Facebook’s Election Ad Overhaul Takes Crucial First Steps

Facebook has agreed to give Congressional investigators roughly 3,000 political ads it found linked to Russian accounts that ran during the 2016 election. The company will also overhaul the way it approaches campaign ads altogether, seeking to create a “new standard for transparency,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an address on Facebook Live Thursday.

This unexpected announcement from Facebook suggests the company has finally started listening to its many critics in Congress, the media, and at large. Less than a year ago, in the immediate aftermath of the election, Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that Facebook’s fake news problem had anything to do with the results. Today’s address suggests that the billionaire founder, who built a platform that two billion people rely on for news and political interactions, is finally starting to appreciate that his creation can do as much harm as good in this world.

Going forward, Facebook will require political advertisers to disclose the pages that have paid for the ad. Today, no law requires political advertisers to do this online, even though such disclosures are required on television. Facebook was unable to clarify whether this new rule applies only to official campaign organizations and PACs, or if it will apply more broadly to all political content.

Intriguingly, the company will also allow any user to visit an advertiser’s page and see all of the ads they’ve sent to segmented parts of the Facebook universe. Until now, advertisers, including President Trump’s campaign, have been able to target certain users on Facebook with highly tailored messages that others can’t see. While these ads, often referred to as “dark posts,” are commonplace in digital advertising, they pose a serious transparency threat when it comes to politics and government.

Facebook also plans to add 250 people to its election integrity team, and to work more closely with election commissions around the world to report any risks or unusual behavior it identifies.

“Now, I wish I could tell you we’re going to be able to stop all interference, but that wouldn’t be realistic,” Zuckerberg said. “There will always be bad people in the world, and we can’t prevent all governments from all interference. But we can make it harder. We can make it a lot harder. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Reactive Measures

The company’s election integrity makeover and its commitment to share more information with Congress comes amid a growing backlash from leading senators like Mark Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman. They and others have asked Facebook for access to the ads ever since the company revealed it had discovered them weeks ago. Since then, Facebook has offered the ads only to special counsel Mueller’s team, leaving investigators on Capitol Hill largely in the dark.

“We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election,” Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch wrote in a blog post Thursday. “That is an assessment that can be made only by investigators with access to classified intelligence and information from all relevant companies and industries—and we want to do our part.”

Even so, the move represents but a half-step toward transparency for Facebook. The company says it has not yet agreed to meet with Congress for an open hearing about Russian interference in the 2016 election, as Twitter plans to do next Wednesday.

In Thursday’s livestream, Zuckerberg explained the company’s reticence about the issue. “As a general rule, we are limited in what we can discuss publicly about law enforcement investigations, so we may not always be able to share our findings publicly,” he said. “But we support Congress in deciding how to best use this information to inform the public, and we expect the government to publish its findings when their investigation is complete.”

Zuckerberg acknowledged also that the company’s own investigation is far from complete, and that it “may find more,” in which case Facebook will continue to work with the government. What’s still unclear is whether either Mueller’s team or Congressional investigators will be able to see what exactly Facebook’s internal investigation entails.

First Steps

Whatever comes of the investigation into the 2016 election, the measures Zuckerberg announced today are vital toward fending off similar threats in future campaigns. Allowing citizens to see who pays for campaign ads on Facebook, and what their candidates and elected officials are saying to different subsets of the population, is an unprecedented move in the internet age. As a platform for two billion people, Facebook is well-poised to set that precedent.

It’s clear, though, that none of these decisions can fully prevent malicious foreign actors from spreading their influence online. There are, of course, ways that they can organically spread content with coordinated hashtag campaigns and fake news stories, carefully shared with select Facebook groups. Since the election, Facebook has created ways that users can flag fake news, and it’s taken steps toward cracking down on accounts that share fake news multiple times. But it’s unclear still how efficiently those moves have cleaned up people’s News Feeds.

And despite these changes, Zuckerberg acknowledged, Facebook’s advertising platform remains vulnerable. The majority of ads on Facebook are bought programmatically, meaning machines do most of the buying, without human involvement. That, he says, is how the Russia-linked ads were purchased. While the company says it plans to develop new levels of human oversight, Zuckerberg was clear that Facebook does not want to be in a position of policing speech. The more Facebook involves itself in what people can and cannot say, the more it risks taking a hit not only from communities that argue they’re being censored, but also to its bottom line.

“We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think our society shouldn’t want us to,” Zuckerberg said. “Freedom means you don’t have to ask permission first, and that by default you can say what you want. If you break our community standards or the law, then you’re going to face consequences afterwards.”

That seems like an appropriate bar to set. So far, in the case of Russian meddling, it hasn’t proven true.

Project London is GTA 5’s most ambitious overhaul mod yet

Project London aims to build a London-like city in GTA 5. Can’t be hard, right? “I got a message the other day,” says modder Kieran. “from some guy asking if the roads could be done—if the cars could be swapped to the opposite side in the style of British road networks. I sat down and calculated the work for that. I’m looking at 210 hours just for the roads.”

The original GTA: London was set in the late ’60s, but his version is inspired by the modern city. He aims to install landmarks incrementally, before building the project out into a pseudo interpretation of The Big Smoke. Kieran tells me that doing so involves a fair bit of Google Street-mapping, researching real life videos and photos, and a touch of artistic license. Even then, Project London is an ambitious undertaking.

“It’s a lot of work, it will take time, but whenever I’m finished one thing—I’ve just finished Heathrow Airport, for example—I add it into the pack, update it, and release it. There are three of us working on it now, and while we strive to mirror reality, if we think something looks right in situ, and it still looks like London, then we’re fine with that.”

So far, this has seen Kieran—and partners Raddz Modding and Albo1125—recreate Wembley Stadium, a handful of London Underground stations, a host of the city’s major hospitals, and a range of British Emergency Service vehicles. Next, the threesome have London hotels in their sights, real life billboards, bus stops, police stations. At some point they plan to remove the base game’s iconic Vinewood hilltop sign “because, well, that’s not London, is it?”

As a financial advisor for Lloyds Bank, finding time between life real commitments marks Kieran’s biggest challenge. There are consecutive weeks where nothing gets done, he admits, but he hopes the recent formation of his three-person team can “keep the work flowing” into the future. His modding know-how is also self-taught and despite getting involved with GTA 5’s British modding community less than a year ago, the standard of his work—not to mention his output—is impressive. 

“Being part of various communities has made me realise that I’ve got an opportunity to do something,” he tells me. “And that’s where Project London started. Compared to other games, GTA is easier to mod, it’s easy to get the files that you need in order to do work, and there are a lot of people who’re able to offer advice and help out. That fact alone spurs you on to do more.”

Despite being less familiar with Grand Theft Auto’s first pre-millennium visit to Great Britain, Kieran tells me he became most involved with Rockstar’s satirically swiping series via its faux Miami, Tommy Vercetti-starring Vice City. He says he’s pored over every game since, but that GTA 5 marks his PC debut and thus the first of which he’s modded.  

“To be honest it was becoming aware of the modding communities that support Grand Theft Auto 5 that encouraged me to start doing the work I’m doing,” he says. “Between [the three of us] we’re trying to push forward and see what we can do, and achieve as much as we can achieve.”

I think the standard, vanilla GTA is a bit lacking in certain areas, and that’s why modders do what they do.

That’s not to say Kieran doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of the task at hand. As a hobbyist modder, his work is voluntary, part-time, and unpaid—and while he doesn’t lack motivation, he’s not yet in a position to even guess when the project might be finished.  

“I genuinely couldn’t tell you,” he says. “There are just so many files that need opened, tinkered with, replaced. The whole thing costs me money too—there’s a programme I need in order to do it. It’s just a lot of work, there are so many files that need replaced across the whole map—you wouldn’t believe the amount of files I’ve had to replace so far.

“Simply put, this project is something I love doing. It’s something that I’ve always loved doing. I think it makes the game overall more enjoyable. I think the standard, vanilla GTA is a bit lacking in certain areas, and that’s why modders do what they do.” 

While unable to commit to anything long-term, Project London is an exciting prospect. Following Grand Theft Auto 4’s imitative New York City and its successor’s artificial Los Angeles, a sizeable chunk of players have called for Vice City to take on real life Miami. I’d personally prefer the preconceived US trifecta eschewed in favour of something closer to home. And while I’ve no idea if Rockstar feel the same, Kieran and his team’s efforts could go a long way towards satisfying my appetite.   

No matter the timeframe, Project London is, for Kieran, strictly entertainment. I ask him if he’d ever consider a career in development off the back of something so ambitious.     

“That’s not something that particularly interests me, this is solely something that I like to do in my spare time. I love working with the GTA British community and working on something like this improves everyone’s ideas for mods and what they wish the game could be like. 

“I know there is a lot of us that wish we had a new GTA London and this project, ambitious as it is, goes a ways to realising that. There are a lot of us working to give the game a British-leaning look. We do a lot of hard work and I’m proud of that.”

More information of the Project London work-in-progress mod can be found via its GTA 5 Mods page. 

No Man’s Sky’s Story Overhaul Gives The Game Focus

As No Man’s Sky has developed, it’s struggled to balance the appeal of its mystery with the utility that makes it playable. With today’s update, Atlas Rising, it feels like the game has finally struck that balance.

The 1.3 update for No Man’s Sky comes with a lot of changes, small and large. Most exciting among them are a new mission board with randomly generated missions, changes to dog fighting, and—finally—”joint exploration.” It’s not quite multiplayer—you’re only able to interact with up to 16 players, who are represented by balls of light—but it’s a step closer to it. But what I’ve found most interesting so far is the way the game has refined its story and how it shows what’s possible in No Man’s Sky to players.

When I played No Man’s Sky at launch, it was easy to get lost and confused. This was a part of the game’s appeal, in a way: to be able to get so deeply lost in a vast universe. I’d go from planet to planet, just looking for the best sunsets or strangest creatures. Now the game has actual opening missions, as well as ones that span more than one planet and galaxy. I was a little afraid that a more structured game would take away from the joy of exploration, but instead it’s made the game easier to parse. Instead of making goals for myself 100% of the time, I now I have a neat thing to check out in each new galaxy. Many of these introduced me to new gameplay elements. On one planet, I learned how to make antimatter. On the next, I found my first outpost. This guiding hand is sparse enough that I don’t feel pigeonholed towards one way of playing the game but direct enough that I now have a much clearer sense of what to do if I get bored of sunsets. For the even more mysterious additions, like portals, there’s now a in-game guide that will tell you what to do with them when you find them.

Don’t know where to find a mission board? Guess what! The game will tell you.

On a sillier note, the terraforming add-on for the multi tool is very amusing. No Man’s Sky has been adding more ways for players to make permanent marks on the world via updates like base sharing and leaving messages for each other, but now you can make a literal mark. If you have the terraforming add-on, you can shoot at the ground using your multi tool and add or destroy terrain. You can use a couple of different textures and adjust the size as well. I’m sure this will have some use for base building, but I just liked getting to indulge in the sci-fi fun of making a huge tower of rock sprout from the ground.

I didn’t have a chance to try out joint exploration or dogfighting, but the maneuverability of the ships has changed a lot. You have way finer control over how ships move, especially on planets, to the degree that I felt like I had to relearn how to fly a ship. I was constantly over turning and flying into rocks, but overall it’s a welcome change. At launch, I’d often ditch my ship in favor of walking; now, using my ship to go to far away landmarks is much more feasible.

When No Man’s Sky first released, I wasn’t really sure what it was, or what it was trying to be, but I found a way to have fun with it. Now I have a better sense of the game’s goals: it’s a survival game with base building and a heavy emphasis on exploration. It’s not revolutionary, but now it’s focused enough that it does all those things very well. This doesn’t mean it’s lost its sense of wonder—there are still views that take my breath away. No Man’s Sky is just easier to play now, and I’m very excited to get lost in it again.

The tireless creation of GTA 5’s most impressive visual overhaul mod

When Rockstar and Take-Two shuttered OpenIV earlier this year, thousands of player-made Grand Theft Auto 5 mods hung in the balance. For self-taught hobbyist modder Jamal Rashid—who goes by the pseudonym Razed—this potentially meant sacrificing 1,200 hours of unpaid labour on his ambitious, and at that stage unfinished, NaturalVision Remastered project. 

“I really panicked for a while,” Razed tells me. “I’d been working on the project for so long and was like: What if this shuts down, how am I going to get it out? I started thinking of other options, and I wanted people to be able to install it easily. I did think of a few examples but I’m just really glad that everyone spoke up in the community and we still have it.”

Rockstar and Take-Two have since rescinded their OpenIV ban so far as single-player mods are concerned—a move which, much to Razed’s delight, has seen projects like NaturalVision Remastered reach completion. 

Inspired by the realism forged by games like Forza Horizon 3, Watch Dogs and even Grand Theft Auto 4, this ambitious and impressive visual overhaul mod is the result of extensive research. Beyond its 1,200 hours (50 full days) of work, for example, Razed studied over 40 hours of video footage, hundreds of photographs, and wandered down the real life streets of Los Angeles and neighbouring settlement Salton Sea—portrayed in-game as Los Santos and Blaine County, respectively—via Google Street Maps more times than the creator is able to recall. 

“I’d take a look at it, and get a feel for the general area,” says Razed. “I’d go on Flickr and search the same location. The game’s Blaine County is based off of Salton Sea and where Trevor’s actual trailer is situated is off of Bombay Beach, also in Salton Sea. Google Street View hasn’t actually accessed that area, so I’d have to look up pictures and YouTube videos of people who’d actually been there, recording vlogs and things like that. 

“But it’s no good focusing on just one perspective—each person would use a different camera, some cameras are misconfigured, or they’d take oversaturated shots, or have too much contrast. I had to do a lot of research on that, watching tonnes and tonnes of videos over and over and over again. I had to find a balance and had to decided on what colour saturation, gamma, tone mapping to use, so that it looked as good as possible. And it was exhausting.”

The result is pretty spectacular, but it came at a cost. Razed’s sleep schedule suffered throughout development, he put his job on hold to focus on seeing his pet project through, and, while creating builds for beta testers to pore over on a daily basis, worked ten to 12 hour shifts seven days a week. Regular beta testing was an integral part of this process, affirms Razed, as he valued multiple perspectives against his own personal outlook. In turn, what began life as a less complex reshade mod, NaturalVision Remastered took on a life of its own while becoming one of the prettiest and most sophisticated GTA 5 visual overhaul mods the community has to offer.   

Unlike much of its competition, NaturalVision Remastered doesn’t require ReShade and instead serves to highlight what’s possible by virtue of both learning the game’s time cycle and leveraging the tools Rockstar already provides. Razed took issue with certain aspects of similar mods like Redux—”the sky, for instance, doesn’t have a gradient or fade towards the horizon”—and learned that only by furthering his own work could he fully realise his creative vision. 

“I saw other mods that didn’t appeal to me and wanted to create something that no one has ever done,” adds Razed. “Something that looks realistic, everything from the sunset to sunrise, whether it has clear weather, clouds, I wanted to make something unique.”

Against the OpenIV closure scare, it seems somewhat ironic that creating NaturalVision Remastered’s sunsets proved Razed’s biggest challenge. The final version of sundown that occurs around 9 pm in-game required between 36-40 hours work alone, he reckons, however a huge amount of iterating and reiterating took place in the weeks leading up to launch.   

“It took a lot of back and forth before I managed to nail it,” says Razed. “All the details that I looked at for sunsets were, for instance, having to slope around the sun, making sure it’s not too dim, making the sides of the sun look realistic—there was a lot to consider. I’m very happy with how it turned out in the end. 

“There is some stuff I’m hoping to improve going forward, though, like smog weather for example. I didn’t touch foggy weather at all—I want to go back and do that one. I felt like it was low priority, there was already so much that I was doing and not a lot of people use fog weather. I’ve been working on blizzard weather too, taking inspiration from the Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard DLC. That’s turning out pretty well.”

Like all hobbyist projects, Razed admits development occasionally came close to overwhelming and that, without remuneration, quitting also crossed his mind from time to time. But positive feedback from early testers, from commenters on Flickr, and from the GTA 5 modding community as a whole pushed him forward. 

Hailing from Florida, over 2,500 miles away from LA, the way NaturalVision Remastered intersects reality and GTA 5’s faux California is exceptional—something made all the more impressive given Razed has never set foot in the City of the Angels. A future real life trip is in the pipeline, as is implementing blizzard weather conditions in-mod and the option to increase brightness at nighttime. 

Razed also points out that his work wouldn’t have been possible without CP’s esteemed VisualV mod. Not only did its creator inspire Razed to begin modding Grand Theft Auto 5 in the first place, NaturalVision Remastered requires VisualV to function. The cherry on top for Razed, then, is that the latter’s creator is a big fan of the former. 

“I talked to CP when NaturalVision Remastered came out,” says Razed. “He told me that it actually looks a lot better than VisualV in a lot of places and I really appreciated that. Not every modder will tell you that your mod looks better than theirs.”

But I guess they do when your mod looks as gorgeous as this.

NaturalVision Remastered is out now. More information can be found over here, and Razed Steam Community gallery can be viewed here.  

County Set to Approve No-Bid $25 Million Contract With Motorola for Emergency Radio Overhaul

Orange County supervisors are slated Tuesday to approve the Sheriff’s Department’s recommendation of a $25 million no-bid contract with the telecom giant Motorola to replace proprietary 1990s radio communications infrastructure used by virtually all law enforcement and emergency personnel across the county.

The contract – along with a separate $4 million no-bid contract with Motorola also up for a vote Tuesday – is part of a much larger, $140 million county project in which Motorola will overhaul the aging radio system, known officially as the 800 MHz Countywide Coordinated Communications System.

Only Motorola products can be used on the system, which the company was chosen to create in 1995 under a $70 million contract that later grew to $83 million.

As the 1990s-era equipment becomes obsolete, county supervisors and Hutchens – who oversees the radio system – have opted not to ask other companies what they could offer as a replacement system. The sheriff’s staff have said switching to a different company’s system would be costly and too disruptive to emergency communications.

Under the county’s price agreement with Motorola, handheld radios currently cost up to $5,800 each and motorcycle radios are up to $9,200 each. The upgrades also involve tens of millions of dollars to replace backbone infrastructure, like over 500 base radio stations.

The communications system is a critical component of emergency services in Orange County.

It’s used by all police and fire services across all 34 cities in Orange County, as well as paramedics, public works officials, state and federal agencies, and the police departments for universities, community college districts, and Santa Ana school police.

The system allows dozens of agencies to communicate with each another on specialized channels.

The two contracts up for approval Tuesday are $25 million for Motorola to replace obsolete radio equipment and $4.1 million for the firm to help program up to 18,000 end-user radio units.

The costs for the overall project, which includes the purchase of 20,000 radio units and equipment for 29 dispatch centers, are split between the various agencies that use the system.

Over $85 million will have been spent on the system since 2010, when the replacement project was first approved, through the middle of next year, according to county budget records.

The original contract was awarded by county supervisors after a competitive bid, and the system was deployed in phases between 1999 and 2001.

The system was anticipated to be reliable for the next decade and a half, until about 2015, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

But when it came time to start the process of replacing the aging infrastructure in 2010, the Sheriff’s Department – which manages the system – did not put the contract out to bid to see what other companies could offer.

Instead, county supervisors and Hutchens issued tens of millions of dollars in sole-source contracts to Motorola to replace and upgrade their infrastructure.

“No other [companies] have been contacted since the system is proprietary to Motorola,” the Sheriff’s Department wrote in its 2010 justification for not conducting a competitive bid for the system upgrades.

“There is no direct alternative [to Motorola],” the department wrote. It said Motorola’s prices “would be competitive” with competitors, but didn’t explain how it arrived at that conclusion.

Changing to a different company, the department added, would require “a complete replacement of the current system…which would be prohibitively expensive and unacceptably disruptive to Public Safety radio communications operations throughout the county.”

In its staff report about the $25 million contract up Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Department said the radio system “includes radio infrastructure that is at or near the end of its expected life and will be directly replaced with the current version of the same equipment, maintaining all existing features and functionality while continuing to utilize the existing network.”

Altogether, over $160 million has been spent on the Motorola system since mid-1998, according to county budget documents reviewed by Voice of OC. There was likely additional spending before that, but the information in online budgets doesn’t go back that far.

Another $29 million is budgeted for this fiscal year, which would bring the total spent to roughly $190 million as of the middle of next year, not including costs before July 1998.

The contract is with Motorola Solutions, whose main business is building communications systems for public agencies and private companies. It was formed when Motorola, Inc. was split into two publicly-traded companies in 2011.

Sheriff’s officials did not include the $140 million overall price tag for the project in their staff reports about the multi-million-dollar contracts that are part of the project. Robert Beaver, senior director of administrative services at the the Sheriff’s Department, provided the amount Saturday in response to emailed questions from Voice of OC.

The firm has no registered lobbyist with the county, and no references to the company showed up in a search of county-level campaign contributions since 2009, which includes supervisor and sheriff’s races.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

Final Fantasy XIV’s A Realm Reborn Content Needs An Overhaul

I enjoy Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) a great deal. I ended my Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood review with this statement for potential players: “If you have the time and effort, play Final Fantasy XIV. Play Stormblood. It’s worth it.” I wholeheartedly believe that if you’re looking for a great Final Fantasy game or massively-multiplayer online (MMO) title, Final Fantasy XIV is a great option.

The beginning of a long journey…

That said, I have problems recommending the game to friends who ask me if they should play it. My reply usually begins with “Well…”, as I begin to explain that it’s a great game, but they really have to commit to it. Final Fantasy XIV relies heavily on its ongoing story, featuring the Warrior of Light and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn pushing back the darkness one villain at a time. Square Enix believes in that story, so Final Fantasy XIV has to be played in order.

It’s this task that separates Final Fantasy XIV from many other MMOs. FFXIV players are very invested in the story. They care about its twists and turns, they enjoy seeing characters like Alphinaud, Alisaie, Lyse, Tataru, and Hildibrand. Part of that investment is from all the effort made during leveling, in doing scenarios, dungeons, and Primal trials. By the time you get to the end of Stormblood, Square Enix has a clear understanding of your place in the story and how well you understand the game’s mechanics, since everyone had to do the same thing.

It’s a double-edged sword though, as new players look at the game and see a mountain of content ahead of them. A quick look at the main scenario quests on this Wiki shows a total of 552 quests for the main story alone. That doesn’t count the non-story quests and guildleves needed to fill out the rest of the leveling experience. HowLongToBeat lists a median completion time of 110 hours. Even for players who are at the Heavensward content, catching up feels like something you have to set aside time for, something you need to knuckle down and do.

Square Enix has offered a few recent additions to the game, the Level Boost and Story Boost potions. For real money, players can buy a level 60 boost for one job and an item that completes the main story quests for A Realm Reborn and Heavensward. The story and level boost items cost $25 each, so if you’re just starting out, that’s another $50 on top of the price of the game. I previously warned existing players about preparing for the the Stormblood expansion, because $50 was a bit much.

The point I made there still stands. In other MMOs, the developers tend to work hard to get players into the current expansion as quick as possible. World of Warcraft offers a current level boost token for free with every expansion. Guild Wars 2 is the same, offering a level 80 boost with every copy of its Heart of Thorns expansion. Star Wars: The Old Republic saves the level boost for subscribers. The Elder Scrolls Online has full level scaling, meaning players can tackle any quest and region whenever they want. There’s a number of ways to get there, but the main idea is clear: get players to the current content.

It doesn’t help that Square Enix has only gotten better with each expansion. In comparison to the work in Stormblood and Heavensward, the early questing in A Realm Reborn can sometimes feel rote and boring. That’s why FFXIV players are frequently trying to find ways around the leveling experience. Some play PVP over and over again (until some recent changes). Some run the Palace of the Dead or the Dungeon Roulette back to back. FATE farming used to be the order of the day. Some just play the old fashioned way. “I’m just doing this until I get to the good stuff,” they tell themselves in the back of their minds. It’s a bit of a grind.

At some point, it’s something that the Final Fantasy XIV team needs to tackle. The easy way is to raise the quest experience at lower levels, or retune the experience per level. A number of MMOs resort to this method to alleviate the problem, especially once they’re a few expansions deep.

The most extreme method is the example set forth by Cataclysm, which was World of Warcraft’s third expansion. Cataclysm drastically rethought the early leveling zones, bringing 2010-era Blizzard polish and storytelling to 2004-era content. Certain quests were played up, including some fan-favorite storylines. Others were minimized or removed completely. The stories of each zone were drastically improved with Cataclysm.

Eorzea has already undergone its cataclysm, but I think the basic idea could be brought to Final Fantasy XIV. Not a complete rewrite of the level 1-50 experience, but a few tweaks. The storytelling team at Square Enix is amazingly strong right now, and some of that expertise can be brought back to A Realm Reborn. Cut some of the cruft and polish some of the stories that you know you’re going to revisit later. Add in a few more cutscenes to jazz the story up a bit. Play up quests like ‘The Rise and Fall of Gentlemen’, ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’, or ‘Speak Softly to Me’ that offer memorable situations or mechanics. When Final Fantasy XIV really gets going, it feels like a grand journey. There’s no reason that the journey can’t start a bit earlier than it currently does.

They can re-adjust and tweak the experience gain, but you end up with the same situation: your most boring and grindy quests aren’t played. Better to rethink them, so that most of the quests are meaningful. It’s not a grind to level 70 if players are actually enjoying what they’re playing. It’s a bit more work than just changing some experience values, but I think it pays off in the end. Especially if Square Enix is going to continue to charge $50 for new players to reach the current content.

Final Fantasy XIV is a great game, but it has a slow start. Anything that can improve that start will ultimately result in a healthier game overall. And I want Final Fantasy XIV to have a long, long life.

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Friday 5: Things 3 is more than just a visual overhaul [Video]

Yesterday Cultured Code released the long-awaited update to Things 2, aptly entitled Things 3. The third edition of Things features a significant design overhaul, and fundamentally changes the way you interact with the app’s many features. Watch our hands-on video walkthrough inside for a look at some of the app’s best new additions.

The best wireless keyboard for the Mac?

Design overhaul

Things 3 has received a major visual overhaul to every facet of the app’s design. The new design is not only brighter and more modern, but it’s faster and features less friction as you move throughout the interface.

Magic Plus Button

Almost every “To-Do” app features a button that allows you to add a new to-do item, but the ‘+’ button in Things 3 adds a clever twist that allows for more fine-grained control over where those items are added.

A tap of the Magic Plus Button may invoke a menu to add a new To-Do, new Project or Area. But if you tap and drag the button, you can determine where your new items are added in a more efficient and specific manner.

For example, I can drag the Magic Plus Button directly to the Inbox area to add a new To-Do to my Inbox, or I can drag the button to an already existing project. I can even use the Magic Plus Button to determine the order that I add new items to that project.

Video walkthrough

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Instead of creating a new project just to make a checklist, Things 3 allows any individual to-do item to contain a checklist. Simply tap the checklist button when creating a new item, and a checklist appears in the body ready to be populated.

Quick Find

After you build a substantial to-do library, it’s essential to be able to search through your data in order to find specific items. Things 3 features a handy Quick Find interface that allows you to invoke a Spotlight-esque search box from anywhere within the app; simply swipe down on the screen.

Efficient list editing

Unlike previous editions of the app, Things 3 allows users to quickly and efficiently edit multiple to-do items, projects, or areas by performing a left swipe gesture. This makes it super-easy to move, delete, or assign dates to multiple items simultaneously.


As you can see, Things 3 is much more than just a fresh new coat of paint. It features design details that fundamentally change the way the app works for the better. The app allows users to add, edit, and find their data faster. These updates are why it’s a no-brainer that Things 3 stands alone as this week’s Friday 5 app of the week.

The iPhone version of the app is currently on sale for $7.99 for a limited time. You can also find the iPad version, and Mac version — both on sale — right now.

Do you currently employ the use of a To-Do app in your daily or weekly workflow? What do you think about Things 3? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts.

Also be sure to check out last week’s edition of Friday 5, where I discussed some of my favorite macOS utilities. You can find the full video walkthrough for that below:

The Massive Pokemon GO Gym Overhaul Could Be Coming This Week

It seems like it was forever ago that John Hanke announced that the next major Pokemon GO update would be a complete gym overhaul, but really, it’s only been a couple of months. Maybe it just feels a lot longer because Niantic have remained annoyingly quiet about the whole thing.

Niantic’s silence aside, it’s getting to the point where the update could be dropping any day now. In fact, there are quite a few reasons why the Pokemon GO gym overhaul could be coming this week! Here’s three of them:

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The first reason why the Pokemon GO gym overhaul could be coming this week is that it’s been over three months since the Generation 2 update came out. Remember, Hanke promised us four major updates this year (with Gen 2 being the first), so logically, they’d be spread out in a way where we’d get a new major update every three months.

The Generation 2 update was released on February 16th, which is three months and three days ago. However, Generation 2 was released on a Thursday right after an event (the Valentine’s Day event), so it would make sense to release this update on the 25th of May, which is a Thursday and, funnily enough, the day that the Adventure Week event ends.

Pokemon GO Gym Overhaul Could Be Coming This Week
Source: Pokemon, Fair Use

The second reason why the Pokemon GO gym overhaul could be coming this week is that we just had a new app update that added a ton of new gym-related stuff to the game’s code. Seriously, so much new stuff was secretly added; such as raids, Pokemon limits in gyms, and new ways to gain XP.

The third reason why the Pokemon GO gym overhaul could be coming this week is that players are simply fed up with all of the spoofing, botting, and cheating that’s going on in Pokemon GO. You only have to join a Pokemon GO Facebook group to know that things are worse than ever. Niantic are well aware of how we feel, and I’ve got to believe that they’re going to do something huge about it soon.

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Honestly, I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I’ll be quietly optimistic that the new gym system will be here on Thursday the 25th, but if it’s not, that’s fine too. As long as it’s released soon, and within the next month or so, I’ll be a very happy Pokemon trainer.

But what about you? Do you think the Pokemon GO gym overhaul could be coming this week? What do you think it will change about the way we battle gyms? And are you excited for it? Let me know what you think in the comment section below!

P.S. Want to WIN 3,000 Poke Coins? If you answered “yes”, click here to enter our giveaway where you’ll go into the running to win 3,000 Poke Coins to spend in Pokemon GO!

Apple Readies iPhone Overhaul for Smartphone’s 10th Anniversary

Ten years after Steve Jobs held up the original iPhone to a gushing San Francisco crowd, Apple Inc. is planning its most extensive iPhone lineup to date.

Apple is preparing three iPhones for launch as soon as this fall, including upgraded versions of the current two iPhone models and a new top-of-the-line handset with an overhauled look, according to people familiar with the matter. For the redesigned phone, Apple is testing a new type of screen, curved glass and stainless steel materials, and more advanced cameras, the people said. Those anxiously awaiting the redesigned iPhone, however, may have to wait because supply constraints could mean the device isn’t readily available until one or two months after the typical fall introduction. 

The iPhone is Apple’s most important product, representing about two-thirds of sales. It also leads customers to buy other Apple devices like the iPad and Apple Watch, and serves as a home for lucrative services like the App Store. This year’s new iPhone lineup comes at a critical time. Last year, Apple broke its typical upgrade cycle by retaining the same iPhone shape for a third year in a row and endured a rare sales slide. Samsung Electronics Co.’s new S8 lineup has also been thus far well received after last year’s Note 7 battery debacle. 

For the premium model, Apple is testing a screen that covers almost the entire front of the device, according to people familiar with the matter. That results in a display slightly larger than that of the iPhone 7 Plus but an overall size closer to the iPhone 7, the people said. Apple is also aiming to reduce the overall size of the handset by integrating the home button into the screen itself via software in a similar manner to Samsung’s S8, the people said.

The Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S8+ smartphone is displayed during the Samsung Unpacked product launch event in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Samsung Electronics Co. packed the Galaxy S8 smartphone with a plethora of new features: taller, curved screens, encrypted facial recognition, deeper display colors, system-wide voice control and the ability to turn into a desktop computer. Photographer: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone has an OLED screen.

Photographer: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg

The overhauled iPhone will use an organic light-emitting diode display that more accurately shows colors, while the other two phones will continue to use liquid crystal display technology and come in the same 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen sizes as last year’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple’s iPhone feature and design plans are still in flux and can change, they added. The people asked not to be identified discussing Apple’s private testing and design plans. 

For its redesigned phone, Apple has tested multiple prototypes with manufacturing partners in Asia, including some versions that use curved glass and stainless steel, according to one of the people. 

One of the latest prototype designs includes symmetrical, slightly curved glass on the front and the back. The curves are similar in shape to those on the front of the iPhone 7. The new OLED screen itself is flat, while the cover glass curves into a steel frame. The design is similar conceptually to the iPhone 4 from 2010. An earlier prototype design had a thinner steel band, leaving more noticeable curved glass on the sides. 

Apple also tested a more ambitious prototype with the same slightly curved front and steel frame, but a glass back with more dramatic curves on the top and bottom like the original iPhone design from 2007, one of the people said. 

Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs presents the iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco, California, on Jan. 9, 2007.

Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs presents the iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco, California, on Jan. 9, 2007.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Apple suppliers have so far struggled to reliably produce heavily curved glass in mass quantities, so the company is more likely to ship the version with more subdued curves, the person added. The company is also testing a simpler design that has an aluminum back, rather than a glass one, and slightly larger dimensions, one of the people said.

Because of its early lead in the mobile OLED display space, Samsung will enjoy a rare upper hand in this year’s high-end smartphone contest. At launch, Apple will exclusively use Samsung Display Co. OLED panels for the redesigned iPhone, as other suppliers won’t be ready to supply mass quantities until later, Bloomberg News reported last year. Apple has ordered around 100 million panels from Samsung, the people said. 

“This fall, it would be three years since we had a remarkable shift in iPhone hardware. This raises expectations for this year’s phone having a material change in functionality and look,” said Gene Munster, co-founder of Loup Ventures and a veteran Apple analyst. “The Samsung Galaxy S8 raises the bar for Apple to hit a home run.” 

Spokespeople for Apple and Samsung declined to comment. 

Apple has also experimented with integrating the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner into the screen of the OLED version, which would be technically challenging, the people said. It’s currently unclear if that feature will make it into the final product. Samsung also tried this approach for the S8, but ended up installing a more standard fingerprint reader on the back of its phone due to the challenges, another person said. 

Significant camera changes are also in testing for Apple’s overhauled iPhone. For the back of the phone, Apple is testing versions of the phone with the dual-camera system positioned vertically, instead of horizontally like on the iPhone 7 Plus, which could result in improved photos, according to people familiar with the matter. Some prototypes in testing continue to include the slight camera bump found on current iPhones, rather than having them flush with the back surface, the people said. 

For the front-camera, Apple is testing dual-lenses, one of the people said. The current iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have single front cameras. As it has done in the past, Apple is using camera components from Sony Corp., the person added. Apple has explored adding augmented reality-based features and depth-of-field enhancements to its iPhone camera system, Bloomberg News reported earlier this year. Company engineers in the past have also experimented with integrating cameras into screens, another person said.

An attendee photographs the new Apple Inc. iPhone 7 Plus during an event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. Apple Inc. unveiled new iPhone models Wednesday, featuring a water-resistant design, upgraded camera system and faster processor, betting that after six annual iterations it can still make improvements enticing enough to lure buyers to their next upgrade. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus launched last year with a dual-lens camera system.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

All the new iPhones will run iOS 11, a mobile operating system that will include a refreshed user-interface and will be announced in June at the company’s annual conference for developers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Apple has been testing using faster processors based on a smaller 10-nanometer production process for all three new models, a person familiar with Apple’s chip plans said. That’s down from 16 nanometers for existing iPhones. The smaller processors are more efficient, allowing Apple to retain its battery life standards while adding more advanced features. 

– With Gao Yuan, Adam Satariano, and Sam Kim

For more on consumer gadgets, tune in at 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET every Wednesday to catch the new Gadgets With Gurman show. This week, it’s all about the red iPhone and the new iPad. You can watch it on Facebook, Twitter or bloomberg.com/technology.


Gadgets With Gurman 90 Second Recap: Galaxy S8

Pokemon GO News Update: SECRET Pokemon meetings hint major gym overhaul is nearly complete

The next major Pokemon GO update may be right around the corner as it’s been discovered that developers Niantic have been holding secret meetings with Pokemon Company bosses at the HQ in San Francisco.

Regular Pokemon GO players will more than likely be familiar with the Trainer Tips YouTube channel.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Trainer Tips YouTube channel features daily Pokemon GO videos which feature discussions, tips, news and theories all concerning the Pokemon GO app.

The latest video from Trainer Tips Nick saw a brief and surprise visit to Niantic’s offices in San Francisco.

Having infiltrated the building, Nick apparently stumbled upon some pretty massive hints that Niantic are putting the finishing touches on the next big Pokemon GO feature


Pokemon Go Gym UpdateNIANTIC

Pokemon Go’s Gym Update could be nearly complete and a bigger overhaul than first thought

At first the YouTuber ran into two Niantic employee’s who, unfortunately, couldn’t discuss anything with the well-known ‘Tuber.

However, shortly afterwards someone else came out of what Nick believed to be Niantic’s office, who didn’t work for Niantic, but rather the Pokemon Company.

According to Trainer Tips Nick, the Pokemon representative said he was visiting Niantic because they were: “working on the next feature for Pokemon GO.”

“Of course when I asked if he could tell me what it was, he laughed a little bit and said no.” explained Nick.

“We know from past interviews that the gym system rework is the next big major update, so if the Pokemon Company is helping Niantic work on the gym update then I have pretty high hopes for it.

Normally this would be the end of another action-packed Trainer Tips video, but it got even better.

“Later on in the day I was on Twitter and I saw this tweet from Junichi Masuda,” continued Trainer Tips.

The tweet in question was a picture taken outside Niantic’s office on the same day and translated to something along the lines of:

‘The work’s finally done here in San Francisco, it’s 7PM now lets go get something to eat.’

“If you don’t know who Junichi Masuda is, he is one of the BIG guys when it comes to Pokemon,” explains Trainer Tips.

“He’s on the board of directors for Gamefreak, which is the company who develops the main series Pokemon games, he composes all the music, maybe not all of it anymore, but all the music for the original games. He did the music for Pokemon GO. He also started directing main series Pokemon games starting with fire red and leaf green.”

“So that’s a big important dude when it comes to Pokemon, and he was there working with Niantic,” continued Nick.

“Whatever is going on, it’s probably going to be pretty big and it’s probably going to be good if Gamefreak and the Pokemon company are involved in it too.”

We personally can’t wait to see what Niantic have planned for the Gym overhaul, but the Pokemon Go Hub has recently taken an in-depth look at what might be added and tweaked in this upcoming major update.

“We recently learned that Niantic doesn’t yet have the technology to connect long distance points on the map like in Ingress,” a post on the website explains.

“This was accidentally leaked by Niantic’s CTO (Chief Technical Officer) Phil Keslin on the recent O’Reilly cloud scaling conference.

“With that in mind, Niantic can’t create team based objectives as they do in Ingress – there is no “Gym links” or “Gym connections”.

“Initially, we strongly believe that they will introduce something in line with “Team Territories” or “Team Objectives”.

“Team Territory is a rather simple concept of an area of map being influenced by one team, resulting in increased rewards from PokeStops for members of that team.

“Team Objectives, on the other hand, are an open-ended daily / weekly quest concept for all members of a Team in an area.

“Both of these concepts encourage team play, player coordination and are not one time features that perish after a month. These concepts also tie in neatly with future PvP.”