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New deep learning model brings image segmentation to edge devices

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New deep learning model brings image segmentation to edge devices

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A new neural network architecture designed by artificial intelligence researchers at DarwinAI and the University of Waterloo will make it possible to perform image segmentation on computing devices with low-power and -compute capacity.

Segmentation is the process of determining the boundaries and areas of objects in images. We humans perform segmentation without conscious effort, but it remains a key challenge for machine learning systems. It is vital to the functionality of mobile robots, self-driving cars, and other artificial intelligence systems that must interact and navigate the real world.

Until recently, segmentation required large, compute-intensive neural networks. This made it difficult to run these deep learning models without a connection to cloud servers.

In their latest work, the scientists at DarwinAI and the University of Waterloo have managed to create a neural network that provides near-optimal segmentation and is small enough to fit on resource-constrained devices. Called AttendSeg, the neural network is detailed in a paper that has been accepted at this year’s Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR).

Object classification, detection, and segmentation

One of the key reasons for the growing interest in machine learning systems is the problems they can solve in computer vision. Some of the most common applications of machine learning in computer vision include image classification, object detection, and segmentation.

Image classification determines whether a certain type of object is present in an image or not. Object detection takes image classification one step further and provides the bounding box where detected objects are located.

Segmentation comes in two flavors: semantic segmentation and instance segmentation. Semantic segmentation specifies the object class of each pixel in an input image. Instance segmentation separates individual instances of each type of object. For practical purposes, the output of segmentation networks is usually presented by coloring pixels. Segmentation is by far the most complicated type of classification task.

Above: Image classification vs. object detection vs. semantic segmentation (credit: codebasics).

The complexity of convolutional neural networks (CNN), the deep learning architecture commonly used in computer vision tasks, is usually measured in the number of parameters they have. The more parameters a neural network has the larger memory and computational power it will require.

RefineNet, a popular semantic segmentation neural network, contains more than 85 million parameters. At 4 bytes per parameter, it means that an application using RefineNet requires at least 340 megabytes of memory just to run the neural network. And given that the performance of neural networks is largely dependent on hardware that can perform fast matrix multiplications, it means that the model must be loaded on the graphics card or some other parallel computing unit, where memory is more scarce than the computer’s RAM.

Machine learning for edge devices

Due to their hardware requirements, most applications of image segmentation need an internet connection to send images to a cloud server that can run large deep learning models. The cloud connection can pose additional limits to where image segmentation can be used. For instance, if a drone or robot will be operating in environments where there’s no internet connection, then performing image segmentation will become a challenging task. In other domains, AI agents will be working in sensitive environments and sending images to the cloud will be subject to privacy and security constraints. The lag caused by the roundtrip to the cloud can be prohibitive in applications that require real-time response from the machine learning models. And it is worth noting that network hardware itself consumes a lot of power, and sending a constant stream of images to the cloud can be taxing for battery-powered devices.

For all these reasons (and a few more), edge AI and tiny machine learning (TinyML) have become hot areas of interest and research both in academia and in the applied AI sector. The goal of TinyML is to create machine learning models that can run on memory- and power-constrained devices without the need for a connection to the cloud.

attendseg architecture

Above: The architecture of AttendSeg on-device semantic segmentation neural network.

With AttendSeg, the researchers at DarwinAI and the University of Waterloo tried to address the challenges of on-device semantic segmentation.

“The idea for AttendSeg was driven by both our desire to advance the field of TinyML and market needs that we have seen as DarwinAI,” Alexander Wong, co-founder at DarwinAI and Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo, told TechTalks. “There are numerous industrial applications for highly efficient edge-ready segmentation approaches, and that’s the kind of feedback along with market needs that I see that drives such research.”

The paper describes AttendSeg as “a low-precision, highly compact deep semantic segmentation network tailored for TinyML applications.”

The AttendSeg deep learning model performs semantic segmentation at an accuracy that is almost on-par with RefineNet while cutting down the number of parameters to 1.19 million. Interestingly, the researchers also found that lowering the precision of the parameters from 32 bits (4 bytes) to 8 bits (1 byte) did not result in a significant performance penalty while enabling them to shrink the memory footprint of AttendSeg by a factor of four. The model requires little above one megabyte of memory, which is small enough to fit on most edge devices.

“[8-bit parameters] do not pose a limit in terms of generalizability of the network based on our experiments, and illustrate that low precision representation can be quite beneficial in such cases (you only have to use as much precision as needed),” Wong said.

attendseg vs other networks

Above: Experiments show AttendSeg provides optimal semantic segmentation while cutting down the number of parameters and memory footprint.

Attention condensers for computer vision

AttendSeg leverages “attention condensers” to reduce model size without compromising performance. Self-attention mechanisms are a series that improve the efficiency of neural networks by focusing on information that matters. Self-attention techniques have been a boon to the field of natural language processing. They have been a defining factor in the success of deep learning architectures such as Transformers. While previous architectures such as recurrent neural networks had a limited capacity on long sequences of data, Transformers used self-attention mechanisms to expand their range. Deep learning models such as GPT-3 leverage Transformers and self-attention to churn out long strings of text that (at least superficially) maintain coherence over long spans.

AI researchers have also leveraged attention mechanisms to improve the performance of convolutional neural networks. Last year, Wong and his colleagues introduced attention condensers as a very resource-efficient attention mechanism and applied them to image classifier machine learning models.

“[Attention condensers] allow for very compact deep neural network architectures that can still achieve high performance, making them very well suited for edge/TinyML applications,” Wong said.

attention condenser architecture

Above: Attention condensers improve the performance of convolutional neural networks in a memory-efficient way.

Machine-driven design of neural networks

One of the key challenges of designing TinyML neural networks is finding the best performing architecture while also adhering to the computational budget of the target device.

To address this challenge, the researchers used “generative synthesis,” a machine learning technique that creates neural network architectures based on specified goals and constraints. Basically, instead of manually fiddling with all kinds of configurations and architectures, the researchers provide a problem space to the machine learning model and let it discover the best combination.

“The machine-driven design process leveraged here (Generative Synthesis) requires the human to provide an initial design prototype and human-specified desired operational requirements (e.g., size, accuracy, etc.) and the MD design process takes over in learning from it and generating the optimal architecture design tailored around the operational requirements and task and data at hand,” Wong said.

For their experiments, the researchers used machine-driven design to tune AttendSeg for Nvidia Jetson, hardware kits for robotics and edge AI applications. But AttendSeg is not limited to Jetson.

“Essentially, the AttendSeg neural network will run fast on most edge hardware compared to previously proposed networks in literature,” Wong said. “However, if you want to generate an AttendSeg that is even more tailored for a particular piece of hardware, the machine-driven design exploration approach can be used to create a new highly customized network for it.”

AttendSeg has obvious applications for autonomous drones, robots, and vehicles, where semantic segmentation is a key requirement for navigation. But on-device segmentation can have many more applications.

“This type of highly compact, highly efficient segmentation neural network can be used for a wide variety of things, ranging from manufacturing applications (e.g., parts inspection / quality assessment, robotic control) medical applications (e.g., cell analysis, tumor segmentation), satellite remote sensing applications (e.g., land cover segmentation), and mobile application (e.g., human segmentation for augmented reality),” Wong said.

Ben Dickson is a software engineer and the founder of TechTalks. He writes about technology, business, and politics.

This story originally appeared on Bdtechtalks.com. Copyright 2021

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Coromon will bring its Pokémon-plus-puzzles game to Nintendo Switch in Q1 2022

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Coromon will bring its Pokémon-plus-puzzles game to Nintendo Switch in Q1 2022

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Coromon twists the Pokémon formula with how it approaches dungeons, customization, and puzzles for its monster-taming gameplay. It’s already been announced for PC and mobile, and during the Freedom Games 2021 Showcase at the digital Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) today, developer TRAGsoft said Coromon is coming to another platform: the Nintendo Switch.

This feels like a good fit, as Coromon sports visuals similar to the early Pokémon games and is also about, you know, catching monsters. TRAGsoft has added a puzzle layer; as you explore maps, you find yourself dealing with these little brainteasers. And when your monsters level up, you can play with their statistics, giving it more RPG depth and other monster-taming games.

Your character works for a high-tech company, and your goal is to extract Titan Essences from the world. As the name implies, Titans are larger beasts you find in dungeons, and you and your monster teams must defeat them to get the essences and learn more about these “cornerstones” of the world.

“And this journey will lead you into a story of full plot twists that are full of interesting events and side quests to do,” TRAGsoft’s Marcel van der Made said. He’s the CEO and story writer for the studio, along with being the “Second Ridiculously Ambitious Guy.” (TRAGsoft stands for “Two Ridiculously Ambitious Guys.” Van der Made is the second, and fellow CEO and programmer Jochem Pouwels is the first).

TRAGsoft has been working on Coromon for over seven years, and the project is the result in part for their fondness for the Game Boy, Pokémon, and grand adventures with puzzles like Zelda.

“We love games and spent thousands of hours playing those games,” Marcel van der Made said. “Why not make a game with every the aspect we love and put that together for the ultimate RPG experience. That’s how Coromon came to life.”

And, of course, leads to the studio name “Two Ridiculously Ambitious Guys.”

Full of potential

Above: You can tweak your Coromon’s stats.

Image Credit: TARGsoft

Colors show how strong your Coromon can be. Two may be of the same species, but one may be brown, and the other is purple. This is part of TRAGsoft’s potential system. Coromon gain XP as they fight, and you can use those points to customize their stats. Van der Made says you can do that to make one a glass cannon (meaning with powerful attacks but weak health and defense), or make one that soaks up enemy damage.

It also has a shiny system (this reminds me of foils in Pokémon card packs), which plays into how you allocate a Coromon’s stats. They come in three versions as well: normal, potent, and perfect (think of these as the evolutions in Pokémon).

Nice work if you can get it

final 60b8fc88992b5a00293fad5a 655395

Above: You’d better not say, “I choose you, Pikachu” in Coromon.

Image Credit: TARGsoft

In games like Pokémon or Monster Rancher, you’re goal is to be the best trainer or collector you can be. And while that’s an important aspect of Coromon as well, you’re also working for a big company. You get paid for your endeavors, and along the way, you encounter other employees who are there to help you.

“They actually pay you to battle,” van der Made said. I dig this, as one of my few gripes with Pokémon is starting every adventure at home and getting a goodbye from your mom. “There’s even an outer space aspect to it, you’ll find out from the story itself.”

Puzzles and traps

As we explored a sandy dungeon, we encountered some dart traps. This is all about timing, avoiding the darts as you make your way through that part of the maze. Some of these dart traps have patterns you must watch for. Other traps include trapdoors, and some of these combine to make for some nasty tests. You also have buttons to move walls. None of them are difficult, but they do require you to pay attention to your surroundings and break the gameplay loop of finding and fighting monsters.

Coromon

Above: As you explore dungeons, you’ll find some traps.

Image Credit: TARGsoft

“[The puzzles” should be accessible enough so that you can find out [the solution] yourself. And some have people who are there to explain the mechanics,” van der Made said. “Some of the puzzles are really rewarding. You get a special item to solve puzzles that aren’t really required to progress any further. We’re really trying to make it accessible, but also complex enough for those who like exploring.”

The name game

Coromon has more than 120 creatures. Coming up for names for that many monsters could be tough, especially when you want to avoid using any that sound like names from Pokémon.

Turns out the TRAGsoft team enjoyed it.

“That’s really fun process, actually. We have brainstorms with about three people working on it. Sometimes you just get a beer and have a long brainstorm session on it,” van der Made said.

They’d look at monster designs and come up with ideas (some funny) until they found those that worked for them. One aspect of the localizations of Coromon is that you don’t need names that translate well from one language to another; you just use a good name from that language for the monster. They do try to stay away from certain pronunciations, as that can make it harder for naming three varieties of the same creature.

The studio also did some naming contests with its community.

Correction, 1:30 p.m.: Fixed the studio name to TRAGsoft throughout. I apologize for the error.

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Mythical Games launches early access for Blankos Block Party

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Mythical Games launches early access for Blankos Block Party

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Mythical Games has launched early access on the PC for its Blankos Block Party open-world multiplayer game, which offers unique game characters authenticated with nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

The Los Angeles-based Mythical Games is pioneering the idea of “playable NFTs,” using that technology to uniquely identify game characters so players can truly own them. NFTs use blockchain, the secure and transparent digital ledger, to authenticate unique digital items. Just last week, Mythical raised $75 million from WestCap and others to pursue the larger opportunity to license its NFT technology to other game companies.

CEO John Linden made the announcement today in a talk at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) event, which is an all-online trade show. The company revealed some major fashion, music, and art collaborations for Blankos Block Party. It has deals with Burberry, DeadMau5, Quiccs, and El Grand Chamaco. The E3 talk included numerous artists talking about the potential they see in the blending of NFTs, art, and games.

“We’re moving the game into early access, which is exciting, and adding a lot of new features in the game itself,” said Linde, in an interview with GamesBeat. “The MMO hub has been redesigned. Deadmau5 is going to be involved. Burberry is going to be announcing their first NFT. And we have a lot of great artists involved too.”

Rob Manley, chief marketing officer at Burberry, said in the E3 talk that being a part of the gaming community is a big opportunity and it represents the company’s first move into NFTs.

Above: Burberry and Blankos have teamed up.

Image Credit: Mythical Games

Blankos Block Party has vinyl-style game characters who you earn (through gameplay), buy, or sell. It has begun testing its marketplace where players can buy and sell their characters, which can be customized or decorated with various things earned in the game.

The NFT craze

John Linden is CEO of Mythical Games.

Above: John Linden is CEO of Mythical Games.

Image Credit: Mythical

Mythical is one of many game companies offering a “play-to-earn” opportunity for gamers, enabling them to earn money from the time and investments they put into the game. NFTs have exploded in other applications, such as art, sports collectibles, and music. NBA Top Shot (a digital take on collectible basketball cards) is one example. Built by Dapper Labs, NBA Top Shot has surpassed $500 million in sales, five months after going public. And an NFT digital collage by the artist Beeple sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million. But more recently NFTs have seen price declines as some say that the hype is running out of steam.

While many NFT projects have been dismissed as overhyped schemes to get rich quick, Linden said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company wants to drive mass adoption of ownership in games through playable NFTs.

The playable NFTS in Blankos Block Party have the same utility as any character or accessory you might buy or earn in another game, but because of the blockchain technology behind them, players actually own what they buy and can sell them in real-money transactions when they no longer want or need them, unlocking the value of their time and money spent.

NFT marketplace

blankos 7

Above: Blankos Block Party’s marketplace.

Image Credit: Mythical Games

Pre-blockchain, players invested billions of dollars into digital items in other online games without a tangible way to benefit from it beyond gameplay advantages (or just showing off their bling); content remains locked behind their account because their purchase is really just a lease or licensing agreement, with no capability to transfer or sell, Mythical said. And while other secondary marketplaces have existed in the form of gray markets and black markets, players who participate are exposed to unsafe transactions, scams, and even the threat of losing their accounts for terms of service violations, the company said.

“The marketplace is where they can sell things,” he said. “Our accessories are still curated. But what the players can do then is, with most of the characters, players can now customize so they can level them up. We’ll keep adding things into this world. ”

Linden said that the various brands will have a lot of options for their NFT characters. They can limit the number of them or the time period in which they’re sold to create scarcity. They can also offer them at different prices. What’s different about this game is that blockchain enables provenance, or the capability to trace the history of an NFT. That means that brands can get paid a percentage of the sale price every time one of their NFT characters changes hands. And so they can benefit from a rise in price for an object over time.

You can buy Mythical's blockchain-based limited items for $25 to $150.

Above: You can buy Mythical’s blockchain-based limited items for $25 to $150.

Image Credit: Mythical Games

But the tech isn’t really easy to create. Mythical Games has more than 100 employees, and it has been working on its tech and game for three years, Linden said. Adding NFTs to a game means that a company has to create a digital wallet for players to securely hold their digital property. It sits on top of a blockchain platform, and that platform often has to be modified to reduce transaction costs, speed up transactions, and use less energy than the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum. All of that takes engineering work, and Mythical is still hiring.

On top of that, Mythical Games is talking to other game companies to license its platform to them so that those game companies can create their own games with playable NFT characters.

Mythical wants to drive mass adoption of ownership in games through playable NFTs with the growth of its first game, Blankos Block Party; expansion to other gaming platforms; and new projects launching later this year and in 2022. Via its Mythical Economic Engine and Mythical Marketplace, the company says it is providing a platform for game developers to create their own player-owned economies, as well as new tools for content creators and brands to facilitate ownership of in-game assets.

Through the Mythical Marketplace, players can unlock the value of monetary, rarity, and time-based efforts by selling their NFTs to other players for real money, in safe and secure transactions with proof of authenticity.

Early access and influencer events

blankos 6

Above: Blankos Block Party has a marketplace for NFT characters.

Image Credit: Mythical

In the open beta for Blankos Block Party, Mythical has enabled player-designed levels. Players hold more than 100,000 NFTs; as the game’s audience continues to grow, earlier assets and specialized releases will become more scarce and likely more valuable in the secondary market, creating rarity on a mass-market scale and providing new sources of income for players.

Mythical streamers include KarlNetwork, Captain Sparklez, and KaraCorvus. Folks can tune in on Friday, June 18 to watch and even join some of their favorite streamers in Blankos and they can get a chance to get a playable NFT Twitch Drop.

Mythical's marketplace for the Blankos Block Party game.

Above: Mythical’s marketplace for the Blankos Block Party game.

Image Credit: Mythical

Mythical will work together with Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) on a Blanko and accessory package modeled after his beloved cat, Professor Meowingtons, and the infamous deadmau5 helmet. This will drop in summer 2021.

Burberry will do a Blankos NFT drop, releasing this summer as a way to reach gamers. And Mythical is also working with Marathon Clothing, a brand owned by the late rapper Nipsey Hussle. They will work together on Blankos-related gear later this year.

And Mythical is working with El Grand Chamaco, an illustrator based in the small village of Los Ramones. El Grand Chamaco’s artworks are inspired by his Mexican roots, adopting the colorful vibrant palette of the culture into his 3D graphics. After years of perfecting his style, he gained his fame as a prominent illustrator and character designer—reimagining pop culture characters into his own depiction. And Mythical is working with Hackatao, an artist duo born in Milan in 2007. Hackatoo has pioneered crypto art since 2018.

alex pardee

Above: Alex Pardee is an artist who hopes to benefit from the NFT art craze.

Image Credit: Mythical Games

Blankos Block Party and the Mythical Marketplace are built on a private EOSIO blockchain using a proof of authority model that is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than the proof of work model (neither the game nor Blankos NFTs require any crypto mining). With Blankos Block Party and its Marketplace, Mythical aims to drive mass adoption of ownership in games through NFTs and blockchain technology, opening the door to a new kind of global game economy where creators are owners and players are asset holders. Mythical has raised $120 million to date and it has more than 100 employees.

Players can sign up now to join Blankos Block Party in early access on PC. The Mythical Marketplace, where players can buy and sell Blankos in peer-to-peer transactions for real money, is in its alpha phase and will continue rolling out to players this summer.

Linden said the game has had very good key performance indicators (KPIs) during its beta testing.

“We’re really taking the wraps off of all the fun stuff you can do in the game,” he said.

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Intellivision Entertainment wants to own retro couch gaming

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The Intellivision Amico has a wood-paneled VIP model.

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Intellivision Entertainment CEO Tommy Tallarico made his pitch to gamers today to own the couch when it comes to retro console gaming, talking about the Intellivision Amico console in a speech at the online-only Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) today.

Intellivision has had to postpone its launch twice now, and its latest plan is to launch the Amico on October 10, about a year after it originally planned. Tallarico said the pandemic forced the company to postpone its launch, but it also gave the company an opportunity to get more games in place for its launch.

The focus is “that friendship, that multiplayer, that couch co-op experience,” he said.

The Amico has a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and its focus will be to enable multiplayer games that you can play with your friends in the same room, on the couch, like Tallarico used to do when he was young. The curvy, wedge-like console’s design is supposed to be friendly and accessible. They intend for the console to be something you can use right off the bat, and it isn’t aimed at the more limited audience of hardcore gamers. He thinks this is complementary to other consoles, and so he doesn’t view others as competition.

It’s not about screaming graphics, but having a good time with fun, simple, casual games that you can play with your friends.

A time machine

Above: The Intellivision Amico has a wood-paneled VIP model.

Image Credit: Intellivision

The original Intellivision is a game console from Mattel that gave Atari a run for its money in the early 1980s. It was more advanced than the Atari 2600, with better graphics, and it even had simple voices in some games.

Tallarico has been in the video game industry for 32 years, and he created the “oof” sound that became the signature sound for Roblox games. Tallarico, who created the Video Games Live concert series, announced in 2018 that he had acquired the rights to the console and its original games and planned to relaunch Intellivision as a retro brand.

He has rounded up many of the original Intellivision’s game creators. They’re remaking some of the original games for the old Intellivision, such as Breakout, but with modern designs.

Amico is the Italian word for “friend,” and October 10 is the birthday of Tallarico’s sister. “My mother is very proud,” Tallarico said.

A crafted console

Intellivision has a network of retailers who will sell the Amico.

Above: Intellivision has a network of retailers who will sell the Amico.

Image Credit: Intellivision

The machine has 40 independently controlled LEDs on the console base and 12 LEDs on each console controller, for a total of 64, product development director Todd Linthicum said. That provides for an endless amount of expression through lighting.

Some games will correlate colors on the controller’s lights with gameplay. The console’s wedge shape enables you to see the lights from all angles, and you can adjust the brightness of the LEDs or turn them off. The controllers can charge in 2 hours, and batteries last 4-6 hours.

The controllers have color capacitive touchscreens, gyroscopes, force feedback, speakers, microphones, and wireless contact charging. Two controllers nest inside the console base, which enables them to charge. You can also charge a controller with a USB-C cable. The controllers have four shoulder buttons and a touch wheel with a button. A Home button lets you pause or exit a game easily. The controller can be moved in 64 directions and the controller screen has touch sensitivity. If you take a controller to a friend’s house, you can play all the games that you own on your console on your friend’s machine.

The Amico has an HDMI out port, a USB-C connector, a power connection, and a microSD expansion slot for more memory. You can store up to 50 games on the device. Radio frequency identification (RFID) connectivity offers a new way to unlock features in games or to interact with the console. You can simply take an object like a gift card and tap it on the console to unlock something. Intellivision will talk more about boxed games later. There are no loot boxes or in-app ads. But there are online leaderboards where you can check your score against others.

Game lineup

Intellivision is targeting the Amico at families for couch play.

Above: Intellivision is targeting the Amico at families for couch play.

Image Credit: Intellivision

Tallarico mentioned some of the games that will be coming for the Amico.

The list includes:

  • Earthworm Jim
  • Night Stalker
  • Incan Gold
  • Shark Shark
  • Spades
  • Cornhole
  • Astro Smash
  • Retro Reimagined
  • Breakout
  • Asteroids
  • Tempest
  • Missile Command
  • Burger Time
  • Bump and Jump
  • Cloudy Mountain
  • Sesame Street
  • Care Bears
  • Finnegan Fox
  • Bomb Squad
  • Space Strikers
  • Rigid Force Redux Enhanced
  • Dyno Blaster
  • Major League Baseball
  • Blank Slate
  • Telestrations
  • Flying Tigers

The brands making games for the Amico include Hot Wheels and the Harlem Globetrotters, and there will be games based on charades, soccer, pool, card games, skiing, and more.

And he said the original Ecco the Dolphin team to create a new game called Dolphin Quest.

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  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
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