War Stories: How Forza learned to love neural nets to train AI drivers

Produced by Justin Wolfson, edited by Shandor Garrison. Click here for transcript.
Once an upstart, the Forza franchise is now firmly established within the pantheon of great racing games. The first installment was created as the Xbox’s answer to Gran Turismo, but with a healthy helping of online multiplayer racing, too. Since then, it has grown with Microsoft’s Xbox consoles, with more realistic graphics and ever-more accurate physics in the track-focused Forza Motorsport series as well as evolving into open-world adventuring (and even a trip to the Lego dimension) for the Forza Horizon games.
If you’re one of the millions of people who’ve played a Forza racing game, you’re probably aware of the games’ AI opponents, called “Drivatars.” When the first Drivatars debuted in Forza Motorsport in 2005, they were a substantial improvement over the NPCs we raced in other driving games, which often just followed the same preprogrammed route around the


Original URL: https://arstechnica.com/?p=1705877

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Xbox Series S confirmed by Microsoft after next-gen Xbox price leak [Updated]

The official Microsoft reveal of Xbox Series S, posted in the wee hours of Tuesday morning after a Monday evening leak. [credit:
Xbox
]

On Monday evening, a floodgate opened about Microsoft’s next-gen console launch plans. Multiple reports, along with a telling video snippet, put an exclamation point on the company’s leaked aspirations to launch the “Xbox Series X” console (announced in late 2019) next to a cheaper, smaller “Xbox Series S” model by year’s end.
Hours after the reports went live, Microsoft confirmed that Xbox Series S indeed exists. Described by Microsoft as “the smallest Xbox ever,” this new console will launch at a $299 price point.
Longtime Microsoft-tracking reporter Brad Sams kicked off the flurry of Monday news with a screenshot showing an apparent Xbox Series S design, colored white and roughly half the size of an Xbox Series X, next to a


Original URL: https://arstechnica.com/?p=1704312

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Is Microsoft Planning To Phase Out Xbox Live Gold?

Yesterday, a Microsoft rep confirmed that the option to purchase 12 months of Xbox Live Gold has been removed from the Microsoft Store. That’s exactly a week ahead of the July 23 games presentation, where Microsoft could be announcing a plan to phase out the subscription service altogether with the launch of Xbox Series X. Inverse reports: “At this time Xbox has decided to remove the 12 month Xbox Live Gold SKU from the Microsoft online Store,” a Microsoft spokesperson tells Inverse. “Customers can still sign up for a 1 month or 3 month Xbox Live Gold subscription online through the Microsoft Store.” No attention was brought to this change officially in any public statements, but shortening the length that people can subscribe to Xbox Live Gold is very telling. “It also seems like the right time for Microsoft to talk about the future of Xbox,” Venture Beat’s Jeff Grubb


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Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gets free xCloud game streaming in September

Remember the old Xbox “Jump In” ad campaign? Apparently it’s back. [credit:
Microsoft
]

Last November, Microsoft announced that its Project xCloud game-streaming service (which is currently in open beta) would eventually be integrated with its Xbox Game Pass subscription service in some form. This morning, Microsoft added a bit more clarity to that integration, announcing in a blog post that xCloud streaming will be available “at no additional cost for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members” starting in September.
Microsoft promises that “over 100 Xbox Game Pass titles” will be available for xCloud streaming “on your phone or tablet” as part of a Game Pass Ultimate subscription. That’s a much smaller selection than the 234 Xbox 360 and Xbox One games that are currently available to download as part of the subscription, not to mention the 140 or so PC-exclusive downloads that are


Original URL: https://arstechnica.com/?p=1692027

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Microsoft Reveals More Xbox Series X Specs

Microsoft revealed new details on its next-generation console, text, on Monday morning, confirming specifications on what the company calls its “superior balance of power and speed” for its new hardware. From a report: The next-gen Xbox, Microsoft said, will be four times as powerful as the original Xbox One. The Xbox Series X “next-generation custom processor” will employ AMD’s Zen 2 and RDNA 2 architecture, head of Xbox Phil Spencer wrote on the Xbox website. “Delivering four times the processing power of an Xbox One and enabling developers to leverage 12 [teraflops] of GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) performance — twice that of an Xbox One X and more than eight times the original Xbox One,” Spencer said. He called the next-generation Xbox’s processing and graphics power “a true generational leap,” offering higher frame rates — with support for up to 120 fps — and more sophisticated game worlds.

That 12


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Xbox One April Update Rolling Out With Low-Latency Mode, FreeSync, and 1440p Support; 120Hz Support Coming In May Update

Microsoft is rolling out a new Xbox One update that brings 1440p support for the Xbox One S and X, as well as support for AMD’s FreeSync technology to allow compatible displays to sync refresh rates with Microsoft’s consoles. A subsequent update in May will bring 120Hz-display refresh-rate support to the Xbox One. The Verge reports: FreeSync, like Nvidia’s G-Sync, helps remove tearing or stuttering usually associated with gaming on monitors, as the feature syncs refresh rates to ensure games run smoothly. Alongside this stutter-free tech, Microsoft is also supporting automatic switching to a TV’s game mode. Auto Low-Latency Mode, as Microsoft calls it, will be supported on new TVs, and will automatically switch a TV into game mode to take advantage of the latency reductions. The Xbox One will also support disabling game mode when you switch to another app like Netflix. Microsoft is also making some audio tweaks


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The Xbox One S gets bundled ‘Madden’ and ‘Halo’

 Sure the plain ole Xbox got a price drop to $249 ahead of the release of the console’s svelte new configuration, but Microsoft’s still looking to lure in bargain hunters who’ve been eying the 40-percent slimmer new console.
This morning the company showed off two Xbox One S bundles, due out a few weeks after the system’s August 2 debut, each featuring one of the… Read More


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Microsoft now lets you turn any Xbox One into a development kit

O92A2929 The Xbox One is about to become a far more interesting (and accessible) platform for indie game developers — and regular users will soon be able to use their console to chat with Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant, too. Ever since Microsoft launched its Xbox One console, the company promised it would allow any developer to develop apps for it — but until now, you… Read More


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Xbox Live now supports cross-platform multiplayer with PS4

Xbox Console At this point, there’s very little difference between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. But there was one key differentiating point. Xbox gamers could only play with Xbox and PC players as Microsoft was restricting access to the multiplayer component. Microsoft just announced that game developers can now create cross-platform multiplayer modes th Read More


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