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Demon’s Souls: The first truly next-gen game is a lopsided but impressive showcase – TechCrunch

The next generation of gaming is here with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X — except it isn’t, because there are almost no next-generation games to play on them. Demon’s Souls is the first title that can truly be called next-gen, and it shows — even though it’s a remake of a PS3 game… […]…

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The next generation of gaming is here with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X — except it isn’t, because there are almost no next-generation games to play on them. Demon’s Souls is the first title that can truly be called next-gen, and it shows — even though it’s a remake of a PS3 game… which also shows.

The original Demon’s Souls was an incredibly influential game. Its sequel, Dark Souls, was more popular and improved on the first quite a bit, but much of what made the now major series good had already been established. “Souls-like” is practically a genre now, though the originals are unsurprisingly still the nonpareil.

The comparative few who played Demon’s Souls were elated to hear that it was being remade, and by Bluepoint at that (who also remade the legendary Shadow of the Colossus), but worried that the game might not stand up by modern standards.

Can an old game, the essentials of which are a decade behind its descendants, be given a really, really, really ridiculously good-looking coat of paint and still act as a blockbuster next-gen debut? Well, it kind of has to — there’s no other option! Fortunately the game really does hold up, and in fact makes for a harrowing, cinematic experience despite a few significant creaks.

I don’t want to give a full review of the game itself; let it suffice to say that, although it looks and runs much better, the core of the game is almost entirely unchanged. Any review from the last decade is still completely relevant, down to the “magic is overpowered” and “inventory burden is annoying.”

As a next-gen gaming experience, however, Demon’s Souls is as yet without comparison. It serves as a showcase not only for the PS5’s graphical prowess, but its sound design, haptics, speed and OS.

Image Credits: Sony

First, the graphics. It’s clear that Sony and Bluepoint intended this to be a truly lavish remake, and the game’s structure — essentially five long, mostly linear levels — provides an excellent platform for breathtaking visuals carefully tuned to the user’s experience.

The environments themselves are incredibly detailed, and the various enemies you fight very well realized, but what I kept being impressed by was the lighting. Realistic lighting is something that has proven difficult even for top-tier developers, and it’s only now that the hardware has enough headroom to start doing it properly.

Demon’s Souls doesn’t use ray-tracing, the computation-heavy lighting technique perennially on the cusp of being implemented, but the real-time lighting effects are nevertheless dramatic and extremely engaging. This is a dark, dark world and the player is very limited as far as personal light sources, meaning the way you experience the environment is carefully designed.

Although the detailed armor, props and monsters are all very nice, it’s the realistic lighting that really sets them off in a way that seems truly new and beautiful. Dynamic range is used properly, to have actually dark areas illuminated dramatically, such as the still-terrifying Tower of Latria.

Image Credits: Sony

The game isn’t a huge leap over the best the PC has to offer right now, but it does make me excited for game designers who really want to use light and shadow as gameplay elements.

(Incidentally, don’t bother with the “cinematic” option versus “performance.” The latter keeps the game silky smooth, which for Souls games is a luxury, and the other setting didn’t improve the look much if at all, while severely affecting the framerate. Skip it unless you’re taking glamour shots.)

Similarly sound is extremely well done in the game, though I’m cautious about hyping Sony’s “3D audio” — really, games have had this sort of thing for years on many platforms. Having a decent pair of headphones is the important bit. But perhaps the PS5 offers improved workflows for spatializing sound; at all events in Demon’s Souls it was very good, with great separation, location and clarity. I have reliably dodged an enemy attack from offscreen after recognizing the characteristic grunt of an attacking foe, and the screeches and roars of dragons and boss monsters (as well as the general milieu of Latria) were suitably chilling.

A Sony DualSense controller seen from above.

Image Credits: Sony

This combined well with the improved haptics of the DualSense controller, which seemed to have a different “sensation” for every event. A dragon flying overhead, a demon stomping the ground, a blocked attack, an elevator ride. Mostly these were good and only aided immersion, but some, like the elevators, felt to me more like an annoying buzz than a rumble, like holding a power tool. I hope that developers will be sensible about these things and identify vibration patterns that are irritating. Fortunately the intensity can be adjusted universally in the PS5’s controls.

Likewise the adaptive triggers were nice but not game-changing. It was helpful when using the bow to know when the arrow was ready to release, for instance, but beyond a few things like that it was not used to great advantage.

Something that had a more immediate effect on how I played was the incredibly short load times. The Souls series has always been plagued by long load times when traveling and dying, the latter of which you can expect to do a lot. But now it’s rare that I can count to three before I’m materializing at the bonfire again.

This significantly reduces (but far from eliminates) frustration in this infamously unforgiving game, and actually makes me play it differently. Where once I could not be bothered to briefly travel to another area or the hub in order to accomplish some small task, now I know I can return to the Nexus, fuss around a bit with my loadout and be back in Boletaria in 30 seconds flat. If I die, I’m back in action in five seconds rather than 20, and believe me, that adds up real fast. (Load times are improved across the board in PS4 games running on the PS5 as well.)

Aiding this, kind of, is the new fancy pause screen Sony has implemented on its new console. When hitting the (annoyingly PS-shaped) PS button, a set of “cards” appears showing recent achievements and screenshots, but also ongoing missions or game progress. Pausing in Latria to take a breath, the menu offered up the ability to instantly warp to one of the other worlds, losing my souls but skipping the ordinarily requisite Nexus stop. This will certainly change how speedruns are accomplished, and provides a useful, if somewhat immersion-breaking option for the scatterbrained player.

The pause menu also provides a venue for tips and hints, in both text and video form. Again, this is a funny game to debut these in (I don’t count Astro’s Playroom, the included game/tech demo, which is fun but slight), because one of the Souls series’s distinctive features is player-generated notes and ghosts that alternatively warn and deceive new players. In another game I might have relied on the PS5’s hints more, but for this specific title they seem somewhat redundant.

As arguably the only “real” PS5 launch title, Demon’s Souls is a curious but impressive creature. It definitely shows the new console to advantage in some ways, but the game itself (while still amazing) is dated in many ways, limiting the possibilities of what can be shown off in the first place.

Certainly the remake is the best (and for many, only) way to play a classic, and for that alone it is recommended — though the $70 price (more in Europe and elsewhere) is definitely a bit of a squinter. One would hope that for the new higher asking price, we could expect next-generation gameplay as well as next-generation trimmings. Well, for now we have to take what we can get.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/13/demons-souls-the-first-truly-next-gen-game-is-a-lopsided-but-impressive-showcase/

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South Korean antitrust regulator fines Google $177M for abusing market dominance – TechCrunch

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market. The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), […]

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The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.

The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.

Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.

The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.

Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.

The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.

Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.

Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.

South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.

In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/14/south-korean-antitrust-regulator-fines-google-177m-for-abusing-market-dominance/

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The SEC and the DOJ just charged this startup founder with fraud, saying he lied to Tiger and others – TechCrunch

Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions, and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and to bar him for serving as a corporate […]

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Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions, and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and to bar him for serving as a corporate executive or board member.

The DOJ, which arrested Lachwani earlier, has accused him of one count of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud, and the associated penalties if he’s found guilty are are more harsh, including, for wire fraud, a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If he’s found guilty of securities fraud, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $5,000,000.

Both the the SEC and the DOJ say Lachwani — who led the six-year-old company as CEO until May of last year — defrauded investors out of $80 million by falsely claiming that his company, Headspin, had “achieved strong and consistent growth in acquiring customers and generating revenue” when he was pitching its Series C round to potential backers.

By the SEC’s telling, his fabrications were designed to help secure the round at a so-called unicorn valuation. That apparent plan worked, too, with Palo Alto-based Headspin attracting coverage in Forbes in February of last year after Dell Technologies Capital, Iconiq Capital and Tiger Global provided the company with $60 million in Series C funding at a $1.16 billion valuation. Forbes reported at the time that the valuation was double the valuation investors assigned HeadSpin when it closed its Series B round in October 2018.

The SEC also says that Lachwani was looking to enrich himself, saying he did so “by selling $2.5 million of his HeadSpin shares in a fundraising round during which he made misrepresentations to an existing HeadSpin investor.” (It isn’t clear from its complaint whether the SEC is referring to the Series C or an earlier round.)

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.

More specifically, the complaint alleges that “in materials and presentations to potential investors, Lachwani reported false revenue and overstated key financial metrics of the company. . . he maintained control over operations, sales, and record-keeping, including invoicing, and he was the final decision maker on what revenue was booked and included in the company’s financial records.”

In the investigation that led to the DOJ’s charges, the FBI discovered “multiple examples” of Lachwani “instructing employees to include revenue from potential customers that inquired but did not engage Headspin, from past customers who no longer did business with Headspin, and from existing customers whose business was far less than the reported revenue,” says the department.

How far off were these collective calculations? The complaint says that ultimately, Lachwani “provided investors false information that overstated Headspin’s annual recurring revenue . . . by approximately $51 to $55 million.”

According to the complaint, Lachwani’s fraud unraveled after the company’s board of directors conducted an internal investigation and revised HeadSpin’s valuation down from $1.1 billion to $300 million. Indeed, in August of last year, The Information reported that the company was planning to lower the value of its Series C stock by nearly 80%.

The outlet reported at the time that Lachwani had already been replaced by another executive. That person, according to LinkedIn, is Rajeev Butani, who joined Headspin as its chief sales officer around the time its Series C round was being announced in February of last year.

Nikesh Arora, a former SoftBank president, the current CEO and chairman of Palo Alto Networks helped lead the internal review as a then-director on the board of Headspin, said The Information.

The SEC says it’s investigation is continuing. Meanwhile, the DOJ notes in its announcement that “a complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Either way, the outlook doesn’t look very promising right now for Lachwani, who, according to Forbes, previously sold a mobile cloud business to Google and wound up co-founding Headspin after Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang introduced him to Brien Colwell, a former Palantir and Quora engineer was working at the time on a different startup.

Colwell remains with Headspin as its CTO. He has not been named in either the SEC or the DOJ’s complaints relating to Headspin.

The company itself, which says it has been cooperating with the government’s investigation, was also not charged.

Pictured above, left to right, Headspin founders Lachwani and Colwell.

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/08/25/the-sec-and-the-doj-just-charged-this-startup-ceo-with-fraud-saying-he-lied-to-tiger-and-others/

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Blockchain startup XREX gets $17M to make cross-border trade faster – TechCrunch

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform. The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has […]

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Blockchain startup co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang in front of the company's logo

XREX co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform.

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Part of the new round will be use to apply for financial licenses in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa, and partner with banks and financial institutions, like payment gateways.

“We specifically wanted to build a regulatory-friendly cap table,” XREX co-founder and chief executive officer Wayne Huang told TechCrunch. “It’s really hard for a startup like us to raise from banks and public companies, but as you can see, this round we deliberately to do that and we were successful.”

Huang sold his previous startup, anti-malware SaaS developer Armorize Technologies, to Proofpoint in 2013. Armorize analyzed source code to find vulnerabilities, and many of its clients were developers in Bangalore and Chennai, so Huang spent a lot of time traveling there.

“We ran into all sorts of cross-border money transfer issues. It seemed almost unstoppable,” Huang said. “Growing up in the U.S. and then in Taiwan, we were not exposed to those issues. So that planted a seed, and then when Satoshi [Nakamoto] published the bitcoin white paper, of course that was a big thing for all cybersecurity experts.”

He began thinking of how blockchain can support financial inclusion in emerging markets like India. The idea came to fruition Huang teamed up with XREX co-founder Winston Hsiao, the founder of BTCEx-TW, one of Taiwan’s first bitcoin exchanges. Hsiao grew up in India and founded Verico International, exporting Taiwan-manufactured semiconductors and electronics to other countries, so he was also familiar with cross-border trade issues.

XREX Crypto Services give merchants, especially those in countries with low U.S. dollar liquidity, tools to conduct trade in digital fiat currencies. “They have to get quick access to the U.S. dollar and be able to pay it out quick enough for them to secure important commodities that they want to import, and that’s the problem we want to solve,” said Huang.

To use the platform, merchants and their customers sign up for XREX’s wallet, which includes a commercial escrow service called Bitcheck. Huang said it is similar to having a standby letter of credit from a commercial bank, because buyers can use it to guarantee they will be able to make payments. Bitcheck uses digital currencies like USDT and USDC, stablecoins that are pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Merchants pay stablecoin to suppliers and XREX escrows the funds until the supplier provides proof of shipment, at which point it moves the payment to them. XREX’s crypto-fiat exchange allows users to convert USDT and USDC to U.S. dollars, which they can also withdraw and deposit through the platform.

Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its fiat currency platform, though Huang said it doesn’t plan to add too many cryptocurrencies “because we’re not built for crypto traders, we’re built for businesses and brand really matters to them. Brand and compliance, so whatever the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency says is a good stablecoin is what they’re going to use.”

Some of XREX’s partners include compliance and anti-money laundering providers like CipherTrace, Sum&Substance and TRISA. Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its security and compliance features, including Public Profiles, which are mandatory for customers, and user Reputation Index to increase transparency.

In a statement about the funding, CDIB Capital Innovation Fund head Ryan Kuo said, “CDIB was an early investor in XREX. After witnessing the company’s fast revenue growth and their commitment to compliance, we were determined to double our investment and lead this strategic round.”

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/08/22/blockchain-startup-xrex-gets-17m-to-make-cross-border-trade-faster/

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