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A years-old, one-letter typo led to Aliens: Colonial Marines‘ weird AI

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Enlarge / Want Aliens: Colonial Marines to better resemble this 'shopped image? Just remove one letter! (credit: Gearbox / Sega)

History may never be kind to Aliens: Colonial Marines, but the present tense isn't looking so good for the lawsuit- and complaint-ridden Gearbox game, either. This week brought to our attention one of the weirdest coding typos we've ever seen in a game—which has apparently been hidden inside of A:CM's PC version since its 2013 launch.

The first-person shooter returned to gaming's zeitgeist this week thanks to a 90-percent discount at gaming site Fanatical, which brings its asking price down to $3. (Buying the PC version outright from Steam currently costs the full $30 price.) This sale led one fan to plead with members of the popular gaming forum ResetERA to consider the game as a decent cheap-fun option, especially due to a 712MB fan-made patch at moddb.com that addresses many of the game's graphical and gameplay glitches.

Tether vs. teather

Upon researching this patch, ResetERA readers noticed something in the moddb.com notes that somehow escaped the gaming community at large in October 2017: the discovery of a one-letter typo in A:CM's INI files. As moddb.com user jamesdickinson963 pointed out last year, the game's "PecanEngine.ini" file references a "tether" system in assigning AI commands to the series' infamous monsters (which I'll call "xenomorphs" for brevity's sake, even though that term isn't necessarily the right one). However, one of its two mentions of the term "tether" is misspelled as "teather."

Dickinson's post alleges that this command, when spelled correctly, "controls tactical position adjustment, patrolling, and target zoning. When a xeno is spawned, it is attached to a zone tether. This zone tells the xeno what area is its fighting space and where different exits are. In combat, a xeno will be forced to switch to a new tether (such as one behind you) so as to flank or disperse so they aren't so grouped up, etc." Thanks to how the engine parsed this typo, it never caused any crashes; instead, the engine ignored the unfamiliar term. Thus, the game's monsters never received the smarter, useful information that had been programmed from the get-go. Instead, they often ran around like in the infamous image below.

The infamous "bad AI" GIF that a fan posted shortly after the launch of <em>Aliens: Colonial Marines</em>.

The infamous "bad AI" GIF that a fan posted shortly after the launch of Aliens: Colonial Marines.

This 2017 post came shortly after the release of the group's final "Game Over, Man!" patch, which, among many other fixes, overwrites this INI file with the typo's correction. Turns out, as of press time, the patch is still useful. Gearbox has not updated the game's PC version since July 2013, and the typo is still there.

On Friday, Ars re-downloaded and tested the game, exactly as served by Steam, through the opening beats of two missions. Then, we replayed those missions after editing the "teather" typo in the aforementioned INI file. In both missions, xenomorph AI improved dramatically once the typo was corrected, with monsters immediately taking advantage of elevated attack positions, hiding points, and multi-monster flanks. The difference is night-and-day.

Does this typo-correction upgrade mean the game is officially worth $3? Not necessarily. But the full patch does remedy enough of the game's biggest issues for anybody who might happen to own the game. Meanwhile, for anybody else in need of a quick sci-fi fix, we can think of worse ways to spend a few bucks for hours of entertainment.

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acdha
2 days ago
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Shared mostly because it’s an amusing tale of management failure but also because I’m wondering what percentage of time the angry gamers will take away from demanding the firing of female developers whose opinions suffer to protest things like this – 5%?
Washington, DC
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The story of the last survivor of the Atlantic slave trade

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In the late 1920s & early 1930s, African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston interviewed an Alabama man named Cudjo Lewis about his life. Lewis was the last survivor of the last slave ship to arrive in America in 1860, decades after the international slave trade had been made illegal in the US. Hurston attempted to publish Lewis’ story as a book, but her extensive use of Lewis’ “unique vernacular” kept publishers away. Last month, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” was finally published.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past-memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Cudjo Lewis

Vulture has an excerpt of the book.

De King of Dahomey, you know, he got very rich ketchin slaves. He keep his army all de time making raids to grabee people to sell. One traitor from Takkoi (Cudjo’s village), he a very bad man and he go straight in de Dahomey and say to de king, “I show you how to takee Takkoi.” He tellee dem de secret of de gates. (The town had eight gates, intended to provide various escape routes in the event of an attack.)

Derefore, dey come make war, but we doan know dey come fight us. Dey march all night long and we in de bed sleep. It bout daybreak when de people of Dahomey breakee de Great Gate. I not woke yet. I hear de yell from de soldiers while dey choppee de gate. Derefore I jump out de bed and lookee. I see de great many soldiers wid French gun in de hand and de big knife. Dey got de women soldiers too and dey run wid de big knife and dey ketch people and saw de neck wid de knife den dey twist de head so it come off de neck. Oh Lor’, Lor’! I see de people gittee kill so fast!

There’s an audiobook version as well…I bet it’s amazing to listen to.

Tags: Barracoon   books   Cudjo Lewis   slavery   USA   Zora Neale Hurston
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acdha
5 days ago
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Washington, DC
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emdot
5 days ago
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My heart breaks every damn day lately. I am glad to see this man's face; I can't believe he had to live through this. My heart breaks.
San Luis Obispo, CA

Smart TVs in Millions of U.S. Homes Track Everything Users Watch

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Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times:

Still, David Kitchen, a software engineer in London, said he was startled to learn how Samba TV worked after encountering its opt-in screen during a software update on his Sony Bravia set.

The opt-in read: “Interact with your favorite shows. Get recommendations based on the content you love. Connect your devices for exclusive content and special offers. By cleverly recognizing onscreen content, Samba Interactive TV lets you engage with your TV in a whole new way.”

[…]

“The thing that really struck me was this seems like quite an enormous ask for what seems like a silly, trivial feature,” Mr. Kitchen said. “You appear to opt into a discovery-recommendation service, but what you’re really opting into is pervasive monitoring on your TV.”

[…]

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said few people review the fine print in their zeal to set up new televisions. He said the notice should also describe Samba TV’s “device map,” which matches TV content to mobile gadgets, according to a document on its website, and can help the company track users “in their office, in line at the food truck and on the road as they travel.”

Do people truly want to be tracked for advertising purposes by nearly every device that they interact with? Survey after survey for years has indicated that they do not, yet we seem to have shrinking opportunities to object to it. Nearly every TV you’ll find at an electronics store today is a smart TV, and many of them have some form of this kind of tracking built in. The number of ways we’re being tracked on the web has exploded, and the number of companies that trade and collect that information in bulk keeps going up.

This is all buried in multi-thousand-word privacy policies that are not reasonable for the average user to read and interpret correctly. This is one reason I’m so supportive of GDPR — even though it doesn’t adequately regulate behavioural data collection, it does at least require full disclosure of privacy-intrusive practices to allow users more control the sharing of their data.

Technology companies are increasingly not operating in users’ best interests because users have few options besides disconnecting entirely.

Maheshwari, continued:

The Times is among the websites that allow advertisers to use data from Samba to track if people who see their ads visit their websites, but a Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, said that the company did that “simply as a matter of convenience for our clients” and that it was not an endorsement of Samba TV’s technology.

As I wrote in April, website administrators have a responsibility to their users — and, in the Times’ case especially, their paying subscribers — to be careful with their website’s third-party data collection and sharing practices. Their agreement with Samba is an implicit endorsement that advertisers can target their users with data collected in an ethically-dubious manner.

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acdha
11 days ago
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Washington, DC
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zwol
11 days ago
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I’m really not looking forward to the inevitable day when I have to replace my nice reliable dumb TV, purchased 2008. It only ever gets used as a computer monitor so maybe I can just buy a computer monitor.
Pittsburgh, PA
MotherHydra
10 days ago
I hope monitors get big enough. I still haven't seen black levels on par with Panasonic's plasma sets.

A Diagram of All the Batteries

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If parenthood has taught me anything, it’s that when your kid’s toy needs a battery, you will not have the right size. This is a simple fact of life.

In the most recent challenge to this pillar of truth, a Gekko toy (from the show PJ Masks, obviously) needed a button cell battery. I dug into my battery drawer — a reflection of toys past — naively thinking that I must have the right size. The excavation showed that I was in fact incorrect.

The natural next step was of course to look up battery sizes and chart all of them.

Notes

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dianaschnuth
14 days ago
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This is what data visualization nerds (with more chops than me) do in their spare time.
Toledo OH

Those grainy Moon photos from the 60s? The actual high-res images looked so much better.

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In 1966 and 1967, NASA sent five spacecraft to orbit the Moon to take high-resolution photos to aid in finding a good landing spot for the Apollo missions. NASA released some photos to the public and they were extremely grainy and low resolution because they didn’t want the Soviet Union to know the capabilities of US spy satellites. Here’s a comparison to what the public saw at the time versus how the photos actually looked:

Old Moon New Moon

The Lunar Orbiters never returned to Earth with the imagery. Instead, the Orbiter developed the 70mm film (yes film) and then raster scanned the negatives with a 5 micron spot (200 lines/mm resolution) and beamed the data back to Earth using lossless analog compression, which was yet to actually be patented by anyone. Three ground stations on earth, one of which was in Madrid, another in Australia and the other in California recieved the signals and recorded them. The transmissions were recorded on to magnetic tape. The tapes needed Ampex FR-900 drives to read them, a refrigerator sized device that cost $300,000 to buy new in the 1960’s.

The high-res photos were only revealed in 2008, after a volunteer restoration effort undertaken in an abandoned McDonald’s nicknamed McMoon.

They were huge files, even by today’s standards. One of the later images can be as big as 2GB on a modern PC, with photos on top resolution DSLRs only being in the region of 10MB you can see how big these images are. One engineer said you could blow the images up to the size of a billboard without losing any quality. When the initial NASA engineers printed off these images, they had to hang them in a church because they were so big. The below images show some idea of the scale of these images. Each individual image when printed out was 1.58m by 0.4m.

You can view a collection of some of the images here.

Tags: Moon   NASA   photography   space
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acdha
25 days ago
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Washington, DC
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Customer Rewards

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We'll pay you $1.47 to post on social media about our products, $2.05 to mention it in any group chats you're in, and 11 cents per passenger each time you drive your office carpool past one of our billboards.
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chrisrosa
34 days ago
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ouch...too real.
San Francisco, CA
sdevore
34 days ago
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oh this is the way my brain sees all these cards
Tucson, AZ
alt_text_bot
34 days ago
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We'll pay you $1.47 to post on social media about our products, $2.05 to mention it in any group chats you're in, and 11 cents per passenger each time you drive your office carpool past one of our billboards.
alt_text_at_your_service
34 days ago
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We'll pay you $1.47 to post on social media about our products, $2.05 to mention it in any group chats you're in, and 11 cents per passenger each time you drive your office carpool past one of our billboards.
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