major contributing factor to the North American video game crash of 1983. This led to Atari shutting down its El Paso, Texas, factory and having to get rid of roughly 700,000 unsold copies of games – and not just E.T. The cartridges were quietly disposed of in the Alamogordo dump, although Atari never confirmed or denied this, leading to the story becoming an urban legend up until last year.

Joe Lewandowski, an operational consultant who helped locate the cache, appeared at a city commission meeting in Alamogordo last week and said the sales of the cartridges had made $107,930. He added that $65,037.78 will go to the city of Alamogordo and $16,259.44 to the Tularosa Basin Historical Society. The rest of the money, just under $27,000, was used for expenses.

Lewandowski said he is holding on to 297 of the cartridges, telling the Alamogordo News: “I might sell those if a second movie comes out, but for now we’re just holding them,” adding that a reboot of E.T. the movie could increase the value of the games for the city.

The search for the games was the basis of the documentary ‘Atari: Game Over,’ that was released in November 2014. It was also the central theme in the movie version of the popular web series ‘Angry Video Game Nerd.’

Atari to indie dev: Stop ripping off your own work on Tempest 2000 [Updated]

Update: Minter has posted a letter dated June 2014, sent by Atari law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP, laying out what it sees as the legally actionable similarities between Tempest and TxK.

Original Story:

Llamasoft developer Jeff Minter is currently embroiled in a heated legal discussion with Atari over the rights to TxK, a tube shooter released last year on the Vita that bears a striking resemblance to 1994 Atari Jaguar release Tempest 2000.

The apparent similarities between Tempest 2000 and TxK are perhaps unsurprising, given that Minter single-handedly did the coding on both games, the former while working for Atari and the latter as an independent developer (credit for 1980’s original Tempest, which was the inspiration for Tempest 2000, belongs to Atari’s Dave Theurer). Minter even called TxK “an updated version [of Tempest 2000] on modern hardware” when announcing the Vita game back in 2013.

But Minter now says Atari is trying to unduly claim trademark and copyright rights to TxK and attempting to stop him from distributing the existing Vita version of the game as well as planned ports for the PC, PS4, Android, and VR platforms. “I think the weirdest aspect of the legal letter thing is how they desperately try to imply I had nothing much to do with my own creation,” Minter tweeted incredulously.

Minter outlines what he refers to as “threats and bullying” from Atari’s “legal letter” in a post on his blog and through his Twitter account (though he has not shared the full text of the letter). Among the “legal accusations” allegedly made by Atari (quotes are Minter’s relaying of pieces of Atari’s apparent allegations):

Tempest 2000 was “merely an update to Tempest to which [Minter] made no contribution” (source)

“There is nothing remotely original in TxK and in no way can it be described as [Minter’s] original creation” (source)

“TxK features an electronic music sound track and sound effects that are indistinguishable from those used in Tempest 2000” (source)

TxK and Minter are profiting from association with the Tempest and Atari brand names.

Minter says Atari is “trying to insist that I remove from sale Vita TxK (even though it’s plainly at the end of its run now and only brings in a trickle these days) and sign papers basically saying I can never make a Tempest style game ever again. So no chance of releasing the ports.” He also says simply contesting the legal claims in Atari’s letter would be incredibly costly and that Atari has rebuked attempts to get “official” Tempest branding for TxK or its ports.

Read more: Atari to indie dev: Stop ripping off your own work on Tempest 2000 [Updated] | Ars Technica.

Atari’s CEO plans to revive the brand with online gambling, original shows, and licensing deals

It has been quite a long time since Atari sat atop the gaming world. Its once top of the line titles and its well known Atari 2600 console seem like relics of the past to today’s gamer. While the company hasn’t seen much attention outside of its bankruptcy proceedings in 2013 and the New Mexico excavation of its legendary E.T. games, its new CEO Fred Chesnais wants to change all that.

Atari recently release an updated mobile version of its classic Haunted House title on iOS with more titles slated for later in 2014. Chesnais, who actually ran Atari as the CEO previously between 2004 and 2007, plans to revive the brand through various avenues including gaming, online gambling and TV. His first main step will be to allow experienced development studios to license Atari brands in order to make great new products.

When it comes to games, Atari has plans to continue to reboot its older classics for mobile platforms as well as create all new experiences. The company will be bringing back its popular Asteroids title from 1979 once again. The once retro space shooter will go mobile and multiplayer but also have something to do with the survival genre, according to Wired.

While it is illegal in the US, real-money gambling over the internet has picked up overseas in a big way and Chesnais wants Atari to capitalize on it. Some studies suggest that online casino games and things of that nature could garner up to 168 million users by 2018. The reviving gaming icon has already tapped two developers to begin work on Atari Casino, a casino style, social gambling game for mobile platforms that will come in two variants. One studio (FlowPlay) is handling the casual version of the game that only contains virtual currency gambling and the other (Pariplay) will handle the real money version.

Atari will also branch out to create original TV programming for YouTube and places like that. Its efforts will kick off with a video blog on TheRealPele.com set to cover famous soccer player Pele around the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Chesnais feels strongly that this type of content is another way for Atari to recreate itself for a new generation. Chesnais said “We’re not just competing against gaming companies anymore. At the end of the day, it’s a competition for the user’s time…We have to be there..We cannot ignore another revolution.”

via Atari’s CEO plans to revive the brand with online gambling, original shows, and licensing deals – TechSpot.

The History of the Modern Graphics Processor, Part 1

The evolution of the modern graphics processor begins with the introduction of the first 3D add-in cards in 1995, followed by the widespread adoption of the 32-bit operating systems and the affordable personal computer.

The graphics industry that existed before that largely consisted of a more prosaic 2D, non-PC architecture, with graphics boards better known by their chip’s alphanumeric naming conventions and their huge price tags. 3D gaming and virtualization PC graphics eventually coalesced from sources as diverse as arcade and console gaming, military, robotics and space simulators, as well as medical imaging.

The early days of 3D consumer graphics were a Wild West of competing ideas. From how to implement the hardware, to the use of different rendering techniques and their application and data interfaces, as well as the persistent naming hyperbole. The early graphics systems featured a fixed function pipeline (FFP), and an architecture following a very rigid processing path utilizing almost as many graphics APIs as there were 3D chip makers.

While 3D graphics turned a fairly dull PC industry into a light and magic show, they owe their existence to generations of innovative endeavour. Over the next few weeks (this is the first installment on a series of four articles) we’ll be taking an extensive look at the history of the GPU, going from the early days of 3D consumer graphics, to the 3Dfx Voodoo game-changer, the industry’s consolidation at the turn of the century, and today’s modern GPGPU.

1976 – 1995: The Early Days of 3D Consumer Graphics

The first true 3D graphics started with early display controllers, known as video shifters and video address generators. They acted as a pass-through between the main processor and the display. The incoming data stream was converted into serial bitmapped video output such as luminance, color, as well as vertical and horizontal composite sync, which kept the line of pixels in a display generation and synchronized each successive line along with the blanking interval (the time between ending one scan line and starting the next).

A flurry of designs arrived in the latter half of the 1970s, laying the foundation for 3D graphics as we know them.

Atari 2600 released in September 1977

RCA’s “Pixie” video chip (CDP1861) in 1976, for instance, was capable of outputting a NTSC compatible video signal at 62×128 resolution, or 64×32 for the ill-fated RCA Studio II console.

The video chip was quickly followed a year later by the Television Interface Adapter (TIA) 1A, which was integrated into the Atari 2600 for generating the screen display, sound effects, and reading input controllers. Development of the TIA was led by Jay Miner, who also led the design of the custom chips for the Commodore Amiga computer later on.

In 1978, Motorola unveiled the MC6845 video address generator. This became the basis for the IBM PC’s Monochrome and Color Display Adapter (MDA/CDA) cards of 1981, and provided the same functionality for the Apple II. Motorola added the MC6847 video display generator later the same year, which made its way into a number of first generation personal computers, including the Tandy TRS-80.

IBM PC’s Monochrome Display Adapter

A similar solution from Commodore’s MOS Tech subsidiary, the VIC, provided graphics output for 1980-83 vintage Commodore home computers.

In November the following year, LSI’s ANTIC (Alphanumeric Television Interface Controller) and CTIA/GTIA co-processor (Color or Graphics Television Interface Adaptor), debuted in the Atari 400. ANTIC processed 2D display instructions using direct memory access (DMA). Like most video co-processors, it could generate playfield graphics (background, title screens, scoring display), while the CTIA generated colors and moveable objects. Yamaha and Texas Instruments supplied similar IC’s to a variety of early home computer vendors.

The next steps in the graphics evolution were primarily in the professional fields.

Intel used their 82720 graphics chip as the basis for the $1000 iSBX 275 Video Graphics Controller Multimode Board. It was capable of displaying eight color data at a resolution of 256×256 (or monochrome at 512×512). Its 32KB of display memory was sufficient to draw lines, arcs, circles, rectangles and character bitmaps. The chip also had provision for zooming, screen partitioning and scrolling.

SGI quickly followed up with their IRIS Graphics for workstations — a GR1.x graphics board with provision for separate add-in (daughter) boards for color options, geometry, Z-buffer and Overlay/Underlay.

Full Story: The History of the Modern Graphics Processor – TechSpot.