Modern Warfare 3 Leaked

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One of the most anticipated games this year, Activision’s Modern Warfare 3 joins its predecessors — Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 — in the pre-release piracy box. Modern Warfare 3 is due out in stores on November 8.

Dean Takahashi reports on Venture Beat that a thief had physically stolen one of the discs from the two-disc set from a distribution warehouse where copies are being stored. According to the story, it’s disc 2 of the set for the PC and apparently it’s started to circulate.

The story also reports that Activision is actively seeking the pirates with one posting on Craigslist on being forced to delete or destroy his copy of the game or face immediate fines. Apparently, Activision has stepped up its game on being able to track who has what if the posting is to be believed.

Gamespot had also commented on the report by pointing out that simply having the second disc isn’t enough to play the game somewhat mitigating fears over a rash of spoiler filled vids raining down from Youtube such as what followed Crysis 2.

Estimates can vary on how much of an impact this might have on sales, yet few doubt that MW3 will be a titanic windfall for Activision’s coffers when it hits. Piracy is still piracy, though it arguably did little to dent the record breaking numbers of copies sold for either Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops when they were released. However, an estimate on revenue lost due to the piracy of Black Ops reportedly tops $200 million that could have gone to Activision. Certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities who has often been quoted in the gaming press for his forecasts on associated trends, has estimated that MW3 will sell “16 million units by the end of the fourth quarter” and “another 8 million next year”.

BlizzCon 2011: Starcraft 2 – Heart of the Swarm gets a new trailer

Also out from Blizzcon is a new trailer showing off a bit more of the story in the next installment of Starcraft 2. It’s spoiler worthy stuff meaning that if you haven’t finished the first game, Wings of Liberty, you might want to avert your eyes as it picks up right after the ending with former Zerg queen/Terran Ghost operative Kerrigan finally returning home, so to speak, for revenge.

Wings of Liberty focused on the Terran story and Heart of the Swarm is going to be all about the Zerg along with adding a number of new units to spice things up online. All in all, it looks like RTS players are going to be playing with new and improved Zerg swarms when this breaks.

BlizzCon 2011: World of Warcraft gets…Pandas?

At Blizzard’s Blizzcon in Anaheim, big announcements were made not the least of which was the introduction of a new race to World of Warcraft – the Pandaren.

The race has been used before as an April Fools joke in the past with Warcraft 3 in 2002. In 2005, the Pandaren Xpress was jokingly referred to as an upcoming in-game service wherein players could order out for Chinese food without leaving their PCs. And now it looks like Blizzard has actually made it real.

The jokes were taken in stride by Blizzard’s fans who were fascinated by the idea and loved the humor that the developer wasn’t shy about sharing.

This time around, the announcement has met with some decidedly mixed opinions across several forums. Reading through the thread at PC Gamer, for example, doesn’t seem to have the kind of glowing response that one might expect with one poster believing that this is the point at which the MMORPG has “jumped the shark”.

A thread on the official forums is also filled with mixed opinions, though many are just thankful that Blizzard has continued with its stellar support with another juicy expansion that brings in more than just another race but a host of other additions including pet vs. pet battles, a new land to explore, and plenty of nice art to gawk at.

Whatever you decide for yourself how to take this news, WoW fan or not, it’s coming, so get prepared by watching the official preview below.

Pirates quizzed with Deus Ex

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Here’s an interesting note on piracy. Eurogamer reports that James Grimshaw, founder of Vigilant Defender, leaked a modified version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s preview to torrent sites.

The preview had already been leaked all the way back in May, but James made his version kick players out after a certain point in the game to an online questionnaire asking why they did what they did. In essence, he’s turned the preview into a unofficial demo.

Vigilant Defender, based out of Ireland, purportedly works to offer anti-piracy strategies to publishers and this experiment is but one way that they are trying to prove that pirates can be customers.

It’s an interesting use of torrents which, by themselves, aren’t illegal though the same cannot be said as to what is actually being torrented. Disguising the preview as the work of other piracy groups is also something that skirts several issues, not the least of which is that distributing the preview likely isn’t condoned by Square Enix despite having been leaked awhile back.

That said, it’s an interesting if not very grey method in being able to tap pirates on the shoulder and ask for their opinion. For instance, the article mentions that of the 26,000 that declared their interest to pay for the game in the questionnaire, Grimshaw discovered that the average price that seemed fair to them was around 14.49 euros.

It’s an incredibly low price for what is considered a AAA title, yet it also begs the question of whether low prices would actually move more product to recoup costs versus the present $60 USD model typically used for big console releases. It’s no secret that when Steam launches one of their special seasonal specials, downloaded product flies through the door, so to speak, thanks largely to the temporary fire sale.

Software piracy has been around since the first games had been copied to floppies and despite many efforts to curb it, it’s still an unfortunate reality to publishers and developers. There are many reasons as to why pirates do what they do, but Grimshaw and his company seem determined to shed some light on why – and in the long run, how to better deal with it.

So Nyan Cat is in Unreal Tournament 3

A group of modders got together and replaced the area-clearing, uber weapon from Unreal Tournament 3, the Redeemer, with Nyan Cat. If you’re not sure what Nyan Cat is, you can follow this link to the original video and bear witness to an internet meme that some find hilarious and others use as an excuse to never wander around on the internet again.

It’s a PC only mod meaning that I might have to fire up UT3 just to try this out. Or to see who will have the guts to use this in multiplayer.

Starcraft II – Heart of the Swarm trailer rolls out, but don’t hope for a release date yet

A short tease was released for the next chapter in the Starcraft II saga, Heart of the Swarm. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that the game might actually be coming out this year. Earlier this month, Activision had their quarterly financial call in which Thomas Tippl, COO and CFO of Activision Blizzard, had said:

“As I mentioned on our last call, given Blizzard Entertainment has not
confirmed the launch date for its next global release, our outlook at
this time does not include a new game from Blizzard in 2011. Should
Blizzard not release a major title this year, we would expect, for
planning purposes, to launch a minimum of 2 Blizzard titles in 2012.”

Of course, that only says that Blizzard hasn’t said anything yet about dates so they’re planning on two Blizzard titles in 2012 if they don’t pull the trigger this year. It’s a safe guess that the two titles could be Heart of the Swarm and the long awaited Diablo III.

One odd thing about the trailer. It was posted on Gametrailers, then pulled. It didn’t take long for it to show up elsewhere, though, with the Gametrailers intro stripped out (but you can still see the watermark). Check it out while it’s fresh.

Sony Online Entertainment taken Offline

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Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) has gone offline for “maintenance” according to the statement at their site located here which has temporarily replaced their homepage. According to the message:

“Customers outside the United States should be advised that we further
discovered evidence that information from an outdated database from
2007 containing approximately 12,700 non-US customer credit or debit
card numbers and expiration dates (but not credit card security codes)
and about 10,700 direct debit records listing bank account numbers of
certain customers in Germany, Austria, Netherlands and Spain may have
also been obtained. We will be notifying each of those customers
promptly.”

They also go on to state that their main credit card database was not at risk as it is located in a “completely separate and secured environment.” SOE and PSN (Playstation Network)  provide separate entertainment services for Sony. SOE is probably better known among PC users for the MMOs they have focused on that platform, such as Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies.

However, perhaps as many as 24.6 million user accounts were also affected by the attack with personal information compromised in the same way that they had been on PSN with names, addresses, and hashed passwords placed at risk. Whether or not the two incidents are related is anyone’s guess. Since SOE is down, that also means anyone hoping to squeeze in a little time on any of its games are going to have to wait.

To say that Sony has had the worst few days in their life is probably something of an understatement at this point. With PSN’s forced downtime and now SOE’s over security, I can only imagine the IT specialists working in the trenches at the company praying for some light at the end of the tunnel.

World’s Biggest PAC-MAN

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Thanks to a collaboration between Namco Bandai, Microsoft Australia, and Australian digital studio, Soap Creative, the “World’s Biggest PAC-MAN” is here. It was created to help promote future PAC-MAN properties and from the stats, there’s a lot of love out there. Over 274 million dots have been eaten so far in this online game (as of this writing).

Players can also create their own maps that get added to a growing collection of thousands. You’ll see love messages, giant PAC-MAN shaped fields of dots, a cat shaped maze, and giant faces all linked together to provide an ever growing playground of close calls and endless eating. It could be Billy Mitchell’s worst nightmare – or greatest dream.

It’s also free to play. All you need is a computer, a browser, and a lot of time to help wear down your arrow keys. Or a good sense of humor with a dash of devious cunning when you unleash your creativity – as long as you can keep it clean.

Quick Review: Battlefield Play4Free Beta (PC)

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So what’s not to like about EA’s free FPS? It’s cheap, disposable 32-player fun that’s good for a quick bite of action, though it won’t replace your copy of Bad Company or Modern Warfare 2.

It’ll be supported through microtransactions which means that you’ll need to pony up real-time cash to buy things like extra soldier slots (you start out with only two freebies) and permanent weapons outside of the generic stock that classes start with. It’s also still a Beta which means glitches like the one where I had lost an entire level’s worth of experience after being dumped from the game. I hope they fix that.

If you want to live free, that’s okay, too – experience for levels and training points for skills are still  earned. Vehicles cost nothing, other than having the skill to actually use them – especially in the air – and the maps offer plenty of places to use for cover, snipe, or face to face time with heavy armor. All in all, a fun fix for FPS junkies that doesn’t require anything more than a browser and a decent internet connection.

Is Samsung is watching your keystrokes?

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Network World has an ongoing story broken by Mohamed Hassan, an IT expert, who reported the discovery of a keylogger program on two new laptops bought from Samsung. When Samsung was initially asked about it, they had first pointed fingers at Microsoft.

Later, however, when the incident was escalated upwards, a supervisor at Samsung admitted that the software was knowingly put there to “monitor the performance of the machine and to find out how it is being used.” Examining the program, a keylogger called “StarLogger”, it records every keystroke made – even the ones that you think are safe when you type in passwords. It runs in the background, silently, and can email the results back without the user knowing.

If this is widespread across more than the two Samsung laptop models that Hassan investigated (an R525 and an R540), it’s a blatant security vulnerability evidently sanctioned by the company. The supervisor’s answer is telling because that’s exactly what it implies.

If you’re not familiar with what a keylogger like this can do, just imagine inviting someone to look over your shoulder while you do your banking or email who then reports your keystrokes and password back to a total stranger. It would also be as if Toyota or Ford secretly installed video cameras inside their cars to monitor just how people use them, sending the data wirelessly to wherever.

When I first heard about this, I was amazed that a company would even think that this kind of thing was okay. It’s not the first time this has happened, either. Sony was caught a few years back for rootkits that secretly installed on PCs when you played any of their music CDs on them, rootkits that were found to inadvertently open security holes and cause problems for Windows machines in general, forcing a huge recall of all affected discs.

People already have a lot to worry about when it comes to protecting their information online. The last thing they need to do is to worry about whether the company they’re buying a new PC from is also trying to get it…and leave the door open for everyone else to do the same.
 
UPDATE (3.30.11): Samsung has launched an investigation and is working with Mr. Hassan and fellow security expert, M.E. Kabay

UPDATE (3.31.11): It turns out that in the end, it was a false positive. Samsung is completely in the clear, though as Network World has commented, odd that an employee would admit that there was a keylogger on these laptops when asked by Hassan. Nevertheless, it turns out that the virus scanner used to detect the software, VIPRE, mistakenly identified another piece of software for the keylogger. VIPRE has since been updated and GFI Labs, the developer of the scanner, have issued apologies all around.